This tactic is essentially an extreme straw argument so pervasive that it distorts public opinion of a group. It involves making mostly completely reasonable statements and destroying the credibility of the opposition through implying that they disagree with those reasonable statements WHEN THEY DO NOT, or when those “reasonable statements” are only unreasonable on very close inspection. Cause, why would you even argue that an obvious thing is true if nobody is opposing it? It’s a subtle means of committing mass character assassination through repeating “common sense”.
It takes the form:
I believe the sky is blue.
Don’t listen to anyone who thinks the sky is not blue.
The sky is blue and tangerine.
Don’t let them tell you different because they think the sky is not blue.
This is used extensively by climate deniers.
The world is not going to end tomorrow. This is ridiculous! Look outside? Do you see fire and brimstone coming from the sky? Did you know that someone lost their job for standing up to these fear mongers? The east-coast is not going to fall into the sea. We have nothing to fear from continuing to use our planet’s resources. These climate change frauds are just trying to scare us. They have no real credibility.
The way you can tell that someone is using this tactic or has fallen into it’s spell is that they will NOT cite actual, living, breathing, people and the real arguments those people are making. Ever. They can’t. The arguments they are fighting against are imaginary. Instead they cite ONE ANOTHER or rail against the undefined THEM. Occasionally they quote mine without attribution or citation; or cite an anonymous person (or worse yet a vulnerable young person) from the ass-end of the internet.
What’s really horrible about this tactic is that it also poisons the well. Trying to have a conversation with someone who thinks they already know your stance and are completely wrong, is irritating. Many times I’ve lost my temper and just asked, flat-out, “Who the hell are you talking to, cause it’s not me?!”
A certain portion of the anti-feminist crew revel in fighting against their own elaborate straw feminists, occasionally attempting to legitimize their obvious distortions by claiming they are only talking about the “radical” ones or the “feminazis” and not the REAL FEMINISTS. Well, no shit you aren’t arguing against REAL feminists, because real feminists aren’t sacrificing babies to Goddess Sophia or actually plotting to kill all men.
To top it off, there are false flags literally playing theater in this collective farse. An extreme example was the #endfathersday twitter prank. I have to give them credit where credit is due: They get an E for Effort.
Because, sorry boys, I’m grading on a curve. While the anti-feminists are wallowing around on 4chan and Return of Kings raging against their own fears and calling it “feminism”, the TERF crew is getting paid to play pretend by writing op-ed pieces in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
And no, I’m not going to talk about the whole “trans cabal silences gender-crit feminists” thing, the redefinition of “cis”, or other straw arguments I’ve written about recently. They don’t quite rise to the level of accusing your political opponents of wanting to kill all men or believing the world will end tomorrow.
This can best be described as a massive elaborate live action role-playing game for the intellectual elite.
Acknowledging that most gender non-conforming children will not grow up trans is not denying trans people’s reality or denying them rights.
— Alice Dreger (@AliceDreger) September 3, 2015
— 4thWaveNow (@4th_WaveNow) September 2, 2015
For anyone not in the know, all of this looks incredibly reasonable. I mean, the sky is blue, the world will not end tomorrow, killing all men is a bad idea, nobody should force gender non-conforming children into medical transition….all those really reasonable sounding things.
But from the view point of reality, they might as well be running around with character sheets playing rock-paper-scissors with a narrator explaining, “You are brave heroins fighting against the forces of evil who will not stop until all tom boys are literally boys and every girl who ever said she wanted to be a boy THRICE! will magically grow a penis.”
So, how to combat this one?
Those tweets are related to an article written by Debra Soh. Natacha Kennedy from Uncommon Sense did a wonderful succint point-by-point take-down and shared it with Soh. Soh tweeted this several hours afterward:
The tweet links to this bullshit. (Which deserves a post all it’s own.)
Take-downs, however carefully written, are often met with more of the same. The opposition accuses them of making arguments or demands that they never made, or simply attacks their character.
With climate deniers this involves accusing people of being shills, asserting their right to have an opinion (as if that is being questioned), or calling their opponents naive or brainwashed. It seldom involves actually engaging honestly with the points raised because the person they are engaging with is REAL and has REAL opinions, not outlandish cartoon versions of those opinions that are easily dismissed.
Here are two very different approaches to engaging directly:
Be accommodating and super nice (if that’s your thing):
- Concede all of the “sky in blue” points.
- Explain that you’ve never personally encountered anyone who didn’t believe that the sky was blue.
- Establish your common ground of blue-sky-ism, then earnestly express your concerns about those tangerine bits.
Of course you should be free to talk about your experiences as a gender non-conforming youth. I don’t personally know anyone who would deny you that and appreciate that you have shared your perspective. I do worry, however, that readers may universalize your experience too strongly and assume that their own children will not benefit from transition care when it is needed which is often the default assumption. I strongly disagree that children, as a rule, should be forced into an irreversible puberty and denied transition care regardless of their individual circumstances. If that is not the argument you were attempting to make, it simply wasn’t completely clear.
Attack the unspoken assumptions head-on and call them out:
- Insist that they cite a source for “the sky is not blue”.
- Ask them for evidence of their base assumptions.
- Call out their misinformation and bad arguments.
Who is telling you that you can’t speak about your experiences? Who is confusing gender-non-conformity with trans identity besides you right now? Do you have a link to their comments? In what jurisdiction are minors allowed to take prescription medication legally without consultation of medical professionals? Where are KIDS being provided surgeries? At what age are surgeries generally considered an option? Do you even know? Do you really think that parents and medical professionals are pushing trans identities on gender non-conforming children? Do you even know what the standard practices of care are? On what planet do you reside? Because on planet earth trans kids are routinely being denied social transition, denied medical treatment, and have to fight their schools just to go to the bathroom – not pushed into transition on a lark. That’s asinine and your implication that since transition isn’t right for everyone that it isn’t completely necessarily for anyone is harmful. Putting your credentials behind your ill-informed article is professionally irresponsible.
Well, the second approach won’t make you friends – but it will get a little more frustration out. The danger with the second approach is that your reaction will undoubtedly be used as “evidence” of the existence of the raging anti-blue-sky cult.
But often, especially in this circumstance, you aren’t trying to convince the person you’re talking to but other people reading the conversation or who might read your article setting the record straight. That will, hopefully, eventually lead to the public having access to a more real reality.