[This post and previous discussion truncated.]

since I make clear that they can not actually cripple me with self-doubt, they do everything they can to cripple others with self-doubt. This forces me and mine to defend not only against the infliction of direct challenges to our senses of self, but to (over-)extend ourselves to reach others for the same kind of defense. That’s not merely harder to do, it’s also not actually within our power to do. And even if it was, it’s certainly not ethical to do unilaterally.

They know this, which is why second-order attacks and whisper campaigns are so effective. That they would resort to these tactics without questioning who these whisper campaigns actually harm (i.e., that they harm survivors who have consistently shown a great self-motivated desire to have access to the anti-violence technology we build) reveals their abusiveness to anyone with even a shred of perspective on the matter.


I left this alone for a while because I needed to think about it. But something Unquietpirate said in the post you pinged me added a dimension I’d been trying to put into words. How much energy it takes a person to defend a thing they believe in, when doing so puts them in conflict with vocal, angry people, is not a fixed quantity. It’s something they can learn to do with reduced wear and tear (and less fear of wear and tear, as they develop confidence) and get less worn out doing. This is the specific skill that mainstream activism blocks people from developing, first by victim-blaming the people who are being most viciously attacked by the opposition, but overall by presenting burn out as totally normal, as opposed to … a thing that happens when you’re fighting really hard with no clue how to mitigate the effect of constant invalidation, opposition, and emotional abuse being aimed at you.

Trying to make your allies stand with you no matter what would be impossible and/or abusive. But making them aware of ways to develop the strengths you have isn’t.

Tagging idlnmclean on this because I want their input. I have misgivings, but my impression is that most people who abuse this kind of power already have ample access to it. And people with marginalized identities tend to be so caught up fearing that what they do might make them just like their abusers (if they switch to less self-doubt and more effective tactics) that few of them deliberately learn how to fight without sacrificing their spoons and emotional well being in the process. And IME, you self teach or you don’t learn, because no one is talking about this. Thoughts?

Yes to all of this, cool-yubari. Much of what I’m reading here is stuff I feel like I’ve said before in my own way in “Complicity with Abuse: 101-level information social justice hobbyists are dangerously ignorant of,” but you explicitly add the scenario of burn out and I think you’re spot on.

But there’s also a piece about the social justice hobbyists (or “pop social justice scene’sters” or “social justice warriors” or whatever you want to call the various cliques of social capitalists invested in winning the game of Social Hierarchy Chutes and Ladders with popularity points) that is relevant to this: their narrative of Social Justice as Melodrama. I want to be clear here that what I mean when I say melodrama is a specific literary style of storytelling that’s particularly prevalent in the United States of America, including and especially in political speech—and also notably in politician’s speeches.

In this common understanding of political storytelling, there are Bad Guys (oppressors), Good Guys (the oppressed), and Allies (innocent bystanders who take the side of the Good Guys against the Bad Guys). You may recognize this kind of story from movies such as Star Wars, The Princess Bride, or 3:10 to Yuma, each of which featured a down-on-their-luck hero, a seemingly overwhelmingly powerful villain, and a few sidekicks that ended up joining the heroes in their fight against the villains. The small subsection of American political rhetoric that we often see on the Internet characterized as “Social Justice” is not an exception to this political storytelling style, it is a microcosm.

There’s a lot wrong with Social Justice as Melodrama and a lot of recent discussions with rolequeer have implicitly but not yet explicitly touched on them. But the biggest problem with Social Justice as Melodrama relevant to our conversation here is the un-self-critical self-righteousness with which heroes are cast as heroes and villains are cast as villains, neatly categorized and appropriately adorned with colors that won’t blend, music you can’t mistake, and a wide chasm that, if ever crossed, can never be retraced. “For once you start down the Dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will. As it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.

In social justice’s own rhetorical style, this is what’s known as dehumanization, and I find it patently ridiculous that so many pop social justice scene’sters are so blind to the ways they replicate this pattern when even a cursory look at all systems of oppression they claim to oppose so boldly are also melodramas: The People against Republicans (or conservatives or insert-your-opposing-political-party here) with the help of the Democrats (or progressives or insert-your-favorite-political-position-here), the good police officer against the bad criminal solves crimes with the help of good sumaritans, the loving parent raises the unruly child with the help of their caring teachers, the hardworking business owners successfully defeat the greedy tycoons with the help of their neighbors. These narratives cast complicity with abusive systems—State power, adult privilege, and capitalism—as good and moral without really reflecting on the ways in which the heroes of these tales are forced to do incredibly unethical things in the course of their heroism.

Because doing unethical or abusive things is something “they” do, not something “we” do. We’re the heroes. We’re social justice advocates. Of course.

People who argue, for instance, that Consent as a Felt Sense is “mostly a good idea” but then go on to argue that “we need a category for violative sexual assault that isn’t rape” (because apparently definitions of rape as non-consensual sexual behavior is “going too far”?) are doing Social Justice as Melodrama. In not so many words, they’re saying, “I think Consent as a Felt Sense is a good idea but we can’t face the possibility that we are or even could be rapists” because only villains are rapists and we’re heroes, remember? And every single time they suggest this, they also fail to suggest exactly how that category should be defined, because they can not ethically define those categories. And this is something I have pointed out over and over again and yet these scaffolds in support of the binary are either ignorantly or deliberately re-erected by frightened, cowardly pop social justice “feminists who do consent work.”

Shake. My. Head.

Here’s what I think this has to do with burn out: give yourself permission to be imperfect, and you give yourself permission to access many tools that make you more effective. Seriously interrogate your own ethics, that is, your agreements with yourself, and don’t shy away from the possibility that you will abuse people in pursuit of your goal, and you will be able to more quickly accomplish goals using less effort and also do fewer abusive things in the process—not none, fewer.

Because if you think you can never be abusive, you’re just casting yourself in a melodramatic role that guarantees you’ll dehumanize someone in the process. And I dunno about you, but I’d rather be effectively abusive against those who reify an abusive status quo than ineffectively cling to a moral high ground that is by definition just another social hierarchy.

Besides, empirically speaking, this method works. So. There’s that.