That Oppressive Feeling

A really good couple of posts have been going up at the excellent Crooked Timber blog on the issue of tolerance and bigotry. They make some really interesting points about the rhetorical (and, amazingly, legal) jedi mind trick currently being employed by the conservative movement: that bigots are entitled to protection and that they and their bigotry against, say, gays or ethnic minorities, deserve a certain measure of protection and tolerance.

Here are the posts:

First, Conor Friedersdorf comes under fire from Henry Farrell:

Bigotry derived from religious principles is still bigotry. Whether the people who implemented Bob Jones University’s notorious ban on inter-racial dating considered themselves to be actively biased against black people, or simply enforcing what they understood to be Biblical rules against miscegenation is an interesting theoretical question. You can perhaps make a good argument that bigotry-rooted-in-direct-bias is more obnoxious than bigotry-rooted-in-adherence-to-perceived-religious-and-social-mandates. Maybe the people enforcing the rules sincerely believed that they loved black people. It’s perfectly possible that some of their best friends were black. But it seems pretty hard to make a good case that the latter form of discrimination is not a form of bigotry. And if Friedersdorf wants to defend his sincerely-religiously-against-gay-marriage people as not being bigots, he has to defend the sincerely-religiously-against-racial-miscegenation people too. They fit exactly into Friedersdorf’s proposed intellectual category.

Then, John Holbo, in a really long post, further unpacked the argument about tolerance. The key argument is really just making sure that people understood just what John Stuart Mill meant, back in the 1800s:

Not all minorities are powerless or persecuted. (The 1%, anyone?) It’s understandable why social conservatives should experience relative erosion of a former position of great social and cultural dominance as a humiliating reversal of fortunes – as moral persecution. It’s psychologically inevitable that they will feel like miserable underdogs, and it’s rhetorically advantageous for them to pose as such. So here we are. But sensible people should be able to see what’s really going on. Let’s just take up the gay marriage issue. Sometimes liberals say: ‘what’s the big deal if two guys who love each other get married? It’s not like they are hurting you.’ But if you are, say, Maggie Gallagher, that obviously not true in the least. If it’s not a big deal for two guys to get married, then Maggie Gallagher is a person who has devoted her adult life to trying to inflict senseless harm on innocent people. By not hurting other people, those two gay-married guys are, in effect, turning her from a superior sort of person (in her own eyes) to an inferior sort of person (in everyone else’s). The less they hurt other people, the more they hurt her. She doesn’t want to be regarded as a bigot. Who does? All the same, liberal tolerance and freedom of religion are not ‘get out of having been a bigot’ cards you can play at any time. She can go right on believing that same-sex marriage is bad bad bad. What’s bothering her is not that someone is trying to tell her what she can or cannot believe or say. What bothers her is that more and more people think what she thinks is horrible and that, therefore, no one should think it. As is their right. Concluding that ‘no one should think this, because it’s wrong and bad’ is not, as Damon frequently suggests, a violation of liberal tolerance. Drawing that conclusion is not, per se, a coercive act. No more so than saying ‘2 + 2 is not 5’. Indeed, if you were to ask J. S. Mill what he thinks is the relationship between true liberal tolerance and claims of the form ‘x is wrong because y, so nobody should think x’, he would say that the point of toleration is always to allow people to make such claims.

Farrell, in the first post, has a delightful example from a recent Irish debate about the right to call your opponents homophobic when they are being “reasoned” and “principled” in their religiously motivated bigotry. There, a drag artist caused a lot of trouble by calling her/his (pronoun preference not known to me) opponents “homophobic”. I think that part of the debate is particularly interesting. The video here is the part of the debate that everyone has seen by now:

While I agree that obviously ms. Bliss is in the right here — the opposition to gays being treated equally is obviously motivated by homophobia, fear, bigotry or outright hatred — I wonder if her rhetorical move is the right one. The satisfaction in naming people for what they are is tempting, but I tend to avoid it, in favour of focusing on what they are doing, but doing it in such a way that the audience can only reasonably make the connection that they are being bigoted. If I pull out the word “racist” or “homophobic” at all, it is as an adjective not to describe them — my opponents personally — but to describe their desired public policies and ethical choices. It’s much easier to point out bigotry in action than in thought and in the heart. And I find that in the long run, doing that is a much more productive rhetorical strategy. Nobody has said this better than mr. Smooth of the Ill Doctrine video blog:

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24 comments
  1. It seems to me that anytime someone disagrees with another persons views the easiest argument is to accuse them of bigotry. A prime example is that when we disagree with Obama it is always because he is black, not because he is wrong.

    • Release said:

      Well, yes, but sometimes it IS because he’s black.

      • Or it could be just because he is the worst president in the history of the United States.

      • Release said:

        You can’t be serious. I have my gripes with him, and he’s on a different political planet from me, but he’s surely not the worst. The previous president would be exhibit A here.

      • Perhaps that is because you are biased.

      • Release said:

        I don’t think having an opinion means being biased. And I think for this conversation to be meaningful you have to start putting some arguments in the field.

      • Everyone is biased in some way. For instance you show that you are biased against gun owners by the comment you made about Obama not being able to push “better legislation on gun control”. You are biased against the U.S. congress as you state they are acting undemocratically when in fact it is Obama that acts against democratic principles by failing to talk to congress and seek compromises instead of unilaterally passing executive orders. In fact almost everything in your posts show that you are biased for the liberal agenda.
        Now am I biased? Absolutely. I believe that chocolate ice cream tastes better than vanilla. So some would say I am biased against vanilla which may well be true. Not biased enough to want to pass a law against eating vanilla ice cream but biased none the less.
        I believe that basset hounds are better rabbit dogs than beagles. So I guess I am biased against beagles but only so far as that I would not personally want to own one. Other people should be free to do so at their own risks.
        I don’t believe in a woman’s right to free contraception. Some would say I am biased against women which would be ludicrous. But they have the right to say it. Contraception should no more be free than heart medicine or high blood pressure medicine or aids medication or cholesterol medication. Because of this strong belief some would say I am biased against Obamacare. And in that vein they are right. I think it is the single biggest mistake that has been passed into law since Lydon Johnson’s great society legislation.

      • Release said:

        I mean: near-universal healthcare, less wars, a more balanced foreign policy … There’s much to like. Congress is behaving undemocratically, obviously, so he hasn’t been able to push better legislation on gun control and immigration reform and so forth, but he is absolutely not to blame for living in the historical moment he is.

  2. katherinejlegry said:

    I particularly enjoyed the video of Panti Noble’s call. That was moving. It made me feel weepy… 🙂
    I’m guilty of calling people racists, homophobic, and sexists rather than calling out their actions as the “art of war” suggests a better way to handle bigots. I’m guilty of attacking the people for who they are rather than for their actions. It’s a fine line… when in the end, we are our actions. “Our actions are what we stand on” is some kind of Buddhist thing I think? I don’t think homophobia and racism and sexism is about “opinion”. Oppression isn’t about “opinions”. The fundamentalist or “conservative” spin and power structures are ridiculing and violently opposing the truth… for the sake of keeping power, but they are homophobic because of what they do and that’s who they are. That’s what their collective identifies as their moral mission. Different degrees of bigotry and tolerance due to conditioning is something to be addressed through education and communication like your blog and everyone should be given the chance to wake up and change… but if the truth hurts that someone is a homophobe for example, and they get their feelings hurt about being called out on it, too bad. I’m not sure that diffuses the argument. I think believers already have their mind made up. In any case, thanks for your posts as usual. Good stuff.

    • Why is it you think conservatives are the only bigots?

      • Release said:

        Btw Wanda: I wrote a reply to your last post but my home internet went down. Will try to send later today.

      • katherinejlegry said:

        There are different levels of education, tolerance and understanding Wanda Peters. From your conversation with the author of this blog above, I understand you to be one of the proud and unconcerned. You believe you are right and so now are inviting attacks not discussion. Your question is a leading one. It presumes something about me. You can rephrase your question to find out how I feel if you want a real dialogue. I am not trying to convince you of my superiority. I disagree with you politically and I’m not feeling your empathy. Chocolate and vanilla ice cream choices has little to do with bigotry.

      • Nor does the liberal attack against conservatives. Everyone on this planet is bigoted in one way or another. No group has a monopoly on that trait.

      • katherinejlegry said:

        Ok… now, if you’re willing, take the next step. After recognizing the problem of bigotry, we can now begin to change those traits in ourselves… and not worry about “liberal attacks”. In part the videos are about taking the “personal” out of the conversation in order to actually communicate with the “other”. Because if you feel attacked as a person, you automatically go on defense and think of a counter attack. And using “you” automatically places the “other” in a position of confrontation. As well as speaking in generalizations gets everyone in trouble in the first place… stereotypes are unloving. However, racism, sexism, homophobia, are not about opinions, unless they are misinformed ones. These learned moral and gender role judgements are about power structures. They dehumanize groups of people in order to rule them and this is the oppression feeling, as I understand the blog post. I don’t approve of monopolies in any regard. And I don’t think liberals are the ones you need to fear based on a monopoly of bigotry. Liberals are diverse people and they look for common ground among their varied communities. They are less insular and more “whole picture” but it’s true, liberals are intolerant of bigots. Which seems like a form of bigotry. Fine lines. Thank you for the discussion, Wanda Peters.

      • Obviously you have never listened to Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi.

      • katherinejlegry said:

        Don’t be absurd Wanda Peters. You have no call to use the word “obviously”. You don’t know me. You aren’t asking me what I know or what I have listened to. You are presuming again. That’s a dangerous communication “trait”. I don’t have to salute Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi. I don’t have to identify myself as an independent a democrat or a liberal. I see the political system as broken and you Wanda Peters are a big part of what’s broke. Come at me again acting like you know what I know and I won’t bother with you. You aren’t mature.

      • Well, I notice that nobody else is rushing to your defense so I guess you would have to attack a 70 year old immature woman. You say I am part of the problem and yet you don’t know me any more than I know you. Apparently you feel that your opinion is the only one worth listening to. You began this argument by attacking conservatives and although I do not profess political affiliations of any kind I do feel bound to defend those that deserve defending. So as you say perhaps you do not need to bother with me, but keep in mind I am the only one communicating with you.

      • katherinejlegry said:

        You defend guns lady. You don’t want to fund birth control. You’re a problem. I need no one rushing to my defense. I’m not in need of a defense. I’m not guilty of anything other than pushing your buttons. I don’t have to attack conservatives. They are an attack on themselves. I’m not an ageist. I’m saying you’re immature as a matter of conditioning. I am not following the rules of approach that the second video on this blog would encourage. I apologize to the author for battling what I already deemed as futile. Because you’re right, I summed you up from your comments and I didn’t bother to talk to you. You asked me a leading question and so I replied. You don’t like me attacking conservatives? You should hear what I have to say about christians. I’m being honest with you. I don’t think I’m the only one worth listening to. I think Panti Nobel in the video is far more worth listening to than you and I going back and forth. People bother to communicate with me in other forums, so I’m not really trolling for a response. If someone wants to talk to me, cool. We say what we say and some of us are more sincere than others. I’m not looking for like buttons and followers who aren’t real and I’m not picking fights for the hell of it. I’m learning about you. Sociologically. I’m learning about me too. I can see what makes this discourse a failure and it kind of bothers me on a basic human level. But I don’t believe you and I will agree on anything I care about and if that makes you feel attacked or that I’m not recognizing you for a valid point of view, that’s your problem. You don’t need my validation and I certainly don’t need yours. Despite how I have come across, no hard feelings intended.

      • First of all I never said that I did not want to fund birth control. I said that it was not more important than any other life saving medicine that the affordable care act does not fund. If you can tell me that birth control pills are more important than aids medication then I think you are the one with the problem.

      • katherinejlegry said:

        Sweetheart, when did I say HIV/AIDS was less important to fund?
        Funding birth control goes beyond the actual funding of the pill, or whatever form. What is happening in regard to the Hobby Lobby and to the gutting of women’s health, women’s studies, and the deconstruction of Planned Parenthood is a grave matter for women’s health. The supreme court’s decision to see corporations as people, employers being given authority over a woman’s health insurance, as well as a serious infringement on the separation between church and state makes the funding of birth control a much bigger piece of the puzzle. Chipping away women’s history, health research, and health coverage, at a time of baby boom is anti-women. I’m not pleased with what has been called Obama care and the affordable healthcare act is all about insurance business and not health care, so as far as that discussion goes, don’t pigeon hole me in with the democrats. You can consider me a socialist when it comes to health care. And pills are business and most of them have such bad side effects, I’m not backing that business that cashes in on U.S. citizens either. Western medicine is very good with surgery. After care and prevention not so much. I got no problems, Wanda…
        Pitch me another.

      • You apparently do not understand the supreme court’s Hobby Lobby decision. It was a very narrow decision that had nothing to do with the vast majority of birth control. It only affected four forms of pills that could be construed as abortion pills. All other forms of birth control were left as they were written in the law.
        The law should never have mandated that any insurance company should have granted any type of medication to be free in the first place. That is where may argument of birth control versus aids medication comes from. If you are going to mandate that one type of medication be given free then all medication must be given free.
        Of course that then becomes socialized medicine. And if you live in Canada or Great Briton and have to wait six months to be able to visit a physician because they are all government supported then perhaps your view of socialized medicine would change.

      • katherinejlegry said:

        I am pro choice. The four forms represent a chipping away of women’s health.
        Insurance companies are in the way of health. Until that changes, cost arguments are a waste of time. Pill companies are in competition to sell the next “cure” and very little is tested in a reasonable manner. That’s way so many recalls are happening. It’s insane to defend medicine in this country when it is predatory.
        So…Wanda, you have limited information and understanding and are perpetuating your own ignorance not mine. I want to be respectful to you now… and try to give you the benefit of being intelligent enough to stop our “argument” and go read some Nursing Clio articles. I will try to find some more links for you and share what I can in the way of information. These political exchanges don’t need to be so boxed in… you don’t have to take my word for it. You can read what the PhD set is saying.

      • katherinejlegry said:

        Hi Wanda Peters. I just wanted to give you the heads up on a talented teacher/sociologist that has a wordpress site I follow. She articulates a lot of what I would like to be able to express about inequalities… If you’re interested in a great lecture she gave recently at Harvard, it’s posted on a video “Roundup to Berkman Center, notes and reflections” July 30, 2014. tressiemc.com is the blog and she has a short link: http://wp.me/p28iGT-12E
        I won’t keep giving you links, but I found this to be a really high conversation intellectually while still being down to earth. She’s a dynamic voice and I hope you enjoy her, if you choose to learn from her. Peace to you.

      • katherinejlegry said:

        A wordpress site you might be interested in for the history of women’s health including contemporary some events is nursingclio.org
        Maybe search the various articles and contributors to see what they offer. None of them is so brusque as I am. You’ll find them professional. But if you come at them with leading questions they probably won’t reply.

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