Activism 101: people who disagree with me are obviously ignorant

One of the most insulting and provoking things you can do during an activist debate is assume that anyone disagreeing with you must simply be ignorant. This is exactly how religious proselytizers think: “Oh, you’re not a [religion]? Let me tell you about my faith, and you will believe.”

In the case of Christianity, I’m not a Christian because I know the Bible far better than any evangelical I’ve ever encountered. In fact, I like to kind of set them up, knowing they will assume I’m uninformed, and then embarrass the snot out of them with how much better I know the Bible. It’s gotten to be great fun since smartphones, because someone can always look that verse up on the spot to confirm that I’m right and they are the ignorant ones.

And this is usually the case with people who assume that it’s impossible for two informed adults to reach two different conclusions. When you meet an opinion with a base-level explanation for five year olds about a topic the person you’re talking to would have had a self-interest in knowing about since, say, 2003, you are clearly the one who is not using your brain.

This feels short, but honestly, what more can one say? Sometimes people disagree with you not because they are fools, but because they have a different perspective. And sometimes it turns out they disagree with you because they are better informed than you are. So be very cautious about “sighing” and “explaining this as simply as possible” and starting in on Wikipedia-style introductions to the topic that’s already up for debate when you have no actual clue that the person is missing some crucial knowledge on the topic. It derails, and it pisses people off, and activists have enough distractions and things to be pissed off about.


  1. says

    Seems short and obvious…but it certainly isn’t, since I think just about everyone has encountered this in one way or another. I think you summed it up nicely.

    At the risk of generalizing, I think you see this kind of behavior most from people who actually ARE fairly ignorant about what they’re discussing. They tend to distill the entire subject down to select talking points (that support their pre-existing view, naturally), and feel that that’s really all there is to it…if you disagree with their “facts”, it must be because you’ve never heard them before or don’t understand them. The reason they see the argument/debate as “so simple” is because to them, it IS simple. They don’t know much about it, and don’t want to; they know enough to “know” that they are right, and that is exactly as much as they want to know.

    You shouldn’t discuss any subject, IMO, unless you are ready to accept that you may in fact be the one who needs to assimilate additional information, and that you may need to change your current view/opinion based on that additional information.

  2. says

    The person whose comments started this has posted a comment explaining and apologizing in this thread, because I said that was enough of the topic in the other thread. I didn’t post it, because it was just going to derail things onto discussion of the group we were debating.

    So I want to deal with this without talking about the group. Red keeps saying she doesn’t mean to sound condescending and so on, but then she talks about “misconceptions” and not being very good at clearing them up. There’s no way to read that but: she still thinks my opinions are mere misconceptions. If only I could see it from her perspective, then I would understand.

    The belief that anyone who disagrees with you just doesn’t “know” takes many forms. Red talks about being “immersed” in the group’s world. I suspect she considers it self-evident, like the vast majority of humans, that being an insider gives her the better perspective. If that were true, Jim Jones never would’ve managed to take all those lives. I am not even remotely comparing the group in question to a cult, that’s just one example of how flawed the assumption is that being immersed in something gives you a better perspective. It can actually work against you.

    Nor do I assume my perspective on the group is better, but I do think I presented more facts and logic to back it up, and isn’t that the essence of discussion?

  3. Casey says

    In regards to Red’s defence of Anon, I’m irritated that sie insisted “hey, Anon’s not all good nor all bad” because aside from challenging Scientology and trying to stop people who abuse animals and trapping the occasional child molester, they’re mostly all bad. Just a bunch of racist, sexist, homophobic douchebags with nary a whit for self-reflection (sie is right in regards to the fact that there’s plenty of girls on there (and POC and LGBTQ folk), but y’know, internalized oppression/horizontal hatred and all that). I’m just going by my experience dabbling in 4chan/Encyclopedia Dramatica around age 18 when I was fresh to the real world and at my most vulnerable, both emotionally/psychologically and monetary-wise. I was a very insecure hateful person then and I LOVED acting like an Internet Fuckwad on 4chan, it even resulted in my most loathsome of personal moments where I accused my best friend only getting a job (that I didn’t even WANT, my mom told me to look for work but I was having anxiety issues) due to Affirmative Action. Our friendship was irrevocably scarred because of that. I wound up leaving 4chan/ED and a year later had a feminist click moment and became more active in social justice, and I’ve felt MUCH BETTER and less full of toxic bile ever since.

    I’m also pissed that Red said sie “DOESN’T KNOW WHO TO BELIEVE” in regards to the Assange case. Not for nothing, but I try to side with the rape victim by default.

  4. Shaun says


    Re: Well you know, the fact he admitted to having sex with a sleeping woman (and considering she’s pressing charges, they clearly didn’t have a ‘You know it’s so hot when I wake up and a man is already inside me’ kink going on), and to having unprotected sex with a woman who only consented to protected sex pretty much tells me everything I need to know out of his own mouth, even if his side is completely truthful and nothing he says didn’t happen happened.

  5. says

    I always get shades of this whenever people claim that the solution to some sort of controversy is “more education”. The assumption is pretty clear that people disagreeing with the speaker are just uneducated and once they’ve been given the facts, they’ll come into line.

  6. says

    This might be my biggest peeve with my Tea Partier uncle and grandma. They are constantly telling me that I hold my opinions because I read too many liberal news sources, and if I read more “balanced” news sources then I would agree with them. (By the way, they think Fox News and Drudge Report are centralist/neutral news sources. The prosecution rests.)

    Which is insulting on multiple levels: 1) their position is so obviously superior that genuine disagreement is impossible, only ignorance can explain it 2) I am gullible enough to change my opinion based on what other people tell me to think 3) I’m too insecure in my beliefs to read opinions that challenge mine….

    Especially irritating when I am discussing my lived experience and they tell me I’m wrong. It’s like, I just finished telling you how the cashier harassed me for trying to use my EBT (food stamps) card, and your middle class ass wants to rant about unicorns people who abuse food stamps? Or I tell you about my classmate who tries to police my facial expressions and cracks jokes about my presumed sex life, and your male ass wants to kvetch about women who cry sexual harassment over “friendly” office humor?

    I mean, I’m not the only expert on womanhood/poverty/queerness/whatever. But I am one so don’t try to tell me I’m wrong. Even in situations where I’m not an expert (like when my White uncle and my White self argue about race), it is entirely possible to have seen all the same evidence you have and reach a different conclusion. I can even have logic to back my points up, although you won’t know that until you actually listen to me instead of just waiting for your turn to speak.

  7. Maria says

    Jennifer Kesler: The person whose comments started this has posted a comment explaining and apologizing in this thread, because I said that was enough of the topic in the other thread. I didn’t post it, because it was just going to derail things onto discussion of the group we were debating.

    Casey, we’re not talking about the group Anon in this thread. We’re having a meta discussion about the TYPE of comment Red was making.

    ETA: I see there are several comments in the queue talking about Anon as a phenomenon. I am trashing these because they are not relevant to this thread. If anyone would like to send me links for this or next week’s LoGI, we can use that as an open thread to talk about Anon. This is NOT the place for that discussion.

  8. Red says

    Okay, I need to make things clear…

    I am sorry for the tone of my comment, it was out of line. It was NEVER my intention to suggest that people were ignorant on the subject. Obviously, everyone has had different experiences from mine and I was not trying to imply my view was universal nor was I trying to say that other people’s opinion on the subject were wrong.

    I was trying to state MY view and what I PERSONALLY have borne witness to in regards to the comment.


  9. Maria says

    I’m trashing a few comments from this thread. Seriously, read the Discussion Guidelines (the link to which is available above the commenting box). Grammar nitpicks/snark are not allowed. Edit your comments for civility and respect, please.

  10. Maria says

    Also, thank you very much to Red for being such a good sport about re-writing zir comment so that it both addressed the specific thread it’s in and follows the commenting guidelines. We’re doing this series to make it less draining to maintain a feminist blog, and it’s incredibly gratifying to see readers so, so, so helpfully and graciously go along with teaching moments and help create their own.

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