when I'm trying to say what I think but you think I'm insulting you ...

Over the years I've definitely upset quite a few people by saying what I think - sometimes by carefully considered comments that still upset people, and sometimes by just unguardedly saying what I think. Reflecting on the pattern in this, they are comments where I was suggesting (or people thought I was suggesting) that they (or someone else) was being sexist, or racist, or not environmentally sustainable.

I'd say this pretty well covers the gamut of why I have been banned from Hoyden about Town and Crooked Timber and the extensive arguments that preceded those bans. In the case of Hoyden About Town, it was a while ago and I don't still have the reasons that the blog owner, Tigtog, gave for banning me, but as I remember it was that I upset people. This was following many heated discussions over sexism on the former Larvatus Prodeo blog (where Tigtog was a moderator) and a comment I'd made to another commenter on Hoyden about Town, which possibly suggested that she (the other commenter) was being a bit insensitive about racism.

The Crooked Timber banning was similarly complicated, but basically followed many arguments about sexism and ecological issues, culminating in a discussion where I suggested that the blogger, John Holbo (an associate professor of philosophy) sounded as if he was possibly taking a 'reasonable man' approach to issues and wasn't thinking from a more feminist and ecologically aware perspective.  (If you think that sounds potentially like a reasonable criticism, I agree, but John Holbo apparently thought it was a terrible insult.)

This dispute culminated in an offline email exchange between us in which he told me that I wasn't capable of making arguments, and I said to him that I was going to publish that comment (and did, although rather obscurely) and he said that by publishing it out of context (ie not publishing our whole email exchange) I was behaving unethically (I think that was the gist) and that was well as banning me from commenting on his posts, he was going to ask all his fellow bloggers on Crooked Timber to ban me too. Which he apparently did. It strikes me as petty, but there you go. One day I will publish the full email exchange and see if that makes it better.

Anyway there are also other incidents which I won't go into here, but which make me think that if you say things that can possibly be taken as suggesting that the people you are speaking too are being racist, sexist or environmentally destructive, it can cause deep offence. This reminds me of one of the speakers in the Climate Change and Public Health unit that I coordinate, who said that when she first became an environmental sustainability advocate in her organisation, people who had formerly been at ease with her seemed to become unfriendly (my summary from my recollections, not her words).

So - it seems that if we talk about issues such as unconscious sexism or racism, or environmental destruction, even in a generally progressive setting (which is the setting I've been talking about here), we are at risk of upsetting people. Possibly there is a deep reservoir of defensiveness and guilt involved. But clearly that doesn't mean - at least to me - that we should stop talking. That's why I set up this blog - recognising that speaking truthfully about the kind of society we live in is going to offend people, but that we still have to do it, and trying to find a way forward.

We (here in Australia, but also in other wealthy countries) live in a society which is profoundly unequal, built on racism and sexism, and environmentally unsustainable in its present form. Talking about that is going to upset people, but it has to be done.


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