Why we're here.
I’m a member of several autistic groups online. Recently I made a post in response to the handling of a hot button issue. It wasn’t about the issue itself but about how it was handled. I’m not going to go into the details about the initial issue because it isn’t important, but I do want to talk about how it was handled and many of the responses to my post. One of the major issues for me is how victimization becomes a golden ticket to do and say whatever the victim wants to anyone.
My post really targeted social justice warriors. I make a distinction between social justice advocates and social justice warriors. Social justice warriors tend to attack everyone they perceive as the enemy, and usually go on to blame innocent people for their suffering simply because they share some similarity with their oppressors. There is a tendency to use the same thinking that is used in bigoted thinking. You can see more on that here. Social Justice advocates tend to take a very thoughtful and calculated approach to ending oppression. There is a legitimate effort to get the facts correct and go after the correct people and systems that cause oppression.
Social Justice Warriors
I make no secret of having a dislike of social justice warriors. Though we share the common goal of ending oppression, our methods are much different. I see social justice warriors as damaging to the fight for equality. In the autistic community we have social justice warriors and advocates. Autistics are emotional, and we have those people that are more driven by emotion to solve problems than they are by cogent thought. In my post I address the handling of a different situation by social justice warriors and offered a more thoughtful solution to how we should treat one another and how we should handle ourselves in the fight for social justice.
Immediately I was called out for tone policing, gas lighting, and being part of the problem. None of which actually occurred on my part. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, all those things were done to me in response to my post. The people telling me I was gas lighting them, though I never once did, began to tell me that I didn’t actually think and feel the way I do, and then started telling me what I think and feel. They were trying to gaslight me. I was personally attacked. Mind you, that I never personally attacked anyone. My post was about how a situation was handled. I never made mention of individuals or a group. The focus was the method, not the people.
Then there is the claim that I am part of the problem. This is a common tactic when you belong to an oppressed community but disagree with how social justice warriors handle the fight for social justice. It’s an attempt to make you part of the “other” so that they can invalidate anything you say. After all, they can’t have one of their own disagreeing with them. Cogent thought isn’t important to the social justice warrior if it doesn’t benefit them. Strict adherence to their dogma is all that matters.
Through it all, people kept bring up their victimization as justification for how they treat others and me. The fact that I’m a victim of oppression as an autistic person didn’t seem to matter. Much of what was being done to me by members of my own community are the very things that non-autistics do to autistic people. Here is where I have a huge issue with the use of victimization as a golden ticket to say and do whatever they want to anyone else.
Victims should be heard. Victims have every right to be angry and to voice that anger, or whatever other emotion they are feeling. What victims don’t get a right to, is to create more victims. They don’t get the right to attack innocent people. They don’t get the right to lump a bunch of individuals into a group by some arbitrary measure and treat everyone in the group like they’re the victimizer. Being a victim is not the golden ticket to be an asshole.
I do think that those who are part of a privileged group in the context of the conversation should try to be understanding when a victim lashes out. We should always look to empathy and compassion as our go to when interacting with people who are hurting, but no one owes a victim that. Beyond that, there are limits to how far that can be taken. It’s unreasonable to think that a person should continue to be unjustifiably beat up on and vilified by a victim repeatedly. There are limits to how much any human can take. Worse, when it comes to issues of oppressed groups, the people in the privileged group may very well be in a position where this is something they are exposed to on a regular basis. It might come from more than one source. It would be a shame to take someone who is understanding, compassionate, and a possible ally and turn them into someone who, at best stops caring, or at worst becomes resentful.
Once again, I'm the unpopular guy.
It’s generally an unpopular idea in the fight for social justice to suggest that the oppressed should consider the thoughts and the feelings of the oppressor. I respectfully disagree. First, too many individuals get lumped in to the category of oppressor that don’t belong there. Second, understanding the thoughts and feelings of the oppressor is necessary to craft a method for convincing them to change their mind. “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” -Sun Tzu, The Art of War.
Some people are just plain bigots and always will be. There is no convincing them. But, there are people who may add to the oppressive narrative out of sheer ignorance. The optimist in me believes that more people are like this than just staunch bigots. Maybe I’m wrong. Either way, getting the well-intentioned people, who are just ignorant, to the point that they can become allies means taking the time to educate them. That means having to deal with some uncomfortable conversations. Not everyone is cut out for that. For some, the emotions run too deep and too strong to be able to handle that. That’s understandable. What they shouldn’t be doing, is making it harder, for those that can, to reach those people. I’m not suggesting to not express the emotions at all. I’m suggesting being a bit more thoughtful about where it’s directed. Find a support group.
Lastly, I see social justice warriors who attack members of their own group ruthlessly. The claim always goes that “victims should be heard.” In the world of the social justice warrior it’s “Victims should be heard, but only if they agree with me.” When I press social justice warriors to academically defend their claims, they often can’t, or worse, refuse to. What is expected is complete adherence. Whether a person is a victim or not, their claims are not above scrutiny. The implication that any idea can’t be challenged is absurd and dangerous. It’s trying to take the easy way out and trying to convince others that they should accept it. There are a lot of horrible, demonstrably false, and uncomfortable ideas in this world. They need to be met with a cogent argument. If a person can’t make a better argument, then they need to study the topic more or they need to recognize that, perhaps, they’re wrong.
I will advocate for social justice, but I won’t create innocent victims in my wake. I won’t treat people as a faceless and emotionless member of a group, but as individuals with their own story. I will educate people, not attack them. I will treat other victims with compassion and understanding, but I won’t let them abuse me. I’m willing to hear about someone’s pain, but if all they have is complaints with no solutions, I really don’t have much time for them. You solve issue of oppression by taking effective action, not by screaming in to the wind about how much being oppressed hurts your feelings. That action can vary in scope and content, but any action is better than sitting around insulting people while you complain about being oppressed. As, I said before, there are support groups specifically for that. If you can’t do the heavy lifting, let it to the people that can and can do it well, otherwise you hurt the cause instead of helping.