May 1st, 2009

ozarque figure

Detachment; part one...

archangelbeth commented:
"Considering the recent (and perhaps on-going) kerfluffle among SF fandom about 'writing the "other" '... What about verbal self-defense in a role of Author To Readers? Or any other 'provider of creative works to a consumer of creative works' situation, such as musicians to listeners, etc." And maevele added: "i like this idea. Or something regarding verbal self defense when called out on problematic behaviors, how to engage without defensiveness or offensivness."

That is: Suppose the opening line you're facing is "Hey, YOU are ripping me OFF! And you can GET AWAY with it, because you're PRIVileged!" Or its variant: "Hey, YOU are ripping off my PEOPle! And you can GET AWAY with it, because you're PRIVileged!" Is there a way you can explore and discuss that issue without being either defensive or offensive? Without hostile language? Is there a way to have a civil and rational and useful discussion about elitism without doing serious harm?

Maybe. Maybe not. I'd like to start with four general statements.

I do think that elitism is the best cover term for this controversy, and that the discussion will go more smoothly if that's acknowledged from the start. Here's my definition of elitism, for this post:

"Elitism is the idea that some one group of human beings is unquestionably superior to some other group(s) of human beings simply because those in the first group are members of their group, no matter what other characteristics they may have."

It would be easier to tackle this problem if the opening line came in four separate parts, one for each of the claims it makes: the claim that X is ripping Y off; the claim that X can get away with it; the claim that X is privileged; and the claim that X's privileged status explains why X can get away with it. Each of the claims could then be taken up separately for discussion. Unfortunately, that rarely happens; the whole bundle of claims has become identified as a single cultural theme and complaint, and it gets delivered as a single message. And one of the worst things the person facing that message can do is to begin by saying or writing or signing something like, "Let's start by breaking that down into the four separate claims that it makes and discussing them one at a time." Because that is a paradigmatic example of the person who is alleged to be privileged immediately moving to set up rules for the discussion. That move in itself, and the fact that X feels free to make that move, is a demonstration of privilege.

The one factor that can make it possible to respond to that opening line without defensiveness or offensiveness is detachment. Without detachment, you're not able to listen with your full attention to what Y is saying to you, and you're not able to think carefully before you yourself say things to Y. Your amygdala [the part of your brain that is always on the alert and scanning for danger] will identify the opening line as a threat and take over with the hard-wired "fight or flight" response, bypassing your cortex [the rational and reasoning part of your brain]. Which means that you'll be caught up in your emotions, and basing everything you say/write/sign on your emotions, instead of on strategic decisions and careful judgments.

The only way to stay detached is to bypass the amygdala instead of bypassing the cortex, and that means being able to hear that opening line as a source of information, without perceiving it as a threat. It means recognizing that even if you have good reason to believe that Y's goal is to cause you pain, you have a choice: You can choose to set that knowledge aside in favor of your own goal, which is to learn from Y, so that the next time you find yourself in a situation of this kind you will be better equipped to deal with it.

Enough for now...