Arguing v marching

Jane Clare Jones also objects to Alison Phipps’s assertion that “‘Reasonable debate’ cannot counter unreasonable ideas,” calling it “a pretty staggering statement from someone who is supposedly in the business of dealing with ideas.” Isn’t it though? Isn’t it just self-undermining as all hell for an academic?

If taken at face value, ‘unreasonable’ here would mean something like ‘lacking in reasoned argument,’ or ‘not capable of being justified with compelling reasons.’ Maybe this is what Phipps means, but if so, she would have to, y’know, actually demonstrate that the many reasons we have given for our position are not, in fact, reasonable. Which would, indeed, be the entire point of asking her to intellectually engage with us, rather than just doing an endless ‘tut and move away’ manoeuvre.

The first thought that leaps to mind is that ‘tut and move away’ is simply easier, but the second thought is that it’s more theatrical, more demonstrative, more showy. It does more to dramatize one’s impassioned loyalty and concern for “trans folx” than reasoned argument would do. It’s more like marching to Selma and less like writing an opinion on Brown. Marching to Selma is certainly part of what’s required, but it’s not supposed to displace reasoned discussion altogether.

Of course, we’re going to conclude from Phipps’ swerve that she knows full well that she can’t answer our reasoned objections, and no surprises there – this absolute refusal to deal with the substance of the issue has been the core political tactic of the TRM from the start, and it’s because, simply, they can’t deal with reasoned objections. What they can, and have done, inveterately, instead, is weave a web of analogical relations to explain why we’re evil, why everything we say is evil, and why they don’t have to engage with us or anything we ever say because we’re SO. DAMN. EVIL.

This is actually what Phipps is saying when she calls us ‘unreasonable.’ It can’t be a (potentially) demonstrable claim about our position ‘lacking reasoned argument’ because if it were, the claim that ‘reasonable debate cannot defeat unreasonable ideas’ would make no sense. What it is, rather, I’d suggest, is a moral claim – a claim that we and our ideas are so morally delinquent that we can, and should, be excluded from the community of legitimate speaking subjects.

Exactly so. That’s why I ended up leaving Freethought blogs: they wouldn’t let me try to discuss the ideas, try to make distinctions, try to separate the political from the ontological. That was noisily and then venomously Forbidden.

For a group of people so profoundly concerned with questions of recognition, validation, and the harms of dehumanisation and exclusion, it is marked how absolute and implacable the TR position is when it comes to refusing anyone who questions their ideology or political agenda the merest hint of basic recognition. We are never to be taken as good actors who have genuinely motivated concerns or objections grounded in our own political analysis of the world. We will not be interpreted or understood in anything resembling our own terms, but are, instead, a venomous horde of boogeywomen summoned by the projections of our opponents.

Funny how Jane and I both land on the word “venomous” independently – I hadn’t read that far when I wrote the previous paragraph. (I do it that way sometimes – comment as I read rather than reading it all and then commenting.) The venom is noticeable and strange. It’s one thing that sets this “movement” apart. It feels…it feels like mental illness, to tell the truth. It feels like mutual widespread socially-contagious mental illness. It doesn’t feel healthy at all.

Can we fix it?

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