More devoted to order than justice.

Tone Policing

Paul Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement

Martin Luther King Jr, in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, complained that he was gravely disappointed with the white moderate who was interested more in order than in justice, condemning this form of silencing.

This is what is meant by tone policing. Have you ever told someone that you will listen to them if they will calm down? If so you have tone policed them. If someone is angry, listen to the anger, there is a reason for it. Yes, some anger is not justified, but without listening how can you tell what is justified? In Paul Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement, pictured above, responding to the tone does not address the argument. Most tone policing falls short of an ad-hominem attack on the other person or on his or her integrity. The problem with tone policing is that it only goes one way. It is used by people in authority or in a privileged position over those who are less privileged.

There is an irony here, accusing someone of tone policing in order not to ear their argument is in itself a form of policing and can be in itself an ad-hominem attack. Be careful who you accuse.

The reason I am interested in tone policing is that as an autistic person, my tone or emotions can be different to that which society expects. Being socially awkward does not mean I can be dismissed, neither can my emotions. If I upset you say so, your emotions are important too. Why I write blogs is to start debate not to be right. Tell me if I’m wrong.

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