This excellent post on activism by Freddie deBoer captures what I’ve been thinking lately. The context is different, and I largely disagree with his politics, but the larger theme remains activism and convincing people of ideas. If you only have time to read Mr. deBoer’s post or what’s below, click that link.
I’ve been frustrated about the direction of activism for genital integrity rights for a longer time than I’m willing to accept. I’m not going anywhere. I haven’t changed my mind. But it’s difficult to expend the effort when so many are fighting those who agree on the goal and demonizing those who we need to convince. Maybe there’s a cause where a punch in the nose is the right activism. This isn’t it. Doing so only makes the process harder and further pushes out the day we achieve full protection for all children, male, female, or intersex.
I remember many political fights over the last decade-plus that I was sure would turn out a specific way. The most recent example is the general election in the United Kingdom last week. I was convinced Labour were going to win. “Go Labour” was all I saw on Twitter. The Rise of Ed Milliband was everywhere in my news feeds. And then the election happened. David Cameron remains Prime Minister, but with an actual majority instead of a coalition government. The exact opposite of the expected result occurred.
British Politics Twitter melted down from the moment the first exit poll leaked. “How could this be? Impossible! We’re doomed!” And so on. I reacted this way in years past, and I felt justified in doing so. I’m right, after all. Except when this happens enough times, it’s wise to step back to figure out why expectation and result don’t match. We need to examine that chasm for genital integrity rights.
I believe the explanation for this experience is the same for politics and genital integrity. The Internet is not society. The Internet is a specific, motivated subset of society. It will change the world, probably. But this change will occur only if we realize that most of the people we need to convince don’t care about our obvious intellectual win in a long-running feud with oppositional trolls.
It isn’t that a large percentage of society is being obstinate, refusing to change. For most people the issues important to activists aren’t merely unimportant. They aren’t real. How many times have we heard, “I don’t know any men who miss their foreskins/regret being circumcised”? The answer is always, accurately, “Yes, you do. You don’t know who they are because it isn’t safe to say such a thing in most company.” Consider the immediate reaction in the UK election: “Why were Tories so afraid to tell pre-election pollsters that they’re conservatives?” It’s more reasonable to recognize that some people will not tell another their truth if they believe it will be dismissed or ridiculed.
That’s the crux. People aren’t evil. They’re unaware. It’s ignorance in the purest definitional reality. Perhaps there is a better way for them. We can show them. Will we show them?
With politics, we all believe that our views are correct. Maybe. With genital integrity, the truth is clear rather than subjective. Society should already be where we are on this issue. Of course. But it would be foolish to use that to inform our activism. We must educate. Antagonizing only keeps us out of the experience of those we need to convince. As I’m sure I’ve written before, would we rather be right or victorious?
It would be wonderful if we could explain ourselves to a sufficient number of judges and legislators. Boom, everything changes. That isn’t how change happens. Courts and legislatures lag society. Justice derives from those who refuse to participate in injustice any longer, not those who would command us not to participate. This is true even though providing legal protection for the inherent right to genital integrity to all citizens is the only ethical stance. The burden of proof shouldn’t be on us. The burden of proof is on us.
Where do we go from here? I wish I had the magic words that would fix this. However, if you read Mr. deBoer’s post, magic words are the opposite of what we need. We have too many magic words now. Cutter. Circumfetishist. Rape. Sexual crime. And so on, even to mutilation in many contexts. Using these words signals to a preferred segment of activists that only we understand how truly awful circumcision is. Perhaps. And it feels so good, right, so it doesn’t matter what the cutters and circumfetishists think, except what the people called cutters and circumfetishits think is all that matters. They have all the power to stop circumcision. We need to stop aiming to convince those who are already convinced.
How do we educate the people who need to be convinced?