Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Among the many pathologies fostered by the interwebs is this.

Question: if Smith is clearly not a dragon (or an angel or a cat or a demon or an alien or a wizard from Hogwarts...), but insists that he is one...are others obligated to indulge him? That is, pretend that he is one? Address him as such, say?

If I felt like I was, say, Australian--I really identified with Australians or whatever--and I said things like "G'day mate" and so on in an affected Australian accent...and if this were really, really important to me...would you be a bad person for not indulging me?

What if I insisted that I should be treated as Australian even by the U.S. and Australian governments? Would those governments have obligations to recognize my putative Australian-ness?

Believe it or not, I'm seriously asking this question.


Blogger Spencer said...

This is a question that I ask from time to time, too.

There's a lot of wisdom to the general rule of thumb, "let other people interpret their own experience."

I think something like this principle is at play in gay marriage debates. Most times someone denies parity between gay and straight relationships, they're basically saying that the Bible or the Natural Law or whatever tells them everything they need to know about being in an actual gay relationship. Anyone, on the other hand, who listens to a gay person with a basic sense of trust in their ability to understand their experience will recognize that gay love can be just as true as straight.

Something similar can be said, I think, in conversations about race or gender. To some extent the white person or the male just needs to listen to others describe the experiences of being black or a woman. You sometimes hear the white male respond to this self-report with something like, "It's not really all that bad." Again we have someone refusing to let a person interpret their own experience of the world.

I don't know any transgender people (or at least not ones that have told me), but my rule of thumb leads to want to be accepting of them. I'm not going to lie, though, it seems really weird to me, and there is a certain part of me that wants to cry "bullshit" on the claim that one can deep down identify with a gender opposite their sex. But I try to just ignore that skepticism under the direction of my guideline.

But...otherkin and various other groups leave me scratching my head. Isn't there just some sense in which, no, you are not a raccoon no matter what you think? And isn't one of the most important lessons of psychology that we often deceive ourselves in interpreting our own experiences? But does that cast a shadow of doubt on the let-people-interpret-their-own-experience principle? Or is there some deeper level of "interpretation" that's going on here since at least some versions of being an "otherkin" involve metaphysics in a way that simply being gay does not?

You might also ask how much we are obliged to take seriously someone's religious claims just because they experience some truth to them. For instance, if I report feeling that I am an adopted son of God in Christ Jesus, there's certainly no expectation that you believe in God out of political correctness or whatever. It's certainly still possible to not be an asshole to a person of different religious beliefs without buying into their faith. Maybe something similar should be said about otherkin? Should that be extended to the transgendered, as well? Why or why not?

7:07 AM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Is this not as simple as:

We cannot be obligated to endorse or promote falsehoods.


I hear you Spencer, that we must grant people respect and authority over their own existence, but that doesn't mean ANYTHING goes. If someone asserts that he is grandmaster of the universe, and that's REALLY IMPORTANT TO HIM (OMG!), you still don't have to obey him.

Seems simple enough to me. Chuang Tzu once wrote "The sage labors not over that which life cannot do." We should not believe falsehoods ourselves, and we should not condone or encourage their adoption in others.

It only leads to sadness.

9:36 AM  
Blogger Random Michelle K said...

I think pathology has something to do with it.

If someone insists they are something they clearly are not--you do not have wings or giant claws and you do not breathe fire, thus you are not a dragon--then it seems to be more a pathological issue.

If, however, it's just feelings, then I think it depends upon whether that feeling or belief causes harm.

If I attempt to jump off cliffs because I think I am a dragon and can fly, that is clearly harmful to me.

If I just go around growling and being grumpy, and take up fire breathing, because I feel like I am in the wrong skin and should REALLY be a dragon, that's not necessarily GOOD for me, but it is not outright harmful.

It seems to me an interesting parallel would be between someone who hears voices because they are schizophrenic and someone who hears voices they believe come directly from God.

If I believe God is directly telling me to do good deeds and be a holy and helpful person, is that a pathology?

On the other hand, if I believe God (or Satan) is telling me to wipe the heretics off the face of the earth, or have my followers kill themselves, that, to me, is a pathological and harmful issue that requires medication. Or at least I should be restrained from following what those voices are telling me to do.

And really, I think the Internet makes it so much easier to accept people for feeling they are a certain way, because we have to accept people at face value. I present myself as a 42 year old woman living in WV, but you have no proof of this. You HAVE to accept this at face value if you want to be have any meaningful interactions with me.

Once you've done that, it seems a much smaller step for you to believe me when I tell you things that are even less tangible. So if we met in person, you can verify for yourself my physical being, so then it seems no less difficult for to believe something for which you have no tangible proof--say, that I suffer from depression and OCD.

Just my off-the-cuff thoughts.

11:49 AM  

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