The stages of truth

German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer is very often quoted as saying, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” I have usually personally preferred Mahatma Ghandi’s take on this from the point of view of a person struggling for freedom and equality: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Although I have also read that Ghandi probably never said that, or if he did he was quoting a speech by labor activist Nicholas Klein.

And I’ve been quite fond of the way that blogger Driftglass merged the two and customized it to refer to a particular gay conservative columnist: “First they ignored you. Then they laughed at you. Then they fought you. Then they got gigs in national magazines repeating as breathless epiphany things you had been saying for thirty years.”

Personally, I’ve always felt as if it was more, “They erase you through ridicule, harassment, hate crimes, and criminalizing your nature; then they ridicule and violently oppose you; then they claim you’re hurting them and try passing laws that claim to be about something else but whose effect is to essentially to re-criminalize you; then they pretend that they agreed with you the whole time (while privately still ridiculing you and cheering every time a “lone psycho” commits a hate crime against you).”

Now, you may think I’m talking about gay rights, but it’s a much bigger thing than that. My topic includes:

  • GamerGate trying to drive women out of gaming;
  • the Sad Puppies trying to “take back” sci fi fandom from women, people of color, and queers;
  • the Teabaggers trying to “reclaim our country” from women, people of color, people who aren’t fundamentalist christians, and queers;
  • the Reagan revolution trying to bring back “traditional family values”;

All of those things are part of the same reactionary movement trying to shut out the other and keep the old guard in power. And while I like the beautiful simplicity of Schopenhauer’s origin, “ridicule, violently oppose, accept,” I can’t quite embrace it as the truth. Violent opposition is evident in every stage. The only thing that is different in each stage is how the violence is talked about in polite society.

The truth is that humans are a diverse bunch. But that isn’t the entire truth. We’re weird, and we disagree, and we don’t all like the same things, and we don’t all thrive in the same way, and we have different skill sets (and strengths and weaknesses), and we are hardwired to be social animals. We can’t survive without communities. Whether we call those communities families, churches, social circles, or like-minded people, we need them to survive. But we also need the bigger communities, because surviving the thriving in this world requires sharing the world.

And it’s the sharing part that irks the people fighting us even more than the fact that we’re different.

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