Liss Says Stuff #3: The Devil's Advocate

[Content Note: Emotional auditing.]

As requested by Shaker Doctor_Tinycat.

Doctor Tinycat requested a piece on why it's harmful to play Devil's Advocate during social justice discussions, so here we go.

Um, playing Devil's Advocate is taking the opposite side of an argument, ostensibly to explore a subject from every different angle. And there are a lot of reasons why this dynamic ends up being harmful during social justice discussions, but I'm gonna address four of them here.

The first is that what gets called Devil's Advocacy in social justice discussions tends to be a privileged person, ahh, challenging a marginalized person's perception of their own lived experiences. And that's not actually Devil's Advocacy; that's emotional auditing. Um, because it implicitly suggests that a marginalized person's perception of their own lived experiences may somehow not be valid, um, or may be compromised by virtue of their very marginalization. That someone with privilege is more, um, objective. And that is not accurate. Someone with privilege is merely, um—merely has a different perspective on oppression; they are not more objective about it.

Secondly, this practice presumes that there's some aspect of one's marginalization that one hasn't considered—um, and it's typically something that a marginalized person has never had the luxury of never having considered before. It may be a new idea to a privileged person, but imagining that you have some great new insight into someone else's oppression, um, is—or that you can imagine an argument that they've never encountered before, is deeply insulting. And it's hostile to the basic idea of respecting other people's humanity, um, and respecting that they're experts on their own lives.

Um, third: Devil's Advocacy seeks to turn the intimate aspects of one's life into an abstract discussion. Um, it's really unfair to ask, for example, a—a woman to leave aside her personal experience in order to discuss feminist issues in an abstract way. You are discussing the stuff of her life, and you need to keep that in mind. Asking her to "not make it personal" in order to indulge, uh, your exploration of circumstances of her life, um, from which you're totally detached, is profoundly unkind. Um, it's to ask her to wrench her womanhood from her personhood—and these are not separate pieces of a female human being. Womanhood and personhood are the same thing to a woman—this goes for everyone from any marginalized population.

And finally: Devil's Advocacy in social justice discussions is frequently defended on the basis that the person doing it just wants to find out, um, or get a better understanding of the marginalized person's life, of the thing that they're challenging. But here's the thing: Um, if you want to better understand someone's life, what you need to do is ask. You don't need to, ahh, force them to engage in some horrible game of emotional policing.

If you want to know something about my life, you need to ask me, and then you need to make it safe for me to answer—to make sure that I know that I'm not going to be audited. If you really wanna understand someone, you don't need to play Devil's Advocate; you just need to listen.

There are certainly people who will say they view some intrinsic aspect of themselves as renderable from their personhood, and that is of course their right—each person has the right to define themselves in whatever way they like. But it is best to approach each person as if they do not view themselves in detachable parts, because it is extremely harmful to people who don't to be approached that way.

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