“Weighty” Accomodation …

I made a comment on a blog post over at Butterflies and Wheels that I want to expand on here.  Ophelia Benson’s post is here:


My comment focuses around an example given of it being rude to call someone fat, which I think makes a good analogy to what the underlying issues are.

Imagine that you want to convince people that being overweight is bad and that they should try to achieve a healthy weight and stop overeating. You can cite personal benefits and benefits to society in doing so. Now imagine that at least some people try to do this by calling people who are overweight “fatties” in public and writing many papers and blog posts that say that people who are overweight are just lazy, undisciplined cows who need to get off the sofa and put the chips down.

Some overweight people may be convinced by this sort of approach. Some of them will change because they’ll be shamed into it; they won’t understand WHY being overweight is bad, but they’ll change because they don’t want to be insulted by others. Some who were leaning that way anyway will also change because it may make the comfort they get from overeating go away by associating it with the insults that will, again, make them feel less comfortable.

But you’ll also get a lot of people who will ignore, get angry and entrench. They’ll insist that they aren’t that bad or bad enough to have to change, and generally refuse to listen to even good advice from people who say that, because they’ll stop listening to people who clearly just want to insult. And those people will get called out by other people who want to work on the problem of the overweight because the insults will seem harsh and unnecessary, and they’ll wonder if the people making them really want to help or if they’d just rather make insults and have found a convenient target.

This is my take on some people, like P.Z. Myers, my go-to guy for all of these.  He seems to try to plan his events and phrase his posts to be maximally offensive instead of maximally rational.  He’ll often make posts that are basically misinterpretations of someone’s position so as to be able to mock them better.  I’m not so annoyed with him for being wrong as for seeming to be the sort of person who wants to insult as opposed to argue meaningfully.  And this isn’t even getting into the commenters on many atheist sites, as well as what happens when you wander into someplace like Usenet.

The alternative strategy would be to still talk about how being overweight is bad and what the problems are and how to fix it, but without the personal attacks or claims about the personal qualities of overweight people. This would be the approach that “weight accomodationists” would espouse, and would include ensuring that overweight people don’t feel utterly worthless just for being overweight or morally inferior because of that, and also ensure that groups that are, say, advocating for a better public image for those who are overweight are utilized when talking about issues like anorexia and excessive pressure to be thin. They’d say that this strategy will work better, and it certainly seems more likely to reach those that are merely misguided as opposed to unwilling to consider it.

But, all in all, it’s certainly a NICER approach. And if you can’t take the nicer approach and be honest, then that says more about your attitudes than about the attitudes of those who call you not nice for it.

(Two caveats: I could certainly stand to lose a few pounds and accept that accomodationists and theists can be “not-nice” as well.)

(And one final caveat: okay, okay, I added about a paragraph, which doesn’t really apply to “expanding”.  Sue me.)

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