I’ve decided that I have really gotten tired of people “playing the devil’s advocate” in discussions about issues like feminism, racism, ableism, LGBQT rights, and so forth. These people are usually male, usually white, usually ablebodied, usually straight, and usually eager to point out that they don’t personally believe the point of view they’re bringing up, they’re just “playing the devil’s advocate” and trying to have a dialogue. And these people are generally the sorts of people who would probably say that they support things like equality.
And so they hammer and hammer and hammer. They keep right on as I feel increasingly upset and uncomfortable, increasingly flustered and frustrated, overwhelmed and irritated that people who claim to be my allies apparently have no problem trespassing well beyond the boundaries. And they think that they have somehow “won” when I finally give up and get out of the conversation because I can’t stand it any more, because it’s making me physically ill.
Because, here’s the thing. They aren’t “playing the devil’s advocate.” They are supporting the status quo. And while they might argue that I need to “think about the arguments of the other side” to better prepare myself to argue with people who genuinely believe these things, I already know what the arguments of the other side are. I don’t need to have them brought up as hypothetical points.
Because I hear them every day. I am living with the status quo.
These people are usually suffering from a surfeit of unexamined privilege which may make it difficult for them to understand the fact that they aren’t really contributing anything productive by “playing the devil’s advocate” or “disagreeing for disagreement’s sake.” These disagreements are not new. They don’t need to be advocated for. I hear, read, and see them every day, and it makes me really frustrated when conversations with people whom I think are friends turn into unsafe spaces, in which people are tormenting me with the same techniques which are routinely used to silence minority voices in the real world. I don’t need to have my “friends” silence me to “show me how the other side thinks,” because I already know how the other side thinks.
And sometimes I suspect that people “disagree for disagreement’s sake” because secretly they actually agree with the disagreements they are bringing up, because what I am saying is making them uncomfortable, or because they have never actually thought about the issues which I am discussing. They haven’t had to live with the reality of the kind of language and rhetoric which they are carelessly throwing at me, so they don’t consider how overwhelmingly depressing it is for me to hear it.
The thing is, I do think about what the other side thinks/says. I think about it every single minute of every fucking day, because it is repeatedly thrown at me, whether I am reading a newspaper or having a casual conversation with my father or making the unwise decision to read comments somewhere on the Internet. Or the comments on this very site, gentle readers, because let me assure you, the comments which make it through moderation represent only a tiny fraction of the comments I get on a daily basis; people with Google Alerts for “feminism” have a tireless need to spew hate and bile, trust me. And I even think about it when it’s not being thrown at me, because, yes, I do structure arguments and discussion with the tactics of the other side in mind, with the hopes of shooting down some of their responses before they even get a chance to be made.
But, and I don’t know if you have noticed this, the “other side” doesn’t really care about whether or not we are prepared anyway. They will effectively silence and ignore us whether or not we have thoughtful, well-reasoned responses. They will tell us that we are too angry if we raise our voices, too meek if we try to be reasonable.
Because the argument is actually already lost before you even start to have it.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.