…we furries use them all the time.
We note when something is NSFW. We tag art describing potentially offensive content, so people can opt to ignore it. We write about rape and murder and we make sure our readers are forewarned. Here at [a][s], we mention controversial topics in the opening sentences, giving readers the choice before they click through to the entire article.
Sometimes, furry edges into expression of extreme ideas and concepts. And on the whole we do a really good, uncomplicated, uncontroversial job of balancing the desire to freely express ourselves—however bizarrely—without unduly freaking out furs who would prefer not to deal with that right now, thanks very much.
Recently here on [a][s] we published an article by Angriff that worried itself with the potential for trigger warnings and safe spaces to unreasonably impinge on furry freedom of expression. It’s a contrarian point of view compared with most of [a][s]‘s readers and writers, and it generated a lot of discussion – most of it in the right spirit.
Angriff cites a small handful of examples where (non furry) progressive social justice politics have (in his opinion) gone a bit overboard. He feels, like me, that the furry world currently has a good balance, but he worries that we may head in the wrong direction by becoming overly sensitive towards vulnerable people.
He illustrates his point with a hypothetical, where a fursuiter’s accoutrements might be banned from a convention for being potentially triggering. He recognizes that there is a contest of two legitimate preferences: that of the fursuiter to display, say, realistic toy guns; and that of a convention to ban said guns for being potentially traumatic.
Angriff is tilting at windmills. He is comparing the current furry world with a hypothetical one. He doesn’t have an enemy, so he’s imagined a situation where one might appear.
I’m being a bit glib. I don’t mean to impugn the validity of Angriff’s opinion. I am, after all, the editor who worked with him to arrange and polish the article for publication here at [a][s]. Obviously I think it’s an argument worth making, even as I write here that it’s flawed, slight, and perhaps unnecessarily provocative.
Angriff’s argument is, at heart, a conservative one. He sees the way furry balances the competing preferences for maximum freedom and minimum harm and worries about how this may change in the future. He sees change—the progressive alternative—as being potentially negative, and he would like to resist that.
Angriff’s conservative argument—things are good the way they are right now—is the default position for anyone who feels comfortable with their place in the world. (Another formulation is “everything was good back when I was 18 years old”.) It’s an argument that resists change, and it’s no coincidence that the people who make conservative arguments are overwhelmingly those who have the easiest ride in society: they are—roughly—older, white, straight, cis, men.
History shows that progressive arguments tend to be insurgent. They come from a disaffected minority, motivated by inequality or by envy, attacking the values of the majority. Progressive movements tend to be young, and made up—at least initially—of the minority group being repressed. In the last hundred years or so, that would include the suffragettes, civil rights movements, gay rights, and our current crop of progressive activists. Warriors for social justice, all.
People agitating for better trigger warnings and public safe spaces are motivated by the wish to protect the vulnerable. They feel that, right now, vulnerable people are being unfairly exposed to traumatic content, and so they wish for things to change to redress this problem.
The progressive argument is a compelling one, if only because it doesn’t rely on the premise that things happen to be good exactly the way they are. From the conservative perspective, progressive change has gone just far enough, and to go further may tilt the balance to unfairly privilege a vocal minority. But, like a stopped clock telling the right time, that seems vanishingly unlikely. The conservative argument is one based on fear (of change)—things might get worse—, the progressive based on hope: things might get better.
Angriff is right when he says that things are good at the moment. I agree that furry is doing a pretty terrific job of balancing our competing preferences of maximum freedom and minimum harm. But I disagree that we can’t do more to protect the vulnerable. It’s a worthy, progressive, goal to change our world to make it a fairer one, even if we risk overbalancing and tipping the scales the other way.
Change is something to be embraced. We can make our world a better, fairer, more inclusive place.
Which begs the question: why publish Angriff’s piece in the first place?
The first answer is that, in my opinion, it met [adjective][species] editorial standards for style and content. I found Angriff’s first draft to be interesting, and we worked together until it reached a standard where I was happy for it to be published.
The second answer is that I wanted it published because I disagree with Angriff. I like hearing the points of view of people I disagree with, because that is how I learn new things. I usually—not always—have a good handle on the reasons for my own point of view. I learn more by paying attention to contrarians.
I have a rule of thumb when I’m expressing an opinion, or listening to someone else expressing an opinion: if you can’t describe the other side’s point of view—using words they would agree with—then you don’t understand the topic at hand.
(In that spirit, Angriff has read an early draft of this piece, and he is comfortable with my characterization of his argument. He has also agreed to refrain from commenting.)
Articles like Angriff’s are valuable because they add to the diversity of voices here on [a][s]. That breadth of perspective is what drives conversation, and ultimately understanding between divergent groups. Furry is a broad church and the [adjective][species] tagline—the furry world from the inside out—implicitly includes that full range of voices.
That said, there are things that we could have done better, not least presenting Angriff’s contrarian argument in a more positive way. But we will keep seeking and publishing informed and intelligent writing here on [a][s], and accept that sometimes mistakes will happen. We have a lot to talk about.