13 votes

War over being nice

8 comments

  1. [3]
    kfwyre
    (edited )
    Link
    I like this dichotomy a lot. It's obviously a simplification: you'll find very few fully A or fully B cultures, but I think it's easy to find ones that lean heavily towards one or the other. I do...

    I like this dichotomy a lot. It's obviously a simplification: you'll find very few fully A or fully B cultures, but I think it's easy to find ones that lean heavily towards one or the other.

    I do think the author is missing a pretty big piece of the puzzle though. I thought they were getting there when they brought up consent, but they didn't take that where I thought they were going to. To me, the missing piece is systemic injustice.

    Yeah, yeah, I can already feel culture A-types rolling their eyes at me, but I promise I'm not bringing this up as a "gotcha" or because I'm some hypersensitive culture B-type. The author sees that there is value in culture A, and I agree that there is, but I think that without equal footing for everyone involved, culture A tends to cause disproportionate damage to people on the receiving end of disadvantage.

    The author dismisses accounts of sexism in culture A, but I think they're failing to realize that it isn't culture A that is sexist in and of itself, it's that culture A magnifies the effects of pre-existing sexism. For example, culture A very much says that people are responsible for their own feelings and honesty is valued over harmony, but it's tragically common for women to be punished for their honesty with men, often because of the man's emotional response. According to culture A, that's his responsibility to manage, not hers, but a man who gets pushy, angry, or violent when his advances are declined isn't upholding culture A and is, in many ways, forcing a woman to adapt to a responsive and subservient culture B -- navigating her actions around his potential emotional responses as a matter of safety. Similarly, it's not uncommon for honest, assertive women to face demeaning and belittling stereotypes about their behavior in ways that aren't applied to men. A male who speaks directly and uncompromisingly is often esteemed for his leadership, whereas a woman who does so is often seen as a "bitch". Culture A can tend to meet the man with gusto while meeting the woman with disdain -- each for the very same behaviors.

    There are a large number of these undercurrents that imbalance interpersonal relationships in culture A, to an often strongly negative effect. It's not limited to gender either. Consider how belittling it can be for someone on the receiving end of horrific racist abuse to be told that they're the ones responsible for how they are feeling in that moment. Speaking from my own experience, I was "one of the guys" growing up, so a common way we razzed one another were by using gay jokes. They were common and widespread in my adolescent, teenage, and even college culture A settings, but they hit me harder than they did anyone else because I was in the closet and everyone else wasn't. Furthermore, I was living in a deeply homophobic society, which no one else in my group ever had to face or even consider the fallout from. The systemic injustices around being gay put me at an extreme disadvantage in culture A, because while everyone else could easily manage their own emotional response to the good-natured jabs we gave one another, I had to work a lot harder for the same outcome. Furthermore, because the broader culture was so hateful that I hid myself as a matter of self-protection, it completely eroded the foundational frankness of culture A in the first place. My "honesty" in culture A was more performative than even the most feigned, overblown civility of culture B, because it relied on me conveying a full untruth with genuine conviction.

    Culture B, meanwhile, can smooth over a lot of the bumps introduced by systemic injustice. At its best, culture B has got a chill, live-and-let-live vibe where everybody's cool with everybody. This was one of the things that first inspired me about the first LGBT organization I joined. We had so many different letters from the queer alphabet soup and everybody was fine with everybody else. It was instructive for me, honestly. I'd internalized a lot of anti-trans rhetoric and mindsets, which were even worse than the homophobia I'd grown up mired in, but when I saw everybody in the room be chill, cool, and civil with the woman who just announced that she was trans as we were doing our introductions, well, that changed something in me. Suddenly someone being trans wasn't that big of a deal because everyone in the group deliberately made it not-a-big-deal. Furthermore, who was I to break the harmony of that group up by bringing up something that might make her feel uncomfortable? I certainly had questions and thoughts of my own that I could have said or asked. I could have brought some culture A directness to that setting, but doing so would have broken something magical about culture B -- a something that I myself was benefitting from for the first time too, because I, also, wanted desperately to be not-a-big-deal in the way that the cruel and unyielding homophobic honesty of culture As had never let me be.

    I think from the outside, culture B gets a reputation for being hypersensitive and disingenuous. I can see where that comes from, but I also think it exists because culture B asks people to discard some deeply held prejudices that many are unwilling to. If I wasn't willing to discard my anti-trans feelings in the moment of that meeting, I absolutely would have felt the harmony of culture B as fraudulent and stifling. After all, it was going against my own deeply held thoughts and beliefs, and everyone else's communal silence could have been interpreted as performative. It's not that they genuinely supported her, the thinking goes, but that they're socially obligated to even though they feel otherwise.

    This is the danger of ascribing intent to a lot of culture B behaviors, as well as why "virtue signaling" is such a hot buzzword among so many culture A-types right now. There's this idea that there's a fundamental truth that underpins society and that culture B people are turning away from it not in earnest but out of pressure. I can happily say that I genuinely love and support trans people now -- I'm no longer beholden to my previous ideology and I now consider misguided, prejudiced, and destructive. Furthermore, having seen first hand how damaging and demeaning transphobia can be, I also genuinely want the people it affects to feel safe and supported. In fact, I consider that of paramount importance. Unfortunately, it is trivially easy for someone to look at me, see that support, and attribute it to an ulterior motive or a personal dishonesty on my part, which further validates the idea in their mind that culture B is all about squashing one's true feelings for the hollow glow of holding to inaccurate dogma under social duress. It's not true, but how do I convince someone I'm not lying when they already consider me fundamentally dishonest?

    Now, for all my support of culture B, I do think it's possible to go too far. Hypersensitivity and overreaction can arise from an intention to protect others' feelings against any and all issues. Fully externalized responsibility for others' feelings allows and even encourages some people to be emotionally manipulative. Overstating harm and community obligation can be weaponized to turn targets into social transgressors in need of social punishment. Victimhood can become a socially reinforced behavior in response to the powerful support and attention it draws from the community.

    I have many of my own critiques of Culture B, and it is certainly not immune to its own issues, but I think there are some pretty valid reasons why we're seeing a big push for it across many sectors of modern life. It's partially because culture A has enjoyed relative dominance for quite a while and this is simply a response, but it's also because culture B can have a genuinely disarming effect on prejudice, and we, arguably more than anyone else at any point in history, are aware of how pervasive and destructive prejudice can be. I think culture A tends to amplify the effects of prejudice far more than culture B does, and prejudice metabolizes into oppression when it's acted upon at large. A push for culture B is done largely with the intention to defang prejudice, in hopes that doing so will reduce oppression.

    11 votes
    1. [2]
      NaraVara
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      I think it's worth pointing out that many situations that look like Culture B on the surface can be just as toxic and unwelcoming. For example: I can say, as an immigrant who has grown up in...

      Now, for all my support of culture B, I do think it's possible to go too far. Hypersensitivity and overreaction can arise from an intention to protect others' feelings against any and all issues. Fully externalized responsibility for others' feelings allows and even encourages some people to be emotionally manipulative. Overstating harm and community obligation can be weaponized to turn targets into social transgressors in need of social punishment. Victimhood can become a socially reinforced behavior in response to the powerful support and attention it draws from the community.

      I think it's worth pointing out that many situations that look like Culture B on the surface can be just as toxic and unwelcoming. For example:

      This comes with strong repercussions - the perpetrator is expected to make things right.

      I can say, as an immigrant who has grown up in mostly White communities, that I have often been told I need to "make things right" when accusing others of racism or even just being blind to racial blind spots. By doing this I "disrupted the harmony of the group." Feelings were hurt and it generally falls on the person in the minority to assuage those hurt feelings.

      And I'm sure plenty of people have been on the wrong side of those "catty social dynamics" the author talks about too. But it's not like those social dynamics stop at high school. Most of what people hate about office politics (or even forum politics in online communities) comes to the same thing. There is inevitably some series of backchannel private groups and conversations within cliques. Those cliques often discuss (intentionally or unintentionally) how to frame narratives that cast certain people in a positive or negative light. And then in the more public venues they will slyly bait or spread this information around to build up antipathy towards their targets. There is no actual redress or airing of grievances, it just becomes a sneaky sort of conflict and ostracism. In professional contexts it gets worse. You'll have people strategically lodging complaints to HR or to management, for example.

      Overall it creates a culture of "weaponized victimhood" that we're all familiar with whenever we see a video of a 'Karen' out in public. And being skilled at the performance of being wounded or aggrieved ends up carrying more weight than anything that's actually right or true or fair. People's popularity or likability within the group ends up being the determining factor behind who ends up on top of these disagreements and that has a way of reinforcing racial, gendered, or sexual hierarchies as well. In some ways, this method of conflict resolution relies on appeals to sources of authority, like police or managers, to weigh in. And it tunes people to know how to manipulate those authority figures to act in ways they want.

      That ends up privileging people with lots of secret, tribal knowledge about what those authority figures like to see and what plays well with the group overall, so people without that skill-sets that can make them well-liked or let them articulate themselves well end up on the wrong end of disagreements. Stoic or reserved people end up being made to bear more of the brunt of the emotional labor in these contexts too, because they're not being so obviously hurt by things, so people who are disinclined to complain get to be on the wrong side of every trade-off.

      I've always felt more comfortable in Culture A settings because I'm good at defending myself, both physically and logically/verbally. I have the skills to excel in a straight up conflict where the relationships are known and prejudices are out in the open. It's clear what to expect from everyone else, even if the thing you expect is for people to be ignorant or shitty. Culture B, where all the tensions are cloaked and the conflicts are carried out in secret are much harder to deal with for a newbie or a foreigner. If you don't know the secret resentments and relationships you can't figure out who to be open with and who resents you. If you don't know the approved terminologies and shibboleths, or you don't know who is in or who is out of various cliques you very easily could find yourself wrapped up in a storm of rumors and accusations against you that you can't stop.

      7 votes
      1. kfwyre
        Link Parent
        Very well said. Your points really demonstrate that neither culture is perfect, and that our human flaws can easily propagate and undermine ideals in either one.

        Very well said. Your points really demonstrate that neither culture is perfect, and that our human flaws can easily propagate and undermine ideals in either one.

        2 votes
  2. [3]
    smores
    Link
    I have a lot of thoughts about this piece, but firstly, I'm curious as to what you're looking for in posting it again. It seems like the response the last time this was posted was actually fairly...

    I have a lot of thoughts about this piece, but firstly, I'm curious as to what you're looking for in posting it again. It seems like the response the last time this was posted was actually fairly unanimous; there wasn't that much conversation, because every top level post seemed to agree that there was something of a false dichotomy being proposed; no one actually wants either of the extremes, everyone agrees that there's a middle ground and that's what we're searching for, collectively. Is there some piece of this that you feel is more relevant today than when it was posted a year and a half ago?

    7 votes
    1. skybrian
      Link Parent
      Well, I hadn't seen it the first time. I thought it was an interesting piece because, after we all agree that it's a continuum rather than a dichotomy, it still has interesting things to say about...

      Well, I hadn't seen it the first time. I thought it was an interesting piece because, after we all agree that it's a continuum rather than a dichotomy, it still has interesting things to say about the hazards of not adjusting for differences in communication styles, how being explicit that there are differences can help, and that, among people who will be together for a while, actually practicing saying "no" might be a way of making clear that it's okay.

      4 votes
    2. viridian
      Link Parent
      I'm happy to have seen this article, as I missed it on it's first go around. I don't think the fact that the model is a simplification means that it is without value, on its face. I'd have a hard...

      I'm happy to have seen this article, as I missed it on it's first go around. I don't think the fact that the model is a simplification means that it is without value, on its face. I'd have a hard time naming a model that isn't a simplification, as that's typically a big part of the value prop. I went back and read the prior thread, and it's also worth noting that while most posts share the bare conclusion of a model too simple, there are other opinions drawn from the topic that are vary significantly. For instance, there is very clearly disagreement on what the relative threat, harm, and imposition of each cardinality is at a given magnitude.

      1 vote
  3. skybrian
    Link
    From the article, which is not about war: [...] [...] Here's the previous discussion.

    From the article, which is not about war:

    I'm going to describe two cultures:

    In culture A, everyone is responsible for their own feelings. People say mean stuff all the time - teasing and jostling each other for fun and to get a rise. Occasionally someone gets upset. When that happens, there's usually no repercussions for the perpetrator. If someone gets consistently upset when the same topic is brought up, they will either eventually stop getting upset or the people around them will learn to avoid that topic. Verbally expressing anger at someone is tolerated. It is better to be honest than polite.

    [...]

    In culture B, everyone is responsible for the feelings of others. At social gatherings everyone should feel safe and comfortable. After all, part of the point of having a community is to collectively care for the emotional wellbeing of the community's members. For this reason its seen as an act of violence against the community for your actions or speech to result in someone becoming upset, or if you make people feel uncomfortable or anxious. This comes with strong repercussions - the perpetrator is expected to make things right. An apology isn't necessarily good enough here - to heal the wound, the perpetrator needs to make group participants once again feel nurtured and safe in the group. If they don't do that, they are a toxic element to the group's cohesion and may no longer be welcome in the group. It is better to be polite than honest. As the saying goes, if you can't say something nice, it is better to say nothing at all.

    [...]

    There's another way to think about this. Most people don't have the skills to both express their feelings of frustration and anger, and make sure social harmony is maintained at the same time. In this case, do they err on the side of maintaining social harmony at the cost of their own needs? Or do they get their needs met and damn the social cost?

    Here's the previous discussion.

    2 votes