I’ve noticed something. I’ve complained before about the elevation of stock phrases to do work that only actual thinking can do (I’m not the only one). “Intent isn’t magic” is one of the biggest offenders. It’s like the proverbial “attractive nuisance,” the open swimming pool in the yard that begs toddlers to fall in and drown.
“Intent isn’t magic”, for too many people, has morphed into “intent is irrelevant and has no explanatory power for human interactions.” They don’t say that in those words, but that is the effect.
Except it doesn’t work. Intent matters a lot. A huge lot. We make all kinds of decisions based on what we believe other people are likely to do. Intent is the difference between a person who knocks you over on the bus and laughs, and the person who knocks you over on the bus then profusely apologizes and helps you pick up your groceries.
Intent makes the difference between a conviction for premeditated murder and a conviction for manslaughter. That difference is roughly reflected in the sentences for each.
Intent matters so very much that it can go off the rails when we focus on it too particularly. The latest horribleness in which some are trying to divine the True, Deep State of Mind of other people (They don’t sound like a TERF, but are they really truly fundamentally ontologically a TERF? I must find out!) demonstrates this.
No amount of actions—things that can be seen by others, writing that explicitly states the author’s position and recognition of the rights of other people—is enough. Actions mean little; they’re a cover for the True Deep Intent of the suspected heretic.
When you step back and look at this focus on intent, it is not unreasonable. Human life is full of people saying one thing and doing another. We have to engage our bullshit detectors, we have to read for subtext and implication, and we have to be reasonably confident that we’re not being played by someone who claims to want to help while they’re undermining us quietly.
But that requires us to recognize that intent does matter, and that it is a useful tool in guiding our actions and reactions to others when used properly. This is something a certain set of the social justice-interested refuse to acknowledge.
But they are as obsessed with true intent as any human is.