Listen, But Never Shut Up

A Rebuttal To Paul Fidalgo

The latest White Knight to try to explain the poor Marginalized people’s position is Paul Fidalgo, who wrote this on Freethought Blogs:

The fact of the matter is that we can never be perfect in our understanding of the experiences of those in oppressed or maligned groups. Though you are the Most Enlightened of White Males, you can never fully appreciate the feelings, injuries, and injustices known by members of those groups. You may have grokked all the data, you may have fought on the side of goodness and equality all your life, but you can’t know what it’s like.

Here’s the good part: You can always learn. You are not doomed to your current level of ignorance. Though your understanding may never be absolute, you always have room to become better informed, to become wiser.

When you are called out (and you will be), accept it. Listen. Think. Do the intellectual exercise, put yourself in their place as best you can. Absorb it.

While this may be accepted wholesale in some frames of thinking, for skeptics it’s a non-starter. Wikipedia defines skepticism as

any questioning attitude towards knowledge, facts, or opinions/beliefs stated as facts, or doubt regarding claims that are taken for granted elsewhere.

Saying that a statement is hurtful or offensive is a claim. If the person who made the statement is a skeptic, they will naturally question the claim that it was hurtful or offensive, especially if it wasn’t meant to be. The person making the claim will often take this questioning, this “opportunity to see if you can understand how you were wrong” to quote Fidalgo, as a challenge.

It is not. It is an attempt to understand, and it is often responded to with vitriol. It is so often responded to with vitriol that the unmarginalized (read: white male) skeptic in this situation will quickly realize this scenario when he encounters it in the wild, and will start to build mental defenses against it. There are a number of these defenses. None of them lead to understanding for two reasons: first, because as Fidalgo writes, unmarginalized people “can’t know what it’s like”, and second, because the marginalized person has probably also been in this scenario many times before, and is no longer interested in being understood. It’s just another showdown with The Opressor to them.

The “Shut Up And Listen” approach is antithetical to Skepticism. If a movement like Feminism expects to convince others by using this approach, they will find absolutely no handhold with Skeptics. Good Skeptics will listen, but expecting them to shut up is to expect them to voluntarily not care about understanding.

We question because we care, not because we want a fight.

Further Reading

Paula S. Kirby’s The Sisterhood of the Oppressed

Bertrand Russell’s The Superior Virtue Of The Oppressed


4 Responses to Listen, But Never Shut Up

  1. Andrew Gould says:

    “Shut up and listen” is a good way to start. You can’t rebut or argue against something before you know what you’re talking about, and that requires knowing what THEY are talking about.

    • skepdigger says:

      Thanks for replying, Andrew! Listening quietly is always the best way to start. But accepting what was said without question is not a Skeptical act at all, and that is what Mr. Fidalgo wants us to do. Keep reading SkepDirt!

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