“It’s ridiculous” is ridiculous

One of the laziest brands of special snowflake rhetoric is the “it’s ridiculous” refrain, which usually comes up whenever someone is struggling to make a point — typically, they won’t even go into what makes it ridiculous; they’ll just say “it’s ridiculous!”, harp on that for a bit, and rest their case.

This is, itself, ridiculous.  Allow me to explain why.

In declaring something worthy of ridicule, snowflakers rely on two primary means of assessment: 1) familiarity and 2) intuition.

Familiarity is an unreliable assessment tool for reasons I explored here:

The current, established approach to unfamiliar identity labels is “I haven’t heard of it, therefore it can’t be real.”

Which implies its inverse: “If it were real, I would have heard of it.”

It’s absurd.

This attitude, the attitude of automatic scorn for the unfamiliar and the tacit linking of familiarity with legitimacy, rests on the presumption that all that can exist, all that does exist, is already known by the individual — that they have already gathered every single piece of valid information in the universe, that all data points have been collected, that all possibilities have been quantified, that every single variation of humanity has already been observed.  It is, at its bare bones, a pompous claim of omniscience.

Rather lacking in scientific curiosity, if you ask me.

Related to the “I haven’t heard of it” objection is the “I haven’t heard of it from a source that I have faith in” objection, which is between you and your god, I guess.  The idea that the sources you have faith in might, themselves, be fallible enough to lack 100% omniscience is an idea that would also, presumably, be out of the question.  A little skepticism can be healthy now and then.

a geocentric model of the solar system

The second assessment tool, intuition, is closely related to familiarity but takes a slightly different approach, one akin to the criticism of the heliocentric model of the solar system.

At a time when the geocentric model was the more popular theory in European thought, supporters of the geocentric model thought the proposed heliocentric model was ridiculous.  After all, the idea that the Sun revolves around the Earth is more intuitive, from where we stand.  If the Earth revolved around the Sun, they asked, why can’t we feel it?  Why isn’t there a great wind pushing us flat from the speed?

Sometimes intuition can fail you.  As understandable as the confusion may be (there are still critics of heliocentric theory to this day), you can end up making yourself look rather foolish if you ask a series of questions and then walk away before you can get the answer.

All that makes orientation models different is that they’re more difficult to test or perform calculations on (which won’t stop folks from trying, sure, but we’ve yet to develop a veritable Feelings Cam to measure what someone’s exact pattern of attractions is).  With no empirical evidence to guide us, it’s understandable that people would fall back on mere familiarity and intuition.  The same has happened to me, when I think about it.  Despite not being straight myself, I used to think that heterosexuality “made sense” in a way that other orientations didn’t, but now that I get exposed to different ideas and have access to less heteronormativity-drenched contexts, I’ve realized that all made heterosexuality easier to understand to me was the sheer brunt of exposure to it everywhere.  I don’t understand heterosexuality on a personal level, but it’s been normalized to me through it’s constantly being presented explicitly and implicitly in media all the time, and so I wouldn’t think to ever question its legitimacy.  It wasn’t so much that I understood it as that I’m used to it.

So when I think about what made bi & gay allosexuality harder for me to “understand”, it’s occurred to me that I might’ve had the same difficulty understanding straight allosexuality, too, if I weren’t forced to be so culturally numb to it.  The problem with making guesses about the world based on a weak combination of personal experience and the dictate of media representation is that, thanks to the world we live in, that’s always going to leave some part of reality out of the picture.  If heterosexuality is something I can barely relate to, imagine how I might’ve acted toward straight people if I was raised in a world where being either attracted to all genders or none was the universal norm.  Claiming to be attracted to just one gender, specifically, might’ve looked pretty ridiculous.

And people would be able to ridicule it, but it woudn’t be ridiculous just because few people had ever before thought to give a name to an orientation that seemed inordinately specific and defied the assumptions of preexisting models in that culture. It’s possible to ridicule things that are true and make sense, like heliocentric theory, and relying on nothing but familiarity and intuition to make judgement is a strategy that assumes there can’t be anything out there in the world that you don’t yet know or understand.

Therefore, I must conclude that flakers’ use of “it’s ridiculous” indicates a disappointing failure at humility and logical thought.

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7 responses to ““It’s ridiculous” is ridiculous

  • caelesti

    Prejudiced people usually have a serious lack of critical thinking skills. They try to compensate by just repeating themselves and being annoying and trying to drown out voices of reason. It’s hardest to think critically about the water we’re swimming in (like the heteronormativity)

  • Siggy

    I have different associations with the word “ridiculous”, and have never seen it used in special snowflake arguments. I feel like I use the word “ridiculous” all the time, because the reductio ad absurdum argument is a really basic tool, and saying something is ridiculous is the most direct way to deliver it.

    On the other hand, as a matter of style, I try to avoid using “ridiculous” excessively. “Ridiculous” has the same problem as “obvious”, which is that if it’s so obvious then it doesn’t need to be said. If something is so ridiculous, then it doesn’t need to be said, because the reader already sees it’s ridiculous. If the reader doesn’t already agree that it’s ridiculous, then something is wrong with the argument.

    • Spade

      “I have different associations with the word ‘ridiculous’, and have never seen it used in special snowflake arguments.”

      Oh, wow. I’ve seen it tons (well, that and variants and synonyms). I wonder, how has the rhetoric of this argument changed over the years? Is it just a matter of where you look?

  • notunprepared

    I use the word ridiculous so that I don’t say ‘crazy’ or ‘insane’ (which are ableist so I’m trying to remove them from my vocabulary). But I usually only use it to describe situations – like at work where we’re drowning in stock that needed to be put away yesterday, and management won’t hire more staff to help.

    I’m not surprised people use it to describe orientations/genders/identities they haven’t heard of though. Using ridiculous to describe someone’s identity is pretty bloody offensive and mean I think. It’s completely dismissive of that person’s experiences.

    I think I’ve heard it used against oppressed people in general too. Like “no don’t be ridiculous, cat calling isn’t sexist!” and similar.

  • Sara K.

    I think for the people who flat-out deny that asexuality (or non-binary genders, or whatever less-well-known GRSM identity is being discussed) exist, it is more than unfamiliarity. When I introduce these things to people who are totally unfamiliar, even though they do not always react perfectly, their reaction is ‘I never knew about that before’ rather than ‘that cannot exist’. I think people who insist that [thing] does not exist “know” that everyone experiences sexual attraction, they “know” that everyone falls into one of two binary genders, etc.

    How do they learn these ‘facts’? Look no further than ‘all people are sexual beings’ rhetoric, or phrases such as ‘the opposite sex’, etc.

    There is a significant difference between people who simply do not know, and people who know things which ain’t so.

    • Spade

      Right, and those people base their arguments (explicitly or implicitly) on “I’ve been told that everyone fits into [supposedly-universal model that excludes X]” or “But if X were real, someone I trust would have told me about it by now, so it can’t be real.” They don’t have to react to unfamiliar things that way, but when they do, sometimes their so-called logic doesn’t go much further than repeated gesturing to their unfamiliarity.

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