Saturday, January 11, 2014

Such things occur to me throughout the day

I've had a number of random thoughts bumping around in my head that may or may not open some interesting discussion:

 I've long felt that the positions of the Democratic and Republican parties on gun control are the opposite of what they ought to be if they were being ideologically consistent. Democrats claim to champion minorities, the oppressed, the underdog, democracy, everybody getting a vote, equal rights, and so on. You'd think they would be against giving the powerful elite a monopoly on violence. You'd think they'd want to empower the oppressed instead of the oppressors. You'd think they'd try to equip the downtrodden to resist tyranny.

The Republicans, on the other hand, hold that the elite--the innovators, the gifted, the achievers--are more competent and deserving of leadership and privilege. They're of the opinion that rich people deserve to be richer than the rest of us, and that the world just works better when we get out of the way and let those natural-born leaders run everything. It would stand to reason that those Chosen Few would have a much easier time running things if the common rabble were powerless to interfere. It makes no sense, then, that they want guns to be plentiful, legal, and easy to get, so that every ignorant yahoo is capable of mounting an insurrection.

Likewise, their positions on abortion should be switched. If Democrats belong to the party of compassion, they should be the ones whose hearts are bleeding for a little bundle of cells that has the potential to one day grow into a baby. The Republicans, you would think, would be mandating abortions for...well, basically anyone who's not one of them. Anyone who's even suspected of not being a rich, white, able-bodied, English-speaking, heterosexual, cisgendered, Protestant Republican would be snuffed out before they could draw their first breath.

I've recently developed a hypothesis to account for this inconsistency. The parties aren't formed along ideological lines, as I'd first thought. Instead, they conform to gender stereotypes. The Republicans are the men and the Democrats are the women.

Think about this. The Democrats envision a world of sugar and spice where everyone's nice, where everyone settles conflicts by talking about their feelings, where aggression and machismo are shunned, and where we judge the rightness or wrongness of a person's actions by how sorry we feel for them because of unrelated circumstances. The Republicans, on the other hand, favor institutions like the military, law enforcement, big corporations, and contact sports, where domination, aggression, penetration, and insensitivity rule. Democrats think Republicans are dicks; Republicans think Democrats are pussies.

If there's anything to this, then there's really no hope of overcoming the political polarization in this country unless our value systems become a lot more androgynous.

In discussions of race relations, gender issues, and the like, one often hears it said that "you can't know what it's like" or "you can't possibly understand" some other person's experiences. I think this idea insults both parties. It presumes that one person can't articulate his experiences in a way that's easy for others to understand, and it presumes that the other person lacks empathy and basic listening comprehension skills. I wouldn't argue that one person can know intuitively what it's like to walk in someone else's shoes, but there's no reason they can't be taught. It seems to me that the purpose of these statements is to shut down communication and to elevate the status of the person claiming to have "unknowable" experience above that of the person who's allegedly too dim to understand.

In discussions of privilege, I think it would be helpful to distinguish among three different types of privilege.
   1. Freedom from externally-imposed oppression
   2. Freedom from natural obstacles
   3. Freedom from self-repression

Let's say, for example, that a privilege you have that I don't is that you're the kind of a person who can go to a gym to lift weights and I'm not. What does that really mean? Well, we have to ask why I can't. If the gym has a policy of only approving memberships for serious bodybuilders like you and not for fat guys like me, then that's an example of externally-imposed oppression. If I'm paralyzed from the nose down, or if I'm stranded on an island where there is no gym, then I'm physically incapable of going to a gym to lift weights. That would be an example of a natural obstacle. If it turns out there is a gym nearby that I can get to and afford, and they'd be happy to have me, but I don't go because I feel self-conscious about working out in front of other people because I imagine they're judging me, then that's an example of self-repression.

Dividing obstacles into these three categories would help us to better identify whom, if anyone, is to blame for a particular problem and what, if anything, can be done about it. Despite all reassurances to the contrary, the label of privilege has been weaponized. It's used to shame others into silence, or to invalidate their opinions. We need tools for determining whether that's ever actually justified, and for demonstrating when it's not.

People consider reading books to be a virtue, but watching TV and movies to be a vice. Even reading on the internet gets trashed while books are sanctified. Why is that? Why don't we refer to people who lay around on the couch reading books all day as lazy or addicted, rather than studious? If you're talking about great books and trashy TV programs, then of course, you're comparing the best to the worst, but it's about content, not medium. I don't see how reading trashy romance novels is superior to watching, say, a documentary or a TED talk. What is the particular virtue of taking in printed-on-paper words through your eyeballs instead of taking in spoken words through your ears? Personally, I find instructive videos to be of far greater educational value than written instructions. I like to see a thing demonstrated.

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