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The Perfect World argument

Lately, as I've gotten more into feminism and related forms of social justice, I've come up with what I've found to be a way of addressing a lot of the criticisms people have to certain techniques used in SJ theory. I'm sure someone else has thought of this in some form or other, but I've never seen it quantified, and I find it really effective when pointing out the flaws in many of these critiques. I call it the Perfect World argument.

I'm sure if you're at all interested in or on the side of social progress you've heard someone resent what they usually call "reverse whatever-ism," such as when some compensatory preference is given to a member of a disadvantaged group, or when a member of a majority/privileged group is not welcome in a space or conversation. For example, when white people are told that it is not for them to weigh in on certain racial issues because they are white, or when men are excluded from certain feminist spaces because they are men. This offends a lot of people, often because they are so accustomed to their privileged status that it is difficult for them to be forced to take a subordinate position in anything, but also because they think to themselves that if discrimination based on sex or color is a bad thing, it is a bad thing in any case, so men or white people should be no more excluded than people of other genders or races.

This is flawed because it is an example of what I call the Perfect World argument. It is a theory that, in pure raw theory-land, is technically correct. That "technical correctness" is what a lot of critics hinge on to justify their objection. It is even something that social justice agrees on (in its purely theoretical state.) But it is not a valid argument because it assumes social conditions other than situation at hand being perfect-- that no larger inequalities exist already that require mending or compensating for. The equivalent of trying to find the actual speed of a racehorse when you're assuming the horse is spherical and the track without friction. The "Perfect World" in this case would be one that was not systemically racist and sexist, where all examples of racism and sexism occurred on a micro-scale between individuals as opposed to being an undercurrent that affects us all unconsciously to some level or another. In that world, any behavior that contributes to less of the injustice at hand in any sense, in any case, is a net positive. In that most generous interpretation, I understand people without a huge amount of study into the state of social justice who are otherwise well-meaning defaulting to that seemingly logical perspective. They may even think that by speaking out against ALL prejudiced behavior, they are modeling correct behavior for others.

But we DO live in a world that is systemically full of bias. And not all kinds of bias, either, there is obviously a substantially greater amount of prejudice against people of color than white, and women and gender-variant than men. The scales are already so unbalanced that you are not actually aiding in the cause of bringing more justice into the world by advocating for somebody who already has significantly fewer disadvantages. So when you, for example, stand up for the right of a white person to contribute to a conversation about and for people of color, you are actually just making yet another example of privileging white voices-- you've added another drop in bucket of white presence and representation while taking a scoop out of the much small bucket of the presence of people of color. It's assuming your racetrack is so frictionless and your horses are so spherical that your calculus for the speed they're moving at is a million miles off.

So, "Perfect World Argument"-- a point of view that isn't exactly wrong in a pure theory sense, but assumes outside conditions being equal when they are not, and so is not applicable to the situation under the conditions in which it actually exists. I have found this a really helpful concept for explaining to people why a lot of pure theories are not appropriate to real world justice issues. People tend to respond better to hearing, "Well, you're not wrong in theory, but it doesn't account for all the uncontrolled variables."

Comments

blendedchaitea
Oct. 23rd, 2013 11:28 am (UTC)
It depends on how you define any given "-ism." There's the simple "any sort of discrimination based on X trait" vs. "discrimination based on X trait that travels down a power gradient." Is a safe space for women and trans* folks sexist? Depends on which definition you use.

I would argue that safe spaces for people of color/women + trans* folks/disabled folks/whichever axis of the kyriarchy we're analyzing today shouldn't completely shut down the voices of generally-privileged allies (as a side note, I would argue shutting down oppressive voices in a safe space is totally okay seeing as it is a safe space and all), but instead privileges those voices that don't get to be heard as much in the general world.

Hence, why "what about the menz??" gets such scorn in feminist-oriented places. Men's concerns ARE the top concerns of the general populace (there are exceptions, but for the vast majority of the time it holds true), and it's nice to have a women + trans*folk space where our concerns take top priority.
neuromancerzss
Oct. 23rd, 2013 08:49 pm (UTC)
I define it as the former and view the latter as a judgment of its value. Not all discrimination is bad and when someone starts to make tortured definitions such that loaded words can only apply to one group it's hard not to question how much of their argument is based in passion rather than reason.

I think safe spaces, affirmative action, Curves, etc. are all perfectly fine forms of discrimination. I think they're also kind of blunt instruments likely to cause problems along the way, but they generally provide more good than harm. They're "good enough", but they're not really great, and resting on them as the ideal solution doesn't do anyone any favors.

I would disagree with your last paragraph. Men's concerns aren't really top concerns for society so much as society has baked in deep historical and structural privileges that benefit them. There's a difference between passively inheriting power and actively pursuing it. The latter view practically requires an antagonistic relationship, which is never going to be particularly fruitful, while the former presents a problem both sides can work together to undo.

About Me

My name is Phoebe. I'm Boston area theater professional and English professor focused in writing, acting, directing, and modeling. I'm known for having lots of interests, lots of opinions about those interests, and a very high estimation of the value thereof. This blog is for talking about whatever's on my mind, from my daily life to my activities to musing on any number of abstract topics. Thanks for taking the time to read.

My productions:

Upcoming Productions:



MRS. HAWKING part 2 and 3


at the Watch City Steampunk Festival 2016

presented by The Chameleon's Dish

Vivat Regina
by Phoebe Roberts

at 2PM

and

Base Instruments
by Phoebe Roberts

at 6PM

Saturday, May 13th 2017
at 274 Moody Street, Waltham, MA

Other Achievements:

"The Tailor at Loring's End" screenplay
Quarter Finalist in the Final Draft Big Break Screenwriting Competition 2013

"Adonis" screenplay
Top Ten Percent in the Bluecat Screenwriting Contest 2015

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