For the last five days I've been reading Anne Leckie's fantastic Ancillary Justice. It's been blowing my mind in all types of lovely philosophical and fictional ways. Seriously that book is an intellectual back-bending inversion and we need that kind of upending fiction. Read it!
But this afternoon it brushed against a nerve whose sensations I've been trying to work through for the past month or so:
For a month I've been trying to write a post that sums up my feelings about desire/thought/intent and how they don't matter or at the very least how they are ancillary to the real world action and behaviors we choose to take.
In January 2010 Kinsey Hope made a satirical post about intent being "magic". The follwoing year Melissa McEwan at Shakesville put up the first post in a two part series about how seeing intent as magic can cause communication to be harmful. (I'm wildly paraphrasing here). Since then so many radical corners of the internet has been touched by the powerful words implied in these posts:
Intent is not magic.
It does not absolve the doer of damage and it does absolutely nothing to resolve, heal, or otherwise take accountability for the effects of the resulting harm. Reconciliation can never start from "I didn't mean it". Because as an adult human person you are expected to do the hard, but deeply human work of navigating how to respect your own desire/wants/thoughts while maintaining respect for others.
Now it's important for me to give this (poorly sourced) background and my take on it because it's crucial to what I am trying to draw out here. The reason intent is not magic, is because it has little to no direct power over how we act and communicate. For the most part, our conscious (not necessarily logical/sensible!) minds determine how we act and interact. The effects of intent are indirect at best.
Intent isn't magic, and in many contexts straight up doesn't matter. As Leckie's extremely utilitarian protagonist Berq says "Thoughts that lead to action can be dangerous. Thoughts that do not, mean less than nothing."
Part II: The tangle that makes us human
All actions have consequences. As humans in community with other humans; as socially sophisticated animals, it's our evolutionary imperative to anticipate and strategically reduce the harmful consequences of our own actions.
Every moment of our waking lives (and probably a good portion of dreams), we experience a complex tangle of thoughts, desires, wants, and wishes. We all must weed through this tangle to figure out how to act.
Let me give you an examples of my own navigation of this process:
For me a huge part of being genderfuild is engaging in a process of choosing how to follow up on my many and seemingly conflicting desires to express myself. I consistently have to chose from a tangle of erratic desires. These desires often buck lessons I learned about gender, behavior, and societal expectations. And sometimes I come to the conclusion that things I thought were in conflict are in fact not.
But thing is, the internal process that brings me to act and express, it belongs to me. It is part of what makes me me. In fact, I'm willing to take it even further than that. It's part of what makes me human. Take this process away from me and I am less human. Take this process away from anyone and they are dehumanized.
The processes that we go through, whether conscious or unconscious, swift or slow, to determine which of our wants we are going to actualize and how is a process that belongs to each us individually. Because the simple fact is (barring any drastic nuero-tech advances) nobody else can be in your head deciding which of your thoughts mean action, and which mean nothing.
Part III: "She wanted it" Means Nothing
So. It got real philosophical up in here real fast huh? Thanks for sticking with me through this. I had to write them, because I needed to really flesh out the reasoning for what I am about to say and what was the practical impetus for thinking about all of this in the first place:
The ol' rape apologist standby of "She wanted it"* is one of the very few, but important things that is completely refuted by the above. Because, when you when you take away the process by which someone actualizes their own wants you dehumanize them. Period.
The way that someone decides to value and actualize their own brain's data; how they determine what is worth the risk of action, that is what makes them who they are and what makes them human. Those three dastardly words seek to erase that complex process.
What's more, this rape apologist tactic derails the focus away from the very real harm suffered and tries to make the listener focus on a red herring that shouldn't matter to us at all: hypothetical wants the subject did not decide to actualize into a communication of consent.
Even IF such wants existed the decision to speak about them is not our fucking business. Her unspoken intent/want does not magic away the level of harm suffered, or absolve the perpetrator. Such claims lead away from accountable action and should be exposed as what they are. They mean less than nothing.
*these words can take many forms and in this example I am using "she/her" for this post to reflect the disgusting prevalence of such claims/suggestions about the wants/desires of women who have suffered abuse and violence.