Monday, June 18, 2007

More on racism

Racism, sexism, homophobia, and a host of other related injustices are, of course, prevalent in Western society[1]. Any person of good character has a positive duty to support justice and oppose injustice and oppression, and I'm willing to do my bit as an ethical member of a civilized society.

Because I personally am not being oppressed, I have to defer to a great extent to those who are being oppressed. I have no objection to such deference; if I were the one being oppressed, I would expect the same. If you're being oppressed, you name the remedy. If you want affirmative action, I'll vote for it. If you want legal marriage, I'll sign the petition. If you want equal pay, I'll pay you equally.

Socially speaking, I'm equally flexible. I treat people as individuals, and within reason I give them the emotional and social interaction they ask for. If you ask for my outrage at your injustice and oppression, I'm outraged. If you ask to be treated as an equal, I'll treat you as an equal. If you ask for my pity, you've got it; if you don't want my pity, I won't pity you. Simple as that.

But what I am not willing to do is feel any sort of systemic guilt or shame. Outrage, yes. Ordinary human sympathy, of course. But systemic guilt and shame? Never.

Guilt and shame are, at best, transient emotions. If I make a mistake—I'm only human—my feelings of guilt and shame motivate me to correct the errors in my thinking that led to the mistake and prompt me to make amends. Once the underlying error has been corrected and amends made, the guilt evaporates: It has done its job.

And, on the whole, I corrected the fundamental errors in my thinking decades ago; it's really not that difficult. I treat people as individuals, I don't make insulting generalizations or particularizations, and I offer and demand nothing more or less than ordinary civilized justice and civilized behavior.

I am white, I'm a man, and I'm straight. Because I live in a society where straight white men are not typically oppressed or discriminated against, I unsurprisingly have not often been unjustly oppressed. But I reject the notion that this lack of oppression constitutes some sort of "privilege" or injustice for which I should be ashamed.

"Privilege" has as its etymological root "private law". But I don't consider "private" the sort of law and standards by which I am typically treated: I consider these laws and standards universal. As far as my own person goes—and it is only regarding my own person that I take positive responsibility—I offer these universal standards to everyone on the basis of our common humanity. I am not going to detail the steps I take; If you don't take me at my word, then I cannot convince you at all.

I am not Mr. Pink; I am not going to act in a racist manner simply because I'm in a racist society. I will personally resist these forms of injustice as a matter of ethical duty, not legal duty.

Arthur Silber has not yet responded to my rebuttal to his criticism. If I am truly in error in my thinking, I do want to know about it. But, as I said, I'm at a loss to understand precisely where I have gone so "badly astray". But I honestly don't think I have gone astray at all.

I am certainly outraged at the injustices that Moore and Silber describe. As a citizen of a civilized democracy, I'm willing to take reasonable steps to correct this sort of injustice and make amends to its victims. As a citizen, they have my vote. As a human being, they have my outrage. As a business executive, they have influence on my policies.

But there's no good way to interpret Moore's conclusions. Taken literally, they're irrational and indefensible; taken metaphorically I find them clumsy and personally insulting. I'm not going to start being a racist just because Moore has said something I disagree with, but bullshit is bullshit and I call it when I see it; and the color, sex, race, or religion of the speaker simply doesn't enter into it.


[1] Racism, etc. are prevalent in all societies and cultures; Western society is typical in this regard, neither exceptionally good nor exceptionally bad; we are exceptional only in the amount of power we have. I typically focus on Western civilization only because I am a member of one, with a specific democratic duty to participate in the construction of my own society's ethical and legal standards.

5 comments:

  1. 1) "Any person of good character has a positive duty to support justice and oppose injustice and oppression, and I'm willing to do my bit as an ethical member of a civilized society."

    How would you define "good character"? Do you think our society is civilized? Or do you exclude from society those individuals who act in an uncivilized manner?

    2) Your plan of being Mr. Nice Guy to everyone and give them what they want strikes me as naive. I'm curious about how that plan works with mutually exclusive needs/wants. Have you worked out a priority system to deal with that?

    3) "And, on the whole, I corrected the fundamental errors in my thinking decades ago; it's really not that difficult."

    Do you think that statement might sound quite arrogant to readers? Exactly what is "ordinary civilized justice and civilized behavior"? Shall I accept your definition?

    The tone of the post seemed "preachy", arrogant and intolerant to me.

    ReplyDelete
  2. How would you define "good character"?

    It's a metaphorical idiom, as is "civilized society. It means "character/social norms I approve of".

    Your plan of being Mr. Nice Guy to everyone and give them what they want strikes me as naive.

    You're reading far too much into my essay. I'm talking about how I treat ordinary people who observe basic civilized social norms.

    The tone of the post seemed "preachy", arrogant and intolerant to me.

    Oh well. I can't please everyone, and I've long since stopped trying.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I preach to the evil, I seem arrogant to the stupid, and I'm intolerant of both. I don't write this blog to make friends.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I don't write this blog to make friends.

    Aww, I feel so sad. =]

    I was going to say that Brian sounded like he really wanted to deliver a devastating critique but found that all he could do was pick at semantic nits.

    ReplyDelete
  5. It's one thing to make a friend because our ideas and ethics are compatible and we have a similar level of intelligence.

    It's a horse of a different color to make friends by kissing ass.

    Sincerity and straightforwardness come first; friends are a bonus.

    ReplyDelete

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