Shut Up and Listen

In the comment thread for “The Sort of Crap I Don’t Get” there’s a very excellent, long comment about being a straight white guy that I encourage you to read in full, because it really is that good. It includes a relevant point I am going to excerpt, and comment on right now. It reads:

Two or three years ago I was reading a thread here (or possibly on Making Light) which dealt with the idea of privilege. I honestly don’t remember what specific thread it was, but it dealt with some privilege that I have — it might have been straight privilege, male privilege, or white privilege. I really don’t remember. I do remember being very put off by many of the arguments being made — the inference that I drew that people were trying to shame me by proxy, that I was bad for being [straight|male|white]. That really got my back up, especially because so many of the comments seemed to amount to saying “shut the fuck up.” But….

What saved me at the time from replying and showing my ass was that a closer reading of those comments (and by closer, I mean actually paying attention to what they said as opposed to just taking offense where I might be able to justify it) showed that they were saying “shut the fuck up and listen.”

As a poster boy for the “White Man Explains the World” set more than once in my life, allow me to say the following: Yea, verily. It’s hard to get us to shut up; it’s harder to get us to listen, for values of “listen” other than “waiting for the other person to stop making word noises so I can keep making my very important point.”

In fact, I think one of the hardest lessons to learn is the “shut up and listen” one. It was for me, and I’m still (oh so very not) perfect at it. Why is it hard for me? Because I’m used to people being interested in the things I have to say. This is partly due to being clever and good with words; partly due to having a large ego that makes me lead with the assumption that other people will find me entertaining and/or interesting to be around; partly due to having intellect and education enough to know at least a little about a lot of things (dangerous in itself), be able to make connections between them, and to defend my positions with at least some rigor. I am independent of anything else psychologically constituted to expound, and to argue, and to be confident of how I express myself.

Underlying all of that is the basic set of advantages I get unearned by being what I am, i.e., a white male. I became aware of this fact only over time, by having this advantage set pointed out to me repeatedly by those who are not what I am. Which is a bad deal for those folks, to be sure — the highest life crisis of everyone else in the world is not, in fact, making the White Male understand what he gets unearned.

I suspect in my case it would have been even more work for the rest of the world if I hadn’t had the experience of growing up poor, which meant that every time I saw or read someone who’d never been poor expound obliviously on what was really going on with poor people, I had to fight back the urge to beat them to death with a hammer. The experience of having to deal with people wealthsplaining poverty, and then trying to get them to listen to someone who had spent actual time in poverty, made it possible for me to more easily conceptualize the idea there were lots of subjects about which I had great potential to show my ass simply by opening my mouth.

Which doesn’t stop me from doing so, mind you. Knowing you have vast potential to show your ass doesn’t mean you won’t show your ass. It just means that you have to own up the fact you did it to yourself when it happens, rather than shifting the blame elsewhere. Which is also a hard thing to learn to do. It’s especially hard when you see yourself being sympathetic or aligned to the plight of others and you still get called for ass-showing. It makes you want to ask for the “hey, I’m on your side” discount on your ass-tasticness. But just as the rest of the world does not see its highest life crisis as helping the White Male understand his unearned advantages, neither is it required to clap its hands encouragingly when the White Male says “look, I’m helping,” especially when in reality he’s making kind of a mess.

There are lots of things I think I’m right about. But I’m less inclined as I go on to think I’m right about everything, and I’m more inclined as I go on to recognize that my perspective is not universal. This means that if I want to learn and to understand things, I will from time to time have to shut up and listen, especially on subjects where others have more experience than I. It’s not always easy, because as noted, expounding is what I’m good at, and I’m not exactly shy. I have to make myself make the effort. It’s worth it for myself, and for how it helps me to understand others.

506 Comments on “Shut Up and Listen”

  1. At the threat of feeding your ego, I think you (and your commenter) awesomely nail this. And I, for one, am glad for anyone that can well state their opinions (as you do time and again) because, well, it makes ME shut up and listen. With an open mind even.

    And that’s a good thing.

  2. It is always difficult to swallow one’s mistakes. Being able to do so is the measure of the individual’s sense of ownership of and responsibility to their own self-image.

    I don’t think anyone should be shouted down simply because of any perceptions regarding perceived values of ethnicity/sex/sexual orientation/economic background, including those who have privilege, but choose to engage in dialogue. Such is calling the kettle black, then throwing it away.

    Muh two cents.

  3. Really important thoughts, and ones that I know I need to take to heart. I am white and I am well off and I am male. Even worse, I grew up in a fairly wealthy family. I do have to remind myself that as much I as like to blurt out my thoughts, that sometimes I lack the proper perspective and background to properly benefit the discussion. I like to think I am fairly open minded, and think that since my wife isn’t white and that I lived around poor families and that I read up on other cultures, that I am more well tuned to the plight than others. Really, I’m not. I don’t have the real life perspective and day to day dealing of not being white, male or well off. I have to remind myself that, and even more importantly, remember it is good to shut the fuck up and listen.

  4. I think “Shut up and listen” is great advice in all situations. The one caveat has to be that those saying it have to be willing to do the same thing.

  5. This is a lesson that must be learned, it seems to me, over and over and over again.

    Shutting up is hard enough; actually listening, as opposed to (im)patiently waiting one’s turn to start talking again, is a rare skill, and calls for a discipline most of us sorely lack. As a straight white male myself, who makes his living with words but spends a lot of time looking for ways to make space for the voices of those who may be none of the above (and whose exaggerated sense of self-importance is still oh so easily on display as what must appear to be a really annoying aura of humility, koff koff), I often find myself praying (as befits my particular profession) for the grace to keep silent whenever possible.

    Probably didn’t even need to say any of that, but just wanted to offer you kudos; shutting up now.

  6. I’ve noticed that people tend to listen to friends more than random strangers. In the case of the whole racefail thing, I think you (John) were a bit resistant to random people telling you your ass was showing, but when people you trusted started giving you the same message, you listened.

    I think that’s a universal, and not something specific to you, though

  7. One of the reasons I really like to read you is that you aren’t scared to admit when you’re wrong or you don’t know.

    Also, because you coin awesome words like ‘ass-tastic’!

  8. There are several excellent points here, and one that’s really worth repeating: actively listening to someone is HARD.
    A reasonable analogy is that the difference between “normal listening” (when you’re busy waiting to talk about your own thoughts) and “active listening” (when you are actually taking the time to consider and truly comprehend what is being said) is like the difference between reading a light, fun novel and a chemistry textbook (or insert whatever difficult subject you like). It takes focus and (as therevr @6 accurately put it) *discipline* to really listen well. I just wish that I listened at that level much more often than I do (I believe my wife would agree with me on that :-)).

  9. So let me ask a question…which one of these situations is worse?

    I have been reading all the posts and I think I know which way the wind is blowing, so I post a comment that basically says “Yeah. What they said.” I know that I will receive responses to my post like “I totally agree…” and “Good point…” but deep in the back of my mind, I know I have been mentally flaccid by jumping on the bandwagon and not pissing anyone off.

    I have been reading the posts, but I’m troubled by what I read because I strongly disagree and feel that everyone else is being mentally flaccid and I jump in to point that out to everyone. I realize that, in upsetting the apple cart, I am causing noise and friction, and even though I try to present a cogent argument, I know that most on the thread will indeed be pissed off. I just don’t care.

    Again, which is the more intellectually dubious?

  10. One of the most irritating examples of the White Male Is Speaking that I constantly run into is the “Let me tell you what you should find offensive” school. It’s not enough for men to have the power, the money, prestige in the workplace – oh no. Now that we have SNAGs (“Sensitive New Age Guys”), who feel the need to tell women, minorities, the poor (but particularly women) what they should find offensive, what they should find degrading, and what they should protest. It’s yet another form of infantilizing (is that a word? it should be).

    I ran into this the other day – being told that a particular musical stage work is racist and offensive and should be rethought and only presented in a new, politically-correct form (read: Bowdlerized). Except, of course, that I’ve yet to meet a single example of the folk portrayed in the work who found it offensive. In fact, it is widely embraced within that community. Part of its power as a work has always laid in the fact that it was written as a genuine attempt to portray a situation that was otherwise ignored in polite society. Would it be written in today’s cultural atmosphere? No. Things have progressed since that point and thank goodness for that. That doesn’t mean, however, that the work is valueless, or that we can’t perform it without Bowdlerizing it. And yet, according to more than a few of Father Knows Best guys, we aren’t allowed to touch the thing. They have deemed it offensive; therefore, it is offensive, and any attempt to discuss that gets the person in question labeled as prejudiced! Even when they’re speaking from their own experience!

    Ooh, ooh, another one! “Defining rape.” Hoo boy, not even sure I want to get into that, but how many times have I heard my or others’ experiences dissected so as to determine to a white guy’s satisfaction whether they thought it was actually rape, or whether the woman actually deserved it, or whether how we reacted was appropriate. Hell, even Congress has gotten in on this act…

  11. I don’t think that John is suggesting that anyone should be shouted down; that’s what the mallet is for. One of the wider points is that it’s possible to unintentionally silence someone simply because you are better at stringing words together faster than s/he is; what s/he has to say may be more valuable, but it never gets said.

    I am privileged; for example, an old friend was concerned about the riots in London last month and thought that I might be endangered. I had to explain that I live in a secure building and nothing short of a rocket launcher would make any dent in it. We have our own police force, which may seem a little odd because only around 6,000 people live in the City of London, but a couple of hundred thousand come into work here each day so it’s policed for those numbers.

    I have nothing worthwhile to say about urban riots because I am completely ignorant but I could probably string words together faster than many who are not ignorant…

  12. My grandmother used to say, “Are you listening? Or are you waiting for me to stop talking so YOU can talk?” When I’m humoring someone along as they make their mouth-noises, I often hear her sharp voice in my mind and I check myself. Most often, that’s precisely what I was doing. Then I have to go back and try to parse the data I’ve been given. Honest to goodness listening is no mean feat.

  13. Jim @ #10 – offers classes and books on “Nonviolent Communication”, which involves active listening. It can feel stilted when you’re getting into it at first, but it eventually becomes a natural act.

    Works with spouses, even :-)

  14. @11 – Why do you feel the need to correct people if it is obvious that your “correction” isn’t welcome? And why do you believe that you are uniquely in a position to point out other peoples’ flaws? It’s like showing up, uninvited, at a party, and complaining that the hostess didn’t make your favorite dip! I politely suggest that perhaps the strong reaction isn’t that your point is invalid, but that the method of presentation is not diplomatic.

  15. @11 – why can’t you do the second choice but NOT in a condescending, “you’ve all missed the point” fashion? Presuming you’re really listened to what the comments are saying (and not just skim-listened), then make your point respectfully, with good logic and ideally some evidence. If it’s an opinion based issue, fully acknowledge that what you’re putting out there is another opinion and while you feel you’re right, it doesn’t mean others are wrong.

    In opinion-based discussions it’s frustrating to talk to people who clearly have no intention of over admitting that they are, in any way, mistaken. To me, one of the first signs of an enlightened person is to see that someone’s willing to change their mind if shown that the idea they have is actually wrong.

  16. Jean Claude Nninin at 11:

    What’s intellectually dubious is trying to make some kind of point by hinting that you have a point to make but not actually trying to make it.

  17. soprano, you can be offended at anything you like as long as I dont get hanged for not being offended. and you can choose not to be offended at something as long as I dont get hanged for being offended. being offended is like flavors of ice cream, it is ultimately a personal experience.

    as for defining rape and other crimes, I will say tthat I prefer living in a society where crimes and laws and punishments are defined by the people as a whole, rather than an individual or small group.

  18. Ah yes, the straight|white|male ass-tastic moment! Mine was when I was in my early twenties. I was talking with a female friend about the harrassment and discrimination that women received in the workplace. I of course was busily telling her that such things were a thing of the past. She was trying to get me to understand that they were very real and still happened. I disagreed with her rather vehemently for awhile before finally, mercifully, the light kicked on and I realized this truth:

    My own personal experiences are NOT actually the same as everyone else’s

    I shake my head in sadness at the younger me, and all those years of insight wasted by my own hubris and self-importance, but I am at least glad that not only have I, “seen the light,” but I realize just seeing the light isn’t enough, and that it is a constant journey towards the light.

  19. Something I’ve been thinking about lately: I think part of the problem is that we don’t know what to say in response to hearing about something terrible.

    Discussions about privilege and terrible experiences bring up all kinds of difficult emotions (as the anonymous poster in the other thread pointed out). I think one of those is often a desire to show sympathy, but we’re not always good at doing that. (I’m thinking of people at funerals who really want to say something comforting and don’t realize that “she’s in a better place now” or “it’s really for the best” or whatever can be infuriating rather than soothing.)

    I’ve started to think these are the magic words: “That sounds terrible. I’m so sorry you’ve gone through that.” Important: that’s ALL. At the end of that, you stop talking.

    Learning to say “That sounds terrible. I’m so sorry you’ve gone through that” says:

    * I heard you
    * I sympathize
    * I’m done talking. I’m not going to hijack the conversation and start talking about myself, even in a misguided attempt to show sympathy. I’m ready to listen some more, if you have more you want to say.

    For me, at least, it’s helped short-circuit my well-intentioned but clumsy desires to offer suggestions (as if I know more about the situation than the person who’s experienced it), similar instances from my own life (intended to show I understand and sympathize, but annoying because now I’m talking about ME and I’m no longer listening), or my random thoughts about society (which often indicate I haven’t really heard the other person). Just, “I heard you. That’s awful. I’m still listening.” It definitely leaves me better focused on hearing what the other person is trying to tell me.

  20. I’m reminded of something that I keep coming back to many times these days:

    [I]t is necessary to suppose that every good Christian is more ready to save the proposition of another than to condemn it as false. If he is unable to save the proposition, the one who made it should be asked how he understands it, and if he understands it badly, it should be discussed with him with love. If this does not suffice, all appropriate means should be used so that,understanding his proposition rightly, he may save it.

    That’s from the Spiritual Exercises, written by St. Ignatius Loyola, who founded the Jesuit order within the Catholic church. It was originally advice given to retreat directors and those going on retreats, but it’s good advice for lots of other places, too. True, it’s not as pithy “shut up and listen,” but it recognizes there’s more to listening than just not talking. A listener must 1) give the person speaking the benefit of the doubt and take what they’re saying at face value, and 2) make every attempt to understand what the other person is saying (including asking the other person what they mean if you’re hearing something you think is wrong), before even beginning any argument. And even if–especially if–you think they’re wrong, you are supposed to go beyond mere civility into no-kidding brotherly/sisterly love while you argue. Arguing is not about scoring points, it’s about understanding.

    And yes, White Males really do suck at listening. After all, we’re the one’s who raised debate into a competitive blood sport. :\

  21. @20 – as an artist, I feel like being purposefully offended *by art or what have you* is a necessary part of the human experience; it is an opportunity to make a person think about something in a new way, to reconsider old stances, etc. But that experience and such triggers are completely different for every person.

    I also don’t think there’s necessarily a list of “Thing Everyone Must Be Offended By!” other than the obvious generalities – child abuse, murder, lynching, generally egregious abuses of human rights – thought I don’t think offended is the correct term for the appropriate reaction to such things. Disturbed, perhaps.

    I think people often use the word “offense” when perhaps it is not the appropriate word (though of course, this is my opinion, lol). To me, offense is a personal sense of hurt, shame, anger, etc., based on your personal life experience. As such, of course no one is going to react to things in the same way, and I don’t expect them to do so. However, I do think there’s a line between “taking offense” and “respect.” I.E., some people are going to find some jokes more or less offensive. That’s fine and that’s a personal line. However, calling someone a “c***” isn’t something that’s a matter of my taking offense to it; it’s disrespectful, meant to be disrespectful and there is no compelling reason for someone to use it other than to intend hurt. Does that make sense?

  22. Bearpaw @ 18: No point exactly, just an observation of posting behavior, The dynamics of blog threads seem at times to be random and free-flowing, but from a more macro view, are often predictable and can be very mundane despite posters best efforts to appear intellectually rigorous.

    Please note that I am not attacking THIS blog in particular. Most comments here seem well thought out and reasonable, partly because John is an active moderator. However, I’m asking the question if those of you out there feel that 90-95% of (any) blog responses fall into two categories, “I totally agree…” and “I totally disagree…” without also truly including “why” in a non-emotional way.

  23. #11, the most intellectually vigorous approach might be #3, to realize, “Wow, that really touched a nerve. I wonder if there’s something about this idea that I find threatening.” and then go off and think about it. Which can end up with a pretty boring comment thread, admittedly, what with people going off to think before writing.

  24. John: “This means that if I want to learn and to understand things, I will from time to time have to shut up and listen, especially on subjects where others have more experience than I.”

    I am reminded of a lesson I learned some decades ago when I was trying terribly hard to be all sensitive-white-cis-male supportive of a life-choice someone had made, and trying terribly hard to understand where they were coming from. And they were remarkably open about themselves and patient with my attempts at understanding, but honestly I just wasn’t getting it. Eventually they realized that we were approaching the end of their patience, and the end of that discussion went something like this:

    Them: “Are we still friends?”

    Me: “Well, yeah, of course.”

    Them: “I’m glad. if and when people hassle me about this, are you willing to stand by me?”

    Me: “Well, yeah”

    Them: “Thanks, I appreciate that. Here’s the thing, though. You don’t need to understand it and I don’t need to explain it to you. Maybe we can give that another shot someday, but right now it’s just exhausting me. Can we just go grab something to eat and talk about something else?”

    Me: “Okay.”

    That was a bit of an epiphany for me, that (1) it can be tiring to feel like you’re always trying to explain even to friends and allies what you are and/or why you made the choice(s) you made and (2) understanding is good, but it’s optional.

  25. soprano@24: Does that make sense?


    now, where the rubber meets the road shows up in a couple of places. a specific incident, a specific moment in time, and some say it was offensive, privilege, bias, what have you. And some say it wasnt. Was James Crowley being racist towards Henry Lois Gates Jr?

    Can I say I think Crowley’s actions were not racially motivated without having my personal level of offense or lack thereof dismissed out of hand as white privilege? because while I get that sometimes “shut up and listen” is focusing on the listen part, I think it would be naive to say it is never simply focused on the “shut up” part.

    because I have had conversations with people where the only legitimate reaction was to say Crowly was racist. anything else is defending racism consciously or unconsciously.

    I was on jury duty for a murder trial once. Three month long trial. After three months we finaly started deliberations. We the jury could talk about the case for the first time. when we took our first vote for guilty / not guilty, I was surprised that it was split nearly down the middle. but at the same time, as soon as people expressed different opinions on it, I wasnt thinking ‘they are wrong. I am right’. I was thinking *we* have to figure out the truth together. a lot of deliberation later, we came up with a unanimous verdict.

    That was a case as a jury member. where we get al the facts that bith sides think are relevant and most of the heresay and gossip and such are already filtered out. now take it a step back where we arent on a jury, where we arent getting all the facts, where we are getting a lot of heresay, gossip, and opinion. we end up with different (opposite) interpretations of the same event.

    Can I throw in my two cents about the event, even if as you say in #16 that my “correction” isnt welcome, or would me giving my two cents along with everyone else get dismissed as me thinking I am uniquely in a position to point out other peoples flaws? when as far as I can see, everyone is making their vote known and I decide to make my vote known as well.

  26. As someone with a lot of rage and rhetoric at her disposal, not to mention a fairly high tolerance for conflict (who does that sound like, hm?) it can be really hard for me not to respond with military-grade flames, even to the clueless-but-well-meaning displays of privilege (of which I myself have plenty, as white|married|educated).

    It’s something I’ve had to teach myself not to do, because for me that kind of self-righteous outrage became like eating a tub of Cool-Whip: even though I knew it was a bad idea at the time, it felt good and I wasn’t in a head space (or later, couldn’t be bothered) to exercise the discipline not to.

    Now, though, I try to respond differently. I try to be more grown up, to show someone, gently if possible, that an attack on privilege is not an attack on them (no, you didn’t DO anything by being straight|cis|white|male. Privilege is unearned. That’s how it works.) I don’t always succeed. Sometimes I still scream in frustration and scare the cats. But on those days, I try not to type any comments.

    I know it’s not fair. It adds to my burden, that not only do I have to suffer social wounds and injustices, but then I also have to hold your hand and speak softly as I show them to you. Some of them are still fresh. Some of them still hurt. But still, at this stage in my life, this is the task I have set for myself, one of my ways of emptying the ocean with a teaspoon.

    While it is in no way the job of a marginalized person to the Educate the Privileged, it’s nice to know that once in a while it works. The sea gets that much shallower. Thanks, Anonymous.

  27. #25 by Jean Claude Nninin: “However, I’m asking the question if those of you out there feel that 90-95% of (any) blog responses fall into two categories, “I totally agree…” and “I totally disagree…” without also truly including “why” in a non-emotional way.”

    I can’t tell what your actual question is.

    Also, your stats are significantly off, at least as far as this blog is concerned. You might want to ask yourself why you think you’re seeing more of that than you really are.

  28. Thank you. First, for (re)sharing the brilliant comment and then for opening the subject. (actually, opening the subject *is* the most important. (sigh) nothing like blathering from the outset. =/

    As an older white woman (60+) born in the US South with plenty of scary stories of my own; I’ve watched my personal privilege increase over the years. (through laws & changes in general public opinion). It’s a good thing although I know how much is still lacking. That said, I raised my sons with the idea that they’d received these most excellent “free gifts”: male, white, tall, intelligent, etc. And I explained to them (ad nauseum) just how fortunate they were and that as a result they should never forget the rest of us who weren’t so fortunate. It goes much deeper than that but it was my small part in reminding them that their privilege is enormous.

    I have had many acquaintances who were never able to see further than “hey, I did it, everyone else could too” and “what’s wrong with those lazy/complaining “, never acknowledging that they may have had a *leg up* . I figure I’m preaching to the choir here but none of us got to where we were without some breaks and having a little empathy (at the very least) for our fellow travelers shouldn’t be that difficult.

  29. Jean Claude Nninin @11, 25: You seem to be conflating “pissing people off” with “contributing.” Playing “devil’s advocate” or trying to turn a discussion into an intellectual debate might seem like a really great idea when the subject at hand is a purely intellectual one for you. But when the subject at hand is real people’s real lives, and the injustices they face every day, you can bet your butt that it’s not a fun intellectual exercise for the people involved. Trying to turn it into one is very likely to piss people off–but not for the reason you think.

    Being contrary just because you think people should consider all sides of something before jumping on the bandwagon is actually quite insulting to people who’ve been subjected to your viewpoint all their lives, and know a lot more about the subject at hand than you do.

    Consider a situation where a bunch of physicists, astronomers, and rocket scientists are discussing near-lightspeed travel. Now, imagine a total layman on these subjects joins the conversation to contribute his totally game-changing opinion that the key to fast space travel is getting some of that red matter from Star Trek.

    Whatever that layman’s intentions, they come off looking foolish, and possibly also desperate for attention. If the experts involved tell him to go do his homework and leave them alone, he might mistake that annoyance for indignation at being one-upped by a layman–but actually what’s going on is that none of them volunteered to set their life aside to explain things to someone who can’t be bothered to do some basic homework.

    When it comes to discussions of injustices that don’t personally affect you, you are the layman joining a conversation between experts. Now, maybe you are just so insightful that you can contribute something those experts have never considered. But to quote or venerable host, “the failure state of clever is asshole.” So you should weigh the odds that you’re really original and insightful against the odds that every one of those experts has not only been exposed to your viewpoint before, but is a bit tired of explaining its flaws to people who can’t be bothered to do their own homework on the subject.

    If you’re actually listening to the conversation, and respecting the expertise of those involved (that is, trusting that they know more about their life experience than you do), you will probably come to the conclusion that those odds are drastically not in your favor.

  30. In my experience I’ve found that the people yelling the loudest to “shut up and listen” are some of the most in need to practice it.

    Personally I generally subscribe to the “life isn’t fair, adapt, overcome and move on” model and generally find I have better things to do than to “debate” with people who’ve already made up their minds before the discussion even starts.

  31. Vaughn @ 32

    Sounds like you did a pretty good job with your boys. I recently read that a majority of high-achieving men attributed their success to “I worked hard,” and a majority of high-achieving women attributed their success to “I’ve been lucky.” (Sorry I can’t find the citation – I’ve been reading too many books lately.)

    The truth is usually a combination of the two, but it’s fascinating which element we’re socially conditioned to discount.

  32. SpacemanFry:

    “In my experience I’ve found that the people yelling the loudest to “shut up and listen” are some of the most in need to practice it.”

    You may wish to get out more, then. However, even if your observation were true, it doesn’t render the suggestion moot; it merely points out that everyone would be better off listening more.

  33. I never said it renders the suggestion moot. Merely pointed out the fact that IMO most people are hypocrites (big or small) and when someone finds themselves telling other people to shut up and listen they should do the same. I generally assume that just because someone tells others to do the right thing they aren’t necessarily going to do it themselves. I guess that makes me a cynic with respect to human nature.

    BTW, “You may wish to get out more, then” merely proves my point…

  34. Most people have trouble in a debate when they are emotionally vested in the outcome. Unfortunately, many “privilege” discussions are hyper-charged with emotion, so they descend quickly (or can) into a shouting match.

    I have to confess that I used to get very angry when someone told me I benefited from straight white male privilege. I felt as if it was belittling my accomplishments because my background is anything but privileged. I worked hard for everything I have…and have lost a lot despite my efforts to hold onto them. I get hammered in life and I just can’t see anything happening to me as being evidence of privilege.

    But the truth is that I AM privileged. Everything that I’ve accomplished has been done with the silent complicity of that privilege. If I had been black or female or non-straight, I would have encountered even greater problems. Admitting that does not take anything away from my efforts. It just means that I had more going for me than I was aware of at the time.

  35. SpacemannFray @ 37

    *beep* We regret to inform you that your attempt to turn “No, YOU shut up!” into a valid rhetorical strategy has failed. Please try your argument again later. *beep*

  36. @29 – I look at offense the same way I look at the concept of free speech: One has the right to say whatever it is you want to say. That does not mean, however, that one is exempt from the repercussions of exercising that right.

    You certainly are entitled to your opinion as to the circumstances of the Crowley incident. If you don’t think it was racially motivated, that’s fine. HOWEVER, that does not mean that everyone else has to subscribe to that reading of the situation, nor that it is always appropriate to air your opinion. It behooves us as humanity to consider the impact of stating our opinions. If you were discussing the incident with black folk who had experienced intense overt and institutionalized racism, insisting that the action wasn’t racist may likely be hurtful and, frankly, inconsiderate to the persons with whom one is discussing.

    If you are familiar with the individuals and it is clear that the topic is open for debate, then yeah, go for it. However, one of the issues of privilege is the fact that certain members of our society feel the freedom to say whatever they want to say, regardless of the affect it might have on others with less privileged. It’s also easier to be “objective” when it is not your own butt that is being affected. It’s easy for someone – say, an upper class white male – to say, oh, that wasn’t meant to be racist, it wasn’t racially motivated. For the person in question, regardless of Crowley’s intent, the action was still offensive and hurtful – based on their own experiences.

    So. Please understand, I’m not yelling at you or telling you your opinion is invalid. What I’m trying to say is that it is not always appropriate to try to convince people that your opinion is correct. A discussion (polite, respectful) is welcome in many circumstances; in others, it is not. Saying, “put yourself in their shoes” doesn’t really work, because it’s impossible to necessarily see everything as someone else might. Ergo, at least consider whether or not your interjection is mannerly or considerate. For instance, there are many forums in which it is appropriate to discuss what constitutes date rape; giving your opinion on the subject to a woman who recently experienced the situation is not only inappropriate and hurtful, it’s also just plain rude/inconsiderate.

    I’m all for the airing of opinions. My mom complains that I’d argue with a fence post (a talent taken from her side of the family, for sure). One of the things *I’ve* had to learn, however, is when to put up, and when to shut up. It’s better, IMO, to err on the side of the latter.

  37. #39

    And this is why I generally don’t participate in online “debates”. It’s beyond my comprehension as to how you read what I wrote into “No, YOU shut up!” If anything I’m saying instead of anyone saying “shut up and listen” people should say “why don’t we both take a step back and LISTEN”. Then again in my experience no argument goes anywhere good once someone starts a sentence with “shut up and …. ” (Do I need to get out more about this too?)

  38. SpacemanFry:

    “BTW, ‘You may wish to get out more, then’ merely proves my point…”

    Well, no. It does prove that I think you probably would benefit a wider range of experiences with other people, however.

    Also, I am skeptical that someone who says that people who say “shut up and listen” need to do it themselves isn’t actually suggesting that the act renders the point moot, particularly when they follow up the statement with “life isn’t fair.” It really does suggest that your reaction to the idea of being told that you need to listen is to shut down and not listen at all.

    What it does suggest, however, is that you don’t like being told that you should listen instead of talk. To which, of course, and as noted, I sympathize. But it’s still useful advice anyway.

  39. SpacemannFry @ 42

    Exhibit A: “In my experience I’ve found that the people yelling the loudest to “shut up and listen” are some of the most in need to practice it.”

    “It’s beyond my comprehension as to how you read what I wrote into “No, YOU shut up!”

    Then perhaps you need to work on your reading comprehension. Or if that isn’t what you meant, maybe you need to be clearer when you express yourself.

    You don’t enjoy what you perceive as being shouted down in an argument. However, what you are presenting is that you don’t like it when other, presumably marginalized, people don’t listen to YOU. Which, in direct contradiction of history and experience, they are NOT actually required to do.

  40. Old saying, very hard to apply, “We were given 2 ears and 1 mouth, so we would listne twice as much as we talk.”
    VERY hard to to live by.

  41. If anything I’m saying instead of anyone saying “shut up and listen” people should say “why don’t we both take a step back and LISTEN”

    Which means…you’d rather nobody said anything? The whole point behind “shut up and listen” is, as many have pointed out here, that a lot of conversation, be it spoken or written, is based on at least one participant not actually holding a conversation, but merely waiting for the words to stop coming out of the other person. And John is pointing out that, if that’s how people around you have conversations, maybe you need to involve yourself with people that don’t have conversations that way. And as you’ve just proven, you’d rather just assume that you’re right and not let any alternative divert you from your way of thinking and conversing.

  42. #33 Annallee: “When it comes to discussions of injustices that don’t personally affect you, you are the layman joining a conversation between experts.”

    Not necessarily. Not being affected by a particular injustice does not preclude someone from having “done their homework,” as you suggest (rightly) that they should.

  43. I’m going to very politely disagree that “shut up and listen,” is the best advice. A conversation, true communication, is a two-way street. It involves talking and listening, listening and talking. Many people (including myself sometimes) don’t communicate when we talk. We open our mouths, stuff comes out, and often we’re paying so little attention that we don’t even remember what we said, even if it sounded good at the time. This isn’t always inappropriate, but it’s not as good as most people think it is. As any good teacher knows, diatribes, sermons, and long lectures are very inefficient ways of communicating. It’s all one way. It’s far better to engage in a conversation, but that requires both parties communicating. Not just one.

    So sometimes you have to shut people up, just to engage in communication. One way is to ask a question, along the lines of, “I didn’t understand what you just said.” “I’m sorry to interrupt, but” is also a good one. However you do it, engaging in a conversation sometimes works better than simply listening, especially if you want to understand what’s going on.

    The second huge problem is that everyone has assumptions they bring into the conversation. Even as a straight white male, I’m routinely told that I don’t know what I’m talking about, and I can only imagine how much worse it is for others. To be honest, it doesn’t matter whether I don’t know what I’m talking about, or whether my accuser is simply wrong (which happens quite often). The point is that I said something and another person disagrees with, and therefore they think it’s my problem, not their own. They may be right, they may be wrong, but they’ve already made a judgement that gets in the way of communication.

    If people don’t understand each other, often the only way to solve it is through conversation, which means both people honestly listening. As others have noted, this takes tact and practice. To me, the hardest part of this process is how few people are willing to admit they are wrong. But you know, I could be wrong about that too.

    Nonetheless, shutting up and listening isn’t the best strategy. I’ll even point out that everyone reading this knows it already. We all sat through at least 12 years of classes, right? How do you learn in class? Is it by shutting up and listening to the teacher drone on, or is it by asking a question when you don’t understand? I know that the cool kids never ask questions, but I also know that the smart kids do ask, and they learn through engaging. I also know that smart teachers engage, more than they lecture. Perhaps this applies to real life as well?

  44. heteromeles:

    The advice to “shut up and listen” isn’t meant to suggest one should only shut up and listen. It is to suggest that it’s a strategy one often should employ more than one would without the admonition.

  45. Which means…you’d rather nobody said anything?

    If the choice is between 2 people having 1 way conversations and not listening to each other and no one saying anything at all, absolutely I’d pick the nobody say anything option. Same outcome in terms of understanding and a lot less aggravation all around.

    Perhaps I wrongly equate “shut up and listen” with “let me tell you how it is” but to me they both lead to non productive conversations.

  46. Shutting up and listening takes self confidence. It’s sort of like asking for help. It’s okay to not be the subject matter expert in every subject; no one can know everything. But you have to have the self confidence to understand that even though you FEEL like you know a lot about something, maybe you don’t know as much as you think you do. And just because you’re not an expert in car repair doesn’t mean your expertise in computers or programming or fishing or writing is stupid. It’s just (possibly) not very useful in the current situation. And this why people take this kind of situation so personally, and respond on the defensive or “move the goalposts” as they say on Fark. It’s very hard to say, “I don’t know.” On the other hand, I’ve gotten in the habit of saying, “I don’t know enough about that situation to make an informed comment” and often times the response I get is, “well you don’t know anything about X, so why should we believe you when you say you know something about Y?”

  47. Soprano@41: If you were discussing the incident with black folk who had experienced intense overt and institutionalized racism, insisting that the action wasn’t racist may likely be hurtful and, frankly, inconsiderate to the persons with whom one is discussing.

    if I were discussing Crowley with *anyone* I would expect them to hold the distiction between the existence of systemic racism and whether a particular incident was racist or not. Me saying I think Crowley wasnt racially motivated does not equate to me saying systemic racism doesnt exist. Nor does it downplay any of the horrible racist things *they* suffered.

    If me saying I dont think Crowly was racist hurts anyone not directly involved in that incident, then its because the incident, though it had nothing to do with them personally, has triggered them in some way and they are now invested in that event being interpreted however they are invested in it being interpreted.

    I have no problem someone saying ‘I was arrested and abused by police for being black’. I can ‘shut up and listen’ to whatever they want to say about what happened to them. And I can say ‘I am so sorry that happened to you’. But that doesnt mean Crowley must be a racist. and it doesnt mean that I can no longer say that because it will offend someone who wasnt involved in that incident. being *triggered* because an event reminds you of something that happened to you doesnt mean the event actually resembles anything that haplened in your triggering event.

  48. SpacemanFry:

    “If the choice is between 2 people having 1 way conversations and not listening to each other and no one saying anything at all, absolutely I’d pick the nobody say anything option.”

    It’s almost never this choice, however, or only these two choices. It’s rather more frequent (in my experience) that you will have two people where one is talking past the other, but the second person is trying to engage. Beyond this, of course, on the Internet the conversation is not only between two people.

    Added to this the fact that conversations on the Internet also frequently have audiences, to whom the conversational participants play to as much as they discuss with each other. For those folks, conversations can be quite useful, even if the two (or more) participants are talking past each other.

  49. musictheorysean @ 47:

    “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.” – Yogi Berra

    Someone who has “done their homework” about an injustice but hasn’t been targeted by it may have a theoretical understanding of it that equals or even possibly in some sense exceeds that of someone who has been targeted by it. But their practical understanding is inherently more limited.

  50. Greg @ 53, what I think you are doing here (presumably without meaning to) is dismissing the weight of lived experience. No matter how much we may do the homework, without lived experience (or expertise gained on the level of life’s work), we can only ever have so much standing in a conversation.

    For example: I have no children. I have however, been a child, and those experiences have left me with some fairly strong opinions on the subject of parenting. Also, I have read a great deal, asked questions and actively listened to other people who are parents.

    However, in any discussion of child rearing, it is incumbent on me to preface my remarks with “I don’t have children of my own.” Why? Because it indicates that I understand the limits of my own experience and am willing to be educated, to shut up an listen as it were. My experience is incomplete. And as I have not made developmental psychology my life’s work, all my research is still fragmentary at best. For me to say, “Well, I think thus and so, and that’s my opinion, so it deserves equal weight in this conversation!” would be the height of hubris.

    When discussing issues that are not *merely* intellectual, that affect every moment of every day someone moves through the world, trying to claim that standing without the lived experience is not going to go over well, and yes, it is going to piss people off. I think you’re a smart enough guy to see why.

  51. I’m glad that the whole “privilege” conversation is starting to happen outside of the various somewhat insular “rights movements,” and I agree with what most of you folks are saying.

    Unfortunately, I’ve seen a new something emerging that is bound to muck up the works all over again just when they are getting scraped clean. There’s a certain breed of person, rare but their ranks are growing, who pull out “privilege” in order to avoid facing fair criticism. “Shut up and listen” is great advice when you’re talking to people who have more experience than you do on a subject. If you have similar levels of experience on the subject, and/or you just disagree on the subject and it has nothing to do with privilege, “shut up and listen” seems to be an ASSERTION of privilege.

    Just some examples I’ve seen have been gay people telling me to “shut up and listen” about terrorism and women telling me to “shut up and listen” about philosophy, plenty of people trying to tell straight white guys what their experience is as though it is all one thing for everyone from a McDonald’s fry cook with a 90 IQ to Bill Gates, and a general sense of young and newly socially-aware people telling everyone to “shut up and listen” when anyone disagrees with them.

    It is important to remember when discussing privilege issues that all of us** have some of it, and none of us should take advantage of it. Listening instead of talking is good advice, but if you’re always telling other people to listen then you’re probably doing all of the talking.

    **Those of us who get to live in places where we have Internet access and free time to post on people’s blogs about stuff that catches our attention? We’re all better off than most of the rest of the world.

  52. @49, let’s boil things down a bit: I think you’re saying that one should not only listen, but ask questions, right?

    This I can agree with, as long as it isn’t permuted into its near cousin, which is taking over class to explain what you think must be the right point of view!

    A technique that I heard once mirrors the Ignatius quote above. Ask yourself, “What must be true in this person’s world to make their statement make sense?” This puts the burden on the listener to be thoughtful first.

    Thanks for this post and the intelligent discussion following. I am glad the issue is getting some press. I have been very hurt in my own life by nice, intelligent, well-meaning people like my husband telling me that the street harassment I experience is complimentary really (or, best, “That guy who approached you at 2 am was just concerned about your safety when he was asking if you were alone while following you slowly in his car!”). Seeing the evolution of nice intelligent well-meaning white guys on the internet makes me feel a teeny bit better about humanity.

  53. A most wonderful topic and discussion. I think I want to cheer half of the posters here for their insight. Thank you.

    To listen well I think it helps to have made a very large mistake (VLM) in one’s past. Living with the repercussions of one’s VLM tends to provide that oh so helpful kick to the ass which I assume the first step to humility based upon how useful it been for me. In my particular case, my VLM was being an Asshole Christian. I should note that I don’t think most Christians are assholes, just that I was. My family put up with me for the 5-6 years I was an AC, and now enjoy watching me squirm every once in a while by telling my wife the more juicy stories in front of me. I now better then to speak up, because I earned those stripes, let me tell you.

    Having that experience has been good for keeping me from the need to be “right” so much that I do not hear what the other person is saying. Not totally good, mind you, just some good. I still have lots of room to grow.

    And I don’t think a list of privileges is complete without attractiveness. I see how ugly people are treated, and it ain’t pretty.

  54. improbablejoe:

    “There’s a certain breed of person, rare but their ranks are growing, who pull out ‘privilege’ in order to avoid facing fair criticism.”

    I’d want to see actual examples of this because I don’t know that I’ve seen much of it, personally.

    I think anyone, regardless of personal description, has the potential to argue poorly. I don’t know that these individual bad arguments constitute an overall trend, however.

  55. Angelle @35 — I admit, the bit about women attributing things to luck struck with me. I’ve always sworn that if I ever wrote a memoir, it would be called “My Life And Dumb Luck.”

    It’s not that I haven’t worked hard. It’s just that I am rather gloomily aware of a great many people who have also worked Really Really Hard (probably a lot harder than me, frankly–I take a LOT of naps) and who haven’t ever gotten their big break, no matter how completely they deserved it.

    Which is neither here nor there, except to say that if you trip over that citation again, I’d love to hear where it was!

  56. Angelle@56

    I am not ‘dismissing the weightof lived experience’

    I had asked Soprano back in #29 “Can I say I think Crowley’s actions were not racially motivated without having my personal level of offense or lack thereof dismissed out of hand as white privilege?”

    Soprano replied @41: “f you were discussing the incident with black folk who had experienced intense overt and institutionalized racism, insisting that the action wasn’t racist may likely be hurtful and, frankly, inconsiderate to the persons with whom one is discussing”

    short version

    Greg,: Can I sayI dont think Crowley was racist?
    Soprano: you can at the risk of offending people who suffered racism.

    As far as I can tell, Soprano is saying I cant express my opinion about Crowley because it might offend peopl who had nothing to do with that specific incident.

    Makes it a little hard to discuss just about anything controversial.

    As for your admonition about dismissing lived experience, I had never murdered anyone and never had anyone dear to me murdered when I was brought onto the jury for a murder trial. In fact, people who had loved ones murdered in their past could get out of that case for having potential bias. the courts were aware such people might tend to find guilt when none existed.

    now, with regard to your example about child-raising discussions, and how you should prefix everything with ‘I dont have children’, you do realize that you conveniently and completely changed the category of the problem, dont you?

    advice about child raising must inherently be generalized to apply it to someone elses situation. allowance? grounding? punishments? etc.

    I was talki.g about a *specific* event: whether Crowleys treatment of Gates was racially motivated or not. I was not looking for generic advice about police racism.

    Crowley’s guilt or innocence has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with random person on the internets runin with the police.

    So I am not trying to downplay whatever happened to Alice when the cops beat her, but that has nothing to do with Crowly/Gates incident.

    what you did was change the discussion from an individual incident (Crowley) to a systemic topic ( child raising ) and then attempt to show how the systemic must play by the same rules as the individual event. even better, saying someones anecdote about an unrelated incident has nothing to with the Crowley case gets twisted into ‘dismissing the weight of lived experience’. And me expressing an opinion about some crime I never experienced is turned into the ‘height of hubris’.

    I am not dismissing the terible things that blacks suffer from cops. I am saying that those things do nothing to prove or disprove that Crowly was racist.

  57. I really enjoyed Anonymous’ comment on that thread, especially the part where he realized that the world of someone who wasn’t white and male was significantly and *objectively* more dangerous than his own world. IMO it’s still impossible for him to really understand it, but the fact that he comprehended that the gap exists, is awesome.

    I’m not denigrating his empathy at all, just noting the fact that he gets to have a revelation is also part of privilege: his gut doesn’t knot up every time he gets out of an elevator; he does not assume that every shadowed space contains multiple active threats; his days and nights are not a continuous, not-quite-unconscious stream of threat-analysis. The only white-cis-males who seem able to understand what it’s like to be a brown woman in America, in my experience, have experience (and often PTSD from) spending a year or more in active war zones, like Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Women and brown people live in this state all of our lives. Getting dressed for work in the morning can be an exhausting exercise in balancing risk vs. benefit, with no good choices, simply differently bad ones. The choice of shoe can literally be life and death. Soldiers seem to “get it” more often than civilians, in my experience.

    I’m not going to tag the handful of “No, everybody should listen” posters, because hey, scroll up!, but I’ll add my $.02: umm, no. I have a very, very good idea what it is like to walk in straight, white, male moccasins, thanks very much, I live in a society that gives them away free for being born with a pale penis and then celebrates that fact with billboards and parades.

    What we are saying, when we say “shut up and listen,” is “here is what it is like to walk barefoot, uphill, both ways, in the snow, on a tightrope while being attacked by rabid badgers, 24/7, oh, and by the way, a chorus of moccasin-having yahoos are telling you’re being a reverse-racist, man-hating cunt for complaining about it.”

    Oops. Think it’s time for my nap.

  58. The older i get the less interested in telling everyone what I think all the time

    The older I get the less tolerant of fools I have become.

    It is always important to remember that you don’t HAVE to have any particular conversation, either as a talker or a listener

    To turn the Ignatius quote around, “what must be true about this person’s background and experiences that make it worth having this conversation?

    This tends to make conversations on weighty matters less common but of higher quality.

    It also makes it easier to be a good listener

  59. A wise person once taught me to ask myself these questions before opening my mouth and possibly inserting foot:

    Is what I’m about to say true? Does it need to be said? Can it be said in a loving way? Does it need to be said BY ME?

    The last question saves me a lot of trouble.

  60. @64 That’s really not what I’m saying. I’m saying, there’s a time and a place and a person for everything, even controversial topics. As a white male, it may be sometimes necessary to step back and ask, “is this truly the right time/place/person, or does it just happen to be the time I want to talk about it?” If you want to discuss controversial things in a meaningful, effective manner, barging in and insisting on expressing your opinion isn’t going to win you many supporters. Quite often, someone’s argument can be good, correct even, but the approach completely destroyed any chance of engagement.

    The thing about privilege is that in a sense, it must necessarily limit the person with power, for a level interaction to occur. That means sometimes, if you want to be the good guy, you may sometimes need to keep your opinions to yourself, even though you may think you are correct in holding them, or even to air them. Why? Because what you are saying, right or wrong, quite frequently has more power than the person of lesser privilege. To give an example, think about how much shit Jesse Jackson receives for saying something stupid vs. the amount of shit most white male politicians get for saying stupid shit. Jesse Jackson gets ridiculed; the tea party nimwits get elected.

    To give an example, as a female gamer/gadget geek, if I get into a conversation with guys re: anything technical or sciencey, if my opinion is at odds with a man’s in the group, the default reaction of the group tends to be to believe the man. Even if I’m demonstrably correct, I’ve still had (white) males disregard what I’ve said…until another white man said it. Then the advice is followed scrupulously. So, if in that situation, I do have an incorrect approach or opinion. If you come in, guns blazing in the typical Let the White Man Talk way, loudly declaiming how wrong I am, etc, you will have effectively contributed to the problem. My credibility as a woman has been further undermined because you’ve tacitly (albeit unwittingly) provided support to the general opinion that women in general know nothing of tech, and I in particular have no valuable contribution. Not only that, but it alienates me as well, because it comes across as hostile and immediately puts me on the defensive. So a well-meaning attempt at “correction” has both furthered a crappy situation, and probably deafened me to what you have to say.

    Now, I use that as a hypothetical example. Take out “me,” “women,” and “tech,” and insert “Crowley,” “racism,” etc. Do you see how expression your opinion, however valid it may be, might have more power than you think? For someone who has grown up experiencing racism first hand, it could quite logically and understandably be viewed as more of “White Man Telling Me How to Feel.” Yeah, that sucks. That, however, in a nutshell, is privilege.

    The other issue at hand is, intent does not negate action. Just because someone does not intend for something to be offensive or racist or whatever, does not mean that the final product isn’t offensive, racist, or what have you. Think, for example, of the comment made about Obama being an “articulate black man.” The intent of the remark was no doubt meant to be admiring, praise-worthy. But because of the position of the speaker, the history of language used to denigrate, etc., its result was one of insult.

    There is a long history of white men determining what black folk (male and female) are allowed to say or think. It doesn’t mean that you are not allowed to discuss racism, etc., with someone. What it does mean, however, is that the impetus is on you to consider carefully the implications of what you are saying, and what it may mean, coming from your position – before you say it.

    I’m not exempt from this, either. I am a female, yes, and ostensibly of a minority racial group, though for all practical purposes, I’m white. I grew up poor, and in a very powerless position for much of my life. But I am no longer in that position, and as such, I’ve had to reconsider some of the arguments I have, and the things I say. Not because I don’t have the right to say them – in fact, my background might give me more right than some to say it – but because my circumstances have changed and I now occupy a position where what I say now has more affect (in a negative way, perhaps) than it might have had 10 years ago.

  61. John 54: Added to this the fact that conversations on the Internet also frequently have audiences, to whom the conversational participants play to as much as they discuss with each other.

    Yes, but also an audience who may have “shut up and listen”ed and are doing anything from reading every few days to hanging on the every word of people in the discussion.

    In that general connection, we had a conversation a couple of years ago on Making Light on the value of preaching to the choir. Even if most people appear to agree, sometimes the discussion reveals points not obvious to everyone, points they can use next time they’re in a conversation with someone on “the other side.”

    Also, of course, people can raise points in favor of something that strike others as points against it. I’ve sometimes turned from in favor of an action to against it by the agreeing conversation of people who supported it!

  62. Greg: “As far as I can tell, Soprano is saying I cant express my opinion about Crowley because it might offend people who had nothing to do with that specific incident.”

    See, that’s where you’re not getting it — they don’t have “nothing to do” with the specific incident. They have everything to do with it because they’re black and live in the society that created the incident. They have the experience of being black in that situation, of constantly having to watch how to deal with police in a way that white people do not — on a tightrope with rabid badgers, as Constance puts it — from the time they are small to the time that they die. And having a white person claim that they are not on that tightrope and anyway, there is no tightrope in this case, is white privilege trying to negate that experience because the white person never experiences it and so can claim that it doesn’t exist in a particular case and the black people’s experience of it — and of similar incidents in their own lives — is invalid. And that you get to say this because you can — you have privilege and control in the society and can dictate the definition of that society, and not just in conversation. And it’s really easy to do this, whatever your political and social views; I’ve done it in conversation unintentionally and sometimes you have to be hit by a two by four verbally to get that you’re doing it. Or suddenly realize that your way of seeing the world is not how other people have to live in it, as Annonymous saw with his female co-worker.

    Shut up and listen is a particular type of shutting up. It’s accepting that because you are not black, female, poor, etc., because you have privilege from that and will never experience or really understand what that experience is like, that you really don’t have much to say on those subjects, that your opinion is not needed or of particular worth in that situation, and because you don’t know and have no experience of it, it’s worth listening to the experience of those who do without being compelled to tell them that they are wrong and here’s what they should think instead from your higher position of social power. It doesn’t matter if they’re a far right female or black or poor person or a far left one, saying that their experiences of their gender, race, etc., don’t count and you know better is the unconscious prejudice that we can all fall in to simply from not thinking about the fact that we all live facing different constraints. And that those of us under one constraint or another are often prevented from expressing ours or having those opinions really heard because the people who are not under that constraint think it is far more important to express what they think about everything and they have the power to do so and make those opinions heard.

    It’s really hard to give up that power when you rule and when it’s so ingrained we don’t think about it, especially for just a conversation, but it’s worth it perhaps because your view of the world, as Anonymous discovered, opens up. So instead of telling black people what racism is, in general or in a particular case, or women what sexism is, at least consider acting like you’re willing to listen to the experience and world of a black person or a woman. That this might be valuable, more valuable than you getting to express your opinions again. It’s hard to do. It’s really hard. Society makes it hard, wherever you live. But it’s worth considering, and understanding that doing it is not giving up any of your rights and that them stating their experiences of the world is not about your opinions being attacked, but instead, their experiences.

  63. I ran into this during RaceFail ’09 (Remember that? Good times, good times….) and to a lesser extent the more recent kerfuffle with Jim Butcher. I so wanted to jump into that fray, to address everything and add my own unique snowflaky point of view. But I realized that no matter how well I phrased my arguments, they all basically boiled down to “Yeah, but…” and I knew that wasn’t going to work. I watched plenty of other people jump headlong into the argument with a lot of the same points I wanted to make, and watched them get hammered in the process, which brought home the lesson that my Pride really didn’t want me to learn: I don’t understand a lot of what’s going on here, so I had best keep quiet until I do. What’s even worse (read: “better, but harder to accept”) is the fact that there are things I will never understand, and that I must refrain from pretending that I do.

    And I still have a ways to go and points that I’m not ready to cede yet – the idea that you’re not allowed to address the tone of an argument is one. No matter how valid the other person’s argument may be, the moment they start insulting me is the moment I stop listening. Possibly because I know how easily I can match their tone, which will result in a screaming shitstorm. Possibly because of that Pride thing again. And possibly because I’ve been known to deliver my point steeped in a potent stew of bile and venom myself.

    Overall, however, learning how to take a step back, read what people say and actually chew it over has been a net benefit to who I am.

  64. @71 – That’s part of it, too. The belief that an incident has no personal implications for someone because they were not physically involved. It’s sort of like telling a woman that she is wrong or foolish for feeling uncomfortable in being in Central Park alone at night. Obviously, the rapes/murders/whatever in Central Park never happened to her, and yes, the park is probably a lot safer now than it was a few years ago. But that doesn’t mean her fear is completely unfounded and that she is wrong to hold the opinion that the park is dangerous for women at night. There may have been no incidences of violence in the park for even 5 or 10 years, but if you are a woman, the threat of predators is real, and some dude telling her that she’s wrong for feeling that way isn’t going to help.

  65. I think the post that the anonymous commenter was referring to was “Things I don’t have to think about today” from October 2010. It was a good one, and well worth re-reading.

  66. Soprano@69: “As a white male, it may be sometimes necessary to step back and ask, “is this truly the right time/ place/person, or does it just happen to be the time I want to talk about it?””

    One was a thread specifically about the Crowley/Gates incident. I said I thought Crowley’s actions were not racially motivated. A couple were meat-world conversations people were talkingabout it after seeing Crowley, Gates, and Obama drinking together.

    My opinion generated some hostile reactions and various approaches were used to dismiss my opinion, say I cant know anything, and I was just a white male talking out his privileged ass.

    There was no ‘barging in’. They were all generic convdrsations about the topic, I engaged the conversation, and when ithe conversation turned to guilt/innocence, I expressed my opinion along with everyone else.

    “The thing about privilege is that in a sense, it must necessarily limit the person with power, for a level interaction to occur.”

    Yeah, the only thing I can see from that is “shut up and listen” really means “shut up”. at NO point would my opinion about Crowley been accepted any better by saying less before or after it.

    I get if people take a conversation about Crowley and it morphs into a discussion of their bad experiences with police, then dropping ‘crowley wasnt racist’ is changing the topic. but I only said my opinion about Crowley while other people had just said they thought he was a racist.

    I also get that someone could do/say something that wasnt intended as racist but it could land as racist. but I specifically said I didnt think Crowley was racist. Whether it *landed* as racist is a different question. Obviously Gates thought it was racist. So did a lot of people. but that doesnt mean he WAS racist, which was the point.

  67. Only from within privilege can you be surprised to find that your life experiences are not universal.

    Only from within privilege can you be offended (or even surprised) to discover that an artwork (film, novel, drama etc.) is not about people like you.

    Only from within privilege can you believe that someone saying they’re very different from you is equivalent to saying there’s something wrong with being who you are.

    Only from within privilege can you consider yourself the unmarked case.

  68. #35 Angelle. Thank you, it’s an ongoing process even as they’ve grown into adult men with more “free gifts” that aid them in their lives & careers.

    #55 Bearpaw, I very much appreciated the Yogi Berra quote. and as you pointed out “knowing about something” isn’t the same as living it. The blessings from that are immense, thank you.

    #65 Constance. I understand the experience of rage. Even at my advanced age I find that I have to ‘turn the volume down’ almost continuously. Being a survivor of some (unpleasant & need not be discussed here) abuse has caused to me to be fearful and fear has caused me to be oft times feral in my reactions. So it’s REALLY difficult for me to even have the patience to ~explain~ what to me should absolutely be an understood. Which is also very incorrect of me as not everyone has experienced my particular brand of suffering.

    Although shutting up and listening to someone telling me that I should move past it (or any variation thereof) or that it happens to men too flips that switch on the rage. Not that I don’t absolutely know that it happens but mostly that it just hasn’t happened to *them* and they don’t get to conveniently claim that pain & terror by proxy.

    It’s also been my thought that sometimes wellmeaningwhite/otherprivelegedmen just can’t deal with that level of horror & because they can’t “fix it” they need to dismiss it for their own mental well being.

  69. Re: the Crowley/Gates incident:

    There’s a phrase that gets used a lot in groups where this is a frequent conversation topic: “Intent is not magical.”

    It doesn’t matter whether or not Crowley intended to offend anyone with his remarks, the fact of the matter is that people were offended by them, and saying things like “well, he didn’t mean it that way!” (a) does nothing to erase that offence and (b) will only serve to piss the offendee off more.

  70. BC Woods @ 62:

    I think it b/c he’s observing/acknowledging his own privilege, rather than telling someone else about their privilege. It’s smart, and disarming. And, you know, he’s funny. That always makes it easier to swallow.

  71. I also get that someone could do/say something that wasnt intended as racist but it could land as racist. but I specifically said I didnt think Crowley was racist. Whether it *landed* as racist is a different question. Obviously Gates thought it was racist. So did a lot of people. but that doesnt mean he WAS racist, which was the point.

    This goes to a key point about communication: the meaning of communication is what is heard, not what is said; not what is written, but what is read.

    That means a person without a racist bone in hir body (not that any such person exists) could, with the purest intentions, make a racist statement. And it would really BE a racist statement.

    It’s an extremely unpleasant thing to realize that what’s in your* heart doesn’t matter a damn, except to you; what matters is the impact of your actions upon others. When your results don’t match your intent, then (barring outright hostile reading) it’s your fault, and the correct course is apology, not justification. I’ve seen a lot of “apologies” – hell, been GUILTY of a few “apologies” – that were really explanations of what was in the person’s heart. Might be interesting, but misses the point. Apologize first, THEN answer “what the hell were you THINKING?!?!?” if someone asks.

    *generic, no longer addressing Greg

  72. @Greg At the risk of being rude, and/or causing offense – which truly is not my intent (see what I did there!) – you seem quite (for lack of a better term) butthurt about a specific instance, and are thus speaking in generalities about a specific case.

    Perhaps, as well, I may not be making my point quite clear: while that one instance may have been a case where you were treated unfairly (and I wasn’t there, so I can’t possibly say), in the broader sense, “shut up and listen” sometimes means, “This is not the right time/I am not the right person/This is not the best way to approach this topic.” You can take that mean “shut up,” or you can take it for what it actually means, which is that sometimes the better part of valor means considering your responses and your position carefully before speaking resulting in what you have to say being taken more seriously.

  73. @80 yes but the flip side of this is that an individual is under no obligation to avoid saying things that offend others, or to apologize for it after it happens, or to give it any thought whatsoever.

    There is no privileged position in communication, both the speaker and the hearer are responsible for exercising their best efforts to meet in a common understanding.

  74. Kat@71, no, actually, the experiences that blacks have with police on a systemic level and all the individual anecdotes that individuals can come up with about abusive police has *nothing* to do with the guilt or innocence of Crowley.

    “And having a white person claim that they are not on that tightrope and anyway, there is no tightrope in this case, is white privilege trying to negate that experience”


    I want you to LISTEN very carefully to what I am about to say here:

    I *never* said there isnt any tightrope. I never said there isnt systemic policice abuse that is racially motivated. I never said there isnt police profiling.

    But saying there is police profiling doesnt say that Crowley must be racist. And saying Crowley isnt a racist doesnt say there is no systemic police bias.

    All I said was I didnt think Crowley was racially motivated. Actually I did also say that there is systemic bias in the police, that there is a “tightrope” as you put it.

    and me saying ‘I dont think Crowley was a racist’ gets twisted into a white man with privilege saying there is no ‘tightrope’, there is no racial profiling AT ALL, that I can never know what the “experience” is like therefore I have no valid opinion about Crowley, and whatever other strawman people can come up with.

    I dont know what its like to constantly fear the police.

    And if you want to say that means I can have no legitimate opinion about the guilt or innocence of Crowleys actions being racist, if you are saying I could never serve on a JURY to determine his guilt/innocence and that really only people who have lived in fear of the police and suffered abuse from them are able to render a ‘legitimate’ opinion about Crowleys guilt/innocence, then you are coming close to advocating only victims be allowed on juries.

    I had made a statement specifically about Crowleys guilt/innocence, do you want to say I have no legitmate right to that opinion because I dont fear the police?

    Likewise if you can find anything in this thread where I
    *invalidate* the experiences of people who have suffered at the hands of police, quote it and I will apologize for it straight away. The only way I see you got to that conclusion was starting from ‘crowley isnt racist’ and then strawmanning that into ‘police racism doesnt exist at all’. That was you, not me, who made that leap of logic.

  75. xopher@80: “This goes to a key point about communication: the meaning of communication is what is heard, not what is said; not what is written, but what is read.”

    that is your assertion, one which many would disagree with and many have disagreed with.

    if you are going to use it as a premise to your argument, you will first have to prove the premise.

    just because someone hears the devil telling them to kill in the background of ‘helter skelter’ doesnt mean thats the *meaning communicated*. Some people just make stuff up.

  76. Sigh.

    Greg, let’s try this again.

    “short version

    Greg,: Can I sayI dont think Crowley was racist?
    Soprano: you can at the risk of offending people who suffered racism.

    As far as I can tell, Soprano is saying I cant express my opinion about Crowley because it might offend peopl who had nothing to do with that specific incident.”

    Nobody is silencing you. YOU are projecting that onto the conversation, as your above quote demonstrates. And you are exhausting the collective goodwill as you do so. You want validation for your point of view and you seem really pissed that no one will give it to you.

  77. #83:

    “Likewise if you can find anything in this thread where I *invalidate* the experiences of people who have suffered at the hands of police, quote it and I will apologize for it straight away”

    How about right at the start of the same post:

    “the experiences that blacks have with police on a systemic level and all the individual anecdotes that individuals can come up with about abusive police has *nothing* to do with the guilt or innocence of Crowley.”

    That’s pretty much invalidating their experience right there.

  78. Greg, failure to accept that principle, unpleasant and counterintuitive as it is, will blight your ability to communicate on an ongoing basis.

  79. Soprano@81, I have learned to avoid generalities whenever possible. I have tried to stay with specifics on this thread because they happened. they are true. generalities might not be true.

    Even doing my best to stick with specific instances and events, folks have taken those specifics and turned them into their own generalities. I said I didnt think Crowleys actions were racially motivated. Kat Goodwin takes that specific statement about a specific eventand turns it into ““And having a white person claim that they are not on that tightrope and anyway, there is no tightrope in this case, is white privilege trying to negate that experience”

    I was talking about Crowley specificallly and it gets turned into a general statement like I had said there is no systemic police bias.

    I wouldnt want to make a general statement like ‘this hapoens all the time’, but it has happened to me a number of times. but again, I have learned to keep things to specifics.

    If I were to point to the pattern that has happened to me, it appears that some people refuse to distinguish an opinion about a specific case from an opinion about the systemic proble. If Crowley is innocent, then the person *must* be implying that there is no systemic bias anywhere. Thats pretty much Kat’s response to me. Dismiss Crowleys actions and you must be dismissing the entire experience of every black person in america. there is no ‘tightrope’. and so on.

    at which point, we get David at

  80. Xopher@80:

    This goes to a key point about communication: the meaning of communication is what is heard, not what is said; not what is written, but what is read.

    Surely you jest, at least in the context of human-to-human communication. Meaning is at most in the agreement on the message and context between the humans, not the potential projections of the receiver from the accumulated flaws in the message encoding-tranmission-decoding stream between sender and receiver. What you’re proposing is that the receiver’s re-framing of a correctly received message can change the meaning of the message in the mind that was transmitting. Do that too often and it’s not surprizing (at least to me) that communication breaks down. How do you feel when someone does that to you?

    This re-framing practice used to be called psychological projection.

  81. So the whole ‘privilege’ conversation just annoys me, in part because I see it as an ambiguous word: There’s the normal english word ‘privilege’ and then there’s the technical sociological word ‘privilege’. English-word ones can be earned or unearned, but sociological-word ones are expressly unearned, usually derived from, or attached to, the value of some sociological variable that’s the result of chance. The problem is that when someone uses the sociological-word version, it almost invariably comes across as accusative if read in the english-word version. Also, (standard?) laziness on the part of the speaker doesn’t help – what should perhaps be expressed as “You’re the beneficiary of X privilege” or “You don’t have to suffer anti-X discrimination” ends up being shortened to “You’re privileged, STFU.” which, when interpreted with the english-word meaning, is pretty inflammatory.

    See also and

  82. I was talking about Crowley specificallly and it gets turned into a general statement

    You might want to think about the message in that.

  83. PJ:

    It appears as if you are able to make the cognitive distinction between what you see as the larger definition and specific application in sociological issues, however. And if you are able to, the question then becomes why can’t others as well? There are lots of English words which have both a general definition and a more specific definition dependent on context; it doesn’t seem fruitful to be annoyed at all of them.

    I understand your annoyance but I think the question here is whether that annoyance is a reasonable excuse not to engage in the larger issue. There’s also the question of whether insisting that the discussion be under the terms you (in a general sense) find acceptable isn’t also indicative of a need to assert control over the discussion before you engage in the discussion.

  84. Not aimed at anyone in particular:
    “intent is not magical”, well, yes. But the flipside of that is “offense is not magical, either”. Just because someone finds a remark offensive, does not make it so (in general terms).
    It’s kind of like the legal situations, where a judge has to make a ruling on how a “reasonable person” would see things.

    hmmm. If I were to say something I intended to be offensive, and no-one took it that way, where would that leave me? Apart from turning to stone in the light of dawn, that is…

  85. Angelle: “Nobody is silencing you. YOU are projecting that onto the conversation, as your above quote demonstrates. And you are exhausting the collective goodwill as you do so. You want validation for your point of view and you seem really pissed that no one will give it to you.”

    actually, it started out as a question to Soprano about subjective and having different views of the same thing. and the at 29 I said:

    “Can I say I think Crowley’s actions were not racially motivated without having my personal level of offense or lack thereof dismissed out of hand as white privilege? because while I get that sometimes “shut up and listen” is focusing on the listen part, I think it would be naive to say it is never simply focused on the “shut up” part.”

    What people have demonsrated on this thread is that the answer, essentially, is ‘no’. I said I didnt think Crowley was racist. That was the entire extent of what I said about that incident. And people turn it into dismissing the experience of everyone who ever suffered police racism, though I did no such thing. Crowley’s innocence or guilt does not lessen what others have dealt with regarding police racism.

    and no, I dont want “validation” of my point of view. I was asking Soprano if there is a way to express my opinion without all the ‘your privilege is showing’ nonsense. What this thread has demonstrated is the answer is ‘no’. I was wondering if perhaps I have been doi.g it wrong in the past. and that may yet be true. But there is nothing in my comments here that does anything but express my opinion about the crowley incident specifically. there is nothing in my comments that dismisses the experience of people dealing with systemic police bias. and yet one got tied to the other.

    I said Crowley was innocent and it quickly turned into dismissing the existence of any police bias anywhere. there is no tightrope.

    I didnt say that, but thats what my words got turned into.

    which pretty much tells me it wasnt what I said. It wasn how I presented it.

    ‘crowley wasnt racist’ could not be said without getting turned into all maner of evil stuff that I never actualy said.

    I dont care if Crowley was racist or not. I wasnt looking for validation of my opinion of Crowley here. What I was looking for was some advice on how I could say something like ‘Crowley wasnt racist’ without it getting turned into a ‘shut up’ response or strawmanned into nonsense.

    I made every effort to limit my stattement about Crowley to ‘crowley wasnt racist’ and absolutely nothing else. I made a point to acknowledge the existence of police racism, that it exists, that it is real, but to steadfastly hold to ‘Crowley wasnt racist’ regarding his particular interaction with Gates.

    And it *still* got twisted.

  86. Greg@somewhere: “the experiences that blacks have with police on a systemic level and all the individual anecdotes that individuals can come up with about abusive police has *nothing* to do with the guilt or innocence of Crowley.”

    Unknown@86: That’s pretty much invalidating their experience right there.

    Seriously? Crowly MUST be guilty or it invalidates every black person who ever suffered police abuse??? Thats the assertion you want to make here?

    I dont think I have seen it apelled out so blatantly before.

    Xopher@87: “Greg, failure to accept that principle, unpleasant and counterintuitive as it is, will blight your ability to communicate on an ongoing basis.”

    Xopher, I mean this in complete honesty that I hold nothing but love for you. I have read your comments for years and have the utmost respect for you. But on this particular matter we are in complete disagreement. I still respect and love you.

  87. I imagine that people with privilege get hoppity when others disagree with them, because most of the time others nod and support their ideas. Some of that is privilege, and some of that is a “birds of a feather” phenomenon.

    The question is whether “being disagreed with” happens often enough, and in a sufficient variety of conditions, that a person learns to stop assuming their POV is (a) universal (or at least really, really common), and (b) inherently correct.

    Experience is a wonderful teacher, if we’re open to it. One of the handicaps faced by educated, cisgender, hetero white men is that they often lack a variety of experience, particularly in Western society. People are forever approaching them with a pile of assumptions that work in their favor, and they’ve never really had to learn to work around it.

    Thus, when they are told to “shut up and listen” they freak out. Holy shit, that doesn’t happen to them often, and they don’t know what the hell to do. The last time anyone said that to them, they were in short pants and the speaker was a teacher.

    Which isn’t to say they get to do everything they want. Guys are told they’re not allowed to wear kilts (unless they can claim cultural associations). Until Eminem broke the barrier, white guys weren’t allowed to rap. Being too interested in how his hair looks could get a fellow labeled “gay” until someone invented the more palatable term “metrosexual.”

    But here’s the difference. In all of those cases, the hetero, white, cis guy is being discouraged from those activities because he is too good for them. He is above those things. It diminishes him to want them.

    When brown, female, gay, non-cis people are ignored, marginalized, and told “that’s not offensive,” it’s because they are asking for something above them. A woman who doesn’t want to be called “sweetheart” is assuming she has a right not to be called an infantalizing nickname that no man would be called in similar context. A black man who doesn’t want to be pulled over for driving too nice a car in a too nice a neighborhood is assuming he has the right to spend his money as he likes and travel where he chooses. A gay couple who want to get married are assuming they have the right to love whom they choose and set up a household and gain all the benefits of this arrangement just as hetero couples do.

    The few things that are discouraged to privileged people are things that are considered “not worth wanting” anyway.

    Pity the poor white guy who can’t see that his experience is not universal. It’s very painful to run up against reality when you’re not expecting it.

  88. I think that in many cases, it’s the people who have both privilege and a lack of it that have the hardest time listening. You can get into a conversation with someone about male privilege and if he’s been poor he will say “but I’m not privileged, I’ve been poor!”

    Well, I’m a woman and I was not raised poor. I have the privilege that I never had to fear that we wouldn’t have a home or enough to eat or clothing to wear. But as a women I’ve also been in a place where people have had more privilege than I. Privilege isn’t an all or nothing and it’s often a distraction from a conversation when you have to explain to someone that one’s disadvantages in one area do not trump one’s advantages in another. That said they can, if you are introspective, give you some empathy. Your disadvantages in life can remind you that one person’s experience isn’t everyone’s.

  89. Greg:

    By all means, let’s talk about presentation.

    “Crowley wasn’t racist.”

    Okay, then, let’s start by unpacking that statement. It presents as a statement of fact. It presents a claim to objective truth. It states, by using the chosen verb, that something “is”. Not seems, not to you, but “is” objectively and for the world at large.

    That some people might reject that as objective truth, and further challenge your authority to state, definitively, what was or was not in another human being’s mind and how someone should or should not interpret his actions, is what seems to be causing you difficulty. And that seems, to me, to be a failure of thinking on your part. It is also a fairly textbook example of privilege at work: It presents as “My view of the world is the right one.” Full stop.

  90. Scalzi — I’ve found the discussion of “privilege” to make more sense if I mentally substitute the word “class” for those uses that are the non-legal meaning of privilege.

  91. “Shut up and listen” works best to enhance conversations if you are saying it to yourself about yourself. The commenter says others in the comment thread were trying to tell HIM that, but he came to that conclusion on his own, ergo gaining insights from the conversation that he otherwise could not have seen.
    I find it very frustrating when I’m trying to make a point and others will not hear me, but how often have they been frustrated with me for the same reason?
    It’s great advice, much easier said than done, but I’m going to try to give it to myself a lot more more often.

  92. Greg@somewhere: I was talking about Crowley specificallly and it gets turned into a general statement

    David@91: You might want to think about the message in that.

    Dude, that was my original question: can I disagree witb some point of some event and have people respond on point? The thread, and every conversation before this one, says ‘no’.

    If I could say ‘crowley wasnt a racist’ without having people twist it into ‘so why do you dismiss the experience of every black person who had to deal with police racism?’ I would like to know. That was my question. Unfortunately this thread gave me the same answer every other thread and conversation has said, which is ‘you cant’.

    given I made every effort to distinguish Crowley from systemic police racism, I am pretty sure it wasnt because of anything I said.

    or more specifically, I dont think there was any other way I could have said it. I am pretty sure the problem wasnt due to a lack of clarity on my part.

    Crowley wasnt racist. there is systemic police racism.

    Got twisted into me dismissing every black person who ever had to deal with police racism.

    I am pretty sure that wasnt me.

  93. Greg@95: Seriously? Crowly MUST be guilty or it invalidates every black person who ever suffered police abuse??? Thats the assertion you want to make here?

    Nice job of putting words in my mouth that I didn’t say. Do you do this with everyone?

    Isn’t it possible that, even if Crowley is not racist, that the experience of black folk with racism might nonetheless be relevant? Why must it be an either-or? Isn’t it possible, just possible, that if you listened to stories about racism, especially subtle and even unconscious racism, it might cause you to see the incident just a teeny bit differently? It’s one thing to assert that Crowley is not a racist; why must it be a necessary corollary that black experience with racism has *no* relevance?

  94. Because the post Scalzi admires was sparked by me (apparently) I’m going to resist the urge to leave a huge term paper in the comments. I’m white, my wife is not. We’ll have been married 18 years in December, and have (necessarily) gone our requisite 20 rounds on the ‘privilege’ debate. I’ve come away with a different perspective than that of Scalzi.

  95. Greg, et al.:

    I think your discussion jumped off the rails way far back on the line; I was waiting to see if it would jump back on the rails but it doesn’t appear it’s going to. I think you should wrap it up because it’s not going anywhere useful.

  96. I just want to take a moment (or really to take your moment, since you are reading this) to appreciate this community. This is a hard issue.

    The first time I was introduced to the fact that my experience had absolutely no bearing on other people’s experience, I was unable / unwilling to understand. I was also a freshman in college, so I’m not going to be too hard on myself for that. But the unfortunate part for me was that I completely disengaged from these types of issues for many years.

    More recently, I have come across a couple of wonderful communities (of which this is one) where these kinds of hard topics can be and are discussed respectfully by a whole bunch of articulate people who have wildly different perspectives and experiences. I have found myself able to *listen* and because I have been able to listen, I have also found myself learning. A lot.

    There are not very many places on the Internet where a comments thread about this topic would be one that I eagerly refresh to see what else people have to say. Honestly, it is hard to find in real-life, for that matter. This is a special place. Thank you. Thank you for sharing your perspective so that for at least a moment, a complete stranger can get a glimmer of what the world looks like from a different life.

  97. Angelle@98: Okay, then, let’s start by unpacking that statement.

    seriously? go back to post #29 and read it beginning to end. that was where I first brought uo Crowley. And i brought it up in the context of and in comparison to my experience being on a jury and everyone had different opinions about guilt or innocence.

    and what did I say?

    That it wasnt that they were wrong and I was right. But that somehow we had to arrive at the truth together.

    it is only an absolute statement because I thought I was pretty gorram clear that it was NOT absolute truth when I first introduced it, and I didnt feel the energy to type up the little story about jury duty every time I said ‘Crowley wasnt racist’.

    I even ended that post by describing ‘crowley was not racist’ as my ‘two cents’. if ever there was an effort to make clear that I wasnt makint a declaration of absolute truth, that has to be one of the better ones.

  98. Good nap.

    I think what Greg is trying to say when he says that “Crowley wasn’t racist” is “Crowley was not a foaming bigot who shot Gates at close range and then claimed Gates pulled a gun.” Which, frankly, is another way that that encounter might very well have gone down. Gates, being an educated, worldly black man who happens to live in America, felt Option #2 down deep in his bones. While attempting to enter his own house, by the way.

    If Gates had been white, this episode would simply not have occurred. The default assumption for everyone- from the neighbor who called the police, to the operator, to the officer responding- would have been different. A white person “belongs” in that neighborhood. A black person does not “belong.” These are the defaults states. This is white privilege, in a white supremacist society. The truly sad part is that Crowley is as much a victim of it as Gates is. Crowley never questioned his core, white-supremacist assumptions, and in fact, is an active member of a part of American society which most enforces the criminalization of people of color, i.e. the police and criminal justice system.

    Crowley behaved in a racist way, not necessarily because he personally, consciously, and actively seeks the oppression of people of color, but because white-supremacist society made him (and many other people) unconscious, knee-jerk bigots. It’s tragic, terrible, and it wounds everyone. IMO, stating that “Crowley wasn’t racist” does a disservice to him, as well, because it doesn’t allow him the agency to recognize his own privilege/prejudice and correct for it. (Louis CK gets it, which gives me hope, although I’m still a little pissed off that it takes a straight white guy saying it to get straight white guys to listen. Still, I take my allies where I find them.)

  99. unknown@103, the murder trial I was on Jury duty for, they never brought in *other* people who had loved ones murdered, because it would be completely irrelevent. Whether Crowley of Cambridge Massachusetts was racist to Gates or not has nothing to do with whether Sherriff Buford T Justice of Alabama ever arrested an innocent man for being black.

    The guilt of Bufford is irrelevant to the guilt or innocence of Crowley. And Crowley being innocent doesnt lesson the experience of those who suffered under Bufford.

    and since Scalzi has asked to wrap up this conversation, I leave it at that.

  100. Sorry, Scalzi, I was typing while you were mallet-ing, so I missed the memo. Thank you for allowing this conversation to meander on for so long. Also, best regards and appreciation to everyone, for commenting so thoughtfully.

  101. Inspired by Marnie @97 – the non-transferability of privilege (or, more to the point, dis-privilege) is another one of those fun lessons that can be really hard to learn if not done in the right way. I’m a white gay man, cisgendered, middle class and all that, and early in my career as such, the thought occurred to me that, “Hey – I am part of an oppressed minority. Now I know how other oppressed minorities feel! O, how enlightened am I that I can now walk arm-in-arm with my brothers and sisters under the heel of The Man!”

    Now I don’t believe in guardian angels, but I’m tempted to waive that disbelief in this instance. Before I could actually open my mouth (or start typing) and say such an inane, ignorant thing, it occurred to me to examine the validity of that statement, looking at the history and current situations of both groups. It became very clear that being dis-privileged in one way does not give me entry to the entire dis-privileged world. In fact, I can only just barely claim it as a gay man: I have never been beaten or abused for my sexuality, my family and friends were very supportive, I can talk freely about my boyfriend while I’m at work, and I have never (to my knowledge) been discriminated against for my sexuality. Even among my oppressed minority group, I’ve been pretty damned lucky and I make sure to remind myself of that often.

    Living in Japan, too, has given me a taste of being dis-privileged. I suck at the language, I don’t understand the customs all the time, and I am very visibly OTHER in this country. And no matter how hard I try, how much I study or how long I live here, I will never be anything but OTHER. Now some might use this to again say, “I know what it’s like to be OTHER in America,” but they would be oh so very wrong for oh so very many reasons. And just as I am a lucky gay man, I’ve been a lucky gaijin: white males from English-speaking countries tend to get a lot more breaks here than a lot of other foreigners. My experience in Japan does not map onto the experience of anyone else who is not me.

    And that is the ultimate lesson, I think, one that still trips me up sometimes. There is no objective social reality. The only experience you can ever truly understand is your own, and most of us have a hard time managing even that. To “shut up and listen” means to give the other person the respect you would like to be given – to acknowledge that their reality is a valid one, and that it is not your place to judge otherwise. The way they view the world has not been invented out of whole cloth just to annoy you, but it has been shaped by a lifetime of experience and millennia of history.

    It is when these realities clash, and everyone involved takes the time to actually consider how and why they are different (rather than to explain why theirs is the most/only valid one), that we learn and grow.

  102. Since others are wrapping up their thoughts, and JS asked for just such, I will finish with this:

    given I made every effort to distinguish Crowley from systemic police racism, I am pretty sure it wasnt because of anything I said.

    You’re assuming that the two can be distinguished. That may be what people are trying to tell you.

  103. “There is no objective social reality. The only experience you can ever truly understand is your own, and most of us have a hard time managing even that. To “shut up and listen” means to give the other person the respect you would like to be given – to acknowledge that their reality is a valid one, and that it is not your place to judge otherwise. The way they view the world has not been invented out of whole cloth just to annoy you, but it has been shaped by a lifetime of experience and millennia of history.”

    Nicely done, Chris.

  104. David @113: “You’re assuming that the two can be distinguished. That may be what people are trying to tell you.”

    Bingo, and well-put. The assumption that the two can be distinguished is a result of privilege. Makes one’s head explode, sometimes, but maybe that can be how the light gets in.

  105. Whether the demand “shut up and listen” is a demand for respect or a pronouncement of disrespect can be difficult to discern. It can be both, too. I’ve found that neither is very helpful in attempting to do active listening (which I was first taught about in 1966.)

    While it’s true that each of us has our own subjective reality, the purpose (well, it could be one of the purposes) of communication is to attempt to come to a shared understanding of the relationship in the reality that we appear to share (or decide not to share further.) Most of us have a mountain of understandings of the world — and our relationships within it — that are distorted if not wrong, and our beliefs in the understandings of others’ understandings and relationships are usually even more flawed. Strangely, the weaker the evidence for a belief, the stronger is the impulse to defend it.

    Long ago, in my sophomore angst period, I wrote a long poem about how man was a creature on a plain, rolled about by the winds of fate like a tumbleweed, bouncing into others; our instinct was to build ourselves towers to protect us from the winds and these contacts, and then lonely, we built bridges to others’ towers and were proud that we were not rolling on the plain. The towers of community isolation are falling and we’ve forgotten how to communicate with each other when we bump into each other.

  106. I’m with Angelle @ 114. Nicely done, Chris. Privilege. Dis-privilege. We all live inside our own heads, our own lived experience. At the end of the day, everyone else on the planet, all seven billion of them, are “other.” We can listen and not pre-judge what we have yet to hear said to us. Listening is a too way street. Mutual respect. Hmm. Sounds like the Golden Rule that runs through most world religions. Listening now…

  107. I agree with Angelle@#114. Well done, Chris.

    Also, a thank you to BC Woods@#40 for posting those Louis CK links. Every time I hear stuff from that guy, his insights reflect and illuminate my understanding of the world.

  108. Greg: “no, actually, the experiences that blacks have with police on a systemic level and all the individual anecdotes that individuals can come up with about abusive police has *nothing* to do with the guilt or innocence of Crowley.”

    According to you, the white guy, it has nothing to do with it. According to Gates and a lot of black people, it was a contributing factor to what happened — and this is with the understanding that Gates and Crowley have a very amicable relationship in the aftermath. First off, none of us have anything to do with determining the guilt or innocence of Crowley. He was never in a court on trial for anything, the police department reviewed his actions and Gates decided not to press any charges. They are the people who get to decide guilt and innocence of Crowley in terms of his career behavior. And none of them can see into Crowley’s head to determine anything else. So we are giving opinions on Crowley’s behavior if we discuss the incident, not proving a damn thing. (And for the record, I feel he unconsciously was racist, made some poor judgements on that basis in an adrenalized, uncertain situation, which is always difficult for police and which they try to train for, and managed from that training when things were calmer to help work out a solution that made things better for everyone in the long run.)

    And what you did, Greg, as a white guy, was declare that you the white guy who doesn’t have to worry every day about dealing with police, knows what racism is and isn’t in your insistence that Crowley was not racist in any way, and that the black people, who live it and understood Gates’ behavior and the interaction of black people and cops, don’t know what racism is and were wrong, that their opinions in the Crowley case were not germane and worth nothing to the discussion. You were so intent on protecting your right to have an opinion — which no one was trying to take away, nor can because you are a white person — that you whitesplained black people on racism and discounted their opinions as having less experience to make an assessment than your own. So yeah, since that’s what they get every day from white people on this subject, white people who never have to be careful with the police, since you asserted your white expertise over their black experience of racism, they didn’t take it well. And you’re still so intent on how you can protect and express your opinion on the matter as a white guy without dissent and getting called a racist, that you haven’t any interest in listening to what they have to say about this particular incident, which makes up part of their cultural history, not yours.

    “I *never* said there isn’t any tightrope.”

    I didn’t say you did. I never said that you said there wasn’t any systemic racism in the police or society. You just assumed that’s what I must be accusing you of. What I actually said was that you were saying there wasn’t a tightrope in the particular Crowley incident. That black people’s experience of there being a tightrope in the Crowley incident was invalid, wrong, and you the white guy will tell them what was and was not racist about the Crowley incident, despite not having ever experienced racism yourself.

    “All I said was I didn’t think Crowley was racially motivated.”

    No, that’s not all you said by that statement, any more than Obama saying Crowley was stupid to arrest Gates was just Obama saying Crowley was stupid to arrest Gates. But you don’t have to think about the larger implications of what you said culturally, because you’re white and unwilling to consider what your statement sounds like to black people and the context of a white person saying it to black people. You’re so busy defending yourself as not a racist and the logicality of your opinion and right to make it, point winning over someone else’s point, that you aren’t willing to be quiet and listen to try and see black people’s views, through their eyes. You’re only concerned with yourself and not the larger issues the Crowley incident raised. And you, a white person, want black people to shut up and not criticize you while you state your opinion on a racial incident. You want black people to not use an exclusionary, angry tone with you and to listen and respect what you, a white person, have to say, while you’re not listening and respecting what they have to say about an issue — and an incident — they know a lot more about.

    Understand, I’m not just singling you out here; I’m talking about myself too and others because we get so into making our arguments, as if the other person was on equal footing with us in the society, that we don’t get that we’re throwing our societal weight around and shutting the other person down. If a white person wants to try and school black people about racism, expecting those black people not to get upset and tell the white person that they don’t know what he’s talking about is a little unrealistic. Because you don’t know what you’re talking about Greg, because you’ve never gone through it and you’re never going to go through it, and you’re in a culture that lets you lord your opinion over black people and a society in which it still is very dangerous for black people to confront you, disagree with you, and say that things are racist. That you refuse to acknowledge that in your discussions with them about Crowley or any other racially-charged subject, and simply are annoyed that they tell you to shut up because you don’t know what you’re talking about — that they take the risk of saying that opinion to you — is the essence of white privilege.

    “that I can never know what the “experience” is like therefore I have no valid opinion about Crowley, and whatever other strawman people can come up with.”

    Again, it’s not a strawman; it’s their lives. It’s the world they have to live in, where a white cop arrests an old black college professor for yelling with a bronchial infection. And you, the white person, are saying that your opinion of that should be respected as valid, while the black people’s opinion of your opinion you are declaring invalid. And you don’t get that there is a world of white power in society in that statement. You’re saying “I have a right to talk too,” but you’ve always had that right, whereas black people do not.

    “And if you want to say that means I can have no legitimate opinion about the guilt or innocence of Crowleys actions being racist, if you are saying I could never serve on a JURY to determine his guilt/innocence and that really only people who have lived in fear of the police and suffered abuse from them are able to render a ‘legitimate’ opinion about Crowleys guilt/innocence, then you are coming close to advocating only victims be allowed on juries.”

    Since I didn’t say anything of the sort and Crowley wasn’t in any danger of going before a jury for anything, now who’s creating a strawman argument? “If I, the white person, can’t tell black people what is and isn’t racism in an Internet discussion, then whites will have their power to serve on juries taken away from them. Harrumph!” Oh wait, what’s the ratio of black people to white people on juries deciding the guilt or innocence of mostly black suspects, since blacks are more often arrested? I believe the white people win on that one and consequently more often send black suspects to jail and for longer periods than whites. So bringing up that particular institution again shows white privilege and white focus — we whites have power in the courts. We have power on every level of society and most of the wealth, despite improvements and a black president. We still have the power to decide if black people’s grievances about a cop or anything else are “worthy” of social attention or not. We still have the power to decide if black people can even voice those grievances. That doesn’t mean that whites should be kicked off juries in hate crimes. But it does mean accepting that a white juror has a lot more power than a black juror. And it means understanding that blacks and whites are going to see the same behavior differently and that the white view gets the majority chance to be expressed and make the decisions in society, and maybe it’s worth listening to black people’s views on racism, which they experience every day, and allowing them to be expressed without white people trying to automatically dismiss them or say, “me, too, I know what’s best about this subject.”

    This is not the same circumstances, Greg, as you wrangling with libertarians. You’re the ruler, they’re the ruled. You’re a man, I’m female, so you’re the ruler, I’m the ruled in discussions about sexism. It’s something to keep in mind in these conversations. You can go on declaring your rulership at every turn, or you could let the ruled talk about what they see from their position without declaring it invalid and without worrying how well respected your own opinions will be.

  109. Oh shoot, I missed the Mallet warnings before posting. I should have checked, I’m sorry, but I felt Greg deserved a response since he misunderstood what I said before and I did try to stick to the subject. And now he can’t respond. Anyway, Greg, think about what I said, and if I said anything that upset you or you feel was unfair, grant me forgiveness and we’ll just go on from there.

  110. This is why you really should quickly check the comment thread for the little green message boxes from me, people. It will save you from having to post quick follow-up apologies.

  111. So I am reading Anon’s post and listening to the national news at the same time. When Craig James Andersons story came on the news. Short version six white men beat him then they got in their truck ran him over and killed him.
    Then on the local news two teen girls were raped at knife point by two hispanic man. This happened in a very nice neighborhood called Rancho Penasquitos.
    Yep this kind of shit happens far too often.

  112. Greg@29: Can I say I think Crowley’s actions were not racially motivated without having my personal level of offense or lack thereof dismissed out of hand as white privilege?

    Kat@119: According to you, the white guy … And what you did, Greg, as a white guy, was declare that you the white guy … you whitesplained black people on racism … you the white guy will tell them what was and was not racist … And you, the white person, are saying that your opinion of that should be respected as valid

    I don’t think anyone else answered my original question quite so clearly as you did, Kat. Thanks. Now I know with certainty.

  113. @ Unholyguy #82 – actually, there is a privileged position in communication. It’s the same as the privileged position in just about anything else, and generally it’s held by the person who fits the most criteria of white, cis-male, heterosexual, university/college-educated, Christian-identified, upper-class or middle class, able-bodied, neurotypical, native-English speaking, white-collar, professional, employed, US or UK citizen.

    If you aren’t that person and you piss that person off, you have Officially Lost The Conversation, because it immediately turns into a competitive debate, and that person holds all the social privilege cards. If you are that person, then you’ve officially Won The Conversation the minute you get pissed off, because you can turn the awful weight of your social privilege on the insignificant moron who chose to piss you off.

    (As a white, cis-female, heterosexual, high-school educated, non-Christian, working-class, temporarily able-bodied, mentally ill, native-English speaking, pink-collar, non-professional, unemployed Australian citizen, trust me, I have some idea what I’m talking about here).

  114. htom 89: What you’re proposing is that the receiver’s re-framing of a correctly received message can change the meaning of the message in the mind that was transmitting.

    Well, that strikes me as a grotesque parody of what I said. No, of course I’m not proposing that. I’m saying that the meaning of the communication is what happens in the receiver’s head, and that what happens in the sender’s head is irrelevant, not that it’s altered. I’m saying that when you evaluate a piece of communication to determine what it meant, what it meant to the receiver is a rather better criterion than what it meant to the sender.

    This is akin to, but less strident (IMO) than the NLP principle, which is “the meaning of communication is the response that it gets.”

    Greg 95: Xopher, I mean this in complete honesty that I hold nothing but love for you. I have read your comments for years and have the utmost respect for you. But on this particular matter we are in complete disagreement. I still respect and love you.

    That’s very kindly put. Thank you. I will refrain from trying to convince you otherwise.

  115. #123 by Greg on September 6, 2011 – 9:53 pm in re: Greg@29: Can I say I think Crowley’s actions were not racially motivated without having my personal level of offense or lack thereof dismissed out of hand as white privilege?

    Let me fix that for you Greg@29 & 123: Can I say I think Crowley’s actions were not racially motivated without having my personal level of offense or lack thereof [considered seriously and thoughtfully, yet still judged by your non-white peers] as white privilege?

    Why, yes! And it was so!

  116. “wealthsplaining poverty”

    Scalzi, thank you, sincerely, for this phrasing. I’ve been needing a shorthand like this for years to explain certain things — for example, how i’ve felt about most class panels i’ve been in the audience for at SF conventions.

  117. Also, I totally fell for the bait, and just realized it. I am malleting myself, with apologies. Argh.

  118. Xopher, if by NLP you mean Neuro Linguistic Programming, that approach has been fairly well disproven to be effective. Given how it was promoted as a cure all for a number of mental diseases and other issues, and given how it has been found to be ineffective, I would consider it dangerous were someone to use NLP in stead of real professional mental health care.

    Just take NLP with a grain or two of salt…

  119. improbablejoe @57: And there are people who use “waaah, privilege is overused, you’re unfairly disagreeing with me cuz I’m a white guy” to avoid substantive discussion too – so what?

    Really, that’s what the “listen” part of the recommendation is all about, eh? Listening doesn’t mean being a passive ear-sponge. It means that you are paying attention to, and thinking about, what is being said. So you may well decide that the person is still wrong. Or that they have a point, but you don’t fully agree with them. Or even if they’re objectively ‘wrong’ that they have an important point, or that it’s understandable why they would feel that way. Or even that they’re a doofus who doesn’t want to lose an argument.

    So for example, in the comment Scalzi linked to (which you did read, right?), Anonymous states that he still believes his co-worker overestimated her risk – that she was, objectively, incorrect – but that because he shut up and listened, he understood why she made that assessment, and that “you are objectively incorrect” would not only have been mansplaining, but would have been entirely beside the point.

    If you listen, you’ll be able to weed out bad arguers. If you simply decide that ‘privilege’ is code for ‘people being mean to white guys such that I can write this off’, well, that kinda is proving the point, no?

  120. I’m saying that when you evaluate a piece of communication to determine what it meant, what it meant to the receiver is a rather better criterion than what it meant to the sender

    I actually turn this around in my head a little: when I communicate, what I want is to create something in the head of whoever I’m trying to communicate with. The words or whatever are just a vehicle. It is all about their reaction. That’s what makes it communication.

    So when I talk and people react badly, I try to not get upset and decide that they are wrong. Instead, I try to decipher their reactions and work out a better way to communicate. Different phrasing, different style of communication, waiting for a different time, whatever. It’s frustrating as heck sometime, because they just don’t get it. Arrgh!

    Of course, at least as often I’m faced with a frustrated person going “you just don’t get it! Arrrgh!”.

    One thing does does gripe me is all the other autism-spectrum kids who never seem to link the problems they have communicating effectively about their oddities, with the frustration other people have when explaining things to them. Not that I’m suggesting anyone here has ASD, but in geek communities at large this is something that continues to hit me. I spend a lot of time in real life explaining “I don’t see things the way you do so I react differently to exactly the same situation. My first guess at how you will react is almost always wrong. Your intuition about how I will react is generally wrong too”. Then they explain to me that normal people blah blah blah. Can I call that neurotypicspaning?

  121. This post makes me feel bad for a couple of reasons.

    First off, of course, is that it is spot on. As a white male that makes me uncomfortable.

    But secondly, I can’t help but think, what about the other side of the coin ? As whites, we have to put up with reverse discrimination (affirmative action, anyone ?) and as a male, we are forced into a narrow gender role that may or may not suit us. There are plenty more points that can be made in this vein, but I won’t go into it.

    Because life aint fair people. I don’t like it, you don’t like it, we should change it when we can, but we can’t always, so just get over it folks.

  122. “This is why you really should quickly check the comment thread for the little green message boxes from me, people. It will save you from having to post quick follow-up apologies.”

    Yes, sir.

    Megpie174: #124: “It’s the same as the privileged position in just about anything else, and generally it’s held by the person who fits the most criteria of white, cis-male, heterosexual, university/college-educated, Christian-identified, upper-class or middle class, able-bodied, neurotypical, native-English speaking, white-collar, professional, employed, US or UK citizen.

    If you aren’t that person and you piss that person off, you have Officially Lost The Conversation, because it immediately turns into a competitive debate, and that person holds all the social privilege cards. If you are that person, then you’ve officially Won The Conversation the minute you get pissed off, because you can turn the awful weight of your social privilege on the insignificant moron who chose to piss you off.”

    Now, see, you made the point much more succinctly and clearly than I did.

    Greg #123: “I don’t think anyone else answered my original question quite so clearly as you did, Kat. Thanks. Now I know with certainty.”

    I’m not sure that I did. I will point out that when a black person or a woman, etc. says that the more privileged person doesn’t understand the experience and isn’t listening, that doesn’t mean that the black person or woman, etc., was totally ignoring or dismissing what the privileged person is saying about everything. And that is also a part of shutting up and listening, because you might find that there is more inter-communication going on if you give up the sage role, and at least listen to people who have been in the trenches and aren’t allowed to leave them.

    I pushed once in a discussion, just thinking I was being helpful about a business situation I knew something about, and I was so intent on that, that I didn’t realize I was discrediting the experiences people had had their whole lives. When I shut up and listened, I learned some critical information that I hadn’t known before and that a prejudice problem was more wide-spread than I was aware of. Because it wasn’t a problem that I had had to deal with. I didn’t know all the ins and outs of it, just parts of it that I, in the privileged group, assumed initially might not be related to prejudice. It wasn’t that my opinion and knowledge were totally irrelevant but that they weren’t the whole picture because I was in the privileged spot and thus wasn’t looking at it beyond that spot. It’s harder to spot and accept the danger signs when you don’t have to look for danger or signs because of who you are. It’s tempting to say that the people who do are overly sensitive to danger signs, seeing what is not there, and that you, the privileged person, have a better grasp of navigating them from your very safe armchair, as Anonymous was initially tempted to do with his female co-worker. But that’s not terribly realistic and the people who don’t have that safe armchair and have to go out there looking for danger every day are unlikely to agree that you know better than they do and that they should ignore their experience for your wisdom.

  123. When in doubt on one of these privilege issues, ask a newbie question. By that, I mean ask the question as if you were reasonably intelligent but highly uninformed on this particular subject. I think that double-dosed de-privilege is as much as one can do, and, I suspect, would be adequate.

    For an example used previously in this thread – and I’m just using it as an example – “I’m sorry if this is totally obvious, but I’d like to know how you know that in this particular instance, Crowley was racist.”…
    and then listen.

    Is that sufficiently not asserting privilege, while allowing a hint of your current state of mind? Is it okay to add, “… because so far, I’m only seeing that it looks plausible.” or is that too much?

  124. @78, re ““Intent is not magical” and @93 ““offense is not magical, either”

    The concept in certain legal jurisdictions that “Intent follows the bullet” doesn’t quite work on the internet, but “Offense follows the bullet” sure does. Suppose you’re a guy, and none of the women you know have ever been sexually assaulted, and you think “HAW HAW HAW rape jokes are funnay” and so you tell some in a public space.

    News flash: you have offended someone. Some of the women you know HAVE been sexually assaulted, but they probably never told you about it for any number of reasons, one of which possibly being because they think you’re an insensitive clod. This is pretty basic male privilege, manifesting itself in “showing your ass”. There are always new people who need to be told “Dude: rape jokes, not funny”, and I think it’s asking a little much of people who have actually been sexually assaulted to stand up and tell folks how offensive that is.

  125. Drachefly #137: careful with that, though, or you risk dragging the conversation into 101 territory, and it’s not the duty of the underprivileged to educate every clueless newb who comes down the pike. :)

  126. “This is why you really should quickly check the comment thread for the little green message boxes from me, people. It will save you from having to post quick follow-up apologies.”

    Perhaps if you made the blink. And fluoresce.

  127. Chris Gladis @72: I have to agree with this. During the RaceFail thing, one of the things I noted was that a lot of people were getting very angry. In some cases they were justifiably angry. But there is *nothing* that will stop people listening to you faster than being angry. “Shut up and listen” doesn’t work when you yell it. This isn’t a privilege thing; it’s a human thing.

    Does it suck that people who’ve suffered injustice must then turn around and smile as they attempt to combat that injustice? Yes. But if you want to have any success – if you want to do more than preach to the choir – you can’t afford to get angry about it.

    I think a lot of why white guys go “blergl blargl” over this subject is that it feels invalidating. “As a straight white upper-class male, you don’t have the same understanding of X as a gay black lower-class female” is one thing. “As a straight white upper-class male, your opinion on X is less valid than that of a gay black lower-class female” is another. The opinion of the straight white upper-class male may actually *be* less valid – particularly if X is something related to poor black lesbians – but that doesn’t stop him feeling put out when you point it out.

    Getting put out when someone says “You don’t know what you’re talking about” is not exclusive to straight white upper-class males. It’s a human thing.

    Having read through this entire comment thread, and being a straight white middle class male, I’m feeling a bit “blergl blargl” myself; I’m trying to rein it in.

    Here’s a question, though; I understand that women live in a fundamentally more threatening world than I do. Is it possible that women are being taught, however, to *overestimate* the amount of threat? Is there a disconnect between how much more threatening the world actually is and how much more threatening it’s *perceived* as? I understand the necessity of being more vigilant; but I fear that in some cases this may become *hypervigilant* – and, if nothing else, that’s not good for one’s mental wellbeing.

    I’m *not* trying to say “Oh, those silly women, they’re jumping at shadows”. I understand full well that some of those shadows have rapists in them. But I’m concerned that women may be being taught to overestimate the amount of threat that exists. Part of my personal mental health issues is that I tend to overestimate the amount of social and environmental threat about, and it kinda sucks. So I’m concerned that we may be socializing half the species to do exactly that. I don’t have any actual numbers, which is why I’m asking.

  128. Fletcher:

    During the RaceFail thing, one of the things I noted was that a lot of people were getting very angry. In some cases they were justifiably angry. But there is *nothing* that will stop people listening to you faster than being angry. “Shut up and listen” doesn’t work when you yell it. This isn’t a privilege thing; it’s a human thing.

    True on some level as this may be, if you actually throw it at someone during a “live” debate, they’ll usually just respond “tone argument” and then summarily ignore you. The tone argument is considered to be a classic derailing technique, and with good reason.

  129. Dave: That makes a lot of sense, but it also makes me go “blergl blargl” and froth at the mouth – because it tells me that the person isn’t interested in discussion – they just want to vent. In which case I might as well reduce my argument to “tone” and summarily ignore them.

  130. One may object to a “tone argument” criticism for plenty of reasons besides she/he isn’t “interested in discussion”. Wiser people than I have written well on that subject, but I will say that I find it useful to ask “why is it so important to control how a point is being said, rather than addressing the point?”

    see e.g.,
    #143 ““Shut up and listen” doesn’t work when you yell it. This isn’t a privilege thing; it’s a human thing.”

    yes it is human nature to be upset when being yelled at. It is also human nature to be upset when faced with oppression/racism/etc. Why is that the minority must be the bigger person and get over it (so that you will listen – “there is *nothing* that will stop people listening to you faster than being angry”), but the guy being yelled at doesn’t?
    I have never had this explained to me by anyone who argues about “tone”.

  131. Because the minority is coming from a position of weakness (assuming that we’re in a situation where the majority rules, and not an aristocracy, of course). They can’t *make* the people on top go “You know, Frothalot McRevolutionary down there has some good points in between all the flying spittle, maybe we should consider them.” They’re just going to go “Meh, the peasants are revolting” and tune it out, in much the same way that people don’t pay much attention to the bile-laden invective of fire-and-brimstone preachers unless they already agree with them.

    Can one hope that the people on top will disregard your delivery and pay attention to your words? Yes, but expect disappointment.

  132. First post from a long-time lurker. I couldn’t stand this one, and had to say something. I’m a white male (no caps required) and don’t particularly feel that I got much of free ride. Not from a well-to-do class by any stretch of the imagination. No hope of funds for college. Joined the military. Got some practical experience that got me a leg up in the world. Got out, and got a reasonable job, and a good start in a civilian life.

    The point is that much of what has happened in my life has been in a couple of states that are very largely white. And I’ve had a bosses (admittedly a minority) who were female. I can’t help that last, and I was aware of glass ceilings and such, but I also had no problem with a female boss. This wasn’t an issue for me–we had to get software written, and if there was a woman in charge, that was neither here nor there. one of my co-workers seemed to have a problem, either.

    I don’t feel that I’ve ever had some sort of overwhelming advantage via being a white male, save *possibly* in the military, and don’t really feel like taking up the White Man’s Burden. In the military, especially at the time, it was what it was. Women were only allowed in certain roles (still true, to an ever-decreasing extent), which increased hazards for males. Who had the advantage there? I won’t get into a BS (but PC) discussion of who can hump heavier loads through more brutal conditions, on average. To my mind, male/female advantage was ambiguous–it depended on definitions that were far from clear-cut.

    Sorry, but I just can’t buy into some Kipling thing. Perhaps my life has been atypical, but perhaps not. The burden of proof is on you, and you didn’t make the best argument I’ve seen in these posts–personal safety. It’s difficult to even imagine being worried about rape. That must be truly horrible. But I still don’t buy the argument. Being born with a penis does not imply guilt.

    “shut up and listen”

    Well, I didn’t hear it so politely, back in the day. “Never miss a golden opportunity to STFU,” was the gist of it, and I Have Failed. But just because you listen does not mean you will hear revelations. Unless a description of membership in a civilized society is somehow revelational.

    I guess I just don’t get the point of your post.

  133. Here’s something that’s sometimes happened to me.

    First, I listen. And I hear things that are new to me about a group’s experience and they enlighten my understanding.

    Then, in conversation with other people who, like me, are not part of the group in question, I pass along the fruits of my listening when they’re unknown to the other people.

    But a person who is of the group in question who’s listening in (either in person or online, depending on the conversation) informs me that that’s totally wrong.

    Surprised and confused, I then make the mistake of repeating the reasoning and explanations given me by my original informant. At that point I’m accused of “whitesplaining” even if I say specifically that I’m just passing along what I was told.

    Also, if my original informant was oral and/or I can’t remember the specific occasion of the original conversation offhand, I’m accused of making the person up.

    Actual example: First gay informant told me, very politely but earnestly, that I shouldn’t say “gay marriage,” I should say “same-sex marriage”. After some time of carefully saying “same-sex marriage” and gently passing this info on to other well-meaning straight folks, I got jumped on by a second gay informant who said quite vehemently that “gay marriage” is the correct term.

    It’s not that they disagree, it’s that each acted oblivious of the other POV’s existence.

  134. @fletcher re women being socialized to fear things. Well, yes and no. Some of that fear comes from actual personal first hand observation/experience. For example, even though I am 5’10”, and taller than average, still I live with the constant low-level awareness that almost any adult male can overpower me should they chose to. And how am I to guess, from outward appearances, who would and wouldn’t chose to? Thing is, the risk of danger in any particular situation may indeed be low….but the penalty for guessing wrong (being raped or otherwise physically assaulted) is so great as to make most women take even the slightest hint of a risk seriously. It is not over reacting. It is a rational objective assessment of how the world works.

    Try this on for size: pretend you went to live on a planet where all the men were a foot taller than you, and a hundred pounds heavier. (Like, a world of NBA basketball players.) And all of them were gay, and eyed you hungrily whenever you went out in public. And you knew that the rape statistics on that planet were on the scary side. So. There you are. Surrounded by big, strong, aggressive men who could pulp you without even trying hard, and one or two of them won’t take no for an answer. Tell me honestly, wouldn’t you feel a frisson of fear crossing a dark parking lot, alone, late at night? Wonder, just for a minute, if that nice young man asking you out is really that nice, or will he turn into a monster once he gets you alone? As Anonymous points out, risk assessment is different for women than it is for men and men do not get to tell us we’re wrong to make different assessments, because the penalties for guessing wrong are different for men than for women.

    Then again, that whole “fate worse than death” socialization trope has just GOT to go. There’s a whole sub-plot in The Count of Monte Cristo where a man kills his beloved fiancee because she was raped by a fellow criminal…and her father praises him for doing so. Bah. Self-defense training should be mandatory for all girls (and boys too, what the heck), and girls should be socialized to believe that no matter what happens to them, they don’t have to be a victim, that they can triumph over anything. Instilling that belief would go a long long way to lessening the fear problem right there, IMO.

  135. #147 by Fletcher
    “Can one hope that the people on top will disregard your delivery and pay attention to your words? Yes, but expect disappointment.”

    In an effort to stay on topic, I’ll reference the point of the post: “This means that if I want to learn and to understand things, I will from time to time have to shut up and listen, especially on subjects where others have more experience than I.”
    The point is that we/you/I should listen because we can learn.
    If you are getting caught up in the delivery, you aren’t listening.
    If you are interrupting the discussion to argue about how someone could have said something more politely, you aren’t listening.
    No one says you have to try and learn anything, but if you are subscribing to the idea of doing so, then getting caught up on “tone” isn’t helping you, and is actually hurting you.

    Finally, excuse me if I missed the History class where peasants got anything by asking politely.

  136. Leslie @150: I definitely agree with you on the self-defense thing. And I understand the fear thing – it’s just that from what a lot of women say (yourself included) this anxiety seems to fall into two camps – “absolute or insufficient”. Unless I’m interpreting what people are saying incorrectly?

    My concern is that the “absolute” end of the scale may well be rather more extreme than it needs to be – it seems rather like never flying because aeroplanes crash (when cars are actually more dangerous). And that teaching women to be fearful is possibly a less helpful survival mechanism than teaching them to kick the behinds of anyone who threatens them.

    But then I am a man and don’t have any actual statistics at hand, so I may well be wrong.

  137. @greg 148 See, no one is trying to make you feel guilty. (Unless it’s to make you feel guilty for being self-centered and not caring about women’s issues. :)) They are simply stating facts. You have advantages in this (USA) culture by virtue of being male, because that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. You didn’t personally earn it, or ask for it, or consciously act in a way to take advantage of it or abuse the position, it’s just how society has come to be structured over time. You say you are aware of glass ceilings, but yet shrug it off without stopping to consider that women *can’t* shrug it off the way men can. After all, we’re the ones being held down, not you!

    The thing about privilege is, it’s generally invisible to the privileged person. It’s like the air you breathe — surrounding you, invisibly. It’s not anything you do consciously. It doesn’t imply “living a life of privilege”, it mostly ends up meaning that you don’t have to deal with the bad shit the non-privileged have to deal with on a daily basis, without even realizing how good you have it by comparison (because of a lack of knowledge about the bad shit the non-privileged have to deal with). If you care to understand what the privilege discussion is all about, make an effort to listen to women when they talk about the bad shit in their lives. Listen to people of color when they talk about how race affects every minute of their lives, while white people have the option of not thinking about race issues if they don’t want to (the keystone of white privilege IMO).

    See my previous post for more of my opinions.

  138. Kathleen at @151: In a reasoned debate, sure, one should make an effort to listen. But getting the people on top to “shut up and listen” is very hard, and becomes more so when your delivery is unpleasant to their ears. Politeness is the misericord which will help you get your ideas past their armour of indignation.

    And yes, you’re right in that “the peasants never got anything by asking politely” – but when your options are negotiation or violence, most people would prefer to try negotiation first. And negotiation goes more smoothly if you’re reasonable and polite. On the Internet in particular, nobody has much recourse to force, and people can very easily choose to ignore what you’re saying because the manner in which you say it is unpleasant to them. Whether or not they’re right to do so is another matter entirely.

  139. I found the original limited topic raised by Scalzi and the referenced post interesting, and useful. However after listening to this thread’s comments and the conversations that have followed, some of the discussions here reminded me a lot of the lengthy RaceFail conversations.

    One one hand it is very fascinating and enlightening to see just how different people and their perceptions are, but at the same time quite depressing – because it seems hopeless. It really makes me just want to tune out entirely; not only to shut up, but also to stop listening. And that’s a shame.

    The whole point of distinguishing “shut up” from “shut up and listen” is that there must be some benefit to the listening part. But in this and the RaceFail threads there have been several comments made to the effect that if a person is a member of some elite/privileged/majority/not-me class that they can “never understand” or that their action/viewpoint/opinion will “always” be offensive or unwelcome or at least considered invalid. Sure, it is quite reasonable to say that perhaps that person should listen first, or consider conditions they may not be exposed to, or even just a warning that their opinion (even if objectively valid) may not be received that way because of situational differences. However when it gets to the point that words like “you’ll never understand” or “it doesn’t matter what you say, it will be heard as something else” are being invoked, then why should that person continue to listen at all? What is the possible benefit?

    I know this isn’t specifically about the RaceFail topic, but it is related and has been brought up. And since I’ve had a much longer time to internalize and muse over that past conversion set, let me use it as an example. As a member of the targeted “elite” class in that topic, at first I was fascinated by the discussions and thought I was learning something useful from viewpoints different than mine. However by the end, exasperated, I think I just came away caring less, not more. (On a personal note, by “my” definitions of good/evil/racism I do care very much.) Before that conversation I used to actually fear being called a racist or being perceived as racist; but afterwards, nope, I don’t care at all; or at least I’m much less sensitive to it, and I’m less likely to feel guilt. That may be surprising to some people – it certainly surprises me – so let me try to explain why, in my case, the effect of me “shutting up a listening” seems to have had the opposite effect of what I think was the intent of those speakers.

    What I took away from the RaceFail discussions were:

    1. Wow, there’s way more diversity in how human brains think than I ever imagined, how cool; and

    2. I don’t speak your language, so when you say the word “racism” what I hear is “gieyslwyfslahfeblahblah”, visa-versa

    What should have been #3, I have gained more empathy, is now shunted by the obstacle of an almost impenetrable language barrier. One problem was that the term “racism” was defined by many people not in my class as being a tautology. Racism wasn’t something I could chose not to do. It was something that just was, always. Just by existing and by happenstance being born in a different set of people I was by definition a racist and no matter how hard I tried I would forever always be one, just because of things outside of my control. Sure it wasn’t put quite that succinctly, and certainly not by everybody, but that premise was substantially present throughout those discussions. However, from my perspective, that effectively removed all meaning from the word. “Racism” was now just another filler word like “Um”. So under those definitions if I would be called a racist, rather than being shocked or apologetic or guilt-ridden, now it is as meaningless as calling me an air-breather. So what.

    It was the finality of their argument, “you’ll ALWAYS be racist”, or “you’ll NEVER understand”, or “your opinion will NEVER matter because you’re one of them not one of us” — that unfortunately removes me from the conversation entirely. It has become just “shut up”, not “shut up and listen”.

    So if you really mean “shut up and listen”, and not just “shut up” in disguise, then you have to provide for the possibility of the listening having some effect or change if the listener chooses. If you don’t give the listener that option, which may be fine, just say “shut up”.

  140. Agreeing with everything Kathleen has said re: tone; just one further point worth making:

    One advantage of the internet being a primarily written medium is that, when arguments happen, you don’t have someone standing in front of you, shouting in your face and demanding an answer NOW. Speaking solely from personal experience, when (general) you encounter an angry rant, rather than responding instantly it’s often a good idea to step back for a moment and think “Subject X clearly makes this person angry. Let me read their words carefully to try and find out why.”

    On top of the fact that (again, general) you might actually learn something by doing this; it means that when you reply, (a) you’re responding to the substance of what they actually said rather than the tone in which they said it, and (b) it also gives the ranter a chance to calm down a little (though of course, if they haven’t, that’s still not an excuse to pull the tone argument during round 2).

    I’ve learned a lot this way.

  141. Dave @156: This is true. Good and reasonable people will do this. But! Your reader – and this goes double on the Internet – may well not be a good and reasonable person. Instead of going “Subject X clearly makes this person angry. Let me read their words carefully to try and find out why.” they’ll go “Wow, this person is a complete frothing zealot on Subject X; we have no common ground. Their words are sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

    Are they right to think so? Probably not. Does posting an angry screed increase the likelihood that people will ignore it? Yes. Ultimately, I believe that one’s tone can be more or less helpful to negotiation, and that it is reasonable to point out when it is not, in the hopes of helping the negotiation taking place.

    But I fear this meta-discussion of tone grows off-topic, so I’ll leave it at that. Live long and prosper!

  142. Privilege is very hard to see when it is your own. I grew up in a factory worker neighborhood bound on my right by new suburban wealth and on my left by government assistance housing. It was easy for me to see the benefits those two groups got from their place in society. It was easy to whine about the ease with which the wealthier kids got the better things in life. As I got older & gained experience I was able to see the handicaps poverty caused that negated much of the supposed benefits I saw to my left. But it took a while longer to see how I had in fact benefited from my privilege. Once I saw it was almost impossible to not see more of it.

    I get why people want to pretend they are self-made & got no leg up, hell Trump started with a few billion his dad left him but still proclaims himself “self-made”. But the world would be a better place if we all took a few minutes to acknowledge the benefits we received and less time worrying about what we see as the benefits the disenfranchised have.

  143. Joe:

    My degree is in philosophy, which is not in any classical or modern sense considered to be a “fine art.” So perhaps before attempting to minimize my degree, you should be accurate about what my degree is (and what fine arts are).

    Beyond this, the implication that having a degree in fine arts means one is not intellectually or otherwise fit to speak on any number of topics is, well, interesting to say the least. It speaks to your apparent prejudice against degrees in fine arts, not the actual real world ignorance of fine arts degree holders.

    Furthermore, and as you tangentially brought science into the discussion, speaking as someone who has published a book on science that has gone into two editions and has written dozens of articles about science, and has acted as an adviser on science for television, the suggestion that one’s intellect and education is limited and defined only by the degree one has from an educational institution is deeply stupid. For my money (and it was my money, as I paid for my own college education) the role of an undergraduate education is to learn how to learn, which puts one in good stead for the future.

    Finally, as regards effectively telling me to shut up on my own site: Kiss my ass. It’s my site and I’ll talk about whatever I want, whenever I feel like talking about it. You don’t like it, the door is right over there.

  144. Just a point of information, Greg@148 is not me.

    Kat@136: When I shut up and listened, I learned some critical information that I hadn’t known before and that a prejudice problem was more wide-spread than I was aware of.

    Here’s the thing, Kat. You assume the only reason I have a different opinion is because I don’t have all the information and if I just “shut up and listen”, that I would come around to your opinion.

    That’s actually pretty condescending.

    It’s even more condescending when it seems that the only reason you think I must not know all the facts about the case is not because I said anything that was incorrect about the case, but because I am white, something you made a point to mention at least half a dozen times in your post about why I must be wrong. Every other “fact” you told me could be boiled down to “guilt by association” arguments that I had already heard, considered, and rejected.

    Gawds, if there is one logical fallacy that I would love people to understand and stop doing, it is guilt by association. If the only reason I am wrong is because I am white, then you’re committing guilt by association. If the only reason you say someone must be guilty is because others like him are guilty, its guilt by association.

    Anyways, my point being that sometimes they’re really not saying “shut up and listen”. Sometimes, it’s just “shut up”.

  145. If you really believe that only a white man has the authority to decide whether “women” (as a class??) are overestimating the danger in their environment, you could read The Gift of Fear by white male Gavin DeBecker.

    OTOH, the newspapers are full of women who underestimated the risk of their environments. I was present on one such occasion.

  146. Lila @161: Please don’t assume that I believe that “only a white man has the authority to decide whether “women” (as a class??) are overestimating the danger in their environment”. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact that you read my post and interpreted it that way … well, it really hurts my hopes for any kind of common understanding. Good day.

  147. Fletcher: I’m sorry I misinterpreted you. The phrasing that triggered my knee-jerk reaction was “women are being taught”–which in my oversensitive mind suggested that someone else knows better.

    For what my opinion’s worth, I think you’re absolutely right that hypervigilance is a problem, for some men and for some women. I also think that lack of vigilance is a problem for some men and for some women. I’m sorry I let my fingers run ahead of my judgment.

  148. John@60

    Would you take this as an example?

    I would argue that this is a case of what improbabljoe is talking about. The blog is not a specifically women’s/LBGT issues blog, and doesn’t seem to be pushing itself as a protected space for those groups, however it seems the commenter would like it to be.

    Their argument seems to be “you’re probably a white male therefore you’re not allowed to respond to this accusation that your show is sexist”, and that any response from a “non-opressed group”* to an “oppressed group” counts as shouting down.

    * scare quotes because I don’t think the classification can ever be that simple – the concept of kyriarchy seems relevant here.

  149. Re: “it’s not the duty of the underprivileged to educate every clueless newb who comes down the pike.” aka ‘the 101 argument’:

    This argument seems like a huge cop-out to me – because sure, it’s not their job – unless they want to have an actual conversation with said clueless newb. I guess this gets a bit into the difference between a one-on-one conversation and an conversation in an open forum like this one, but if the point of a conversation between two people is to communicate, and one participant is lacking information, the choices boil down to: 1) educate that person, either directly (“here’s how it is…”) or indirectly (“oh, you should read XYZ and tell me what you think..”) or 2) end the conversation and give up all further communication on the topic. 2) seems a bit final and not helpful or useful, so I’m in favor of 1b – saying “hey, yeah, those words don’t mean quite what you think they do, go read XYZ and the come back and read this again” or the like, which puts the burden of education in the correct place, IMO.

  150. Russ@165, hm. odd. when it is so blatant like that, it actually made me chuckle. Usually, its more indirect and depresses the hell out of me cause I start to wonder if I’m halucinating.

    thanks for the chuckle.

  151. PJ:

    “This argument seems like a huge cop-out to me”

    It’s not. It’s the recognition that if you spent your time with the 101 argument, you wouldn’t do anything else. It’s like what happens when I write about evolution, and I get people wandering through with basic misapprehensions about what the word “theory” means. I don’t want to have to go over that yet again, and don’t. Instead I give them a link to site and tell them to come back when they can make an argument that’s not already covered in detail over there. Note that I don’t have to give that link; I do it because it’s there and it’s easy.

    It’s not the job of the rest of the world to educate you on the things you don’t know. If someone takes the time, it’s a gift, and nice, and you should appreciate it. But expecting it is just another pointer to one’s assumption that the world exists to service you. Which the world may disagree with.

    The good news is that there is generally lots of stuff out there for “101ers”. It might be useful for those told “you don’t seem to know about this topic” to ask where that 101-level stuff is out there. If one is actually asking for additional information, one is usually aided by others in the quest.

  152. @lila #164 I think it would be more accurate to say that “both men and women are enculturated with sub-optimal beliefs and behaviour patterns.” eg “boys will be boys”, used to refer to men in their 30’s (and 40’s and 50’s…) And yeah, sometimes it’s pretty obvious that someone probably “knows better”, because sheesh, some culturally-driven behaviour is stunning stupid, if not outright destructive.

  153. My comment at #57 can obviously be read in more than one way, which clearly speaks to my lack of clarity. I meant sort of one thing, and Russ@#165 seems to have taken the other view of what I said specifically.

    I was mostlytalking about bad argumentation and using terms incorrectly (and not always maliciously). You’ll see the same thing when someone first discovers formal logical fallacies or some sort of politics and starts flinging the buzzwords inaccurately. You see it around some, I hang out and comment semi-regular over on, and you can see it there some. Also called out and corrected when it happens, same as guys are called out when they argue badly.

    Russ’s example seems to be something more rare and much nastier, which is the angry man-hating non-feminist with a chip on the shoulder and an axe to grind against the whole world. Those are the stereotype I guess, but in my experience they are rare, easily avoided, and don’t have much to do with what regular people call feminism. I’m not talking about that AT ALL.

    BTW, of the “straight white male” thing, I only qualify for about one and a half of it. You know what they say about assumptions… :)

  154. I’m guessing rather a high proportion of commenters here are SF/F fans. And so it’s really astonishing how many folks are, in essence, saying there’s no point in having to ‘shut up and listen’ because they can’t possibly understand what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. Aren’t we the people who read books showing the points of view of aliens, elves, wizards, vampires, faerie, Roman soldiers, gods, and other things we never will and could never be? Hey, that’s interesting and we can really get into the mind of Tyrion Lannister or Harry Dresden or Rath Roiben Rye, but for crissakes you expect me to understand what it’s like to be poor? Why the hell should I listen to Scalzi when I can’t ever have actually been poor and QED can’t understand what he’s telling me?

    Fletcher @157: The non-good-and-reasonable person is precisely the person who is going to refuse to listen to a polite, reasonable discussion, because such a person is not interested in thinking that they are wrong, or might have privilege, or ought to perhaps consider that a conversation goes two ways. That person is the one who is going to pretend that the other person is “too angry” or “strident” or “well you’re the real bigot because you’re ignoring reverse discrimination” or whatever the excuse is. (Outside of the privilege context, consider the cheating spouse who, confronted by their partner with proof of the infidelity, tries to turn the discussion instead into ‘I can’t talk to you when you’re like this’ or ‘how dare you go snooping through my pockets’. The goal is not really to have a thoughtful, calm discussion, but to shut discussion off entirely.)

    “Shut up and listen” assumes the shut-up-er is a good and reasonable person who is willing to listen, but is having a temporary moment of dumbfuckery. You’ll notice that our host is not saying “Hey, wealthy privileged people, shut up and listen to me.” He is saying, in effect, “hey, other people whose privilege is causing brain farts? We should maybe shut the fuck up and pay attention for a little bit.”

  155. @124 sorry i was using “privilege” in a different context (it’s such a bad word).

    As in “neither sender nor receiver is the center of the universe when it comes to communication” that they orbit a common center of mass

  156. Re: Fletcher @ 157: Dave @156: This is true. Good and reasonable people will do this. But! Your reader – and this goes double on the Internet – may well not be a good and reasonable person.

    This, to me, is the heart of “Shut up and Listen.” If, as a reader, I assume that people are reasonable then it puts the burden on me to understand why a reasonable person would say something that I (another reasonable person) find so obviously unreasonable. A lot of the time I just have to sit and hold the cognitive dissonance for awhile. Sometimes I never really see their point. But mostly, I have found it incredibly eye-opening to allow myself to recognize that reasonable people can look at exactly the same set of facts and see a wildly different situation than the one that I see.

    Now, I will also say that I find this exercise to be a lot easier when arguments are well-articulated. Well-articulated does not necessarily mean clam and polite either. Angry is fine. It just helps (me) if it also has a bit of explanation thrown in — particularly when it is a prespective that is new to me.

  157. Fletcher, I both disgree and agree with you on the inculcation of women with a fear of violence.

    I will disagree first, by saying that I think both you and Anonymous in the other thread are wrong; women are performing a rational risk-benefit analysis (what Leslie said @ 150). And, in an awesome display of “shut up and listen” in action, someone pointed out a flaw in Anonymous’ analysis (that he saw a deserted parking lot as indicative of safety, while for his coworker it could actually increase her danger) and he concurred and adjusted his thinking.

    However, I agree that fear is used as a tool to shrink women’s lives and reduce their autonomous presence in the world. This is the effect of police “rape prevention tips” on the local news every time there is an assault. Yes, I understand we are ultimately responsible for our own safety. I would argue that it’s statistically likely that I understand that better than most men.

    But I invite guys who want some insight into this to try a thought experiment the next time a story like that plays out on your local news. Listen. and try and imagine, not that this is your sister or wife or daughter, but that this story is speaking to YOU. You are being told to not go out alone, to always have a companion, to avoid certain areas after dark, to look under your car and in the backseat before you get inside, stay in your house with the doors locked, the windows closed, and the security system armed. Try and imagine what your life would look like, if you had to (or were expected to) follow these dictates. How much smaller, how much different, how much less it would be.

  158. One of the hurdles for the white male is actually the distinct peculiarity of the lingo. It’s particularly painful when someone whose lot in life (often as unearned as my Y chromosome or the color of my skin) is generally far better than mine has the temerity to tell me that I have privilege.

    Which, of course, I do. But not the regular sort of privilege where some thing of value is given to me at the expense of others. No, my privilege is merely to not be subject to a certain type of egregious bullshit which no person should have to endure, and all I gain from this privilege is a blindness concerning what goes on around me.

    Privilege is just one of those words advocates of civilization and decency use a bit oddly. Their usages are perfectly correct, but they raise connotations in common speech which can without difficulty raise the hackles of the common person. Having educated myself, however, I now know where to direct that anger.

  159. An interesting counterpoint

    I currently live in a neighborhood in San Francisco which is suffering a stint of gang violence, mostly Hispanic man on man violence. There have been three murders here in the last week, one of them was a cook on his smoke break

    It would be quite reasonable for Hispanic men to shrink their world as you are describing. However they are not doing anything like that.

    The way women react to threat of violence is much more about a female culture of learned helplessness then it is media driven. I have many female friends who have trained themselves out of it. My sister packs a 9mm and god help anyone who messes with her, she’s the scariest thing out there most days. It’s not inevitable, it just needs to be trained out of people

  160. Angelle @174: It’s particularly annoying because the advice given is generally not the advice that is actually helpful and is often impossible to follow. (Don’t go out at night alone? Srsly?) It’s as if we were trying to prevent drowning by saying “Stay away from any body of water more than a foot deep” rather than “If you’re in a boat always wear a life jacket.”

  161. unholyguy @ 176

    Agreed, and I certainly don’t live my life that way. But I also know my goddaughters are hearing this as they grow up, which means they will also have to spend mental and emotional capital to overcome it, capital that could be put to better use elsewhere in their lives.

    mythago @ 177

    Oooh, that’s a nice analogy you have there! Mind if I try it on, show it to a few friends? ;-)

  162. unholyguy @176: It’s funny you mention that, because I used to live in a heavily Hispanic neighborhood that suffered a spate of gang violence, almost entirely between men. And you know what? The people living there did shrink their world in response. They avoided the local park where they used to spend time with their kids. They kept their kids inside more. They were more nervous walking to the grocery store and school.

    BTW, it’s interesting that you use the phrase ‘learned helplessness’. That has a very specific meaning; it’s when an organism is taught that it can’t avoid a negative stimulus, so it simply no longer bothers to try.

  163. JediBear: “Privilege is just one of those words advocates of civilization and decency use a bit oddly. Their usages are perfectly correct”

    The term ‘privilege’ was first used to refer to bias in ‘unpacking the invisible knapsack’. Whether it is ‘perfectly correct’ is something I would dispute. The etymoligy of the word privilege is some advantage gained by a group over another group through force of law. Remove the law, and the advantage goes away.

    a lot of things caled ‘privilege’ would not go away were discrimination to be removed. I dont have to worry about racist police because I am white. but it isnt a true privilege because if you got rid of police racism, then no one would have to worry about it.

    privilege, by its etymology, refers to something I might possess through ill gotten means, and were justice returned, I would have to surrender what I have.

    That quite often does not fit what people are saying when they refer to white privilege. its not that everyone should fear racist police and I have a ‘privilege’ that lets me not worry about it. Its that NO ONE shoukd worry about police racism.

    what that is pointing to is more accurately a *disadvantage* that the *minority* shouldnt have to suffer, not a *privilege* that the majority has to give up to achieve social justice.

    This is subtle, but also extremely powerful, subtext in the word. privilege at its root, implies the holder must surrender something for justice to be returned. but many, many, many examples of white, straight, male privilege isnt something I should give up, but rather something others have ben denied and should be restored to them.

    The word privilege connotates something to feel guilty about. That someone decided to use it in the Invisible knapsack to describe discrimination, that happens to point blame at the majority, was likely not an accident.

    The word gets a charged reaction because the word has a charged etymology. People cant simply say ‘but we dont mean it that way’ and make all that emotional baggage attached to the word dissappear.

    and if they didnt mean it that way, they would really consider using a different word.

    It carries with it a sense of guilt and wrong doing and anyone who says that guilt wasnt at least a little bit intentional is being dishonest about how people use the word.

  164. improbablejoe@170

    My apologies for misrepresenting you.

    I should point out that I don’t see that kind of comment frequently – it was a coincidence that I’d come across the linked thread shortly before seeing this one, with its request for an example.

    Generally I am very much for John’s original advice above, and have found the discussions of privilege and unmarked states here and at Making Light eye-opening. Like (I suspect) a lot of people, my first introduction to this site was the “being poor” essay. For me, that was an interesting exposure to a form of dis-privelege that I could imagine myself encountering – it’s easier to put myself in those shoes than it is to imagine being a woman or a minority in my society. Once the concept of unearned privilege started to make sense to me in that one area, it became more obvious in others.

    Examples of those who have pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps with only the advantages of a white Western middle class male in the late 20th Century (and some times a bit of wealth or a business inherited from daddy) to go on begin to seem somewhat less impressive, in context, and possibly not something to brag about.

    Greg @148

    As I understand it, the point is not that as a white male you get a free ride. The point is that you are the unmarked state, the default, the normal – that you do not have anything automatically dragging you down because of the position of your base state in your society. As you’re a long time lurker, I guess you will have read “Things I don’t have to think about today”, which points out some of the priviliges some of us don’t have, many of which I had taken for granted.

    I’m not quite sure what you mean about not taking up the White Man’s Burden – you seem to be using the phrase differently to how I understand it (not beating the drum for imperial colonialism is generally thought to be a good thing…). If you’re interested in continuing the discussion, could you unpack that for me?

  165. Marc, two different concepts. Only one word (privilege) to describe them.

    prefixing your manifesto with ‘I am about to describe two completely different things and use one word to describe both’ doesnt make it OK.

  166. to use a more common example, a privilege is something that is *granted* but can be taken away. your drivers license, for Americans, is a privilege. drive drunk and it can be taken away.

    Contrast that to a right, which people inherently deserve whether the state allows it or not. people have an inherent *right* to not be afraid of the police. people of color have had that right taken away and it needs be restored to them.

    but saying that I dont fear the police is a ‘privilege’ carries with it the implication that the remedy is to revoke the privilege. you imply that you want me to fear the police.

    Say it is a right, then that carries the implication to restore it to those it has been denied.

  167. @179 whether or not people are “behaving different” is a subjective thing of course and in the eye of the beholder. I imagine there is a threshold where we would see the kind of behavior you have described, but if anything the people around here seem to be under reacting at the moment rather then over reacting. Then again we go through these spats, it’s not unusual

    What has been objectively shown though is that in general people’s fear reaction to perceived environmental threat has very little in common with the actual nature and probabilities of that threat, they almost always massively under or over react based on a number of factors

    I was using “learned helplessness” in the psychological rather then biological context, though they seem to be related

    It’s not really the correct term though, since the behavior is not learned from experience but taught

  168. @#180, Greg

    Etymology may readily be distinguished from usage. The usage of “privilege” to refer to an advantaged state, no matter the source or nature of that advantage, is perfectly correct.

    Beyond that misstep, you seem to say precisely what I say: That the usage is an awkward fit with unfortunate connotations which may tend to make the person charged with enjoying some privilege feel guilty or persecuted.

    Where we differ seems to be that I have become accustomed to this usage where you seem like you’d rather pause the civil rights movement or back it up while we get it straightened out into a more palatable terminology.

    The simple fact is that revolutions are messy and so if I have to learn new meanings for words like “privilege” and “patriarchy” or occasionally utter a seemingly pointless extra syllable for awareness, I think that a small price to pay for the fair treatment of my fellow-persons.

    Perhaps we can worry about fixing the language once we’ve fixed the society.

  169. Marc, two different concepts. Only one word (privilege) to describe them.

    English has a lot of words like that. “Ailurophobe”, for example, which describes both people who are terrified of cats and people who hate cats. Or “you”, which can mean both singular and plural. Sometimes we need a little extra language to clarify what we mean, but I don’t see anyone suggesting that we formally use “snarblibbl” as the second person plural to avoid confusion, or that we have to cease talking about phobias or cats until we get better terminology.

  170. JediBear, even usage points to a poor fit. a privilege can be taken away. a right is deserved no matter what. equality is a right. not a privilege. it has been withheld but people still deserve it. a privilege is something extra, granted by authority, which authority can take away.

    etymology doesnt fit. usage doesnt fit.

    ‘you’d rather pause the civil rights movement and back it up’

    If you are going to strawman me, try something a little more original.

    the proper term for african americans has changed several times ovr the years. I dont recall it causing civil right to ‘back up’. in fact, the ‘corrrect’ term was changed to get away from the *emotionally ladden* terms in place before.

    Sometimes getting away from baggaged language is a good thing and is actually a step *forward*.

    if there is any resistance to changing the word ‘privilege’ from something that isnt blame based, a little honesty would require that at least some of that resistance comes from some people who *want* the blame based language.

  171. Greg @ 188

    Perhaps what you read as a resistance to moving away from blame is a resistance to moving away from the actual focus of the conversation into the weeds of “but this is what *I* want to talk about!”

  172. mythago, I appreciate the humor in trying to pass off baggage inherent in ‘privilege’ as nothing more than the difference between singular and plural forms of ‘you’. Brightened my day.

  173. Perhaps what Greg reads as blame is blame. The meaning is in the effect on the receiver, isn’t it, not the intent of the speaker?

  174. Angelle@30: Privilege is unearned. That’s how it works.)

    if you didnt want to talk about privilege, then why did you bring it up?

  175. Greg @ 192:
    If you started talking about how the antenna works on your car radio, and I responded that it was a bad term, because the word’s original meaning of “yard-arm” had nothing to do with a piece of metal embedded in your windshield, you would rightly (I hope) consider it derailing. People don’t need to redefine the word “privilege” before discussing it, because the current definition doesn’t impede understanding.

  176. Marc: “because the current definition doesnt impede understanding”



    ok, that’s hilarious. on a thread whose title is talking about how privilege was originally heard as ‘shut up’ and only years later after much thought was understood to mean ‘listen’, you seriously can make that argument with a straight face???

    just a little honesty, Marc. Thats all I am asking for.

  177. lfrom the original post: (talking about PRIVILEGE and what it means) “the inference that I drew that people were trying to shame me by proxy, that I was bad for being [straight|male|white].”

    GEE! I never heard anyone ever understand PRIVILEGE to mean “shame” or “bad” before this point in time.

    hm. my irony meter just broke.

    and folks want to argue that the meaning of the word is CLEAR??? that it does NOT impede understandi.g???


  178. You’re not asking for honesty. You’re asking me to agree with you while you react with indignation and mockery to the fact that I don’t.

  179. The word privilege makes it easy to direct our discomfort at the word, rather than the concept. But the word does not create the discomfort. The concept does that itself. I know this to be true because the first time I was exposed to this concept, the word privilege was (to my knowledge and memory) never used. This did not make it any easier to accept or understand.

  180. The misuse of the word privilege is at the heart of the matter. This is a truly poor choice of words. That academics and social wonks don’t grasp why, is indicative of the disconnect. For most work-a-day Americans a privilege is something you earn. Certainly any current or prior servicemember gets why privilege is not a word to be taken lightly. In the military, you earn every last privilege you get. And I think most work-a-day Americans feel the same. Thus telling any working stiff that he or she is automatically or unfairly or unjustly ‘privileged’ or, worse yet, instructing him or her to “shut up and listen,” is guaranteed to be highly offensive. You might feel entitled to offend, and you might even feel entitled to lecture the offended in a pious manner as to why they shouldn’t feel offended at your having been offensive. Just don’t be shocked when the offended raises an eyebrow, laughs in your face, and gives you the bird.

  181. no, I really would settle for a little honesty.

    so far, the closest we have on this thread is JediBear saying revolutions are ‘messy’ or something like that which acknowledged the word is a bad fit, but hey, its a revolution.

    I recall having this conversation a couple years ago and one person actually came out and said sometimes people *need* to feel guilty. that was brutal honesty. I can respect that.

    saying the definition is clear and doesnt impede understanding when the fact is anyone who ever hears ‘privilege’ for the first time hears blame or judgement or something else, well, if it isnt a lack of honesty, then its a lack of payimg attention.

    hey! why is this thread here in the first place? because some struggling with the idea of privilege had an *epiphany* of understanding and finally got it. like equal rights should be as hard as a gorram zen koan or something, to be studied for years before enlightnement occurs.


    equal rights is easy to communicate. the problem is that for whatever reason people fighting for equality latched onto the dumbest vocabulary term to describe a simple issue. and that vocabulary term consistently lands as not advocating for equal rights, but rather as focusing on blaming one group for inequality.

    consistently lands that way.

    so who isnt listening to whom? this post is about how privilege was understood by the target audience to mean blame and other bad things. several people on this thread have agreed with that meaning. it is a consistent problem everytime new people enter the discussion.

    if it is so confusing as to require a ‘hey! look at this guy! he finally understands what privilege really means!’ kind of thread, then maybe the problem really is the termi.ology.

    do you want to communicate the issues around equal rights or do you want to continue comunicating using termi.ology that connotates ‘bad’ and ‘shame’?

    a little honesty would acknowlege that some people actualky *want* a term that conveys blame and shame, rather than saying it communicates just fine in some weird Orwellian aproach to reality.

    thats your final answer?

  182. I agree with Greg, privilege is a bad word. I’ve seen so many conversations and threads wrecked off it, just like this one is getting wrecked.

    The problem is there is no easy equivalent (socio-economic class is a bit long)

    Also, I certainly share Greg’s instinctual wince, whenever it comes up I prepare myself for the onslaught of white-guilt-ing. It doesn’t always happen, but about half the time.

    My biggest beef with it though, is it is always comes laden with “taking away” rather then “giving”. I don’t want to give up any of my privileges, I just want everyone else to share in them.

  183. Brad R. Torgersen:

    “The misuse of the word privilege is at the heart of the matter.”

    It certainly does seem that people are happy to use the use of the word “privilege” in a manner which discomfits them as an excuse not to engage with the larger issue.

  184. Greg the concept of “privilege” is not the same as “equal rights” at least in my mind

    Equal rights is generally legislative in nature. While “privelage” can include legislative elements, it also includes subliminal cultural bias that have been trained in people from birth and effect the way people react to societal and cultural flags. It is conditioning.

    For instance, I am a adult white male over 6 feet tall, many Americans are conditioned to be more likely to see me as an authority figure with leadership potential.

    If i were the exact same person in the body of a small black women, they would react to me different.

    The problem of course is there is nothing I can do about it, the fact that virtually everyone, myself included, was mind fucked at birth is outside of my control.

    How to move beyond the conditioning? Well the first step is to recognize the problem.

    The label we have chosen to apply to it is horrid though and is actually interfering with resolution.

  185. Everything unholyguy said at #201. Every. Last. Thing. Unfortunately for some social wonks, they see life as a finite pie. You want to give a slice to the disadvantaged? You automatically have to take away a slice from the advantaged. Thus when the disadvantaged need room for their voice, the advantaged must be ‘shut up’ to make room. This is not in fact how reality works, but it’s how many privilegesplainers operate.

  186. I would further suggest that the complaints about the word “privilege” in this thread are akin to the thing some folks do in threads about same-sex marriage, in which they go off on how the government shouldn’t be in the marriage business at all — i.e., it’s an attempt to change the topic to something they’re comfortable with but which isn’t actually on point, because it’s easier to deal with that particular hobby horse than engage in actual issues at hand, and this way one can be the aggrieved party rather than dealing with the aggrieved.

    Or to put another way: The disquisition on how bad it is the word “privilege” gets used in a way you don’t like is just a way of saying “this conversation makes me unhappy and I want instead for the conversation to be about my concerns.” Yes, well.

    This is the place where I wade in and say: Yes, I understand that the use of the word “privilege” in this context makes some of you uncomfortable. Your discomfort is noted. But that’s a discussion that’s tangential to the primary discussion at hand, so let’s go ahead and wrap it up and focus again on the actual topic. Thank you.

  187. Greg @190: Not making a point brightens your day? Well, far be it from me to judge.

    Brad @199: No, that’s not really the heart of the matter. I’m not seeing anyone volunteer a more stunningly exact term, but if you did, rest assured that someone would come along to nitpick it. Because even if we had a perfect term encompassing ‘inherent advantages by fitting what is considered socially proper that one has whether or not one asked for them, and which one is often not even aware of’ (you’d think Yiddish would be up to the task of this, wouldn’t you?), the heart of the matter is right there in the comment to which Scalzi linked: “and by closer, I mean actually paying attention to what they said as opposed to just taking offense where I might be able to justify it“.

    Emphasis added to observe that Anonymous was very aware that he could have reacted with nitpickery instead of to the actual substance. Because, after all, sometimes that substance can be very discomfiting. It’s not fun to realize that one may have had an unfair advantage, or that one is being a little clueless, or is showing one’s ass. Especially if one is well-intentioned and thinks of oneself as a decent human being who is above tacky prejudice. So, being human, it’s very tempting to shut that uncomfortable discussion down: your tone is wrong, what about *my* un-privilege, your semantics are sloppy, I can’t talk about this when you’re so irrational.

  188. It’s so lovely when white presumably-cis men who are presumably educated decide that other people Are Using Words Wrong.

    In other news, my irony meter just exploded.

  189. John @ 202, It’s all well and good to tut-tut at people being miffed over word usage, but like I said at #199 when enough Americans see a word and use a word one way, and you yourself see it or use it a different way, if you really care about The Issue, do you just go on tut-tutting and feeling good about yourself, or do you maybe consider that the word is the thing, and that The Issue would be better served by a more correct vocabulary? Because The Issue is moot as long as the only people giving a damn or talking about it are wonk-wankers. Myself included.

  190. John, I think I cross-posted with you there – please feel free to delete my comment if you believe it would antifurther the discussion.

  191. RE: “privilege” as the term for what we’re talking about here.

    I actually like it. I don’t think using the word “privilege” is complicated: I think the concept itself takes some getting your head around if you’re not used to thinking of yourself as benefiting from an unearned advantage.

    I’m not sure you can point out to someone – who knows they have what they have through the sweat off their own back – that other people just as bright as them work just as hard, but can’t get there because the playing field is tilted, without that provoking an initially negative reaction. Nobody wants to be told they didn’t earn what they know they earned.

    Maybe a koan is the right way to think about it – if you accept the concept, you have to change the assumptions you’ve probably based your adult life on before you get it. It’s embracing the concept, not getting past the term, that requires an epiphany.

    For me, my reaction did include rejection and guilt, because if you don’t reject the concept out of hand then clearly you should be (and should have been) working to level things out. If you aren’t, and haven’t been, and don’t think of yourself as a hypocrite, then maybe you should feel a little guilty. And while it’s not a zero-sum game, to some extent you will give away advantages if you’re aiming for everyone to have the privileges you enjoy – playing against even odds will always be more difficult than having the game tipped in your favour.

  192. Mythago:

    No worries.

    Brad R. Torgersen:

    The words is the thing because it’s convenient and easy for people who don’t want to engage in the actual issue to make it the thing, and I don’t see that there’s much use in pretending that people who are adults and have the intellect to parse the idea that words have different meanings in different contexts can’t grasp that fact in this particular situation as well. And deal with it appropriately, even if it means changing the word silently in their head to something else that doesn’t make them all twitchy.

    And now we’re done with that particular topic.

  193. Simon: Actual example: First gay informant told me, very politely but earnestly, that I shouldn’t say “gay marriage,” I should say “same-sex marriage”. After some time of carefully saying “same-sex marriage” and gently passing this info on to other well-meaning straight folks, I got jumped on by a second gay informant who said quite vehemently that “gay marriage” is the correct term.

    Actually you should say “marriage equality.” :-)

    Seriously, they’d argue with each other on that too. And if they were all “listen clueless straight boy to my wisdom” about THAT issue, they were being sort of jerky, because no agreement on terminology has been reached. Of course, ‘marriage equality’ is actually the best term!

  194. John, I learned the word ‘logomachy’ to describe that kind of thing: trying to win an argument by controlling the terms of the argument, or by outlawing the terms needed by the other side(s) to make their points.

    It’s a tactic some employ consciously, and others without quite realizing it.

  195. wait. isnt that the point? that I shouldnt feel uncomfortable about ‘privilege’? It isnt used to shame or lay blame, right? thats what people keep saying the word really means.

    it would only be uncomfortable if people were *trying* to use the term to shame and lay blame while at the same time telling me thats exactly what they are NOT doing.

  196. Because The Issue is moot as long as the only people giving a damn or talking about it are wonk-wankers. Myself included

    The Issue is not moot. Plenty of people are capable of listening to other people and respecting their lived experiences, without getting bent out of shape about the term used by what is, in the end, a relatively small fraction of the population.

    Is “privilege” a technical term in this sense, as used in certain circles? Yes. Is is subject to misunderstanding? Certainly.

    But the Issue is not the word. We can use the term scrabibble (or whatever it was suggested upthread) for “inherent advantages one has from fitting what is considered socially proper that one has whether or not one asked for them, and which one is often not even aware of” (thank you Mythago), if you like.

    The issue is that, as a heterosexual, able-bodied, cis-gendered, educated white woman, I will learn more about the experience of being a minority lesbian with a disability if I shut my gob and listen to what such a woman is telling me about her experience dealing with life.

    This would be a really good example of the things that one can learn, from just listening.

  197. Xopher:

    I think it’s a basic rhetorical tool, and can be used to good effect and positively. It can also be used negatively and defensively. For this particular discussion, I’m inclined not to let it go down that defensive route.

    However, again: Let’s table the discussion of the word “privilege” in itself, please. Further comments on this topic risk malleting, because at this point I’ve asked folks to move on from it three times.

  198. Uh, also cross-posted with John. Apologies.

    As we’re wrapping up (and with our host’s forbearance…), I promise to read and consider any responses to what I said above but I won’t reply again to this particular subject on this thread.

    Just imagine me sitting here, bursting with the cutting counter-arguments that would finally convince you, or swung dizzyingly around to your point of view by the sheer force of your rationality, as you please (hey, it’s your imagination).

  199. And… despite having read the entire thread, I failed to refresh before posting. Sorry, John.

    But I still think my link is worth reading–it’s exactly the sort of thing most people without disabilities wouldn’t even think about while surfing the web. The fact that Lightgetsin has an online journal allows her to share her experience with us. And she got an online journal because it occurred to someone that maybe providing internet tools for the blind would be a good thing.

  200. @huey:
    suppose you’re a guy, and none of the women you know have ever been sexually assaulted (q: how do you know…?), and you hear some jackass telling a rape joke, and you take offense at it… I think a reasonable person would agree with you that it was offensive… even though you have no direct or indirect experience of the subject.

    On the other hand, if it was a; a) blonde joke, b) banker joke, c) mother-in-law joke, then YMMV. Would you be right to take offence in those cases? (trick question).

  201. [Mallet — JS]

    [Guys. Take it to e-mail if you want to pursue this particular line of discussion further. Thank you.]

    [Also, I trust that the dual malleting will make it sufficiently clear it’s not personal, I’m just done telling people that we’re done with that particular topic — JS]

  202. Xopher @212: From a lawyer’s POV “same-sex marriage” is better in that it highlights the fact that we’re not only talking about sexual orientation, but gender discrimination – and the latter has a much longer established equal-protection jurisprudence. But I’m OK with marriage equality too.

    And, again, this issue highlights the fact that the advice is to shut up and listen, not “shut up, listen and mindlessly accept whatever you’re being told while feeling awful about yourself as a human being.” Sometimes even when you listen carefully and respectfully, trying to set aside your own background and listen through the other person’s experience, you may decide that they are incorrect, or even just plain full of horse poo.

    But there’s no way to fairly reach that conclusion without first shutting up (setting aside my own input to allow space for the other person to talk) and listening (carefully paying attention to what they are saying, and treating it as important rather than as an interruption of my own brilliant discourse).

  203. Greg of Green Triangles: Still all about you and how you feel in the conversation, how you are seen, what you know intellectually about social issues that effect others’ lives and not your own, whether you are being made to feel guilty, whether the other person’s tone is sufficiently respectful and placating to you, whether you get to be right about an issue of living in society that you haven’t experienced and can’t experience. You are in a superior position in the society and in the conversation concerning these issues because of who you are. You can acknowledge that and step back and try not to drown out and dismiss the experiences of those who regularly get their experiences and voices drowned out and dismissed by you and people like you, or not, because you are in the superior position. Whereas the other person has to deal with the fact that you’re in the superior position, every day, and how that effects their lives, how the fall-out from something like the Crowley incident or cuts to social programs effects their black, female, poor, gay, etc. lives. You can acknowledge that people in these groups are taking a risk talking to you or you can ignore it as unimportant, whereas they can’t. You can insist that you have nothing to learn from their experiences while we all have to deal with your opinions because of who you are. You can stomp your feet and be upset that your opinions are not being well received because you are the guy on top in ways that are so ingrained, a lot of them aren’t conscious to us. (Like the air we breathe someone pointed out.)

    Shut up and listen doesn’t mean just shut up because they don’t have any actual power to make you shut up, whereas you in the society do have power to make them shut up and people regularly use that power. It means shut up — stop lording your power over us — and listen — let us speak about our experiences about this issue which effects us every day. It’s not about making you the bad guy; it’s about them being allowed to have their voices heard and acknowledged. When we get called racist or I say a view you hold is sexist for me, it’s not about YOU and you being the bad guy, it’s about how you have the superior position in society, that you can simply run right over their experience, substitute your own and insist that this should be the reality of their experience — and society will go along with that unless beset by a massive challenge. Whereas they can’t do the same to you — they don’t have that power in the society or even in the conversation.

    Telling you that you can’t understand what it’s like to be gay, or black or female, etc., is reality. You cannot be a female. You will never have to deal with sexism as more than an intellectual exercise happening to others, and that only if want to. You will never feel like that, have those experiences. But that is not the same thing as saying that you can’t learn anything from listening, that you can’t step back from using your power, that you can’t hear about those experiences, accept them as valid, understand them as a different view that can see further on the issue because it shapes their lives and the society they have to live in and not yours. Or you can use your power to try to shut them down in the conversation, pretending or believing that you don’t have it, while being fully aware that whites, males, straights, etc. have it better in society and systemic racism and all that stuff, but being focused only on your position in the conversation and how you’re treated. You can worry about you and what you get to say and what people call you, or you could just listen to what other people who are directly effected are going through.

    I can’t convince you to my opinion about anything regarding sexism, or if you’re very wealthy and I’m poor, and so forth. But you can socially make me have to live by your opinion, in direct contradiction to my own experiences and assessments thereby. So when you assert that opinion, whether you like it or not, as much as you would like that conversation to be on an equal footing, it’s not and you are making a declaration of your power and trying to shut down what the other person is saying. Because you’re on top in that particular issue. You may not be on top for all issues (I.e., you may be male and on top, but poor and so not on top for those issues,) but in a discussion about racism against blacks, if you’re white, you’re on top. And as the person on top, it’s your choice whether to listen or not. (Whereas the black people have no choice and have to listen to white people’s views of the issue all the time and live by them.) It’s very hard to change this or even to get people to see it, but it does seem to start with a willingness to listen.

  204. Mythago: “And, again, this issue highlights the fact that the advice is to shut up and listen, not “shut up, listen and mindlessly accept whatever you’re being told while feeling awful about yourself as a human being.” Sometimes even when you listen carefully and respectfully, trying to set aside your own background and listen through the other person’s experience, you may decide that they are incorrect, or even just plain full of horse poo.

    But there’s no way to fairly reach that conclusion without first shutting up (setting aside my own input to allow space for the other person to talk) and listening (carefully paying attention to what they are saying, and treating it as important rather than as an interruption of my own brilliant discourse).”

    And yes, this, again, more succinctly than mine.

  205. Sorry, John, I misunderstood the terms of the malletting.

    I would however like to note that the point of these discussions, in general, is not, in fact, to make people feel guilty. That might be a side effect, but it’s not the point. Guilt is not useful.

    The point is to gain some understanding of someone else’s lived experiences, and one cannot do that without listening to what they say instead of just waiting for an opportunity to talk.

  206. cofax @226: I think Miss Manners has the right approach on this (as she usually does); guilt is a vague feeling of having done something unspecifically wrong, and one should therefore dismiss it, whereas shame is the feeling that one has in fact done something wrong, and the remedy is to stop doing it and to make amends.

    Which is why I don’t get the ‘there’s nothing I can do about it so stop making me feel guilty’ approach. Of course there are things one can do about one’s privilege, including – you knew this was coming – shut up and listen. Call others out when they say stupid shit (yes, it is possible to do this without playing the ‘white knight’). Resolve to be more thoughtful and perhaps to educate oneself. Then there’s no need to feel “guilt”.

  207. Mythago @ 223: if it were really the give-and-take cooperative communication you describe, I am not sure there’d be so much backlash. What seems to happen more often than not is that “make space for the disadvantaged” turns into “the disadvantaged are the only ones with valid viewpoints” which morphs into “the disadvantaged are the only ones who should be allowed to say anything at all.” Like much else about this entire wonk-wank debate, the problem seems rooted in good intentions: people wanting to make sure that people who’ve traditionally been marginalized, have their say and have their day. Unfortunately it works out (too often) that “have their say and have their day” just becomes an inversion of the old model: one group being elevated above the other, the elevated group’s viewpoint being anointed as the only possible Correct viewpoint, etc.

  208. Kat@224 hasnt been malletted yet, so I will try a short reply.

    that is not the same thing as saying that you can’t learn anything from listening, that you can’t step back from using your power

    How did you divine that I havent listened to anyone lacking privilege at all ever in my life? how do I identify a thread or conversation is meant for my listening only and not my talking? if some thread is discussing, for example, the Duke Lacrosse rape case and I happen to think the team was innocent, can I contribute that to the conversation? If a woman tells about how she was raped and she thinks they are guilty too, do I go back into listening mode or can I say I am sorry about what happened to you but that doesnt make these men guilty?

    at what point do we acknowledge that a rape victim doesnt have special insight into a completely unrelated rape case in a different part of the country?

    I ask these quite honestly. I would like to know when, if ever, I can speak about some incident involving bias without being accused of not listening enough or making it all about me.

  209. Brad@229: Unfortunately it works out (too often) that “have their say and have their day” just becomes an inversion of the old model: one group being elevated above the other, the elevated group’s viewpoint being anointed as the only possible Correct viewpoint, etc.

    This simply isn’t true. There is no danger whatsoever that the voices of white, straight men (such as myself) will not be heard and will not be listened to. There is no shortage of people who want to listen to them.

    Piece of evidence # 1: John Scalzi. People listen to him now, people will listen to him in the future (unless he voluntarily withdraws from a public presence). His saying ,”Hey, people who aren’t just like me might have something worthwhile to say” will not in the least detract from the traffic on his site.

    I’m pretty sure that it won’t detract from your career, either, Mr. Torgerson. Not in the least. There is no shortage of people who will want to hear the wisdom of a white straight male.

  210. Unfortunately it works out (too often) that “have their say and have their day” just becomes an inversion of the old model: one group being elevated above the other, the elevated group’s viewpoint being anointed as the only possible Correct viewpoint, etc.

    So, in order that those who were once oppressed unrighteously not have the opportunity to oppress anyone unrighteously, we should not listen to the oppressed?

    There is a middle ground, you know, and if people of good will truly believe that their concerns are being both heard and addressed, they are not all that likely to run rampant with the power.

    And seriously: what you’re saying there is the same type of argument as: “We shouldn’t give them black people the vote, because they’ll vote us out of office and treat us as bad as we do them!” It presumes that revenge is the first thing on anyone’s mind.

  211. Brad @229: I’m not sure what metric you’re using to assert that this happens “more often than not” or “too often”. I’m also a little puzzled by the idea that it is an inversion or an unfair elevation to listen to people who have actual experience on the subject, particularly if those people are often spoken for rather than listened to.

    (I’m also rather curious as to who is doing all this ‘anointing’ and silencing. Usually the people who should be talking less and listening more are happy to self-anoint as experts on the subject.)

    And, yet again, shutting up and listening doesn’t mean shutting up forever and ever, or agreeing with what you hear. It certainly doesn’t mean that you are never allowed to call somebody out if they are, in fact, bullshitting.

    I’ve heard the ‘inversion’ argument before, btw – that if we, in our noble good intentions, foolishly let Them have an opening, They will seize upon it to do all the bad things to us that They claim we have always done to Them. That’s paranoia, not reality.

  212. (Note: the word “you” employed generally here, not specifically)

    The question I would ask, however, Brad, is: What does that have to do with what you should do? Other people will do other things that you can agree or disagree with as you may. But the issue is not what everyone else does, it’s what you do. This is how one approaches the issues personally, not whether other people other places are doing things in a manner that’s congenial or not.

    If one is looking for ways not to change one’s own behavior, one will always find a way, as there will always be people who are doing things one doesn’t like, which will be sufficient excuse not to do anything one’s self. If your response to suggestion you might want to consider changing an aspect of your behavior is to demand all the rest of the world change first, then you might as well be honest and admit you have no intention of changing at all.

    And this is why I see a lot of this complaining about what others do or how they say it as fundamentally inessential — because what’s being talked about here is personal change and effort, which is not contingent on the actions or participation of others, except those to whom you do the courtesy of actually listening to, rather than simply talking at.

  213. It seems to me that there is a great deal of ingenuity being devoted to finding reasons why people should not shut up and listen, which suggests that John has hit quite a few raw nerves.

    One of the most baffling ones to me is the apparent conviction that John is solely addressing people who live in the US, and that this is some sort of conspiracy against white male Americans. This is the Internet. People who do not live in the US may still be interested in the discussions on Whatever, not least because they are interesting, and they may even realise that they too are privileged and hope to learn something from the discussion…

  214. Seems that some in this discussion have evolved to the moment where Gabby Schulz’s comic is appropriate:

    “How every single discussion about sexism and woman type stuff on the internet (and real life) has ever happened, and ever will happen, always forever until the earth falls into the sun (or the patriarchy is dismantled)”

  215. Amanda:

    Re: the name-calling and other jackassery covered in the comic, I don’t think anyone gotten near to that point here yet, and very definitely no one here has been personally abusive in the manner in which they are speaking to each other. On balance the discussion has been civil and wide-ranging, even while individual commenters have been picking apart the “shut up and listen” admonition in their various ways.

    So, no: I disagree with your assessment. The comic is interesting, but doesn’t very closely model the discussion dynamic that’s been going on here. Also, the minute someone tried to bring that dynamic to the discussion, they would find the Mallet of Loving Correction in their face. The Mallet has been used today, but not for that reason.

  216. John @234: The other cool thing about shutting up and listening is that it often does change the other person’s behavior for the better. Showing a willingness to listen, and consider other points of view, and to think rather than place defense of one’s awesometasticity front and center, goes a hell of a long way towards a civil discussion – even when somebody started out angry or defensive. “Wow, I don’t blame you for being pissed about that” is much more productive than “Now, see here, Scalzi, it’s not fair for you to generalize about rich kids like that.”

  217. I’m on your side John, and I applaud that you have the energy to teaspoon through a 101 discussion. However, dissenters don’t have to be abusive to effectively derail a discussion. Speaking the most often, overriding the people with the actual lived experience, making it about their hurt feelings, getting the last word in all the time, picking apart already held and historically argued basic terms/concepts.

    As you’ve said before, there’s actually not a heck of a lot of shutting up and listening to the people who need to be heard here. Sometimes people think they’re winning a discussion by default because they’re the loudest the marginalized person has given up in frustration left to be in a community who will actually listen,

  218. I just love how everyone knows exactly how perfectly wonderful it is to be a heterosexual 6’4″ white Yankee-Norwegian male Vietnam-era Marine with a service-connected invisible disability (epilepsy) and a genetic disability (ADHD) in our society, and is free to project all of their problems as being caused by my actions. :snort: Do I feel guilty about what I’ve done in my life? Sometimes, if it’s something I actually did or failed to do that I could have. Feel guilty because you’re not happy? Nope.

    Do I know your problems like I know my own? Nope. Never can, never will Do you know mine? Some of you might, in part. Some of your problems I’ve had, too. There are days when life just kinda sucks. Do you want mine? Are you really sure?

    \green( Greg ), you should read Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals; intended or not, there’s a lot of what he advocated going on in some of these discussions.

    The phrase “shut up and listen” seems right out of his book; stir up a angry discussion. I’d suggest “shhhh, you might learn something” as an alternative, but that’s not quite so … provocative.

  219. Do you know mine?

    I might, htom, by shutting up and listening. It doesn’t seem as though you’re the least bit interested in doing likewise, sadly.

  220. Me? I dont feel like a radical. I feel kinda depressed lately.

    If anything, I think that I am coming to the realization that there is no satisfying some people and I gotta stop letting it drive me crazy trying to do the right thing. Cause its the right thing *according to them*. not according to me.

    maybe what I need to read is ‘Your hate mail will be graded’ cause someone criticizes me and I get all twisted in knots trying to satisfy them or understand what I did wrong so I dont do it again.

    And really, sometimes, I am starting to see I didnt do a goddamn thing wrong, except maybe twist myself in knots on the thread trying to grok someone else’s morality that just doesnt fit mine.


  221. Unholyguy:

    And how do you suggest someone earns it, if you don’t accord them the right to be listened to? It’s a perfect tautology for a closed mind, actually.

    I would suggest rather than demand people earn the right to be listened to, you provide them the courtesy of being willing to listen, and then evaluate what they have to say to the best of your ability.

  222. And this is why I see a lot of this complaining about what others do or how they say it as fundamentally inessential — because what’s being talked about here is personal change and effort, which is not contingent on the actions or participation of others, except those to whom you do the courtesy of actually listening to, rather than simply talking at.

    Without going through an exhaustive laundry list of personal liberal street cred, I want to emphasize that I do grasp the fundamental reality that there are people in the world who’ve been kept down by The Man and that it’s a Good Thing for those people to be able to speak about their experiences, and to be able to do so without having to forever fear and/or appease The Man — in whatever form He may take at a given time in a given place.

    In our life together, my wife and I have either singly or jointly done various things to aid Victims of The Man in their bid to be free, be heard, be safe, and so forth. My wife doing the lion’s share of the gritty work, in DV and DV shelters. Which exhausted and drove her nuts — another topic for another Oprah. For me it’s been working at or volunteering at community radio stations, which before the internet were the “loudest” possible megaphones available to people traditionally excluded from the Booth Of Power, wherein are contained the vaunted Levers Of Power.


    If I am overly cranky in my late 30s, it’s because I was a True Believer in my early 20s. I bought the whole fucking thing, all the way down to the roots. And I was proud of it. This was the future, and it was a good future, and it was a now future, and we were all going to go there TOGETHER!

    Then I discovered that the MLK-espoused dream of color-blindness had been replaced with color-hyperconsciousness, and pretenses about cooperative Shared Space too often dissolved into assertions of exclusivity. The message — for me as a well-meaning white male — became: shut up and get to the back of the bus, white boy! My thought: this is the end-game of the equality struggle?

    And how about the shrugs and hostility expressed by some überfeminists in the form of, “What do you want, a scoobie snack? You should have been doing all of that shit anyway, sexist pig.” My thought: this is what comes from treating women like individual human beings with dignity?

    Or there was the wonderful young lady who called me a killer to my face in a Seattle Community College class; because I was in the military following 9/11. My thought: this is what comes from wanting to serve my wounded country?

    Though my religion is decidedly conservative on questions of homosexuality, I’ve always maintained a very personal live-and-let-live policy, because I still believe in spite of my religion that in a world where neither liberal gays nor churchy straights are going away, each of us has to find a way to get along and work together. And then I watched my religion and its members get scapegoated and vilified en masse for Prop. 9 in California, and I said to myself, this is what I get for being a moderate?

    Thus the further the goal posts of progressivism moved, the less energy I had — and the less desire — to reach them. Because I’ve got a life too. And my own worries. And I’m not just a little fatigued by the endless petitioning for me to be still more quiet, get even further out of the way, and provide even more room for self-styled advocates who frequently abuse their time on the soap box — while pretending to serve (insert disenfranchised group designation here.)

    This is not a specific complaint about Scalzi, nor his blog. It’s a general statement of my disposition and disillusionment with the happy cotton candy of American liberalism.

    I confessed to JS in e-mail that I’m the wrong personality with the wrong politics for this place. Threads like this seem to slam it home for me, right between the eyes.

  223. The abbreviation “cis-” showed up a lot in this thread. Explain same. I am clueless as to how it has been used here.

  224. HTOM

    You are really working on gaining extra points but it may help if you bear in mind that you are not the only veteran around, and that ‘service related disability’ is a straightforward attempt to not only play the ‘I’m disabled too’ card but also subsume insulting the US flag into anyone pointing out to you that your argument sucks.

    My father came from a privileged background, had a role in the early development of radar but volunteered as a rear gunner during the Battle of Britain. He was subsequently captured by the Japanese and spent the rest of his war as a slave on the Death Railway. He was career RAF and put in his 35 years, covered in the obvious physical scars and the less obvious mental ones, and I never once heard him claim that this wealth of experience at the sharp end meant that he was not privileged. As far as he was concerned it was the poor bastards who didn’t survive who were the unprivileged ones.

    I learned not to touch him while he was asleep, because he might well have killed me, and when he despatched me off to University he taught me how to kill people, on the grounds that it was a useful skill to possess if someone is trying to kill you. You don’t need guns to kill people because it’s very easy to kill people without them.

    I took a rather gentler route with my daughter in signing her up for martial arts classes, and the chief instructors made me promise not to accelerate the course of her learning, unless, of course, we were both in a tight spot when it would be justifiable to do so. And to be fair, since very few people function well with an eyeball or two dangling from their sockets, escalating it up to killing blows may seem unjustified in any subsequent court case, which is always worth bearing in mind.

    Incidentally, I am disabled; I have severe idiopathic bronchiectasis and my lungs are colonised by hyper-mutating multi-resistant mucoid pseudomonas. One of the range of treatments for this is called ‘Singing for Breathing’ and they hold regular sessions at the the specialist hospital I attend.

    I cannot join those sessions because people might acquire my bug and thereby drastically decrease their life expectancy; I do not pout, complain or even whinge that those other people are privileged. Clearly they are not since they still have a thoroughly nasty disease, and if the therapy helps them then that’s great.

    Oh, and I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because I was blown up by an exploding oqygen regulator when I was 36 weeks pregnant. There is never a good time to be blown up, but 36 weeks pregnant meant it would have got two for the price of one, which seemed even worse to me. You may recall the tragedy when they were moving very sick people in a bus; there was a fire which was fed by the medical oxygen and they were roasted alive. That was a heavy trigger since I know what it is like to be trapped in a room with a fire feeding on pure oxygen, and I had nightmares for months before I managed to get it back under control.l

    I do not presume to judge what other people’s triggers are, and I do not, under any circumstances, suggest that they are being triggered too easily; it would be really, really nice if other people managed to refrain from doing so as well…

  225. Brad:

    It seems you’re still awfully focused on what everyone else is doing or not doing. Again, the suggestion to “shut up and listen” isn’t about what others do. It about what you do. Your disillusionment with liberal politics is neither here nor there to whether you give credence and respect to other people who have a life experience you don’t have, which includes setting aside your own personal set of issues and assumptions for the time it takes to listen to their take on things. They are, in fact, two entirely separate things. Treat them as such.

  226. The abbreviation “cis-” showed up a lot in this thread. Explain same. I am clueless as to how it has been used here.

    Cis means that the gender I present as is the gender I was born with. In other words, not trans.

  227. JS, because I wasn’t clear enough in the too-long post above, let me try to be more succinct: My mana for “shut up and listen” has been mostly used up, by a seeming generation of obnoxious, self-righteous petitioners whom I have learned through experience do not intend to lend me the same ‘courtesy’ as is demanded of me. If I had a beam for the project when I came into myself at 18, the beam’s been whittled and scorched down to a nub in the last two decades. Presently, for those individuals who do not require me to pay obeisance to their particular group victim identity first, I ask no more than I myself would give, and I extend far more than I myself would ask. Individually, this seems to work just fine. As an individual, I don’t think it’s fair to ask much more of me. Or anyone else for that matter.

  228. Brad:

    I understood you just fine. I also think you’re doing a fine job setting up a nice list of excuses as to why you don’t have to bother to listen to other people, most of which devolve into blaming how others have treated you. That’s your karma. However, in this regard I would ask you to consider the wisdom of someone whose words you might give better credence to than mine; I think you might find Matthew 5, verses 38 through 48 particularly relevant. That fellow there makes a pretty good argument for at least attempting to be a better person than those you believe set themselves against you.

  229. Brad @254: You’re still on ‘what other people do’, and in this case, not even what other people do, but what people you encountered as long as two decades ago did or said – in the same breath as complaining about overbroad vilification based on membership in a group to which you belong.

  230. @John how does one earn the right for someone to listen to you?

    Well I can only speak for myself and the things I do to try to be worth listening to

    Start every conversation assuming the other person does not give a shit and you have three sentences to convince them that you are worth talking to

    If it’s general conversation, then being a good conversationalist with all that entails
    If a conversation around a particular subject then having done your homework helps also being open to new ideas. If you are ignorant admit it
    Make it more about them then you, always a winner

    It’s all the stuff that we have been talking about only inverted

    How much of the problem is bad listeners vs bad talkers I wonder?mi think I run into both in equal measure

    Why do i typically tune people out?
    If you are boring
    If you are ignorant but don’t know it
    If I feel attacked
    If the conversation is all about you and I don’t really care about you (ie we are not close personal friends)

    I mean it is my time I am spending while you flap your gums together, I can spend it how I wish, there needs to be something in it for both parties…

  231. Unholyguy:

    It’s nice you have a set of discussion rules you go by; I don’t disagree with some of them. I assume you do everyone the courtesy of wearing your rules around your neck at all times so they are aware instantly of every dictate you have if they wish to converse with you.

    If not, I do hope that you make allowances for the fact that other people cannot read your mind.

  232. John it doesn’t matter a bit to me what conversational rules other people do or do not follow nor do I feel any especial need to tell them about my own. It’s all common sense, politeness and good marketing, anyone who spends a little while thinking about ” why should other people spend their time listening to me talk” will arrive at similar conclusions I imagine.

    I don’t exactly have a lot at stake hear I mean what is the wrist that is going to happen, people going to stop talking? Not bloody likely. Like Ford Prefect said, if they stop talking their brains might start working…

  233. Unholyguy:

    “It doesn’t matter a bit to me what conversational rules other people do or do not follow nor do I feel any especial need to tell them about my own.”

    Of course not. Why would you want to let people know you’re going to ignore them almost immediately if they don’t jump through hoops that you’ve established?

    I have my own set of guidelines for what is a good conversation. One of them is to allow for the possibility that not everyone will conform to my guidelines, especially if they do not know them; another is to entertain the possibility that even if they don’t I might still find a way to have a good conversation with them. Your mileage may vary, of course.

  234. Well it’s not like a have a tic list and flunk you out if you miss more then a point. However I feel no guilt in excluding myself from a pointless or boring conversation.

    If you want people to listen to you, it is a good idea to understand some of the things that promote listening behavior

    Otherwise you are an author writing a boring book that no one is buying and you are yelling at people for not recognizing your genius

    It’s all a two way street.

  235. JS, bzzzt, secular fail. No quoting the bible if you don’t attend church, nor believe in God. ;^)

    And I think I made my case fairly well: for individuals, I ask no more than I myself would give, and I give much more than I myself would ask. The karma this has gotten me has served me well. What I don’t do is appease swine who demand pearls — the kinds of victimsplainers who want to insult me categorically, put me down categorically, and rage against me categorically, then expect me to say, “Thank you for educating me, oh sainted member of the (designated victim group) I am so glad you hate me enough to call me names and tell me what an (epithet) I am for being (insert name of whatever dominant or normative group the victimsplainer has a problem with.)”

    Mythago, it’s not that a single thing 20 years ago sapped me of my vigor for The Project, it’s that 20 years of many things gradually ground down my enthusiasm to the point that I began to conclude that the liberalism I thought I was embracing as a late teen and early-20-something was not, in fact, the liberalism that existed in the real world. I don’t like the current hyperconscious atmosphere that allots Victim Points and rates everyone on a Victim Scale, with people being expected to pay their danegeld or be cast out of Correct conversation. I thought the idea was to lift everybody up so that everybody gets to be ‘advantaged’ and free, not treat it like a Marxist finite pie where giving one party a slice, necessarily requires taking the slice away from another party.

  236. Unholyguy: I mean what is the wrist that is going to happen

    You’ll ankle off with your nose in the air? You’ll be forced to shoulder the White Man’s Burden? Scalzi will make you toe the line? You’ll fail to put your finger on the problem? You’ll be completely under our thumb? You’ll go on jawing but no one will pay attention?

    Brad: JS, bzzzt, secular fail. No quoting the bible if you don’t attend church, nor believe in God. ;^)

    Your smiley there is crucial (pun intended). If I thought you really believed that was a rule…well. Let’s just say there would be Rebuking in your future.

  237. Brad @262: If you go back and read the original comment to which Scalzi linked, the guy’s point was that he continued to listen even when people were angry, or said things that were uncomfortable, or didn’t fit his worldview, and even though he could have pulled out the My Debate Skills Are Better Than Yours card to shut people down. And by doing so, he learned things that made him wiser.

    Because one of of the cool things about listening – really listening – is that you don’t need to stress out about the odd person using the Victim Card.* You learn to think about whether being upset really is because somebody is being a clueless jackhole, and when it’s because they pointed out an uncomfortable truth. You realize that it’s OK to say “wow, I never thought of it that way,” without having to agree with anyone 100%. You also come to see that “shut up and listen” can apply to different people at different times, because very few of us are all Thurston McWhiteypants-Privilege at all times.

    Granted, this is more work and causes a lot more personal discomfort than simply deciding that a lot of the people working to overturn oppression are liberals and one believes liberals are shouty poo-poo heads, or declaring that one is the real victim here and thus need listen to nobody else until they’ve sufficiently abased themselves.

    TL;DR version: my obligation to realize I should at times shut up and listen to people who are not in my enviable position is not dependent on whether other people are nice online, whether I’ve met a lot of assholes in the last couple of decades, or whether I belong to a particular religious or political group.

    (*Which, in my own experience, tends to be played less by angry college liberals and more by angry conservatives trying to shut down discussion by saying ‘ha ha, I am a victim in [area] thus you all need to STFU.’ I vividly remember the fellow who proudly announced he had ASD and was deflated to learn that he was not, in fact, the lone ‘Aspie’ on a thread full of neurotypicals.)

  238. me@244: I am starting to see I didnt do a goddamn thing wrong, except maybe twist myself in knots on the thread trying to grok someone else’s morality that just doesnt fit mine.

    Hi Kat,

    I went through and read all your posts again. All of them. Some nuggets popped out this time through.

    #71 your opinion is not needed or of particular worth

    #119: has half a dozen or more references to my skin color as the reason why my opinion is of no particular worth.

    Something I realized recently was that I was trying to fit myself into your morality. At #230, I was still asking you how I know I have learned what I need to learn, how I know I have listened enough, that I could then contribute positively to a conversation about prejudice. I was trying to figure out the rules of your morality to see how to work inside them.

    But rereading your posts again made it abundantly clear that your rules really aren’t “if you do this, you’re good”, but rather they were little more than a moral smoke screen acting as justification to try and get me to shut the hell up.

    rereading all your “commandments”, (listen, stop lording your privilege, do this, do that) I got another realization:

    There’s no satisfying you.

    Your moral commandments aren’t “follow these rules and then you’ll do good”, but rather “here is why you need to shut the hell up”.

    All of which traces back to a rather nice conversation I was having with Soprano. And at some point I mentioned my opinion about Crowley, and you jumped down my neck at 71 telling me my opinion is of no particular worth so I should shut the hell up.

    All of which was sugar coated in the reasoning of “if you would just stop talking, you could hear all this awesome stuff you never knew and learn something”. But at no point do I ever learn enough that I can express an opinion. Except maybe if I listen “enough” that I finally change my opinion about Crowley so that it matches yours, and then maybe you’ll find a rule that allows me to agree with you.

    Or something.

    I don’t know really. and I don’t think it really matters.

    Your moral commandments are impossible to live by, which in retrospect appears to be your point.

    So I’m going to stop trying.

    Thanks for an extremely valuable lesson.

  239. John,

    I feel like a goddamn idiot being this old and learning this kind of lesson at my age. I gotta stop trying to fit into everyone else’s morality. It just makes me go crazy. Clutters the hell out of your blog too.

    Just wanted to say “sorry”. Will try not to make that mistake again.

    Gods I hope….

  240. Actually, most people of all races blather on as if people are interested in what they have to say. The only way white people differ is lefties going on and on about their guilt over their so-called “white privilege” trying to score points as being the most enlightened and insightful.

  241. Mythago It’s interesting though that the original poster pulls out listening to people as a way of learning ABOUT them. I think that’s only partially true. While there are nuggets of insight in there, the signal to noise ratio is pretty high and you have to deal with all those self delusions

    If all you are interesting in is learning ABOUT a person, what makes them tick, I think watching people’s actions and then thinking really hard about them is superior in many ways .

    Even in the original link note that one of the two epiphany moments came when he observed his coworker and her reaction to walking out into the parking lot alone at night. There was actually not even a conversation in there except the one that took place in the poster’s own head.

    I wonder if maybe “shut up and listen” might be more like “shut up and pay attention, put yourself in other people’s shoes mentally” it’s a bigger concept and a more valuable one really

    For me a pure conversation is most useful about “what do you think about this”, a way of leveraging a different mind to produce new insights about the world, or as pure social entertainment

  242. Wow, Scorpius, that almost qualifies as self-parody. Amazing.

    Or maybe you just need to change your cooling rods. I think you have too many red ones and not enough blue.

  243. Brad:

    “JS, bzzzt, secular fail. No quoting the bible if you don’t attend church, nor believe in God.”

    I find this statement exceptionally offensive, even made in jest. Why? Let me count the ways:

    1. It makes the assumption that there is no wisdom that I can glean from the words and life of Jesus even if I choose not to believe in his divinity. Such an assertion is both a slap against me as person and my ability to apprehend wisdom, and a slap against Jesus as a moral and philosophical teacher. I have never made a secret of my respect for and admiration of Jesus, for who he was as a man, and a thinker. That you would try to deny him to me, or discredit my use of his wisdom, is something I find appalling.

    2. It makes the assumption that I cannot be as Saul on the road to Damascus, which I find a deeply questionable position for a follower of Christ to take. Do I not deserve to read and hear and speak the words of the Christ? How do you believe, Brad, that people are brought to his light? As a member of a church who sends its young people to the doors of others to spread the Gospel, I’m very much of the opinion that you should feel shame that you would even with a self-defensive emoticon try to deny his words to me. I don’t believe in Jesus as Christ, but who is to say that will always be the case? By your own lights, swiping the Bible from me and saying “No Jesus for you” is to damn me eternally. I’m offended you apparently cannot even entertain the notion that Jesus, as Christ, might find his way into my heart. That is deeply uncharitable of you, and you should be ashamed.

    3. I don’t believe in Jesus as Christ but you do, and your attempt to deny the words of Christ because they are given to you by someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus as the Christ is still to deny the words of the Christ. Jesus’ words are no less true because I link them to you then they would be if you received them from Thomas Monson. That you would choose to discount and ignore the words of Jesus with a fatuous bzzt just because you don’t like source doesn’t say positive things about your apprehension of those words.

    I’m calling bullshit on you, Brad, right here and now. I say you were in a rush to the buzzer on me because I gave you words from Jesus Christ that made a mockery of your position, and you were discomforted by both the reminder that Christ asked you to be better man than those who you feel are set against you, and upset that I as a non-believer called you to recall words that you as a Christian should be trying to live. I say that Christ would say that when those who are set against you ask for an ear, you should give two — and I know I’m right, unbeliever though I am, because I know Jesus’ words and I know the Sermon on the Mount. Christ expects you to be the better man, and what you’re saying here, as far as I can see, is that you’re too worn down for that. What I have asked you to consider are the tenets of your own faith, and the words of your personal savior. And you want to disqualify them because you don’t see me as part of your tribe. That’s sad, that’s lazy, and that’s offensive to me.

    And yes, Brad, you have offended me, deeply and sincerely. Jesus — whether one considers him the messiah, or a prophet, or a great man — belongs to everyone, including me, and so do his words. As you are believer of him as the Christ, remember that he died for the sins of the whole world, not just parts of it, and that his grace is available to every man and woman who seeks it, not only to some.

    Brad, I offered you the words of one of the best and wisest men I have ever known, exhorting you to be a good man, and a better man than others. You threw them back at me and told me I wasn’t worthy of them. That was thoughtless, that was stupid, and it was wrong. It was also a thoroughly unchristian act. I am sorry for you that you chose to do it, for both our sakes.

  244. Jesus may or may not have been whatever but that boy sure knew how to talk in a way that made people listen. Even though I find at least half that passage totally untrue it still gives me chills

  245. Aww, Greg. I take a risk every time I comment here on subjects like this or elsewhere that someone will come after me cause I’m a girl. I measure it as a small enough risk in this spot, as Scalzi is quite good with his mallet, and I certainly haven’t worried about you in that regard, as we’ve had a number of discussions, some where we’ve been on the same side and some on opposites. And I’m not worried about you in that regard now. But you had to go right for the rape, didn’t you? Went right there to take that shot.

    “How did you divine that I haven’t listened to anyone lacking privilege at all ever in my life?”

    I was using “you” in the general sense, including myself. I, as a white person, have power in a conversation on race with black people, for instance. I even gave an example earlier of when I had in fact not recognized that power and not listened in a conversation with black people concerning their experience and unintentionally tried to shut their part of the conversation down. But if you want to pretend that I was claiming to divine every Internet conversation of your life specifically and that you were all I was focused on in responding to your comments, that’s up to you.

    “I would like to know when, if ever, I can speak about some incident involving bias without being accused of not listening enough or making it all about me.”

    Since I have no power over your speech or listening at all, and you in fact have societal power over mine — you in the general sense as males, me in the general sense as females — this seems a strange thing to ask me. You — specific now — want to give your opinion that you are right and have no one disagree with you and give their opinion that you are not listening? Well, you may be able to pull that off in a discussion of rape because women may be too scared to challenge you on it. Or not. Either way, you — specific and general males — don’t have to listen to them if you don’t want and can always announce whether you think something is rape or not. But we — general females — do have to listen to all of you males on the subject and often can’t voice our opinions safely about an issue like rape. And black people have to listen to me, the white person, but I don’t have to listen to them. And poor people have to listen to wealthy people, but not vice versa and so on.

    As Scalzi directed, we can only deal with our own behavior and our own position in society relative to others and think — or not — about its wider effects. It’s always a work in progress. Mistakes are made and harm is done. But it is my hope for myself that I can try. That I can listen to and learn from those whose voices I don’t have to listen to. “Shut up and listen” isn’t for me a command. It’s not calling me names or attacking me. It’s begging, from someone who has less power on the topic and has to live with the topic and been abused concerning the topic, to someone (me) who has more power on the topic and doesn’t have to live with it, think about it, and can be abusive about it, either directly or unthinkingly.

    What Annonymous discovered — that Scalzi wanted to highlight — was that he could talk and give his opinion that he knew better than his female colleague what she should do and what she should fear, and get to claim that he was right and in charge, or he could simply listen to her and better view the world in which she had to live — a world he would never experience with issues he never had to think about because he had more power and safety in the world than she. It’s a choice he made and we all have that choice over someone.

  246. Okay, I give up — I cannot keep up with this thread and refresh enough when trying to compose a post to not crosspost. But just last real quick: Greg, I’m white, as I’ve said numerous times before here.. So quite clearly when I was talking about white people, I was talking about myself as well, not just you in the universe. And when the issue is about gays, then straight includes me too. We were talking about all different forms of identities that are unequal in society. That you think I was trying to impose a morality on just you or anyone, that you think I could impose a morality on you in the conversation, is ridiculous. I was trying to explain how I see “shut up and listen.”

    “At #230, I was still asking you how I know I have learned what I need to learn, how I know I have listened enough, that I could then contribute positively to a conversation about prejudice.”

    That’s not what you were asking me. In fact, you weren’t really asking anything. You were attacking me because you think I was saying you can never talk in a conversation on these issues and will always be wrong.

  247. Reading this thread, one thing that seems to consistently appear is the idea that “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, and ne’er the twain shall meet”. Which rather annoys me – because we’re all humans living on Earth, and in many many other fields of discussion a man and a woman could have a reasonable and useful conversation. It’s just this one subject (privilege) that turns everyone into autistic robots with faulty translators, even if they’re listening they can no more understand each other than they could understand a foreign tourist who speaks not a word of their language.

    I don’t actually believe that there is some kind of insurmountable difference between male and female conceptions of the world; I will accept that male and female worldviews are different, but not that they are so fundamentally different as to render communication impossible. But communication in this thread, on this subject, is sufficiently difficult to render it rather unenjoyable.

    Live long and prosper.

    [translation error]

  248. John, you’re putting so many words in my mouth — assuming so much — that I don’t even know where to start. I did nothing of the sort, as you’ve described. If you’re as offended as you claim you are, and I am going to trust your honesty on this, then it’s something that needs to be hammered out between just the two of us. Look for my e-mail.

  249. mythago — some days too much listening creates a need to vent.

    Greg — in some ways those things have given me an interesting (and sometimes infuriating) life. My life would have been very different without them, better or worse is an open question.

    Stevie — It’s a blatant playing of the “I’m handicapped” card. I’ve never tried to hide that I had invisible handicaps; the damage had already been done. No pilot’s license. Driver’s license revoked. We’ve come a long way from when epileptics were staked out on the hillside for the demons to leave. Some of that “over-sharing” may come from the tendency of those with ADHD to do so. If there are consequences, I’ll deal, again. Between the two, I’ve lost jobs, careers, friends, hobbies, … and life goes on; new jobs, new careers, new friends, new hobbies ….
    I’ve never noticed that whining or playing a “listen to me” card has been at all effective in dealing with any of my problems, or even social situations like this. Some of that probably comes from my parents, both WW2 vets (Mom Navy, Dad Army then Air Force.)
    I hope at least one of the current research protocols into your breathing problems produces a cure. I know that some with some of those problems get some relief from harmonica playing, as well as singing, if you haven’t heard of that.

  250. Brad:

    “I did nothing of the sort, as you’ve described.”

    Oh, my, you most certainly did, and in doing so, you created a perfect microcosm of what the entry is about. You chose not to listen, and you chose to assert what you assumed was a privilege (“My Bible, not yours”). Then you ran into a buzzsaw, because unlike other people who you might not choose to listen to out there in the world because once someone did or said something you didn’t appreciate, I’m hard not to listen to when I want to be heard, especially on my own site.

    I recognize that you may not be entirely aware what you’re doing when you try to pull a stunt like that, which is why I’m perfectly happy to point it out. I also recognize that you didn’t mean to offend me, but again, you most certainly did, with a smug dismissal that you apparently felt was your right to offer. Wrong. That you may have assumed it was only joke when you offered it doesn’t mitigate it in the slightest.

    Likewise, that your immediate reaction is to say “nuh-uh, I didn’t say that” instead of trying to figure out why I might have pounded out several hundred rather offended words in your direction shows that you still aren’t listening, and perhaps have no interest in listening, ever. If you keep doing that here, you’re going to keep running into the same buzzsaw over and over. And it won’t be because everyone here is liberal where you’re conservative, or because everyone is X when you are Y. It’ll be because you’re simply not paying attention to anyone else, because you’ve decided they don’t matter.

  251. Fletcher @277: Who said such a thing here? The twain meet pretty well when we engage in dialogue, which is the point of “shut up and listen”; one cannot engage in meaningful communication by assuming that one’s own experiences are everyone. Again, strongly recommend you read the comment to which Scalzi linked.

    htom @280: Nobody has suggested that you only listen and never contribute. But listening comes first. And consider, too, that many of the people who are being ‘too angry’ or ‘not going to get anyone to listen to them like that’ or ‘unfairly grouping all [X] together’ may, as well, be venting about their own experiences – as the cartoon Amanda linked to, for example (which is clearly a vent; I really doubt the author actually believes everyone with a Y chromosome is a sexist doofus).

  252. Kat@274: But you had to go right for the rape, didn’t you?

    You already made clear that even though Crowley was never charged, never reprimanded, and given that a commission looked into his actions and didn’t cite racism, you made clear that he must have been at least subconsciously racist. So, given all the objective evidence said “no”, you went for subconscious spectral evidence, which is impossible for me to disprove.

    So I picked a different incident. One that could be determined by physical evidence alone. One where the charges completely collapsed and the prosecuting attorney was disbarred for lying in court. One where it seems overwhelmingly clear that the charges against the person(s) of privilege were false. That the people with privilege were in fact completely innocent. And since it is a physical crime that can be proven or disproven with physical evidence, there isn’t any “subconscious racism” accusation that can never be disproven.

    Soprano brought up rape as a topic in #12. Rape culture was mentioned in the “things I don’t get thread”, which this thread was sort of a continuation of.

    And I think my question is valid. At what point can I say I think the three accused are innocent? And your answer appears to be “never”. You turn it into me “going for the rape”. ANd I’m just trying to figure out if/how/when I can discuss an individual case without me getting in hot water.

    Kat@276: I was talking about myself as well, not just you

    According to you, the white guy … And what you did, Greg, as a white guy, was declare that you the white guy … you whitesplained black people on racism … you the white guy will tell them what was and was not racist … And you, the white person, are saying that your opinion of that should be respected as valid

    I dunno, seems pretty specific to me.

    That’s not what you were asking me. In fact, you weren’t really asking anything. You were attacking me

    I said: I would like to know when, if ever, I can speak about some incident involving bias without being accused of not listening enough or making it all about me

    No, really, I would really like to know. But what I’ve since figured out is that your answer really is never. It keeps coming up in different forms, and you keep giving the same answer. Never.

    because you think I was saying you can never talk in a conversation on these issues and will always be wrong.

    Well, clearly, my opinion is not needed or of particular worth. I suppose that comes under the realm of always being wrong.

    And believe me, I looked, at absolutely no time in any comment up to this point did you ever say “once you do blah, then you can make your opinion known”. or “once you listen for this, then you can say that”. or whatever. I wouldn’t even wager to guess how many times you said the “shut up and listen” bit, but not once did you say anything about when I get to speak.

    that you think I could impose a morality on you in the conversation, is ridiculous.

    Well, part of that was me. I was looking to see if I could fit your rules into my actions. I was trying to fit your morality on top of mine. and when it didn’t fit, I at first thought it was a problem with my morality. But then I realized I needed to stop trying to fit everyone’s morality on top of my own, in the first place.

    That’s not you. I don’t blame any of that on you. That part was all me.

    I thought I was fairly clear it was me.

    And I’m feeling quite a bit better.

    I was trying to explain how I see “shut up and listen.

    How you see? Well, then quite a few “I”s were missing from your posts that I didn’t see. What I did see were quite a few “you”s directed squarely at me and my behavior, even an occaisional “you, Greg,” just to remove any ambiguiity at all.

    At this point, I’m sort of at a loss, Kat.

    Your posts certainly came across as far more critical and pointed and directed at me and my behaivior than you believe or seem willing to admit. You might want to consider listening to yourself from a fresh perspective.

    You have yet to acknowlege when a straight/white/male/privileged person ought to be able to interject their opinion on some incident and have it defended just as fiercely as anyone else. Oh, sure, it can happen in theory, you never explicitly ruled it out. You just never ruled it in, either. ever.

    I would assume given your reactions that I’ve wandered into some triggering categorical events with you. And I feel compelled interestingly enough to say that pointing that out isn’t my way of trying to dismiss whatever reaction you’re having or your opinion. (I still don’t want to do it “wrong” as it were.) But since you’ve never actually said what it is, I can only guess. And it wasn’t my intention to trigger you. And I’m sorry I did. But really, there has to be a way to talk about categorical events that trigger people without it being something wrong the person bringing up the event did. I mean, people can be triggered by, literally, anything. And if some discriminatory categorical event is a problem, and it is also a trigger, and cant be solved without talking about it (and therefore triggering people), then I’m at a loss as to how to proceed.

    And if you say “listen”, then I would reply that I have, except you haven’t actually said anyting about yourself even once. You’ve focused your comments pretty specificically on criticizing me, not talking about you.

  253. mythago, I don’t know who you’re quoting, it’s not me, at least in this thread. The phrase, itself, does not admit speech. “Shut up and listen!” May I suggest that perhaps you hear that as “listen before speaking” and others may be hearing it differently?

  254. unholyguy @269: Anonymous was only able to have his epiphany because of at least a year of prior conversations to which he listened. He wasn’t noodling along when he was suddenly struck out of nowhere with the idea that Clementine had a particular worldview, and she apparently didn’t even communicate that to him other than to note that she didn’t want to walk to her car alone at night. As Anonymous says in his comment, “I honestly think that if I hadn’t learned about the concept of privilege before then” he might not only have declined to walk Clementine to her car but thought he should mock her for what was (in his view) poor risk assessment.

    The problem with ‘put yourself in their shoes’ is when it’s me assuming that *I* would act in a particular way in *their* situation, rather than trying to actually see things from another person’s point of view. And sure, observing another person’s actions is a good way to learn about them. But so is listening.

  255. John,

    I had wanted to continue this privately, but if you want to keep it public — as a matter of record, for all to see — we can do that too.

    We’ve met only briefly, and I can’t say I know you well enough to recognize your hidden sensitivities. Until they surface. Thusfar we’ve been fairly cordial, despite disagreements. It would be my desire that we remain cordial, though perhaps the ship has sailed? You’ll have to be the one to say. Some offenses — intended or no — go so deep there’s no recovery. If you’re the fan of Christ you say you are, I’m going to assume this also includes Christ’s capacity for forgiveness?

    Therefore, given what you’ve said, I am prepared to believe that the scripture was cited in honesty. No fingers crossed behind your back. You were calling to the Better Man within me, and I missed it all the way. Thus I can see why my reaction would be a slap to you. And for that I do apologize, humbly and with sorrow. Our business is contentious as it is, with enough petty bickering to fill volumes. After WorldCon I felt like we’d at least made the meatspace connection, and since we’ll both be seeing each other around the industry, it’s probably a good idea to remain on good terms.

    So, my profoundest mea culpa, and a humble request that you forgive my impertinence and impetuousness. I was in a fighting mood due to avalanching demands of the day and trying to keep up with the thread. I didn’t stop to consider that you were putting the citation forth with good intention. I’m sorry for being a cute asshole about it.


    Now, to the larger question of, “Is Brad too much of a farking Grinch to get it from now on?” Perhaps. Or perhaps not? I’ve had several of my friends — who became my friends after they met me personally — tell me that they really, really expected to not like me. Based on my tone and tenor in the cyberverse. This has given me pause if only because I’m just not known for that out in the Real World. And my friends can vouch for it too.

    Yet somehow I’m translating as altogether impossible and obdurate — on-line.

    This will not do.

    Therefore, John, if your effort was to ‘bring me to Jesus’ I’d say it was successful. I cannot deflect forever. I was ready to flame you hard, but it just didn’t feel right. One person telling me I’m being a jerk on-line is one thing. But several people? Whose opinions I value? I am stubborn, but I am not stupid, and I like to think I can recognize when there’s a problem — even if I am far, far slower to recognize it than others are.

    John, let me know if the damage is permanent. Otherwise, I hope this is taken in the spirit of reparation.

  256. I know this has been going on for a long loooong time now, but I as it seems the same six or so people keep commenting, maybe I can add something refreshing:

    I really don’t think anyone here is trying to suggest that white privilege is like being able to show up at a crime scene, show off your pigment, and declare you’re taking over the investigation. Or that we get to run rampant over every obstacle or adversity by flashing out whiteness at people and assuring them it’s okay. Or that we never experience disease, poverty, or ill fortune.

    It’s that when you’re white (I’m also a white dude) you’re almost always immediately endowed with individuality and personhood by certain authority and social structures, whereas that isn’t the default with people of color. When you’re white, you get to be a person who is white. When you’re a person of color, you get to be [ethnicity] who is a person.

    So if you’re a minority even if the person you’re going to be dealing with in any given social or authority structure IS fair, and is going to treat you like an individual, you historically don’t have any reason to EXPECT them to be that way.

    To quote Louis CK, slavery is two seventy year old black ladies back to back. If you see a black guy with white in his hair, he remembers segregation.

    I get why my fellow white dudes are getting their hackles up. I understand, and maybe this will help.

    When you’re a white dude, at some point in your life this happens to you:

    1. You’re at a social event, and you get forced into a conversation with some other white dude you’ve never talked to before.

    2. You keep the conversation light and share a few stories and he seems okay.

    3. THEN, after a while you’ve accidentally strayed onto some serious topic, that dude looks around, leans forward so only you can hear… and then says the most racist/sexist/homophobic thing you’ve ever heard in your life.

    4. Then you’re left there feeling gross, because this guy obviously thought you were one of his “kind of people.” But YOU’RE not a racist, and you know that because you don’t do things like this to people at social events.

    What people are trying to get at here with the shut up and listen (I think), is that guy who you are NOT at the social event, is kind of a big obstacle for people who aren’t white men. He doesn’t give them a pass, and just because you’re NOT him, and he doesn’t affect YOU, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t empathize with people who are affected by him or understand when they think you might be that guy. They’re also saying that just because you aren’t that guy, doesn’t mean you can’t act like a dick without meaning to.

    No one wants to be told they’re the bad guy, and I don’t even know that anyone is saying that. Being a white guy in our society is like being an eight foot tall, four-hundred pound linebacker in an antique shop. It’s easy to knock stuff over and break crap even if you didn’t mean to. You can be the nicest guy in the world, well meaning and actively not racist, and you can STILL accidentally move your shoulder in the wrong way and crush someone who isn’t endowed with your societal and historical protections.

    So, if this is more palatable, when you’re an eight foot tall four hundred pound line-backer who accidentally broke something you can at least understand you’ve injured someone and say “Sorry, I’ll look out better next time” even if you didn’t mean to hurt anyone in the first place.

  257. I think the interesting thing about the Anonymous post was that it was actually a cocktail of listening, observing and thinking hard that helped him.

    The other thing that is striking is the idea of time passing. I relate to that, that ideas that are at odds with your world view view and that you are at first very resistant too will gel over time and change the person you are. And by time I mean “years”. Sometimes things need time to simmer. The ideas would not bug you so much if there wasn’t something in them that was calling out to you

    By “Putting yourself in their shoes” what I mean is “imagining what it is like to be something else” not “imaging what I would do if something like that happened to me”. I think that imagination is a pretty core listening and empathy skill and one that is often overlooked and under exercised.

    So in short, the whole process is quite a bit more complex then listening, but listening is a core element of it,

  258. @287

    I really don’t think anyone here is trying to suggest that white privilege is like being able to show up at a crime scene, show off your pigment, and declare you’re taking over the investigation. Or that we get to run rampant over every obstacle or adversity by flashing out whiteness at people and assuring them it’s okay. Or that we never experience disease, poverty, or ill fortune.”

    No, that’s called “Money” (-:

  259. Greg said ANd I’m just trying to figure out if/how/when I can discuss an individual case without me getting in hot water.

    the fact that you seem to actually this is what you are trying to do is the saddest thing on this thread.

    Read what Scalzi said in his post: for values of “listen” other than “waiting for the other person to stop making word noises so I can keep making my very important point.”

    Now understand that, after 10000 words, all you have managed to say is “When do I get to speak?”
    (see e.g. “not once did you say anything about when I get to speak.”)

    this is what you are missing and what you will continue to miss.

  260. Doc waaay back at 139: “careful with that, though, or you risk dragging the conversation into 101 territory, and it’s not the duty of the underprivileged to educate every clueless newb who comes down the pike. :)”

    A) try to keep the question specific enough that it’s not going to be 101, but rather more specific to the situation (there are a lot of details in the Crowley case, for instance, and few know all of them)
    B) that’s why you start with the apology. If they don’t have the inclination or energy for it, you’re signaling that you will gracefully take ‘no’ for an answer.


    I found it interesting reading the conversation about the tone argument and the word ‘privilege’. It reminded of some interesting material I came across a few days back on a nominally unrelated subject on the wiki: Taylorism.
    (This is obviously not directly applicable)

  261. Mythago @ 264: those are actually good points, so I’m going to probably work harder in the future to remember that just because someone’s a pushy jerk to me — and feels entitled to that jerkdom — it doesn’t mean I have to replicate their pathology in my own life. The single greatest frustration I’ve experienced as a ‘fallen liberal’ is seeing and hearing and experiencing the hypocrisy of other so-called liberals. People who pride themselves on their “open minds” but when it comes right down to it, they’re just as closed, myopic, and narrow as the conservatives they claim to despise. I think in light of what’s transpired in this thread, my cynicism over this disillusionment may be out of balance.

    John @ 271: having read some of those old posts of yours that you linked, I have to say that for the first time ever — since I began reading this blog four years ago — you absolutely and totally surprised me. As in, I’d not have suspected in a hundred years that you were an admirer of the Christ. I have to freely admit jaundice here, because I’ve run into too many seculars who have only a superficial grasp of Jesus, claiming to know Him and yet tossing Him away when it’s expedient. For many seculars, Jesus is just a prop or a punchline. But if those older posts of yours are accurate, you’ve invested many, many hours in not just reading the scriptures, but researching His life and pondering what His impact on the world means for humanity. I can respect that, and it illuminates the depth of your offense at my reply to you in #271. So thank you for the links. If I’d seen this material before, I’d have taken your admonition and citations in in an entirely different way, instead of responding with flippancy.

  262. Xopher,

    Nah, not self-parody. I was pointing out that the post shows that John really doesn’t have a clue as to what “irony” is. I mean, he tells us to shut up and listen to his self-important rant about how self-important white people never shut up and listen.

  263. me: “But really, there has to be a way to talk about categorical events that trigger people without it being something wrong the person bringing up the event did.”

    damn it.Thats me trying to fit other peoples morality onto me, again

    It was a thread about the duke case, and it was as he case was starting to fall apart. I said something like “the womans story has inconsistencies and they have been unable tofind any physical evidence, I think we need to wait and see.” I may have said something about innocent till proven guilty and/or beyond a reasonable doubt, or something.

    Someone ripped into me. said she had been raped and I was doing something… bad… to any woman who had been raped. I dont remember the specific words, but it was something to do with doubting the victim.

    my reaction there was similar to above. How do I talk about the case the right way? and what I realize now is I was looking for a way to talk about it without upsetting anyone at all, and, well, thats not possible.

    what I should have said was something like I am sorry that happened to you. I am sorry my comment reminded you of those events and upset you. but I am not sorry for posting about the case in a thread about the case.

    I go into this ‘upsetting anyone is wrong, how do I do this wothout upsetting someone?’

    and it turns into a kobiyashi maru. because on the internet, someone is always upset about whatever someone else is saying. and I end up twisting into knots trying to get someone who is upset at what I said about ‘innocent till proven guilty’ to not be upset. And the thing I need to internalize is that aint gonna happen.

    I can say I am sorry for what happened to you, I am sorry this brought up that memory, but i gotta stop letting that upset convince me that I must have done something wrong.

    sure, *listen* for feedback from others to get if I am missing something about my words or actions that I didnt realize/know about. but I have to stop immediately reacting to someone being upset at me as meaning I did something wrong.

  264. Kathleen@290: “all you have managed to say is ‘when do I get to speak?'”

    in light of recent epiphanies, I am fairly certain that is more a reflection of what you heard rather than what I said.

  265. Brad:

    Thank you, Brad, for the apology, and for taking the time to process what I wrote and for trying to understand where I was coming from when I wrote it. I accept the apology wholly, gladly and with sincere appreciation. Don’t worry about whether you’ve damaged our connection in the real world, either. One, I recognize people often present in different ways online, especially in argumentative situations like this thread. Two, your consideration of what I wrote, and choice of action afterward, raises you in my opinion. You didn’t choose the easier path, and as someone who fights constantly against taking the easier path (and often fails spectacularly), that’s something I can appreciate.

    Re: Jesus Christ: Indeed, Jesus is a friend of mine, and I can certainly understand the surprise in finding an agnostic like me having knowledge of and admiration for him. But, to bring this back around to the ostensible topic at hand, for me at least, the admonition to “shut up and listen” goes all ways. As an agnostic, it behooves me to take time to understand and appreciate the faith others have and how it shapes their view of the world. I don’t believe faith in itself is a thing to be mocked, although I will sometimes (and forcefully) take issue with what I see are bad actions stemming from faith.

    And beyond any attempt to understand others, in themselves the life and words of Jesus Christ are valuable to know. I would be foolish not to know them, and even more foolish not to recognize the wisdom there, just because I doubt his divinity. As with anyone who tries to understand him, my understanding isn’t perfect. But I do see him as a great man and a good role model, and someone whose vision of how people can be to each other as really rather inspiring. He has very substantially informed my own worldview, and I am glad he has.

    Thank you again, Brad.

  266. Coming in late to the thread, and a lot’s been said already that I would have tried to say and likely said less well.

    I do want to thank Mythago and Kat Goodwin in particular for the efforts they make explaining privilege in this thread (and in lots of other threads, since I don’t often post, but I stop by to read often, and I’ve come to recognize some of the names that pop up). And thanks Anonymous, for the wonderful post linked originally, and to John for bringing it to the front page, because I think it makes an important point.

    I was going to make a longer post about privilege and how I understand it, but as I say I think others have pretty much said what I would say up-thread and I’ll leave it at this – I’ve found that when I’ve been told that I’m not listening or not understanding because of my privilege, that the other person was usually right. I didn’t always understand right away when they said (in various ways) “Your privilege is showing”; I’ve sometimes had to walk away and think about it a lot (as Anonymous says he did in his original post). Yet 99% of the time, I have gotten to the point where I had an “Oh!” moment and realized what the other person was getting at. It’s been really world-changing for me. (And I’ve realized in the course of it that the friends who have been trying to explain it to me are extremely patient people.)

  267. I can see two sides to the “action” part of this debate. One side is emphasizing “listen;” the other is asking for the right to talk at some point, even if their talking is always a privileged action. Each claims the other is not cooperating while they have been acting in good faith. I am going to give each side the benefit of the doubt.

    That being said and at the risk of inappropriate display of privilege. My take is that I can listen and still speak. That’s my privilege. If I cannot rid myself of it, even if I would want to, then I can use it without guilt if I am not intentionally using it to oppress people and if I try to keep an open mind to all voices concerned. And as long as I am doing that, I can also decide that someone who has suffered under some sort of oppression is still wrong or confused at least in part on some specific issue. I don’t have to surrender my agency to the Other (and the underlying argument seems to be that I can’t anyway); I don’t have to feel guilt unless I think I have earned it and I don’t have to shut up indefinitely, only as long as I think is appropriate. That’s privilege, the good and the bad; that’s reality, regardless of which side of the debate you are on with this.

    As an example: a black man (who was in almost every other way privileged, both in general and relative to me) told me that a gay man is not black, regardless of his background. Now I can listen to that; it speaks directly to an experience that I can never share, i.e. what it means to be a black man in America and that my interlocutor obviously had infinitely more experience with than me. I can attempt to learn from that, to consider his perspective and how he might have come to that conclusion based on his special knowledge and experiences. I can try to find a sympathetic reading for his statement and to consider how I am evaluating it from a privileged position. I can self-interrogate to see if I should feel I have the right to be critical of his stance. But in the end, I can still decide he’s being a jerk and tell him so. (And being 18 at the time, I regret to say I did not analyze the situation in the manner I alluded to above.) White man being an arrogant judge of a black’s man experience of race? Yes. Guilt then? No. Guilt now? No. Could I have proactively engaged him in a discussion of race and sexual orientation? Yeah, but to what point? To learn that black gay men really don’t exist or to lecture him on how I know better than him. There are discussions that are not worth having or that can only be had between particular people if they are to have any chance of being worthwhile.

    To use a less obvious example: the Duke Lacrosse case. I could listen to the accuser and the voices of her community (and other commuities) that supported her, give them a sympathetic hearing and wait for more facts. When the facts clearly turn the other way on questions that are more or less objective, I can change my mind in a rational way and expect the state authorities to do the same (which they did not for political reasons). I can also expect or hope that public opinion does the same, which it mostly did. This does not mean that I won’t hear the next accuser or erase all of my thinking on privilege because of one case, anymore than I erased my thinking on the presumption of innocence because of past bad behavior by privileged jerks. (And I will still find frat guys who hire strippers kind of eww regardless of whether they actually assualt and rape said strippers.)

  268. JS @ 296: I am glad to see that my apology was received as intended, and that there’s no lasting hurt done. A few weeks back, in a different thread, I self-described as a piss-poor servant of Christ, precisely because I am not often a very good “talk walker” when it comes to His message. But I am still a servant, because my experience tells me that this is a ‘true’ state for myself. Which lands me on the hot seat sometimes, because as you noted, John, whether or not other people take His messages to heart, I myself have an obligation to take them to heart — even when I don’t feel like it. I am accountable for this. Thanks for the reminder.

  269. HTOM

    I recognise that you are making a token effort but if you had given the content of my post a little more consideration in the first place, or even given it a swift google Scholar, you would have realised that hyper-mutating multi-resistant mucoid pseudomonas cannot be cured; that’s why I am excluded, rightly so, from a group of people who already have enough problems without drastically shortening their life expectancy.

    Your expressed hope that something may produce a cure is therefore purely rhetorical; had you shut up and listened you would have realised that fact.

    I think that the reason you have not given the contents of my post much consideration is encapsulated in your original questions about your own life:

    “Do you want mine? Are you really sure?”

    You seem to only have one focus, and that focus is yourself.

    In my first post on this thread I noted that I am privileged; I remain privileged notwithstanding the bugs and getting blown up, just as my father remained privileged notwithstanding his years as a slave on the Death Railway. As any statistician will tell you, my prognosis is a great deal better than it is for people who lack privilege; socio-economic status matters when it comes to both life and death…

  270. PrivateIron @298: I agree with a lot of what you’re saying, but I don’t see that there are ‘two sides’ as you describe them. Nobody is saying “privileged white guys must STFU forever.” As Anonymous said in his comment, he was hearing “STFU” and realized that he wasn’t being told to shut up forever because nobody wanted to hear what he had to say – he was being told he should shut up so that he could listen to others, instead of simply telling others what he thought as if that was the only worthwhile POV that needed airing.

    Sometimes that means after listening, we will have something worthwhile to add to the conversation; sometimes not. But it does mean, as our host notes, that listening should be more than something along the lines of “yeah, yeah, blah blah blah, are you finished? Because as I was saying…..”

  271. HTOM

    I neglected to add that since harmonicas cannot be sterilised it would be exceedingly foolish if I, or anyone else whose lungs are infected with an opportunistic pathogen, took up playing one…

  272. When specifically applied to internet discussion, is there not a bit of a catch-22 with “Shut up and listen”? In that the only way to judge whether somebody has done so is for them to stop shutting up and write something?

    I completely agree with the point Scalzi is making, but I think a lot of the disagreement arises as, in internet discussion, “shut up and listen” = “non-existent”. Less of a problem offline.

  273. mythago, nobody is saying shut up forever? Russ had a nice link at 165 of an example of just that.

    when I was saying I was looking for a little honesty, I was looking for whether someone like you would report that yes in fact some use ‘privilege’ to guilt and shame and shut up views they dont like, or whether someone like you would instead report what are really *the best intentions* of the use of privilege and ignore when people abuse it.

    having been on the receiving end of tmore than one lecture about privilege that could be boiled down to “how *dare* you!” I can report that, yeah, the idea of privilege, the best intention of that idea, and how real people put it into practice are systemically different.

    Having been on threads where one person is using privilege to shame and blame, while another person happily goes on a lecture about how privilege isnt a shame tool, it feels like schizophrenia sometimes.

    thing was, I kept thinking it was *ME* who was crazy.

    but not anymore. there are some significant differences between what you and others present as the “best intentions” of what “privilege” means, versus how people use the concept, and abuse it, in the real world.

    see Russ’s link. thats real world. now look at how you describe ‘privilege’ and how you say *no one* ever meant privilege to mean this or that.

    oh really? how blatant would it have to be before a privilege apologist would say ‘ok, that was a bit much’?

    and you know what? I actually think I get it on some level. To see someone lash out like that woman did in the link, her pain is obvious to everyone else even if it isnt obvious to her. And one of the reasons I drove myself crazy was trying to figure out a way to hold to my morals while at the same time never causing someone like that to get upset.

    which would mean I could never say to her, you know what? that was over the top. you need to reel it back in. you cant let your pain be an excuse to lash out at people or tell them to shut up for no reason.

    so privilege-splainers refuse to police their own, refuse to police people who use privilege as a bat, because, hey, look at how much pain theyre in. if they get verbally abusive, whats that compared to the things they suffered through?

    so people read through this thread, see the link at 165 and gloss right over it and then make pronouncements like *no one ever* used privilege in this way or that. thats the kind of thing that used to make me wonder if maybe I wasnt crazy. maybe I wasnt seeing something. maybe I wasnt willing to acknowlege some ugly truth about myself.

    but then I realized it wasnt me doing it.

  274. Greg@304

    Well…I’m a privilege apologist who clearly thought the comment at that link was a bit much.

  275. I’ve spent the last couple of days reading through this whole thread, the ones that preceded it, one’s linked to and from it; and in and amidst the persuasions and resistance, the couching of terms, challenging of terms and positions, often what gets missed is the point behind all of the discussion of privilege and why it matters. (And not that it hasn’t been touched on at all, but it gets lost amid the idea that this is work, and it’s tiring and frequently unsatisfying and dispiriting.)

    As much as we would like to get out kudos and be affirmed that we are good people and doing a good thing, that isn’t actually part of the deal. Part of the point of recognizing privilege, the point of active listening, the point of fighting and arguing and running through these kinds of conversation over and over again is the basic belief that you don’t get points from other people for being a good person – not often. You don’t make the decision to fight for equal rights on the basis of race , or gender, or sexuality or religion to be applauded for it, or regarded for it. You do it, I do it, because I believe it’s the right thing to do; not because racial minorities, or the disable, or the transgendered or the non-Christians who are fellow travelers in my journey through this life are going to thank me, or welcome me as one of their number or as an ally — but because discrimination and inequality among humans based on those things are wrong. Morally, ethically, legally, humanly wrong.

    As some one who is white, who is Christian, who is not poor and not disabled, I have the possibility of ignoring all the issues that affect people who are not those things. I can and even do at times but that’s not the person I want to be.

    It’s not enough. If I believe that human being deserve equality, that the privileges I enjoy (that I never asked for nor earned nor even notice half the time) are the right and legacy of every human being, then the only thing I can do, if I am going to make the choice to be a good person, and to do the right thing, is to work to make sure that the playing field is level. The only reward I can or should expect is the one that comes with knowing or believing or hoping I’m doing the right thing. And I do believe that a world where people are treated equality with respect and dignity is a better place for all of us — and for those that come after us

    Because the biggest asset that my privileges give me is the privilege of choice. I get tired, I get frustrated, I get discouraged, I get yelled at and called names. And when it becomes too much, I can step back and not do much of anything and have my day to day life not affected at all. I could stop entirely and let other people fight the fight that I feel like I’ve been fighting since I was 15 years old and realized my otherwise loving, supportive, wacky funny family, held a deeply ingrained streak of racism.

    I don’t get to be right all the time, I don’t even get to be very good at this battle all the time.

    You don’t get special cookies for shutting up and listening from time to time — what you do get, frequently, on listening is a might earful of how incredibly unfair and scary and demeaning the world can be for other people who do not share your privilege no matter what it is.

    All of which comes again to the point behind it: if you think the world is unfair to some people and you want it to be more fair, you are the one who can choose to do something about it, however small or large. if you think equality is worth fighting for, then fight for it because you believe it to be the right thing to do. if you are doing so because you expect a pat on the back or kudos or to score points on some great unseen scoreboard, in my opinion, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

    It’s not about being wrong or right in an internet discussion, it’s about doing the right or wrong thing and how that affects other people.

    I’m tottering toward 52 years old. It’s better than it was when I was 15, but it’s not enough, not yet. The guy who wrote the OP
    does give me hope that no matter how frustrating or tired I get, wanting better for everyone is still worth fighting for.

  276. Russ

    We are talking about the same link here, aren’t we? The one about Dr Who?

    I have to say that I thought the original article was well-written though hardly controversial; even the mass-media blogs read by vastly greater numbers of fans have been grieving over the death of Dr Who as a hero for quite some time now. When a series is reduced to titles like ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ in the faint hope of making it sound as if it’s about something other than yet more ‘aren’t I wonderful’ navel gazing then it’s probably time to put the whole thing gently and kindly to sleep.

    What’s interesting is the way in which the tone of the comments on it became more and more hysterical…

  277. Maygra@306

    *respectful applause*

    And while I’m about it, thank you to Mythago for putting things better than I can, and to Brad R. Torgersen and Greg for demonstrating that those arguing counter are not (at least some of them) doing so in bad faith.

  278. I am going to try to simplify the message I was trying to send in my earlier post. I think a lot of the people who are annoyed with the original post want validation about when they qualify for being “right” again. There is no “right;” you acknowledge your own position and you make a choice about how actively/how long to listen to the other person. The other person or third party observers may disagree; they may disagree quite unpleasantly either with your substantive position or with the quality of your listening. Then you deal with it. Under the circumstances, chances are very good that the other person deals with worse on this issue than they are putting your way. You can choose whether or how to continue to engage in that discourse. At the end of the day, neither of you gets a cookie. You just get what there is. The only difference is that you probably have the disappointment of expecting a cookie. I know that that is a hard thing to realize or live with, if you had good intentions and wanted certain kinds of results. It can be a dysfunctional mode of liberalism when such communications go wrong. It can make you run away in disgust and that is the performative move at the crux of this debate: it is your, but not their privilege to disengage.

    In my personal example, I was probably “right.” But I don’t have to spend the rest of my life figuring out how to be a black man in America; he does. I don’t have to deal with whatever increment of misery he adds to the lives of gay people; they do. If I had a reasonable chance of changing his mind, it might have been worth discussing. But I don’t think it was and I disengaged. Lucky me. Did not affect my life much at all, even though I saw that guy every day for months afterwards.

    The only thing I will say that is at all “anti” the Original Post is that I do get sick of “allies,” depending on how strident they get and how much they use it as a way to backdoor into privilge again. I will listen to a person who has actually experienced the discrimination for a lot longer and with a lot more sympathy than I will the PC brigade who claim to be their interpreters. (And I not saying that John Scalzi is being one of those people here.)

  279. Hmm. Brad and John, I’m glad you’ve resolved your conflict over the Bible.


    I think the Bible is fair game, and it’s absolutely in bounds to quote it, even if you have no particular admiration for Jesus, even if you think Christianity is nothing but a scourge upon the world that must be defeated by any civilized means if humanity is to prosper (and I’ve argued with some atheists who take that attitude, not that all atheists do).

    I bring this up because to me, Brad’s apology seems mostly predicated on his realization that John is a “friend of Jesus.” Had I cited the Bible and gotten the same response (the “bzzt”), I would not have been as offended as John was, but I think that Brad’s dismissal is still invalid.

    The Bible is a document. Citing it is not restricted to those who believe in it, or even find it important to them, even when the citation is to challenge an assertion made by a believer.

    Now, I’m not a Christian. Never have been. I do attend church regularly during choir season, because I sing in a church choir, and I hear a lot of scripture read and a lot of sermons on that scripture. I’m more familiar with the Bible than the average neo-Pagan by far, probably more than the average self-professed Christian. But that’s neither here nor there; I believe that citing scripture would be perfectly within my “rights” (that is, rhetorically legitimate) even if I had no such knowledge base.

    That “bzzt” would be rudely dismissive even to me.

    Now, if I cite the Bible and assert a stupid/ignorant interpretation, I’d expect to be swatted down (within bounds of civility) and corrected, as I would correct someone who claimed that ‘Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law’ means “I can do whatever the hell I feel like doing and no one can say boo.” That’s part of arguing, and not everyone has the same level of knowledge. Outright dismissal is another thing.

    Short: John wasn’t the only one offended by “No quoting the bible if you don’t attend church, nor believe in God.” Since a) it was in response to John’s post and b) this is John’s blog, John is the only one entitled to an apology IMO; I’m saying that’s a pretty jaw-dropping statement regardless of who it’s in response to.

    [Note: this is all assuming that John doesn’t have a rule about Biblical citations that contradicts anything above. Editing! Gerunds! Death!]

  280. Xopher:

    My feeling based on what I read was that Brad’s apology, while to me personally, encompassed the idea that a flip response re: who gets to quote from the Bible was generally regretted. Which I think is to the good.

  281. Brad – I don’t see you intentionally picking fights or being intentionally rude to John with the purpose of starting a fight with him. You’re some guy who’s politics and ideas about life conflict with John for sure, but at least you’re able to see when your ass is showing, and feel bad about it. I don’t think you intentionally hurt people.

  282. I had a very similar experience; white, male, and also grew up poor (with a single mother in a poor neighborhood). It definitely emphasized perspective and understanding, which I think may explain why my writing tends to the political. I’ve taken the position of telling people to shut up and listen; but then I wonder if I’m doing any of the disenfranchised voices a disservice by throwing in behind them? Amplifying their views. I can only trust in my sincerity and otherwise silence.

  283. I don’t want to belabor an incident that’s drifting in the rear-view mirror, but I will say I regret the buzzer-action in both a specific sense (John’s offense) and a general sense (anyone else offended.) There’s a specific emotional reason behind my rush for the buzzer, but explaining it here would vastly derail things, and as John has pointed out to me (over two years ago) there are some things best said on one’s own blog. If anyone’s interested in knowing why I rushed for the buzzer, I will type up something for my own space and post it later today.

  284. Seeing a post with “Mallet me, I dare you!” written all over it…then later seeing that post malleted: priceless.

  285. #295 by Greg on September 8, 2011 – 8:04 am said
    Kathleen@290: “all you have managed to say is ‘when do I get to speak?’”
    “in light of recent epiphanies, I am fairly certain that is more a reflection of what you heard rather than what I said.”

    Greg – I’ve said my piece, which is enough for me, except to conclude with: it is really really what you are saying. best – Kathleen

  286. “Shut up and listen” is a great idea, but difficult to act on.

    A tip to potential allies: when marginalized people do happen to speak up, keep in mind that silencing them is not the best way to deal with your discomfort with their tone.

  287. I was going to give Snarky a prize for bringing some brutal honesty to the conversation.

    ah well.

    PrivateIron: “. There is no “right;” ”

    Sure there is. did the guy rape the girl. is there systemic racial bias in police behavior. is there a glass ceiling. does the company hire only white males?

    There really is discrimination and it is wrong.

  288. I go away to work for a few hours … *headshake* I just want to thank Mythago and Kat and Kathleen and of course John for having the forbearance, the patience and the stamina to keep slogging away on this one, even in the face of some pretty obvious bad faith. You guys are my heroes today.

  289. Greg, I agree re: #318. it’s one thing to say “my sandbox, my rules” but if you’re trying to position yourself as an ally who listens to marginalized people… deleting the comment of someone with an icon that sure looks like a woman of color and identifies as a “Black, Jewish, Queer, Fat, Disabled Chick” is doing it wrong. At the very least it deserves a click on the gravatar.

    But no, once again, rather than listen, a supposed “ally” uses the tone argument to silence the voice of a marginalized person. How sad.

  290. Oh, I think Snarky was trolling. but she was a perfect example of someone Mythago said in #301 doesnt exist.

  291. redlami, no one is allowed to be that rude here. Also, the first thing she said was really triggering for a known subset of the population (and more so given the current situation in Texas). That malleting was absolutely called for.

    No matter how many out-group memberships you claim, there’s no excuse for being an outright troll. And IMHO you’re treading pretty close to that border yourself.

  292. Stevie — I did, indeed google your disease before I posted, because it seemed familiar, and found (among others) this reference which seemed hopeful. Being without hope, in my experience, is one of the worst conditions for a patient to be in, but if that’s what you want go for it.

    I had thought you’d be playing your own harmonica. I did not suggest sharing them. For a simple harmonica, removal of the covers, soaking in an ultrasonic cleaner with a sterilizing solution, then drying in an strong ultraviolet C light for a couple of minutes and reassembly should suffice if you fear reinfection.

    Harmonicaplayersplaing: Beyond the above, harmonicas can be sterilized; it’s a rather complicated process — dissembling the harmonica to its several hundred parts, each then sterilized, and the whole reassembled — that’s mostly only done to complex antique instruments needing repair or modification, so the repairer can play it, and when the work is done, the sterilization is then done again, so the owner can play it. It’s been decades since harmonicas were freely swapped back and forth between players, and the discovery of AIDS pretty much put a total end to it (hepatitis and pneumonia were probably higher actual risks, though) In many places the sale of used harmonicas is forbidden. I don’t let others play mine, and buy inexpensive ones to give (with their names written on them) to visiting children who want to play with me; they get to take them home.

  293. Greg, Mythago said nothing of the kind in 301. She said

    Nobody is saying “privileged white guys must STFU forever.”

    “Nobody is saying” pretty clearly means “in this conversation.” She did not say “people who say that don’t exist” or “no one has ever said that.” I respectfully submit that she would have said one of those, had either resembled what she meant.

    And please note in Our Host’s favor that when someone DID come along and say that, she got malleted right quick (though in all probability it had more to do with wishing death on people and so on than that particular sentiment).

  294. Redlami:

    Trolls are trolls. If one chooses to troll on the site, one chooses to risk the mallet. I judged that particular person to be trolling. The only person who gets a vote on when the mallet gets used is me. If you don’t like it the door is right over there.

  295. Xopher, you are a generous soul, one of the reasons I respect you.

    as for the troll, the point being that people do in fact say shut up forever, in their own colorful way. and yeah, Scalzi malleted it right quick. but most of the internet isnt like Whatever, and you can see people like Snarky are not so rare as to say ‘no one’ abuses the idea of privilege or that everyone uses it in its ‘best intention’ definition.

  296. oh, and for context, mythago was replying to PrivatIron who was talking about people not on this thread, people he had encountered in real life, and people *in general*.

  297. Xopher @332 is correct. I would be astonished if anyone were able to confidently say they had never spoken to somebody – in real life or on the Internet – who claimed to be on the wrong end of privilege either mistakenly (“Racism? No, we ask everybody for ID”) or maliciously (“Funny that you didn’t care about my gender until I demonstrated that you can’t add two and two”). I sure have. Nonetheless, I find that the vast majority of the time, it behooves me to STFU and listen.

    Greg, over and over you say that you are very anxious when trying to do the Right Thing, and imply that if anybody has ever said “STFU and listen” maliciously, that means you should properly assume “STFU and listen” is always malicious and therefore never need to listen. Yes, life would be easier for all of us if everybody behaved and if it were very simple to categorize conversations and behavior without running the risk of getting twisted into knots trying to do the right thing. Life would also be easier for all of us if I had three bazillion dollars.

  298. and my examples that I mentioned was Crowley to which I was told commenting on that specific case dismisses the experience of all black people.who feel police racism. And the duke case, where my saying something about the case having issues was turned doing something to all rape victims (questioning every rape victims testimony).

    there has to be a term for when someone weighs in on a specific incident (like Duke) and then uses either privilege or their lack thereof to diqualify anyone with privilege from commentimg on the same case.

    If people are talking about their history and thats the point of the forum, then yeah, I shouldnt barge into a victims suport group to talk statistics. but it was a thread about crowly and a thread about duke where privilege was used as a gag.

    they werent using it to educate someone who said police pofiling doesnt exist, or to educate someone who said ‘what rape culture?’. it was ‘you need to shut up now’.

    saying something about crowley insults all black people? saying something about duke dismisses all rape victims? that isnt educating someone on privilege. thats guilt by association, hasty generalization, or emotional pleading. but using privilege as a smoke screen.

    I just have to get better at recognizing it sooner, cause there is no point talking (because they dont want to hear) and there is no point in listening ( because they’re not actually talking to privilege as the issue)

  299. mythago: if*anybody* *ever* uses shut and listen maliciously then it is *always* malicious.

    mythago, you are a lawyer, right. you are extremely good with words I assume. You have to understand when someone says ‘some’ versus ‘all’ that it makes huge legal differences. It has to affect your work every day.

    and yet, this is not the first time you strawman something I said into complete insanity. I’v mentioned this to you before. You are actually phenomenally good at it.

    but the thing is, for someone as good with words as you are, it is clear to me that your strawman isnt accidental. some random person off the street I would probably give some benefit of the doubt. but you know what you are doing and you have done this exact sort of thing to me before.

    You have no intention of engaging me in conversation. and if you have listened to what I said it was only to find the apriopriate strawman to turn my comments into.

    what I have said multiple times is I was looking for ‘a little honesty’. you said ‘no one is saying stfu forever’ in response to a comment about people in general. a little honesty would have you say ‘ok, that was a bit sloppy’.

    but rather than honesty, you resort to strawmanning my position into complete insanity.

    and before, this would have tied me up i knots wondering how I got so badly misunderstood. but today I get that it wasnt a misunderstanding, was it?

    I have no interest in engaging with someone who strawmans my position, repeatedly, in bad faith.

  300. I hesistate to wade in here, but Greg@338: …and there is no point in listening ( because they’re not actually talking to privilege as the issue)

    There is always a point to listening.

    Sometimes what we are hearing sounds completely irrational. At that point, we have the option of being open to learning something. For me, I have started asking myself, “What would have to be true for a person that this statement is rational?” It doesn’t mean I have to accept the statement is true. Only that someone else who has had a very different life experience might have a reason for feeling that way.

    And even if you (in the general sense, and I am including myself) don’t want to / aren’t able to go there all the time, I think it makes a big difference just to assume that other people are responding reasonably to what they see in the world.

  301. Greg @339: You certainly don’t have to engage me. Contrary to your remarks about being ‘gagged’, nobody is going to come to your house and take your keyboard away, and I don’t have the Mallet here. But I urge you to consider that when you are constantly talking yourself into believing that people who disagree with you are deliberately and maliciously twisting your words purely to fuck with you, that you are allowing social anxiety to destroy your reason.

  302. xopher@336,

    demonstrated courage to admit a mistake, which is also a form of generosity.

    like I said, xopher, I have read your comments for years and have nothing but love and respect for you.

  303. Cherry: there is always a point to listening

    see #318.

    mythago: ‘social anxiety to destroy your reason’

    I marvel at your strawmanning skills. that actually veers quite closly into trolling insults, but just not quite. impressive indeed.

    you coud have said ‘I was a bit sloppy about my “no one” comment’. simple. straight forward. honest. instead you managed to craft a post which escalates the converstion into questioning my psychological stability.

    you never fail to disappoint.

  304. Greg: see #318.

    So I ask you, how many posts have been malleted in this thread? (answer: 3) How many were malleted for trolling? (answer: 1) How many posts are there in this entire thread? (answer: as I type: 343)

    How many are you willing to listen to? (only you can answer that)

  305. wait so I think you you are strawmanning me , “purely to fuck with me”???

    *wow* extra credit for that one.

    cause you would *never* strawman someone simply because they disagreed with you.

    you’re like a jedi knight of rhetorical skills. you strawman someone you disagree with, and when they accuse you of atrawmanning, you turn it into a psychological disorder on my part.

    really. I mean this when I say this: you are amazing with words.

  306. HTOM

    No, you didn’t Google my disease; the paper you cite might indeed be helpful if I had cystic fibrosis, but since I had already noted in my comment that I have idiopathic – ie no known cause- bronchiectasis, it is obvious that the paper is wholly irrelevant. This seems to be proving John’s point for him, yet again.

    Incidentally, phage therapy has been used in Russia for many years; the problem is that it only works once, which greatly curtails its usefulness in chronic infection. You have to start all over again the following week.

    As to the sharing of harmonicas, no I was not thinking of doing that. At the risk of grossly oversimplifying:

    anything I breathe through is contaminated, providing an exciting career opportunity for bacteria to break the mould, or at least engage in a little horizontal gene transfer, and then make their way back into my lungs. That is why, for example, people with asthma who use nebulisers and compressers have to diligently clean the equipment every time they use it, even though their lungs are not infected. If they didn’t their lungs would very rapidly become infected, and if that went on for long enough it might result in them acquiring bronchiectasis as well.

    You will appreciate that no-one in their right minds would take the word of an anonymous poster on the Internet that there is an easy and effective way of sterilising something which has the capacity to kill them; I have excellent medical care, which is the reason that I have survived this long, and I listen very carefully to what the teams caring for me tell me. They have lots of experience in the field, whereas you have none.

    By the way, I have noticed your attempt to suggest that I feel that I have no hope, and, by inference, want to die; you have to be pretty desperate to try punting that one, but then again, you are obviously desperately short of genuine arguments. Frankly, if you are going to try for the Arwen role – ‘There’s always hope’- then you need to do a lot of work on it …

  307. Greg, you said

    mythago: if*anybody* *ever* uses shut and listen maliciously then it is *always* malicious.

    That doesn’t seem obviously true to me. Could you explain why you think it is?

    And thanks, btw. Do you mean here, or have we encountered each other on other sites? (Unless your last name is the name of a major city; in that case I know who you are.)

  308. Unless your last name is the name of a major city; in that case I know who you are.

    I was contemplating asking that, somewhat less discreetly. Definite sense of deja lu occasionally there, same bit-between-the-teeth bulldog persistence, same pattern of results.

  309. Stevie — if you google “hyper-mutating multi-resistant mucoid pseudomonas treatment” that paper was the fourth hit. The bacteria came from a CF patient, true, but the research was in killing the bacteria, not curing CF.

    My experience with asthma … never mind.

    No attempted good deed goes unpunished.

  310. Cherry, I have read all the posts, have you?

    On a thread about Crowley/Gates I posted I thought Crowley was not racist.

    Kat@71 tells me you really don’t have much to say on those subjects, that your opinion is not needed or of particular worth in that situation

    this was talking about something I’d posted *on a thread about Crowley/Gates*. On a thread where pretty much everyone weighed in on guilt/innocence, and then started talking from there. And I weighed in too.

    then at 119, Kat posts half a dozen or so references to my skin being white as why my opinion is of no particular worth.

    Now, you tell me: what golden nugget of wisdom am I supposed to glean from listening to those posts?

    How about the post Russ linked to at 165? Click through and read that.

    What gem of wisdom can I extract from that one?

    And if we go way back to the original post, the person got that “shut up” was “shut up and listen”. and people have been pointing out that, no, really, sometimes it’s just “shut up”.

    Kat pretty much did exactly that. My opinion is worthless.

    Were you listening when she said that?

    Did you say anything to disagree with her? No. Nobody did.

    Sometimes it really is just “shut up”.

    Right here on this thread.

    And how many people who defend “privilege” have acknowleged the term gets misused? Russ provided the link. Oh, and mythago most recently, except her acknowlegment comes packed in a comment that also questions my mental stability, so I don’t feel particularly compelled to consider that one.

    By the way, mythago challenges my mental stability at 341. What am I supposed to glean from that juicy tidbit?

    Could it be that maybe she doesn’t agree with what I’m saying and is just trying to shut me down any way she can? Could it be? Would you admit it if it were so?

    It’s one thing for people to come out and say, sure, hypothetically speaking, people might misuse the term “privilege” to shut down conversations they don’t want to hear. It’s another thing to actually point it out when its happening and call people on it.

  311. xopher@347: That doesn’t seem obviously true to me. Could you explain why you think it is?

    Sorry, I was on my phone and can’t cut and paste.

    mythago@337 said: that I imply that if anybody has ever said “STFU and listen” maliciously, that means you should properly assume “STFU and listen” is always malicious and therefore never need to listen.

    I paraphrased that to

    if*anybody* *ever* uses shut and listen maliciously then it is *always* malicious.

    I didn’t say it. It was what mythago was accusing me of back @337

  312. I was contemplating asking that, somewhat less discreetly. Definite sense of deja lu occasionally there, same bit-between-the-teeth bulldog persistence, same pattern of results.

    Same fundamentally good-hearted guy at the middle of the whole thing.

  313. Oh, I wasn’t denying that, I can see why people put up with it for as long as they do. But it’s frustrating to watch.

  314. Greg, let’s see what we can do here, at John’s discretion:

    “you, Greg, a white guy” — this is a rhetorical device, with you as an example of a white person but applying to all white people including myself, in the situation that you presented about what was said in that situation. It is not about you personally, but about white people talking to black people about racism, with you as the stand-in example of a white person because you’re the one who proposed the situation and wanted to discuss that one. I could have just as easily said, “I, Kat, a white person, say to the black people “Crowley wasn’t racist” and my point would not have changed, but it was your experience so I didn’t substitute me as the example. But I was still talking about you, me and all white people in general about conversations about racism. “your opinion has no worth” — I was explaining that this may have been the feeling of the black people who you told were wrong about Crowley acting with any form of racial prejudice, conscious or unconscious, not saying that I find all your personal opinions to be of no worth. I have seen you use both of these rhetorical forms of speech in arguments with libertarians here, so I am surprised that you did not understand them when I used them, but I accept that you didn’t.

    You say talk about me, and what I’ve been trying to tell you is that I have been talking about me, the whole time, and in at least one instance, I specifically talked about me and an incident from my own life. But since that was not of interest previously, let’s talk about me some more, as John is encouraging us all to do re Annonymous’ quote and experience.

    I am white, which means that I am part of the power group that is white, that controls, in the West and parts, the world in which black people have to live, how they will be discriminated against, how they will be viewed and treated, and what they are allowed and not allowed to say about everything, but especially racism. I am part of the group that can shut them up at any time, either intentionally or accidentally; they are part of the group that has no power to shut me up because I’m white. If they challenge my telling them to shut up, that their opinions are worth little or nothing, then they are taking a huge risk, both physical and emotional, facing the kind of dangers and hurts they have to deal with every day that I will never experience but can dish out because I’m white.

    So simply by entering a conversation about racism as a white person, I’m in the power position. I get to be the bully. I can use that advantage to drown the black person out, to say that they are irrational, illogical, unreasonable, oversensitive, overly demanding, disrespectful, wrong about the subject in general or in a particular case, that their opinion and experiences are worth nothing about the subject in general or a particular case, dominate the conversation and direct it to be about what I, a white person, feel about things and think is right and what I think the black person should feel about it. And the black person can either shut up or take the risk, yet again, to disagree with me, to not accept my views, a risk I never have to take and experience on this subject. I can ignore that black people already know all about white people’s views on racism — all of them — because they have to hear them from white people all the time. I can tell the black person that I don’t like his tone, that he should be more civil in talking to me, that his discounting of my views is unacceptable and outrageous, and ignore the social, historical, power implications of a white person saying this to a black person. I can pretend that the black person and I are on equal footing in the conversation, as if we were just arguing over the best way to make an apple pie and not their lives.

    Or I can step back and listen to the black person, not as an opponent who is attacking me, but simply as a human speaking about his experiences on a public stage, with views with which I may or may not agree, without worrying about what he’s calling me or when I get to speak my views. (Because I always get to speak my views from my power position.) Because I have a choice about it, as Maygra pointed out. As a white person, I don’t have to listen to black people’s stories. I don’t have to talk with a black person about racism ever, if I don’t want to. But black people don’t have a choice. Black people have to live white people’s stories. Black people have to talk to white people about racism, whether they want to or not, every day of their lives, usually in demeaning and hurtful ways, and face the risk, the threats to them of doing that and of disagreeing with the white people who control their world. And the same for gays on prejudice against gays, women on sexism, the disabled on discrimination towards them, etc. (The hard part, when you’re in a no power group in the society and your kids are too, is watching them have to go through all of it.) So I can try to listen, if I choose, when I’m in the power group. Sometimes accidentally I don’t, like BC Woods’ interesting example of a giant in an antique shop. And I can also walk away and not hear them. They can’t walk away from it.

    That’s what Anonymous realized with his female colleague that John suggested we also think about. That’s what I try to remember.

  315. Two comments: I had never realized I didn’t have to listen to black people’s stories, or women’s stories, or …. or that they had to listen to me; and part of the problem (it seems to me) in this conversation is that the English language does not provide a good mechanism to differentiate between you (a particular you) and you (a particular group) and you (a general all-humans group.)

  316. WordPress says I don’t exist. Computers can be -so- stupid. So much for their correctly consuming Gravatar.

  317. Kat: “your opinion has no worth” — I was explaining that this may have been the feeling of the black people

    You do realize the first statement is about 12 Kessel Runs away from the second statement, right?

  318. Kat @ 364: my wife’s not white, so I’m sensitive to the black/white power imbalance in America, having witnessed racism directed at my spouse by lots of different people; even members of my own religion. However, my wife and I both agree that money overcomes virtually all obstacles, and I am going to gently suggest that money is the important factor missing from your power dynamics algebra. I don’t think it’s true that your whiteness or my whiteness grants us automatic power in all conversations, because if we’re dealing with a traditionally disadvantaged minority individual with sufficient wealth and/or fame, the power is absolutely in the hands of the person with the cash and the media on his or her side. Oprah, for example, could bury any middle-class white person she wanted to, with the snap of her fingers. She has the checkbook and the fame and the lawyers to do it. It would be no contest. So while I generally agree that a white person can assert pretense of control, I think this only applies when the white person has comparable or superior economic status. Which is much of the time. But not all of the time.

  319. @Brad: Money can certainly help offset a lack of privilege (and indeed, often by itself creates privilege). But it does not automagically eliminate it, as any number of educated, wealthy black men harassed by the cops for no reason can tell you.

    Consider, also, that Oprah is a *billionaire*. It is not a logical conclusion to say that because Oprah has astronomically unusual economic power, that I have no racial privilege as to a black person whose paycheck is equal to or greater than mine. Or that, wrt the post that started the whole discussion, that Anonymous was totally wrong to think as he did IF his co-worker was richer than he.

  320. regarding power in discussions of racism…
    it’s always been my impression (rightly or wrongly) that the power in that sort of discussion lies with the minority race.
    Surely the power in any discussion lies where the participants place it?

  321. Brad@369: my wife’s not white,

    Brad, Brad, Brad. Are you new to discussions involving the term “privilege”?
    I assume so because I’ve seen this sort of response come up in many different conversations, only to get shot down.
    My favorite response to someone saying they were married to POC was someone who replied by bringing up Thomas Jefferson raping his black slaves, which of course, perfectly represented what a interracial marriage of N years in 2010 would look like.

    Privilege means everything to everyone. This makes it white, straight, male kryptonite. If one meaning doesn’t nail you, another one will.

    White Guy: I don’t think such and such particular incident was racism.

    privilegesplainer1: You’re white, so obviously you don’t know enough about the black experience to understand. You’re privilege is showing. You need to shut up and listen

    White Guy: I’ve been married to a black woman for 20 years.

    privilegesplainer2: Well, that doesn’t matter, privilege is really about power. and you’re white, so you have more power, so you have privilege, so you need to shut up and listen.

    If this were any other rhetorical field other than “privilege”, pretty much anyone would immediately point this out as the logical fallacy known as equivocation, or “shifting meaning”. If the only concern was that WhiteGuy was talking about racism and had no clue what he was talking about, finding out he’s been married to POC for a goodly long while ought to quell that concern. At which point, privilegesplainer3 would tell privilegesplainer2 to drop the equivocation fallacy, and let WhiteGuy participate.

    For some reason, that never happens.

  322. htom@367, I turned off the requirement to be registered to post.

    I was getting a lot of spam, so turned it on a while ago, but probably wouldn’t hurt to open the gates as it were for a little while.

    You should be able to post now without registering and without providing an email.

  323. Greg, having looked at your blog I’m now sure who you are. I always liked you on ML, and you were on the right side almost always on BoingBoing (back when it had a comment system that supported conversations).

    But even when you’re right, saying the same things over and over doesn’t help. It’s what phrases like ‘beating a dead horse’ and ‘belaboring a point’ are made for. Going on and on with ever-increasing bitterness doesn’t help convince anyone, and undermines your credibility for future conversations.

    There’s a commenter on ML right now whose posts I simply skip. They’re long and almost always seething with unsuppressed rage, in florid language. If that person ever has a real point to make, I’ll never see it, because I stopped reading comments from that source a long time ago.

    I’d just submit, for your consideration, the idea that you consider, before posting each comment, whether it will make a point you haven’t made before, whether it is phrased in a way that invites agreement rather than repelling it, and whether it will be positive in terms of your relationship to the community.

    I’m saying this only because it breaks my heart to see a fundamentally good guy ripping himself to bits over and over by not willing to let go of a wheel that he can’t stop from spinning.

  324. I certainly agree that a great big challenge is to know when to let things drop, both in letting go one’s self and also in recognizing when someone else is no longer being a useful conversant. In a general sense, it’s also worth remembering that it’s not always worth it to get in the very last word.

  325. Indeed, there’s a thing called Abi’s Rule, which can only be imposed by a moderator; when it is imposed, the person who gets the last word is the loser. It’s pretty effective; generally people want to get the last word because they feel they win by so doing, so it brings them into essential conflict.

  326. Being highly analytical, my question here was “what is the purpose of the occasion when you should shut up and listen?” That makes a difference to how much you open your mouth.

    I was often in the role of a consultant, and the saying is “you have 2 ears and 1 mouth; use them in that proportion”. I prefer “you have 2 eyes, 2 ears, 1 mouth; use them in that proportion”. (I’m a compulsive reader!) But I was paid to be in the solution business, not the listening business. At some point, I had to speak, and it would often contradict what some people had been saying. What you do when you are trying to solve a problem is different from what you do when a purpose of the occasion is for someone to express views that may have been suppressed elsewhere.

    Second, there is a difference between passive listening and active listening. I consider asking open questions, for example those starting with the famous 6 words “what, why … how?”, to be part of listening. But some people resent them; they feel they are being steered and analysed, not really listened to in their own right. I end up confused: why am I involved in this? Without the questions, I can’t understand what is being said in any depth. Is it thought that merely by listening I am doing something useful? In the case of grief, probably. But for most of life, that appears to be a waste of time.

    I am aware that, by writing this, I broke the rule and didn’t “shut up and listen”! But I could listen forever and not understand why I was listening and what I was supposed to do. (My confusion may be that I try to avoid situations where being a white male is a factor. That is a waste of my analytical skills).

  327. I agree with this. But there are subtleties. Just because group A is generally privileged with respect to group B, does not mean they always have privileged. For example, male privilege does not extend to matters of child custody, where there is in fact a very powerful female privilege. And when people are unwilling to address the non-universality of privilege, real, useful dialog is difficult.

  328. While I fully agree with the “my space, my rules” premise, its not possible for me to see you as an ally to those of us outside the privilege playhouse, when this rule is applied so arbitrarily. Especially considering there was not even a warning issued.

    There are more than a few posts upthread with offensive, bigotted statements, and most were allowed to stay. But Snarky Machine – a well known blogger – gets the IMMEDIATE smackdown.

    A great shame, as I was directed here by someone who exclaimed how awesome it was to encounter a white, male blogger who “gets it”, only to find out he “gets it” conditionally.

    White male allies are unicorns, I fear.

  329. “For example, male privilege does not extend to matters of child custody, where there is in fact a very powerful female privilege.”

    A common misconception. Women get award custody more often because women are most likely the parent doing the lion’s share of the pre-divorce child care. This is a direct result of the patriarchal notion that child’s care is women’s work, as well as the same notion that men don’t want custody.

    There’s also the issue where men are far less likely to seek custody, and so of course women are awarded with it.

    This is not a female privilege – this is the logical result of a sexist society that makes mothers responsible for children, and is always sure to hang the blame for any and everything on them.

    This is not to say that there isn’t extensive problems with courts on these issues. There is, as I know first-hand. It just isn’t as simple as “female privilege”.

  330. xopher, I had an intersesting epiphany on this thread seeing how trying to fit other peoples morality on top of my own can lead to impossible-to-satisfy morality, and basically drive me crazy. the other thing that always seems to sucker me in is I usually take someone’s words at their direct and straight forward face value. if someone asks me a question, i tend to assume they are wanting an answer. at least if it is text.

    and what this thread and others like it keeo trying to teach me is sometimes people dont ask a question for an answer but to try and shut the conversation down completely. mythago has been quite instructional lately.

    I think now that I am not trying to fit someone elses morality on top of my own, I am seeing the intent of peoples posts better than I did before. If I am in a face to face conversation, people’s subtext seems a lot more obvious to me, and I can get when they are asking a question but have no intent on listening to the answer.

    in plain text, I am not so good at it.

    but this thread has certainly illuninated some things I did not see before. both in my behavior and others. hopefully I get beter at recognizing when its happening.

  331. Barry’s post about consulting reminds me that not too long ago, I had to be a neutral officer in a military case that involved a white male officer, a black male non-commissioned officer, and a white female junior-enlisted person. It was a real cluster. Accusations of racism, sexual harassment, counter-racism, counter-harassment… ugh. Lacking sufficient factual evidence of actual wrongdoing — it was a he-said, she-said, he-said — I couldn’t report much up the chain, other than that the situation had devolved to the point that unit morale was in the toilet because people were choosing sides, and something needed to be done before people took the shit overseas.

    Meanwhile, I did what I could to support all three people as they tried to extricate themselves from what had become a very bad situation, with careers on the line. “Shut up and watch and listen,” was very much my role, but what do you do when the things you’re seeing and the things you’re hearing don’t mesh? And there’s a very good chance that the people involved are trying to manipulate you or win your sympathy in a bid to ‘win’ the larger battle. That different ‘cards’ are being played. “Shut up and listen,” works fantastic on paper. Practiced in real life? Especially when you have differently disadvantaged parties competing in an artificial power framework (rank structure) against the backdrop of historical institutional inequalities? ………. ??

  332. Bruce McGlory:

    “But Snarky Machine – a well known blogger – gets the IMMEDIATE smackdown.”

    Yep, because the content of the post consisted of wishing violent death on people and declaring “I win.” Which is the sort of post I routinely mallet. The poster in question, whatever their notability elsewhere, is not well-known to me, and this site, with up to 45,000 visitors daily, gets fly-by trollage when anything contentious gets posted, which, again, I routinely mallet when I see it. It looks a lot like what this poster decided to post here.

    So, basically, from my experience, a short post from a previously unheard-of commenter wishing violence on others in a contentious thread = trollage. Out it goes.

    As for the rest of the comments here, yes, some of them are clueless/offensive/other derogatory words you can think up, because a lot of people here are, yes, straight white dudes exploring something new/unfamiliar to them. They are going to bump into furniture a lot when they do so. If you’ll note from the original article, I include myself in that. Generally, there is an attempt toward a discussion on the subject at hand, which in this case matters.

    It’s not Snarky Machine’s obligation to treat us all like special flowers, to be sure; again, as noted in the entry, it’s not the obligation of everyone else to clap and applaud while white men stumble through this stuff. On the other hand, swooping in just to wish everyone a fiery demise isn’t the way go around here either. So I stand behind my decision to mallet that particular comment. You are of course free to disagree.

  333. But for most of life, that appears to be a waste of time.

    For most of life, you’re not being paid to provide solutions, Barry. So consider the question of why someone is speaking to you in the first place. I mean, seriously, I think that would be a good exercise for all the straight/white/males, and actually, for everyone. By tradition, some of us have been taught to think that we speak to you

    1) to flatter your egos,
    2) to plead for scraps of reason,
    3) to try to obtain access to some of the other things you hold by virtue of privilege,
    4) to try to let you know about the rest of the world (sometimes known as the underprivileged taking responsibility for educating the privileged),
    5) to try to stop you doing something that’s annoying or damaging.

    But that’s all completely behind us now, errr, right? So we’ll just plump for:

    5) to get your take on some subject we’re interested in knowing your views about (bet you’re all ok with that),
    6) because we’re so educated and eloquent that anyone would surely be fascinated by what we have to say (basically what John said about himself, right?). Ummm… you are, aren’t you?

    Maybe you could come up with some other suggestions.

  334. Barry Pearson:

    “My confusion may be that I try to avoid situations where being a white male is a factor.”

    Entertain the notion that you might not be the best judge of what those situations might be.