About 'Alpha+Good'

Alpha+Good (a bad wordplay on Orwell's "double plus good" and old machismo - I'm the realest after all) is a side project that belongs to 'Onklare taal' ('Unclear' or 'Unripe language'), the umbrella of several literary projects in Dutch.

This section is almost exclusively in English and comprises my ongoing thoughts on progress, gender, politics and various other social themes. Why is this in English why everything else in Dutch? Because I want to gun for a much wider audience here. Also, my literary English isn't good enough, otherwise I would always write in English.

Are you a little lost? This link will take you right back to my home page.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Rhetorics of progress (V): First aid during debates

Whichever way you turn it, tone is just as important in a message as the medium if you want to reach an audience. You'll speak differently with a minister than with your friends, for instance. To convince someone, it's always best to speak or write the way that will make that person most receptive.

However, tone has been used for decades to silence progressive movements, and feminism in particular. Opponents would allegedly listen if feminists were more 'reasonable' or 'didn't use such strong language'. These are usually excuses not to have to listen, or a one way street to the infamous 'smarm'. Put bluntly, someone who is smarmy will focus only on formalities and not content, and will often keep coming back back to useless non-statements.

This brings me to five defence mechanisms that I've come to identify a couple of years back in a big presentation on progressive thought. I think it might be useful to run down that list again to help people arm themselves against those mechanisms.

1. Denial

"I don't see the problem."
"You're making this up."
"It's not as bad as you think it is."

Knowledge and facts are the perfect antidote against denial. Thanks to the Internet, there are hundreds of sources available to prove feminist theses and clearly point out the issues. The plural of anecdote isn't data, but it may also help to refer to examples of everyday life for people who have trouble accepting feminism.

2. Shift

"Women's empowerment is bad for men."
"Muslim women have got it so much worse, though?"
"Workers' rights trump women's rights."

Some people seem to think that one group's success will always be to the detriment of another - which is not necessarily the case. Female suffrage didn't render men powerless. It's useful here to point to intersectionality and lead the discussion back to a common theme instead of falling for 'divide and conquer'-rhetoric, that today have resulted, for instance, in the fact that the white Flemish underclasses see the Muslim underclass as its opponent, while they in fact face a shared predicament.

3. Appropriation

"We are being oppressed, not you."
"But what about our problems?"
"When is it going to be International Men's Day?"

It's always useful to check whether the person who says this, may be making sense, but similar to the shift strategy, it's important to keep the discussion on topic. It may be rewarding to speak about proportionality here (e.g. relationship violence proportionally damages women more often and more severely). As a last point, it's useful to consider whether this isn't an argument in bad faith to legitimise certain forms of oppression, such as the victim role that religious extremists or MRAs often resort to.

4. Vilification

"The status quo is fine and those who challenge it are evil."
"You are màking this into a problem."
"Feminism has a sinistre agenda."

The backlash against feminism is sometimes rooted in the fear that a now oppressed class will behave like today's priviliged class. Be on your watch for straw men (like individual examples of extremists that have appropriated the feminist label), and don't shy away from a debate on good and bad moral values. It's also helpful to acknowledge anger without pouring oil on the fire, and lead the discussion back to a calmer place.

5. Violence

"Stupid cunt."
"You need to be put in your place."
"I'll beat you up."

Leave the discussion if possible, or remove the person from the debate. To lash out in equal measure is usually a bad idea and will often lead to escalation, unless you're left with no other option. It's not a bad idea to name and shame people who do this - if they are using their real name, for instance.