flexibeast.space - gemlog - 2023-03-14

The steep slippery slope of ‘internalised X’

Audio version:

“The steep slippery slope of ‘internalised X’” [mp3]

The concept of ‘internalised X’, e.g. ‘internalised queerphobia’, can be a useful tool. But there's a steep slippery slope from there to using it for totalitarian-style ‘thought reform’[a].

It can be a useful tool for encouraging self-reflection on whether at least some of one's beliefs and behaviours might actually be rooted in social prejudices and structures. For example: “Perhaps you're hostile towards other gay men being ‘too effeminate’ because of internalised queerphobia?”

Problems arise, however, when it becomes less of a tool for trying to disentangle oneself from the various components of the kyriarchy, and more about declaring a given thing to objectively be ‘internalised X’.

For example, i recently encountered a post by an autistic person asserting that it's (implictly: internalised) ‘ableism’ for an autistic to not regard autism as a disability. Yes, sure, if an autistic person claims that autism is simply not a disability, for anyone ever, and that ‘dis-abling’ is purely a result of capitalism / prejudice / whatever, then i consider that claim to simply be wrong, and disrespectful of the diversity of experiences of autistic people. But to me that's very different from someone saying “I don't regard my autism as a disability”, and for someone else to then assert that this is nothing more than internalised ableism. It might involve internalised ableism, but it might not. And if that person has done some self-reflection around this, and feels that it's probably not, it's pretty arrogant for someone else to assert that they know The Truth about someone else's personal psychology.

This post was inspired by a quote from “Females”, by Dr Andrea Long Chu, a trans woman:

Everyone is female, and everyone hates it.

If this is true, then gender is very simply the form this self-loathing takes in any given case.

All gender is internalised misogyny.

Setting aside:

these are all .... Rather Big Claims. The totalising language immediately excludes any possibility of nuance or dissent from its absolutism; anyone whose experiences of gender don't completely fit within this analysis are erased by fiat, and even tgd people trying to discuss how gender works for them will inevitably be expressing ‘internalised misogyny’. The use of “If this is true” feels feeble and ridiculous given the overall context, like when someone says “You're a worthless pile of toxic crap - no offense.” And all this is coming from a PhD, giving her a position of privilege which makes it easier for her voice to be heard over those who don't have that privilege - only to use that voice to deny the possibility of anyone having a different lived experience of what ‘gender’ is.

The lower slopes of ‘internalised X’ analyses are effectively a variant of ‘false consciousness’ theory. The concept of ‘false consciousness’ was created by Engels in 1893, describing the situation where members of the working class have beliefs that are counter to their ‘objective’ self-interest. The problem, of course, is that this assumes that a Marxist class analysis is ‘objectively true’ in a ‘scientific’ sense (and indeed, one of Engels' works was “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific”, written in 1880). But this attitude of an ‘enlightened’ individual or group paternalistically knowing what's best for an entire category of people - Lenin, for example, believing that history had shown that the working class could never develop anything more than ‘trade union consciousness’, and that ‘enlightened’ intellectuals such as himself would have to ‘educate’ them in True Class Consciousness - has often resulted in not only the denial and erasing of a diversity of lived experiences, but also in various horrors being inflicted on large numbers of people “for the greater good”.

When either ‘internalised X’ or ‘false consciousness’ is invoked in a general claim, ask yourself: “Might there be people whose lived experiences and voices are denied and erased by this claim? Is the person making the claim coming from a place of privilege not enjoyed by a number of those people, such that people are more likely to listen to the claimant rather than the people they're talking over?”

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[a] Cf. Robert Jay Lifton's 1961 book “Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of ‘Brainwashing’ in China”. More details in this post from last year:

“Afab and submissive”

[b] Cf. this post from a couple of years ago:

“On the word ‘gender’ and the phrase ‘gender is a social construct’”

[c] i say “yet another” because this is a phenomenon i've encountered all too frequently over the years. i regularly have to spend time and energy de-‘educating’ cis people who have been given The Definitive Guide To Transness by a trans woman, only to find themselves running into problems when that Definitive Guide turns out to actually be invalidating and/or disrespecting for various tgd people. And i've actually had to go through this process with a personal counsellor, taking time away from talking about the issues i was actually there to discuss.

i'm not the only one to have encountered this; several other people with whom i've discussed this issue have encountered it as well.