Content note: this post uses examples involving people doing awful things to explain why neutrality can be bad
One kind of neutrality is fake. It pretends to be a matter of principle. People who do this aggressively object to taking sides, and push you to see all sides as equally valid. That’s a bad attitude to take because sometimes the sides to a conflict aren’t equally valid.
For instance, when someone asks a guy to stop hitting on her and he gets offended, there are not two valid sides. When a parent deprives a child of food, there are not two valid sides. When people claim that vaccines cause autism, refuse to vaccinate, and cause outbreaks of preventable diseases, there are not two valid sides. Pretending that there are two valid sides ends up making you complicit in harm done to people who are being hurt.
But that is not the only kind of neutrality. Not all kinds of neutrality are objectionable. It is often ok to stay out of things. Sometimes you’re in them and there’s no way to be neutral that isn’t effectively taking a side by default. But sometimes you can actually stay out of them.
Sometimes neutrality means recognizing that you don’t understand an issue, and choosing to stay out of it, at least for now. A lot of stuff is really complicated to understand. No one can understand every issue where there are sides.
- If you’re not in a position to be making military decisions or foreign policy, it’s ok to decide you don’t understand a certain conflict and be neutral about it (so long as you’re not pressuring other people to think it’s wrong to take sides)
- If you don’t understand a piece of legislation, it’s often ok to not have an opinion on it, even if it’s related to an issue that’s important to your community (unless it’s in some way your job to understand it, eg: if you run an advocacy organization.)
It’s ok to stay out of many things, if you’re not in a position in which you have a heightened obligation to take a side because you have specific responsibility for what happens. Nobody understands everything important; nobody *can* understand everything important. You don’t have to drop everything until you feel up to taking a position on every issue that someone in your life cares about.
Another kind of neutrality is offering certain kinds of help to people who meet certain criteria, or even anyone who asks, without regard to who they are, what they’ve done, and without taking a position on whether they deserve it. That can be a good thing, or a bad thing, in ways that I’m not sure how to explain.
- Operating a food bank and giving food to anyone who needs it
- Advocating for better conditions in prisons for all prisoners, even those convicted of awful things, without investigating to see how strong the evidence is that the people you’re protecting did awful things
Short version: Neutrality means a lot of different things. Some are good, some are bad. Sometimes it’s ok to stay out of things. It’s not ok to aggressively insist that there are always two sides to everything or to refuse to ever take sides on anything as a matter of principle.