Most of you are probably familiar with the so-called “Dear Muslima” logical fallacy, otherwise known as the fallacy of relative privation, first world problem fallacy, etc. For those unfamiliar, one common form goes as follows:
Issue A isn’t as bad as Issue B, so you shouldn’t concern yourself with Issue A.
Let’s refer to a relevant example. Women in many Muslim majority countries are more oppressed than women in the West; therefore, it’s fair to criticise those who focus their energy on the latter. Taken to its logical conclusion, this faulty line of thinking would mean ignoring all but the most pressing issue faced by humanity—which in itself raises more questions.
Like many concepts that have recently been diluted to a homeopathic degree, “Dear Muslima” is often erroneously hurled at critics of the regressive left. Indeed, I was immediately accused of committing said fallacy in my most recent visit to the comments section of PZ Myers’ echo chamber over at Freethought Blogs.
In response to Myers’ contemptible “Where the racist feminists at?” post, I argued that focusing on microaggressions and “offensive” Halloween costumes is obscene in light of how little attention he affords the oppression of women by people who are lower on his privilege hierarchy. Understandably, I was swiftly banned for voicing something other than full-throated approval. But I digress.
Does my argument look like a version of “Dear Muslima” to you? If so, allow me to explain the difference.
Bob and Dave are both interested in the subject of food. Bob is more concerned about people who are starving to death, while Dave uses most of his energy complaining about the ratio of yellows to reds in bags of M&M’s. Would it be unfair for Bob to suggest that Dave’s priorities are worth reassessing? That’s the scale of the difference we’re talking about here. It’s not that one issue is slightly more pressing than the other. It’s that one is a major problem in need of our attention, and the other is as consequential as a fart in a hurricane—and that’s being charitable. Many of the topics favoured by the regressive left are purely imaginary grievances.
This isn’t an effort to undermine legitimate first world concerns that deserve our attention. I’m referring to shrieking students who complain that college is about creating a home and not an intellectual space, people who think a shirt that sports scantily clad cartoon women is a life-destroying offence, outrage junkies who are content to ruin the career of a Nobel Laureate because he made a joke, narcissists who think their feelings trump basic individual rights, and the list goes on.
It isn’t a logical fallacy to observe that, for many on the far left, their feminism ends where their cultural sensitivity begins. You do not get to advertise yourself as a champion for women’s rights while ignoring or, more egregious still, excusing the worst examples of female oppression. And you certainly don’t get to cry “Dear Muslima” when called on any of your myriad failings as a liberal.