Saturday, May 16, 2009

Speech is Action

The recent conversations about d00ds and feminism at Zuska's and Dr. Isis' have been interesting yet full of FAIL because some d00ds just refuse to get it. One of the things these d00ds often refuse to get is why we're just talking about it instead of DoingSomething™. And this isn't just used by d00ds who don't get feminism, the phrase has been repeated over and over and over again by people of privileged groups in discussions of social justice.

As awesome a writer as I am (not), I have friends who are much more eloquent and coincidentally one of them is Learn Hexadecimal who posted a comment in another discussion about just this topic, so I asked him if I could repost it.

Speech is action.

Let me be more specific: every word that is on this page right now is a contribution to the social and cultural gestalt of humanity. Every person who has read these words, or read some of them, or skimmed them, or heard somebody talk about them once, has been affected by them. Maybe a little, maybe a lot. But to dismiss a conversation like this, to unroll a banner emblazoned "Talk Is Cheap" and prance away towards far-off charity websites, is to elide a very important aspect of what it is to be human: that we can communicate, and that our communication can affect others and allow us to be affected by them in turn when they communicate back to us.

I don't think anyone here actually forgot that fact. It would be kind of difficult. But I never want to hear "virtual virtue" derided as meaningless. It isn't. It can't be. Virtual virtue, Internet virtue, is the exercise of virtue in communication. Such exercise is crucial to all other aspects of what it means to be human and humane and good. How can we be virtuous if we never learn what virtue means? How can we be virtuous if we never teach that meaning to others-- never discuss it-- never remark on its presence or absence in the stories that shape our minds?

Lois Bujold/110, you tell us talk is cheap, and then you demonstrate that it isn't. You tell us that we tipped you over from intention to action; you tell us that this conversation, this dialogue we're having right here, had a material effect on your material contributions to one or more causes.

You're right: holding admirable opinions and doing nothing is indistinguishable from holding execrable opinions and doing nothing. Because if we hold admirable opinions and keep them locked inside our skulls, nobody will ever know about them. But if we hold admirable opinions and talk about them, and defend them in the court of public discourse whose standards of due process you so diligently uphold, we can change other people's minds. Such a powerful phrase, when you think about it: to change someone's mind. That is action. That is admirable.

Lois Bujold/121 , I see more of the same. Your stance on falsehood and the provability of motivations, while interesting, isn't my primary concern at the moment.

Consider this: you ask us to rule our statements in the court of public discourse by the measure of due process, and by that, you mean we ought to read a book before discussing why we don't like it. Why can't we ask Patricia Wrede to rule her statements in the public discourse of fiction-- and fiction is a discourse; vast, slow, indirect, but a discourse all the same-- by the measure of virtuous speech?

And by that, I mean that you are engaging in exactly the task which you imply is cheap and easy and not enough for you. Here we are, expressing our dislike for yet another erasure in yet another place of a people who are erased too often already; here you are, expressing your dislike for yet another case in yet another comment thread where people talk a book down without ever having picked up a copy. It must in some sense be a worthwhile task to you, or you wouldn't be doing it.

Yes, monetary donations to charitable organizations often have a more concrete, or at least more measurable, impact on issues than words on the Internet. But somebody still has to say those words. Somebody has to say "no, this is wrong, this story has problems", because if nobody ever does, then the people who write those stories will never realize that they could be doing it better.

You are, if I'm to believe the name attached to your comments, a writer of stories. Realize that you could be doing it better. Realize that everyone you know who also writes stories could be doing it better. In other words, what Stella Omega/133 said.

Fiction_Theory/131, you made a good point extremely well. I'm now in the middle of reading the blog post you linked in the course of introducing that point, and it is a work of further excellence. I encourage anyone whose eyes are passing over these words right now to go and read both of the above; you will be improved thereby.


The context to the post, in case you are wondering (and I hope you are), is a massive FAIL on the part of author Patricia Wrede. Last week, a review of Patricia Wrede's new book Thirteenth Child was posted and immediatedly is spawned a lot of discussion due to its premise. You see, she wanted to write an American settlement story with MAMMOTHS and other megafauna. That sounds kind of cool and may have made a good book if she had not decided that to do this she had to write Native Americans out of her book's history. Erasing a group that has been a victim of genocide and who has been marginizalized in US and Canadian history is wrong, unacceptable, and wrong. People rightfully got on her ass and on the asses of all the vapid jackasses defending her or attempting to derail the conversation. Naraht has complied a few links on the topic.

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