Rationality

I’ve noticed a curious thing in my explorations of the activist blogosphere this past summer. There often appears to be an emphasis on rational argument or debate. From the perspective of those commentators and opponents who continuously derail and interrupt discussions with their bigoted viewpoints, I can see the need to establish rules of discourse that address (something like Derailing for Dummies is a great example).

However, you often catch activists poking holes in the arguments of their bigoted opponents. Overall, there seems to be this need to prove the other person wrong and, generally, an insistence that these debates be rational. Of course, there are many posts about the anger of the oppressed being valid and necessary. Even then, however, emotions are seen as being a seasoning to the argument at hand.

In debate, there is a clear difference between logic and rhetoric. Rhetoric, by it’s nature, is supposed to convince people. It has a place for emotion but also with certain conventions that allow debate to be possible. Rhetorical arguments can include logic. The reverse is rarely true: logic rarely convinces anyone of anything. Both forms of argumentation emphasize the rational.

The Rational, and what counts as rational, is entirely sexist. It was, and continues to be, used to silence women. One of the most deeply ingrained sexist stereotypes is that woman are emotional and men rational. Always this oppositional dichotomy: no one is allowed to be both rational and emotional. Furthermore, what is emotional is never rational.

This tool, rationality, was such a powerful silencing tool, it was extended to include men of colour (it already applied to women of colour and only had a further compounding effect for them). Other cultures are *never* as rational as those philosophies following the Greek tradition. I actually had a logic professor tell me that the sophisticated systems of Indian logic weren’t really logic, since they weren’t formal (as defined by Western standards). And it so happens that, for Western philosophers at least, the only logic worth studying is formal logic. Shocker.

I’ve read about Lourde’s notion of the master’s tools. Let me tell you: logic and rationality are one of these tools. So when we insist on both ourselves and our opponents ‘making sense,’ we are actually just using one of the master’s tools. Some things don’t, and will never, make sense. It is irrational to claim to be a Christian and be so hate-filled that you deny queers the right to marry (or exist). Or to insist that women are people who don’t deserve body autonomy, like other human beings. It doesn’t make sense to participate in and contribute to a global economy structured on the exploitation of human beings with melanin.

I recognize that these represent some people’s truths about the world. I also recognize that some people will think that my firm belief in the goodness of human beings and our capacity to be better silly and irrational. Others will think that my belief in the liberation and equality of humans is idealistic and foolish. Fine.

The thing is: I don’t care. At all. I’m not actually trying to convince anyone or so wow them with my awesome logic that they suddenly decide to recognize the fact that all humans should be free and equal. If you don’t already believe this, you are an asshole and I don’t actually want anything to do with you. I don’t mind fighting you, because in this case right makes might. If you won’t participate in a peaceful redistribution of power, then we just gonna have to drag you kicking and screaming.

 

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