Saturday, February 10, 2018

Criticism and Oppression in Young People

Treating people badly can take many forms. They are not the same emotionally, and I don't know how we measure which is worse.  It is hard to be ignored.  It is hard to have insults to your group not noticed because they are fewer, or more vulnerable. It is hard to see other groups have privilege when yours does not. (It is hard when you have that impression, true or not.)

It is hard when some people at your school or in your town target you because of the group you belong to. It does still happen that jerks will make racist comments or sexist comments, or make effort to exclude or insult.  However, in those situations one usually has others who are emphatically not like that - friends who deplore such things and talk back to it, who make a renewed effort to check in with you to make sure you're okay.  You don't get to choose who is in your highschool or your town, but you can create a peer group that insulates you from bad treatment. It's one of the lessons you learn as a teenager, actually, to seek allies when you are isolated, even if you are shy, or be stuck enduring it.

Going to college or into a young adult social network is different.  That is now your peer group. When people there target you for your race, your sex, or your sexual choices the situation is more dire. There is less room for escape and adjustment.  I thought of this when I saw the Campus Reform report about the Dartmouth student who claimed a program was biased in favor of females. Thirty organisations condemned him,* plus many individuals.  They attacked not only his statements - which is perhaps fair and good debate, but his white, male, cis-ness.  "White tears" and all that.

Let me guess that there are none among the critics at Dartmouth who were ever attacked in this manner by their peer group. They may have had people in their home towns make any number of terrible statements (though I wonder how many, really).  But not the college-bound cohort they hung around with for eighteen years. Shunning by that group is meaner, more brutal, and - I mean this seriously, not just for effect - less civilised. It has more of the mob in it.

*This seems a new development.  I'm not sure there were thirty organisations total at William and Mary when I was there, and certainly not thirty which would think it was their place to make any sort of political statement.


Sam L. said...

Makes me glad to be old. Another is that my college has severely tarnished its image by rolling over and playing dead to the protesters.

bs king said...

I see where you're going with this, but I think there's another angle. Social media has allowed the number of bystanders in these situations to expand to what must feel like the entire world. Some people in the situation are mugging for the cameras, and some people outside the situation agitate by projecting their own hurts. I think it magnifies everything.

I think of it in comparison to my high school class, which I've complained about to you at length. It had some rather vicious peer group bullying that was exacerbated by the adults involved, and was really poorly managed. I believe it became a very toxic situation, but when I left I was rather quickly able to realize that while the setup was very bad, it was not the way the world in general worked.

With social media, I suspect the feeling that the whole world is involved gets bigger. I don't know how my high school would have been different if I'd have the power to condemn the leadership or my classmates publicly, or how their sense of having to defend themselves publicly might have changed how they acted. In some situations it may help, but in others I suspect it increases the emotional turmoil all parties feel, ensuring that everyone feels more wronged.

james said...

I think you're right, bs king. I can ignore insults, or offer to "take it outside," but if I'm defending a vast crowd of other victims, I need to stand my ground publicly, and counterattack wherever I can--never let the enemy have an inch in any direction.

Of course the expansion of social universes is a bit asymmetric: I get to represent a vast variety of victims, but my opponent can never represent anything but Sauron-ic machinery.

Sam L. said...

I was reading some of the links alongside, and I read Derbyshire's. I kinda wish I had an email addy for him, so I could tell him I'd like to see him let his hair down and tell us what he REALLY thinks.