Wrong Identities, Chosen and Imposed [Radio Readings]

Wrong Identities, Chosen and Imposed [Radio Readings] January 24, 2015

You’ll be able to catch “Fights in Good Faith,” my weekly radio program, streaming today at 5pm ET and tomorrow (Sun) at 1pm.  And the audio this week is already up at the archive page!

fights in good faith

Every week, I put up a “Radio Readings” post, so you can track down the books, articles, songs, (and, this week, mathematical figures!) that I cite on the show.  So, without further ado, here’s what I’m talking about this week.


Letting your “enemy” define your identity


  • “The Case for Civility Campaigns After Charlie Hebdo (me in TAC)

    Civility campaigners aren’t protecting victims from villains, but trying to foster a conversation about how to live well, and what constraints on our own actions we should accept, not due to fear of legal or violent reprisals, but out of positive concern for others.

    This is not a project of censorship and violence, trying to prevent exposure to what offends us, but a project of education and charity, trying to know and love our neighbors well enough to only offend when necessary, tempering our actions by cultivating empathy for and understanding of the pain of others.

  • “Keep Your Idenity Small” – Paul Graham

    The most intriguing thing about this theory, if it’s right, is that it explains not merely which kinds of discussions to avoid, but how to have better ideas. If people can’t think clearly about anything that has become part of their identity, then all other things being equal, the best plan is to let as few things into your identity as possible.

    Most people reading this will already be fairly tolerant. But there is a step beyond thinking of yourself as x but tolerating y: not even to consider yourself an x. The more labels you have for yourself, the dumber they make you.

  • “The Rotten Orange and the Kingslayer” (me on Homeric epithets and running jokes)

    Hero [in Much Ado About Nothing] is falsely accused, but in Game of Thrones (I’ll be careful about spoilers, don’t worry), even a truthful claim can become an uncharitable fetter. Ser Jaime Lannister is often called “Kingslayer” since, before the series begins, he betrayed his oath as sworn man to Mad King Aerys and killed him. (Aerys’s own sobriquet may give you a hint as to why). Other people Jaime interacts with keep referring to him as Kingslayer and Oathbreaker, and the constant repetition changes what they expect of Jaime and what he expects of himself.


“Have you tried thinking of yourself as a large cone?”



Learning about people in the wrong order



To be your brother’s keeper, first be your brother’s brother


  • The line from the West Wing I’m quoting is from “Posse Comitatus” and runs:

    Leo: I don’t want him putting a voice to the guy. I take my daughter to a seafood place, the first thing she does is name all the lobsters in the tank so I can’t eat ’em.

  • The facebook commenter I’m quoting said:

    It’s not good for the person sitting this way to spend their commutes cultivating indifference to others’ needs and placing the burden on others to ask for a little courtesy.

    No. Wrong. You have no idea what’s good for that person. “Cultivating indifference to others’ needs and placing the burden on others to ask for a little courtesy” may be exactly what that person needs at the moment. Respecting autonomy means recognizing that individuals are the best judges of their own wants and needs. A man “spreading” on the subway obviously believes that it is in his own best interest to sit that way. You have no grounds to say that it isn’t.

    “I’m shaming you for your own good” is one of the scariest arguments out there. Usually it’s insincere, but it’s even scarier when people mean it.


And I have three bits of bonus content, that were in the back of my mind while I was broadcasting, but didn’t make it into the program:

  • Wikipedia page on person-first language.  (The difference between saying “a disabled person” and “a person with a disability” — which puts the right thing at the heart of their idenity?  Note, preferred languages varies a lot by disability/difference, e.g. “Deaf person” is almost always preferred to “person who has deafness” and there’s a fair amount of people on either side of “person with autism” or “autistic person.”  It’s usually best to ask individual people which they prefer.)
  • “Miss Manners and Mr. Manspreader” by B.D. McClay in The Hedgehog Review
  • “Didn’t you ever break on the floor?” (me on my college debate group’s valorizing changing your  mind)


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