Abusers broadcast their cruelty, but their friends, family, and even people who have no reason to feel loyalty towards them, will still deny having seen any signs of it until the evidence is lying bloody at their feet.
This is because we are all trained not to listen to the truth even when it is shouted from the rooftops. We search for ignorance, or stupidity, or coincidence, when a racist is literally wearing their message – plainly visible – for anyone to see.
There’s a line in Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett that stuck in my mind: “The good are innocent and create justice. The bad are guilty, which is why they invent mercy.”
Yeah, it sounds self-righteous and a little bit like “the innocent have nothing to hide,” but that’s not at all what it’s saying. He’s rightly pointing out that guilty people tend to be big fans of letting other guilty people off the hook. There’s an awful lot of unearned, unasked-for mercy being offered to some pretty goddamn terrible people, and it really needs to stop.
You know what the bad have invented in this country? The idea that beliefs are separate from your inherent worthiness as a person. That is wrong – both logically incorrect, and morally wrong. Nothing you do is separate from your humanity. There is no free pass to believe something and not have it reflect on who you are.
If you support a god who denies the humanity of someone else, you have done your fellow human wrong, and that is the end of it. It doesn’t even matter if they’re real, because power doesn’t make anyone right, not even a god, and believing in them is still your choice.
There’s also the lovely idea that if you do something for money, it doesn’t reflect on who you are, because capitalism exists. If a company or candidate supports inequality for money, none of the individuals who contributed to that are guilty, because any evil can be waved away by saying that you only did it for profit. Sorry, but companies as separate entities don’t actually exist. It’s just a whole bunch of people, all of whom worked together to do something wrong. The fact that they profited is not an excuse, it’s just evidence. They were willing to sell out other people for that amount of money. Congratulations. Capitalism thanks them, and so do abusers everywhere.
Ordinary people will still look around today and say things like: “Trump isn’t actually a white supremacist, he’s just supporting white supremacy because his followers are racist and that makes it profitable for him to act like a racist.” I’ll let you in on a little secret, though: Racism is always ultimately about profit or power, usually both. Individuals might be seething balls of mindless hatred, but that hatred is always fed by people who profit off of it, and that changes nothing about the situation.
Stop making excuses for people who plainly tell you that they choose to prey on others.
There’s this disconnect I’ve seen and felt in specific types of conversations online. (And in person, but this is where I generally observe it in the wild because I don’t often go outside and talk to the flesh people.) I hang out in writing groups a lot for obvious reasons, so lately, the argument has looked kind of like this:
The OP: “Maybe don’t portray autistic people as rude, awkward geniuses incapable of human connection in your books and shows – it’s inaccurate and harmful.”
The inevitable flood of responses: “You can’t police creativity!” and “I do what I want!” and “It’s my book!”
I think about this a lot, because I see and experience it pretty frequently, and I’m not gonna say anything particularly revolutionary, but some of this is new to me. I think this disconnect starts all the way back with the way we raise kids.
In order to get and maintain power over a group of people for more than a generation, you’ve gotta train all the kids to see the world in a way that supports that power structure. To make little boys grow up to be properly misogynist men, for example, we first stunt their empathy and emotional intelligence. We tell them that all their feelings but anger are bad and weak and worst of all – feminine. We teach them that tears will earn them derision, not compassion. Did you know that people are statistically less likely to comfort a crying male* infant? That’s how early it starts. If we could find a way to get at fetuses and start indoctrinating them into gender roles before birth, we’d do it. Hell, we almost do. We throw gender reveal parties to celebrate which of these two narrow categories we’ll be training the future child for.
People do this stuff with varying levels of awareness. It was done to them. It’s the way things are done. This indoctrination was used on them, so it’s right to do it to their kids. Otherwise, they’d have to face some pretty unpleasant things about their own childhoods. They might see some elements of their own upbringing as old-fashioned or ignorant, but they might still tell a little boy with a scraped knee to man up and stop crying. They might still casually slut-shame their daughter on her way out the door to meet friends. Why not pass on these values? It never hurt them. Except it did hurt them.
My point is, we don’t just do this to make boys into neanderthals who are badly in need of a hug, or to keep girls barefoot and pregnant in the sandwich factory. We do this for every form of oppression that our societal structure is invested in. To make a society as mean-spirited as this one, we break kids and then we convince them that they were born wrong and required this indoctrination in order to be good. Goodness is a rigid thing that they earn by following the right authority and only exercising their own power over those who are beneath them in the hierarchy.
There are millions of loving parents who are ready to die valiantly on the “spanking totally isn’t the same as hitting” hill. Is there any parenting mantra more thoroughly engrained into American consciousness than “Because I said so?” If goodness and rightness are, from birth, associated only with the power to enforce them, and if explanation and negotiation is seen as weakness, is it any wonder that we get this weird interaction on the subject of social justice? The basis of social justice is opposing the beliefs and behavior that supports oppression. The original poster is, at least to some extent, not coming from that place anymore. They have no power behind their appeal, and they shouldn’t need any. They’re not exactly giving an order; they’re trying to share important information.
As far as they’re concerned, they’re just waving a shovel and asking for help with the mess that they can plainly see right there in front of everyone. The mess is toxic. It clearly needs to be removed. It would benefit everyone in the long run to remove it. Why wouldn’t you want to help remove some of the mess? In fact, for a start, couldn’t you just stop throwing more garbage onto it? Just a little less? Just one type of garbage? Why are you so invested in protecting this stupid pile? It’s maddening.
And, of course, the response they get for their troubles sounds an awful lot like a little kid shouting “You’re not my dad!” Social justice warriors are accused of seeing everything as a battle, but if they didn’t care about people so much that it hurts, they would not be doing this work. They spend huge amounts of time and energy trying to make change in the world, which requires a deep well of optimism and caring. Whereas, the folks that I will henceforth refer to as status quo warriors, cannot seem to view their efforts as anything but an attack. The replies are almost incredulous in their fury. “Who are you to tell me what to do? You can’t make me. Worse, you’re telling me I’m responsible to a group of people that I was taught is beneath me in the hierarchy. I’m allowed to hurt them. I have the power.”
I know this is kind of a ramble, but given how often I’m told to try to see the other side’s point of view, maybe it’s worth saying. I won’t entertain a world-view that says it doesn’t matter if some people are suffering as long as they’re the right people, but I can try to see why someone would be stuck in that place. If we all start there, and I think we all do to some extent, there must be a way through it. If nothing else, it makes me feel a little less angry to see it this way.
Epilogue: Yeah, sure, good and bad are subjective, but they’re also kinda not. What if we stopped complicating it? You can go as deep down the ethics rabbit hole as you want if you really enjoy wrestling with the gnarly questions, but functionally, it’s not actually that hard. I really do think we can do so much better for each other and I think it’s always worth the effort to try.
*Assigned male infants, of course. There’s no room in this system for kids who don’t conform to the gender they’ve been assigned.