When, as a boy living in my redneck part of rural Australia, I’d stuff up some task allocated by my late father, there’d be a reasonable chance of my being labelled “useless”. While I’m quite thoroughly uninterested in one of those “must have made you feel” discussions, what with all the confected reciprocity and bogus empathy that such exchanges entail, there are still things that can be said of the insult in question.

It – “useless” – is intended as an insult, but I’m afraid I can’t receive it as such. I’m quite happy to be useless. Consider the corollary of taking “useless” as an insult; receiving “useful” as a compliment.

To be “useful” is to count yourself a tool among tools. It’s to position yourself alongside instrumental luminaries such as pencils, auto-rewind and Preparation H. It’s not for no reason that “useful”, as applied to people, has negative connotations in politics.

I’d encourage anyone else who’s been called “useless” to give this some consideration. Unwittingly, you’re being paid a compliment akin to “not a Muppet”.

It’d be far better to be considered, in lieu of being “useful”, as “cooperative with qualifications”. At least this way you’d have some of your agency acknowledged in the mix. And I certainly don’t enjoy the prospect that my “usefulness”, should it ever present itself, may one day entail someone else being fucked over – avoiding this would be one of the qualifications for my cooperation.

Admittedly my concerns don’t condense down well to a single adjective, and I’m not in a mood for coining neologisms, so I think I’ll just happily settle for “useless” and let the connotations land where they will.

~ Bruce

Mutation of concept

Concept: “You shouldn’t vilify people for being overweight, and should be wary of making assumptions as to why they are overweight or why it’s even any of your business. You don’t know how they got that way. You don’t know what it’s like for them – maybe they really are happy and healthy. What’s probably certain is that if their welfare is dependent on losing weight, your being a jerk about it isn’t going to help one dot. You shouldn’t fat shame people.”

Mutation: “Implicit in your gym membership is a judgement upon overweight people! You may be reducing your experience of pain, and making yourself happier, but you are doing so at my expense! Stop fat shaming me with your exercising, or at least have the good sense to be silent and out-of-sight about it!”

Concept: “You can’t expect people arguing from a position of disadvantage, in a discussion of said disadvantage, to adhere to lists of arbitrarily acceptable decorum, especially not when the list explicitly and prejudicially excludes mention of some of the very concepts they need to express.”


Concept: “For too long, people in positions of relative power have defined the language of political discussion, such that their biases have become entrenched and covertly assumed in a way that prejudices the interests of various groups of disadvantaged people. These prejudicial assumptions need to be teased out and criticised, and often this will entail deliberately making space for members of disadvantaged groups.”

Mutation: “I identify as more disadvantaged than you, so I am interjecting to inform you that I am now editor of your blog. YOU DON’T GET TO PUBLISH DISAGREEMENT YOU ENTITLED ASSHOLE! HOW DARE YOU!111”

Concept: “Disadvantaged folk, like everyone else, have finite time in which to enjoy their lives and/or earn a living. When you intrude upon their lives to demand explanations about their lived experiences, they get to expect to either be paid, or left alone. You may be entitled to a free education, but they’re not obliged to provide it and certainly not on-demand in their own personal space!”

Mutation: “I self-identify as disadvantaged! I get to interject into your conversations and personal space, dictating facts, values and arguments at whim. And no, I do not have to give explanations! YOU AREN’T PAYING ME FOR EXPLANATIONS OF MY INTRUSIVE IDEATING!”

Concept: “People from various disadvantaged backgrounds are often vulnerable to forms of harm particular to, or prevalent among those backgrounds. This harm is often done to them by members of other groups. Often the only immediately available evidence of such harm presents itself in the form of personal anecdote, which may, due to a difference in backgrounds, be difficult for outsiders to understand. Because the consequences of disbelief or hyper-skepticism are so potentially dangerous in many of these situations (when compared to the risks of false positives), in matters of decision making it is usually right to provisionally assume that such personal accounts of harm are truthful until shown to be false. This isn’t even controversial. This is how competent medical practitioners deal with reported suicidal thoughts.”

Mutation: “I am from a disadvantaged group. You don’t even doubt that I am. Therefore you must, regardless of your own disadvantage, or your own personal interest, and irrespective of how hotly debated it may be in academic circles, assume as true a priori – not just provisionally – the morsel of theory that I am dictating. You will not ask questions. If you do not comply then you are harming me, and are comparable in some sense to people who want to kill me. [Insert dehumanizing expression of violent, necrophilic fantasy against the “offender”.]”

Concept: “Social movements attract predators. Communities and cliques attract predators. These predators don’t have to be murderers, rapists or even criminal in their behaviour – just opportunistic and self-centred. They don’t have to be motivated by money – ego or sadism can be enough. No community is immune, and no set of rules or concepts are magically protected from being misappropriated or exploited to any number of ends.”

Mutation: “NU’UH! Not us!”


Call me naive elitist, call me shitlord, call me Ray, I just can’t help but think that certain concepts could be rolled out better in practice if people were allowed to mull them over without being brow-beaten into compliance. Any half-decent teacher knows this is a better arrangement for learning in, and anyone who’s seriously and successfully tackled cults, knows how such approaches are preventative of a whole world of hurt.

Relatedly, I’m left wondering who ultimately, if anyone, has their interests served by such conceptual mutations.

~ Bruce