Here’s an out-of-context part-of-a-comment take off the web.
“Depicting strong women, ‘magic exemptions,’ simply fuels the boot-strapping illusion that is strangling contemporary feminism: the assumption that the individual can overcome their social circumstances if they try-try-try and believe-believe-believe, and thus the tendency to hold the individual responsible for their exploitation.”
The author is R Scott Bakker. I don’t intend to link to the thread directly because it’s a very specific discussion and in a way quite personal to the author’s books, which appear to have provoked some rather, ah, strong views. I can’t comment on that because I haven’t read any of his books. There is a lot of context to this quote which I haven’t presented here. For all you know, without reading the entire source material, the author might be arguing the exact opposite of this. He isn’t, but he might be. You only have my word for that, after all. I don’t intend to comment on his specific views except to say that I have sympathy for a great deal of his analysis yet differ in my ultimate conclusion.
I found this statement very thought-provoking for both the truth inherent in most of it and for the way there seemed to me to be something very poisonous lurking at its heart. Again, I consider the statement on its own, without thought to the author’s intentions or motives. The sense of truth and poison are both my own sentiments. Whether they were meant or not, I have no idea.
For the purposes of dissection, I’m going to reword this statement into something that I think has exactly the same sense and meaning:
Depicting strong women, ‘magic exemptions,’ simply fuels the assumption that the individual can overcome their social circumstances if they try-try-try and believe-believe-believe, and thus the tendency to hold the individual responsible for their exploitation. This assumption fuels the boot-strapping illusion that is strangling contemporary feminism.
I’m going to ditch the last sentence – it was relevant to the source discussion but not particularly to my own thoughts and I’m in no way sufficiently informed to say what is or isn’t strangling contemporary feminism or whether the first sentence describes something that fits said description. This assumption is a bad thing will do for my purposes. I assume the original author considered it to be a bad thing, at least. While we’re at it, I’ll generalise further and replace Depicting strong women, ‘magic exemptions,’ with Depicting exceptional people, since I don’t see why either my own thoughts on the subject (or the original for that matter) are specifically and only applicable to strong women. Could be any exceptions to the prevailing social environment.
Depicting exceptional people simply fuels the assumption that the individual can overcome their social circumstances if they try-try-try and believe-believe-believe, and thus the tendency to hold the individual responsible for their exploitation. This is a bad thing.
Does this change the meaning of the original statement aside from generalising it from the specific issue of the portrayal of women in fantasy to the depiction of any exceptional person in any fictional setting? I don’t think it does but you’re welcome to disagree. And I do believe there’s a lot of truth to this statement. The effort and belief of one individual, no matter how vigorously and relentlessly applied, will often fail. We are all single individuals in a vast multitude, and that simply can’t be discounted. And yes, I do think there is a tendency for people to blame the failures of others on they didn’t try hard enough. They didn’t believe in themselves enough. I am certainly very guilty of that sort of thinking. It has a sense to it. A self-empowerment is implied – it wouldn’t have been like that for me. If that’s what I’d wanted, I would have tried harder and succeeded. Ultimately, if I really want to be, unlike you I am in control of my destiny. Because it’s a pretty frightening thing to have to confront the reality that actually no, you’re not.
A somewhat trite but nevertheless relevant example: My six-year old wants to play football for Barcelona in the Champions’ League one day. Maybe, if he were to dedicate his entire life to achieving that end, maybe he could achieve that. However, there is a clear (if a little fuzzy) limit on the number of six-year olds who can one day achieve that ambition no matter how hard they try. Other things will come into play over which they have no control. Luck. Who they know. Where they live. Their parents wealth and support. Many other things. Ultimately, simple genetics. I can see that in my own family. None of the rest of us could, no matter what we did. I won’t. I could never have the necessary speed and stamina ever again. Failure is inevitable. I’m fairly sure that no one single person, no matter how hard they try and how much they believe, can single-handedly end bigotry, racism, sexism, any kind of -ism you like.
So I’ll buy a couple of things as being truth here: the tendency to hold the individual responsible for their exploitation is a bad thing. Yes. Yes it is when you can try as hard as you like to get out of a situation and still fail through circumstances over which you have no whit of control. That can happen. I think it happens a lot. And even if they haven’t tried as hard as they possibly could, I will argue that it’s still a bad thing. I would suggest, as a general rule that is might be better to aim any assumption of responsibility at the exploiters than at the exploited until evidence to the contrary is received. It can be, I accept, surprisingly difficult sometimes.
And finally the poison. the assumption that the individual can overcome their social circumstances if they try-try-try and believe-believe-believe is a bad thing. Yes. I’ll accept that as a truth. The assumption is a bad thing, because endless trying will often still fail and no amount of simple believing in anything will achieve very much. Huge applications of effort and belief will still mostly fail to change the world and there’s nothing we can do about it because that world is big and there’s a great deal over which we simply have no influence or control. But the poison is the never-stated implication that try-try-try and believe-believe-believe are bad things in themselves. No. The assumption that success is inevitable with enough effort, that it is likely or even possible, that’s bad. Blaming people for their own circumstances because they didn’t try hard enough? Also bad. But the trying and the believing themselves are not, and for two reasons I can think of. Allow me to cast this statement another way by inverting it:
the possibility that the individual can overcome their social circumstances if they try-try-try and believe-believe-believe is a good thing
Surely! If we can acknowledge and accept that mostly we will fail through no lack of our own effort, surely it’s still better for even a mere handful to succeed? Shall we all meekly take our lot in life as given to us at birth and none of us strive for something better? I choose not. And the second thing this sentiment fails to acknowledge is the power of numbers. There are many things that one person alone simply cannot change, but if everyone tried at once then it would be easy. Yet if no one tries, what then? Nothing changes.
If I have a personal philosophy of life, it’s been to shoot for the moon as often as I can and to accept that I will miss every single time and to shoot anyway and be pleased by how far my arrows actually reach.It’s worked out well enough up to now. And this could be about feminism, as the original source was, or it could be about sitting down and writing that book that you can’t quite settle to. It could be about changing the world or changing yourself. Either way, the point remains the same.
Accept that there are many things you probably can’t change no matter how hard you try. Seriously get your head around that immutable probability because that’s what the world is like. Then try anyway.