I want to identify a common pattern that occurs across all sorts of political and quasi-political arguments. The pattern is this:
Alice opposes a certain ideology. She thinks the ideology is a significant factor in a wide variety of problems. She has many opinions and notions which are based entirely on opposing that ideology, or correcting its errors. She has a tendency to see the ideology in many people, including people who don’t see it in themselves.
I would describe Alice as recoiling from an opposing ideology. That ideology takes up a large amount of conceptual space in her mind. Many things are seen in relation to that ideology. This can be particularly frustrating when you interact with Alice, and she sees you in relation to the ideology she opposes. Alice tends to think you’re either with her or against her.
In the past, I’ve described this as Alice as being “reactionary”, since her views are based on a reaction against the opposing ideology. I switched to a synonym for two reasons. First, “reactionary” is sometimes defined as a particular variety of far right-wing politics. Second, “reactionary” has a negative connotation, and I want a more neutral term. When someone recoils from an idea, I’m not saying that’s good or bad–it could be either. Maybe Alice is recoiling too much and it blinds her. Or maybe she’s recoiling exactly the right amount.
I think it would be helpful to provide a few examples. Each example expresses the views of someone who is recoiling; some of them represent my own views, and some do not. The goal here is to describe at least one example where you sympathize with the recoil, and at least one example where you think the recoil is wrong.
- Racism is everywhere. White over-representation pervades media. Discrimination happens on a frequent basis, even when people are not aware of it. I never believe a person who says “I’m not racist but…”, and I’m suspicious of self-proclaimed allies.
- Tumblr SJWs are a particularly vocal minority who want to censor our free speech, and blame every chance misfortune on racism or sexism. By poisoning the well, and creating a rage machine, they become responsible for some of the very problems they complain about. When an SJW defends themselves by saying they’re not even on tumblr, that’s besides the point, because it’s about the ideology, not the website.
- I don’t so much support Democrats as I oppose the Republicans. They are only out to help the wealthy, start wars, and oppose minority’s rights. I am not overreacting to them, they make up about half the voting populace in the most powerful country in the world. People who proudly declare themselves moderate are basically boasting about how they’re only halfway evil.
- The problem with religious fundamentalists is that they’re so dogmatic, but I see that same dogmatism in many atheists. They’re not content to keep their beliefs to themselves, but persist in screaming at us that God is dead and religion is the root of all evil. I think it’s clear that atheism is becoming just another religion.
It can be frustrating when you agree with someone, but think that they recoil far too much against their opponents. It’s tempting to attribute their recoil to a lack of self-reflection. People don’t see how they get all twisted up over what are essentially giant pet peeves. It can be especially frustrating when they start to see you as an opponent, simply because you don’t toe the line on every single point. It feels like they have hyperactive pattern-matching, and somehow they’ve matched you to a pattern they really don’t like.
On the other hand, when you’re the person recoiling, everything feels reasonable and justifiable. You’re not overreacting, other people are underreacting. It can be frustrating to deal with people who say they agree with you, but obviously fail to see the great importance of the issue. Or they say they agree with you, but they really aren’t helping by bringing up a long list of technical complaints and offering unsolicited “advice”. They’re frustated with you, but they don’t see, as you do, how easily and how frequently your opponents masquerade as reasonable gadflies.
Dear readers, you have probably experienced the frustrations of recoil on both sides. I am not saying you are right or wrong. What I’m saying is that you already have the necessary tools to see the other person’s point of view.