tim: Mike Slackernerny thinking "Scientific progress never smelled better" (science)
[personal profile] tim
Arguing with people on the Internet is compelling for me because I have a thing about not being heard, and almost all the time, when someone disagrees with me (and bothers to engage with me about it), they don't believe anything fundamentally different from what I believe -- or so it seems to me. It's just a misunderstanding, and if only I keep trying to explain the truth well enough, to be a good enough teacher, the other person will see the light and agree with me.

When it doesn't immediately descend into profanity (which is boring, but which actually usually doesn't happen), talking to people on the Internet about gender is even more compelling, because it's just so easy to expose fundamentally wrong assumptions with a few well-honed questions.

For example, everyone is convinced that chromosomes are what make a person a man or a woman -- what give people some fundamental essence of being male or female that is both socialy significant and that no amount of social or medical adjustment can change -- but everyone is also happy to fling about "man" and "woman" all the time for people whose chromosomes they have never examined.

Everyone is convinced that it's easy to spot a transsexual, but nobody actually knows how many people they've seen and believed were transsexual actually weren't trans, or how many people they've seen and believed were cissexual were in fact trans.

Everyone is convinced that, even if one makes the politically correct concession of calling trans people by the right name and pronouns, it's still appropriate and meaningful to call a trans woman "biologically male". But nobody can conjure up the objective, biological characteristic that differentiates cis women from trans women. No, it's not the subjective, social characteristic of having been assigned female (or not) at birth; no, it's not the internal, psychological characteristic of knowing oneself to be a woman or a man. Then what is it? Everyone knows there's something there, something measurable, that denotes your woman-ness or man-ness independently of your beliefs or those of a specific person or group of people observing you. But no one can actually name or describe that very concrete, very objective criterion... whatever it may be.

Of course, you can tell people as many times as you want that some boys are born with penises, some girls are born with penises, some boys are born with vulvas, some girls are born with vulvas, and some people are born with either but aren't girls or boys, and none of these groups are intrinsically more authentic than any of the others. But it's much more fun to try to find the right questions to ask that will force them to say that themselves, if you can get them there before the Shitcock Effect sets in.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-04-29 07:11 am (UTC)
luinied: I've been told that the title of that book could be read as "How to Win Friends and Influence People", which amuses me. (curious)
From: [personal profile] luinied
Do you have any idea how often people actually change how they think about gender - or any other topic, really - on account of your arguments, versus how often they just let you "win" but go away with exactly the same beliefs they had before?

(no subject)

Date: 2010-04-29 07:12 pm (UTC)
luinied: The Twilight Rune (Default)
From: [personal profile] luinied
Eh, curiosity, plus a vague hope for encouraging anecdotes of successful teaching? I'm extremely pessimistic about the possibility that I can change pretty much anyone's mind in a positive way through discussion - or through anything else, really - but I realize that this is rather unhelpful and self-reinforcing.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-01 12:30 am (UTC)
luinied: Down with car culture! (resilient)
From: [personal profile] luinied
Well, those 20+ years as a student have also been ample opportunity for me to observe other students. Yes, sometimes they learn things, when they aren't coming in with wrong ideas that they're already attached to, but when they are already attached to their ignorance they rarely truly change their views. And professional teachers have a lot of advantages that Internet arguers don't - they're in positions of authority, the student possibly has some motivation to learn the material, there's pressure to be respectful rather than whatever it is about the Internet that engages the Shitcock Effect even without anonymity, etc..

(Of course, I phrase this in terms of other people, but I might well be guilty of the same thing. If I caught myself doing this I'd certainly try to self-correct, but who's to say I'd actually catch it?)

Plus, once people have gone defensive they tend to stand their ground on everything, no matter how ridiculous said ground might be. And people seem to get defensive on the Internet even more readily than they do in real life.

Pessimism aside, though, I can see how you would have some luck with this in the case of gender discussions, since people who haven't thought about gender much and aren't deeply attached to ideas of intrinsic femininity and masculinity might pay more attention when faced with a trans person for (what they presume is) the first time. Not that I expect this prevents the "let me deny your experiences" effect, of course.

(I have seen plenty of highly confident arguers who are doing much less teaching and much more yelling. I mean, I guess I can't be sure how often yelling might be caused by a secret lack of confidence, but, for example, I doubt that Linux Torvalds lacks confidence on the subject of what the Linux kernel should be like, and yet his strategy of talking about how mind-numbingly stupid those who disagree with him must be does not strike me as a good way to teach. Oh, and isn't part of successful marketing / political spinning about convincing yourself that you're not quite lying so as to make your lies more believable?)

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-01 07:09 pm (UTC)
luinied: The Twilight Rune (Default)
From: [personal profile] luinied
I certainly wasn't suggesting that you not try to change people's minds, or even that it's somehow fine and dandy that I usually don't. Which is why I was hoping for encouraging anecdotes, both for morale purposes and as a partial map (in the navigating sense, not the math sense) of how to beat the obstacles inherent in convincing people via Internet argument.

And I'll admit that I have some personal bias on the confidence thing, both because I grew up around too much "let's claim that bad behavior is always the result of not feeling good enough about yourself", and because I have gripes against the fetishization of confidence in particular. These aren't all that relevant to the discussion at hand, though.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-04-29 08:18 am (UTC)
juli: hill, guardrail, bright blue sky (happy)
From: [personal profile] juli

(no subject)

Date: 2010-04-30 09:06 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] bf
This is exactly why I would feel compelled into an argument, which is exactly why I don't like doing it. But I appreciate the explication of the trans argument; it feels good to read what I'm thinking.

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Tim Chevalier

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