authority by way of identity
December 5, 2015
I think one of the more interesting things to come out of teh Discourse is a variation of the ‘appeal to authority’ fallacy. This one, however, involves the invoking of some identity or other as a way to establish your authoritativeness over the subject at hand.
It isn’t surprising that this situation has come about. It’s sort of… the natural result of the general expectation that people speaking from their embodied experiences do so with a certain level of authenticity and authority. As in, people who experience a type of oppression are ‘expert’ in their experiences.
On its own, this isn’t really a problem. And this discursive principle arose because oppressors have this habit of pointing to resources they made as a way to ‘disprove’ the experiences of some marginalized person. A sort of default, systemic type of gaslighting. The idea that when we speak from experience we are, in fact, sharing and articulating a type of knowledge, a type of truth, resists this gaslighting. The white mythologizing. The erasure of our histories.
It is also a way of incorporating a different kind of epistemology, one that dislocates the white/masculine notion that the only real ‘knowledge’ is objectively and empirically derived. It is an epistemology that makes space for the idea that our experiences and the sharing of our stories expresses a truth equal to ‘objective’ knowledge.
Overall, this is a good thing and not something I’d want to see changed.
So how does this slip into a special kind of discursive fallacy within teh Discourse?
It happens when individuals generalize from their subjective expriences to create theories with broad scopes and impacts. And they claim that this generalization is warranted because they have x identity. Alternatively, it occurs when people use their identity as a premise for the argument that they are making: ‘because I’m x, y is the One True Path(tm)”.
Essentially, they use their identity as a way to appeal to/establish their authority on the discussion.
This is sort of subtle and I’m not sure I’m being clear enough. The problem with this is that often the person’s identity is relevant, its just that it doesn’t always have a bearing on whether or not they are right. Their identity doesn’t actually confer validity or truth onto the conclusions they draw.
Here’s an example: I am a child abuse survivor, parents should have to get a license to have children.
Sound familiar? There are a bunch of variations of this sort of thinking. And, no, I’m not talking about the morbid, gallows type of humour that involves making large, hyperbolic statements (‘down with cis’ for example). In a lot of ways, its pretty easy to see that ‘down with cis’ isn’t really a coherent political strategy (or even a suggestion). Asserting that parents should require licenses to have kids, however? This is an actual suggestion I’ve heard people make (and make as a sincere belief that this is a good way to deal with child abuse).
Often the way this plays out is that someone will have written some kind of atrocious statement or call to action and when people respond negatively, they’ll make the appeal to their identity “this problematic thing I just said is okay because I’m x”. As if, somehow, the idea that trans women should only use women’s restrooms if we’ve had bottom surgery is more ‘acceptable’ or legitimate when articulated by a trans woman (and, yes, this is something I’ve seen).
Another context where I’ve seen this come up is when someone from outside of a certain community questions something someone in the community has said (because it problematic in one respect or another), the person will often reply “well, I’m part of this community and you aren’t.” Which, sure, is true and, generally, people not belonging to a group should not speak over those who do… This doesn’t necessarily invalidate the criticism nor does it actually make what the person has done/said ‘okay’ and above reproach.
Just because a person articulates something based on their personal experiences, does not necessarily mean that its true. Nor does the validity of their personal experiences entail that whatever generalization they’re asserting is also valid.