‘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.

  • AnonymousSam

    Actually, someone posted this a little while ago. http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com.au/2007/10/purity-as-harm.html

    The five factors conservatives are fluent in, whereas liberals understand only one or two:

    Harm/Care
    Fairness/Reciprocity
    Ingroup/Loyalty
    Authority/Respect
    Purity/Sanctity

    When conservatives make an argument, Haidt states, they use all five, whereas liberals use only a couple.

    So when we bring up gay marriage and say it does no one any harm, that’s all we understand. We’re not understanding the nuances of their argument about how foul and abominable and hell and brimstone and THIS IS WHY CHILDREN DIE YOU LIBERAL MONSTERS NOT ENOUGH PRAYER IN SCHOOL RAAAAAAGH.

  • AnonymousSam

    And for the record? I understand these five nuances very well. Most of them are just bullshit.

  • Hanan

    No, you are simply not understanding where marriage fits into his categories. So marriage would fit into sanctity. It’s not because they hate gays. (though, there are plenty that do). They fact that you end your comment with that, just keeps proving his point. Interesting, at least from Haidt’s POV, is that after he finished his research he came to the conclusion that he can no longer call himself a Liberal. 

  • Hanan

    books are bad for you.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Why does sanctity of marriage prevent people with the same gender or similarly-shaped genitals from getting married? Wiccans and some flavors of Christians are perfectly willing to consider marriage sanctified regardless of who’s involved.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Oh. You’re just a nitwit. Got it.

  • AnonymousSam

    Fuck your tone argument. Plenty of these people exist and every national tragedy brings them out in droves, but they’re not scuttling creatures who emerge from the shadow and disappear when you shine a light on them — they’re in office. That’s why we get wonderful people like Santorum calling rape a gift from God, Todd Akin saying rape never leads to pregnancy and women need to just keep their legs shut, Roger Rivard uttering the words “some girls rape easy” and stating that many women lie about being raped if they get pregnant, the Texas GOP flat out putting it in their ledger that they reject critical thinking skills because they undermine the value of authority figures…

    No, seriously, I don’t give a damn if they have five terrible reasons for wanting this, that or the other. Excuses are a dime a dozen and we’ve seen again and again how good excuses turn into good methods for enforcing classism and racism.

    I don’t need five reasons all relating to religion and how important patriarchal society is to want you to get the fuck off my FOOT.

  • Carstonio

    The first two factors appear to be consequentialist morality and the last three appear to be deontological morality or authoritarianism. I see the obvious question as why any or all of these are good factors to use to judge the morality of anything.

    As I’ve noted before, I see no way to establish the merit of the last three without restoring to consequentialism, and that implicitly endorses the first one and probably the second as well. A consequentialist might say that in a given situation, obedience to authority would be preferable if the alternative is increased harm. But that would depend heavily on the situation, and in many circumstances defiance may produce less harm than obedience. I don’t know if Haidt would agree, although he does note that purity has been subsumed somewhat into the harm criterion.

  • Phil

    Hanan,

    I’ve encountered the idea–that conservative use “five factors” while liberals use “three” (or fewer or whatever number), therefore conservatives are better–before.  It makes no sense to me.    Here’s why (at least as with regard to same sex marriage):

    I agree that marriage fits into “sanctity.”  But that alone doesn’t make it right.  As an example, many conservatives were against inter-racial marriages for the exact same reason (sanctity/purity).  Were they right then?  Likewise, they aren’t right now.  (And conservatives against inter-racial marriage didn’t “hate” blacks.  They just thought God didn’t want the races to mix.)  But there were still wrong.

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

    “books are bad for you.”

    “books are bad for you.”

    “books are bad for you.”

    I am agog. O_O

  • Mark Z.

    Would you fucking stop using “authoritarian” to mean “anything other than consequentialist”? Thank you.

  • AnonymousSam

    Does he have an answer as to how deontological morality is supposed to make an appreciable point on anyone who doesn’t practice very specific variants of certain Abrahamic religions? E.G., how a Hatian Vodou practitioner is intended to respond to spiritual purity claims related to narrow-sighted interpretations of Deuteronomy?

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    @AnonymousSam:twitter If you are of a hierarchical mindset, then there’s no necessary link between thinking someone is less of a person and hating them.  They think “The general is superior to the private but the general doesn’t hate his privates*”, and also “Rich people are superior to poor people but rich people don’t hate poor people,” and “Man is superior to the animals, but I still love my dog,” and “Men are superior to Women, but I love my wife”, and “Christians are superior to Jews, but I like nice Mr. Leibowitz down the street” and “Straight relationships are superior to gay ones, but I still like my neighbor just fine.”

    And they don’t understand why there’s all this hubbub, and why people can’t just know their place and be happy.

    (*Tee hee. Old generals never die, only their privates.)

  • AnonymousSam

    For that matter, what about Fred? He frequently addresses all five of these concepts, yet he’s not a conservative. Does that mean he’s just mouthing the words, but doesn’t really understand them?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Doesn’t ‘deontological’ mean ‘rules-based’? The Haitian Vodou deontological moralist is working from a different set of rules from the conservative Christian deontological moralist, but they’re still both deontological moralists.

  • AnonymousSam

    Point. I was trying to say words to that effect, but I’m too pissed off to articulate properly. Good time to take a break from the computer and go back to raging at Comcast for making me talk to a machine for another hour while we wonder why the cable isn’t working (and the machine keeps telling us that, yes, it ought to be).

  • AnonymousSam

    All I can say to that is, quoting Ellie, “Intent isn’t fucking magic.” The reason liberals focus so much on the harm/care argument is because all the magical miraculous thinking in the world doesn’t mean a damned thing while stomping on somebody’s toes.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Quoting somebody who isn’t me. I forget who it is, but Google the phrase, that should bring it up.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Hey, I referred to Haidt’s research on moral foundations here just the other day. Funny how something comes up multiple times in short sequence.

    From what I’d read–which was only a sliver of his research–I’d describe the issue as less about understanding (which sounds like something that could be resolved through information) and more about a difference in values. In his moral foundations work Haidt found that “liberals” and conservatives shared several moral foundations, but conservatives also had extra foundations that “liberals” don’t. That doesn’t make conservatives more moral, of course, but it does mean that often in weighing up issues they will factor in considerations that “liberals” feel are not relevant.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Thank you. I was also getting tired of the sum total of ethical positions as consequentialists vs slave drones to the worst possible interpretation of Leviticus who are too stupid to wipe their own arses.

  • http://shiftercat.livejournal.com/ ShifterCat

    Of the five values Haidt talks about, I would argue that the last three can often be filed under the first two.

    Authority/Respect:  it’s only fair to respect others, isn’t it?  Especially if they’ve shown they respect us (Fairness/Reciprocity).

    Ingroup/Loyalty:  Most people need a feeling of fellowship for their psychological health (Harm/Care), and it’s good to show loyalty to those who’ve done you good (Fairness/Reciprocity).

    The Purity/Sanctity one is trickier, I’ll grant you.  It’s fair to show some respect for others’ religious beliefs, eg. don’t try to slip bacon to someone keeping kosher (Fairness/Reciprocity).  And awareness of hygeine is generally good for one’s health (Harm/Care).

    Definitely when deciding public policy, though, Harm/Care and Fairness/Reciprocity are the most important values to be considered.  As an example, we’ve seen that policies based on the “Prostitutes are unclean” concept end up doing far more harm than good; policies based on “Sex workers are an at-risk group for STIs” are more likely to benefit society.

  • Paynekid87

    So people should never resist culture’s ever-changing morality? Go with the flow, or lose your right to speak and stand up for what you believe in?

  • http://shiftercat.livejournal.com/ ShifterCat

    Also, fairness and care are the values that can best be universalized.  This is put more thoroughly here:  http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2010/06/22/why-liberal-values-really-are-better/

  • http://shiftercat.livejournal.com/ ShifterCat

    Would you like to point out where someone proposed that?

  • Carstonio

    My apologies. Here’s how I’ve been defining authoritarian morality in the broad sense – choosing what one perceives to be required or expected as more important than whether this would help or harm others. Often the two agree and often they don’t, and obviously one can do what’s required or expected while still valuing the principles of harm and fairness. 

    My criticism of the claim that homosexuality is “unnatural” is that it seems to treat nature as a rule-making entity or at least a rule concept. Am I perceiving this idea of natural correctly? If not, what type of morality is this if it’s not deontological or consequentialist?

  • Paul Durant


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

    You are completely wrong in not one but three ways here.

    First, the situation being described as “compassion” has nothing to do with compensating a slave-owner for freeing their slave. That is a nonsensical analogy. Compassion is not a finite resource or a payment. It is an emotional state and mental effort. It does not renumerate the wrongdoer and you do not have less of it when it is given away.

    Second, claiming compassion should only be given to the people you think deserve it is morally wrong. (And remember, everything you say about how these people are oppressors and deserve nothing, they say the same thing about you.) Compassion is not an award. People who do something good are not rewarded with compassion. Compassion is the effort to understand the mental and emotional state of someone else, and envision their values and needs from their perspective. 

    Third, by denying compassion to the oppressor, you are committing yourself to solving a problem while refusing to understand it. Compassion and empathy are the process by which you envision the thoughts of others. If you refuse compassion to the oppressor because they are doing bad things and don’t deserve it, you are not putting them in your shoes, you are not considering their wants and needs and how those wants and needs drive them to do harmful things that seem valid in their eyes. You are trying to get them to change their behavior while refusing to put forth the effort to figure out why they behave that way. How effective do you think you’re going to be, trying to solve a problem you refuse to understand?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Most folks find it hard to side with the oppressed and the oppressor simultaneously, and siding with the oppressor and not the oppressed is wrong. How do you propose to solve that problem?

  • Paul Durant

    Compassion doesn’t mean “siding with”. I can envision the mental state of others and feel sympathy for their fears and desires without agreeing in what they do to alleviate or achieve them. It just means that, when I attempt to rectify the situation, I will do so with an understanding of why the wrongdoers are doing wrong, which is good if you want to incentivize them to stop doing wrong.

  • EllieMurasaki

    In my experience, people capable of your second sentence are exceedingly few.

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

    On your view, are the (exceedingly few) people who are capable of it acting immorally when they do so? On your view, are people who try to get better at it acting immorally when they do so?

  • EllieMurasaki

    I don’t know, because until just now I’ve never MET ANY.

  • Beroli

     I seem to remember Fred making a post on the subject a long time ago (back at Typepad).

    Yes, here it is: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2009/07/23/stephen-carter-has-lost-his-mind/

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

     Ah, gotcha. I misunderstood you to be saying that there were a few such people in your experience, but not many, rather than that there were none.

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

     (nods) Sure, it’s a recurring theme both here and elsewhere. I was specifically interested in Ellie’s view, though.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Well, it’d be rude to tell someone that his self-assessment of his internal thought process is wrong.

  • Lori

    Anyone who hasn’t prepared for the coming apocalypse may want to get on that, because the world is clearly ending—I more or less agree with Paul Durant on something. 

    Having compassion for someone and “siding with them” in a binary dispute are not the same thing. I don’t think the ability to see someone’s POV and understand that they feel distress, while not actually agreeing with that POV, is all that rare of a skill. I certainly think that someone who claims what are typically Liberal values should be able to manage it. If we can understand the POV of people of different races, sexual orientations, cultures and economic circumstances we should be able to manage to grasp the essentials about conservatives as well.

    I think it’s obvious and well-known around here that I have basically zero patience with the racist, homophobic, misogynist, Ayn Rand-inspired, dog-eat-dog, FU I got
    mine program being pushed by the Right here in the US. Clearly I don’t feel a lot of hesitation about saying so in very clear terms. That doesn’t mean that I don’t understand and have a certain amount of compassion for individual conservatives. Not sympathy, compassion. Not the same thing. I’m never going to side with them on these core issues and I think they bring their distress on themselves, but (at least in some individual cases) I get why they’re distressed by changes that I find wonderful and I’m sorry they feel that way.

    Didn’t we recently have a discussion about why it’s rude and unfair to be dismissive of Otherkin even if we don’t personally believe that it’s possible for a person to actually be a dinosaur or whatever in human form? Was the point of that conversation that we need to be respectful of human-form dinosaurs because other people are mean to them, or was the point that we’re supposed to have a certain degree of respect for people’s lived experience even if we think it’s objectively untrue in the world outside their head? If it was the former, I didn’t get that from the discussion. If it’s the latter then it strikes me that there’s something off about claiming that people can and should be understanding of this particular thing that they believe is literally not possible, but somehow can’t do the same for things they believe are untrue in other ways.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I guess I’m just not seeing how to get from ‘I understand why this person is hurting and I wish they weren’t’ to ‘this person needs to hurt worse than presently’. And that latter place is often an important place to get to. Case in point, I am not bothered by it hurting rich people to take some of their money away when that money is, one, often unethically obtained to begin with (hi, Walton family!), and two, of much more use alleviating/ending suffering when it’s somewhere that’s neither a rich person’s bank account nor the New York Stock Exchange. If I can’t get to the latter place from the former place, and I need to get to the latter place, then I can’t start from the former place.

    Paul Durant says compassion is not finite. In my experience of the compassion I am capable of giving: yes, in fact, it is.

  • Lori

     

    I guess I’m just not seeing how to get from ‘I understand why this
    person is hurting and I wish they weren’t’ to ‘this person needs to hurt
    worse than presently’.   

    Well for one thing, “this person needs to hurt worse than presently” isn’t actually my goal.

    Let’s use marriage equality as an example. My parents are dead set against it. I understand why they feel that way, I’m sorry that they’re distressed by the way the world is changing. Eighty-four years is a long time to live. The world we’re moving toward is very, very different from the world they grew up in. Change is difficult, especially when it’s involuntary and that becomes more and more true as we age. For one thing, change highlights the fact that their friends, people who are like them, are dying off. It’s a tough thing to outlive most of the people that you care about and their grief is real and it touches me because I care about them.

    I still want marriage equality to happen and I think it will. The most likely outcome of that will be for my parents to be even more distressed than they are now, but they don’t need to be. They could have a change of heart and learn to accept it, or at least let it go because it doesn’t effect them and is therefore not actually any of their business. That’s not likely, but it’s my preferred situation. I value everyone being equal before the law more than I value keeping my parents from being more upset, but I don’t need for them to feel more pain. Marriage equality will not be sweeter for me if they’re upset about it.

    The same goes for higher rates of taxation hurting the rich. I get why people get upset when they have less money in their direct control, even when they already have so much that their lives aren’t materially effected by the decrease. I value a more fair and reasonable distribution of resources and greater respect for labor, as opposed to financial speculation for example, far more than I value their feelings about their after tax income. In fact I think the more vocal whiners about the possibility of returning to Clinton-era levels of taxation are behaving like butthurt assholes of the worst sort. However, aside from a fairly short list of the most egregious of them, their pain would not make me happy. I need better economic policy, not their misery. If they got their heads out of their own selfish asses enough to see that reducing income inequality, investing in needed infrastructure and taking steps to mitigate climate change would be better for everyone in the long run that would be fine with me.

  • EllieMurasaki

    “this person needs to hurt worse than presently” isn’t actually my goal.

    Mine neither. It’s unavoidable with many many goals, some of which must be achieved, but it’s not a goal in itself.

  • Lori

    Then what’s the issue here? If their pain is not your goal then why frame the issue as needing to get from understanding their pain to “‘this person needs to hurt worse than presently’?

    If their pain isn’t the goal then you don’t need to get to the latter and therefore there’s no reason for it to be an impediment to the former. The fact that thing A is a higher priority, even a much higher priority, than thing B doesn’t mean that we can’t acknowledge the existence of thing B. We can even try to mitigate B to the extent that doing so doesn’t interfere with A. We do that sort of thing all the time.

  • Ttricksterson

    “unnatural” is a stupid concept to begin with.  If something was unnatural it couldn’t exist.  As for natural morality there is no such thing.  There’s no evidence that either the universe or whatever created it gives a fuck about how we treat each other.

  • EllieMurasaki

    The issue here is that Paul Durant said it is possible to feel compassion for both the oppressed and the oppressor at the same time.

    And.

    I.

    Can’t.

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

    You could almost believe this parody is real. That’s how dug-in Republicans are about opposing Obama.

  • EllieMurasaki

    That…is satire, yes?

  • Lunch Meat

    Paul Durant was responding to someone who said it was immoral to have compassion for both the oppressed and the oppressor at the same time. I would not go as far as he did and say that one must have compassion on the oppressor if one wants to change them, but I believe it’s not inherently impossible for everyone. It may be impossible for specific people, and that’s absolutely fine, I would not expect you to do something you can’t do and don’t think is worth doing anything. That doesn’t mean people like Fred can’t suggest compassion and ways to go about being compassionate.

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

    (nods) Yeah, I can see that… allowing myself to feel compassion for someone can make it more difficult to leave them worse off. (Not impossible, but more difficult.) If I’ve already decided to leave them worse off, I can make that task easier for myself by not feeling compassion for them.

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

    I think it is, or at least a parody. :O

    Also, PSA: Switch Your Bank.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I keep my money in a local credit union and ING Direct, though ING just got ate by CapitalOne. How bad is CapitalOne? Not bad enough to be on the Big Five list (though I have credit cards with two of those five, and CapitalOne), but I don’t know whether that means CapitalOne’s actually better or if those five are just worse. If that makes sense.

  • Lori

    The fact that it’s impossible for you doesn’t mean that it’s impossible in general. Unless I misread him completely Paul Durant was talking about the issue broadly, not about you specifically.

    If you can’t do it, you can’t, but the ability is not fictional. As I said, I don’t even think it’s all that rare. We routinely expect people to demonstrate the ability in other contexts.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I don’t know, because until just now I’ve never MET ANY.

    I fit Paul’s description. Not all the time, not in every circumstance, but often. And no, feeling compassion for someone is completely unlike siding with them. It’s possible–and not earth-shatteringly rare–to feel compassion for someone while still actively opposing harmful actions they might take. 


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