Wednesday, July 7, 2010

On Being More Inclusive and The Echo Chamber

I just read the most amazing post and I'm having a hard time sorting through my thoughts. Instead of trying to over think it, like I always do, I am just going to write what I feel like writing and hope its not garbage. This post has gotten incredibly long, but there's just no way around that.

First, this whole post is amazing and I recommend it to everyone. I don't want to get all melodramatic (though that's kind of how I roll huh?), but it's probably the best thing I've read on the internet. Part of this is because it puts words to my own feelings, but also because its just brilliant. This part is especially relevant to how I've been feeling lately:
Maybe now is the time to tell you that I’ve been having some serious doubts about my place in Internet Feminism. Not my involvement in Internet; that, no doubt, will go on. Because what else am I going to do with my time? But there are problems, I think, with the terms of the conversation I’ve set up here; there are problems with my own place within that conversation, the person I’ve agreed to be when I talk to you. That outraged, righteous, upright, know-it-all person who has compassion for all the right people and scorn for all the wrong ones, who’s on the right side (your side) of all the issues: I think she’s dangerous, and I think she’s at least partially false. The falseness is the root of the danger; problem with Internet Feminism, or any politics of identity, any system that purports to help you get your life and problems understood better, is when it sets up a too-easy, pre-packaged narrative for your own life. When it gives you the language, the rules for engaging and discussing, but doesn’t help you to look with any greater or more dangerous honesty at what you’re thinking, or how you’re acting, or who you are.

I’ve seen it happen. Too often, I’ve seen it happen; the people who can criticize a post, and then, when asked to back that criticism up, can only quote a different post by another Internet Feminist. The people who can look at a piece of art — or, hell, TV or pop music, those work too — and can only classify it as Oppressive or Subversive, or located at a greater or lesser degree of “problematic”-ness, according to current theories of what is or is not problematic. The lack of original thought, or of aesthetic judgment, is creepy: It suggests that we’re approaching this all like math, like a standardized test to which there are right or wrong answers, rather than as art, or (preferably) life, where what matters is not just your conclusion, but how you got there. And there are other things: The way we’ll go out of our way to invent political defenses of art we like — feminist reading of Twin Peaks, anyone? Because I’ve done that one — because it’s how we can justify liking it, rather than simply saying, I dunno, “it is misogynist as hell but I like how creepy it is and also it’s funny and also I have a thing for the young Kyle McLachlan, Lord help me.” Arguments where we invent political insults (you’re a classist!) to cover up the personal feelings behind them (you’re an asshole!) because we know we can win on the grounds of politics, but might not do as well if we actually, honestly dislike each other. Incidents where we make up political rationalizations (as a woman, I have a right to voice my anger!) for stuff we shouldn’t get away with (I am getting up on your junk and acting like a douche!) no matter who we are, and that we probably, on some level, know to be wrong.

I mean, I’m talking about myself here. You get that, right? I’ve borrowed too much from other people, and haven’t bothered to check those arguments before incorporating them, because they were popular or persuasive; I’ve oversimplified things I was supposed to be critiquing, for the sake of making a point; I’ve rationalized and politicized my tastes and personal dislikes and bad personality traits, to make myself seem like a better person or a better feminist, and at some points I’ve thought — probably, God knows, even said — that “good person” and “good feminist” were one and the same thing. Maybe you’re better than me; maybe you’re pure. But it’s a problem, with any moral system of thought: At some point, we learn what we’re rewarded for saying, how we’re rewarded for seeming, and then we say those things and seem that way, for the reward. It’s like any other set of social norms. But when feminism is used this way, not as a means to get into truth, but as a means to make truth easier or even to avoid it, it’s really not all that different from, say, reading a lot of Ayn Rand. Granted, the results of its clueless or selfish application will probably be better than what the Objectivists have managed thus far. But it’s still something you do for you, rather than for the sake of doing it; it’s a means of propping yourself up. Of self-glorification.

It’s especially bad news when we do this on the level of personal narrative. Which is where we get back to me, to the person I’ve agreed to be while I take part in this conversation. Because, at this point, I have to acknowledge that the extent to which I deplore this way of engaging has to be measured against the extent to which I’ve participated in it. Or contributed to it. Or caused it. Every time I yell at some pathetic anonymous commenter and people cheer, every time I get all righteously outraged without talking about what I’ve done that is the same or worse as what the person I’m outraged about has done, every time I play the toreador and gore a bull for your entertainment, I shudder a little. Because I’m helping it happen: Aiding in the creation of a discussion where we reward outrage and scorn and hatred and Othering of the ideologically impure, the bad feminists and unfeminists and anti-feminists, all the while pretending to a purity that none of us, living in this our inherently compromising and mindfucking world, actually possesses. I’m glorifying myself; I’m letting you glorify me; I’m giving you a false impression of how things actually work, letting you believe that the world consists of Good People and Bad People. I’m telling you that I am Good, and that you are Good to the extent you agree with me, and that people — other people, people on the outside of this discussion, not us, certainly — are Bad if they disagree with us. I mean: This is basically how every terrible thing in the history of humanity has started, the decision that there’s an Us and a Them and the former is good and the latter is bad. Doing it in the name of lofty principles doesn’t mean you’re not doing it; it just means that when the problems — the self-falsification, the repression, the insistence on ideological purity rather than self-examination or originality or thought — creep up on you, you’re less likely to notice them and more likely to rationalize them. Because your aims really and truly are good.
See here's the thing, I feel like I may have given the impression that if you don't agree with me then there's no place for you here. Since Random Thoughts evolved mostly from my desire to have a place to vent, I know a lot of my posts reflect that. I also feel like I still have no idea what I'm doing when it comes to blogging. Sometimes I can look back at some of the things I've written and feel pretty good about myself. More then that though, I look at the different connections I've made and the things I've learned and I feel deeply satisfied. (I don't tell you guys I love you much do I? Well I do.) But other days, I can't help but wonder why I'm doing this. Sometimes I feel like there's no reason to throw my own voice into the vast echo chamber that already fills the blogosphere. I have a nasty habit of talking at people instead of to them and I'm not sure how to fix that (such is the nature of talking on the internet). But I want to. There's just no excuse for making anyone feel like they're a horrible person simply because they don't agree with me (though I sound very full myself for even saying that I think).

In my real life I am surrounded by people who feel differently about the world then I do. I mean, I live in freggin Utah. It's not really known as a bastion of different ideas and beliefs. (This is the very thing that lead me to blogging in the first place.) I've even mentioned my struggles with Ryan's conservative family before. My point is that having different political views has never stopped me from getting along with people or making lasting relationships. Obviously I feel more camaraderie with people who hold similar views as I do (that's only expected), but I don't want to be surrounded by people who only agree with me because I don't think it promotes growth. I want to argue with people and hear conflicting ideas because it makes me better at thinking through and arguing my own opinions. (I'm selfish like that.) Mark Twain had it right when he said you can never learn anything from someone who agrees with you.

I am not always right. And while some of you nod your head emphatically at that statement, I want you to know that I genuinely know this and am not being falsely self-effacing. I don't know if you've realized it yet, but I am an extremely introspective person. I like to take apart the things I believe and catalog them like some strange exotic animal. Because of this I am generally able to separate my emotions from a lot of discussions. If my argument doesn't hold any merit beyond my own righteous moral outrage, then I am probably in the wrong. You may have noticed this doesn't always work though. Some topics are just impossible for me to separate my feelings from (like rape). While I think this can actually help my argument in some cases (in the sense that those emotions are translated into passion), in others it limits my ability to see the subject clearly for what it is outside of myself (as do all strong emotions I think). I accept this and realize that if I could somehow make it so this wasn't the case then I don't think I would be who I am. Or human (Borg maybe?). And our collective...humanness is what makes me passionate about politics and social commentary in the first place.

But none of that excuses self-righteous assholery on my part. While I admit that I can be a complete bitch about some topics, I don't want that to become some blanket excuse for shitty behavior. To do so only deflects responsibility for how I treat people. Saying, "well I'm a total bitch what do you expect?” is not good enough for me. I hold myself more accountable then that. (Though I'm not saying there is anything wrong with the people who do this. My way is not the only way - which is the whole point of this post. But we're not talking about those other people. This is about me. IT'S ALWAYS ABOUT ME.) I am no more of an "expert" in life then anyone else.

And the flip side to this is that you aren't an expert either. (Sorry to burst your bubble people.) While there are definitely people who are better informed than others, it is important to remember that we jointly make up this space. All of our stories and experience and opinions make up the fabric of our collectivism. I feel like I'm starting to lecture again, but this is something I am sorry I haven't encouraged more. If I've ever made you feel like you were a bad person because you disagreed with me then I am apologizing now.

Now, I'd like to think that some of you are wondering what the hell I'm talking about. You rightly see me as a wonderful person and aren't exactly sure who all these people I've been fighting with are. I want to make it clear that I am largely ignored in my little corner of the interwebs and I have been lucky enough to have only a few rude comments so far. I know some people have to deal with horrible people everyday and words cannot express how happy I am that I don't have to deal with that. But this post isn't necessarily about this blog specifically. It more has to do with just my online presence in general and any feelings of exclusion that may have been felt but not voiced. One of the comments in the post I linked to asked a powerful question, "So maybe that’s the question to ask in the end: is my online persona one that cultivates and encourages constructive dialogue or does it obstruct it in some way?" And ultimately that is why I am even typing these words out. I want to encourage dialogue. I want to make people stop and think, even if for just a moment, about things that they may have overlooked before. Sometimes I'm reading a blog post and it's like everything just falls into place for a moment. And maybe it's terribly vain for me to say this, but I'd like to be able to do that for someone else at least once.

If you ever disagree with me I want you to know I'm glad to hear what you have to say (well let's not kid ourselves, I'm sure I won't always be glad). This doesn't mean I'm going to change my mind or my stance of course. (If that's your goal, to change people's mind on the internet, then you're in for a lot of heartbreak and frustration.) Sometimes the world can feel silencing and I think ultimately that's why a lot of people turn to blogs and the internet. We want to know that someone hears our voice and that our thoughts matter. That's why I'm here. When people agree with me, I feel justified in my anger. It makes me feel right and good. But being right isn't synonymous with being good. Just like being in the wrong doesn't make anyone bad.

I'm not here to change anyone's mind. I'm just here to offer up my views on things and remind myself that my own thoughts and opinions do matter. But I'm tired of having to flagellate myself anytime I can't find the property accepted term of the moment to express my thoughts and feelings. There will always be people on the sidelines just waiting to call you out and question your motives. It's understandable. They do it for the same reason I've done it; to reinforce their own beliefs. But I don't want to take part in that anymore. I can be quick to anger and some people can be thoughtless assholes, but I'm going to make the effort to not be part of the echo chamber. Too often my focus has been on one side of the ideological divide and I don't like that (I'm talking more about my feminist beliefs then I am politics though).

From now on I am going to try to inclusive. How that's going to work out I have no clue. But at least I'm gonna try. That's got to count for something right?

5 comments:

  1. Well written and well thought out.

    The only fault I can find is where you say I am not an expert, 'cause I am, you know ;-)

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  2. mac: my apologies o'wise one!

    Brit: I do too. She's like the wittier, funnier, smarter person I wish I was.

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  3. What keeps me coming back to your blog every time I see that it's been updated is not that I agree with everything you write--because I don't. But you write very well, and you have actually exposed me to different viewpoints and ideas that I might not have previously known of or considered. I learn from your blog--even when I do agree with you! Which, being another crazy liberal, isn't surprising. : P

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  4. Thank you Meg! It means a lot to hear that (especially from you since you're so awesome).

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