Friday, October 14, 2011

"Just be NIIIICE": Argument from tone is BS

Let's say you're talking about social justice with someone of an oppressed class (and, for sake of argument, in that particular arena you have privilege). They're saying things you don't want to hear, uncomfortable things that hurt your feelings or make you feel bad. And let's say this person is saying what they mean, rather than sugarcoating it or apologizing.

You turn to the guaranteed conversation stopper: Argument from Tone. "You don't have to say it that way!"

Yes. Yes I do.

It's incredibly arrogant to dictate to someone how they say say things. Most of what gets brought up in these sort of discussions is difficult, it's real and it is raw. And we get told by privileged people all the time that what we have to say does not count because we are not them.

In autism discussions, this already huge problem is worse. Not only is it privilege abuse, but to tell people who are often neurologically incapable of tact and sugar coating that they have to say something 'nicely' or you won't listen to them, that is why it's so obvious that many allistic people want disabled children to talk and disabled adults to shut up.

It is utter ableist crap to say "talk like an allistic, and then we might listen to you." See, we can't talk like allistics. We have a disability that involves social and language differences! Can no one see the problem with demanding that people who tend to have language problems and social differences carefully phrase their language (which can be a battle to put together in the first place) with feelings in mind more than content?

Tone doesn't change what people are saying or why they are saying it. Those extra words, that padding, isn't going to change truth, it's just going to make privileged people feel less guilty. It isn't always about the comfort of privileged people, and it's never about feelings.

If someone is engaging with you about these issues, they probably think you have potential. Then if you pull argument from tone (by the way, it only seems to run one way. If I tell you that what you do is hurtful, no one gives 2 shits), well, there's more of our time wasted. And if you are going to insist it's my responsibility to educate you about autistic culture, don't fucking dare bringing my 'tone' into it.

In fact, just leave tone out of it altogether. Listen for content, not warm fuzzies.


Amanda Forest said...

I'm not into AFT but I keep seeing you say that AFT is especially bad in this particular case because "Autistic people can't do tact" and "it's telling Autistic people not to talk like Autistic people." But I'm probably more on the "tactful" side (for better or for worse, as it doesn't matter at all to some people who will always find a way to prove you were too mean) and lots of people without autism are not. After all these exact same dynamics often play out in non-disability-related conflicts where people of color, trans people, etc., are blunt about what bothers them and are told they're being too mean.

I do think it's sometimes impossible to be "nice" if the issue at hand is your oppression, and you're hearing the same stupid things over and over--and that being "nice" sometimes doesn't even make a difference if people are determined to use AFT. But (short version) "this is how Autistic people talk" seems kind of essentialist to me especially because it's not how I talk.

Neurodivergent K said...

You're right. It's not how all autistic people talk.

It's how oppressed people who are fed up with everyone's bullshit may or may not talk. It's how I talk. It's how many other autistic and not autistic people talk. Sometimes I think autistic people catch more crap for it (and definately are accused of it even when they're actually going out of their way not to!) but yeah.

I appreciate the...the...I'd not call it callout, but the reminder?

Rankersbo said...

It's an interesting way of looking at it. I personally have a problem with heightened emotional tone in debate, I can't cope with it.

Like most of "us" I don't behave like the mainstream, but instead of being aggressive and excitable, my tone is flatter and more mature. I tend to get upset when treated as if this level tone isn't someone "talking nicely" but instead being condescending, talking gibberish or from a position of having my head up my backside.

I suppose you could argue that this is the same problem with people having a problem with tone, but with a different sort of people and a different sort of tone.

But part of me, through not fitting in, has begun to cling to my positive character traits. My intelligence, my mature communication style, my relentless politeness, my, well, overall niceness. And I get upset when people try and diminish me by claiming these things are irrelevancies or not positive character traits at all.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I cringed reading this. Inwardly cringed.

I didn't understand what the hell "argument from tone" meant when I first "heard" you use it. I'd never heard the expression before. I had a big question mark hanging over my head. Thank you for posting it in a post title. This was easy for me to find.

I read it and I cringed at myself. At my own "argument from tone". I apologize for it. I didn't mean it. I have learned from it. The only feeble attempt at "justifying" my argument from tone... Let me stop there. There really is no justification. I have read up on autism. I know about the social and communication difficulties. I should have known better.

What I'm trying to respond to, I guess, is what Amanda said about:

"I do think it's sometimes impossible to be "nice" if the issue at hand is your oppression"

In this case, it's not about MY oppression, but my son's. I have a tendency to shoot from the hip if I perceive it to be in his defense and that's wrong. Thank you for helping me see that.