The Personal and the Political: A Dialogue

Not long ago, on Scalzi’s blog, I made a comment that was sharp, precise, well-worded, inarguable, and wrong. The point I addressed to the other fellow was: Who are you to tell other people how to feel? Now, who can argue with that? Since no one else can, I guess it’s up to me.

Under what circumstances is it all right to tell someone, “You ought not to be feeling what you’re feeling”? At first glance, it’s hard to come up with any answer but, “Never.” But let’s expand it a bit from the case of someone upset about not being invited to a party, to the case of someone who says, “It makes me feel bad that black people are permitted to vote.” Okay, I hope there is no one reading this blog who would not react with some form of, “Sucks to be you. Asshole.”

Are those fair comparisons? Since I’m asking the questions, I get to answer them. Enter our Socratic Stooge (thanks Jonathon Adams) from stage right, crossing to center.

Stooge: Not the same thing at all, and you know it. The point of the latter example is not how the person feels, but about equality before the law.

Me: But are we not also willing to say to that person, “You shouldn’t feel that; something is wrong if you feel that. Get it fixed”?

Stooge: Actually, we don’t have anything to say to that person at all.

Me: Cop-out! I cry foul.

Stooge: Seriously, I wouldn’t talk to that person. But if I were to talk about him, I’d say something like, “That this person feels this indicates a severe illness in our society.”

Me: Fair enough. So then, it’s all right to believe that at least some feelings, under some circumstances, fall into the category of, “That you have those feelings indicates there are social problems.” The difference between that and, “those feelings are wrong,” seems to lack substance. Would you agree?

Stooge: [Mutters]

Me: Sorry, what was that?

Stooge: Okay, you’ve made you’re point. But–

Me: Your.

Stooge: Fuck off. Okay, you’ve made your point. But in a practical, day-to-day sense, in the way it comes up it is nearly always wrong to say it.

Me: For example?

Stooge: Glad you asked. Remember the kurfuffle around Rebecca Watson?  Well, those who are upset with her (over, really, an off-hand, “by the way” remark), are, in essence saying, “You were wrong to feel threatened.”  How can you tell someone that?  You can say, “You were not actually being threatened,” and I doubt she’d disagree.   But to tell her she shouldn’t have felt threatened is to be an asshat.  That is exactly the sort of situation where this sort of thing comes up in practice.  So your reductio ad absurdum is absurd.

Me: Oh, Latin.  Now I’m really impressed.  But here’s the thing:  Are those objecting to her video (and, for the record, I’m not one), objecting to her feeling threatened, or to her talking about feeling threatened?

Stooge: Oh, that’s sweet.  If you feel threatened–more, if you are in a situation where any reasonable woman would feel threatened–you should just shut up, instead of casually mentioning, “Hey, guys, here’s a thing you ought to know so you can not do that”?

Me: Maybe they don’t agree that any reasonable woman would feel threatened.

Stooge: Let’s just skip over the idea that any reasonable woman in an elevator at 4am alone with a guy coming on to her wouldn’t feel threatened.  Instead let’s get to the general point: Those who are saying she shouldn’t have felt threatened are almost 100% men; and men have no right to talk about under what circumstances women should feel threatened.  The whole idea is obnoxious.

Me: Is it?  Is it really the case that the sex of the person making the argument is relevant to the validity of the argument?

Stooge: Sometimes.  A straight guy talking about how gays should feel under certain circumstances; a white guy talking about how a black guy ought to feel–how can those things not matter?

Me: Now I feel bad about my arguments not being relevant.

Stooge: Don’t be a dick.

Me: Okay.  So, let me try this, then: The actual issue is feelings.  That is, it is irrelevant who is making the argument when we are talking about objective conditions; it gets muddy when we concern ourselves with subjective feelings.

Stooge: Sure.  I’m fine with that.  Only the line between them is what’s muddy.

Me: Is it?

Stooge: It really is.  That’s why feminists, in dealing with broad social issues, talk about mansp–

Me: Stop.  If the word-like grouping of letters “mansplaining” comes out of your mouth, I swear to God I’ll sic Paarfi on you.  And this post is already too long.

Stooge: Okay, okay.  Settle down.  The point is, personal feelings are the result social interactions, and underneath all of those social interactions, are objective social conditions.

Me: Now you sound like me.  But we’re not talking about abstract, general, “social conditions.”  We’re talking about a very specific set: we’re talking about capitalism in the US in 2012–

Stooge: Christ.  I knew you’d bring  up capitalism.

Me: Shut up.  I’m witnessing.  All sorts of ugliness is being stirred up as if from the bottom of a barrel of muddy water–we’re seeing attacks on the teaching of evolution–ie, science–in the schools, we’re seeing legalized rape of women by doctors, we’re seeing open defense of homophobia, we’re seeing barely concealed racism in a national election.  More, we’re seeing the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands, the open use of military force to settle economic issues, the assault on habeas corpus expressed in the extra-judicial murder of US citizens, the utter prostration of the trade unions, attacks of the living standards of the working population.

Stooge: [Yawn] Sorry, did you say something?

Me: Asshole.  The point I’m making is that these are spurred by capitalism in its death-agony.

Stooge: Even if that’s true, what’s your point?

Me: That by concentrating on subjective feelings, we are unable to scientifically evaluate objective conditions.  And it is exactly by evaluating objective conditions that we can find the means to destroy capitalism, the root of all of the social ills under discussion.  So the concentration by the pseudo-left on issues that are, in essence, subjective, does nothing but serve the cause of reaction.

Stooge: Your argument is specious.  It comes down to: “the things you’re talking about have objective causes, so only talk about the objective, social side of it, because then I can argue with you.”  But those things you dismiss as “subjective feelings” actually make a difference in people’s lives, and they have the right to talk about them, and to act upon them.

Me: Right?  I didn’t say they don’t have the “right.”  The guy in my first example has the “right” to be a racist prick.  And I have the right to say that if we are going to actually solve these problems, then middle-class identity politics must go.

Stooge: Wait.  Where did “middle-class identity politics” come into this?

Me: Just now.  Weren’t you listening?  No, in fact, that was there at the beginning, and is really what this is all about.  Yes, there are class issues in all of this: the right of working-class women to reproductive freedom and equal pay; the right of workers to fair treatment regardless of affectional preference, and so on.  But the very hallmark of middle-class politics is to conceal the class issues, or dismiss them as “another form of oppression.”  What makes class issues so vital is not that the poor suffer more than other oppressed groups, it is that class society is at the heart of all of these problems, and that only the working class has the power to effect the revolutionary transformation of society.  The essence of middle-class identity politics is to deny that.  This is why those who concentrate on issues of feminism, racism, &c outside of their class content, are, in fact, harming the fight for equality.

Stooge: So Rebecca Watson should have just shut her mouth?

Me: Nope.  She should have done just exactly what she did.  She provided useful information to, well, among others, me.  My point is not that there is no place in the world for discussions of subjective feelings, or of social ills that cause them.  My point is simply this: If you actually wish to solve broad social problems, then what is necessary first is an understanding of the objective conditions that cause them; and understanding of objective conditions begins, not with a discussion of feelings, but with a scientific approach.

Stooge: You don’t think discussion of social conditions spurred by feelings can become a scientific discussion of objective social conditions?

Me: It can, I suppose.  But what usually happens is that someone wants to talk about, say, racism from a middle-class, subjective viewpoint.  When someone wants to move from there to a discussion of the broader, objective circumstances (eg, bringing up the class content of racism), what happens in practice is that he derails the conversation, pisses everyone off, and accomplishes exactly nothing.

Stooge: So what do you do when one of those discussions is going on?  Ignore it?  How does that change anyone’s understanding?

Me: It’s tough.  I would say you pay very close attention, you see if it is possible to make some points in a way that will encourage a scientific approach, and you do your best to judge when it is time to shut up and go away.

Stooge: I’ll take that as a hint.  But one thing: Admit that you were glad Obama won.

Me: Obama’s victory indicated that there’s some time before the ruling class has to pull out all of the stops and declare open class warfare, and we need more time, so, sure, I was glad Obama won.

Stooge: Bullshit.  You were pleased he won.  I was with you on election night, remember?  Mr. Big Bad Hard-core Red was happy that the lesser of two evils–

Me: Go fuck yourself.


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71 thoughts on “The Personal and the Political: A Dialogue”

  1. Thought you’d want to know that the LJ cut tag didn’t work. I don’t know if the LJ spoiler tag would work any better. I’ve saved the thing for later reading, as I am in a rush.

  2. I’m guessing that whatever you entered here got transferred to LJ in Rich Text format, which means that any raw HTML got escaped. You could, if you want, log in to your LJ account, click the HTML tab, and change the

    <lj-cut text=”Click for very long Socratic Dialog”>

    (that I think you’d find) to

    <lj-cut text=”Click for very long Socratic Dialog”>

  3. Well you’re right in this post, anyway. Especially this: ~If you actually wish to solve broad social problems, then what is necessary first is an understanding of the objective conditions that cause them; and understanding of objective conditions begins, not with a discussion of feelings, but with a scientific approach.~

    Can you expand on this part a bit, please? ~ Obama’s victory indicated that there’s some time before the ruling class has to pull out all of the stops and declare open class warfare, and we need more time, so, sure, I was glad Obama won.~

    Do you mean that, as we are still in the building process – with the more advanced workers more actively looking into socialism but the numbers *as yet* smallish (even though growing), the time is not yet best for that open class warfare?

    I would also take issue with the idea, though, that we are not in that time – I think the new shift arrangement under the UAW is a good example of open class warfare – the end of the eight-hour day, the end of paid breaks, etc. These are gains that blood was shed to attain – now gone. There will be a domino effect in that other industries will likewise do away with such niceties. There is also already a radicalizing of the workers – not just those directly affected, but, I think we will see some of what we saw in Wisconsin last year around this – if the workers go out on strike (against the will of the UAW brass) they will be joined by non-auto (and non-union) workers who recognize the blow this new policy delivers across the board.

  4. Christie Gagarin: Yes, that’s what I meant about needing more time–especially more time to build a leadership in the working class.

    I have no significant disagreements with you. When I spoke of “open class warfare” I guess I was thinking of that point in the not-too-distant future when the National Guard is called out against workers. Open in the sense of bullets flying. I’m thinking that a Romney victory (or, even more, a Ron Paul victory) would have indicated that the ruling class thought now was the time to go there.

    But generally, I agree with you right down the line. This is unusual for me, and I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to do.

  5. Did anyone say Watson wasn’t entitled to her feelings? I’ve felt threatened in many situations where it turned out there was no threat. Any time a stranger makes an invitation for sex, whether that stranger is male or female, straight or gay, there’s a possibility that something seriously bad could follow. You have to assess every situation based on the information you have.

    To make this a bit more personal, as a young guy, I got hit on by women and men. I found that a polite “no, thanks” worked fine in both cases.

    As for middle class radicals, I now try to deal with them the way I deal with sports fans–they’re really invested in their team, so I’m polite when they’re being generally enthusiastic. But if they start telling me the city needs to pay for a new arena, I figure they’re inviting me to answer like a red if I choose.

  6. I see – an emphasis on the “warfare” element in all of this – previews of which were available during Occupy, toothless as that “movement” was.

    Happy to have befuddled!

  7. Which attributes, in addition to “class”, are part of the “broader, objective circumstances”? (What is an objective definition of “class”, for that matter?)

  8. “Class” refers to role in production. Working class refers to those who must sell their labor-power to live. Ruling class refers to those who appropriate the labor of others. Middle-class refer to those who do neither or both (ie, students, independent shop-keepers, &c).

    By “broader objective circumstances” I refer to everything that exists outside of an individual’s thoughts, feelings, opinions, perceptions.

  9. I’ve never been able to figure out to what class a freelancer (such as I am) belongs. It seems it should be “working class,” as it definitely involves selling labor-power to others, but the others don’t get to dictate the working conditions.

  10. I’m left wondering if Watson is a one of those who follows the philosophy of the “Schroedinger rapist”, that is, since you do not know whether or not any man is a rapist, it is best to treat all men as if they are a potential rapist.

    As I recall, this principle was derived, through misinterpretation, from a much more reasonable thought process (though I cannot, at the moment, remember what that process was).

  11. Carol: I know I am classic middle-class; I both own and work at my “means of production” (my computer, in this case), and sell the product, rather than my labor-power.

    In your case, if you sell your labor-power rather than what it produces, I’d call you working class. When businesses suddenly decide their employees are “contractors” so they can avoid paying benefits, that doesn’t change the essential nature of the relationship.

  12. Many states have laws regarding who can and cannot be called a contractor. In my state, commonly considered one of the more worker-friendly states in the country, many employers routinely flout those rules.

    “Middle class” has become an increasingly elastic term in the US. Many people in the working class (aka “lower class” in more honest countries) like to call themselves middle class, I think for the perceived legitimacy boost. Lots of upper-class people who make more money in a year than I will conceivably make in a decade call themselves middle class, I think in part to say that they haven’t lost touch with their “common man” upbringing.

    Definitions can be about shoehorning people, yes, but an internally-based definition can be able any number of things: pride, self-identity, social identity, legitimacy and more.

    In short, “working class” and “middle class” aren’t necessarily about whether you sell your own products or not. The definitions are more economically based.

    The “woking class”, by comparison, is defined by your skills at certain kinds of Asian cooking and whether you have the right equipment. I used to have the equipment but not the skills. Now I have the skills but not the equipment. I fear I shall never join the woking class :P

  13. I don’t care that the LJ tag didn’t work — that was too entertaining not to have clicked.

    I have arguments with myself much the same, but rarely am I as articulate in doing so. It’s very difficult to see all sides of the story and try to explain to others why both sides have validity; these days being of moderate mind makes one a freak of nature. Yes, I am happy Obama won; no, I do not think he’s been a great president. It’s possible to think both ways.

    Anyway, thanks for an enjoyable (and thoughtful) read!

  14. Will: women are hit on often and with all degree of vulgarity. It’s not a comparable situation for us as men being hit on. Yeah, no shit we have to assess every situation based on the information you have; but as people, we’re subject to stress and fatigue, and we fail to act rationally in even the best of circumstances.

    Chris F.: your speculation about Watson being a “Schroedinger rapist” is in itself highly suspect and smells like a strawman.

  15. Oh god. “We’re seeing attacks on the teaching of evolution in the schools, we’re seeing legalized rape of women by doctors, we’re seeing open defense of homophobia, we’re seeing barely concealed racism in a national election.”

    You know, the only problem with your message is that at some point I stop reading *you* and I start reading dialogue done by my favorite author, and I miss what you’re saying in all all the mix of *how damn well* you’re saying it.

    As a “middle manager” in a company with 95,000 people, it’s slowly dawning on me that by your definition (those who appropriate the labor of others) I may be approaching the point where I’m lumped in with the ruling class. It sure doesn’t feel like it to me, and I try to be the best “boss” I can be, but that is where I seem to be these days. (My hope is that I can get enough stories published to someday quit a job I don’t love and support my family in the middle class fashion I’d prefer.)

    Anyway, thank you, as Kathy says above, for a wonderful and thought-provoking post!

  16. @ Will: Yes, people said Rebecca Watson wasn’t entitled to feel threatened:

    A “polite no thanks” is an ideal reaction, but it doesn’t always work, and if we could rely on it working, we probably wouldn’t feel threatened when getting hit on. (And I’m using ‘we’ inclusively there.)

    @ skzb’s stooge: He was maybe moderately pleased about Obama, far more pleased with the defeat of the MN constitution amendments, from what I heard.

    @ skzb: I am not yet convinced that capitalism is the root of all of the social ills under discussion. What do I need to read next?

  17. Big Ugly Man Doll: Managers are in an odd position, as engineers were at the beginning of the 20th century: a privileged section of the working class whose interests often lie with the ruling class. Where they’ll fall when push comes to shove remains to be seen.

    Jenphalian: Probably Anti-Duhring, if you’re up for a challenge. I’d love to read it with you.

    Jason F: Interesting link; thanks. Although the author probably should have read a little Marx before talking about him. The charge that Marx used history for propaganda purposes rather than studying it to understand society is a rather usual charge made by those who haven’t actually read him. And, seriously, the idea that Marx considered the state of primitive communism, with its disease, brutality, and complete subservience to nature a “Golden Age” is laughable.

  18. So I’m “working class”, working for paychecks and needing them to live (savings aren’t enough to retire on yet). Yet someone who has a trust fund that pays him half my income, and who doesn’t work, is ruling class.

    On another topic under discussion, “feeling” is a state of mind, so absent the Thought Police, anybody is entitled to feel however they want. “Caring” and “respecting” are also states of mind, so I (just like everybody else) can care about and/or respect their feelings exactly as much as I think they deserve.

  19. Ok, but I have a couple pages left of the CM first (I have it up from Project Gutenberg, which is how I got sucked into the distributed proofreading site, which keeps distracting me from finishing that).

    Going back to the beginning of your post, I find that often when someone says something that boils down to, “what you’re feeling is wrong,” or “you shouldn’t post about how you’re feeling,” what they MEAN is, “this makes me feel bad [because I identify more with the thing/person that made you feel bad], so it is wrong.” At least, that’s what I read into it, which makes it easier for me to dismiss it entirely.

  20. SKZB: I have always admired that your treatment of Vlad when put into open class warfare was to leave it away from being a sudden, “My gosh! I was wrong, let me join the right side!” despite getting the impression (furthered through later reading such as above) that this was something you pretty clearly felt strongly about yourself. This has been a lot more helpful to me in understanding this whole ideology–indeed, finding echoes of comments I have, myself, made. Albeit less cleverly.

    I used to wander a blog that would frequently bring up the misogynistic and racist comments and actions, refusing to acknowledge any possible underpinnings or more broad explanations–such as class-based intonations. I always felt most of the “47%”-styled comments, while possibly assumed to mean “not white people” would find themselves utterly undisturbed to have it explained that some or even a majority of this fanciful group are white. It might even shift the internal paradigm that defines that group for them, but it would not change the attitude, I feel.

    It never seemed useful or helpful except as means of reducing a more complicated (or at least different) issue down to one that was more explicitly–emotionally, that is–evil.

    That said, while it may be inadvisable: I am curious as to this unspoken conversation about “mansplaining”…

  21. Seth: I don’t understand trust funds, so I’m not sure; is he living by buying someone else’s labor-power? If not, it doesn’t sound to me like he’s ruling class.

    Jenphalian: Yeah, I think you’re right.

    R.C. Killian: Thanks for the kind words. I’m afraid I’m going to leave it to you to google “mansplaining” if you care to.

  22. @19- I wasn’t actually attempting to make any argument. It was supposed to be a wondering based on the observation of the presented video. Frankly, I don’t care enough about the subject to do the necessary research required to form any kind of statement that I would consider an argument.

    If she is a subscriber to said philosophy, then I would say, as I would of anyone who gives it any credence, that she may be bordering on mental illness (paranoid dellusional?). If she doesn’t, then that’s fine.

    Let me clarify, before the impending counter-argument, that I don’t believe that people who are uncomfortable with (or even threatened by) being aproached by a stranger to have a discussion in their hotel room over coffee. I believe that it is perfectly reasonable for someone to be uncomfortable with that situation.

    I am, however, advocating that anyone who prejudges someone to be a rapist just because of their gender strictly based on the philosophy that they should be treated as a potential rapist since you can never really know if someone isn’t one, is suffering from at least borderline mental illness.

    I do believe that her vlog about the incident was unnecessary, both because anyone who would actually do that would likely not listen to what she has to say anyway, and because it seems rude to me to be calling the guy out on the internet for what may actually have been an innocent request (even if there was a lapse in judgement about the location of said request).

    Getting back to the topic at hand: I believe that perceived threats have less to do with socioeconomic status than preconceived prejudices. For example: A racist white woman will see a big black guy as a big scary black guy regardless of if the black guy is rich or poor, which applies no matter what the status of the white woman is.

  23. skzb: I will google a bit further, but I’ve only ever seen it used as defensively snide and dismissive which causes me to rankle at it automatically, having not seen it used civilly, even in response to civil (if ignorant, etc) comments.

    I thought a “clean reading” from voices less familiar, from a community that bends and warps somewhat differently might give me a clear and differing perspective (while being familiar enough to know that it would not be dismissal of sexism at all that motivated any possible reaffirmation of the unfortunate nature of the term)

  24. Chris F: “I do believe that her vlog about the incident was unnecessary, both because anyone who would actually do that would likely not listen to what she has to say anyway…”

    Just as a data point, I’m exactly who it was directed at. My reaction on seeing that was, “Oh, crap. I’ve done that. Never thought of it that way. Ooops.”

    R.C. Killian: That’s how I’ve seen it used too, and one reason it irritates me.

  25. Steve: He owns stocks, bonds, etc. that his parents left him. He never actually worked. So everything he has comes from other people’s labor. (Does it matter how his parents got rich, whether by working themselves, or by exploiting the labor of others? For how many generations?)

  26. @Chris F – It sounds to me like you’re coming at this from a very privileged standpoint. I’m not sure what line a person has to cross with regard to having a care for their personal safety for you to consider them crazy, but you’re giving a pretty clear example of gaslighting.

  27. Steve: That could be fun. Or else just open a topic for a given section, and anyone interested in reading along can talk about it.

  28. It’s an excellent, dense book. I read it a few years ago, but it does well with a re-reading, for sure. There’s a lot to it, and it’s really valuable. I would love to read it again.

  29. jenphalian@35- For one, I did call it borderline mental illness, not full mental illness. If you think that saying that is arguing semantics, then I would welcome you to check out the awesome amount of potential mental illnesses, as well as the spectrum of severity, that humans are contracting.

    Two, what else would you call someone who is suspicious of someone else for no real reason?

    By the way, at this point, I am not associating comments I make with Watson at all, and thus I’ve managed to bring myself completely off the topic of conversation.

    Kreistor- That is a pretty harsh criticism of Steve. Though I must admit, I have not read anything about Incrementalists, so I have no idea how accurate it is. Perhaps I should check it out.

  30. Steve, sure, you’re middle class, but are you suggesting that’s an alternative to the marketing class and the working class, a sort of mixed class that’s not the petit bourgeoisie?

    I created stories for publishers, but I didn’t own the means of production. Publishers gave me the choice of their way or the highway. My labor was for their profit. I was essentially designing the shape of the ink on their white bricks.

    As for ronin, they owned their swords. Cowboys owned their saddles. Owning tools is irrelevant.

    But I do realize I’m being idiosyncratic here.

    rone and Jen, sure, women get hit on vulgarly, but so do men. Currently, because of prison rape, there are more reported rapes of men than women in the US.

    I’m not saying whatshername was wrong to feel threatened. No one’s wrong to feel threatened anywhere, ’cause humans do bad shit everywhere. But that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t proposition people after they’ve been in bars together. It means the important principle continues to be no means no.

  31. Will: By the classic Marxist definition, we *are* petit bourgeois: the publisher is not buying our labor-power, the publisher is buying the product of our labor. We do the labor AND sell the product. Now, it is clearly that case that we’re on the lower end of the middle class, and our interests lie with the working class. But that’s another issue.

    “But that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t proposition people after they’ve been in bars together. It means the important principle continues to be no means no.”

    Unless I’m missing something (which is certainly possible), her point was, “Hey, guys, if you do THIS (proposition someone when alone in a confined space at 4am), you’ll probably get THIS sort of reaction, which is most likely not what you want, right?” That’s how I took it, anyway, and it seems reasonable.

  32. @Chris: The word “borderline” when talking about mental illness generally refers to borderline personality disorder (emotional instability), so no, I don’t think that is semantics. Accusing women of mental illness when they engage in undesirable behaviors, with disastrous consequences for the women, is a well-documented tactic. I don’t think you mean to be threatening here, but I’m trying to point out why comments along the lines of “it is crazy for women to do that” get my hackles up.

    As to the second item, I think you and I differ greatly in our opinions of what constitutes a “real” reason. Rape happens in our homes, at parties, at work, and at SFF conventions. I’m a woman, and I frequently have to consider this during normal social interactions with strangers and acquaintances. I am not paranoid or a victim; I am educated.

    You earlier mentioned treating men as potential rapists. There is a difference between reasonable caution (like turning down an invitation to go wilderness hiking as a first date) and the way one might behave towards a known rapist (like social shunning), and I think reacting to the former as though it were the latter disregards very real safety concerns.

    Finally, yeah, this is way off the topic of the post. Sorry, Steve, and I will stop if you want.

  33. ” There is a difference between reasonable caution (like turning down an invitation to go wilderness hiking as a first date) and the way one might behave towards a known rapist (like social shunning), and I think reacting to the former as though it were the latter disregards very real safety concerns.”

    Nicely put.

  34. Will – I absolutely agree with you that ‘no means no’ is the key, and that people can and should hit on people when they want to. I just also feel that the person getting hit on doesn’t owe the other person anything – a smile, a polite response, etc. – and following someone out of a bar and propositioning them alone (and I assume most people would do this due to shyness rather than malevolent intent) may increase the perceived threat. Which I think is reasonable.

  35. Steve, I don’t think I’m arguing with Marx. I’m arguing with the capitalists who say freelancers shouldn’t have unions. Ronin, whether they’re selling sweat or battle tactics, should never forget the lords can kick them out anytime. Hmm. Maybe I’m saying the technicality that “creative” freelancers are selling more than daylaborers just ain’t that important to me. The distinctions seemed firmer in Marx’s day.

    Hmm. I should prob’ly ponder this some more.

    And I do agree that propositioning a woman in an elevator isn’t the best place. But sometimes you gotta take the only chance you get, knowing you’re likely to be turned down.

    Which makes it sound like I’ve propositioned a lot of people. I’ve almost always been the timid person who was propositioned.

    Jen, no disagreement at all there.

  36. @jenphalian- I completely agree that there is a major bias against women, both in the medical and psychology professions. Many mental issues are often written off as “hormone imbalance” even today, which is shocking to me.

    Usually when women have an encounter with a known rapist, there are visually recognizable, and completely justified, reactions of fear. Considering that at least 1 in 5 women will experience some form of sexual trauma in their lifetime, descretion, and even a certain amount of wariness of men, is certainly valid; however, if a woman, who has never had any traumatic experiences with men, is treating men as potential rapists, with unjustified (meaning unprovoked in any way) visual fear, because a feminist told them that they should treat all men as potential rapists, that is where I think it crosses the line into paranoia.

    I once dated a woman who was a rape victim, back when I was young and dumb. The only reasons she wanted to date me was because she thought I was cute, and because she knew that I was leaving the country soon. She will likely never trust a man in her life, but I tried my best to show her what a good guy was like.

    The whole time we were together, we never went beyond heavy petting, which I was fine with. Soon after I left, I talked to her and got an update that she was dating another guy, who had pressured her into having sex soon after it started, and she also said that she missed me. I, being young and dumb, brushed her off and haven’t contacted her since then. I was stupid enough to think that she liked that other guy more than me because she had sex with him soon after they met, and not with me after 4 months of dating.

    I dated another girl whose sister was sexually assaulted when she was younger, and she went the other route, into promiscuity. She is only now, about 12 years after I stopped dating her sister, getting over it and getting over a sex and drug addiction.

    My sister and cousin, mother and aunt were all sexually abused by my Grandfather. I also have another friend who was sexually abused by a family member of hers growing up.

    I bring those up, although likely too much information, to show that I am just one person, and I know, personally, 6 women, and probably more, who have been through sexual trauma. I completely agree that a certain amount of descretion is needed (tragically) by all women toward any man.

    BTW, the only privilege that I have is being a white man in America, which I can agree is certainly privilage enough, but I do not have the privilege of wealth unfortunately. That isn’t a jab at your assumption, just an explanation. Being a white male in America gives enough disconnect on its own to not be able to fully understand the conditions of being a woman.

    I apologize for going off subject again, Steve.

  37. Chris F: I don’t mind the subject morphing. The trouble I have with your comment is here: “if a woman, who has never had any traumatic experiences with men, is treating men as potential rapists…”

    I’m not exactly sure what that means. “Treating men as potential rapists.” See Jenphalian’s comment above about not going hiking in the woods on a first date. That seems just a reasonable precaution with someone one doesn’t know well. To call it treating him as a potential rapist is, while technically accurate I suppose, to introduce a lot of baggage that seems inappropriate.

    If a big guy, alone with me on an elevator at 4am, asked me if I had any money, I’d feel threatened in a way that, if someone small asked, I wouldn’t. Does that mean I’m treating every large man as a potential mugger? If the answer is yes, then I’d have to say it’s reasonable.

  38. Steve – Thanks, I think you made the point about ‘treating him as a potential whatever’ very nicely there.

    Chris F – I think you’re contradicting yourself (your first and seventh paragraphs). Caution and discretion are perfectly acceptable for everyone to exercise at any time.

    To be extra picky, are you classifying appropriate behavior based on victim status there? I’ve been assaulted & traumatized, but I don’t think that’s what gives me permission to display fear if I happen to do so. Being human gives me that permission, and it is not a symptom of any clinical mental illness. I can’t think of anyone I know who acts cautiously by cringing or displaying other “visually fearful” behavior.

    As far as feminists going around telling people to treat all men like potential rapists, I think it might be these ladies:

    Lastly, I’m very sorry to hear about the women in your life who have been sexually assaulted. However, long-term emotional response to rape is not just either “never trusts men again” or “becomes sexually promiscuous.” That narrative grows out of the madonna/whore dichotomy, and it is damaging to people who have been assaulted to think they have to fall into one category or the other.

    PS: I was only assuming male privilege in your views.

  39. Jen, would that there were only straw feminists. But when you have women who want to be able to convict men of rape purely on the basis of an accusation, there’re problems. (Jessica Valenti noted, “…some activists and legal experts in Sweden want to change the law there so that the burden of proof is on the accused; the alleged rapist would have to show that he got consent, instead of the victim having to prove that she didn’t give it.”)

  40. “Me: Fair enough. So then, it’s all right to believe that at least some feelings, under some circumstances, fall into the category of, “That you have those feelings indicates there are social problems.” The difference between that and, “those feelings are wrong,” seems to lack substance. Would you agree?”

    No. That an individual has beliefs contrary to the norm is not evidence of large scale societal problems. Insanity exists. Some people are self-centered. There is no evidence a cultural shift can eliminate either one of these faults. For it to be a societal issue, it must stem from society, not individual conviction. If beliefs of the above type are being transferred from father to son, mother to daughter, that is not a societal level issue, unless you are planning on somehow criminalizing parents teaching children moral values different from some proscribed and regulated morality. It is the Right of parents to teach children their own belief structure, insofar as it does not lead to criminal acts. We punish acts, not thoughts, in our society. Your statement above is taking a step down the slippery slope toward thought control.

    “If a man does not keep pace with his companions,
    perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.
    Let him step to the music which he hears, however
    measured or far away.”
    – Henry David Thoreau

    For a society to have Free Speech, it must also have Free Thought. As much as you hate Capitalism, the one thing the West has gotten right is not forcing morality on the populace. I know some of you have views of the media that somehow deny this, but what we do not have is the Gulags of the USSR and the Work Camps of China forcing us into modes of thought consistent with the thoughts of a self-declared intelligentsia. The very fact that you yourself think against the claimed media propaganda is evidence that their influence is relatively minor, and not a significant form of brainwashing.

  41. Will – Fair enough. I have friends who would argue for that Swedish justice system example being a good thing, but I don’t like it. There are certainly extremes everywhere we look, and being dismissive of their existence is unhelpful.

  42. I had made a message in response to Steve and jenphalian, but I was having trouble posting it, so instead of typing the whole thing, I’m going to write the abbreviated version.

    Basically, the cases that I’m refering to are rare enough that further discussion is mute. After all, we are talking about paranoia brought on by trauma and paranoia brought on by the influence of another. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what the cause is, and since trauma is a lot more common (sadly), if you encounter a situation in which a woman is afraid of you without any provocation, then it is best to just assume that there is a valid reason for the fear and try to accomodate her by leaving the area.

  43. Unless someone is even more socially screwed up than me, the only reason they’re on that elevator is they are also going up to their room in the same hotel, which is not *following* her, as joining her silently would not change any of the circumstances.

    Of course: I’ve got alleged neurological and psychological issues which may prevent my recognition of threats. I was stupid enough to get drunk with my neighbor I had never spoken to when he knocked on my door. Even after he removed the .45 from under the couch cushions near me and told me about his recent exit from Entrepreneurial Pharmaceutics.

    I also once called a nearly-stranger woman at 2am to come over, and thought nothing of it. As I was retroactively informed, she probably expected something about my intentions. She was mistaken and it was awkward.

    Additionally: I’m also bugged by the claim that this guy “was” sexualizing her. As noted above, some of us just have failure to recognize nuanced social cues (or big, blinkety ones staring us in the face) and could even be told “HEY, IT’s 4AM!” and would think, “Yes, and?” and not mean a bit of it as sexualization. It would be better to emphasize that these things could be misinterpreted, and that’s why they should be reconsidered. Else, men are rendered as definitively sexual (to exclusion of all else) creatures with no other motivation for interpersonal interaction.

    That said: it really isn’t straw feminists. I’ve seen conversations like this (that I was not involved in, but just read along with) eventually reach “Men should never talk to women they don’t know unless spoken to first,” with voices of dissent shouted down. To be honest, though, those conversations have basically left me terrified of talking to women I don’t know for fear of discomforting/upsetting/scaring someone. Even in public, daytime, heavily-populated places.

    That doesn’t mean it’s a majority, or even a large minority, but I promise there are loonies everywhere, including (alleged/self-described) feminists who think this way, and it’s frustrating to always be told they don’t exist (as inevitably happens–I’ve never been told that, as I’ve read enough to know not to–barring this time–reference such experiences). My own personal experience with “mansplain” came from stating that (with the phrase included) in my opinion stalking should be defined by those who feel they are being stalked. Which was based on the experience of saying, “Uh, that strikes me as stalking,” when someone I know had personal files broken into to find their address, followed by an unannounced visit. I was ripped into for this and told it was not stalking, said person knows exactly what stalking is from experience. I thought, “Okay, well, it’s not my place to tell someone else who doesn’t feel that way they are being stalked then, I suppose.” Apparently, describing my opinion on the subject was mansplaining. I’m not sure whether I was supposed to not have an opinion, defer, or simply not express it.

    Side note:
    I should probably not involve myself too much here. I’ve deleted twenty comments in the past few days, as the subjects are entirely too close to me and discussing them makes me nervous. I’ve been excoriated by female friends for having emotional responses to the subject (I am apparently “oversensitive” and indeed obviously “faking” my reactions, because I’m male). Oddly, these are not the women who have intense emotional connections to it themselves. Those who do have never questioned me. Okay, perhaps it isn’t odd. I get a bit of the former vibe from Watson, when she calls it “sexualizing” her, as there’s not a clear indicator of this from the story she told–indicators it could be taken that way, but nothing that confirms it so clearly as she describes. People are different of course. But I would rather she was an assumptive jerk than someone speaking from experience. The former would say better things about the world.

    Second side note, to keep my brain away from the Bad Thoughts That Take Forever to Lose:

    When all this was part of my life was when I first read Jhereg, and then everything that followed. I am endlessly appreciative that the issue never came up in those books. There was nothing more unnerving than realizing I now have to spend every attempt to escape into media prepared for something scene as a plot device that is far, far more to me appearing and ruining my escape. Those books kept me sane and (relatively) happy for a very difficult period of time, in and of themselves, and by not dealing in sexual violence in even much of a tangential way [that’s insurance: I tend to block out tangential ones, so I could just not be remembering and don’t want to sound like I wasn’t paying attention]. It may be seen and called out as “realistic” to keep these things in fictional works, but I’d like to think there’s somewhere I don’t have to think about it. Having such a place was an immense relief, for which I don’t mean to just be fawningly sycophantic so much as legitimately grateful.
    (That I can no longer watch a certain popular television show of generally high quality is awkward and frustrating, especially as it only turned on me after I’d become invested.)

  44. Yeah, I had trouble posting for a bit too. (That last reply to you was a rewrite that I saved in notepad for a few hours.)

    I don’t know. I think we’re talking about different things. I don’t think being cautious is paranoid or fearful. But yeah, further discussion probably is indeed moot.

  45. Back there, a little after the beginning, a little vaguery crept into the discussion due to a colloquial usage of the word “feeling,” where a more precise usage would have helped. Feeling is either physical (cold, pain) or emotional (sad, frightened).

    While one is not going to be in a position to tell someone what they “ought” to be feeling, there is always a basis for questioning whether the basis for the feeling is rooted in the facts as generally agreed upon. Sitting in place where the ambient temperature is 65 degrees Farenheit, an individul who claims to be “too hot” is either inappropriately dressed or suffering from one or another physical sympton outside generic human norm (e.g., fever, menopause). Getting to the basis of a claim not in line with the “facts” is comparetively simple, physical facts not being that hard to agree upon.

    Any other kind of feeling is less dependent upon objective conditions than the personal experience of the one expressing a feeling. These “subjective” conditions can arise from actual personal history, lessons learned from a vast potential array of authority figures, not to mention what the subject has taken to heart from popular and unpopular culture. (The latter phrase lifted lightly from a certain work). With regard to this type of fleeing, disputes can get messy easily. Without the ability access the same subjective “facts” that drive the feeling, the only thing that can get a discussion going is getting the agreement of the utterer of the feeling. That will take a while all, and another longer while to have the discussion.

    Most of the time, it makes sense just to let it go. Of course, if someone acts upon the decision to post something on the internet, they are inviting anyone who comes across it to have a go at the basis for the feeling without benefit of any prior discussion.

    And so we get to masplaining, class warfare, mental illness and sundry others.

    Not sure that the next stage of development would get rid of all the social ills we see. Many, for sure. There will still be mental illness, and people who will (unfortunately) act upon the basis of their illness. So child molestation is likely to be there, murder, and assorted other mayhem.

    I recall a wonderful and likely based-on reality apocryphal story of a Soviet-sponsored conference on the rules of post-Capitalist literature. Among the first rules was that there would be no tragedy, and one wag pointed out: “But comrade, it would still be possible for someone to be hit by a tram.”

  46. “…men have no right to talk about under what circumstances women should feel threatened….”

    For the sake of conversation I’m going to pretend that each person has two parts. One part is a victim of circumstance. They feel whatever they are forced to feel by events. The other part is a smart, informed, savant who is changing the world into what they want it to be.

    Victims feel whatever they happen to feel and they have the right to feel that way, and in the USA they have the right to say it. One victim can say he doesn’t want blacks to vote. Another victim can tell the first victim that he’s a disgusting asshole. Both feel superior and hold their positions more firmly from the interaction. Both are within their rights. Similarly, Israelis who are victims can say they don’t want Palestinians to vote. Palestinian victims can say they don’t want any Israelis in their country. Etc.

    Savants should be compassionate or at least tolerant of whatever victims think. You don’t change the world by expressing your own victim-think. That’s just More Of The Same. Don’t blame the victims.

    Victims will not be tolerant of savants saying things they don’t want to hear. That’s OK too. If you are a savant and you are changing things, you may need victims to heal in ways that are uncomfortable and they may not like it. Too bad. They may call you a disgusting asshole and that’s OK. What is not OK is failing to get the results you want. If you freak the mundanes and the world does not change the way you intended it to, you are being incompetent. You have annoyed people for no good result.

    What if you are a savant and another savant disagrees with you? If you are competent you will understand what he says well enough to absorb whatever useful ideas he presents, and you will see where he has gone wrong. You will see how to present your superior ideas in a way he will absorb them. You will not care whether he credits you. If he gets you upset you are not being a savant. You are being a victim.

    There’s a quote attributed to L Ron Hubbard that goes “We are all of us victims and victims of victims.”. I prefer not to credit it to him because I don’t like other things I’ve heard about him. But whatever the source, I’ll take it.

  47. There is a TED talk on the subject of morality being something that can be scientifically deduced. It’s by Sam Harris and it’s called “Science can answer moral questions.” It’s not a long video if you’re interested:

    I think the whole problem with the argument is that we’re assuming there is a RIGHT versus a WRONG.

    As Seth put it in Jane Robert’s “Seth Speaks”: Opposites—including ‘right vs wrong’—are hindersome to humanity and not actually accurate no matter what we decide is right or what we decide is wrong. I’m paraphrasing terribly here, but essentially there is creation, but not destruction. There is good, but there is no evil. There is right, and there isn’t really wrong. That doesn’t mean there isn’t suffering, or that nobody ever does anything that seems unjustified or unfair at the time—it just means that in the great scheme of things the terms “right” and “wrong” don’t really apply. Things we dub “wrong” turn out to have some of the most amazingly beneficial results all the time. Some of the worst experiences in my life turned out to be the most powerful and wonderful things in the long run.

    I stopped by, by the way, as I’m in the middle of re-reading Yendi (I read the series previously in the published order, now I’m reading them in the chronological order and I’ve just finished Taltos and Dragon in the past week) and I’ve noticed some interesting truths you’ve brought up.

    For one thing, you’re familiar with the “fact” that truth doesn’t exist outside of our physical reality. One can be visited by someone not yet born, as you show in Yendi.

    For another, you’re familiar with what things can be like when on “the other side.”

    I don’t have any point. I just noticed it and appreciated it. Are you familiar with the work of Joan Grant? I love her far-memory books (biographies of her past lives).

    ~ Raederle

  48. “I think the whole problem with the argument is that we’re assuming there is a RIGHT versus a WRONG.”

    Go back to the argument Steven made. Somebody says “I feel bad that blacks are allowed to vote”. Is it OK for him to feel that way? Is it OK for him to do something about it?

    How about if he instead says “It makes me feel bad that blacks are allowed to run around loose instead of being slaves”?

    “It makes me feel bad when women are allowed to say no when I want sex.”

    We are raised to believe that some things are just wrong. Slavery is wrong. The Nazis were wrong. Zionists are wrong for exactly the same reason as Nazis, but quantitatively less wrong. So far they have not tried to genocide Palestinians.

    You can say there is nothing wrong with being a racist rapist Nazi, but most people will disagree. Are they wrong?

    In one sense it doesn’t matter how right they are. Collectively they have power. Sometimes they have some tolerance. They might say that it’s OK for you to have homosexual thoughts provided you don’t actually do anything. But if you have sexual thoughts about children you had better not write them down in a way that looks like child pornography because they’ll get you for that. The tolerance varies.

    If you lived in Nazi Germany where a whole lot of Nazis collectively had power, they did not tolerate people publicly disagreeing with them. They would put you in a concentration camp for that. But they got into a conflict with almost the whole world and the rest of the world collectively had enough power to stop them.

    People often have moral ideas that don’t add up. Like, there is a US consensus that rape is always wrong. Unless you are convicted of a serious crime and go to prison. Then you deserve it.

    Whether or not there is some real objective morality somewhere, and whether or not in reality there is evil or not, still you must choose your own personal standards for yourself. If you can’t find a “true” reason for your beliefs, you must fall back on esthetic standards. There are things you find displeasing that you don’t want to have around you. If you do find yourself exposed to them then you attempt to clean them up. Whether or not you are right or wrong ultimately, this is what you do.

  49. There is a fine line between believing on a spiritual level that right/wrong doesn’t really exist and believing that it is okay to just “do whatever”. It’s a rather intricate balance, I believe.

    Ethics/morals are a collection of beliefs about what has a positive or negative effect on society as a whole and on individuals as well. If the effect is negative then we deem it WRONG.

    But here is the hitch, we don’t have the ability to analyze all the impacts of any action. Therefor, we can’t perfectly deduct with reason whether something is right or wrong on the level of the universe. I personally believe that everything works towards the good in the long run, but that we COULD suffer less if we chose paths that were kinder and felt more “right” to us along the way.

    Does that make sense? I realize I’m trying to make a subtle point here.

  50. Thank you, that makes perfect sense.

    So, we try to get what we want. Things that we think keep us from getting what we want, we think are evil.

    But we don’t really know how to get what we want, and when we try we might accidentally do things that hurt us badly in the long run.

    People usually believe that if we punish bad behavior then there will be less bad behavior and the world will be better. When they’re wrong the result is their own bad behavior with its consequences on top of the original bad stuff they don’t fix.

    It might be better to do more good ourselves and react less to other people’s bad. But we don’t actually know what results to expect, so any guess about what behavior is good is somewhat chancy.

  51. Excellently put Thomas.

    I try to always find the bright side of bad situations, do my best to avoid bad situations occurring in the first place, and if I can’t reason my way into seeing a bright side and I can’t avoid the bad situation coming to my attention, then I try to be philosophical about potential good that is coming from it somewhere, on some level.

    If I stay positive-minded then I am at my best form and most able to prevent myself and others from suffering.

    If I spend a bunch of time worrying about bad things, evil events, anti-this and anti-that sort of stuff… Then I won’t be as level-headed and as good at preventing the very suffering I’m supposedly fighting against.

    So, even IF there is such a thing as something being truly evil, I’d rather not believe in that because that belief can hinder me in being a part of good forces in the world.

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