You too can be an asshole

So, as a trained philosopher I try not to moralize, kinda for the same reason that, as a kungfu enthusiast, I try to stay out of bar-fights:  it's neither fair, nor usually fun, nor often useful.  But I've seen some disturbing actions by my peers lately, and my peers are generally smart people who deserve an opportunity to learn.  So…into the bar-brawl we go.  ::rolls up sleeves::

Also like a bar-brawl, declaring who's right and who's wrong in any situation can get all sorts of tangly — but that's morals for you.  It's entirely possible to look like a jerk from one point of view, but, given more or different information, to be totally vindicated.  

That doesn't make it unimportant whether you're an asshole or not, mind you.  Being a jerk hurts people, real people with real feelings who really don't deserve to take your shit just because you didn't think to keep your mouth shut.  Life is hard enough, and one of the few meaningful things we can do to make it easier is to not be jerks to each other.

And my peers are good people — but it's not being a good person that stops you from being a jerk; it's paying attention, and lately that's felt lacking.  Specifically, it's seemed lacking in the words of the pro-social-justice people:  The very ones who spend the most time looking for privilege, pointing out unfairnesses, and generally thinking their butts off.  AND YET, I'm SO UNSURPRISED to find this particular group falling into the trap of being assholes to people….why?  Because being good at social justice can lead you to feel that you have moral authority, and one of the core lessons of my Catholic-raised, Detroit-bred life has been that the people who get used to thinking of themselves as "right" are 1000% more likely to be the people who act like jerks.  Getting it into your head that you're one of the good ones — be it because you're a priest or a cop or a respected member of your whatever etc. — is THE major qualification for eventually forgetting that a) other people are not bad, and b) even when they might be, you don't have the right to be a jerk at them, because you are probably lacking a LOT of information and on top of it, making things worse by being an asshole.

I'm going to be forced to give an example at some point, so I'm picking the easy one:  Just this week, I've watched white-skinned people who never fail to point out and fight against racial privilege make fun of other people because of their chosen hairstyles.  Their mistake is thinking that their racial consciousness is somehow relevant to their actions — that they are exempted from worrying about being an asshole because they're an ally, basically.  But this is a huge error, on the order of assuming that because there is sugar in your kitchen, of course your cake will come out fine.  

The ingredients in your cupboard do not affect your cake.  
Your social-justice creds do not affect whether or not you're being an asshole to that human being right now.

Mocking someone's choice of self-expression is awful and pointless; it never helps, and it hurts like hell for zero gain.  If you're privileged and you do it to someone who isn't, then yes, you've added "being racist" or whatever to that awful pie you're making; but if not, you've still just been a jerk.  If you are unprivileged and the person you're mocking IS privileged, AND certain other conditions apply, then your assholeness may be tempered or even entirely forgivable — like I said, this stuff is tricky by definition.  That's why philosophers will write 15,000 words about one sentence in one situation, trying to follow all the threads.  But I'm not talking about that very particular situation:  I'm talking about when normal strangers who've done nothing to you wear a hairstyle you feel you have some reason to disapprove of, and so you mock them because a) it feels safe among your peers and b) you've convinced yourself that your moral cred as a social-justice warrior means that you can go after people you're able to label as "dudebros" or whatever with impunity.  

Good people do not mock others.  They don't "only mock [these] others”, where [these] are the ones that your peers will probably side with you on.

Good people remember that others, even if you only encounter them as models in a photo-shoot, are still people.  Maybe that guy wore braids because his parents are Norse and he thinks it's a cool throwback.  Maybe that other one just really thinks it looks cool.  Who the fuck are you to shoot them down?  (I do have other examples, but this one is recent and easy, so I'm breaking my usual style and sticking with it.  :)

I used to say, simply, "To be a good person, do not be a jerk to others."  I think, after witnessing so many people recently that I find respectable — not the Nice Church Ladies or whatever, but the social-justice warriors, the masters of talking about consent, the uber-feminists, the eco-badasses — slipping into finding their own assholery acceptable because it's theirs, that I'll have to amend that.  To be a good person, do not be a jerk to others, and do not forget that you CAN be a jerk.  Do not fall into the trap of seeing sugar on your shelf and assuming that everything that comes out of your oven will be sweet.

Thanks for letting me vent, ya'll.  Have a great weekend!  

About puredoxyk

Word addict, kungfu/taiji nut, and life-partner to polyphasic sleep. Rabid fan of as many hobbies as the world will let me pry into its piddly fourth dimension (it helps to have knocked out the wall).
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3 Responses to You too can be an asshole

  1. Ted Striker says:

    Being a “good” person makes you an authority. Authority is power. Power corrupts. Corruption is bad. “Good” is bad. So how about, “To be a good person, be a bad person”? I like bad people because they’re honest – even if they’re liars, at least you know they’re liars, so you won’t have the rug pulled out from under you. My absolute favorite part of The Lord of the Rings is when (SPOILERS) Galadriel *doesn’t* take the Ring from Frodo. She decides not to save the world, because ultimately that would destroy the world, and destroy her. “I will diminish, and go into the West and remain Galadriel.”

    • puredoxyk says:

      Wellll…your point stands, but the whole “good=bad” thing is just clever wordplay via an inaccurate equivocation.  It’s not being good that gives you that authority that makes you act badly:  It’s THINKING of yourself as Good, as One Of The Good People.  And yes, if either Galadriel or Gandalf (*my* favorite part is when HE doesn’t take the ring; it would have been so easy at that point in the story) had made the mistake of thinking of themselves as Good Guys, they’d have taken the ring and destroyed everything.  

      To be a good person, be a good person.  But always remember that you’re a PERSON, not an embodiment of Good; you can and do and will make mistakes, and you’ve got zero leg to stand on criticizing anybody else’s, even if they seem from your point of view to be “Bad”.  I’m pretty sure some seriously wise people have pointed out that the thing they credited most for their lauded moral shininess was the act of constantly reminding themselves that they were flawed.  :)

  2. John says:

    Thanks for the share! We can’t forget that we are often very similar to the people we mock.

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