I’m encountering a conversational tactic with increased frequency of late. A person will recount a personal experience, and their interlocutor(s) will immediately dismiss it. The methods used for that dismissal often include:
- Appeals to a narrative: “This is not how it works.” For instance, we “know” that men are rapists, women are victims; so women plying men with drinks can’t be rapists, even though men doing precisely the same thing would be, because. It doesn’t matter if it happened to you or yours, because that’s not how it goes.
- Accusations of falling into a narrative: “You’re only saying that because you’re a <<label>>”. And yes, I might be telling a story because I am, indeed, a <<label>>, and I might be picking that one story because it suits my narrative, and it may be a rare example of where the opposite narrative doesn’t work… but that doesn’t mean that the story is untrue or insignificant.
- “I don’t see it so it’s not there.” I’ve experienced this the most talking about gender discrimination in my old workplace. It’s fascinating how many people will jump down my throat to tell me that the sexism couldn’t have been there because they’ve never seen it – even though they never worked in my specific workplace, or even in my field… and particularly as all of them are men 10+ years older than me. They didn’t see sexism aimed at others in their place, hence I couldn’t have experienced sexism aimed at me in my place. #logic.
- “Invalidating against invalidation”. I’ve seen this with regards to trigger warnings and non-physical safe spaces. I’ve got nothing against them, btw, but I do have a problem with how they are routinely being misused. I can present countless actual examples of misuse. The response is invariably that no, these don’t/didn’t happen, and I am just trying to “invalidate” these useful concepts. The fact that my life experiences are “invalidated” in this process is apparently ok. I’ve still not worked out whether this is a case of tit-for-tat or these people are genuinely oblivious to what they’re doing.
- Appeals to “science”: do I have valid data to support my assertion?
This last one annoys me the most, because I actually like science.
Example: I might say that I was regularly sexually harassed on public transport in Italy as a teen. Person(s) will demand to see the data. I do not have data on being personally sexually harassed. I didn’t log it, and even if I did, it would only be in the form of a diary, which is “anecdotal”. There is no national data; the practice was ubiquitous because it was unpunished. You couldn’t report it. Even unsuccessful physical sexual assaults couldn’t be reported… but again, I only have anecdotal evidence for that, because there’s no data, because the data wasn’t being collected, which is the point. There are a lot of women telling similar stories… but all they’re relating is “anecdotes”, and “the plural of anecdote is not data.”
And no, it isn’t. Anecdote is not data. But this doesn’t make it untruthful, or invalid. This doesn’t make an incident or a problem any less significant to those people who have gone through it, which could be many. And ultimately all absence of data can “prove” is that the organisations and people who are in a position to generate data did not research that particular subject. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
None of seems to matter. Instead of asking me to clarify my position, or providing what supporting information is available in whatever form is there, they immediately discount it because “there’s no data”. I don’t know whether that’a an involuntary logical fallacy, or a deliberate ploy to eliminate all information that conflicts with their narrative. I don’t know if the resulting dismissal of personal experiences, including very painful ones, is incidental or deliberate.
What I do know is that all of the above tactics are essentially fancy forms of gaslighting, which is a severely uncool thing to do. Regardless of how the people using them try to sell them, we’re not obliged to buy into them.