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Disagreement, De-legitimization, and Invalidation

September 30, 2010

A lesson that I must relearn occasionally and painfully (through the terrible recurrence of experience) is that even though I may sometimes dislike being disagreed with, what really hurts me (and others) is feeling invalidated and de-legitimized (or invalidating and de-legitimizing others). What do I mean by this? Am I even using the right words? I don’t even know.

When people disagree, they can recognize the rationality (whatever that means) of the opposing side. They may have a disagreement on facts, or maybe value preference, or maybe on applicability of facts or values, but they can recognize that the other person is consistent and reasonable within context of his view of the facts or within his values.

But if someone doubts the good faith effort of another conversant, then suddenly things become very different. For example, if someone chalks up disagreement to “the other person just not thinking straight” or “just being dramatic” or just “being angry,” this is psychically harmful. The kiss of death is the modifier, “like he usually gets” or “this isn’t the first time…” Because then you no longer have to suspect — because you know — that that other person has pegged you in a box and pegs you in a box as a general rule. It is a card that that other person is not afraid to reuse and a card that you must wonder about how often it has previously been used.

I think that these kinds of tactics deprive a person of humanity in some way. (I can see the critique now: “That’s just Andrew S. being overdramatic. How can WORDS deprive a person of humanity? They are nothing like slavery or torture. We can safely ignore him.”) These tactics shut out considerations of the person’s sanity.

No, I am not insane! I am not “getting that way!” I am not getting swept up in irrationality and emotions!

I am not compromised and crippled by bias beyond the rational limits! My position isn’t determined by being “one of those guys” (whoever “those guys” may be.)

And my position cannot be waved away as the product of a frenzied mind.

I am not innocent. I have to confront the times when I am guilty of this very same thing. I have to evaluate constantly — am I disagreeing or am I shutting out? Am I disagreeing with reasons or insisting that the reasons don’t exist?

This isn’t a position whose weight I can bear for long. Invalidation is misery and despair. De-legitimization is hell. I only feel bad for those who internalize the message of delegitimization from others. Who come to believe — since everyone else keeps saying it — that maybe they are just crazy. Maybe they are just angry. Maybe they do just get that way.

I think that if this happens, then something within someone has died. They are no longer authentic and no longer can be.

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14 Comments
  1. I think maybe you’re depending too much on other people’s opinions of you in forming your opinion of yourself. I mean at some point, if someone refuses to take you seriously or whatever, you have to be able to say “Well, fuck you too” and walk away.

  2. But here are my fears:

    1) My entire enterprise is based on people taking me seriously. That’s what it means to blog (in a non-joke/troll way), in a sense. We don’t have to agree, but at the very least, we must take each other seriously.

    2) If I walk away, then I concede. I really don’t like this idea. I don’t like to “drop” important points.

    3) The different parties have different levels of influence. So, I feel like *I* get hurt a lot more out of this because I’m not the one with wider impact.

    I mean, I know what the solution is…but…eh…I’m not wanting to stop running into this wall yet.

  3. 1) Some people will never take you seriously. That’s just a fact of life I think.

    2) I don’t really get this. If you decide to walk away without conceding, then you haven’t conceded. You’ve walked away.

    3) I guess I can see this. The impact is disparate if the other person is more “important” than you. But it seems to me that there are only two viable solutions if someone like that dismisses you: either work towards becoming more important than they are, or stop caring about it.

    The one thing that I’m sure won’t work is stubbornly insisting that the person stop dismissing you. That will just make them more dismissive and exacerbate the power imbalance.

  4. yeah, you’re right. :/

    I don’t even know how this even happens. This is really messed up. I don’t even care what people think or say about me offline because I already accept that we are too different to ever see eye to eye. I don’t know where I got this warped view that the internet — of all places — should be any different.

  5. For what it’s worth, Andrew, I don’t think you’re crazy.

  6. Thanks, Chris.

  7. Andrew, I also don’t think you are crazy. I think you are incredibly articulate and your arguments are always well thought out and communicated clearly.

    I have found that when people throw the “Oh, you’re being crazy/ridiculous/whatever” line it’s usually because they can’t come up with a clear response of their own. It’s a quick, lazy and hurtful way of trying to win an argument.

    I agree with Kuri on one hand, at some point you do have say fuck it and walk away. But that doesn’t mean you can’t challenge your opponent to come up with a better response first.

  8. What I’m hearing from you is that you look for people to act rationally and consistently. I disagree – and I might not have understood what you’ve written. People do not always act rationally. How does one explain addiction or smoking cigarettes (for example)? A person must know that smoking cigarettes has been proven to cause cancer – but they smoke anyway. A person loses their marriage, their children, their job because they can’t stop drinking alcohol – but they keep drinking. Why? It’s not in their best interest.

    I also don’t understand what you mean by the good faith of the other conversant.

    I’ll give an example. I do not (personally) believe that the book of mormon is a historical account. I do know people who do believe it is a historically accurate book. I have my evidence, and they have theirs (different types of evidence).

    Since I refuse to engage them to discuss the book of mormon, does that mean that I am invalidating them or attempting to de-legitimize them? Why can’t I have a relationship with a person outside of this particular issue? It’s true, I am putting them in a box of sorts. The box is, this person hasn’t wanted to accept this type of evidence in the past, and probably won’t in the future. So engaging with this person in this discussion is not productive to me.

    With that said, often there are other things that we can agree on. Perhaps politics or family or a host of other issues. Should we stop interacting altogether because we disagree?

    For me personally, I’ve found that often I don’t understand why people do the things they do, or their motives. I’ve found the best thing is to confront someone (if I want to maintain the relationship) and ask them “when you said x, what did you mean? Is this what you think?” And then see how they respond. I’ve found, more often than not, what I thought they were saying was not in fact what they meant. I have my own biases and perspective that can get in the way of what’s really going on.

  9. Thanks Sister S.

    aerin, at least I do expect that when those people are dealing with other people.

    What I mean is this: in a serious conversation, we *must* assume that the other conversant is making his or her position from a foundation that s/he believes is reasonable. We may disagree with points in that foundation, such as particular premises or particular points of facts, but we ought not assume that the person just doesn’t have such a foundation, or that such a foundation is not reasonable.

    For example, with the Book of Mormon, you have two ways to go about things. 1) You can recognize that those who believe in the BoM have a foundation of premises regarding evidence that lead them to conclude the BoM is right or true. You disagree with some premises (e.g., perhaps that “spiritual confirmation can confirm truth”) but you recognize that they have a consistent foundation of premises that, if you accepted, you would recognize that their conclusion is vaild.

    But that’s only one way to go about doing things. You could also…

    2) Note that anyone who believes in the BoM doesn’t do it for any particularly good premises or reasons, because they are just brainwashed and/or deluded.

    I see a clear distinction between 1 and 2, and I DO think that some people use arguments that amount to “2” kinds of arguments with a frequent number of things. For example, tactics to chalk up disbelief to “wanting to sin” are de-legitimizing, IMO. That tactic completely shuts out the individual’s foundation of reasons: “Hey, when I read x, y, and z, things didn’t check out, and I couldn’t get satisfactory answers from church leaders, apologists, etc., When I saw the church do a, b, and c, I didn’t find that consistent with what a divinely inspired organization would do. It seemed more consistent with what an ordinary organization could do.”

    If you refuse to engage on certain issues, I don’t think this is delegitimizing, unless, again, the reason you don’t engage is because you believe “they are just brainwashed and can’t see reality!”

  10. Thanks Andrew. I think I understand better what you were saying. What I thought you were saying is that a person should continue to engage in a discussion (like this one about the book of mormon) even though both parties know that they disagree (and will probably not ever see eye to eye).

    I’m not sure I understand you when you talk about consistency, though. Perhaps I had been a person (up until now) that believed that spiritual truth could work for the book of mormon, but for whatever reason, I have new information. Other people in my life may not understand that I’ve changed my viewpoint based on new information. But I think processing new information is a good thing. It isn’t necessarily reasonable or consistent based on my prior opinions, but it’s still my new perspective.

    What it sounds to me like you’re talking about in your second example is attacking the person rather than the argument (ad hominem). And I believe that is the position of weakness in any argument. I make a claim, and instead of responding to that claim – you say “but aerin, you’re short!”. The fact that I’m short (I am) really has no bearing on whether or not claim x is true or not. Unfortunately, lots of U.S. politics is now much more about attacking character instead of attacking another point of view and describing one’s own.

  11. aerin,

    By consistent, I think I’m meaning something like “internally consistent” or logically valid. If you have new information or new premises, then you may reach a different conclusion, but your conclusion will still be internally consistent with your premises.

    I…suppose ad hominem is a great way to summarize my second example in two words, haha. 😀

  12. People call me brainwashed, a tool, dishonest, an apologist, and just generally unpleasant all the time. I’d be utterly paralyzed if I really gave a damn.

    You can’t operate like that as a blogger though. You have to just wade in with your personally authentic message – whatever it is – and screw the rest.

  13. People call me brainwashed, a tool, dishonest, an apologist, and just generally unpleasant all the time.

    Don’t forget me! I called you a “jerk” once.

  14. Andrew said:

    I am not innocent. I have to confront the times when I am guilty of this very same thing. I have to evaluate constantly — am I disagreeing or am I shutting out? Am I disagreeing with reasons or insisting that the reasons don’t exist?

    Oh, I’m not innocent of this either and in certain situations I simply don’t care. Seriously.

    Let me give you some context. As you know, Andrew, I’m a transgender woman. Now and again, I face a fair degree of prejudice from others. When I face someone whose prejudice is insurmountable and they are unwilling to accept me for who I am, I quite readily drop that person into a mental box labeled “insufferable *sshole who isn’t worth my time” and I move on. Does it diminish their level of humanity in my eyes? Indeed, on some level, it does. Do I have a problem with that? Absolutely not. I need to create a safe degree of emotional separation between myself and those who are bigots. In so doing, I’m establishing a necessary emotional boundary between myself and those who would harm me—either emotionally, physically, or both.

    Outside of the context of hatred and prejudice, however, I’ll usually give someone a fair amount of space and time before I drop the person into the *sshole category.

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