on “call-out culture” and why I’m not into it
(and, side note, don’t think it’s a bullshit evasive term like “politically correct”)
firstly: to me, calling someone out primarily means calling them out for abuse or assault. that’s the context I first heard the term in. like confronting a rapist, for example. therefore, I really dislike the use of term call-out to mean political critique; I think it’s appropriative, and also paints the situation as much more serious and black-and-white than it likely is. but I’m gonna use it here because I think these associations of the term is part of why people use it and part of the dynamic I’m criticising. plus almost without exception it’s people who actually use the phrase “call-out” whose behaviour I have an issue with. they’re often people who seem to have read guides to calling out an abuser and over-applied that dynamic to relatively minor infractions.
basically the issue I have with the callout is that personal reactions to it are coded as irrelevant defense mechanisms. when the personal is totally and only political, it ceases to exist as a category worth paying attention to. so the only valid response to a call-out that you think is unfair or cruel is to deploy a counter-callout. it becomes a kind of theoretical arms race, and the winner is the person who can spot the most structural influence on an individual shitty interaction.
see: all the posts talking about how call-out culture can trigger anxiety, or rely on racist or classist norms of language use, or in some other way reinforce oppression. all these things are true! but sometimes I think the salient issue is just that people are being total fucking assholes.
yeah, everything is political on some level, but that’s not always the only or even the most important thing going on in an individual interaction. (see also: people mistaking their individual feelings of alienation for political marginalisation.) and while being an asshole affects marginalised people in particular ways, and has a political element like everything does, sometimes the best and most useful way to conceptualise someone’s behaviour is just “god, what an asshole”.
in particular, while it’s nobody’s especial duty to hold people’s hand, I think it’s unreasonable to expect to maintain a personal relationship with someone you are constantly harshly critiquing. that’s an unequal dynamic and it can verge on psychological abuse.
like, do people know the history of the radical political critique? we know that we’re not the first people ever to think of anything, right? it’s not always good and healthy. forcing people to submit to political criticism they were not permitted to answer back to was a key tactic of totalitarian Leftist re-education schemes in the twentieth century; it was also a key factor in the brainwashing of radicals into cult-like terrorist collectives. so telling people that they cannot ever argue with a critique — that they just have to suck it up and apologise — is kind of terrifying to me. those who do not remember their history are doomed to repeat it, and all that.
when I criticise people’s politics, particularly people I expect to have personal contact with in non-activist settings, it’s really important to me that I do it in a way that respects them and doesn’t degenerate into personal abuse. yeah, it’s easy to say that they shouldn’t take it personally, but if you KNOW that a particular way of framing a critique is going to reduce someone to a puddle of cringing self-consciousness, why the hell would you go ahead and do it that way? that’s not ethical and it’s not effective.
and don’t tell me you just can’t control your rage, that’s bullshit, you’re not talking like that to your shitty sexist boss, are you? I get pissed off as much as the next person. but I do the mature thing and vent to my friends or, like, my tumblr (that’s what it’s for!). when I’m trying to figure out how to tackle an issue I have with an individual, I wanna focus on what’s effective, not on what I think will make me feel better.
and, yeah, on what’s KIND. kindness by definition is not given to people because they deserve it. I want to stop focusing on who deserves what. it’s so gross. we all deserve nothing and everything.
and it’s true that sometimes people are acting in bad faith and you just need to blast them and make it clear that what they’re saying is completely unacceptable. but sometimes people are open to learning. while a lack of evil intent certainly doesn’t make oppressive speech or action harmless, it does and should change the way I want to speak to the person responsible.
basically this whole issue reminds me of an interaction I observed many years ago. a younger female friend of mine was being introduced to an older, much larger, male friend. she reached out with her left hand to shake hands.
he said “that’s SO rude, don’t you know it’s the RIGHT hand” and, looming over her, grabbed her right hand and shook it, squeezing the knuckles painfully.
using the “rules” of etiquette to establish dominance
using your superior knowledge of something that is supposed to make human interactions better to make them worse
i really really appreciate this post
and it also points to this other thing that goes on in the tumblrverse and activist communities that function kind of like it -
- where language schematics become like this sole/central point of activism, and language activism almost gets held above any other type of action for social change: you might be a very thoughtful and dedicated organizer who’s worked for a longass time on the ground or in critical non-profits or NGOs, but if you don’t use exactly the right words, you’re just some privledged asshole who doesn’t give a shit about other people
it’s so fucking disrespectful and mean, and it allows people to make excuses for building insular little mutually-reinforcing communities/posses/cliques that shield them from being critiqued or challengedfrom browcatastrophe-deactivated2013
another way to pay more to be unique
[…] and crafting takes a lot of time. most people don’t have the time to make their own soap and their own bread and their own scarves. especially if it’s actually going to cost them more. like, there is pretty much nothing more middle-class than those books on making quirky stuffed foxes out of felt. (confession: I like quirky stuffed foxes made out of felt.) it’s just another way to pay more to be unique, which is pretty much the defining ethic of late capitalism.
I’m not saying people should stop making craft or art, just that we shouldn’t overstate the political importance of craft in itself as a radical practice. make practical and non-whimsical shit (like this Afghan wireless network infrastructure made out of oil drums), or sell cross-stitched bookmarks and baby booties to fund community projects (like older women at church fundraisers have done for decades) and then we’ll talk.
liked all of this post quite a lot - and the fact that it’s often significantly more expensive or detrimentally time- and energy-consuming to DIY than to not is really worth proliferating in radically/punky/etc spaces
shag likes to call this dynamic artisanal politics, and has written a lot of great cranky rants over the years about what a ridiculously prominent place it’s gained in a lot of leftyish spaces over the past several years
i don’t have time right now to link to as much of her work as i’d like to ‘cause it’s mostly really good stuff; and she’s done a good job of critiquing related stuff: anyone-can-eat-well-if-they-just-try bullshit, obsessive ‘artisanal parenting’, etc.from browcatastrophe-deactivated2013
"So, why the emphasis on luxury goods for fair trade?"
it’s fine to buy Fair Trade but don’t act like you’re bringing down capitalist oppression. the Fair Trade movement is about creating privileged consumer choices — other choices need to exist to be a contrast to Fair Trade products.
did you know there was an equivalent to fair trade back in the nineteenth century? you could buy sugar that was certified non-slave-grown and there was a big movement to boycott slave-grown sugar. as far as I can tell this consumer movement did fucking jack shit to bring down the institution of slavery — it simply created an extra market.
is an even more awesome word for leftist than ‘leftist’
has a ring to it