Alternatives to “Polite Conversations”

Some time ago (24 August 2011), Daniel posed the question here:

One of the key aspects of reframing the discussion and allowing our voice to be heard is to not speak in the defensive. Since this is expected, even in the question-and-answer format, speaking up and out without necessarily answering anyone becomes very important. Beyond that, I think it is necessary to use all of the emotions and rhetorical devices that are normally disallowed us in the “polite” context of our adopted culture (this is perhaps worth another topic….)

I would like to open the discussion on this.

  • What are the emotions and rhetorical devices not normally allowed?
  • What kind of success and difficulty has there been with resorting to these?
  • Although polite conversation has not “got it done” for us, what are ways to negotiate the (ad hominem) reply that “our” hatefulness (or anger or lack of “civility”) are merely being “answered” by similar hatefulness, anger, or lack of civility.
  • What do alternatives to “polite conversation” look or sound like?
  • What is missing from the above that is needed to fruitfully discuss and explore this?

*cocks an ear to listen


18 thoughts on “Alternatives to “Polite Conversations”

  1. This is a great topic. It is also vast. I don’t know where to start, having just been booted off of Adoptive Familes Circle web site and being told in a Tweet that my article on the abolition of adoption was “full of hatred”.

    I am hard pressed to imagine what might be more “hateful” than oppression in this world, but so be it.

    What is not allowed is a straightforward mode that is not full of the subjunctive and conditional tenses. Everyone has their “own opinion” and these are stated, but nothing is discussed.

    This to me is the exact opposite of what is needed, which is a dialectic, a true back-and-forth dialogue; an acknowledgment of the potential for moving forward from what seem to be contradictory stances.

    There needs to be a linguistic focus on differentiating what is said from the structure (bad word choice) of what is said. Meaning, we all know how to code what we say with smiles and puffery, and what we say can be contradicted by how we say it. This is best defined by a little altercation that took place at Writing My Wrongs (which actually starts here) a while back. There’s a whole other side conversation not taking place concerning affilations of place that says so much. The structure of the dialogue here in and of itself speaks against those trying to make a point. It’s like screaming into a hurricane.

    Honestly, I don’t think this is possible online. The medium, impersonal and distanced, hopelessly mediated, does not allow for the nuance or meta-conversational meaning of an actual in-person discussion.

    Barring that, an acknowledgment of the existence of a dominant discourse, and the inherent imbalance of any given discussion based on power differentials and control of media, would go far to help in many conversations.

  2. I have two thoughts at this time, and am going to split them up.

    From much online roleplaying (in various circumstances), I have noted that (because there is no moderator, no method of enforcement) a satisfying online roleplaying scene occurs when the people involve respect the autonomy of the roleplaying premise. Essentially, if you adn I are going to “play a scene” between our characters, we can only really pull that off if you and I (not necessarily our characters) mutually respect the premise of our interaction. If, on the other hand, one of us gets into a dither because (“such and such couldn’t happen” or “you can’t do that” or “that’s impossible” then things fall apart into pathetic displays of sometimes-whispered, sometimes embarrassingly out loud bickering.

    This is the same as saying “if we’re going to play a game, we have to agree to play by the rules,” which is plain enough, but what is remarkable about online encounters is that the outcome of the “game” needn’t be a victory. It is quite possible to have a mutually satisfying outcome, even though what both parties want is not not the same (or even up for grabs). This is most readily visible in cases of online cybersex, where a satisfying outcome for both parties is not about winning. And, in fact, the fantasy of one participant and the fantasy of the other participant doesn’t even have to be shared–all that matters is that both sides are willing to help the other side get aroused.

    Obviously, in typical situations where one speaking voice has the power to delete comments and ban people from sites,t he possibility of of this kind of mutual respect for the process (not the outcome) becomes ever more vanishingly likely. It might be encouraging, actually, to find a site moderated by someone who deletes polite conversation from respondents, demanding instead that people get in there with their whole being, be loud, rowdy, etc–but all the while wholly respecting the mutuality of the process (toward a mutually desirable outcome, rather than winning). Instead, overwhelmingly it is more of the “you violated the rules of order” type that gets pegged for deletion, sot hat those who (by education, socialization, or compunction) aren’t inclined to use moderated language are excluded as vulgar, uncivil, or gross (in both sense of the word).

    One of the first immediate things that I think of as a necessary concomitant of this is that TRE’s should descend on adoption sites en masse, not necessarily to firebomb any given thread, but to generate a temenos within which the TREs talk to each other. If I post something, and Suki reinforces it in some way,a nd Daniel does, etc., this mitigates the “crazy adoptee” stigma for one but it is also harder to justify deleting everyone; it has more of an impact in those who are witnessing the thread. At a minimum, it spreads around the frustration (amongst ourselves).

  3. Daniel: when you write: “What is not allowed is a straightforward mode that is not full of the subjunctive and conditional tenses. Everyone has their “own opinion” and these are stated, but nothing is discussed” — this is the problem of agreeing to disagree. This ostensibly civil gesture of mutual non-annihilation is actually socially destructive. If I happen to think some group of people is inferior … let’s agree to disagree, and my hate-filled poison gets to continue to live on unmolested in the culture where we all must live (particularly those who are being called inferior). Miss California defending as “just her opinion, the same as Obama’s” that “gay marriage” is wrong is a stellar example.

    But this itself is possible thanks to postmodern hyperindividualism and capitalism (three synonyms). My right to hold even the most appalling opinion, and to use my wealth to spread it around or simply to use my fingers and put it on the Internet, trumps any sort of claim by the social domain that pollution in the public domain is not desirable (without someone howling about First Amendment rights in the US).

    Agreeing to disagree is very much an important part of academia as well. Postmodernism requires the continuous elaboration of new positions for consumption, and so however contentious my new theory may be vis-a-vis your old (entrenched) theory, the most basic self-interest on both sides is that you and I continue to exist academically. You will rebut my theory; we’ll engage in a celebrated, contentious exchange in some journal (and sell some subscriptions as a result), and in the end, we are, in practical terms, agreeing to disagree. And thus the kowtowers (everyone in academia in the US must necessarily be a kowtower to capitalism, even Noam Chomsky) add to the social capital of whatever institution they claim to be opposing (in a piece of surrealism, if not hypocrisy, as deep and rich as Rage Against The Machine being on Sony Records). In academia, this is carried on with a certain snarling decorum, but in politics this is performed int he style of open warfare.

    The point is: those with the capacity to shape how the discourse is conducted will, as a last resort, insist upon agreeing to disagree as a way to escape culpability for their position or any articulation of its justification (which likely is lacking).

    Systematically, from top to bottom, agreeing to disagree is the most authentic point of incivility currently being waved around as “reasonable civilization”. It fatuously leverages the sentiment “can’t we all just get along” by leaving unaddressed precisely those things that are making all getting along infeasible. So a strategy, not as one that tries to “take adopters seriously,” which may be painful and overly frustrating, may be the (Russian) “holy fool,” who takes on an air of simply being incapable of understanding where someone is coming from. The strategy would be to proceed by asking, “Why do you believe that” in order to elicit the ground from which various adopting ickinesses are issuing. It’s a sort of “let them hang themselves with their own rope” that is not stealthy in so far as I am making no claim (when I ask the questions) about my own position vis-a-vis the questions I am asking. This isn’t an advocacy for empathic understanding either, as that also might be more painful than useful. It might also take longer or require more energy than one might want to expend.

  4. You nail it here, Snow Leopard. The Twit who yesterday told me I was “hateful” today said, “we will agree to disagree”. My response was, “No, sorry, you don’t get to dismiss me so easily”. So recognition of the imbalance is paramount to me.

    I often use local examples to describe this. It has taken me a long time to get used to the “public fights” that take place in my neighborhood. There is no such thing as “two individuals” debating here. When I used to see arguments escalate immediately into loud, crowded altercations, my reaction was typical of my acculturation, that this was “beneath” some notion of “civilized” discourse.

    I know now that all such demonstrations are premised on an awareness of the eventual cohesion of the social unit. I explain this better in the links above. As opposed to what I grew up with, which was an avoidance of an elevation to “chaos”, because this social cohesion doesn’t exist.

    Another example. A professor in my former university caused a scandal for co-authoring a book with Israeli academics. Technically, this is illegal under Lebanese law. Ethically, given the author’s Palestinian background and the most recent war on Lebanon in 2006, this is hugely problematic. Politically, given the missionary basis of the university, this carries a lot of “dominant” weight that need be discussed. There was a huge outcry, and my department decided to hold a “debate” on the subject.

    From the outset, the disparity between the feigned “equality” of the debate and its actual one-sidedness was evident. This devolved quickly, for the cultural reasons we are talking about: This is a foreign mode here, and it was understood what the desired “outcome” was.

    At one point a professor stood up and exclaimed: “Can we at least agree that this should be a civilized discussion?” A huge resounding “NOOOOOOO” came from the audience, and I just laughed because it so perfectly sent up the imposed dominant mode here.

    Later, the audience would be described as “za‘raan”–street thugs, for want of a better translation–which is how my colleagues described me amongst themselves, and which I now take as a compliment.

    So online the equivalent of this is that I am a “troll”, when in fact in my mind it is a given that we need work toward some kind of understanding, mutually/communally beneficial, instead of any kind of ego-satisfying “win” of a given back-and-forth, or simply a continuation of the dominant mode that oppresses us.

    This is where my plea to include those without voice in the discussion gets me in most trouble; gets me fired from my academic position; gets no appreciation within any of the realms that you mention. It is a basic and fundamental recalculation of the equation, and this cannot be tolerated for the economic, political, and theoretical reasons that you list.

    • On one of my visits to Vietnam, I was in the house during a family meeting. This consisted of numerous extended family members sitting in a room. And on several occasions, things got pretty heated, and then someone (not always the most “hot-headed” one in the exchange) would leave the room. At first, I took this as a “storming out,” but then the person would return, and the discussion, which had been continuing in the person’s absence, would articulate further. Because I don’t speak much Vietnamese, I have no idea what input the various departures and returns had with respect to the discussion, but it was clear that there was an allowance for outbursts, a permissible absence, and yet a continuing return to engagement. Of course, there are many cases of this in families in the US as well. In this respect, agreeing to disagree, storming out that is permanent, and the cultural habit of ‘shunning” that I have seen in its most virulent form in Jewish contexts, seems to me to be the most antithetical kinds of moves or tactics as far as human exchange is concerned. (A local Rumanian Jew took up the habit of specifically ignoring one particular person who would from time to time be in the room with him. If she addressed him, he did not acknowledge her. If there was a conversation we all were participating in, he would not acknowledge anything she added to the conversation.) The notion (locatable in various places) of “you are dead to me” is similarly problematic. This points to your point that, underneath all of the loudness and pother, is a consensus about the ultimate social cohesion of it all. In the Vietnamese family discussion, there was no question (ultimately) that everyone was family.

      Watching the Black Athena Debate youtube last night, there were similar collisions like you describe. I can easily imagine that crowd answering Lefkowitz or Rogers’ please “can’t we have a civilized debate” with “NOOOOOO” (all the more so since Lefkowitz and Rogers are starting from an uncivil position where people are being asked to take seriously the justifications for their, and others’, racism under scholarly pretenses). So a part of the problem here is precisely the failure to recognize “we are all family” (or, since I don’t like the metaphor of family being applied in this way) “we are all community”. This makes me realize it would be instructive to look at ways that tribes (in North America and Africa) confronted one another without devolving merely to warfare. (Any knowledge on that point.) It might unfortunately emerge that intertribal discourse, which could only have developed its own netiquettes and protocols, would proves a touch misleading because both tribes would be operating from at least an agreement of equality of humanity. Once hierarchy and racism get into the picture, the protocol of “polite conversation” (which might be fine for Anglo-Saxons squaring off in a debate) becomes merely an instrument of oppression (consciously or not).

      The problem is not that we must conduct ourselves in polite ways. Or let me not identify this as “polite” (that’s obviously just a piece of culturalism.) Every culture must necessarily have a protocol for discussing and resolving disputes. This cannot be called a problem. Nor is it even yet a problem that, where cultures have differing ideas of protocol, that both sides expect the other to use theirs. There is that somewhat dubious distinction between people (sometimes construed along gendered liens) that some people are screamers and others are talkers–and when two screamers are going at it, or when two talkers are going at it, there is frequently the possibility of reaching some kind of a conclusion. By contrast, if a screamer and a talker are trying to go at it, the screaming causes the talker to get even more “quiet” and “reasonable-sounding,” which then “reads” to the screamer as a withdrawal, a backing away from the discussion, which prompts even more screaming (in an attempt to get the person to engage). Disaster. As a starting point, it is not helpful to expect screamers not to (want to) scream or talkers to (want to) talk; and it is futile, even in the presence of an enforcer, to demand that one side adopt the mode of the other. What this suggests to me is that some kind of translator, a mediator (rather than a moderator) is needed on both sides of the discussion—someone who is able to field the mode of response from both sides and present it, in both directions. Obviously, this mediator must be able to represent both sides as best as possible; it may be that there should be a panel of mediators, rather than only one. It is likely the case that on both sides of the fence there are already people constitutionally able and/or inclined to fulfill that kind of mediating role (so long as both sides do not ultimately gang up on or ostracize such people, who in one respect will seem like traitors). What cannot be the case, of course, is that any such mediator (whether physically embodied as “someone between” or in an unvoiced but tacitly agreed upon/imaginary consensus on both sides, or one side) merely respects only one mode. This enforcement of one-sidedness provides a crucial input to you being deemed a troll.

      As a not entirely side note in all of this, I’ve noticed that even in discussions where rowdiness and Robert’s Rules of Order try to coexist, a major, basically unacknowledged piece of resistance to “rowdiness” is the perceived or actual increased amount of time it takes up. I fault our general unwillingness to spend the actual, real amount of time that it takes to resolve these matters—and by resolve, I mean to discuss to the point where everyone feels satisfied that they have been heard in all of the particulars that need hearing. I’m not going to parody Western culture by accusing it of a business-model reflex that frets “time is money” in every waking moment of culture, but in the organizational groups I’ve participated in, I keep finding the clock (as the “hour allotted” for a meeting, &c) exerts an undue pressure on trying to reach a decision. People are implicitly disliked or silenced in various ways for “going on and on”. People, in the interest of getting back to their Xbox, want to cut short whatever inputs there are to a discussion. And, to be fair, there are times when sheer stamina is just not enough to keep up with all the details that might come into play.

      But I know for a fact that those Vietnamese family meetings had no clock on them. And I’ll bet that the original students of Islam, pulling the very archetypal all-nighter itself way back when, had no sense of a clock-like necessary end to the debates raging. If anything, only mere unconsciousness (and sleep) intervened, and the conversation continued upon waking. (The Russian intelligentsia similarly showed this great respect for sprawling detail in conversation.) Part of what I’ve loved about Russia is the recognition by their intellectuals that failing to follow the logical consequences of a position to its end is an act of moral cowardice. And the only way one can get to such an end is 91) by being willing to get to such an end, and (2) subjecting the not-endness of my position to scrutiny by those who are sympathetically inclined enough toward me to at least demand such moral courage from me. This is utterly lacking in the current culture I live in.

      If something really matters—that is, if we claim that something really matters—then that will be expressed (must necessarily be expressed) in a potentially absurd extension of one’s exploration. When there is a dialogue, this can be a much faster back and forth; when one is working online, there is the egregious, semi-unfortunate ballooning comment issue.

      Anyway, what I’m pointing to is that the artificial constraint of a clock—as perhaps the most brutal imposition of what amounts to “polite conversation”—would appear to be one of the key, overlooked items in how (or why) (Anglo-Saxon) discussion protocol finds itself nonplussed in the face of a “rowdier” discussion protocol that obviously takes as a point of departure a literal abundance of time. The mentality of scarcity that is so crucial to the modern western mind simply cannot deal with the fact that the “rowdy” mentality assumes an essentially limitless quantity of time. Every time I’m in a discussion, and I feel the horrible pressure to shut myself up, to moderate myself (especially when this gets framed in gendered terms, i.e., as a white male I’m licensed to speak from that position of privilege and will therefore make it impossible for others to speak), the only reason that is in place at all (perhaps not the ONLY reason) is because no one in the room is willing to let the conversation go on for (literal) hours if that’s as long as it is going to take for those gathered to reach whatever stopping point the discussion requires, demands, or discovers. The limitation on comment lengths (on blogs &c), the local three minute limit one is given when addressing our City Council, the artificial time limits and constraints the moderator of the Black Athena Debate enforced (not entirely consistently)—all of these are emblematic of the preservation of power, rather than a genuine honoring of a given discussion protocol.

      I have heard that in Sweden there is the cultural habit of something like “quiet time.” A person can, just by the by or even in the course of a discussion, simply stop and go off for a while to be quiet (or perhaps to sit in the presence of an interlocutor in silence). I point to this as a “white” example of faith in an abundance of time. I’m sure there are lots of other examples. A blog I’m participating in could be described in one way as “white guys hashing it out”. To the extent that we allow ourselves the necessary sprawl to do so, and do not limit ourselves to text-message think (140 characters), it could be fruitful. But in general, I don’t find people willing to hash it out, because they’re more busy neoliberally trying to survive (to put it politely) than to address the very world that is making their lives unbearable or surreal in the first place.

      Which I all to say, if you ever try to apologize again to me, Daniel, (or any of us) for “rambling,” I may have to hold it against us.

  5. We’re just ramblin’ guys (apologies to Steve Martin).

    I was thinking about this item today because I had to go to my lawyer’s office to pick up my bogus-name nationality papers and on the way back I was walking past the national museum.

    A guy pulls up on his motor-scooter and I’m imagining that he is going to ask me directions because no one refers to street names or building numbers but relies instead on other people for directions and cryptic answers that rely on historical communal knowledge like, “make a left where Abu Jamil’s mini-market used to be.”

    Instead, he launched into a tirade as to why the museum is always closed, and what a shame this is in terms of national culture, and he’s been to Turkey and Syria and they have national museums that aren’t always closed, etc., etc. It was expected that I chime in which I did, and we had a vent fest at the expense of the bogus government, absent state, and non-culture of Lebanon. Then we shook hands and he drove off.

    What we are describing is exactly this: There are a million million conversations that we are all potentially involved with, we are just not within earshot of them. As opposed to a dead silence that is interrupted by conversation but only if people have been introduced to each other first and know the rules they need to abide by.

    New York City used to be this way. Talking to people at a bus stop was not like today a sign of insanity.

    When we put together our artists’ collective here, we made a point of attempting to bypass the rules of the clock as you are saying, and all other parliamentary procedures that invoke power differentials. We based our bylaws and charter on documents such as Iroquois meeting guidelines, but also those of the Quakers, and local modes of congregating. Locally this means no one sits behind anyone else. This requires an endless amount of room to make a big circle. This also means that everyone gets to speak, and speak at length if need be, and even off topic. The walking out, removing of oneself, etc. also takes place.

    Now that I’m aware of these other ways of engaging, I have no tolerance for the bullying and “indirect directing” of online conversations, as the two links to Writing My Wrongs attest.

    I think also that we are talking about registers of discourse, and what we need to understand is that on the spectrum ranging from screaming into a hurricane to calligraphied academic treatise, we are still not going to make headway against the dominant discourse. Given this, I much prefer to scream.

    Maybe it’s a bourgeois conceit that we are, after all, talking about?

    • Daniel: when you write: “What we are describing is exactly this: There are a million million conversations that we are all potentially involved with, we are just not within earshot of them. As opposed to a dead silence that is interrupted by conversation but only if people have been introduced to each other first and know the rules they need to abide by” … the other day, I reminded myself again in conversation that there is a highly social, highly coordinated “conversation” that goes on continuously (with everyone) when we are driving. Of course, there are the occasional difficult people, but what I am particularly struck by noticing is that actually it is not a “rules-enforced” cooperation but is, rather, genuinely anarchic. It is true, that sometimes a police officer will ticket us, but part of the sense of injustice in that is often that we were quite genuinely not doing anything that would discomfit other people on the road (apart from the irrelevant question of whether the act was or was not legal).

      I will defend this as not a utopian vision, precisely because it is here now and every day. It is also true that the reason we coordinate with each other on the road can be filed under “self-interest’ but that is not very adequate. At a four-way stop, I may wave someone on. That’s obviously not in my self-interest of getting wherever. So I will say that the road is one of the places where the notion of ubuntu continues to prevail, even in the US culture.

      And how this attaches to what you’ve said is that the appearance of dead silence is the same appearance of alienation (or living in a non-anarchic, police/rules-dominated world) while driving. Violence seems to be ubiquitous, but all that is ubiquitous is fear of it (though, of course, there is violence). In a sufficiently casual cafe environment, it does become possible to jump into conversations (those really are conversations within earshot). And most people seem to welcome this, even crave it–for obvious reasons.

      When addressing the dominant discourse, however, because such “dialogue” continues only so long as the dominant discourse will suffer it (and, of course, so long as we don’t stray outside of the protocol), this means the valuable conversation is the one we have amongst ourselves, preferably in front of the dominant discourse. This is how I understand the US Civil Rights movement. Much of the discourse was directed to itself, but conducted where others could hear it (or witness it).

      • Funny that you use this example this way, because I use it in the exact opposite way, now that I’ve experienced traffic in Lebanon, which is truly based on a “common law agreement” and not the third-party authority of traffic law.

        I remember during the big power blackout in the States people waiting in their cars unable to move in New York City because they couldn’t handle the absence of traffic lights.

        In Beirut, some European country funded the placement of such traffic lights in the hopes of “controlling” the “chaos” of this place; they are completely ignored, because they cause more traffic problems than they try to solve.

        Your last point is hugely valid. I’ve often said this to those I end up arguing with along these lines, that they are not my audience, but a conduit to those who truly need to hear what it is we are saying.

  6. Pingback: OPPOSING ADOPTION « panopticonsRus

  7. Sorry for the absence – I’ve talked adoption ’til I’m blue in the face for four years and opted out. However, it’s a little hard to ignore Transracial Eyes since it was my baby…

    I like this post – it’s looking to be progressive. Here are some comments/observations, though certainly no definitive answers…

    What are the emotions and rhetorical devices not normally allowed?

    Basically anything immediate and human that’s not flattering to adoption. Unfortunately, hurt people tend to lay blame. And guilty people must avert their eyes at the sight of pain. All parties tend to place themselves in a dichotomy of right and wrong where each is trying to change the other.

    What kind of success and difficulty has there been with resorting to these?

    Well, the difficulty is being pathologized as being mal-adjusted if one is critical at all. So clearly, it’s not effective to express oneself without serious restraint. Also, neither party is doing the best job (in my opinion) of recognizing the full complexity of the situation, and it is a complexity so profound that no one is fully right or wrong. Trying to change each other’s position is a mistake. It makes us put up filters which destroy listening.

    Although polite conversation has not “got it done” for us, what are ways to negotiate the (ad hominem) reply that “our” hatefulness (or anger or lack of “civility”) are merely being “answered” by similar hatefulness, anger, or lack of civility.

    Fortunately, no one has reproached me in the civility department. I have, however, had to suffer from having my words dismissed because I was abused, which somehow negates that I can possibly be rational or emotionally stable. I’ve no solution for this tendency to sling mud but to try to be a beacon of rationality and emotional stability in contrast to rationalizations. Like any minority seeking equality, we are not free to relax and be as unkempt as our judges. While it’s not fair, I believe it makes us better people. But I think we concern ourselves far too much with others, when we have so much more potential if we work on empowering ourselves.

    What do alternatives to “polite conversation” look or sound like?

    These days I am less and less interested in changing people’s minds with conversation and “dialogue.” We are fooling ourselves to consider these as actual dialogues, since people aren’t open to listening. I am less and less convinced by activism and legislation too. So much of why we became orphans – the whole complicated web of injustice that serves the privileged – is based on negatives from which there don’t seem to be any options. For me, the ALTERNATIVE to conversation is creating positives that don’t require adoption as the default or only solution. I don’t want to waste my time trying to convince those who are part of the problem, even if they control everything. People change when they are inspired by things that work better. Things that work better are created by motivated individuals: governments, institutions, and societies don’t lead, but follow the work of motivated inspired individuals. We adoptees should focus more on empowering ourselves to be amazing, beautiful agents of change that inspire.

    What is missing from the above that is needed to fruitfully discuss and explore this?

    I would like us to stop fighting against or trying to change or blame the system. I would like us to break out of these constraints, stop talking, and DO. We should change the focus to provide real models of real community really doing things for the best interest of children.

    • Hi girl4078:

      In a connecting the dots kind of way, I wanted to bring this over from another post:

      Most importantly, it relieves us of having to talk to, convince, engage with, or otherwise put up with P/APs who “know best [for us]“, and whose starting premise is that adoption is a given. I’ve gotten very tired of this line of thinking.

      On the face of it, it seems in a way really obvious (simply following the logic of Civil Rights in the US alone might be a clue) that “talking amongst ourselves” is the more primary objective than “talking to P/APs” etc. Can it be said that we’ve made some kind of mistake in that attempt at communication, in those variously fruitless encounters with power where adoptees are silenced, their accounts banned or deleted, comments erased, etc.

      I’d rather take the view that such encounters, when they are memorialized here (and in general amongst the conversation we could or should be having with ourselves)–when they are not just desiccating experiences we keep to ourselves–makes the (transforms them) from destructive acids into salutary medicines (at least potentially). They become “dispatches from the front” (someone was using a war metaphor elsewhere). So it might seem, in one way, that the attempts at polite conversations (so to speak; i.e., speaking with an acceptance of the hegemonic discourse) was a waste of time, or on another hand, it wasn’t, because it becomes the fuel of activism here (and everywhere we have conversations with people who are not committed to the hegemonic discourse).

      I feel like, the conversation continuing, that your own call to start pushing for change, via things like the Guatemalan judge, is at hand.

      The whole nexus of anti-colonial, anti-sexist, anti-queer, anti-racist activism can be found on the edge (the knife-edge) of adoption.

      It’s time to draft a manifesto 🙂

      • I don’t know. I’m skeptical of manifestos. Every one I’ve ever read that has ever been written has fallen on its face as idealism foolishly full of itself. We adoptees are misguided to think the issues that loom so large in our minds are of equal importance to the rest of the world. We are just a small tragedy in a world full of hurt. It’s all interconnected, but we should maintain perspective.

        I still see TRE as a fully transparent conversation amongst ourselves and whatever influence it has, to whomever, is not necessarily focused on AP/PAPS or to fuel anything but authentic dialogue. As I said, I no longer give activism much purchase. It is old and tired, annoying and depressing. It is reactive and not proactive.

        It has been said, “change the laws and the people will follow,” but I believe people obey or disregard laws that aren’t in alignment with their values, and values are more robust than laws. Look at abortion, for example. It’s against the law in Korea, yet Korea has possibly the highest abortion rates of any developed country. Countries rise and fall, toppled by values. This is where real change resides.

        How do we influence people’s values? By doing something beautiful, that’s how. I no longer believe in pushing for change. I no longer believe in pushing for anything. I believe in being the change one wants to see. By DOING something inspiring, activism becomes unnecessary because inspiration easily goes viral. People are tired of being pushed, but hungry for inspiration. How does one be inspiring? By being creative. People don’t understand what creativity is. Creativity is coming up with new effective solutions to problems that were not apparent before. Creativity takes being open and positive. Imagine if the energy we spent on being heard was spent on empowering women and creating supportive communities? So that Korea had single moms as role models? So that keeping your child was worthy of admiration? We need to build. We need to stop shaking our fists. We need to stop lamenting, stop arguing/trying to convince the entrenched, imagine the world we want to make, make it happen, and shine.

      • HI Suki:

        Your post has a distinction between activism and inspiration, and yet precisely what I would call “activism” is what you are calling “inspiration”. If activism is reactive and inspiration proactive, then I’m for inspiration. My proposal for a manifesto would be, in fact, something beautiful, something creativie–something that also can (in human fashion) possibly fall on its face foolishly, but then get up again and move forward.

        The post you wrote is already a manifesto. Maybe a whole series of statements of what we want in the world that is inspiring, creative, all strung together would be a “manifesto” (I’ll put it in quotes to distinguish it from bad manifestos).

        All of this: “Creativity is coming up with new effective solutions to problems that were not apparent before. Creativity takes being open and positive. Imagine if the energy we spent on being heard was spent on empowering women and creating supportive communities? So that Korea had single moms as role models? So that keeping your child was worthy of admiration? We need to build.”–would be included in what I mean by activism.

        Activism in a negative sense is taking the given and making an adjustment to it; activism in the positive sense involves creating alternatives to the given. Single moms as role models in Korea would be activism in the positive sense, because it would be providing an alternative to the given.

        Sometimes differences in terms are much more than merely semantic, but here I feel like (I think( that the distinction you are offering between creativity (as desirable) and activism (as undesirable) is just a semantic difference. When we work together to make a creative change in the world (to offer/create an alternative so an already existing, undesirable given), I don’t have to call that activism.

      • Yes you are right. But as long as activism is associated primarily with dissent, I think some distinction is in order. I spent a couple years in the activism trenches, (war lingo is appropriate here) which is why I was framing it in those terms, which is the political way it is viewed conventionally. But I forgot I was responding to a person more enlightened than that. Please forgive me.

        An adoptee asked me once if they should become an activist. This adoptee was already volunteering for positive things! I asked her, “Do you want things to be better?” Yes. “Are you working towards that?” Yes. “Then, you are active. You have been activated. You are already an activist!” So it seems we agree in spirit.

        If we work within pathological systems, then our action is wasted. Unless we have something to offer – a creative solution, a new paradigm, a new way of being that works – then we can’t really complain. We must build instead of tear down. We must dare to have vision. We must love what we do. That starts with ourselves and the people we touch. It shines so bright it delights and compels others to act in kind. I think that is more than a semantic difference. I think inspiration is much more powerful than merely acting for change, as it is the motivator behind nourishing, self-sustaining action.

      • First, there’s nothing to forgive 🙂

        Second, we’re aligned in the meaningful sense, and I agree that keeping a distinction is helpful–to avoid letting those who are “mere activists” get complacent around the activated inpirers.

        Third, when you write, “Unless we have to have something to offer – a creative solution, a new paradigm, a new way of being that works – then we can’t really complain” there are two things I would want to clarify, though they may already be explicit or implicit in this or in what you’ve already written.

        Until we arrive at the moment of having something to offer, because what is needed may not be clear, or if what is needed is clear, how to realize it may not be clear, then dialogue toward identifying that–even when whining or carping or venting–should be distinguished from “complaint” (see below). The important emphasis here is that any dialogue that is a point of departure (as toward something, toward identifying what is needed, how to realize what is need, what the creative solution might be or look like, the shift in paradigm that makes a difference, the new way of being that works, etc) is not, and should not be mistaken, as complain. (I’m not saying you’re making that mistake, of course.) I want to emphasize this because (uninspired) activism often is satisfied simply to DO SOMETHING, whatever it is, whether it helps, hinders, or does nothing for the situation. The practical DOERS in the world don’t want to talk about anything, so that anything comes to mean (or starts to look like) “complaining”. I’m not keen on only action or thought; I want thoughtful action and active thoughtfulness.

        The deadliness of complaint is this: it is a coping mechanism for making the unbearable bearable (if only temporarily). When you say “we can’t really complain” I read that very literally–as in “we can’t afford to complain” because complaint–especially supra-righteous high-mindedness–is an excellent way for the Powers That Be to let us stay right where we are. Complaint is complicity in the undesirable status quo it supposedly complains about; complaint is, in fact, the very allowance that permits us to (inadvertently) support the status quo. So you’re very right: we can’t really complain.

        Somewhat tangentially, Graham Pechey has a good point about this (in a very different context) … (cutting and pasting from my Facebook post):

        ‎”[Bakhtin’s writings] could never be made to square with that agnostic attitude towards power so characteristic of [certain kinds of US politics] in its high-minded shadow-boxing with Stalinist and other authoritarianisms” (p. 57).

        from Graham Pechy, “On the Borders of Bakhtin: dialogisation, decolonisation” pp. 39-67 in K. Hirschkop & D. Shepherd (1989) Bakhtin and cultural theory, Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.

      • My, these comments are literally getting skinnier and skinnier!

        Spot on about the deadliness of complaint.

        Too often activism is false empowerment and is utilized as a tool for self-soothing. And that’s when we shoot ourselves in the foot. And accomplish nothing. Because when our actions are blame-based we put the responsibility on someone else. Which empowers them and disempowers us. So yes, we contribute to our own marginalization by accepting that position. When, actually, we can have more dignity than that. When we take good care of ourselves, we can be healthy and have more power to empower others.

        No one owns all the stock on good ideas, and no one can stop us from loving each other and envisioning a better world. The first act of changing the game is to break out of limitations created by people with no vision. Arguing, convincing people invested in the status quo is a waste of energy. Alternative models which perform better is better use of our human resources.

        I think we are on the cusp of great change. Because, little by little, more and more people are getting smart: understanding conservation of personal energy, recognizing the need for sustainability of personal efforts, appreciating creativity, and desiring to get behind positive movement.

  8. Pingback: Adoptees should focus more on empowering ourselves to be amazing, beautiful agents of change that inspire « neverforgottenisfound

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