As a typically egotistical author, I’ve got Google alerts to let me know when people are talking about me or my books. This week, I saw a number of links to my letter to Elizabeth Moon, including a few people who said they appreciated the letter, but were turned off by the comments praising how “reasonable” I was being.
That stuck with me. Isn’t reasonableness a good thing? I was brain-fried by that point, and had to tuck it away in my head because I couldn’t quite parse it … until another commenter popped up to say he was talking to me because of my reasoned take on things, “unlike 85% of the poo-hurling monkeys.”
That comment helped me crystallize how the “reasonable” thing could become a problem.
For one thing, as was pointed out by another commenter, I’m not Muslim. I’m not directly, personally hurt by prejudice against Muslims, meaning it’s easier for me to be step back and be “reasonable.” Taking that further, if you restrict your conversations to only those you deem reasonable, it seems like you could ignore a disproportionate number of those most directly affected … those whose experiences are most worth listening to. (I’m still sorting this one out, so feel free to poke my logic here.)
There’s also the dynamic of telling victims of prejudice they must be this reasonable before we’ll listen. Putting the onus not on those who committed the offense, but on the victims, and simultaneously creating a movable bar which can be used as an excuse to stop listening.
And we shouldn’t skip the irony of protesting that “those people” are too angry and insulting, while simultaneously telling those “poo-hurling monkeys” and “PC Nazis” to “stuff it where the sun don’t shine.”
Finally, the question of “How can they expect reasoned discourse if they’re so angry/belligerent/etc.?” misses the point that maybe “they” aren’t interested in discussing things with you right now.
Let’s say someone writes an editorial in Springield, Missouri to complain about the books in his schools, asking “How can Christian men and women expose children to such immorality?” Maybe he picks a novel about rape and recovery, which he characterizes as a filthy, demeaning book, labeling it soft pornography.
I could write a calm, reasoned response explaining that rape =/= sex, and discussing the importance of students having access to stories and information about rape.
But maybe I’ve done so many of those posts about rape issues that I’m just plain tired. Maybe this week I don’t have the sporks for it. After spending years as a counselor and rape educator, talking to people who didn’t realize how prevalent rape was, or who had no reference to understand what had been done to them because people are so eager to silence any discussion of or reference to rape, maybe I’m too pissed to want any sort of dialogue with a guy like this or his supporters right now. Maybe I just need to be angry, to say that if he had his head any further up his ass, he’d collapse into a singularity.
I usually try for the calm, “reasonable” approach. I appreciate comments and disagreement, and I love the discussions people have here. That’s my choice. I do it knowing people will disagree. I know I’ll get more comments calling me a PC Nazi, or telling me to die in a fire. It happens. Freedom of speech =/= Freedom from criticism or disagreement.
To be clear, I’m not criticizing those who said they appreciated the tone of my letter. I spent a lot of time on that post, and I was very glad for the reassurance that I accomplished what I tried to do. But I think I also understand a little better how, when taken further, the “reasonable” thing can become problematic.
Like I said, I’m still sorting all of this out in my head. So discussion and thoughts are very much welcome. Even if they’re “unreasonable.”