ideology

Ideological predators

Content note: This post is about adults exploiting teenagers on the internet for validation. It’s about the ideological form; not the sexual form, but a lot of the underlying logic is similar. This is likely to be a difficult post for anyone who has an emotional connection to this issue.

Some some predators use vulnerable people as validation objects to make their  flawed ideologies feel true. This can happen between people of any age, but it’s particularly common for adult predators to do this to teenage victims they meet online. Adults with bad ideas manipulate teenagers into praising them. They offer false respect to teenagers who are starved for respectful adult attention. They make teenagers depend on them emotionally in completely inappropriate ways. Then they lash out when the teenagers start to notice flaws in their ideas. Teenagers can get hurt very, very badly by this.

From a teenage perspective, relationships with ideological predators can feel really good at first before the predator starts lashing out. As a teenager, you’re often at the beginning of noticing that there’s a lot wrong with the world, and that you and others have the power to make it much better. But seeing yourself as powerful enough to change the world isn’t the same as knowing how to do it. Changing the world is hard work that requires skills that are difficult to acquire. It also requires connections with others doing the same work, which can be really hard to build for teenagers without much control over their lives. And teenagers who want to make the world better are often surrounded by adults who think their desire to do so is cute, and certainly not something to take seriously. (And who may not be taking the teenager seriously on any level). That’s degrading, and very, very hard to cope with.

And then a predator shows up online. At first, they’re this really interesting adult who at first seems to take you much more seriously than anyone else does. Their ideas seem amazing, and they seem to be opening all kinds of possibilities for making the world better. They’re willing to spend endless hours talking to you. They listen to you when you are sad and lonely, and they tell you that you’re amazing and brilliant and that you deserve so much more respect than anyone is giving you. It feels really good to be exposed to an exciting new idea, and it feels even better when it’s coming in the form of conversations with an apparently experienced person you respect. And, support from an experienced person who really does respect you is an amazing thing. Sometimes teenagers get the real form of this online. And sometimes, a predator fakes respect in ways that end very, very poorly.

An emotional relationship with a predator falls apart at some point, because their ideas aren’t actually very good, and their respect for you wasn’t real. It turns out, they weren’t listening to you, they were using you as a mirror. They didn’t want respect and conversation, they wanted you to admire them. When you start noticing flaws in their bad ideas, you stop being useful as a mirror, and they stop wanting to support you. All the vulnerabilities you shared with them turn into weapons they wield against you. It’s excruciating, and it can be very, very hard to recover from.

Teenagers deserve to have adults in their lives who respect them and spend time talking to them about the world. Ideally, this should happen both on and offline. Ideological predators who want validation seek out teenagers who aren’t getting real respect from adults, and seduce them with fake respect. This shouldn’t happen to anyone, ever, but it’s unfortunately really common. (It’s not just teenagers this happens to, but teenagers are often particularly vulnerable because teenagers are often both very isolated and inexperienced with evaluating the merits of ideologies, political views, and effective approaches to activism.)

One of the most important red flags for ideological exploitation is: Do they respect your right to consider other perspectives, or do they want you to believe everything they say without question? 

Nobody is right about everything; it is never reasonable for someone to want you to believe their ideas without question. You have the right to think for yourself. It is never ok for someone to be mean to you for asking questions or for reading about other perspectives. (Even if they’re right and the other perspective you’re reading is a dangerously bad idea that has hurt them personally.) No one has to be willing to talk to you about everything; they do need to respect your right to think for yourself. If someone is trying to persuade you to agree with them, they should expect that you will want to think about it and ask questions. That’s how conversations work when you are explaining something.

No one is the boss of your reading or your other media consumption. You get to decide what you want to read (and what you don’t want to read, and you don’t have to justify your reading choices to anyone. It’s a red flag if an adult tries to monitor your reading or aggressively tells you not to read people they disagree with. Or if they try to dictate who you are and aren’t allowed to talk to.
It’s also a bad sign if they refuse to explain to you why they disagree with a particular position, especially if they’re encouraging you to see them as a mentor. “Why do you think that?” and “What’s wrong with that?” or “Why is that idea harmful?” or “Why is this important?” are reasonable questions, and it’s not ok if they lash out at you for sincerely wanting to know.

(Even if they regularly get asked that question insincerely as a form of harassment, they still shouldn’t lash out at you. You aren’t doing that. You’re asking a question because you want to understand. It’s not your fault that mean people do something superficially similar. If they’ve spent hours and hours talking to you and saying how insightful you are, then they know you well enough to trust your sincerity. It’s not ok if everything they know about you suddenly flies out the window when you ask an uncomfortable question. Also, if they’re presenting themselves as a mentor figure and want you to trust them in that role, then it *is* their job to educate you, and part of educating people is answering their sincere questions respectfully.)

Which is related to another sign to watch out for — trustworthy people with good ideas are able to disagree with others respectfully. If someone is only willing to talk about ideas they agree with and ideas they have withering contempt for, that’s a really bad sign. Reasonable people have some positions they disagree with respectfully, and they also know that people can mistakenly be attracted to bad ideas for good reasons. No one has to be willing to respect all ideas or treat all positions as honorable; everyone has to be able to tolerate *some* disagreement respectfully. Reasonable people know that they’re not right about everything, and that sometimes they will find that people they initially disagreed with had a point.

If they can’t tolerate disagreement with anyone else, what they’re feeling for you is probably not real respect. They’re probably using you as a mirror; expecting you to reflect everything they say back to them, using your sincerity and enthusiasm to make it sound true and important. But you’re not a mirror; you’re a person. Even if everything they’re saying to you right now sounds amazingly true; eventually you will disagree with them about something you both care about. (No one is right 100% of the time, and it is normal for people who care about things to have some degree of disagreement.) Their talk about how insightful and wonderful you are will very, very likely melt away when you stop agreeing with them about everything. If they could tolerate disagreement, they’d be tolerating it from other people too.

Tl;dr Some adult predators use teenagers as ideological validation objects. They offer false respect to teenagers who are hungry for genuine respect from adults. The teenage victims are expected to become mirrors, enthusiastically reflecting back whatever the adult says, making it sound true and wise. Inevitably, eventually teenagers figure out that the adult isn’t 100% right about everything, and they start questioning their ideology. The adult predator then lashes out, and withdraws all of their false respect, leaving the teenager they have isolated to pick up the pieces. This is a horrible an inexcusable thing to do to someone. People have the right to think for themselves, and to ask questions. Adults who take it upon themselves to teach teenagers about the world have a particularly strong obligation to support them in thinking for themselves. If someone effusively praises you at first and then lashes out at you for questioning them or disagreeing, something is really wrong. It’s not your fault, and you’re not alone. People should not treat you that way.

Therapy is better without true believers

Anonymous said:

I was wondering if you/ any of your followers have thoughts on mindfulness as a treatment for anxiety? It seems to be recommended by a lot of doctors where I live as something that always works and has no side effects.

realsocialskills said:

It sounds like you’re encountering a lot of true believers. 

“Always works and has no side effects” is not true of anything. That’s true believer talk; someone who is giving you medical advice ought to be giving you a more nuanced view of your options and the potential risks and benefits involved. If you can, it’s worth putting in effort to get a doctor who is willing to proactively take a frank and nuanced approach to treatment decisions. (Some doctors start acting that way if you ask them enough good questions. Some don’t. Finding good doctors who take your insurance can sometimes be hard.).

Mindfulness is one legitimate approach to managing anxiety that works very well for some people. It doesn’t work for everyone, and it’s not the only legitimate approach. I don’t have any way of knowing whether it’s something that you should try. (Both because I don’t know you and because I’m not an expert on helping people make that kind of decision.)

There are approaches other than mindfulness that some people find helpful. Eg: CBT, various types of medication, general psychodynamic therapy, art therapy, or working to accommodate sensory issues better so that you have less background stress. No approach is universally effective; no approach is universally safe. They all work to a significant extent for a significant percentage of people. They all also have risks and drawbacks.

Nothing is 100% effective, ever. No treatment or approach works consistently for everyone. People are complicated, and many things about the brain and body are still not well-understood. For many issues, there are wide ranges of legitimate and possibility-legitimate approaches. Trustworthy doctors and therapists are honest about this.

Further, everything that is powerful enough to have good effects is powerful enough to have side effects. Some people have this weird misconception that if something doesn’t involve medication or surgery, then there are somehow no risks. In reality, there is no risk-free approach to improving the way your mind and body are functioning. Anything that’s powerful enough to cause good changes runs the risk of causing bad changes. (The risk is not always high, and even high risks are often worth taking.) 

Does anyone want to weigh in with experiences with mindfulness? What are some things you wish you’d known, or that you think it would be helpful for the person who asked about this to know?

tl;dr Mental (and often physical) healthcare decisions are complicated. Some approaches work amazingly well for some people. No approach is effective for everyone. Every approach has risks and drawbacks. If you are seeking professional help, it’s worth looking for someone who is realistic and honest about likely outcomes, potential risks, and the range of treatment options.

You don't have to like being disabled

This is what I think disability acceptance means:

  • Facing what your abilities are and aren’t
  • Accepting yourself as already having value
  • Living your life now and doing things you care about.
  • Not putting your life on hold waiting for a cure

But, some kinds of acceptance talk end up putting destructive kinds of pressure on people. And I think:

  • It’s ok to like or dislike being disabled. It’s ok to like some aspects of your condition but not others
  • It’s ok to want treatment and to be frustrated that it isn’t available
  • It’s ok to pursue treatment that *is* available
  • It’s ok to work hard to gain or keep certain physical or cognitive abilities, and to be happy or proud that you have them
  • It’s ok to decide that some abilities aren’t worth keeping, and to be happy or proud about moving on from them
  • All of those things are very personal choices, and no one’s business but your own
  • None of them are betrayals of acceptance or other disabled people

The point of acceptance is to get past magical thinking.

It means seeing yourself as you actually are, without being consumed by either tragedy or the need to focus on overcoming disability. It means accepting where you are, and living now, without putting your life on hold waiting for a cure.

Acceptance creates abilities. Acceptance makes it easier to be happy and to make good decisions. But acceptance does not solve everything, and it does not come with an obligation to love absolutely every aspect of being disabled.

neurodiversitysci:

realsocialskills:

is there something wrong with me if i’m a neurodivergent person who has never really identified much with villains? it seems like in my experience a lot of neuroatypical people do relate more to villainous characters, for the reasons you…

neurodiversitysci said:

OMG, why are we oppressing ourselves by letting strangers on the internet decide what we should and shouldn’t like and how we should and shouldn’t define our own brains? Don’t we have enough problems already?  Here on Tumblr we can escape from neurotypical people trying to define us and finally be free to define who we are ourselves. Why replace those neurotypicals with another group of strangers trying to define us?

Anonymous, there are a million and one ways to be neurodivergent because there are a million and one ways to have an atypical brain. We can be even more different from each other than we are from a neurotypical person (and that’s amazing!).  Pretty much every neurodivergent person you meet will be different from you in some way.  More importantly, you are a person and you have the right to be who you are and like what you like.  Go be your awesome self and don’t let random internet haters…or anyone else…stand in your way.

realsocialskills said:

I think what you’re saying blames the victims a bit. I sympathize with the original poster, a lot. I don’t think the mistake they’re making is their fault.

It’s not just random haters. It’s also people who are like “we are like you”, and then insist that you have to like or dislike certain things.

It’s not random internet haters. It’s a culture. That people who are sincerely trying to do the right thing get led astray by. It’s an easy mistake to make. People who fall into that trap deserve sympathy and help getting out.

Life after ideology

Note: This post is for people who this post about being seen as real through ideological affiliation applies to. http://realsocialskills.tumblr.com/post/47960064777/dont-hang-your-legitimacy-on-ideology If you don’t have that history, this post might not make very much sense.

When you need to break with an ideological group, it can be really difficult. It can undermine your sense of self.

Partly because of the way ideological group members treat you when you stop fitting their worldview. When other people stop treating you like you’re real, it can be hard to remember that you’re real.

But not just that. It’s also, when you see the problems with the ideology, when you see the huge gulf between what its words say it is and what it actually is, sometimes it’s easy to feel like there must be something wrong with you to have ever wanted to be part of that group.

You can feel like you were really stupid and that everything was rotten, and that you just need to root out parts of yourself that you developed in association with that group. 

But… keep in mind… that you were attracted to the ideology for reasons. And some of them were good reasons. And you learned a lot in your time with the group. The growth that you experienced was real. Your learning counts.

And you don’t have to reject everything you learned in order to move on. You don’t have to reject former versions of yourself, either. You don’t have to throw everything away, to get away from the ideology.

What you have to do is move on. Not reinvent yourself. Not throw away an old version. Not find a new group. Move on. Keep trying to find out what’s true, keep looking for good things to do, and keep looking for good people to do them with.

And moving on by building things takes time, and it’s not exhilarating like throwing yourself into a new ideological group would be. But in the long run, it’s much, much better.

Don’t hang your legitimacy on ideology

This dynamic happens a lot with autistic or otherwise socially-marginalized people:

  • You’re not treated as fully real, for your whole life
  • And you don’t even realize it, because it’s pervasive. You don’t know that it’s possible to be treated as real. You don’t know this isn’t normal.

And then you discover a group of people who seem to approve of you

  • They’re an ideological group, and they approve of anyone who shares their ideology
  • And their ideology seems plausible, or valuable, or good
  • And it has some concepts that allow you to understand things you never understood before
  • And you adopt the ideology
  • You’re accepted into the group. In a way you’ve never been accepted before.
  • And they treat you more like a real person than anyone else has before
  • And you yourself *feel* more real than you ever felt before

And so you throw yourself into the ideology

  • Passionately, completely, and sincerely
  • And you care deeply about understanding it, and using the concepts, and doing good and right
  • And so you work really hard
  • And then, eventually, this pulls you away from the ideology
  • Because you learn something, or notice something, that the ideology doesn’t cover
  • And that makes you a heretic
  • And you lose your standing in the group

And then they stop treating you as real. And then you wonder if you are real, if maybe you’re just not good enough for anything. And then maybe you find another ideological group, and it repeats over and over and over. Because you think the problem is that you just haven’t found the right ideology, and that if you find the right one, it won’t fall apart.

Until you realize that, actually, you were real the whole time. And that groups that only think their members are real people are never going to solve the problem. And that when they treat anyone as non-real, it’s a threat to you, too. Because you have to think everyone is real, because everyone *is* real. And seeing people as unpeople is always destructive.

And then you realize that the world is both better and worse than you thought it was. Worse, because there’s no ideological group that will solve everything, but the awful things the ideological groups notice are often true. Better, because everyone is already real, and genuine respect between people is already possible. Because you don’t have to wait for a revolution to be a person, and neither does anyone else.

Don't confuse being on the right side with being trustworthy

One of my favorite things about the earlier Harry Potter books is the description of Professor Snape.

Because he’s openly and unapologetically abusive. And so the kids suspect, over and over, that he’s secretely in league with the bad guys. And he isn’t. He’s a bad person, and he hurts people. But he’s not on the side of evil, he’s not working to make Voldemort be in charge again.

And that’s so important, and so rarely depicted, especially in books for kids. It’s really good that it’s in Harry Potter (even though this was somewhat betrayed in the last book).Because people are complicated.

People on the side of good can be assholes. People with the right ideologies, and the right positions on certain life-or-death issues, can still be horrible and hurt people. Someone can get substantive and important things right, and still be an abuser.

Be careful who you trust.Don’t trust someone just because they are liberal. Or conservative. Or radical. Or the same religion as you. Or secular like you. Or because they make beautiful art depicting something important to you. Or because you know they fight against some evil things.

You have to know someone more personally than than to know whether they can be trusted.