Last year, a friend paid me a compliment that I treasure. He and I disagree on a number of things, but he praised me for never stating an opinion without knowing my reasons for it. Without trying to congratulate myself, I’ve been realizing that we really need a lot more of that.
My thinking on this topic began with a comic I saw:
Is that comic intended to promote feminist thinking, or to mock it? I genuinely can’t tell. That led me to spend almost three hours writing out my thoughts on feminism — but I won’t be sharing those thoughts with you. I want to explain why.
I’m sure there’s some good stuff in there, and some original thinking, and some might find it thought-provoking, or perhaps even infuriating. But I won’t publish it, because my views are not well enough developed to fling them at the public. Besides, if I really have something truly original and important to say about feminism, it will miss its audience if I put it on this blog.
I know people who think political activism is a moral imperative. And yes, there are things that require one to speak up, though those things are usually not what most people think they are, and in fact they are often not even political. There are bigger fish to fry.
We talk a lot about definitions here. That’s because definitions matter. I’ve noticed a lot of people who think they have found a magic formula for moral virtue: just oppose, let’s say, racism (or homophobia, or selfishness, or whatever else their leaders or elders have told them is bad). Just speak out against that, they think, and they can go to bed patting themselves on the back for having fought the good fight, not noticing that the stand they’ve taken requires not courage but obedience, not noticing that they haven’t even defined what racism is, not realizing that a valid definition is the only tool that can distinguish a thing from what it is not — and so they deliver themselves wholly into the power of people who are eager to take advantage of their ignorant zeal, and who have way too much to gain by doing so. Some end up avidly promoting that which they claim to oppose, because they did not bother to understand their topic before taking a stand on it. And confusion reigns, while men of ill intent prosper.
So I find myself thinking: wouldn’t the state of our culture and its political discourse be so much better, from barstools to the New York Times, if people waited to spout off until they knew what they were talking about?
That’s why I’m not sharing my not-fully-formed thoughts about feminism. Because there are bigger fish to fry — and if I spewed out those unfinished thoughts, I’d be telling you that I’m not even aware of it.
I’m not calling for skepticism, which cruelly, and in blatant self-contradiction, attempts to teach the mind that it cannot learn (and ultimately leads to the same impotent confusion). Instead, I’m calling for reason, which is an entirely different thing, something that leads to actual knowledge and valid definitions, which way too many people regard as either optional or undesirable.
But judging from the fact that most people’s thinking resembles a collection of bumper stickers, I’m not holding my breath.