July 15, 2010

Ethical stances, social justice, and 99Seats moment of unintended clarity

Over at Parabasis, 99Seats has a moment of "Unintended Clarity" regarding Don't Ask Don't Tell. But more important than his realization about the harm of DADT is when he says:
I honestly never thought I would have fit in that category...but apparently I do. It's pretty sobering to realize, especially as I go after people for other kinds of bigotry and discrimination.
It's shocking that this is the law of the land and massively unjust. And equally shocking that it took a comic book to make that clear to me.
How is it that 99Seats can do this without needing to be convinced that queer people are people and thus are the authorities on their own lives and experiences? How can he simply accept - without needing to debate or interrogate or play Devil's Advocate - that DADT hurts people who are queer? I asked as much in the comments to that post, to which Isaac gives a very thoughtful response. For whatever reason, I can't post my comment at Parabasis, so I'm doing it here.
I think both the person broadcasting the message and the person receiving the message have some shared responsibility for it is perceived, ultimately.
I know that Isaac is more clued in than most, but I think that people can take the wrong idea from this and use it in a way that ultimately upholds the status quo (in other words, keeps things fucked up). I can get behind the spirit of this statement, but my experience tells me that, in practice, it's used as a kind of tone argument that silences the very voices well-intentioned progressive (yet privileged) folks say they want to hear from. Not to mention, it puts the onus on the oppressed to accommodate, if not cater to, the sensibilities of the privileged if they want their agency recognized instead of constantly questioned (unless it's to assign blame - for example, "She had it coming for dressing like that").

To ride the philosophy train going on in another post for a moment, when it comes to social justice, I lean toward consequentialism when it comes to discrete acts (see here). At the risk of ostracizing myself (not like I've got much doing on except in my head), I am growing increasingly convinced that when discussing social justice issues, those who have the privilege and power need to shut the fuck up and listen until they are invited to speak*. And even then, only to address a specific point or answer a particular question. It is the most concrete and immediate way to shift the imbalance of authority (especially social and moral authority) that disproportionately privileges certain groups of people in certain situations that I've encountered or imagined thus far. That and killing people. Lots of people. Some of whom might actually deserving of it. Since few would want that, except for maybe the Joker, let's focus on discourse, shall we?

So, aside from taking up arms and killing people (which has its appeal on certain days), what has to happen to get people from "I don't know and I don't care" (or rather, "I do care, sorta, but I don't know what I don't know") to something more along the lines of what 99Seats did for DADT?

* I definitely include myself in this, particularly when it comes to trans and disability issues.


  1. Definitely co-signed.

    And as someone stated too, 99Seats is someone who genuinely wants to change and grow and evolve. That's why he was able to catch that.

    And I think it stems back to genuinely wanting to change and evolve and grow and the problem is most people don't like to look at themselves and see that they're flawed or that there are actually areas of improvement. Most folks think that they are perfect in their own perfect way.

  2. Hey RVCBard,

    Just to elaborate, I don't think *every* environment is appropriate to have the "how could you reach other people better" conversation. You are right that often that's used as a defanging mechanism to move the discussion from substance to tactics.

    But I think it's a conversation that amongst ourselves as people in and friendly to the LGBT rights movement, it's an important one to have. And given that Parabasis is a pretty queer-friendly environment (although obviously being a public blog not a safe space) that seems an appropriate venue to have that kind of conversation. It's important to note that it's also only possible because off 99's lack of defensiveness.