We were only pretending to engage with each other. But it wasn’t our fault. We had to be, because talking about bad faith is Not OK.
Dialogue on a friend’s Facebook wall
He wrote: While patriarchy hurts men, it oppresses women.
I asked: What does oppress mean here?
He responded: “The exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, or unjust manner." Same thing it has always meant.
I asked: Do I understand you right that you think women, but not men, are victims of the exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, or unjust manner?
He responded: Yes. To think otherwise is to be willfully ignorant.
But later in the same comment: I am saying that our society is cruel and unjust to both men and women, but its more cruel and unjust to women.
At this point I called him out for arguing in bad faith. But with a bit of perspective, I can see that I was arguing in bad faith as well.
What went wrong?
Oppression is a loaded term without a clear consistent definition. There were reasonable things he might have meant, and there were unreasonable things he might have meant, and I wanted to know what he meant. So went my narrative. So I asked what it meant in this context.
The point at which I started expecting a bad-faith interaction is the point at which I asked what oppression meant in this context, and was given a dictionary definition, that clearly wasn’t the definition he was using.
There's no plausible model on which that was a sincere attempt to help me understand what he meant. Corroborating evidence - the definition he gave is the first definition offered on the first Google result I got for the term.
But if he wasn’t trying to help me understand, what was he doing? Offering an Official Definition was a purely defensive move, an attempt to score points for "answering the question" (or avoid social penalties for not doing so) on the assumption that people aren't keeping track of the overall content, but instead only responding to each transaction as a one-off.
One honest alternative would have been to try to think about why I might be confused about the meaning of "oppress" in this context, and explain what it meant here. But defensive moves are often responses to perceived bad faith on the other side. The other thing he could have done - and perhaps the more realistic option - was to actually tell me that he didn't think my question was in good faith, and explain why.
Sadly, being honest about your sense that someone else is arguing in bad faith is Officially Not OK. It is read as a grave and inappropriate attack. And as long as that is the case, he could reasonably expect that bringing it up would lead to getting yelled at by everyone and losing the interaction. So maybe he felt and feels like he has no good options here.
And I’m guilty of the same offense. When I asked my second question, I too was being dishonest. I didn’t expect an honest answer, but was pretending that I did.
I'm so sorry for that ghost I made you be
Only one of us was real and that was me
I heard the snake was baffled by his sin
He shed his scales to find the snake within
But born again is born without a skin
The poison enters into everything
And I wish there was a treaty we could sign
I do not care who takes this bloody hill
I'm angry and I'm tired all the time
I wish there was a treaty, I wish there was a treaty
Between your love and mine