Do not be evil
IMPORTANT NOTE: Read the full article before commenting on it or responding.
I have reblogged a few posts with this theme but never actually written one about it myself. I’m talking about the tendency that many people (and especially social justice bloggers) have of being dicks to other people.
This is not a rant about how social justice is fundamentally misguided or useless, as anyone who follows this blog can attest. This is a rant about the way of dealing with certain subjects.
The overarching theme of this blog’s rationality posts is the same as that of Overcoming Bias and LessWrong: expose flaws in human reasoning (namely, cognitive biases), show how they can be harmful and try to create ways to counter them. My blog is fundamentally more mathematical than those other two, and in some posts I actually show my work instead of just saying “X is bad don’t do X.” Of course, not everyone is comfortable with the whole mathematics thing, which is why I tend to not be mathematical when I’m talking about themes that were not yet extensively discussed in the aforementioned blogs.
Or when what I have to say has less to do with mathematics and more with “human beings are really stupid and can’t see the consequences of their actions.” This post is one such case.
Your enemies aren’t innately evil. Every nerd knows that. But not every person seems to grok it. In general, no one is the villain of their own story, and if someone does an evil thing, it’s because internally it makes sense and is not evil. But humans who knew that in the ancestral environment didn’t leave as much offspring as the ones who simply labelled their enemies Evil and slaughtered them without mercy. Not seeing your enemy as a person is a very good way of not being hindered by your built-in empathy modules.
It’s also true that even if your enemy is evil, that doesn’t automatically mean everything they say is inherently wrong. Hitler believed 2 + 2 = 4, after all.
Still, to human brains, saying that an evil person believes something is an almost sure way of making you believe the opposite, even if you previously had no strong opinion. And human brains believe their enemies are evil. And guess what?
When you’re a dick to someone, that person will start considering you their enemy.
That’s the idea. And I’m talking about concrete things, here. If someone is doing stuff wrong, if they’re being sexist or irrational or stupid and you call them those things, you say they’re idiots, you say they’re evil, they’ll put you in the “enemy box” and convincing them will be much much harder to do.
Richard Dawkins is a dick. Yet he says and has said a lot of things that make a lot of sense, that are actually right, and he’s an outstanding biologist. To a rationalist, that’s good enough. But if you’re a religious person who doesn’t have a very good image of atheists, seeing Richard Dawkins just reinforces a stereotype that Atheists Are Arseholes and it will be that much harder to discuss with you.
Don’t make an enemy out of the people you’re trying to convince or help. They don’t know better. You didn’t either, at one point. But the only way to help people and convince them is discussing with them, talking to them and treating them as human beings with feelings and thoughts, who are fallible and not all that rational but still have a lot of potential.
I have seen some of the aforementioned not-very-pleasant social justice bloggers claim that they don’t have the time to explain to everyone how to do social justice. Yet some of them insist on responding to clueless people with “You’re evil and what you’re doing is wrong.” If you don’t have the time or the resources to answer with something more helpful and elaborate than that, then don’t answer at all. It’s not hard to do. If you’re going to answer, be helpful, not Evil.
Let me reiterate that last point. I am not saying that you should take the time of your day to discuss every old beaten topic with every newbie that comes to your blog. I’m not saying you have to treat your oppressors with kindness. What I am saying is that, if you’re not going to contribute constructively to the education of a clueless person (you can be a dick to an MRA) who does evil things, if you’re not going to teach or help, then don’t engage them in conversation. Do not take the time of your day to reply, do not spend resources to tell them they’re evil, do not do anything that will make your cause that much harder in the future because a clueless person who didn’t already have an opinion about a subject suddenly has the wrong one because someone was mean to them. They’re just human, they’re clueless, and kindness pays.
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