Thursday, July 10, 2008

Equality Thought Police

As the overt racism and sexism of ages past has wound down to a trickle of what it once was (in part because it is basically illegal in many contexts, but probably in larger part simply beacuse people born into the world more recently simply grew up in a world without that and so live accordingly), I see more and more how the real fight now is to eradicate the "subtle" racism, the racism and sexism that is within everyone (well, at least in white males), that whispers into your ear bad things. And yet, there's something that doesn't quite sit right about that with me. Something about it feels off. And thinking about it, it hit me what that is.

It is self-flaggelation that one is supposedly required to do, to continually have an internal dialogue of berating oneself as a racist and sexist for daring to think thoughts that aren't 100% approved by an appropriate authority (such as official radical feminists or what have you). It is the vileness with oneself you are supposed to feel if, say, when a man looks at a woman, he even for the briefest of moments, thinks about how attractive he is and how he'd like to copulate with her, even if he really had no intention of doing so and says nothing about it. It is the vileness with oneself you are supposed to feel if you see someone of a race other than yourself (assuming your own race is white) and don't feel as comfortable as you'd feel with someone who was of your own race or even just the race of those you spend a lot of time with. And I think that, ultimately, that is bullshit. What is that? That is the Thought Police. That is not really about progressivism or equality. It is not sexist to have hormone appropriate thoughts. It is not racist to have experience-appropriate feelings of comfort with the familiar and discomfort with the unfamiliar. That is human and that is entirely unavoidable. And moreover, it is not what defines us. Actions are what define us. Not thoughts. It reminds me of religious people who literally self-flagellated for each impure thought. It is just sick. The brain isn't a machine. People aren't machines. Expecting that or assigning a negative label to that - sexism - racism - is just bullshit used to keep people down and to make the labeler feel superior.

Actions count. Thoughts don't. Sorry, they just don't. On a certain level, we all recognize this - free nations recognize this in their laws, where every criminal law requires actual action to be guilty. We rightly (generally) recognize that those regimes that make ideas or just thoughts alone illegal (by banning them or censoring them) to be morally bankrupt and evil.

Sure, it is good to be aware of what it means to be human - that we are more comfortable with the familiar, which means we will feel more comfortable in a room of people who look like our family because that is who we grew up with and spent time with. That is something that if you are aware of it, you can take steps to mitigate where it would be inappropriate to let that give too much influence to what should be, say, a business decision. But one can't vilify it - it is nothing more than a small part of the same line of thinking that makes people enjoy the company of lifelong friends much more than strangers, because they are familiar and comfortable.

Thinking about copulation with a random stranger based on his or her looks, that is also perfectly natural - and again, just part of the fun of life - so long as you don't act on it inappropriately or, when interacting with that person, forget that they are a person. But then that's something that most people have no trouble with at all.

For those that are trying to bring us to some sort of utopia where such thoughts never happen, and thereby define as bad a world where such thoughts are common, I personally think that such thinking is deranged and disconnected from reality. People will never do that. And they shouldn't have to. So long as people in their actions deal fairly with one another and don't take inappropriate actions with one another, that is all the utopia you could ever need or want.

Any regime that would not stop at punishing you for bad actions but would also seek to make you feel bad and even punish yourself for your very thoughts is an oppressive and evil regime and so people who would advocate it I would see as potential oppressors and evil people. I think this is something many religions try to do to people (such as the bullshit notion that by thinking about sex you are committing adultery).

Truly, what people need to do is just try not to be assholes to each other, and don't worry about what someone else is "really" thinking. It's really none of your business, so long as by their actions they treat you fairly.


The Barefoot Bum said...

They're not thought police until they have guns and badges, prisons and gas chambers.

If someone wants to get all worked up over what I'm thinking, over whether I'm sensitive enough, I just tell them to fuck off and leave me alone, and I ignore them.

The substance of your post is correct, though, and deserves repetition: The notion that we are morally accountable for our thoughts, feelings, instincts, intuitions is completely ridiculous. If someone feels bad or insulted or unhappy because they think I think whatever, then they're just stupid.

Ielyah said...

Most of the time they don't actually expect you to self-flagelate yourself, and honestly as a feminist I wouldn't want every male to stop thinking of women as attractive and possible bed-mates. There's nothing wrong with that, and its kinda human nature ;). What most feminist (or anti-racist for that matter) are for is catching yourself when you think: "Yikes, theres a big black guy! I better watch myself, or he'll rob me" or along female lines "Gee, that chick is upset, must be her time of the month" It the assumptions that are made in regards to race and gender that are so deeply intrenched in our minds that we wish to counter, not our reaction when we see someone we find attractive or when something new makes us feel uneasy.

Just my two cents :)

DBB said...

BB - They can be "police" in their own little fiefdoms, though they don't generally have the power to do more than be assholes to you and banish you from their little fiefdoms. But you are right, that is better than when they have official government power. I do think the "police" label is still relevant, though, in that a lot of the people who advocate such ridiculousness also advocate it being enforced by the state. Thankfully, they alone don't get to decide if it would be.

Ielyah - I understand what you're saying, but again, if those "bad thoughts" remain inside someone's head and they don't actually take any "bad actions" it really isn't anyone's business and there is nothing wrong with it. Sort of like if your employer does something that annoys you and you briefly have a thought in your head of shoving them into the office shredder - you haven't done anything wrong, even though the actual thought, if followed through on, is a crime.

Probably just about anyone walking alone at night will feel some fear if an unknown, but large, stranger walks by, regardless of race. That's normal. That's human. If you feel a little more worried because the person belongs to a different group than you, be it racial or whatever, that is also normal. The familiar feels good and the unfamiliar brings apprehension.

With the woman, again, regardless of your thoughts, unless you act, what does it matter? If you say nothing, do nothing different (other than reacting as one would normally react to someone who is upset) then who cares? Fundamental attribution error will have people most of the time attributing other people's failures to their personal failings and excusing their own as from outside forces anyway. That's also normal.

Sure, it is good to be aware of these things, but unless you are actually acting on them, it is irrelevant. And they will always be with us. A racist and sexist-free society will not be one without such thoughts, it will be one without such actions.

I am glad to know you don't expect self-flagelation - but then not all feminists or anti-racists are as I described - it tends to be more the radicals (who can also be rather vocal). And thanks for the comment - I'm still trying to figure out how to pronounce your handle...

Sweating Through fog said...

Dbb - very well said. I agree 100%

Underground Carpenter said...

"free nations recognize....every criminal law requires actual action to be guilty." I agree. That is exactly how a free nation would behave. Here in the Land-of-the-Free, we have laws against "conspiracy" and, in a trial, physical evidence is often outweighed by "motive" and "intent".


DBB said...

UC - Motive and intent are tied to actions - like if you shoot a gun intending to hit someone or you just intended to make noise (though in that case, intent probably matters less unless the person survives - because it is considered so dangerous to shoot off a gun it falls under the 'should have known' aspect of intent even if you didn't really intend to kill someone.

And conspiracy still requires actions - in many states you can't be charged with it at all unless you've taken concrete steps to do the conspiracy, and in any case, you need to actually agree with someone else to do something, which, absent telepathy, requires actions on the part of both people to communicate and agree to do something together. So again, thoughts are insufficient to complete a crime.