The connection between self-help fanatics and people who build walls of jargon.
I figured out something I couldn’t explain before about the way some people use social justice jargon.
A long time ago there was this time period when I’d keep meeting people who said they were really into self-improvement and 12 step groups and stuff. And the more intense the person was about saying this, the more I learned to back the hell off.
Because what they’d invariably done. Was they had taken a bunch of self-help slogans. And they had formed a weird sort of cocoon around themselves that (they thought) shielded them from responsibility and accountability. They also wanted the entire world to work like a 12 step meeting. Or at least like the kind of meetings they were used to going to.
And they had terrible boundaries when it came to other people. But if, as a moderator or otherwise, I told them they were hurting people, they’d quote slogans at me. “But my philosophy is take what you like and leave the rest. It’s not my fault she doesn’t know how to do that.” Actually saying “You need to back off. Now.” would result in some variant of “You’re shoulding all over me.” Because apparently it was wrong to tell anyone they should do anything. (Unless you’re them. In which case you can tell people to do stuff in the most invasive ways possible and that was fine.) And they wouldn’t care anyway because they’re learning how not to be codependent and in the process becoming utterly selfish. (Okay that was slightly snarky but you know what I mean.)
It was like no matter what they did, they had a slogan to explain why they did it, a slogan to defend why they should be able to do that, and to respond to any suggestion that no, no actually they should not be doing that.
In the case of social justice jargon, it’s more a way of arranging ideas and jargon terms than a way of using slogans. But the effect is the same. It runs like this: “Anything I do or say is okay because I’m oppressed. Anyone saying I’m wrong is oppressing me or colluding with my oppressors.” Everything else is curlicues and flourishes around the same ideas. But social justice jargon also offers countless words to parry responses to extremely specific situations. And sometimes the person is half right… But half oh so very wrong.
Note that I’m not saying that power imbalances and oppression aren’t real, nor that the people doing this are always wrong, nor that oppressed people are oppressing their oppressors, or any of the other crap they try to pin on anyone who takes issue with this whole thing. I’m saying that there’s ways of using these ideas that remove all accountability and responsibility for one’s actions. And where one always has the right words on hand to prove one is right and the other person is wrong. And that if a person isn’t very careful, they can fall in the trap of overusing this stuff as an excuse not to be accountable for anything.
It gets to the point where you can sit there and predict what the person will say before they say it. And that’s usually a bad sign. Because it means the system of ideas the person is using to handle confrontations with the world, is far too simplistic to actually deal with the world. And people get hurt like that. As in always.
There’s other situations where someone’s predictable and it’s okay of course. And if you know a person passably you’ll generally know what their opinions are, what explanations they normally fall back on, what topics they use scripts for, etc. But this is different. It’s like the person is using a very simple system to think for them, in areas where you just can’t do that without ending up hurting someone somewhere down the road. It’s hard to explain. Like something happening from the top down rather than the bottom up? That’s not it but it’ll have to do.
And there’s a huge difference between the way the people I’m talking about use the ideas and words, and the way other people do. There’s people who use this jargon. In meaningful ways sometimes, less meaningful others. But what I’m describing is more like someone being used by the jargon. And there’s a sharpness. Like the words are razor blades and knives cutting at my brain. Not sure if that’s metaphor or synesthesia or both.
A friend once gave me very good advice: If you’ve gone a long time without noticing you’re doing something wrong — really noticing, not just random guilt about how anything you do might be wrong — then you are doing something incredibly wrong. And it is time to take a really hard look at yourself to see what’s going on. Because nobody at all can avoid doing things wrong for long at all.
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