Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Identification via Grouping

Believe the women! A woman would never lie, because women are honest and women are good. In fact, women are awesome, and that's why we need more women politicians. The men have really messed things up, as they always do, am I right? Time for something different! Time for a woman's perspective!

This is the trendy approach to victimized groups: "You say xxxx people are unworthy? Well, I say they're AWESOME!" Awesomeness, for some reason, strikes us as a precursor to equality and justice. It never works that way, but the fallacy is baked into many people's thinking.

Let me step out of my white middle aged ogre role for a moment and slip on a skullcap so I can go all Jewy (from ogre to awesome in one smooth gesture). Jews aren't awesome. Nor are we a scourge. Jews are just people. So while my "about-to-get-my-ass-kicked" apprehensions peak when folks start screaming "Round up the Jews, schnell!", statements like "Those people are SO GREAT WITH MONEY" come an awfully close second.

Of course that's a cliché, and we know to steer away from the old clichés, even if they seem positive. No woke American would ever flatter me with "great-with-money", or tout women's intrinsic expertise with housework. Those are BAD compliment clichés that make you BAD.

But fresh blanket clichés? Totally welcome! Women are more virtuous, more honest. Less of that TESTOSTERONE, you know? Of course, that doesn't make them passive, oh no. Women are WARRIORS. We need female soldiers on our front lines, because there's NOTHING a man can do that a woman can't! Except, that is, for lying, messing things up, and the rest of toxic masculinity. Mind you: women are NO DIFFERENT....aside from their sterling honesty and overall awesomeness. They're simply BETTER. And NOT DIFFERENT. And BETTER.

Sigh. Listen. No group is great or horrible. Groupings just don't work that way (unless, of course, you're specifically grouping for quality). "WOMEN SUCK" and "WOMEN ARE AWESOME" both stem from the same mistake. Extreme sexists/racists and extreme anti-sexists/racists actually think much alike (the Taoists nailed it with the observation that extremes inevitably morph into one other).

The big problem at the root of all this "-ism" stuff is fixation with group difference. Staunch avowal of superiority is just more of that pointless fixation. Jews aren't this or that. We can be terrible with money and we can eat wheelbarrows full of pulled pork (mmm....wheelbarrows full of pulled pork!). Most groups are ultimately granfalloons; arbitrary affiliations that don’t mean all that much.
My mind boggles, for example, when people talk about "The African-American Community", as if melanin were a basis for community. I'm just one guy, and the range of African-Americans I've known is far too vastly diverse for any meaningful bundling. However, a thin internal voice calls to us, whispering "C'mon...you know what it means. You know what black people are like. Don't pretend you don’t!" But that voice is the very epitome of racism! The "African-American Community" is a racist construct built by extreme anti-racists for political expedience. It's so horribly twisted up.
If you tell me how terrific it is that I'm Jewish, I don't care whether you use old ditzy clichés or brew up new ones. I know what you're focusing on, and it's not a healthy place to fix your attention, because I am not definable by ethnic/racial grouping. That's the basis for the whole problem: people can be categorized in so many ways that any one label is uselessly superficial at best.
I read Jim's blog because Jews sure are witty!
Transcending identification-via-grouping ought to be the goal. Statements like "Women don't lie" are not only absurd on the face of it (have you met women? So far as I know, every one of them is human in species, and humans lie their asses off). It's sexism in its purest form: again, identification by grouping.
I get it. There are legitimate goals to pursue; violence and injustice to eliminate and wrongs to right. But the ends don't justify the means. If you bugger truth to pursue your goal, any victory will be pyrrhic. Time after time we fail to learn this lesson.
Flattering labels don't make your labeling fixation okay. Blanket effusion doesn't make you super-extra non-sexist/racist. It doesn't work that way. You can't inoculate yourself against assholery by becoming the antithetical asshole (will we human beings ever learn to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism?). Why not try seeing people as multifaceted individuals?

As I wrote in "A Case Against Empowerment",
The opposite of love isn't hate, it's indifference. And the opposite of being a discriminated-against minority isn't becoming an empowered minority, it's pluralism. Boring old pluralism.
"Empowerment" language just heightens the preoccupation with labels and groupings. Furiously rambunctious monomaniacal figures like Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton set back the arrival of a Barack Obama more than they helped. No one voted for Obama because BLACK PEOPLE ARE TERRIFIC. That line of thinking never leads where people imagine it will.

Similarly, after decades of gay rights being championed by in-your-face dudes defiantly flaunting their nipple clamps, boring gay people made a measured case that everyone should be able to love whoever the hell they want, so long as it's consensual, and very swiftly won over a surprisingly huge swathe of the population.

The answer's out there, and it's been proven effective. But it's extremely hard for people to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism. That's because reframing is required, and few of us think to use that faculty (particularly when we feel something deeply at stake).

I once wrote that "Nationalism is always a noble-seeming mask for xenophobia. Show me someone who loves 'Us', and I'll show you someone who hates 'Them'."

This is true of any display of staunch group pride (however conditioned we may be to view that sort of thing as noble). There's inevitably a tinge of seething anger, and it's not, as many prefer to imagine, righteous indignation. It's something else. It's fiendish deja vu; an ugly poison you've seen before. There's no righteous time for poison. It is extraordinarily unhealthy for a society to deem certain hatreds (e.g. anti-Boomer) virtuous. Poison's poison. Why hate anybody?

Having been graced with Christ, Gandhi, and King - a trio many profess to revere, and who showed us a better way - we, alas, still choose to mire like pigs. 

Can’t we finally end the stupid perpetual color wars?

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