Release The Scotsman: Responsible Use of Fallacies
There’s a trend when it comes to talking to people about the negative elements of communities they’re involved in. When people don’t double down and simply deny that there are nasty folks in their community, they like to play the “well they’re not a REAL feminist/atheist/kinky person/purple people eater.” This is known as the No True Scotsman fallacy, and it’s annoyingly common.
Understandably, few people like to be called out on using fallacies, so a typical response to getting called out is something like “Well I still don’t like them and I don’t want them around so they don’t count to me.” I often find myself responding to No True Scotsman call outs by saying “I know they’re technically part of feminism/atheism/people on Tumblr, but I really don’t condone what they’re doing and I have no desire to be associated with them. I don’t know why you’re talking to me about what they did, I hate it as much as you do.”
But that’s kind of bullshit. All of us have to collect our folks when they’re doing inappropriate shit, and if we want to avoid Scotsman accusations we have to be willing to recognize that even the people we hate can be and often are parts of the movements that we are part of.
Then again, we can’t all be held responsible for the behavior of every single other person who uses the same labels we do. There has to be a way for me to respond to White Feminists that isn’t just a No True Scotsman but doesn’t necessarily say “yup, these are my people!”
What are the behaviors someone has to do in order to be responsible towards the shitty members of their groups? Are there times that it isn’t fair to use No True Scotsman just because someone is trying to distance themselves from other members of their movements?
No you are not personally responsible for every other person in your movements. But if you want to distance yourself from the shitty elements, you have to do actual work. Meaning you actually have to distance yourself by saying “That is not appropriate stop doing that.” You also have to take actions. If the person is behaving in a shitty manner towards trans people, step up and say “I 100% believe that trans women are women.” Use preferred pronouns, don’t make trans identities the butt of jokes, and call out those who are doing the opposite. Essentially, do your own work and be a good ally or activist by calling out bad behavior when you see it*.
If you are doing your own work, if you are stepping up to the plate to try to improve your movement and community, if you are denouncing the awful actions of the shitty people in your movement, then and only then do you get to say “I did my best to change that part of feminism/atheism/etc. Those are not my people. I am not associated with them and I have made that clear.”
It’s not enough to stand by and assume everyone knows you disagree. It’s not enough to just passively dislike someone. You need to step up and make your own positions clear.
*Of course not everyone will notice/be aware of/have the spoons to deal with every single instance of someone else in their circles being shitty. Do your best and take care of yourself.
Edit 8/2: Ophelia Benson has a post up in which she responds to this post. She says that it is about her. This post is a general discussion of a logical fallacy and is not about any particular situation. It is not about Ophelia Benson.