Listening vs agreeing and postmodernism

Ordinarily, trying to take a given phrase and use it to expose a subconscious equivocation is a bad idea. For example, ‘colored’ as a word for black people is supposed to be insulting, because it equates the natural state of humans as white, with black people being ‘colored in.’ However, most people who used the word probably did not mean it this way, even subconsciously. After all, the NAACP, a black rights organization, even used ‘colored’ in its name.

There are cases, nonetheless, where a given phrase may mean more than it seems. This appears to be the case with the phrase, common among social justice warrior types, ‘You need to listen to X.’ For example, ‘You need to listen to women about the wage gap.’ There seems to be an assumption that if a person were only to hear a woman claim that the wage gap is 77 cents to the dollar, that they would understand, and that anyone who disagrees must be simply failing to listen to women. Of course, in reality, many people who disagree do so because, having heard the claim, they looked at the evidence, and noted that the vast majority of the gap is explained by other factors.

There are of course cases where people are legitimately not listening to an interested group. A good example of this is in sex work, where the views of actual sex workers are often disregarded or not heard, in favour of listening to such ‘experts’ as Ashton Kutcher (as he panhandles for his organization). However, it should not be expected that just because someone hears from sex workers, that they will automatically agree with them.

The equivocation between ‘listening to’ and ‘agree with’ is not just logically absurd, but also very dangerous. After all, if it is impossible to listen to someone without agreeing with them, then the only way to combat other people’s ideas is by silencing them. This leads to the violent protests to shut down speakers with whom SJWs disagree, which currently are plaguing our universities.

How did ‘listening to’ become equivocated with ‘agreeing with?’ It is a strange equivocation. Obviously, most people would agree with Aristotle, that the ability to entertain an idea without affirming the idea is a mark of intelligence.

It seems likely that postmodernism is to blame. By denying that a personal narrative can be invalidated by facts, postmodernism prevents a person from debating a narrator. Since claims of ‘lived experiences’ (which are subjectively interpreted) cannot be attacked through logic or evidence, listening to a person becomes tantamount to agreeing with them, or at least agreeing that their claim has equal validity with any other claim. To allow others to listen to this person would be to allow them to become ineffably tainted by that person’s narrative (since the postmodernist assumes everyone else also ignores reality and facts).

Indeed, not only does this lead to an equivocation between ‘listening’ and ‘agreeing,’ it also leads to another reason for shutting down speakers with whom the postmodernist disagrees: the postmodern claim that reality is socially constructed. Because postmodernism assumes that reality cannot be determined by the use of empirical evidence or logic, and that reality is merely a social construction, allowing a narrative to be heard by a large number of people makes that narrative more significant in the social construction of reality. This is not a problem for the non-postmodernist, since first, they do not equate hearing a narrative with agreement with that narrative, and second, they can combat that narrative by pointing to evidence. However, for the postmodernist, they have, by allowing someone to speak out in society, actually allowed that person to warp reality with their narrative. Since rational argument and discourse is impossible under postmodernist assumptions, there are only two ways left to combat other ideas: shout them down with your own views, or prevent those other ideas from even being discussed, through law or violence.

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