TERF Tactics:
On Reason and Being Reasonable

In the UK, after over a decade of living under the Conservative party, we know what “polite fascism” is. We know how the Conservative party have tried to shake off their reputation as the “nasty party” and we can see clearly the extent to which their public relations strategy has worked — Boris Johnson has risen from the loveable, bumbling walking-PR-stunt to become the most disastrous prime minister this country has ever seen. We know — deeply — what it is like to have damaging and callous policies delivered to the electorate with a smile and a joke from a supposedly charming posho.

In philosophy circles, however, it seems that plenty of people still fall for that kind of bullshit, particularly when something like “rationalism” has been weaponised to mean not just “reason” but the loaded behavioural standard that is “being reasonable”.

What this means is: so long as a point is made with the calm tones of wise consideration, we are implored to take it seriously.

Previously, we’ve seen the argument made in this corner of the internet that “reasonableness” must always be respected, but anyone remotely engaged with the political landscape in this country knows that this is a hollow argument. In politics, it is used against the left at every turn, who are painted as hysterical and unreasonable for their unwillingness to accept the apparently considered idiocy of an elite that too often has real material consequences. In philosophy circles, however, it seems politics is routinely suspended by those who should know better, precisely at the moment that conversations are at their most political.

To write this here, I am sure I am mostly complaining to the converted, but having seen a discussion elsewhere about yet another TERF argument made through appeals to a calm rationality, it is clear the problem with philosophy Twitter isn’t going away. As such, I feel it warrants repeating at every opportunity.

We have all become experts at identifying the useful idiots amongst the elite, but too many of us remain incapable of calling a spade a spade when they push TERF talking points on the timeline. Reason is not exporting to the world Britain’s pathological commitment to politeness; it is thinking through the consequences of your actions. This is something that conservative thinkers like to obfuscate at every turn, precisely by deferring to their own politeness.

Fuck your politeness.

Update #1: It is unclear to me whether this post was responsible for Nina Power locking her Twitter account earlier today. The timing is certainly interesting. [As it turns out, it wasn’t my fault but the result of someone else calling her out on her bullshit.] Regardless, since the tweet hyperlinked above now goes nowhere, for anyone interested, it read as follows:

All human beings should be protected from violence. Nobody is disputing that. But it’s very clear that redefining words such as ‘man’ and ‘woman’ have serious legal, social, political implications — for multiple areas of public life, for sports, for reality.

This is a classic example of a conservative “reasonableness” colliding with an actually functioning reason. All human beings should be protected from violence, yes, but that level of protection is evidently very flimsy if it can be suspended so easily. (God forbid we are forced to complicate our understanding of “sports”…) This is the sort of reasonableness we see demonstrated by the Tory party constantly — we do in fact care about the people of this country, they insist, until it results in their privileged lives being even slightly inconvenienced, then it is best for us to suspend those protections until we’ve resolved the discussion.

This allows the likes of Power and others to keep going on about “culture wars” as a way to filibuster their way out of any responsibility towards societal change. It is reason as reasonableness, in service of bigotry at worst and cowardice at best.

Update #2: An excellent summary of the stakes (and the proper use of reason in response to critique) by Patricia Reed:

100%, “being reasonable” describes a temperament, not the activity of reasoning, which implies thinking the ramifications of a certain position, as best as possible. Good Faith colleagues then let you know where oversights are, you revise because: reason. [1]

And the derivative “be realistic” which amounts to a command to adhere to existing norms, a tautological defence of given categories, despite objective harms that configuration unleashes upon certain real bodies. [2]

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