Guest post: No longer able to get out

Originally a comment by Bjarte Foshaug on Uh oh, there’s a range of views here.

I strongly suspect that cognitive dissonance is a big part of the explanation as well. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the pyramid metaphor from Mistakes were made (but not by me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, but anyway, imagine two people standing right next to each other on the top of a big pyramid and trying to decide which way to go down. At this stage no option may appear obviously better than any other, and neither of our two testpersons may feel all that confident about the way to proceed. Even if they eventually end up picking opposite routes, it may in fact have more to do with a temporary mood or whim than any strong disagreement in principle.

However, once You have made a choice, You have a stake in defending it. The same logic used to justify each previous step in a particular direction, as well as the need for consistency, keeps pushing You further in the same direction, and the further down the side of the pyramid You go, the harder it gets to turn back without admitting to Yourself (probably the hardest part) and the world that You’ve have been wrong all along, that Your justifications were all bogus, and that You may in fact have been a bit of an asshole. In our metaphor we see how these two people, who were initially standing side by side, end up very far apart by the time they reach the bottom.

I don’t doubt that many of the people currently riding the trans bandwagon got on it for reasons that seemed both noble and worthy at the time. Then, as the demands and the thought-policing kept getting more extreme, all those former concessions (as well as their justifications) came back to haunt them, and by now they have dug themselves in too deeply and are no longer able to get out.

I can certainly relate to this myself. As (I suspect) so many others, I got into social justice issues following the death of movement atheism/skepticism. When I started hearing from trans* activists, I initially thought what (once again, I suspect) many of us were thinking: “Well, some of the things they say don’t seem quite right to me, but maybe I just need to “shut up and listen” as well as “educate” myself like everyone keeps saying. Don’t want to be like all those guys who mansplain feminism to women and think they understand the issues better than the women who have been dealing with them their whole lives, do I. Trans people are indeed a marginalized group, and social justice is all about standing up for marginalized groups. At least we can all agree on that. Etc. etc.” The borrowed association with LGB issues probably helped their cause as well. I think they even got me to sign a couple of petitions to ban “TERFs” from specific venues (*blush*).

In a way my own cluelessness was what saved me. In my limitless naivety I assumed we were all “in it together” against the Social Injustice Warriors (SIWs) of the far right, and started following every feminist, anti-racist, LGBT activist etc. who seemed to have something interesting or worthwhile to say on twitter. It didn’t take long before I discovered that the diabolical “TERFs” I kept hearing about (who I was told were at least as bad as the MRAs sending death and rape threats to Rebecca Watson) included at least half of the feminists I was following, and I couldn’t help noticing the Trump-level dishonesty of the accusations leveled against them (including Caroline Criado-Perez who was at the same time going through the ugliest cyber-bullying I had ever seen by the MRA mob). One of the earliest red flags (and one of the most bizarre conversations I have had in my life) was when a trans activist PMed me on twitter in order to interrogate me about why I was following a certain feminist blogger. As I recall “they” assured me that although this woman never said anything explicitly transphobic, it was non the less “implied in very subtle ways” that only trans people could detect and that I was not in a position to question.

Had I been ever so slightly less clueless about the various fractions and divisions among nominally pro-social justice types, I might never have followed any of the “wrong” feminists in the first place, and then who knows were I’d be…

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