Posts tagged ‘rational’

January 1, 2012

Another argument against The Rational

Beyond the fact that calls for logic and rationality are sexist and racist (see here), I believe there are other reasons to mistrust the notion of rationality and the usual emphasis on it in social justice debates.

First, it is the case that there are so many oppressive people who sound so very, very rational. These sorts of people are my *least* favourite kind of oppressive asshole. They slither up to you and present all these rational sounding arguments about why oppression is justified or how oppression isn’t really oppression. The major problem with these people is that their arguments can be convincing. They can convince even people committed to anti-oppressive politics. That this is something that happens is why I always, always distrust anyone calling for more logic and reason in a debate. Because there is nothing rational about hate or about seeing some humans as less than human. And any attempt to rationalize this is simply justification for hate.

What are some examples of rationality used to oppress and silence?

1. Discussing the impact of abortion on men. This is a very cloying argument. It basically runs: men can also be emotionally impacted by having a partner abort a fetus, thus shouldn’t they have some say in the process? Shouldn’t there be some level of support for men in relationships with women who’ve had abortions? Etc. Etc.

This works because it tugs on people’s ability to empathize and sympathize. It also works because in this new age of feminism men are able to be perceived as people with emotions. They are sensitive and in touch with their emotions. It also works because there is a basic truth here: that perhaps some discussion is warranted about the effects on a partner when the other partner has an abortion. Maybe some support should be given, yes? Yes. The problem is that this argument is always taken those few steps further. Where we are asked to take our empathy for the man’s possible grief over a lost fetus and then strip a woman of her body autonomy. It also works to direct our attention from what really matters in this situation and what reproductive rights are about (hint: body autonomy). It is also¬†disingenuous¬†to suggest men should be getting support for abortion when *women* barely get any.

2. The radical feminist argument against trans women being considered women. The most convincing argument I’ve seen here is some version of, “we women have the right to decide what ‘woman’ means, and these ‘men’ are appropriating our identity and erasing us via some operation of their male privilege.”

It is convincing because many of us involved in social justice feel this in terms of our own identity politics. It is also something I feel especially as a PoC since white people are always appropriating shit. It is also something that I can further sympathize with because I have very light skin. In the last city I lived in, it often led to me being white passing, which meant that in some situations I was benefiting from white privilege. This is something that they are similarly arguing about trans women, who (I’m assuming the kindest possible radical feminist) have male privilege in much the same manner I had white privilege: essentially, not at all. The argument fails, as another member of the collective has said, because it sets up an infinite recursion. To say that only women get to decide who counts as women means that you’ve already decided who counts as a woman. In other words, that ‘woman’ is already a stable and coherent category/identity. Which it isn’t. We know this.

To a certain extent, I’ve been using reason to refute these arguments. This is usually not my method for approaching these things but I wanted to highlight why demands for reason or logic do not necessarily achieve what is intended: enlightening others about the issues at hand. We are talking about people who probably have heard the statistics regarding say, violence against trans women. And they don’t care. They simply seek subtler and subtler arguments to justify their hate. People are literally *dying* because of the issues mentioned above (reproductive rights and trans* rights and visibility). People are dying and they still don’t care. They want to debate it. They want reason. Logic.

There isn’t enough logic in the world to convince me that there was any reason for Larry King to die. For their death to make sense. There are no justifications, no arguments, no logic to actions and social constructs that lead to the murder of children by children.


August 28, 2011


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.