Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Echo Chambers

I never really considered myself to be all that left wing - until we took some stupid test in high school history and I scored as a complete commie-loving radical. Despite that, I still tend to side with the status quo when controversial stuff comes up.

For years, I was more moderate on abortion than even my younger brother. Now, my views are probably the most radical within my entire family.

A part of this recent change is due to reading some of the really awesome left wing and especially feminist blogs over the last few years. There's so many brilliant writers out there blogging away reminding me of things the mainstream media ignores and explaining things so much better than anyone else does.

I find it interesting, though, that my most radical stances tend to solidify not through reading Pandagon or Shakesville, but by reading the comments of people who disagree with Amanda and Melissa. Or rather, by responding to such comments.

For example, Amanda made a short post recently in response to a comment left at another blog. The comment itself was very outrageous (it ends with "Ugly old women virtually never get raped") and no one who reads Pandagon regularly would disagree on that point.

The topic of discussion then became the first part of the comment (because, despite stereotypes, you can only go so far with the unnuanced "evil!" or "that sucks!") :

Feminists invented the idea of “rape as hate crime” because it fit their overall “men vs. women” worldview.

Or rather, the main topic became whether or not rape is a hate crime. (fyi, while the discussion there considered at certain points whether or not all rape is a hate crime, I'm only talking about men raping women. Mostly because that's the kind the comment is talking about. Apparently men and boys are as lucky as girls and older women.)

Now, when I first read Amanda's post, I was thinking to myself "hell, yeah!" as she pointed out several of the ways in which the commenter's "proof" that rape is motivated by lust is so very, very wrong. What I wasn't really thinking about was whether or not that meant rape was a hate crime. If you had asked me back on Saturday when I first read the post, I likely would have answered "sometimes" - which very few people argued against in the comments section.

The weird thing is, listening to all the arguments, and pointing out the obvious - and maybe not so obvious - flaws in the less offensive arguments made my stance more out of step with the status quo than it was before.

Or - maybe not so weird.

The great thing about blogs isn't just the bloggers, it's the democratic act of discussing and debating things. Despite the fact that lots of comment sections are full of juvenile taunts and grammar lessons (I'm sure I've been guilty of both myself), comment threads can be some of the best parts of blogs. Not so much just to read, but because they are participatory.

By requiring that defenders of the status quo give forth real arguments, they force people to put to (digital) paper the twisted logic that often stays hidden, and therefore unquestioned. By motivating people to point out these various contortions, it forces the people making such comments to think things through more thoroughly than they would otherwise.

Emotions still cloud judgement. Debates still get hung up on connotation, definition, and myths that are accepted as fact. But overall, I think they are just what the founders had in mind.

Which brings us back to the weirdness of my more radical stances. Because the weird thing about my conviction that rape is a hate crime* is that it's a view that is less likely to change, despite being very not mainstream. Because it's a view that I put a decent amount of thought into, not just an emotional reaction or a value I picked up without questioning it.

The weirdness is that this goes against what we tend to think debate should be about. I shouldn't be simply convincing myself more thoroughly, I should be compromising and/or convincing opposite minded people.

But while the actual act of governing requires a lot of compromise and convincing, I don't think the real value of everyday discussions and debates lies in just getting more people on your side. It think a lot of the value of such discussion lies in self-discovery and being certain about what you really believe in, so that when the time comes to make that compromise, you know when it's ok to do so, and when you need to stand your ground.

After all, the reason why most people seemed to agree that at least some rapes could be hate crimes is because that's a very vague stance to take. As annoying as we radicals are, one has to admit that vague positions aren't very useful when it comes to actual governing.

*As I said there, the fact that it is one doesn't necessarily mean that it makes sense to prosecute it as such every time, especially when one is talking about hate crimes. But it does mean that it should be an option and that the larger culture should be educated about the true nature of rape.


David said...

Hi Mickle, I came over here from Pandagon after seeing your recent comment... I thought about adding this thought to the thread, but then I worried that it would be too inflammatory:

Frankly, I can't think of any logical reason to argue strenuously against the idea that rape is a hate crime, other than the fact that it reflects very badly on the people who rape.

And why is that a problem? Well, try to answer that question and we get into some pretty scary territory... thus, the frantic attempts to derail the topic.

(Medium Dave)

Mickle said...

Yup, that's generally the case.

I'd imagine the idea of rape as a hate crime is especially prone to this kind of fearful blindness because it has even more far-reaching consequences than just debating the finer points of consent. It suggests that there's more to even simple acts like pulling pigtails than we tend to admit. And while not every guy is unsure of whether or not he would be a rapist if the legal line was drawn at "enthusiastic participation" instead of "absence of no," most every guy has done something along the lines of pulling a girl's pigtails. A lot more times than just once. And quite often to someone they really did care about.

That's a hard thing to come to grips with, that you may have been hateful without meaning to to someone you really do love.

And I get that. It's not like I haven't gone similar stuff when it comes to race and class. I'm sure I'll go through it again.

But the thing is, if you really do want to be part of the solution, you have to be willing to fix your own faults, and that means you have to admit you have them.

I get a little impatient sometimes with people who are more concerned with feeling good about themselves than actually being a good person.