Thoughts on abuse, power, and justice

Originally published February 10, 2021

Thoughts on abuse, power, and justice:

When we are abused we have our power taken from us.

If we shift our thinking towards power-with paradigms and away from power-over paradigms, to take our power back we don’t need to take power away from the person who harmed us. We need to take back our own power.

It’s a distinction that feels incredibly important.

For one thing I think this distinction applies to a broader level, outside of interpersonal abuse dynamics, because it’s essential that as individuals we do the work to reclaim our personal power. We give up little bits of ourselves every time we make unconscious decisions or internalize ideas and beliefs due to the influence of others.

When we aren’t assessing ideas based on our personally developed set of ethics, we are handing our power over.

Which isn’t to say that abusers aren’t responsible for taking advantage of the fact that people who do not have a solid sense of self will buy into things readily. Abusers often rely on this fact to do what they do. This is why the warning signs of abuse are often apparent very early on if you know what to look for. They test, they ensnare, and they slowly ramp it up. They are absolutely responsible for their behavior, it’s often very intentional.

What troubles me is that I don’t see enough people who are employing something like say, deplatforming as a strategy teaching people to get in touch with their own power in any meaningful way.

I do see it, but at the same exact time I actually see a lot of quite the opposite: strategies that manipulate fear of being “bad” or being targeted by cancel culture tactics. “If you follow or associate with this person you’re an apologist/enabler” – statements that are extremely generalizing and far too one dimensional to reflect complex reality.

If these same people were to emphasize creating a personal guiding ethic to decide upon the best course of action for themselves I think they’d run the risk of exposing the fact that their strategies rely heavily on fear and people’s desire to be seen as a good person.

These strategies blur the lines between what is punitive and what’s necessary and don’t dive into these ethical questions in any meaningful way. They often brush these questions off readily by claiming they center people who cause harm, rather than being a reflection of complex questions we need to be grappling with.

The deplatforming question is complicated because I personally believe that deplatforming fascists is necessary- yet I also know that the context of deplatforming is based on corporate social media and that those policies will always be turned on the left. I don’t defend people’s right to say whatever the hell they want if they are encouraging rhetoric that has historically tended to result in attempts at genocide. But deplatforming as a grassroots strategy isn’t really targeting fascists because you can’t just go to a fascist and be like “you need to give up your platform for justice because you say/did bad things.” Fascists would laugh in their face and use it as proof that the left is authoritarian.

And I think it’s a righteous intention to want to undermine the reach of violent and manipulative people. But it’s a giant red flag when we aren’t allowed to ask questions about strategy without being shut down, dismissed, or even shunned.

It says that being in your integrity by showing up to probe the ethical implications is not allowed. It says that the people directing the conversation are likely pushing their own agenda rather than encouraging people to make decisions based in their own integrity.

However valid and righteous as their agenda may be you can’t dismiss and shut down people’s valid concerns, manipulate people with fear, and maintain that you are trying to challenge abuse. It just doesn’t work that way.

We need to be supporting people’s ability to undermine abuse and manipulation through feeling confident and secure in themselves.

Thoughts on abuse, power, and justice:

When we are abused we have our power taken from us.

If we shift our thinking towards power-with paradigms and away from power-over paradigms, to take our power back we don’t need to take power away from the person who harmed us. We need to take back our own power.

It’s a distinction that feels incredibly important.

For one thing I think this distinction applies to a broader level, outside of interpersonal abuse dynamics, because it’s essential that as individuals we do the work to reclaim our personal power. We give up little bits of ourselves every time we make unconscious decisions or internalize ideas and beliefs due to the influence of others.

When we aren’t assessing ideas based on our personally developed set of ethics, we are handing our power over.

Which isn’t to say that abusers aren’t responsible for taking advantage of the fact that people who do not have a solid sense of self will buy into things readily. Abusers often rely on this fact to do what they do. This is why the warning signs of abuse are often apparent very early on if you know what to look for. They test, they ensnare, and they slowly ramp it up. They are absolutely responsible for their behavior, it’s often very intentional.

What troubles me is that I don’t see enough people who are employing something like say, deplatforming as a strategy teaching people to get in touch with their own power in any meaningful way.

I do see it, but at the same exact time I actually see a lot of quite the opposite: strategies that manipulate fear of being “bad” or being targeted by cancel culture tactics. “If you follow or associate with this person you’re an apologist/enabler” – statements that are extremely generalizing and far too one dimensional to reflect complex reality.

If these same people were to emphasize creating a personal guiding ethic to decide upon the best course of action for themselves I think they’d run the risk of exposing the fact that their strategies rely heavily on fear and people’s desire to be seen as a good person.

These strategies blur the lines between what is punitive and what’s necessary and don’t dive into these ethical questions in any meaningful way. They often brush these questions off readily by claiming they center people who cause harm, rather than being a reflection of complex questions we need to be grappling with.

The deplatforming question is complicated because I personally believe that deplatforming fascists is necessary- yet I also know that the context of deplatforming is based on corporate social media and that those policies will always be turned on the left. I don’t defend people’s right to say whatever the hell they want if they are encouraging rhetoric that has historically tended to result in attempts at genocide. But deplatforming as a grassroots strategy isn’t really targeting fascists because you can’t just go to a fascist and be like “you need to give up your platform for justice because you say/did bad things.” Fascists would laugh in their face and use it as proof that the left is authoritarian.

And I think it’s a righteous intention to want to undermine the reach of violent and manipulative people. But it’s a giant red flag when we aren’t allowed to ask questions about strategy without being shut down, dismissed, or even shunned.

It says that being in your integrity by showing up to probe the ethical implications is not allowed. It says that the people directing the conversation are likely pushing their own agenda rather than encouraging people to make decisions based in their own integrity.

However valid and righteous as their agenda may be you can’t dismiss and shut down people’s valid concerns, manipulate people with fear, and maintain that you are trying to challenge abuse. It just doesn’t work that way.

We need to be supporting people’s ability to undermine abuse and manipulation through feeling confident and secure in themselves.

If our efforts aren’t first and foremost guided by supporting people in get in touch with their values and their ability to make grounded choices for themselves based in integrity rather than fear, then we’re not actually uprooting abuse culture, we’re reinforcing it.

If our efforts aren’t first and foremost guided by supporting people in get in touch with their values and their ability to make grounded choices for themselves based in integrity rather than fear, then we’re not actually uprooting abuse culture, we’re reinforcing it.

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