The affordability of cynicism

We’ve all heard some version of the “that’s just facts man” argument. It’s basically someone who defines themselves as a “realist” saying that things cannot change and that all attempts to bring about change have so little likelihood of succeeding that we might as well not try.

The part that we miss sometimes has to do with who is making the argument. Think about a house on fire. Imagine your family is in that house, unable to get out. Imagine the fire is so great that you can’t find a way of saving them. Imagine standing next to a neighbour, looking in horror as the fire rages on. Who do you think is more likely to give up – you or your neighbour? Who is more likely to say, “There is no saving them. The fire is too big. That’s just the facts man!”

My suspicion is that it will not be you. My suspicion is that you will not give up, that you will run around looking for help, that you will make calls, fetch water, perhaps even run right into the flames to try and save your family. Hopelessness will not be as convenient for you as it will be for your neighbour. Your neighbour is an asshole by the way!

Whenever we hear arguments about the fight against discrimination being futile, or the fight against inequality being a wild goose chase, pay attention to who is predicting this seemingly inevitable defeat. You might find that it is someone who either benefits from the existing order, or someone who is not affected by it in an adverse way. Because those who do find themselves at the receiving end of unequal systems do not have the luxury of giving up. They have to have hope that things can get better.

Those claiming the futility of fighting and the inevitability of defeat make a very specific kind of argument. They profess that the discrimination you are opposed to is a part of nature itself and it cannot be done away with. In another time, this school of thought used to express itself using different words. It used to tell you you are wrong to fight and that you should die for wanting to fight. But times changed and they cannot enforce that particular variety of discouragement (at least not in urban drawing rooms) anymore. So now they justify their position by telling you that though you may have started a good fight, you will inevitably lose because winning is a practical impossibility.

In ancient America, there were those who wrote papers about why slavery will always exist because human society will always have two classes at least – the powerful and the powerless. These papers were inevitably always written by White people. There are men who are of the view that everything human beings have ever achieved has been because of the hard work of men and that things would have been worse if women had held positions of power. There are dominant caste people all over India who believe they are genetically superior to those the caste system places beneath them.

These positions are defended with vile abuse and toxic rhetoric of course, but among those who would like to continue to think of themselves as civilised, these positions are also defended using “that’s just facts man” and its cousin, “I’m a realist man.”

Of course, what goes without saying is that absolutely none of these things are “just facts”. They are absolute lies supported neither by science, nor by any objective reading of history. In addition, they have been resoundingly destroyed by what happened since these arguments were rejected. Turns out, slavery wasn’t a necessity, women can be great leaders, and making casteism illegal didn’t cause the heavens to fall.

Despair is the second greatest tool in the tyrant’s toolbox, the first being fear. If they can convince that the fight is not worth fighting, then they make life a lot more convenient for themselves. The idea of an eternal status quo is good only for those who benefit from the status quo being eternal. That guru who says nature can never be equal isn’t telling you about nature. He is defending his position in an artificial reality by claiming it is part of some kind of inviolable natural order.

Not so!

Human beings, human society, all human achievements are products of nature and though some things about nature are indeed absolute (like the laws of physics) the details of human society are largely not part of that inviolable set. Since the beginning of civilisation, social constructs have risen and fallen just as frequently as empires, governments, and ideologies. If you manage to build a tomorrow where inequality is a thing of the past, where caste is dead, and where patriarchy is little more than a memory, the heavens will not fall and the gods will not get diarrhea.