On individualistic ideologies

There’s a certain brand of feminist thinking, archetypically Captain Awkward, whose highest value is free choice. Whence a number of positions:

  • Consent is paramount, not just for sex but for any kind of interaction. “I didn’t want to come but they dragged me along.” is worrying at best and evil at worst.
  • In particular, you can’t help people who didn’t ask. You can’t tell your anorexic friend “I cooked a meal for you and you will eat it.”.
  • Relationships (of any kind, not just romantic ones) are based on wanting, not needing. The second you want out, it’s over. Dependent children are about the only exception.
  • Traditions and groups have no inherent worth. Do what you want for yourself when you want it.
  • Boundaries are absolute. In practice there’s some room for compromise, but if John cares about hygiene and Sherlock wants to keep body parts in the fridge, there’s no way they can live together without one of them being evil.

Those are clearly reactions to various bad things. Consent is essential in anything in the same ballpark as sex, and there are excellent reasons (like 12% of the US population having been raped) to be very loud about that. Many supporters of such ideologies have been abused, which makes walking away and standing up for oneself very good ideas. (Though saying what you want out loud and sticking to it is impossible for many abuse victims, so that approach doesn’t always help.) Many have gotten into trouble for harmless but locally abnormal behavior (queerness is the go-to example), which shatters trust in traditions and groups.

Let me be clear: there is nothing wrong with these norms. If you follow them you’re guaranteed not to be an abuser. There should be at least one large (sub)culture based on them.

But… you really got all that from “rape and abuse and prejudice are bad”? There are some justifications based on that. Treating consent as important everywhere (“consent culture”) makes it carry over to sex. More generally, many of the norms draw clear lines between acceptable and unacceptable behavior, which makes the difference obvious to outsiders. They’re also good ways to detect abuse early. These are ways to distance yourself from sin, though, with no inherent value.

It seems to me, though I’m not sure about that, that such an ideology has no consistent reply to “I don’t want that much freedom.”, except possibly “Yes you do, you’re just brainwashed.”.

And I don’t want that much freedom. I want friends who make me get up and go for a walk when I’m down. I want friends who tell me when I’ve had enough to drink. I want people who nag me until I see the play I’m sure will bore me but that they know I’ll love. I want family I can’t just cut off because they keep complaining about whatever special snowflake I’m being this week. I want a complete weirdo to waltz into my life and make me their sidekick before I know it. I want to stick to people through thick and thin until they turn back into someone I can love or stop needing me. I want to love people so badly that I’d put up with daily panic attacks just to be around them, and so deeply that years after we fall out of touch I still have a gaping hole in my chest. I want to come home to a life partner scraping exploded jellyfish off the ceiling or announcing we now have refugees hiding in the attic. And while I wouldn’t trust myself to do most of these things, I want some people in my life who trust me to sometimes know that I should.

While this is a bit more… open to weirdness than most people would want, I don’t think this is uncommon. It’s easier to find fiction where something like that happens and is portrayed positively than the reverse. Do you sometimes read an old story and cringe at the casual racism/sexism/classism/etc.? Imposing those norms would do that to nearly every work already produced. A change that big needs more support than “I’m personally happier living like this.” and “This removes some of the excuses for rape and abuse.”.

Kick controlling pests out of your life, by all means. But don’t shame them out of mine.

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