This is out of my usual scope for this blog, and I apologize if my readers find it out of context. Other than blogging, however, I lead an active life (explaining the long gaps between blogposts), and I get into and/or read many debates online on many different subjects. It still surprises me how uncivil some debates get, and how quickly a good debate an unravel, and I’m working towards an understanding of the mechanisms at play.
Below is a somewhat typical debate from somewhere on facebook about “racial microaggressions” as in the link included. I am fascinated by the way this debate went haywire, much in the same way that so many internet debates do, and wonder what we can learn from it. I do not know much about the participants, but I know some things:
One debater is a university-lecturing doctor, and the writer of many books on racism. Several are of above-average intelligence, and have a common interest in the brain. Still, the information I suspect is most crucial for the way the debate fell apart is this: One of the debaters is a bisexual male Jew, another is an African-American woman, and in the actual debate, their names and pictures were shown next to every comment made.
You, reading this, do not have the privilege of knowing the debater’s names or what they look like. This gives you the opportunity to analyze where the debaters start to assume things about each other and respond to those assumptions, rather than to what is actually written. (I have made some minor corrections, mainly capitals, otherwise every word is original).
I look forward to reading your answers to these questions:
- Which debater is the doctor?
- Which debater(s) identifies with a persecuted minority?
- Who makes assumptions about other debaters?
- Which assumptions are made?
- What could be the basis for those assumptions?
- How is the debate influenced by such assumptions?
- Would the tone of the debate be more civil if the debaters were anonymized (not anonymous)?
AB Some of those I would not call “micro.”
BC I had the same thought, AB… although they still pale when compared to full-scale aggression. So, “mini-aggression”?
CD The one about “Garcia…” I don’t know if that could be considered unequivocally racist. Seems like a mistake, more or less. But this is out of context, so it’s hard to tell.
DE Some of these things seem to come from ignorance, and most involve prejudice. People should not say them. But calling them a form of aggression seems to cheapen the concept of aggression. Even the definition of “microaggression” given in the article says it can be an unintentional indignity. It seems odd to classify an unintentional physical contact (e.g. bumping into someone) as aggression, so why do it for verbal things? If the concept of aggression can encompass both murdering someone and asking them what language is spoken in Japan, it will lose its utility.
CD That’s a really good point, actually. It is yet another postmodernist perversion of a perfectly fine word.
DE There is such a thing as aggressive ignorance; much prejudice and hatred depends on it. Other forms of ignorance are more innocent, stemming from lack of opportunity to learn. Hence Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” Continue reading