'I'm not here to educate you'


Pick on online spat, any online spat, but preferably one involving feminism,or identity politics and there’s a good chance that at some point someone will come out with ‘I’m not here to educate you’ or ‘Got Google? Go use it’, in response to a question.

I find this rather odd.

Firstly, because (not always, but often), it is those on the communitarian/ anarchist/autonomist left who come out with this. People who believe, rightly, in the redistribution of power, wealth and social goods to a greater or lesser extent in any other context, suddenly transform into ‘Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, I’m under no obligation to help you’ types when asked for information.

Knowledge is power (see today’s news for details). So why do people who passionately argue for power-sharing in any other context suddenly refuse to share in the context of online debates? Asserting someone is wrong or ignorant implies that you could address their deficiency. If you know more than someone else, that knowledge privileges you. You have something they do not. Want a more egalitarian society? Start with the contents of your head.

A quick sidebar about language: for the love of God, write in English. I’m not arguing for never using technical/academic language - there are times when it either cannot be avoided or is the best choice there is given your intended audience, BUT: If you want to change the world (which you do, course you do), then you need people to understand your demands, the better to support them. Writing ‘simply’ wherever possible isn’t dumbing-down - it’s making your ideas available to the widest possible audience.

Secondly, because it gives the impression that no-one, ever, took a moment to help them. Really? I have screwed up, often, and a lot of what I’ve learned from my mistakes has come from people taking a second to at least point me in the direction of wisdom, if not sit me down and explain it in words of one syllable.

Imagine your worst, most cringeworthy error, the sort that makes you wake up in a cold sweat years later; now imagine two different scenarios:

In the first you are shouted at, belittled, your explanations of why you think the things you do are met with scorn, derision and accusations of prejudice, then any question you ask is greeted with: ‘I’m not here to educate you’.

In the second, someone tells you why you’re wrong, whilst accepting you acted in good faith, (as you should absolutely accept that they are), and if you ask a genuine question, shares the knowledge that informs their better decision-making/behaviour.

Which of these is likely to lead to a more constructive, fruitful encounter? Which is more likely to help your cause to progress?

I’m not arguing for never shouting: I shout, I shout a lot (see my feed, 10.45pm every Thursday when Question Time is on for details). But I know there is a time to shout, and a time to refrain from shouting. When someone wants to know ‘Why?’ is the latter kind of time.

Strategy, not tactics. Again.