Appalling Work, Donald

Redo the work and bring it in tomorrow. It’ll be a day late, but it’ll be better than this.

Appalling work, Donald.

Signed: Feminine Fury

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Featured Image is of Gandalf in the famous “YOU SHALL NOT PASS” meme. Main Body Image is of Donald Trump’s recent letter to Kim Jong Un with MANY red corrections on it.

When Silence Is Supportive

Greetings, fellow male and male-adjacent (i.e. living with a greater or lesser amount of male privilege) westerners. This post is addressed to us, not to anyone else. Everyone is, of course, free to read it, but this is more about keeping our own house in order than anything else. It’s a post about a piece of advice.

This is not a revolutionary piece of advice. This is not “woke.” This is very explicitly old advice that I keep seeing us not taking, and often see myself not taking, which is why I’m bringing it up. Here’s the advice:

Give underprivileged voices space.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is shut up and listen.

Here’s what I mean.

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CUE SCENE

Woman 1, tweeting about her day: Ugh men are such trash.

Woman 2, sympathizing: God, I know, what now?

Woman 1: Dick pic. Again.

Woman 2: Don’t they know that it’s repulsive?

Man: [says literally anything]

Woman 1 and 2, simultaneously: *hit block button*

END SCENE

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In this scene, there were two women having a conversation about a shared negative experience at the hands of a demographic (in this case, men) that you, a man, belong to. There is very little you can say in this instance that is helpful. You could #NotAllMen them, which is highly inadvisable for reasons that ought to be pretty clear to anyone who can use google at this point. You could also try to be supportive, something like “I’m so sorry that you had an awful experience (Again. At the hands of people like me.),” instead. This isn’t the worst response, but does insert yourself into a conversation where your presence isn’t required.

Instead, sometimes the best thing you can do is stay out of the way. That’s what I’d advise.

Is it hard when you want to be helpful and reassuring to sit on your hands and say nothing? Sure. It’s so tempting to insert yourself into a conversation with even the best of intentions. I screw up a lot, too, because I was raised to think that everyone wanted and/or needed to hear my opinion, and I’m still trying to undo the way that arises out of my own privilege. Also, Twitter flattens social hierarchies and makes you feel close to people who you’re not, and that’s a challenge, too.

And I get the irony, I do. I’m saying this in a blog post that I want people to read. I’ll probably tweet about it, too. On the other hand I made this space and set it out from the beginning of this post to not be up in someone else’s mentions about it.

What can you do, then? Well, you can listen and learn. You can make a separate conversation with other people about how you can change the cultural norms that have led to these women’s shared negative experience. You can boost their voices, too (with their permission), seeking out and sharing pieces written by those like them who have put their thoughts into words.

But all of this relies on, first, you backing away a little and asking yourself “is my input really required here?” and “will my input replace the voice of someone else?” and “would my silence be more beneficial than my speech in this instance?”

Because while sometimes silence is complicity—not speaking out against oppression, for instance—at other times it’s actively supportive.

Sometimes giving people the space to have a conversation without you is the best thing you can do. So think about it, I guess. And try to be good.

Signed: The Remixologist.

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Featured image of a cosplayer making the finger to lips “shh” gesture: Jennie Park, CC BY 2.0

Let’s Talk About “Tribalism”

Tribalism sucks. But also: calling it tribalism sucks.

 

I’m going to break a pretty major rule of writing right now, not just because it’s my blog and I can do as I like, but because in this case it’s the literal subject of the post: I’m going to start with a definition.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines tribalism in the following way:

tribalism, n. 

Pronunciation:  Brit. /trʌɪbəlɪz(ə)m/, /trʌɪbl̩ɪz(ə)m/, U.S. /traɪbəˌlɪzəm/

a. The condition of existing as a separate tribe or tribes; tribal system, organization, or relations.

b. Loyalty to a particular tribe or group of which one is a member.

It’s a word you hear a lot these days, and it’s almost entirely referring to meaning b. And among those references, it’s essentially always in relation to a “group of which one is a member” and almost never in relation to a “tribe.”

What they’re talking about is the increasing tendency, especially in America, to hold all your opinions not based on facts and evidence, but based on a sense of identity. It doesn’t matter, for instance, if you’re white and lower-middle-class and that you won’t see a dime of the trillion dollar tax cut, because Bob who’s been working at Wal-Mart for twenty years got a thousand dollars, and you like Bob because he’s a lot like you.

“Tribalism,” as we’re calling it, is a short-circuit in our brains. We automatically sort people—automatically, as in, without even thinking about it, not on purpose—into “in groups” and “out groups.” My people and your people.

This crappy part of our brains was probably useful once upon a time. If you’re a hunter-gatherer in a hostile landscape, banding together with a limited group of others to gather and defend resources is a great idea in an evolutionary system. It helps strike the balance between effort-sharing, profit distribution, and competition. If you work together, you do better—to a certain point. When the group gets too big, your share goes down because of various inefficiencies. Plus, of course, it’s pretty profitable to kill and steal from other groups, so everyone being in the same group limits whose lives you can destroy for your own gain. Humans are the particularly nasty result of, well, really it’s thermodynamics, but we can talk about that later. The point is, we (the descendants of the survivors of this system) used to find it really profitable to band together and lock others out.

And now that we all have to live together, and now that we don’t (openly, at least) accept that murdering others for what they have is an acceptable practice, it’s a piece of particularly destructive evolutionary baggage.

Economics mostly operates on the idea that people are, by and large, “rational actors” who do what’s in their own best interests, except that we don’t and a lot of that is because limited acts of altruism—only for the in group, you understand—are also, weirdly, advantageous. Add to that the modern problems of propaganda, bizarro political identity formation, and shifting demographics, and you get poor white male Christian Mike defending tooth and nail the need for tax breaks for billionaire white male Christian Ted at the expense of his own social safety net.

So: tribalism sucks.

But also: calling it tribalism sucks.

As someone who’s studied the Middle Ages more than most, I have a chip on my shoulder about the way scholars of earlier years created the myth of the “Dark Ages,” a period of unenlightened thinking between the totes amazeballs Roman Empire and the second coming of awesomesauce the Renaissance. I mean they literally called it the “rebirth,” as though all through the Middle Ages culture and thinking were dead. This is a lie. But part of how that lie operated was in the naming of things.

The Romans built “roads.” The insular people of the “Dark Ages” made “trackways.” I kid you not. Roman roads and “Anglo-Saxon” trackways. Nomenclature carries meaning with it, and it’s rarely innocent. In this case, it’s used to imply “primitivism,” a devaluation of a thing because it doesn’t fit a certain model of “modernity” or the then-prevailing (deeply-flawed) view of “progress.”

And that’s why I hate that we’re calling in-group/out-group dynamics “tribalism,” because we (and by we I mean western colonizers) have spent hundreds of years using the word “tribe” to denote that same kind of primitivism.

Look at the first line of the Wikipedia definition of “tribe”: “A tribe is viewed, developmentally or historically, as a social group existing outside of or before the development of states.” It’s the “developmentally” and “before” that’s the problem there. We’ve spent so long making a distinction between “civilized” people who live in “nations” and “primitive” people who live in “tribes.”

Now step back and look at what we’re doing with “tribalism.” We’re taking something decidedly negative, an evolutionary throwback in our brains that causes us to be irrational and nasty to one another, and we’re calling it by the name of a form of social organization that we’ve historically denigrated for being “primitive.”

Calling something as dangerous as in-group/out-group prejudice “tribalism,” to me, sounds pretty damn insulting to everyone whose social organization white colonizers have spent the last centuries calling “tribal” as a placeholder for “primitive.”

So here’s my suggestion: let’s stop. Don’t call it tribalism. Call it factionalism. Call it identitarianism maybe, or sectarianism. Call it in-group/out-group community formation. Call it literally anything but “tribalism.”

Let’s try to stop factionalism (or whatever we agree to call it), but let’s also try to stop calling it that, too.

Signed: The Remixologist

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Featured image: The definition of “tribalism” from the Oxford English Dictionary (Online). Source: OED.