‘There’s nothing mutual about it’: White evangelicals, privileged distress and grievance envy

If the evangelical reaction to the Louie Giglio inaugural brouhaha seems familiar, that’s because it is. It’s mostly a repeat performance of the same song the same folks were singing when the fast-food chain Chick-fil-A was criticized last summer for funding anti-gay groups.

Same range of complaints, same range of complainers.

No need, then, to reinvent the wheel in responding to this rendition. Let’s just go back to one of the better responses to the earlier round, from Wayne Self at Owldolatrous, who wrote of the flustercluck:

This isn’t about mutual tolerance because there’s nothing mutual about it. If we agree to disagree on this issue, you walk away a full member of this society and I don’t. There is no “live and let live” on this issue because Dan Cathy is spending millions to very specifically NOT let me live. I’m not trying to do that to him.

Asking for “mutual tolerance” on this like running up to a bully beating a kid to death on the playground and scolding them both for not getting along. I’m not trying to dissolve Mr. Cathy’s marriage or make his sex illegal. I’m not trying to make him a second-class citizen, or get him killed. He’s doing that to me, folks; I’m just fighting back.

Self is describing an asymmetrical situation — “there’s nothing mutual about it.” This is not to say that the situation was entirely one-sided. Chick-fil-A and its owners and supporters were subjected to some harsh criticism and pointed ridicule and I’m sure that was unpleasant for them. Such unpleasantness, however, is not in any way comparable to the unpleasantness Self describes of having powerful people funding powerful lobbyists determined to invalidate one’s marriage or to make one legally a second-class citizen.

Nor can the unpleasantness of being criticized and ridiculed be separated from the immediate cause of that criticism and ridicule — the fact that the criticism and ridicule is a response to those folks trying to enforce, encode and defend legal discrimination.

So both sides have real grievances, but those grievances are in no way proportional or comparable. Hold that thought.

I was reminded of Self’s splendid post on the Chick-fil-A business when reading another terrific post from last year by Doug Muder of The Weekly Sift. Muder’s “The Distress of the Privileged” gives a name to something that we all recognize.

I don’t know if Muder coined the term “privileged distress” or not, but I learned it from him and I’ve found it invaluable. Privileged distress. The distress of the privileged. The anxiety that the privileged feel when others begin to enjoy the same privileges that had previously been exclusive to them. Ah, yes, that.

As Muder writes, “Once you grasp the concept of privileged distress, you’ll see it everywhere.” Actually, you saw it everywhere even before that, but you just didn’t know how to articulate and classify what it was you were looking at.

He describes the idea by reminding us of a scene from the movie Pleasantville:

In a memorable scene from the 1998 film Pleasantville (in which two 1998 teen-agers are transported into the black-and-white world of a 1950s TV show), the father of the TV-perfect Parker family returns from work and says the magic words “Honey, I’m home!”, expecting them to conjure up a smiling wife, adorable children, and dinner on the table.

This time, though, it doesn’t work. No wife, no kids, no food. Confused, he repeats the invocation, as if he must have said it wrong. After searching the house, he wanders out into the rain and plaintively questions this strangely malfunctioning Universe: “Where’s my dinner?”

Poor Mr. Parker, he says, is experiencing privileged distress:

As the culture evolves, people who benefited from the old ways invariably see themselves as victims of change. The world used to fit them like a glove, but it no longer does. Increasingly, they find themselves in unfamiliar situations that feel unfair or even unsafe. Their concerns used to take center stage, but now they must compete with the formerly invisible concerns of others.

If you are one of the newly-visible others, this all sounds whiny compared to the problems you face every day. It’s tempting to blast through such privileged resistance with anger and insult.

Tempting, but also, I think, a mistake. The privileged are still privileged enough to foment a counter-revolution, if their frustrated sense of entitlement hardens.

So I think it’s worthwhile to spend a minute or two looking at the world from George Parker’s point of view: He’s a good 1950s TV father. He never set out to be the bad guy. He never meant to stifle his wife’s humanity or enforce a dull conformity on his kids. Nobody ever asked him whether the world should be black-and-white; it just was.

George never demanded a privileged role, he just uncritically accepted the role society assigned him and played it to the best of his ability. And now suddenly that society isn’t working for the people he loves, and they’re blaming him.

It seems so unfair. He doesn’t want anybody to be unhappy. He just wants dinner.

Read the whole thing. It’s long, but it’s rich (and it includes plenty of insight that I’m not including here even despite the huge chunks I’m quoting).

One of the valuable insights Muder provides is that privileged distress involves legitimate distress for those who experience it. Mr. Parker never had to go without dinner before, but now he does. That is unpleasant for Mr. Parker.

Muder argues that we should acknowledge the reality of Mr. Parker’s experience, because privileged distress is a tipping point and Mr. Parker remains powerful enough that we do not want to tip him the wrong way. We should have compassion for Mr. Parker’s situation but, unlike Parker himself, we should also keep that situation in its proper proportion and perspective:

George deserves compassion, but his until-recently-ideal housewife Betty Parker (and the other characters assigned subservient roles) deserves justice. George and Betty’s claims are not equivalent, and if we treat them the same way, we do Betty an injustice.

The important thing here is not just that you and I recognize the distinction of what is due, respectively, to Mr. and Mrs. Parker, but also that we help George Parker to understand this. We have to help him come to see that his claim is not equivalent — that “there’s nothing mutual about it” and that the compassion he seeks does not trump, or equal, the justice due to his wife and to others.

Muder outlines what is at stake here:

All his life, George has tried to be a good guy by the lights of his society. But society has changed and he hasn’t, so he isn’t seen as a good guy any more. He feels terrible about that, but what can he do?

One possibility: Maybe he could learn to be a good guy by the lights of this new society. It would be hard. He’d have to give up some of his privileges. He’d have to examine his habits to see which ones embody assumptions of supremacy. He’d have to learn how to see the world through the eyes of others, rather than just assume that they will play their designated social roles. Early on, he would probably make a lot of mistakes and his former inferiors would correct him. It would be embarrassing.

But there is an alternative: counter-revolution. George could decide that his habits, his expectations, and the society they fit are RIGHT, and this new society is WRONG. If he joined with the other fathers … of Pleasantville, maybe they could force everyone else back into their traditional roles.

I think what we’re seeing from white evangelicals after the Giglio controversy, and what we saw earlier on Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, is the struggle of a group poised between those two choices, those two possible responses: Adaptation or counter-revolution.

This awkward moment between possibilities is characterized by what I’ll call grievance envy.

Let’s stick with poor George Parker. There he is just as Muder describes him, betwixt accepting and rejecting the change that he’s still struggling to understand.

And at that point he begins to perceive two things he hadn’t seen before. First, he notices that these others have a grievance, and that it is a legitimate grievance that gives them just cause to complain. (The clearest illustration of this is the “I wish I didn’t have to say this” tone of much recent writing reaffirming the traditional condemnation of homosexuality.) And the second thing Mr. Parker notices is that this grievance is powerful and compelling — that it gives those others a solid moral standing. He begins to see, in other words, that he is losing the argument precisely because the other side has a legitimate and serious grievance.

And so he attempts to respond in like manner. If their legitimate grievance gives those others an undeniable moral standing, well, then he has a legitimate grievance too. And keep in mind, he does — no one has brought him his customary dinner and he is experiencing a real, inconvenient and unpleasant peckishness.

If they have their complaints and grievances, then he has his, too. He didn’t see this contest coming, but if this is how the rules of this new world work, then he’ll do his best to match them grievance for grievance.

Again, I think this is what we’re seeing now from many white evangelicals in response to LGBT people and their increasingly bold demands for legal equality, marriage equality, equal protection in the workplace and equal standing in the church. We’re seeing grievance envy. The cruel reality and awful legitimacy of LGBT people’s complaint is beginning to sink in, and evangelicals have begun to apprehend, however partially, that this gives the argument for equality a compelling moral force. Evangelicals are beginning to grasp that this is why they are losing the argument, and maybe even that this is why they cannot win.

And so they instinctively do what nearly all of us humans do when first surprised by and confronted with the grievances of others: They start asserting their own list of grievances as though it was Festivus Day.

Here is a classic example of what I’m talking about:

Evangelicals are frequently mocked in popular culture, frequently given a raw deal in academia and elite media, and evangelicals who hold to traditional views of sexual ethics are — as the Louie Giglio affair shows — increasingly shoved to the side of the public square.

This is an attempt to claim mutuality despite the fact that, as Wayne Self patiently pointed out, “there’s nothing mutual about it.” This complaint is so utterly disproportionate, so completely asymmetrical and incomparable as a counter-claim that it’s tempting just to dismiss it as nothing more than self-centered, narcissistic flailing.

And when I say “it’s tempting,” that’s because this is what I am tempted to do, and what I often have done, and what I’m struggling not to do even here in this post.

I’m not suggesting that it’s wrong to regard this wholly disproportionate attempt to equate grievances as self-centered and narcissistic, or even that it’s wrong to characterize it as such, because that characterization is accurate. What I mean is that it’s wrong to completely dismiss such attempts and the vastly lesser grievances they inflate — both because that lacks compassion, and because it’s likely to produce poor results, nudging the privileged closer to using the power of their privilege to reassert itself in a counter-revolution.

Just like poor bewildered George Parker, these folks deserve a measure of compassion. Keep in mind that part of what it means to be privileged is that you don’t ever have to realize it. That’s why the “invisible knapsack” is invisible. They’re trying to make sense of a confusing new world. Confusion and obliviousness can produce the same effects as malice, but they require a different response.

Louie Giglio and his supporters have always thought of themselves as good guys. And they’re accustomed to being perceived as good guys. And I’m sure most of them don’t want that to be merely perception — they want to actually be good guys. But they’re no longer quite as sure what that means, or whether that’s even still possible. The world has changed around them and they’re trying to figure out this new world with its new rules. And why hasn’t anybody brought them dinner, already?

We need to help them sort through all of that — to help them see that counter-revolution is not their only option.

I think Muder is right when he says of Mr. Parker, “Which choice he makes will depend largely on the other characters.” Those others will have to show “firmness together with understanding,” he says, for Parker to see that “becoming a good guy in the new world” is still possible.

It may also depend, in part, on those other characters’ willingness to “engage in a correspondence” — perhaps for years.

Now, of course, George Parker cannot be my primary concern or my main priority. Justice for Mrs. Parker is a more urgent demand than compassion for Mr. Parker. But if compassion for Mr. Parker helps to rescue him from becoming a counter-revolutionary, then it will also help to rescue her from suffering the effects of his counter-revolution.

Such a counter-revolution will not and cannot be won, but it’s best for us all if, to whatever extent possible, we can keep it from being waged in the first place.

  • Carstonio

    The color phenomenon in Pleasantville is a great allegory for the racism of the era. The courtroom scene illustrates the segregation, with the grayscale people on the first floor and the people in color (uh, er, colored people) in the balcony. 

    I would like to think I’m capable of Fred’s level of compassion for the George Parkers. Part of me wants them to devolve into recluses, fearfully peering out their windows at a world that no longer tolerates their intolerance. The irony is that their media consumption is already like this, with Fox News and Limbaugh stoking their fears. It’s so tempting to tell them that no one is going to bring them their metaphorical dinner and they need to get over it.

  • Carstonio

    Apparently the tactic Self describes goes back at least as far as John Calhoun. Decades before the Civil War, he ws playing the sad violins for the miserable persecuted slaveowners.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    No, this does not work. The George Parkers on this issue — the basically decent people who never thought of it before — have come over to the correct side. We are past this. What is left are the bullies. Conflating George Parker with the bullies will invariably lead you to treat the bullies exactly as will befit them, and exactly as will harm their victims.

    George Parker didn’t notice someone beating up that kid, and didn’t realize that he escaped the beating because he’s male/white/straight/not-poor/etc. He had no idea that his snickers about that kid helped the bully beat up that kid. But now, he knows, he absolutely knows, and he is trying to pull the bully off that kid along with the rest of us. While someone else is standing on the sidelines saying they should make sure not to scratch the bully in pulling him off the kid, because look at George Parker. If I were a George Parker, I’d be furious that I was being used to give aid and comfort to bullies.

  • Mary

    Very good analogy, except that I would like to point out that the issue goes far beyond what you have depicited. Ultimately this issue has to do with religious fears of punishment by God for tolerating what they consider to be an immoral lifestyle. Yes, the old “the world is going to hell in a handbasket” argument.  I don’t know what the answer to that is.

  • jamesprobis

    Yeah, I don’t buy it. The Louie Giglios of this world aren’t “good guys” fallen out of step with the times. They are bullies. The only thing that has changed with time is that those they have chosen to attack have started speaking up.

    If they don’t want their views mocked by sane people they can either change their views or keep silent in polite society. I don’t see people going on and on about how horribly unfair it is that people object to the KKK. I don’t see people demanding sympathy for neo-nazis. Somehow people who spit on me are always entitled to the benefit of the doubt, they’re never just assholes. They’re just good people.

    A benefit of the doubt I should point out is never shown to those of us who occasionally get angry at being attacked.

  • Kiba

    Yeah, I don’t buy it. The Louie Giglios of this world aren’t “good guys” fallen out of step with the times. They are bullies. The only thing that has changed with time is that those they have chosen to attack have started speaking up.
    If they don’t want their views mocked by sane people they can either change their views or keep silent in polite society. I don’t see people going on and on about how horribly unfair it is that people object to the KKK. I don’t see people demanding sympathy for neo-nazis. Somehow people who spit on me are always entitled to the benefit of the doubt, they’re never just assholes. They’re just good people.
    A benefit of the doubt I should point out is never shown to those of us who occasionally get angry at being attacked.

    This. This. This. All of it. 

    The fun thing about the benefit or the doubt, or respect and the like is that it’s a two way street. You have give it in order to get it. 

    And throughout that Pleasantville analogy about Mr. Parker’s dinner I kept saying to myself, “What? Your legs aren’t broken. Go get it yourself.” Probably not the response Fred was looking for.  

    (damn you Discus eating my formatting)

  • Matt in pdx

    But the bullies didn’t start out as bullies. They weren’t born bad guys: they became that way through a series of choices in reaction to their circumstances, choices that (to them) seemed motivated (at the time). So something turned them into bullies, and the ‘privileged distress leading to grievance envy’ theory is as plausible as anything I’ve heard.

    The only respect in which the “Where’s My Dinner?” metaphor breaks down for me is that, in the domain of marriage equality, nobody has to go without dinner if we LGBT people are treated equally before the law (except in the abstract sense of ‘going without dinner’ felt by those who can only truly enjoy their food if others are starving).

    Apart from that quibble, great post! And thanks for pointing me to Muder’s essay, and reminding me of the Self piece that inspired it.

  • Jurgan

    I mostly agree with you, Fred.  That may be my straight white privilege talking, but I’ve seen this process over the last several years change many people, and there are still many more on the fence.  So, yeah, I think there’s still plenty of room for conversions.  The real reason I’m posting, though, was to share this: http://i.imgur.com/MR8if.jpg?1

  • Lori

    I can’t get over Margaret Anderson’s epic side eye in that picture. 

  • Albanaeon

    I guess its and empathize/sympathize issue.

    I can understand and empathize that they are uncomfortable in finding themselves on the wrong side of an issue.  I can also understand that losing exclusive privileges is uncomfortable.  I can even empathize that some find that being the beneficiaries of those privileges and having it pointed out feels often like an attack on who they are.  I can do this because, I’ve been there, done that, and got the t-shirt.

    I, however, cannot sympathize with them, because they do not deserve sympathy.  I’m never going to feel sorry for them, particularly when their worst fears being realized is generally a better society all around, including them.

    Finding that you are undeservedly privileged is forgivable.  Acting that you actually really do deserve it is not.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Николай-Крутиков/100002311958508 Николай Крутиков

     In the United States, it does seem that the only anti-gay people are liars like Tony Perkins, hatemongers like Fred Phelps or sad, pathetic people like the guy who founded Conservapedia.

    In Russia, however, it quite a different matter.

  • http://jewelfox.dreamwidth.org/ Taryn Fox

    Good for you if you’ve got the spoons for it, but it’s also doing the victim an injustice to expect her to be the one to educate her oppressor, or to chastise her for not doing so well enough.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jrandyowens Randy Owens

    Several people seem to be complaining “but they aren’t good guys!”  Note that Fred never described them as “good guys” per se; he said that they see themselves as “good guys”, or that they may aspire to be “good guys”.

  • Ursula L

     We should have compassion for Mr. Parker’s situation

    The correct word for this isn’t “compassion.”

    To the extent that a victim accommodates and comforts their oppressor, it is not about consent, but about the victim’s self-interest in diffusing a dangerous situation.  

    And to the extent that would-be allies act with “compassion” towards the oppressor rather than acting on behalf of justice for the oppressed, the would-be allies become oppressors themselves.

    This is not to say that it isn’t completely inappropriate to choose to act in a way that might provide some benefit for the oppressor, if it pragmatically serves to provide an even greater benefit to the oppressed.  If you cannot free a slave at no cost to yourself, it can be right and good and moral to buy the slave from the slave-owner and then free the slave.

    But if you have the power to free a slave at no cost to yourself or society, it is wrong to pay the slave-owner to free the slave.  The resources that might pay  off a slave owner are owed to the slave as compensation for the oppression of the slave-owner.  Not owed, in any way, to the slave-owner as compensation for loss of the slave’s labor.  

    Because the slave-owner is owed nothing for the freedom of the slave, and the slave is owed compensation from the slave-owner for back-wages and damages from the conditions of enslavement. 

    It isn’t compassionate to pay off a slave owner.  It is a continuation of the oppression of slavery to treat the slave-owner’s claims to the slave as legitimate, deserving compensation for the “loss” of the slave’s unpaid labor.  

    And this applies to all forms of oppression.  Compassion for the oppressor is an immoral distraction from the obligation of justice for the oppressed.  

  • The_L1985

    Actually, there are still a lot of George Parkers.  When you’ve never encountered a gay person, it’s really, really hard to see past the rhetoric and realize that they are people just like everyone else.  I had my George Parker Moment in 2007 or thereabouts, when I was 22 years old.  My mother doesn’t think about it at all–she’s nice to people, and doesn’t quite notice that what she’s saying is, essentially, “What you are is wrong.”

    The non-Georges, the deliberate bullies, are the famous homophobes who know that they can scare people for money, and the few people who have actually thought about it, realized that they are hurting people, and either don’t care or actively want gay people to suffer.

  • The_L1985

     True, but what about when allies educate the oppressors?  I operate under the assumption that things won’t get better for anybody if I don’t talk to people about it.

    I’m not saying allies should be the only ones doing this, but I don’t think it’s fair for all gay people to be the exclusive bearers of this particular “burden,” either.

  • The_L1985

    That’s not what Fred means.  You can feel sorry for someone without having to prop up their fragile self-esteem like that.  It costs nothing to say, “This person thinks they’re doing the right thing.  How can I show them that they’re actually hurting people while still acknowledging that they didn’t necessarily choose to be monsters?”

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    it is <i<wrong to extend compassion towards the
    oppressor if the oppression can be stopped without providing the benefit
    of compassion to the oppressor.

    Because seeing the oppressor being treated with compassion by would-be allies is a slap in the face to the oppressed

    As a gay man, I want to see homophobes treated in whatever way will (a) best prevent me and others from suffering at their hands and (b) best encourage them to treat gay and straight people equally in the future.

    If my allies are treating homophobes that way, that’s great.

    If doing that involves behaving in ways I, the ally, or the homophobe consider compassionate, I might be upset by that, but so much the worse for me if so. It’s still great.

  • Carstonio

     

    The only respect in which the “Where’s My Dinner?” metaphor breaks down
    for me is that, in the domain of marriage equality, nobody has to go
    without dinner if we LGBT people are treated equally before the law

    The metaphor is not the dinner itself, but the privilege of eating it without having to prepare it. I agree that this is not exactly comparable to discrimination in marriage laws. I suppose a better comparison would be if straight couples had all the work involved in planning and setting up their weddings done for them, and all they had to do was show up at their parties and ceremonies.

  • Jeff

    This is a well written, but poorly argued, piece.  People who oppose homosexual marriage aren’t afraid of a loss of “privelege”.  They just think that homosexual marriage is morally wrong.  It’s not that complicated. 

  • EllieMurasaki

    So for what reason is “homosexual marriage” morally wrong?

    Let me save you some time: if it’s because all sex should be within marriage and only heterosexual sex is capable of producing babies, you have to explain why it’s all right for infertile and/or postmenopausal people to get married. (It’d be nice if you explained why all sex, not just sex you are personally having, should be within marriage, and why you think you have the right to judge people who have sex with anyone they’re not married to. But we can skip that part if you want.) And if your argument relies on the Bible or other religious material in any way, you have to explain why those of us whose religions don’t consider marriage equality morally wrong (which, I must point out, includes many Christians), or who have no religious beliefs at all and know of no secular reason to oppose marriage equality, should listen to your argument at all.

    And, you know, walks like a duck that’s terrified of a group of people going from lesser to equal, quacks like a duck that’s determined to keep that group of people lesser and not equal, might just be a duck that wants to hold on to its heterosexual privilege.

  • Guest

    This sort of thing, I can get behind.  And the question I always ask, and that always fails, is ‘how exactly are you harmed by X happening?’ where X is gay marriage, somebody else having an abortion, etc.  The answer, invariably, is ‘well, I don’t like to know it happens’, and that ALWAYS equals the distinct, real problems experienced by those being denied their rights in the minds of those giving that answer.

    The ONE I have a hard time with is racial/gender equality (white men’s privilege).  Not that I think it’s just by a long shot, but even the most compelling essays treat it as a zero-sum game: that white men must give up their advantages so that others can be equal.  I have yet to see a compelling formula for making others MORE successful that doesn’t decrease the chance of white men making it in the world (especially in cyclical bad economies and such).  So while I might wish it otherwise, I can very much understand why they fight to keep others subservient and lesser class – it actually costs them when others are advanced.  And to a great extent than the Pleasantville example too – that man could, should he so choose, simply make his own dinner.  A person with no job might not be able to eat at all.

    Of course, that’s all economics and capitalism.  For most of the culture wars, the answer really is ‘it doesn’t hurt me at all for you to do that, but you’d better not do it, and I’ll work very, very hard to make sure you can’t!’

  • Carstonio

    But there’s a strong possibility that George Parker represents only a minority of folks opposed to things like same-sex marriage. The majority might simply be motivated by selfishness, as opposed to malice.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I have yet to see a compelling formula for making others MORE successful that doesn’t decrease the chance of white men making it in the world (especially in cyclical bad economies and such). [...] A person with no job might not be able to eat at all.

    Increase the total number of living-wage jobs so that everyone who wants one can have one?

    That’s the wrong place to start, though, the right place is either, one, ensuring that nobody goes hungry ever no matter what their financial circumstances, or two, making minimum wage a living wage, pegged to the consumer price index so that an across-the-board price rise will always be accompanied by a minimum wage rise so that the minimum wage is always a living wage, and penalizing businesses for reducing their payroll without first reducing their profits as far as the business can bear. Both would be better.

  • Jeff

    “This sort of thing, I can get behind.  And the question I always ask, and that always fails, is ‘how exactly are you harmed by X happening?’ where X is gay marriage, somebody else having an abortion, etc.  The answer, invariably, is ‘well, I don’t like to know it happens’, and that ALWAYS equals the distinct, real problems experienced by those being denied their rights in the minds of those giving that answer.”

    No, that’s not the answer.  In the case of abortion, the answer is that the /baby/ is harmed by the abortion, and those who oppose the abortion believe that the baby’s right to live supercede the mother’s right to choose whether to have the baby or not.  (Yes, yes, I know, it’s a “fetus”, not a “baby”).   The answer is, admittedly, more complicated in the case of gay marriage.  But I think it’s something like this.  If we assume that homosexual behavior is morally wrong (not an assumption you grant, I acknowledge), well, there are plenty of behaviors that are morally wrong that we don’t explicitly legislate against, and I suspect most people are willing to not care what goes on in other people’s bedrooms (yes, I know, I know, that wasn’t always the case).  But to ask the state to explicitly endorse the behavior with marriage, to effectively say “we as a society think this is ok”, is where it becomes problematic for those who believe the behavior is morally wrong. 

  • Carstonio

     

    I have yet to see a compelling formula for making others MORE successful
    that doesn’t decrease the chance of white men making it in the world
    (especially in cyclical bad economies and such).

    To follow on what Ellie said, that wrongly assumes that the world is like Major League Baseball with limited rosters, where desegregation meant fewer opportunities for any white players with less talent. We’re not talking about making non-whites more successful than whites, or making women more successful than men. We’re talking about eliminating the artificial advantage of being white or male, stopping the gaming of the system in their favor.

    When Annika Sorenstam competed in some men’s golf tournaments, a local sports show fumed that this was unfair to the men who placed lower than her in the results. This might have only been somewhat noxious if the hosts hadn’t claimed that this emasculated those men. Jeez, even sitcoms outgrew that sexist notion a couple of decades ago, dropping the hoary gags about wives outscoring their husbands in competitions.

  • Carstonio

     

    But to ask the state to explicitly endorse the behavior with marriage, to effectively say “we as a society think this is ok”

    No and no. The state is not a moral authority and shouldn’t be viewed as one. One shouldn’t treat the legality of say, alcohol sales and consumption with an endorsement of drinking. Laws are about balancing the freedom of the individual with the interests of the society. The legality of same-sex marriage is simply about individual choice when it comes to marrying based on gender. As some of discussed in another thread, there’s no self-evident right to civil marriage itself – the right involved here is equal treatment by the government. The burden is on government to demonstrate a compelling interest in limiting civil marriage to opposite-sex couples.

    where it becomes problematic for those who believe the behavior is morally wrong.

    How is it problematic? The state is not forcing people such as yourself to marry people of your own gender. The burden is on you to demonstrate why marriage for same-sex couples shouldn’t exist, not on anyone else to demonstrate why such couples should be free to marry.

  • Jeff

    The state is not a moral authority, but its laws derive their force to the extent that they reflect the moral authority of those that it governs.  The point is simply that the debate is about whose arguments about morality are correct, and not about one side being afraid of losing “privelege”, as the original post suggests.

  • histrogeek

    I admit as a straight, white male, albeit one with anxiety disorder and depression, I can get privilege anxiety. It’s mostly tied to feeling that the world doesn’t really want or need a straight white guy around  even one who knows how to cook and do laundry (yeah that’s the depression there). 
    What stops me from going full on counter-revolutionary is slamming into the wall that hey feeling that the world doesn’t want you for what you are is exactly what LGBT  or women or other racial groups have been dealing with for time out of mind. By comparesion what I feel is barely a whiff of what other people, people I love and care about, feel all the time from society. It doesn’t get rid of my own feelings but damn if it doesn’t remind me of why basic justice and empathy demand I work to end their pain. 

  • Carstonio

     Not sure what you mean by “moral authority” of the people being governed. What is the moral argument behind the stance that same-sex couples shouldn’t be married, or that they should be prevented from marrying? How would their marriages adversely affect others?

  • histrogeek

     Here’s the thing. Marriage equality has been around for awhile. Back in 1990s when Hawaii shocked the country by declaring gay marriage was a constitutional right, there were a lot more people opposed to gay marriage than there are now. We got DOMA out of that panic. Today Clinton, who cynically signed DOMA, is all in for gay marriage. Although the fight is far from over, at least we can see that the wheel has turned.
    So what happened? Some of the opponents of gay marriage back in the 1990s have died, but a sizable fraction have changed their minds, either because they saw the light that marriage equality is a good thing or they just realized that marriage equality doesn’t harm them. Either way while it’s tempting and sometimes necessary to write off opposition as a bunch of bullies and dead-end defenders of privilege, changing people’s minds is not just a pie-in-the-sky liberal dream. It really does happen (albeit awfully damn slow in many cases).

  • LL

    What is amusing (and also repellent) about these people is how much they bitch and moan about being deprived of insignificant “privileges” (like having one of their own speak at a public event), while working to deprive people of actual, important rights, like the right to marry another consenting adult, or the right to be free of interference in how they run their own lives, like, for example, healthcare decisions. 

    They deserve only contempt. They don’t “mean well.” They’re just a bunch of asshole control freaks who want to tell other people how to live their lives. They see the amount of control Muslim clerics have over people’s lives in other countries, and far from being frightened by that, they covet it. They covet that kind of power and they’d love to have it here (more so than they do already). 

  • Lori

     

    This is a well written, but poorly argued, piece.  People who oppose
    homosexual marriage aren’t afraid of a loss of “privelege”.  They just
    think that homosexual marriage is morally wrong.  It’s not that
    complicated.  

    Ah yes. They’re not homophobic. They aren’t afraid of gay people, they just think homosexuality is morally wrong. I remember when I used to buy this. I was wrong then and you’re wrong now.

    The moral position is effect, not cause. You know how you can tell? If you assume that the moral position came first most of their behavior doesn’t make any sense. Prime example, why are they so worked up at the gays, but so indifferent to divorce? Now go back and look at the world again, but assume that the moral position is effect, a way of dressing up their desire to maintain the status quo that gives them tremendous privilege. Funny how much better that both explains their past beliefs and behaviors and predicts their future ones.

  • Lori

     

    The ONE I have a hard time with is racial/gender equality (white men’s
    privilege).  Not that I think it’s just by a long shot, but even the
    most compelling essays treat it as a zero-sum game: that white men must
    give up their advantages so that others can be equal.  I have yet to see
    a compelling formula for making others MORE successful that doesn’t
    decrease the chance of white men making it in the world (especially in
    cyclical bad economies and such).  

    This one is actually way easier than it looks. The thing that makes it more difficult for white men to succeed is not equality for women and non-whites, it’s oligarchs. Racist, sexist white men set themselves up to be taken advantage of the ruling elite. We can see this around us every day. It’s a huge understatement to say that the Southern Strategy has not been an actual benefit to the average white man.

  • P J Evans

    the /baby/ is harmed by the abortion

    See, this is part of the problem. You’re assuming that it’s a baby from the moment of conception, which isn’t true. (Consider miscarriages. Consider that fertilization is frequently followed by NOTHING.)
    There’s a reason why it wasn’t considered real until ‘quickening’, which is around the 5th month.

  • Lori

     

    But to ask the state to explicitly endorse the behavior with marriage,
    to effectively say “we as a society think this is ok”, is where it
    becomes problematic for those who believe the behavior is morally
    wrong. 

    It’s only problematic for them because it’s not their “morally wrong behavior”. You show me an anti-marriage equality zealot who also wants his or her personal  “sin” to be made illegal and I’ll eat my hat. I’ve seriously never met one.

  • Persia

    I think this is a more flexible metaphor than just ‘gay rights,’ too. Maybe it’s trans rights, maybe it’s getting people to see sexism in a systemic way, etc. Almost all of us born with some level of privilege (and that’s almost all of us, period) have been a George Parker at one point or another.

  • Tricksterson

    Never saw Pleasantville but from the couple of clips I saw and what I heard wasn’t it the case that until things started to change noone else in Pleasantville saw anything wrong with the way things were?

  • Tricksterson

    It’s ironic that Fred recently posted an article semi-complaining about Obama’s tendency to keep reaching out to people who only want to bite off his hand because he’s all to frequently guilty of the same thing, including here

  • Tricksterson

    Father Knows Best was actually a surprisingly cool show at times and there were a couple of episodes that treated the title ironically, usually the ones that had supernatural overtones.

  • Tricksterson

    I think Fred is confusing understanding with compassion.  Just because you can see where someone is coming from doesn’t mean you have to feel sorry for him.

  • Lunch Meat

    In the case of abortion, the answer is that the /baby/ is harmed by the abortion, and those who oppose the abortion believe that the baby’s
    right to live supercede the mother’s right to choose whether to have the
    baby or not.  (Yes, yes, I know, it’s a “fetus”, not a “baby”).

    In what other circumstances is it legal to invade someone’s bodily autonomy for the sake of another’s health? If I need blood immediately or I’ll die and yours is the only match, does my right to live supersede your right to choose whether to donate blood or not? Please note that drawing blood is much less invasive than pregnancy or childbirth.

    If we assume that homosexual behavior is morally wrong (not an
    assumption you grant, I acknowledge), well, there are plenty of
    behaviors that are morally wrong that we don’t explicitly legislate
    against, and I suspect most people are willing to not care what goes on
    in other people’s bedrooms (yes, I know, I know, that wasn’t always the
    case).  But to ask the state to explicitly endorse the behavior with marriage, to effectively say “we as a society think this is ok”, is
    where it becomes problematic for those who believe the behavior is
    morally wrong.

    There are people who think it’s morally wrong that I own property, work outside the home, don’t always do what my husband tells me, and have been married for 2 1/2 years without kids. Yet the state has explicitly endorsed my behavior by calling it a legitimate marriage. If the above people become a majority, are you in favor of allowing them to legislate that my marriage is not valid?

  • Lunch Meat

    The point is simply that the debate is about whose arguments about morality are correct, and not about one side being afraid of losing
    “privilege”, as the original post suggests.

    No it’s not. Because you have the PRIVILEGE of knowing you can legislate your moral views, and I can’t.

  • Hilary

    And that is called imagination and empathy – two very good traits for a human being to have.  There is nothing wrong with being a straight white male – my father is one, and my brother, and some of my friends, and that is no handicap to being a wonderful person.  It’s the SWM + total jerk with no imagination or  empathy that gets annoying. 

    SWM + compassion, imagination, empathy = a human guy we need more of.

    More basically, SWM are a subtype of human being, and

    Human Being + compassion, imagination and empathy = human being we need more of. 

    Hilary

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Baley wouldn’t
    commit himself, but now he wondered sickly if ever a man fought harder
    for that buck, whatever it was, or felt its loss more deeply, than a
    City dweller fought to keep from losing his Sunday night option on a
    chicken drumstick—a real-flesh drumstick from a once-living bird.

    From The Caves of Steel

    I’m reminded of that because it strikes me as a very human impulse, though at times irrational, to fight hard and even go to extremes in preservation of what one perceives that one has.

    There is an old saying in Western culture that goes back to Aesop’s Fables: “It is better to have a bird in the hand than two in the bush”.

    To persuade someone to let go of what is, in favor of what can be, can be damned difficult to do, especially if what can be is not an easy road to travel.

    Yes, on average, economically poor white people will have it better off if the economy as currently structured is reorganized to better reward all somewhat more handsomely than give a lucky few the entire pot of gold.

    But it seems to me that the problem lies in that human thinking is inherently zero-sum, regardless of the bounciful bumpf promoted by right-wing economists who accuse leftists (particularly environmentalists) of being negative ninnies who see no possibility of growing the entire pie that gets sliced up by humanity.

    If it could be proven, even in the zero-sum model unconsciously employed that everyone would be better off were economic resources divided more fairly, I think a lot of the resistance to a more egalitarian society would vanish.

    Right now, though, tell someone a person making $25k a year that a person making $250k a year will pay more in tax, and the $25k person will fight just as hard to keep it from happening because he or she has been told:

    1. Explicitly, that people who make that much money will somehow nebulously use their money to create more jobs, although the exact method is never specified,
    2. Implicitly that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is waiting for him or her if only he or she jumps through just the right hoops.

    #2 is especially pernicious because it means people will fight for the government to not take away more of what they haven’t even got in the first place.

    That’s why I think it is important to understand, although not necessarily to coddle and pat on the hand, people who don’t want to change society in a fairer direction and who derive no true benefit from their status-quo thinking*.


    * Unlike rich white people who know full well that preserving social and economic fissures benefits them in a divide and conquer strategy.

  • EllieMurasaki

    the answer is that the /baby/ is harmed by the abortion

    That isn’t possible; if a baby is being killed, it’s infanticide, not abortion.

    And if you think marrying someone of the same gender as or with similarly shaped genitals to yourself is immoral, don’t do it.

  • LL

    Eh, I get Fred’s point. So I agree that from a purely pragmatic point of view, approaching the privileged white (and also sometimes male) people as if they are self-evidently evil and not simply misinformed or oblivious will probably not get the results you hope for. Most people, even if they know they’re wrong, don’t like being told they’re wrong in a harsh, insulting manner. And unfortunately, these people still vote in fairly large numbers. It feels good to call somebody who’s acting like an asshole an asshole, but it often is counterproductive if your goal is to “change hearts and minds.”

    I solve this by speaking to such people (when I have to) using Fred’s approach. But I’m free to think to myself that they’re not misinformed or oblivious, but simply assholes and/or evil. I have learned (mostly) to compartmentalize my contempt. I understand that if people are closer to (ie, directly affected by) the issue under discussion (like same-sex marriage), they might find it very difficult to do that. And I don’t expect them to. I wouldn’t expect a black person to speak to a white power group member as if the racist person is really a good guy, just a little confused or troubled by changes he doesn’t understand. I would agree with most black people that racists aren’t confused, they know exactly what they’re doing and don’t care that it harms others. 

    It is a little easier to give such people the benefit of the doubt when you are not directly harmed by their actions. 

  • Lori

     

    It’s ironic that Fred recently posted an article semi-complaining about
    Obama’s tendency to keep reaching out to people who only want to bite
    off his hand because he’s all to frequently guilty of the same thing,
    including here 

    The problem with Obama’s tendency to keep reaching out to the radicalized GOP is not that he’s being “too nice” to shitty people, it’s that it demonstrably leads to bad outcomes. If it lead to good outcomes then I doubt Fred would complain. I know I wouldn’t.

    What Fred is talking about here is something that he believes will lead to better outcomes, at least in some cases. You can argue with him about whether or not that’s true, but there’s nothing ironic or odd about Fred’s different recommendations given what he believes about the results.

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    In reality, Mrs Parker will end up deeply resentful of Mr. Parker’s former ‘privilege’ and start demanding that he makes all the dinners from now on.

    In reality – the one we’re in now, 60 years after the movie’s mythical timeframe – there are Mr Parkers who love to cook, Mrs Parkers who love to cook, Parkers who alternate who has the paid job and who stays at home, Parkers who both hate cooking and get takeout after coming home from both their jobs…

  • Madhabmatics

    Some of my favorite hadith are about this topic.

    Narrated Anas: Allah’s Apostle said, “Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or he is an oppressed one.
    People asked, “O Allah’s Apostle! It is all right to help him if he is
    oppressed, but how should we help him if he is an oppressor?” The
    Prophet said, “By preventing him from oppressing others.”

    Of course, other hadith don’t phrase it that way.

    Narrated Ibn Abbas (radi Allahu anhu): “The Prophet (sal Allahu
    alaihi wa sallam) sent Muadh (radi Allahu anhu) to Yemen and said, ‘Be
    afraid, from the curse of the oppressed as there is no screen between
    his invocation and Allah.’”

    “If the people see an oppressor and they do not seize his hand, then Allah will soon send punishment upon all of them.”

    this one isn’t a hadith i just dig it:

    “A tyrant and the one who helps an oppressor as well as the one
    who is pleased with such injustice all the three are accomplices in the
    sin”
     
    plus it lead directly to this burn

    When Ahmad ibn Hanbal was imprisoned, one of the prison guards came to him and asked him:

    “O Abu ‘Abdillah! The hadith that is narrated regarding the oppressors and those that aid them – is it authentic?”
    He said: “Yes.”
    The prison guard then said: “So, I am considered to be an aide of the oppressors?”
    Imam Ahmad replied: “No. The aides of the oppressors are those
    that comb your hair, and wash your clothes, and prepare your meals, and
    buy and sell from you. As for you, then you are one of the oppressors
    themselves!”


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