I’m tired of having this argument

Imagine a typical playground scene. Bully Mcbullyperson is picking on Meekins again, pinning them down and hocking a loogie in their face. Their eyes meet.

Scenario 1: Bully calls Meekins a loser. 
Scenario 2: Meekins calls Bully a loser. 
I think most people would readily agree that, in scenario 1, Bully is verbally bullying Meekins, which is deplorable, while scenario 2 Meekins is performing an act of defiance and should be cheered. 
This a clear case where morality is NOT symmetric: When an oppressed person mocks, belittles, or insults the oppressor, it’s awesome. When the oppressor mocks, belittles, or insults the oppressed, it’s wrong. Substituting one person for another changes the morality of the action. 
Got that? Morality is not always symmetric. It matters who you are and what your position is; right and wrong are different for different people in different scenarios. 
On to another question: WHY is it wrong for Bully to insult Meekins? It can’t be a deontological principle; “don’t insult people” would make it wrong for both of them, and a declaration that insulting someone while they’re down is a priori wrong is just dodging the question. It can’t be utilitarian, either; there is a high likelihood that Meekins comment will result in a beating, more than negating the pleasure of making it. 
No, this is a clear case where virtue ethics takes hold. We despise Bully’s insult because insulting someone while they’re down is the action of a bully and a coward, and we cheer Meekins because insulting the powerful takes courage. 
Ah, and there’s the rub: the morality of the insult has nothing to do with the prior actions of our two characters. Meekins does not “get insult privileges” as a reward for being oppressed, nor does Bully “lose” them as a punishment. Rather, it is purely a matter of relative power; Bully’s power means that insulting Meekins risks nothing, and is therefore cowardly; Meekins, on the other hand, is taking a great risk, which is courageous. 
We live in a kyriarchy, which is to say a system of intertwined hierarchies. All else being equal, the rich have more power than the poor, men have more power than women, whites have more power than people of color,* cis heterosexual people have more power than LGBT people, and so on. 
Now, this does not mean that members of underprivileged groups get to say whatever they want to members of privileged groups. Morality is complex, and multiple factors interact–generally speaking, an unprovoked verbal assault on an individual is almost always wrong. But it does mean that the bar is lower when it comes to members of underprivileged groups talking about privileged groups in the abstract, because the courage it takes to do so helps counteract the general idea that generalizing about people isn’t good. 
So, next time you feel the urge to say “people would react differently if you said that about [other group],” pause a moment, and consider this question first:
Yeah, they would. So what?
*You. Yes, you. White person about to comment about how downtrodden you are in an attempt to refute this. Consider two things first: One, are you really suffering because people of color have more power than you, or are you butthurt because privileges you take for granted are being shared with people who aren’t you? Two, are you really suffering because people of color have more power than you, or because of some other group unrelated to race (most likely, the rich) have power over you? Any comments of this type which do not answer both those questions will be deleted. 

19 thoughts on “I’m tired of having this argument

  1. You know, some men don't automatically grasp all the complexities of race, class, and gender just by getting into a debate on the internet. Some men see feminism as something that is telling them to supplicate themselves and apologize for their sins over and over for no reason that they can understand – and when comprehensible reasons ARE given, they can be contradictory and change in meaning from person to person. This issue isn't as black-and-white as you make it out to be.

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  2. Morality is complex, nuanced, and above all, SITUATIONAL. As someone who has had to deal with having the “race card” thrown at me all the time, sometimes simply for disagreeing with an opinion, its led to me becoming both jaded AND less willing to listen to certain arguments/key words and terms that when employed, automatically “invalidate” arguments. It's also the main reason I dislike social justice in just about ALL its forms.

    In my mind, true equality is treating people how you wish to be treated, treating them all the same, and not making snap judgements based on specific, arbitrary traits/characteristics. I also find that when I express this view, I am frequently badgered, called all sorts of names, and told to do many many unpleasant things. This, in turn, leads my sense of logic to believe (no matter how rightly/wrongly so) that those people I speak to only wish to advocate their own feelings, their own “offenses” and perpetuate their own status as victims.

    Otherwise, why react to a disagreement with the verbal equivalent of a shotgun?

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  3. Well, your first problem is that you're trying to grasp the complexity of something by getting into a debate. It's a lot harder to learn something if you're approaching it from a position of being hostile to it.

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  4. That's kind of my point. Morality is situational, and in a society biased across multiple demographic dimensions, things like race and gender are part of the situation.

    Take race for an example. In a society in which, generally speaking, non-whites are subjected to more and worse racial discrimination, ignoring race is both only an option for whites, and a choice to accept the status quo that benefits whites. To put it another way, a society where NO ONE discriminates based on race is the ideal, but a society in which all but one person is “color-blind” and that one person discriminates against black people is a society net biased against black people. Racism is a clear point where Kant's categorical imperative fails as a moral guide, because acting in the way you wish everyone did in an ideal world here makes the non-ideal world worse.

    In other words, so-called “color-blindness” is a sort of “sin of omission” form of racism. Hence the reaction to your statements, which do sound rather a lot like an assertion of color-blindness. And particularly in the present, where overt racism has been considered unseemly and impolite for a few decades and racism has thus been increasingly forced to hide in codes and dogwhistles and discrimination-by-favoritism, people may be slightly more hair-trigger in their responses.

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  5. Well, bear in mind, I do not identify as color blind for two main reasons:

    1: I've never lived in, been raised in, or had much experience with, homogenous society, prior to my 20s. As I've said before, my neighborhood was incredibly diverse, and that's all I've ever known. Color and race were never things until our teachers told us about them in school, and by that point, we were all friends.

    2: Because of the same neighborhood demographic, I have also been subjected to racism. I am not, nor ever have been, the “majority” in my neighborhood. And I have been bullied because of being white, been bullied for NOT being Asian, been bullied for not speaking/reading the “language,” and been told – to my face – that I was not allowed in certain stores because they did not serve non-whatever ethnic group owned the shop. This type of racism/dicrimination wasn't even a secret in my community- the local councilmen, assemblymen, and even our district rep, has spoken out against it on numerous occasions, only to see little real progress happen.

    So given the situation that I live in, is it really a surprise I have the views I do? There's an entire generation of people just like me, living in this community, who feel the same, and express the same. And when we mention it to people outside the community, who have never lived in it, we get backlash. A lot of it VERY ill-informed, because unless you lived it, you will never understand it. The first time I had the “selective sympathy” card thrown in my face, that hurt, because the person doing it immediately assumed he knew my intentions, because all he saw was a white, straight male, and not a product of the community that I grew up in. And that same person loved to wear his “victim” armband, and yell about it, despite the fact that everyone in THAT community knew he was a child of privilege, leaning on the ONE TRAIT that he could exploit to cast himself NOT as one with power, but one from a marginalized group.

    That's the funny thing about situational morality- nobody really knows the situation. They just think they do.

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  6. Not going to say that that doesn't suck or that you weren't bullied, and obviously as a child there wasn't much you could do about it.

    Does not change, however, the high level of relative privilege you have in most communities in this country, or the fact that you have the option of living in communities where you would enjoy that privilege–which option is itself a form of privilege.

    Which is why I used words like “general” and “more” and “more severe”–I'm not arguing that no white person has ever been bullied because of their race. I'm talking about systemic biases that have been repeatedly proven to exist (just in the past week I've seen studies showing that people are more likely to die in hurricanes with feminine names because they don't take them as seriously, that the majority of Americans would, given the choice, rather do business with a white person than a black person, and a really interesting one showing that the majority of racial bias is now no longer taking the form of acting against members of disliked races, but instead favoring members of preferred races).

    And the fact of the matter is, while you do seem to be an exception, in my experience the overwhelming majority of the time people talking about “reverse racism” or “anti-white bias,” when pressed for actual examples, turn out to be full of shit. (My favorite is when they complain about college admissions, white students being passed over for “less qualified” students of color. Then you ask them how they know the students of color were less qualified as opposed to equally or differently qualified and watch them stammer and flail.)

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  7. I've never liked the term “reverse racism.” People who employ it are obviously racist themselves, and are afraid of losing what little power they still have. So they give it some buzz-worthy name, and yell about it using buzz-worthy dialog, and never bother to seriously think about their words and their implications.

    Racism is racism. My favorite history teacher taught me that in high school- a Jewish woman, by the by- and she made sure that we ALL understood that mistreatment of ANYONE (really, for any arbitrary reason) was a failure of our moral understanding. That didn't stop the “less savory” fellows – people who hated who they were, and made sure we all knew how much we sucked for making them that way – from saying all sorts of nastiness to her. But she took it in stride. Classy woman. You don't need to be a straight white male to be horribly racist, and straight white men are victims of racism as well, especially outside those homogenous societies I mentioned. Despite those instances bothering me a lot as a socially-responsible teenager, I also recognize them as giving me a point of view that many of my fellow white men have NEVER REALLY ENCOUNTERED. And, like many people of color who roll with the punches instead of wear them as excuses, I moved past it.

    As you also know, I am painfully aware of privilege, as it has been thrown in my face more often than I would like, usually for disagreeing with people. The reason I choose to live where I do is because I truly do like it here, incidents of racism notwithstanding. My neighbors are EXTREMELY WEIRD, but also extremely good-hearted people who care about where we live, and how to make it a better place. Those same communities where I could revel in my whiteness also turn my stomach (ask me about Nassau county the next time I'm in DC), and have for a very long time. I mentioned once to Viga during ACEN that I would rather live in a heterogenous community and put up with ethnic eccentricities, than be surrounded by “my own people.” Because I do not agree with their views most of the time. Why? for the reasons outlined above. I'd rather deal with a little racism here, than have to listen to mountains of it spewed out someplace else, and then be expected to agree with it.

    I'm also going to mention the classic “you can prove anything with statistics” here, because I also read a few of those reports, and I think they're…well, not BS, because people actually do act that way. I think the people who act those ways are full of it, though. As to the idea of acting preferentially towards your own race? That's practically a biological trigger. It definitely IS an ethnic one- kith and kin and all those things we wish we had moved past, but obviously haven't- and anyone surprised by those findings must not be aware of it. Everyone who would likely be willing to discuss such things, and indeed learn from and adopt them, probably already does.

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  8. Also take notice: those same people screaming about “reverse racism”…where do they live? Obviously not in the heterogenous communities, or else they would stop yelling and actually DO something. Every single person i ever met who claimed anti-white bias, lived in the whitest part of the whitest neighborhood, in the nicest house on the street (relatively speaking), drove a nice car, and complained about things he never encountered.

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  9. But they're not TRYING to get into a debate. I'm talking about the relatively sheltered white males that SJWs are DEMANDING apologize for their privilege and their unconscious social biases when these guys don't have any idea what they're talking about. They're being thrust headfirst into a debate that they had no idea even existed, and now they're expected to know everything about feminism and intersectionality and are lambasted whenever they ask what these terms mean to these specific people, because definitions are relative. There's a lot of misplaced agression being directed here.

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  10. And one final point to make before I pass out (brought on by my chugging of the final finger of whiskey in my bottle, thereby proving the stereotype that all Irish people drink from sunup to sundown, which is exactly what happened to me today):

    There's a difference between being “color-blind” and simply not making color a factor in how you treat people. WHen I hear identifications like “I'm color-blind,” as in when Stephen Colbert cites the term, that tends to be an open declaration from someone that they are aware of color, and want to make it extremely clear that they are not going to use it as a factor in decision making. IE, they are choosing to declare their intent to not focus on color/race, while the idea is plainly on their mind, they wish to address it, and do not want to come off as racist or prejudicial.

    When one chooses to employ the route I take, it's not that I'm declaring to not make race an issue, its that race plainly ISN'T an issue. The thought of race doesn't cross my mind, and I treat people like people first. I'm not going out of my way to point out that I don't see color, when I do see color. I mean, come one, when you look at someone, you see their skin, and to say you don't is asinine. Rather, I make my decisions based on their attitude, how well I know the person, and how they have treated me. In short, based on the PERSON, not the traits.

    On the surface, it can be confused with “color-blindedness” rather easily, because articulating the process by which I choose to treat people is extremely hard to put into words.

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  11. If morality doesn't have any objective value to it then why shouldn't a white, male heterosexual do everything they can to consolidate their power and keep it out of the hands of minorities?

    Power seems to be the only real thing of worth. Hell to bring up something your analyzing it seems in Madoka Magica: Rebellion all that really matters is power too. Whoever has power makes the rules, so why would they want to share that with anyone else?

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  12. “Objective value” is a contradiction in terms. All value is subjective.

    To me, morality has a high value. If it doesn't have value for you, I can't do much for you, and I'm not going to be able to persuade you, so I'll have to settle for opposing you as you try to consolidate power.

    Now, if power is the only thing you value? I feel sorry for you. Not enough to stop opposing you, mind you, but I do.

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  13. Ok two things then.

    1. Why does a subjective morality have high value? Are all moralities equal? After all Aztec society saw human sacrifice as the highest societal good, Indian society had widow burnings. If everything is subjective then are those two groups better off morality wise because Westerners subjugated them and imposed their own Judeo-Christian or Enlightenment morality?

    2. I wouldn't say power is all I value, but I don't see why morality should be put on a pedestal. After all it's just the values of the time and place you're raised in. If you wish to explain why humans shouldn't only care about power instead of offering false pity then I welcome the discussion.

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  14. I'm afraid you're not asking questions that I consider answerable. “Why does a subjective morality have high value” is a meaningless question, because it implies its value is objectively or universally high. If you're asking why it has a high value to *me*, I dunno, ask a psychologist.

    Morality is broad and complex enough that I don't think it's possible to assign a society a scalar “morality score,” so it's not possible to say that one society's morality is better than another. Western society doesn't have human sacrifice, but it does have sweatshops, concentration camps, and genocide.

    Even if I did believe it could be possible to “rank” societies, I would think it would require extensive in-depth study of a culture to do it, and I simply haven't done that for either of those two cultures.

    I find it interesting that you frame the only alternatives as “only care about power” or “offer false pity.” Empathy is an actual, empirically observable capacity people have, you know.

    Also, morality is clearly not “just the values of the time and place you're raised in,” since people fairly frequently criticize the values of the time and place in which they were raised. Certainly upbringing and socialization have a big impact on a person's values and therefore their morality, but they're clearly not the totality.

    Your values are clearly very alien to mine; as such it is not possible for me to explain to you why you “should” do something, because any argument with a “should” in its conclusion must have value-statements as premises. I will say that your statements thus far, if you, make it very clear that it's against my interests for you to have power.

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  15. Very well, the discussion can be concluded here then. I suppose just to make myself clear, I do see the benefits of equality in a secular society. I just don't understand why someone who fits in the privilege classes would ever willingly give up those privileges.

    Thanks for not indulging in insulting word choice simply because we're in disagreement.

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  16. Well, I just have to interject here, even if the discussion is over, because I see many reasons why a person from the privileged class would give up privileges.

    (a) caring about other human beings and putting a value on human life. See, being completely nihilistic and saying you don't truly matter as a being is not appealing to some people. Or most people who are sane. Or people who possess empathy and like caring about others, which is people who are not psychopaths.
    (b) In most cases, it isn't giving up privileges at all! It's sharing them. This is the strawman people put up too often against blacks/women/etc: “There is no such thing as equality, or we're already perfectly equal; so they must be championing to take all my fancy stuff and oppress me!” No. That's not what activists want. They want equality. Which does NOT involve burning everyone's house down so everyone is as wealthy as the homeless person down the street; that is not what it means.
    (c) those privileges that they would have to give up in order to no longer be shitty people? Are shitty privileges like getting to hurt people or commit crimes and not get punished as much for it.
    (d) giving up those privileges and having society change for the better might lead to them getting treated better too! Everyone is hurt when they have to hold themselves to a narrow standard of acceptability. A white woman might have white privilege for instance, but not male privilege. And a white man might (gasp) not be properly masculine 100% of the time, or, hell, have a family member who isn't (which, considering they have a mother, is everyone). And (mature subject warning) NO ONE benefits from living next door to a rapist who no one will put in jail; it's not like there is any group that is perfectly safe from being raped, even men get raped, or safe from having family members raped. And I don't think many people would feel safe living next door to a murderer who got away with it because they happened to kill a minority, either.

    'Privilege' is a sword that stabs its own handler from time to time.

    And lastly, as society exists today, it isn't possible for a single person to 'give up' privilege. It's there whether you want it or not; if you are a white cisgendered male, people are going to treat you differently without you ever asking. What most feminists want is simply for people to 'check' their privilege, which means being /aware/ of it and not actively /abusing/ it and showing extra consideration for people less well off than you. It's that simple.

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