Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Stop Feeling Proud of Your Hatred

As I stated for the previous post to this effect, and as I will heretofore never again forget to preface: I am well aware that, as a white person, I have no place to ask anything of people of color, because no matter how hard I try I will forget again and again what it means to be ruled and surrounded by people who see you as inferior, as Other; who manifest this perspective in a million ways, big and small, who tell themselves they are being fair because they chalk it up to culture, or tell themselves they forgive it because it's nature, who tell themselves, and you, repeatedly, that they are being good to you, that they have your best interests at heart, etc. 

I forget, again and again, that I cannot begin to conceive of what this would do to your psyche. As a woman I have experienced a degree of this, but I am privileged enough to escape it, to ignore it. 

If any of those people of color most recently subjected to this return, my apologies. From now on, I will make clear my audience: I am speaking to other white activists who take on the same excuses and give themselves the same leeway as people of color, the same license to rage, without the actual need for it. I am speaking to those who know they can do better, but call their outrage holy. I am speaking to those who have the capacity to understand, the capacity for compassion, but choose not to exercise it.

Don't punch a Nazi. Don't give heartfelt speeches about how we're going to save all of the outcasts by punching a bad guy. I get that it satisfies some deep instincts and that fear and desire for security demand action and this is the most clear tangible action: punching some dude, but people. We must rise to our humanity from our brute animal existence if this world is ever going to look anything other than brute and animalistic.

I find it ironic that some of the people most outspoken about intersectional feminism are the same ones who flatly refuse to acknowledge the intersection of poverty and feminism; of lack and ignorance. 

How can you not see the contradiction when you lambast elitist white feminism for failing to consider the concerns of women globally, while at the same time explicitly deciding, from a place of privilege, to exclude a large group of the population from your concern?

I have high hopes for the intersectional crowd. They are practiced in their empathy. They have the capacity to analyze and criticize their own behavior. It is high time we all realized that every philosophy that encourages us to cut off love, to divide our loyalties, to pick either/or when we think about the needs of the world, particularly when it comes to those who have less than we do: less education, less mental stability, less awareness of how we fit into history and the socio-economic story of our country--we need to realize these are destructive philosophies that weaken us and keep us enslaved.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find Out What it Means to Me

I know you're sick of hearing me say it, but it's still true: we need to be concerned with EVERYONE'S welfare, not just those who agree with us, or we'll all go down together.

It is vital that EVERY SINGLE HUMAN expand our circle of concern to AS MANY OTHER HUMANS AS WE CAN MANAGE, with the urgency of a world on the verge of nuclear holocaust; with the urgency of our literal lives depending on it.

Banding together as a tribe to conquer the other tribe helped us get this far, but now it is tribalism itself that threatens us all.

So let's review briefly what R-E-S-P-E-C-T looks like.

RESPECT version 1.0: House Rules

In 2000, when I was fifteen years old, I lived in Provo, Utah. With just over 100,000 people at the time, it firmly qualified as an urban area, but looking at homogeneity alone, it might lean closer to rural standards.

Eighty-nine percent of us were "white." Eighty-eight percent of the population were Mormon, and I'm sure that percentage climbs when you look at the non-white communities, considering the fact that Mormonism is what brought many of the meagre population of Pacific Islanders, Latinx/Hispanics etc. to the state in the first place. 

Respect, for a community with a clearly dominant population, tends to operate like house rules. When someone visits your house, everyone is clear as to who is in charge and who needs to bend in the case of conflict: graciousness demands that the host take in stride a certain amount of clash when it comes to values, but should the clash escalate, the guest is the one who needs to give in or get out.

House Rules is a nice way to put it. "My way or the highway" in other settings amounts to little more than bullying. But let's take it in its most innocent, natural form: you've entered a town where a bunch of people who like and agree with one another have built a set of standards of how they want to live. You, the guest, the stranger, ought to at least try and understand and make room for what they want. It's only courteous.

RESPECT version 2.0: Fair Play Rules

Now I live in the Bay Area. The greatest common denominator for the majority of people here is that we come from elsewhere. In one sense, there are no House Rules because there is no clear House.

But there is a Community, and it has rules, too, which everyone who arrives is expected to follow or suffer the consequences. The Fair Play rules of community demand that everyone get on board with the same basic rules of interaction, regardless of what House they come from. This enables a multitude of different lifestyles, religions, cultural practices, viewpoints, and unique understandings of the world to all get along in close quarters. 

Instead of presenting one specific way to live, and demanding that everyone contribute to/allow for the functioning of that particular lifestyle, everyone is required to suspend their ideas about how others should live and narrow their sphere of control to their own lives and families.

So, for example, when I was growing up (and yes, still today), it was seen as completely fair and normal and natural that because Provo, Utah was established and governed by Mormons, non-Mormons should not be allowed to do certain things they wanted to do, ever: like buy liquor on Sundays, or get married to people of the same gender, or access recreational facilities on Sundays. 

Here, it is seen as a threat to community when you try and regulate behaviors of others that have nothing to do with you. Any attempt to impose your way of life on those around you will earn anger and recrimination.

Respect, here, means that the only standard I ask of others is that they allow me to exist as I want, and I allow them to do the same; I recognize and regulate my behavior where it directly impacts them, and I leave them alone except when it comes to their behaviors that directly impact me. "I don't understand why you do that, I don't particularly like it, but it's none of my business, so carry on, friend." 

It requires a much higher level of tolerance than you're used to if you've been part of the dominant population of a House Rules area. If you're coming from that position, being in a city might feel oppressive, intimidating, and unfair. 

On the other hand, it allows for a much higher level of freedom and self-expression than you're used to if you've been part of the submissive population of a House Rules area. If you've grown up submitting to (or suffering the consequences of resisting) a dominant population, city living is going to feel liberating, generous, and much more loving than any environment you've experienced before.

A lot of the clash we see on the internet and in our politics is a bunch of people used to the House Rules version of respect entering a globalized conversation alongside people who are used to the Fair Play version of respect.

It's easy to argue that the Fair Play version of respect is a much better fit for the modern world than the House Rules version, but the thing is, the social consequences for refusing to capitulate look exactly the same as the ones in the House Rules model. If you refuse to adjust and adapt, you are shamed, ostracized, avoided, boycotted, and otherwise punished for your refusal.

In other words, the Fair Play model is still utilizing the same Old School Consequences. 

Because here's the thing, the YUUUUGE blind spot of city liberals, of social justice warriors, of activists: by separating all of society into those who benefit from power, and those who don't, we've not only identified a class worthy of our unquestioning protection, we've identified a class of Unworthies from whose fates we 100% absolve and detach ourselves, regardless of what their actual lives actually look like

What I see, what I witness with my own eyeballs, is that people with the means, the insight, and the capacity to engage in levels of self-care, autonomy, and luxury that are unheard of for the vast majority of the Unworthies, I'm talking about people who can routinely piss off to beautiful foreign countries for meditation retreats, get monthly massages, people with advanced degrees, thriving businesses, etc., people who are dancing on a pin on the tippy-top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, crazy privileged people is what I'm saying, are somehow feeling cozy and justified writing off whole swaths of the population:

fellow humans who are actively struggling to get from today to tomorrow
who are succumbing to suicide in alarming numbers
whose communities have been ravaged by addiction
who have been most affected by the withdrawal of the corporations who made them promises, sucked them dry of resources, and then abandoned them, 

These self-proclaimed warriors on behalf of those in need give zero poops about extreme magnitudes of suffering, all because the people who are suffering think they are white. 

And this active withholding of concern and empathy is supposed to be in the name of a better world. It doesn't add up, guys.

Let me say that again: wealthy people are prancing through life feeling righteous for wholeheartedly condemning those in far more desperate circumstances, never thinking to ask or care whether they ever had a reasonable chance to choose a different way of being. (Hint: they didn't.) 

Do you take intellectual freedom, structuralism, and the ability to separate yourself from your beliefs so totally and utterly for granted, you've forgotten it takes scaffolding and training to reach this understanding of the world?

Lucky you!

And because of the false dichotomy--either we care about the racists, or the populations they attack, one or the other, pick a side--we have been protected from seeing that  all along, we have been nurturing not a better world, but our sense of our own moral and intellectual superiority.

Look: I was a Molly Mormon and an avid reader: it's pretty much always been a huge goal of my life has been to try and be as good as I can to as many people as I can. And even *I* had a hard time extricating myself from the racist ideologies I was born and bred into! 

THEY ARE POWERFUL AND SUBTLE AND SINISTER AND PERVASIVE! We're talking intellectual Alcatraz here! Please stop treating racism like Club Med!

I have the humility to recognize that had I not enjoyed the guided, immersive, patient, supportive assistance of an entire classroom of students of color, plus countless encounters and experiences since, including a year living in a different country and a natural propensity to immerse myself in different experiences, I might STILL be racist.

RESPECT version PREVENT WORLD WAR 3.0: Third Way Respect

Everyone you meet, no matter how dope or awful they seem to you, became that way the same way you became you: through various encounters and interpretations of those encounters. 

Your perspective on their dope-ness, or awfulness, is highly selfish: that is, based on your perception of the world, NOT THEIRS. You are a terrible, inaccurate, unjust judge of their behavior and character because you do not have access to the ledger of their entire life. You do not know where the behavior comes from. You do not know, furthermore, what future encounters they will have; or what your encounter with them, right now, is doing to affect their awfulness or dope-ness in one direction or another.

It really doesn't take much reflection to realize that you are a terrible instant judge of another person's worthiness, regardless of their behavior. That said! That said: even if you were a good judge, are you even remotely invested in their rehabilitation? Or are you just invested in the pure animal question of whether they pose a threat to you and those you care about, or can possibly benefit you later?

All previous models of respect: 

"It is my job to respect __________  but not _____________ because _____________."

New model of respect:

"Respect is not something I give or take away based on variables of those I encounter; it is something that I offer to all because I am a respectful person.

Because I do not have access to the interior of others, I respect them. Because I do not know the journey of others, I respect them. Because I do not have control over the actions of others, only my own, I exert that control through consistent, unchanging respect towards all.

Respect does not mean that I agree with others. It does not mean that I capitulate to actions that threaten my own well-being or the well-being of others, or let such actions go unchecked. 

Respect means that I do not wait to see whether the Other assists or obstructs my well-being before I decide how to treat them or whether to concern myself with their well-being. It means that I hold myself to the same standard of concern for the well-being of the Other as I do for my own well-being and the well-being of the people I am easily able to love and understand.

It means that I support them in what they want for themselves, just as I hope they would support me. It means that I allow them space to grow at their own pace, just as I hope they would for me. 

It means that I never treat them as an obstacle. It means that in the case of direct conflict, I do not fixate on the elimination of one of the two sides, but instead put my energies towards the Third Way: that which satisfies their desires and alleviates their fears without threatening me.

For example: the term "white privilege" obscures the fact that most racists are not really fighting to be allowed to make gains above and beyond people of color. They're not fighting for privilege. They're fighting for survival. They are fighting to maintain the what little ground is still beneath their feet against the threat of losing absolutely everything. This fear is sustained, nay, fanned by the unwillingness of neo-libs to see anything other than their inability to release House Rules in favor of Fair Play Rules; their utter unwillingness to take into account the poverty, loss, desperation, and disconnection that fuels--that has ALWAYS fueled--hateful, nativist ideologies.

Go look again at Peggy McIntosh's knapsack of "Unearned Privileges." NONE of those would be considered a "Privilege" in a just society. "Disappearing Rights" is a better name for that knapsack. I would cling to my rapidly disappearing rights too, if I had no context and no clear idea of what awaits me when I finally let them go. (Hint: clear-headed accountability, humility, and the resulting empowerment.) 

There are saner, more productive, more sustainable ways to protect ourselves from harm than the Cave People, tribalist method of causing harm first.

Is it enough to have these beautiful handfuls of Believies? (warning: profanity. also hilarity.)

No. It is not.

This is not some ridiculously high-minded, impossible approach to life. This is the only way to escape the Battlestar Galactica-style eternal feud nightmare: the inane, pointless back and forth of "are you good or evil? EVIL! EVIL! I knew it! BAM EVIL BACK" "Oh no they didn't! EVIL! EVIL! I knew it! BAM EVIL BACK."

The important thing to understand about the Third Way is that it's impossible to find if you're not looking for it. As long as you're still trying to dominate/remove the obstruction/eliminate the threat, the more elegant, beautiful, harmonious, SUSTAINABLE, NON-NUCLEAR solution will eternally evade you.

If you think nothing to demand of those with less power, with less lived privilege relative to your current life, with less practical access to information (you have to have a framework for understanding, critiquing, and placing information before you can truly access it), that they change their entire way of seeing the world to better align with the mentality of people who not only give zero poops about their well-being but wage constant verbal assault on their intelligence, style, and most deeply held beliefs, how much more so, then, is it the responsibility of those with the insight, with the knowledge, with the mental space and proven capacity to change their ways of interacting with a hurting, diseased, imprisoned world? 

Amen, Dalai Lama. Amen.

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