Dear Surly –
The community I have surrounded myself with in college are feminist, social justice activists, and all around awesome people. However…this amazing community came with a great deal of pseudoscience. When were are hanging out (and sometimes even in organizational meetings) there is talk about astrological signs, spirit animals, and quack alternative medicine. I try to challenge them with out being a dick about it, but I always seem to be shot down. Recently I was even told that my worldview of science of logic is too privileged and I should be ashamed because skepticism does not allow room for the oppressed and uneducated. How should I respond to this? Should I just keep my mouth shut?
– Conflicted Activist
Dear Conflicted Activist,
Is it just me or is everyone else completely annoyed with the latest STFU techniques being used to silence the educated or to shut down a discussion on women’s rights?
For one thing, you don’t get to label someone privileged simply because you disagree with them.*
Learning or understanding how a process works does not make you privileged if that information is readily available to everyone. And just because feminists and skeptics have been using the word a lot lately doesn’t mean that just anyone can lob that word into a conversation and consider it a slam dunk.
The recent tossing around of the term privilege is a lot like shouting out “Hitler” or “Oh, oh! Straw-man! That’s a Straw-man argument!” to a group of newly appointed skeptics. When used appropriately and in context the word has great meaning. When used to simply try to silence an opposing view it sounds like a cop-out from someone who heard a buzz word and is afraid or unwilling to actually investigate or consider what is being discussed.
And last I checked, skepticism and the scientific method are both just that, methods of looking at the world. Neither have a price-tag. Neither require a college degree in order to use or to understand. So the only privilege you are displaying by understanding these principles is some sort of rational-non-lazy-and-actually-giving-a-shit privilege.*
I’m pretty sure it takes just as much effort and a heck of a lot more money to buy homeopathy, astrological trinkets and books on spirit animals than it does to realize that “ancient wisdom” is actually unproven snake oil and mythology. The information is all out there, available for anyone who cares to take a critical look.
If anything the mystical worldview preys upon the uneducated and readily feeds off women. Your friends, if truly interested in feminism and empowerment of women and minorities should rise up and battle against the misinformation inherent in pseudoscience. We need the power of knowledge that comes with education in order to rise above oppression. What we don’t need is the apathy and shallow comfort of imaginary friends and high-priced placebo effects. Those things distract us, take our money and threaten our lives.
There is much effort by the GOP to take away the rights of women. There are spokesmen like Rush Limbaugh trying to shame women and call them overeducated as if to send the message that women should NOT be educated at all. Women and minorities alike need to be proud of education. If the knowledge that often accompanies education is indeed a privilege we should be demanding it be a basic human right, not shaming those hoping to share it.
Don’t let superstition and the stereotypical roles of women influence your ability to understand reality and to educate yourself. Rise up, continue to speak up and fight back against the flood of anti-intellectualism and ignorance.
* I realize there is a group of people who try to argue that privilege itself does not exist as another way of trying to shut down the conversation about equality. This style of argument shows a complete lack of understanding of the reality of societal and economic structure and a denial of readily available facts. This post is not about those people.
* And I also realize that education is quite literally a privilege in certain countries and in very rural areas without access to internet or books. This is clearly not the case if we are discussing a group of women in college in what I assume is the USA.
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