Monday, July 19, 2021

x + y by Eugenia Cheng - a Roadmap to Collaboration Between Social Justice Movements

Spoiler alert: I discuss the central theme of the book x + y by Eugenia Cheng in this post. In the book, this theme isn't revealed till the middle. In the first chapters, the author explains the context from which the book is written so as to eliminate bias from those who believe in social justice and those who oppose it. If you are a person who makes quick conclusions, you are better off skipping this post and directly reading the book.



It sometimes happens that feminists are accused of casteism, anti-caste activists are accused of sexism, etc. How can that be? Can someone who understands the oppressive ways in which patriarchy works not understand the same oppression in caste system? Or vice versa?

What is the lowest common denominator of various schemes of oppression?

Why do scientists lie? How can we replace competition with collaboration?

Why does capitalism seem to be the "natural" state of society?

Why are hierarchies so hard to get rid of? And how to get rid of them?

These are some of the questions that are answered in x + y: A Mathematician's Manifesto for Rethinking Gender by Eugenia Cheng.

Imagine a bus stop where 100 people are waiting for a bus with 50 empty seats. What happens when the bus comes to the stop? In some places you see almost all of the people rushing towards the bus door in a tiny stampede with some folks staying back for the rush to settle down. 50 among those who rush do get a seat. All of the folks who stay back get no seat. If you don't rush, you don't get a seat.

At this point, the debate can be about whether it is ethical to rush or not. There can be nuanced statements made about who should be given priority in seat. Whether the physically stronger should be made to wait while those who are vulnerable gets a seat. Whether those who have been waiting the longest should get the seats first. Whether those who have the most urgent things to attend to should get the seats. And so on. These are all valid ways to analyze this situation.

But one can also discuss the reasons why there are only 50 seats. The reasons that force people to rush. And the possibilities of changing the system altogether such that there are no advantages to being selfish. Such that people can stop worrying about individuals and start thinking about everyone.

That's the central theme of Eugenia Cheng's book. The individual centered (selfish) character traits are called "ingressive" characters and the society centered character traits are called "congressive" traits. And Eugenia Cheng is eager to ensure that readers look at this as a different dimension of looking at the problem and not as a way to replace the existing dialogues.

Eugenia Cheng thereby introduces two very valuable words to discuss problems in the society. These words are not connected to the background from which people come. Gender/race/caste doesn't directly lead to ingressive traits or congressive traits. There are indirect correlations. But the point of the book is to avoid looking at the correlations and start looking at the traits in each individual in an intersectional way. x + y is a classic in intersectional thinking.

More importantly, x + y is an extremely practical guide on what to do about the deeper problems. Awareness of the problem doesn't equate to solving the problem. x + y introduces a framework of thinking through which we can systematically destroy the oppressive notions ingrained in our societies. It is a tool of liberation for all victims of the system, irrespective of their privileges. It is an effective way of changing the "system".

It is a must-read for everyone who cares about social justice movements and equity.

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Thursday, July 15, 2021

Hatred Based on Stereotypes Weaken Social Justice Movements

This post talks about stereotypes, emotions, justice, etc from the point of view of a savarna, cis-het male who lives in a metropolitan city. Like the post claims, nobody can eliminate stereotype/bias from their worldview and therefore this post includes some stereotypes/biases too.

Trigger warning: Detached discussion of emotions that makes it sound like I'm judging the emotions.


Let's assume a few things as truth.

One: Individuals cannot completely avoid stereotypes/biases. The human brain is a pattern recognition machine. It thinks through mental models of the world. It thinks through patterns. It thinks through stereotypes. The best an individual can do is to have a fairly nuanced and complicated outlook.

Two: There is a strong component of stereotypes in various kinds of oppression that we see in the society. Stereotypes are reinforced by other cognitive biases and logical fallacies. Human beings are susceptible to all these things. They use anecdotal evidence to "refute" comprehensive statistics. They think through emotions.



I make three arguments in this post.

One: Hatred is sometimes/often used in social justice movements.

Two: Stereotypes and hatred are connected.
Three: Stereotypes that strengthen hatred makes the politics of social justice movements weaker.

In this post, I do not make a judgement on whether the hatred is justified or not (It is almost always justified). I also do not talk about whether hatred is used in oppression (Oppression thrives on hatred).

What I do talk about is how some of the hatred in social justice movements arises from stereotypes and how avoiding this component of stereotype/hatred maybe beneficial to social justice movements.


Hatred in social justice movements

This might be amplified by twitter, but the specific emotions of disgust and hatred is sometimes/often seen used by activists who engage in social justice movements.

It can manifest as angry rants, snap judgement, judgemental comments, monologues, etc.

Activists might be using hatred intentionally as a tool to evoke response/engagement. They might also be using it unintentionally as a result of being psychologically triggered. This can be due to stress, burn-out, and other discomforts. This can be due to the burden of lived experience and/or trauma. But I argue that stereotypes also contribute to this emotion.


Contribution of stereotypes to hatred

Like I posited, stereotypes are unavoidably human. Activists in social justice movements also accumulate stereotypes and biases.
The logical fallacy of false dichotomy also maybe involved. Some activists start seeing people as "either for our cause, or against our cause".

This can contribute to hatred.


When hatred is based majorly on stereotype, the politics is weakened

Hatred based majorly on stereotype is harder to justify than hatred not based majorly on stereotype.

If hatred is based on stereotype, it also opens the opportunity for political opponents to call it as hypocrisy.

Such hatred can evoke reactive emotions from others and cause weakening of the political cause.


Arguments against my arguments

One: This is tone policing.
This is about tone. But I don't intend to make a blanket judgement about whether hatred is justified or not. I am suggesting a sharper use of hatred such that hatred does not become counter-productive.

Two: This ignores the hatred spewed by the opponents.

Yes, my target audience is social justice activists who are already aware of the context of how debates happen in social media, etc.

Three: It is easy for the privileged to say these.

Yes. I acknowledge my privileges in saying these. It is a suggestion for people who have the privilege to consider this.

Four: Read up "righteous indignation"

I have. I am on your side. I'm talking to you about strengthening your own politics. I'm not saying don't use hatred. I'm talking only about a specific instance of hatred that is based on stereotypes. And I'm not saying I'm right. I'm saying, perhaps this can be considered.
Five: This is not empirically tested.
True. I have not tested this empirically. This is just a theory now.
Six: This is sealioning.

Consider whether any friendly, meta-level discussion should be labeled as sealioning.

Seven: This post can be used by our political opponents as fodder to strengthen their politics against us.

I suppose. I'm sorry for posting this. But it's a thought I had.

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