“3 Reasons It’s Irrational to Demand ‘Rationalism’ in Social Justice Activism”

The lead article on everydayfeminism.com on March 25:

3 Reasons It’s Irrational to Demand ‘Rationalism’ in Social Justice Activism

The scenario is always the same: I say we should abolish prisons, police, and the American settler state— someone tells me I’m irrational. I say we need decolonization of the land — someone tells me I’m not being realistic.… When those who are the loudest, the most disruptive — the ones who want to destroy America and all of the oppression it has brought into the world — are being silenced even by others in social justice groups, that is unacceptable.

(The link from “decolonization” is to “Decolonization is not a metaphor”, to make it clear s/​he means actually giving the land back to the Native Americans.)

I regularly see people who describe how social justice activists act accused of setting up a straw man. This article show that the bias of some SJWs against reason is impossible to strawman. The author argues at length that rationality is bad, and that justice arguments shouldn’t be rational or be defended rationally. Ze is, or was, confused about what “rationality” means, but clearly now means it to include reason-based argumentation.

This isn’t just some wacko’s blog; it was chosen as the headline article for the website. I had to click around to a few other articles to make sure it wasn’t a parody site.

But it isn’t just a sign of how irrational the social justice movement is—it has clues to how it got that way.

The author came to hate “rationality” because s/​he thought “rationality” meant “conventionality”.

In fact, by American standards, my very existence is irrational. For many, I simply do not exist as a queer, Vietnamese femme who is neither a man or a woman. Living in my body, wading through my truths, is not a rational act. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Based on my experiences as a marginalized person, being rational just means going easy on my oppressors.

The narrow bit of room that rationalism gave me wasn’t enough for me to envision new possibilities for my gender, to escape the confines of impending manhood. It wasn’t enough for me to understand my personhood as infinitely more complicated than the models of personhood fed to me by white cis people.

S/​he didn’t realize that white cis people don’t use rationality either to understand their gender and social role. These are cultural values that parents deliberately program in before a child can become rational and come up with their own version.

Making my own inferences, I’d guess that

1. The author has had many unpleasant social experiences because of zis refusal to adopt a gender, and

2. The author is not a good reasoner, and while arguing over these experiences, often makes bad arguments, and gets told ze is irrational, and

3. The author is unable to distinguish discomfort with zis gender non-choice, from resistance to zis bad ideas, as having separate causes.

The 3 reasons are:

1. Being Rational Has No Inherent Value

2. Rationalism Is a Tool Made to Hurt Us

3. We Are Enough Without Rationalism

Also see the same site’s recent article “4 Reasons Demanding ‘Objectivity’ in Social Justice Debates Can Be Oppressive”.

ADDED, since I’m 50 karma in the hole anyway:

Ironically, today’s “social justice” program demands a radical rationalism.

Social justice used to be a rationalist program on its surface, pointing out the irrationality of prejudice and the illogic in narratives used to justify oppression. But as society adjusted its pre-judgements closer to targets that were rational but still unequal, e.g., from “Women can’t do engineering” to “Most women don’t want to do engineering”, the emphasis switched from being rational about our beliefs to irrationally assuming equality of everyone and everything, not just as a default starting point, but as a mandated endpoint. (Historically, this was tied to an influx of reality-denying continental philosophy into social activism in the 1960s.)

De-emphasizing rationality on its surface requires a more radical rationalism for its practical implementation. Changing social conventions has a cost. When we extend social justice beyond respect for difference that people have no choice over, such as race or sex, to roles that they choose, such as religion or gender, the justification for allowing everyone to defy any particular social convention must be a rational cost-benefit assessment. Many people enjoy the ritual interactions specified by social roles; they are part of their identities and one of their terminal values. A demand to give up these values must fall back onto consequentialist arguments.

(Is constant social pressure on the person doing the defying more important than thousands of irritations to the people who don’t know how to deal with zim, and who feel their own identities inhibited in zis presence? I don’t know. It’s torture vs. dust specks.)

The new social justice program is ultimately to strip from human consciousness all shortcuts, biases, prejudices, pre-computations, and priors. This requires making each individual a rational consequentialist capable of reasoning zer way from every situation to a rational behavior. To know how to use social roles, people require either social heuristics (which will inevitably oppress somebody), or radical ends-based rationality. This is particularly true when people are allowed to unilaterally opt in or out of social roles, so that every situation has a mix of people demanding to be treated differently.

(It isn’t clear whether priors are permissible in this rationality.)

Even the oppressed classes must be ideal rationalists (Homo economicus). If women are still allowed to prefer not to be computer programmers, or men are allowed to prefer not to raise children, a free market will make mandated equality cause, rather than alleviate, injustice.

Alternately, we could possibly say that social justice doesn’t require radical rationality, provided that we allow no social roles (a commitment to radical individuality). This also imposes a cost in so far as social roles serve to increase social utility.