You Want a Space for Political Incorrectness? You Got It

Last Sunday, I laid out what I thought a proper space for “politically incorrect” questions and opinions would look like, because such a space can go drastically, cruelly, wrong. Now, I’ve decided to make one. I’m making a subreddit where those questions and opinions can get answers.

There are many reasons people might have a question about race, sex, disability, or related issues they’re afraid to ask their friends, family or teachers. They may not know how to phrase it respectfully. They may have a question that they know will offend but that they’re desperate to know the answer to. They may actually be bigots who are looking to make people mad. For whatever reason, I think there should be a space where, if they abide by principles of respect, civility and good faith, they should get their questions answered. The subreddit I intend to create will be an educational and discussion-based place. Questions will be answered without judgement. Answers will explain how and why some actions or word are appropriate or not, and place questions of bigotry or prejudice in their proper academic, sociological, political, economic and historical context. They will inform and educate while minimizing harm to the relevant marginalized groups. They will include concrete tips, approaches and scripts, so as to really help people move forward in the world. They will be respectful, civil and charitable, perhaps far more charitable than what is deserved. After all, charity can be totally badass activism.

This will be its own space, with its own rules. I do not think these rules make sense elsewhere, nor should people have to abide by them elsewhere. But I like the idea of a place where everyone agrees to be just ridiculously civil and respectful, to use their emotional energy or their privilege or their desire to educate to great effect. This is not the only form of education and activism. There are many others, which are crucial and vital and must exist as well. But this is a form that I think there isn’t enough of. Tumblr upon tumblr will tell people that it is their job to educate themselves about social justice issues. That may be right. So this is one place they can do it.

Some of the rules:

  • No slurs unless you’re asking about them
  • Disrespectful/cruel/obnoxious questions and comments get deleted
  • Unhelpful/uncharitable/not-intended-to-educate responses get deleted, even if they’re completely correct
  • The mods enforce these rules and give users suggestions on how to be more respectful or helpful.

You can find more of the rules here and at the actual subreddit when it goes live.

If you think this is important and useful, if you agree largely with what I’ve written here, and you want to get involved, look out for the link when the subreddit goes live! And if you want to be even more involved, I want you to be a moderator for the subreddit. Just answer a few questions here, and if you have the same vision I do, you’re in!

I think this could do some real good. Here’s hoping!

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P.S. If anyone is wondering why I think this is so important, here’s something I wrote in a blog post about Social Justice education some time ago:

I do not deny for a second that it can seem like a waste of time, that it can be painful, and that rather more often than we might hope, the people we’re arguing with are not arguing in good faith. That is why we leave it to individuals to decide whether it is worth their time and effort. But those not willing to do this kind of work should not stand in its way. They should not base their arguments on assumptions others do not share and be surprised when they are not understood. They should not make it more difficult for others to do the challenging work by interrupting ongoing conversations with jeering and mockery. And most of all, while there are perfectly good reasons to stop being able to have a conversation or to not enter one in the first place, no one should engage in arguments with people who might be persuaded if they have no intention of taking the process seriously. Ideas rise and fall every day in the public sphere, and there’s no reason to lose arguments or adherents because some don’t think the work of public reason is worth doing properly.

If you want to know more about my take on activism, social justice, better arguing and charity, check out these links:

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Worldview Part II: Here’s Mine

So, back to what a worldview actually is. I sort of lied earlier, about how one goes about creating a worldview, because as a matter of fact it’s not that simple or easy. In a perfect world, all the experiences I mentioned would indeed be data from which grand overarching theories could be proposed and held up to scrutiny. Unfortunately, people have an unconscious desire to create these worldviews all the time; we do it every time we rationalize, every time we try to come to a decision, every time we go shopping. We adapt our self image to the actions we take and we adapt the actions we take to the image we’d like to have of ourselves. Am I the sort of person who does that? Other people who do this are like this, but because of the exceptional group of which I am a part due to a unique combination of factors, I am in fact like this. This sort of thinking is fine. In fact, it’s probably what gets us through the day. Nonetheless, it’s subject to a whole host of logical fallacies, errors in reasoning and general lack of intellectual rigor, because it’s mostly done unconsciously, or at least without much thought.
So when I think about my worldview, I have to contend with the myriad notions of what a or my worldview should look like, rather than what it does. Luckily, a worldview is a very special blend of what is and what should be, which can be decided based on thoughts, books, movies and all other internal and external influencs, and so it has the capacity to lead with this. So here goes: based on a great deal of thought, here are some of my axioms.
1. All people (defined as sentient beings, aware of their own awareness, who can feel emotion and pain – obviously, since this is a. a debatable definition and b. sometimes difficult to put into practice, occasionally we will have to err on the side of caution) are equally worthy of dignity, respect and the right to self-actualization.
1a. Fairly obvious corollary: people have inherent worth, vis a vis their existence as a person.
Reason: I have a well-evolved and well-developed sense of empathy. I can realize that other people feel pain and suffering, as well as joy and fulfillment, and insofar as I would like to maximize the latter and minimize the former for myself, I am aware that others ought to have their right to do so, and as far as possible try to limit abridgement of these rights in the name of someone else’s vision of them. This is a fairly individualistic position, but I would also like to advance the notion that my ability to acheive these goals is intimately tied up with others’ capacity to do the same, both in the sense that if one person is in chains no one is free, and in the sense that humans are social animals and can acheive a great deal together that cannot be acheived alone, and that fact should be taken advantage of.
2. The pursuit of knowledge is an inherent good.
Reason: This is a bit complex. I have a framework for people as a community of knowers, wherein their knowledge is valuable and makes them valuable. Self-actualization is a form of knowing one’s self, knowing others takes the form of community and family, politics and morality, and we can also know/learn about the world, which is what science and related topics are for. This is actually probably my most fundamental principle, but the first one makes more sense within the context of traditional moralities from which I’ve derived many of my ideas.
2a. Corollary: The expression of such knowledge is a good.
Reason: This seems both more and less obvious than #2 itself. Interestingly, I think it’s here that asymmetries in my worldview begin to come about. Most people would agree with everything up to here without batting much of an eye, but it’s 2 and 2a that give me my opinionated nature on the issues that #1 and 1a bring to light as important. This expression can take a lot of forms. Art. Sex. Science. Travel. Speech. All need to be protected, all need to be fought for. What’s great about this is that it allows people to pick and choose from their knowledge of themselves, others and the world what is important and what should be expressed. A global community of environmental activists? Great. A five person high school club that made up a form of origami no one’s ever heard of? Great. And the protection of the knowledge and the expression contributes both to a more widespread, global understanding of a variety of topics so that they can be maintained indefinitely and more local, cultural, diverse traditions and ideas that keep humanity weird and sufficiently interesting. This protection also confers the title of goodness on the communities that serve to aid and protect this knowledge. I have a great deal to say about communities, so it should be gotten out of the way that they are generally good things.
I’ve never actually written these down before, so I’m somewhat shocked that there are so few. I like it, though. Stephen Wolfram has described how simple rules can manifest themselves in extraordinarily complex ways. Not only does that seem like a great description of a worldview, but I also think that simplicity is good because it’s easier to maintain logical consistency and see where errors of reasoning come into play.
I’m sorry, for this post and all future ones, if any grand conclusion I come to seems blindingly obvious. In my mental meanderings, I’ve had to question a lot of my fundamental assumptions, as all good thinkers ought to, and it leads me to wonder, not if anything I feel is deeply important in fact is irrelevant or worse, harmful, but rather if I can ever come up with a rigorous way to prove that it indeed should be important. This may seem trivial, but as a principled person, I take great issue with hypocrisy. It speaks to a moral failing, a lack of importance placed on thinking deeply about important principles to ensure that they are correct and true and don’t come into conflict. So I do my best to avoid it, and sometimes I end up in places far from where I started, and sometimes my intellectual footpath has lead me in the least efficient path possible, back to where I started. But that journey gives me more confidence and assuredness in my thoughts and opinions, and maintains my intellectual honesty.

The Backstory: Where I explain why worldviews are important to begin with