198…5?

Reminder for the class:
The term “Thought Police” came up the other day in conversation, when I suggested that it’s not enough for people to just keep their racism resentfully quiet, and how the goal is for them to leave behind their racist notions altogether.
So this seems like a good time for another gentle reminder that there’s a different between a government doing something and a private citizen doing it. Between a government weighing in on an issue, and a private citizen weighing in the exact same way. Because power dynamics matter.
When a private citizen says they want people to change their minds, that’s an opinion.
When a government, or representative of one, says the same, that’s compulsion, by merit of the fact that the institution has power to DO SOMETHING about that opinion that the individual doesn’t. A government’s opinions have the weight of implication that the power of the state might stand behind them to enforce ideas of how people ought to think.
A private citizen’s ideas don’t have that weight. They don’t also set policy.
The “Thought Police” idea, and the thing that MAKES it Dangerous/Wrong/Creepy all revolves around the use of state power to enforce one preferenced thought or stance. Y’know, like when a sitting president takes sides against free speech and peaceful protest against racially disparate policing by athletes, weighing in with things he think ought to happen to these “disloyal” players who don’t show the kind of respect he wants, when he wants them to, to symbols of the nation…
This is why it’s important for government, all government, to be ideologically agnostic, and function only as a guarantor of constitutional protections, civil rights, and the rule of law.
And one of the rights it’s tasked with guaranteeing, under our constitution, is the right of individuals that their free expression of the ideas that they form and the positions that they take won’t be infringed upon by government itself.
What it doesn’t guarantee – and a right that we don’t have under the first amendment – much to the confusion and chagrin of a whole host of people online who’d benefit from a civics refresher course or two, is the right that you’ll be well-liked and approved-of for your ideas, by all people that you meet. That’s not how any of this works. Y’see your rights only extend as far as someone else’s start, and most of where people get pushback for their thought is where those thoughts start to infringe on someone else.
When your thoughts – the thoughts that Government isn’t and shouldn’t be allowed to even try to talk you out of having – include, say, the idea that Jim and Steve shouldn’t get married, average people have a right to say, “hey, wait – what you’re asking for would curb those people’s rights. that’s not ok.”
The general public, individually, gets to decide what they think of you for all the things you say. You get to read this and decide that I’m a jerk, and that’s your right. The government, on the other hand, can’t do that under the law.
Our constitution isn’t about laying down principles for how the common citizen behaves. It’s about being very clear on what the Congress can and can’t turn into Law. This is an area where people get confused ALL OF THE TIME. They say, “The first amendment says I have free speech, and that guy over there told me I should shut up! That guy is breaking the Amendment. He is WRONG.” They misapply who the Amendment is aimed at.
It’s no surprise. Three-thousand-some-odd years after the book of Leviticus was written as a holiness code for the ancient Hebrew priesthood, there are people in the modern world who think it globally applies to everyone, as well. Laws regulating one entity, because it would be wrong if that particular entity did X, tend to be misconceived by people who aren’t thinking about context, often globalized, outside of where they’re meant to be applied.
And so you get people online who think that anybody saying they don’t like things that somebody else thinks, and wishes they would change their minds, are “Thought Police.”
But it’s ok. What they really mean is they don’t like to feel judged. And nobody does. It’s natural and human. But no one guarantees you in this world that you’ll be popular or well-liked for your views, when those views underwrite, excuse, or propagate harm to your neighbors. Folks are going to push back against that stuff. That’s their right, too.
So long as government itself won’t use machinery or influence of state to change your mind, I’m sorry guys, it’s all fair play.

What Privilege

One reason conversations about privilege are so hard to accept is, the form it often takes, is in all the hidden benefit-of-the-doubt that people get for being whatever the social landscape around them classifies as “Normal.”

So when privilege is mentioned, people feel stigmatized for their “Normalcy” and don’t especially know what to do with that. They feel attacked for something they’ve always been either ignored or rewarded for in the past. They also, universally, feel like they’re being stigmatized for things they didn’t CHOOSE about themselves, which interacts negatively with one of the ways that majority-group-members can learn to map what behaviors are wrong. “Stigmatizing people for things they didn’t choose to be is wrong” is one way some people shorthand/navigate a world of prejudices into a manageable ethos. And so they end up feeling like this is being done to them, and therefore the person doing it is a bad person who doesn’t understand justice and equality. It trips a false-positive on prejudice-detection that they use in themselves, to stay in line.

Discussing this set of hidden benefits of “Normalcy” explains just about every intersecting kind of privilege in a way that sidesteps a lot of those misunderstandings. Everybody fundamentally gets that most people trust people who are Weird in some way, or deviate from their idea of Average in some way, differently. The whole idea of privilege, in practice, can be boiled down to “All the ways you’re not losing benefit-of-the-doubt with the average american by being weird/different than them or their expectations of normal.” The tie of Normalcy to Benefit-Of-The-Doubt is why police officers feel more threatened more often in nonthreatening situations by minorities than whites. The tie of Normalcy to Benefit-Of-The-Doubt is why minorities are followed around more often in stores by staff worried about shoplifting. The tie of Normalcy to Benefit-Of-The-Doubt is why being a straight white guy in a Philadelphia bar doesn’t get you beaten up for being that, nearly as often as being a not-quite-passing mexican transwoman in a Philadelphia bar.

There are a million little checkboxes we tick, that map the things about us strangers will find fault with. There are even more that just decide if they ignore us or worry about our intentions, before even speaking to us. It’s a deeply mammal thing. The more boxes for whatever constitutes Normalcy where you live, the fewer categories are likely to lose you the Benefit-Of-The-Doubt with someone new. And that benefit of the doubt can save your life. When a law enforcement officer is searching for an armed suspect, whether or not you immediately read as Suspicious or get written off as part of the background noise of a scene Really Matters, especially if your hand is coming out of your pocket.

Privilege isn’t binary. It’s not “you have this condition so you’re a bad person. But it’s important that we recognize, at minimum, and first, the ways that other people don’t receive the benefit-of-the-doubt we do, by being less “normal” than we individually are, in one way or another. His neck tattoo makes him read to strangers as lower class, diminishing his Class Privilege. Her sex tells auto mechanics that she doesn’t know much about cars and they try to rip her off more often or talk down to her, demonstrating her lack of Male Privilege (the benefits-of-the-doubt given to men but not to women) I could go on, but I think you get it.

The next time you’re encountering the word Privilege, try to translate it in your head to mean “The benefits-of-the-doubt extended to X, but not to Y.” That filter helps, until you’re comfortable enough looking at this stuff to not feel too attacked by it to examine how it shapes your day-to-day.

Ideally, we want to move toward a set of social understandings where everybody gets the benefit-of-the-doubt that everybody else gets. When that happens, the whole Grouping and Identity Politics that everyone laments won’t be necessary. Until then, just add the filter to your list of ways you interpret the world. Listen to people talk about their lives, and think about how differences in Social Class, in Income, Gender, Sex, Race and a million other metrics, contribute to the ways people react to them, and the assumptions people make about them based upon those things.

As an additional note about the psychologies of people reacting badly to discussions of White Privilege, if your sense of self and your value is grounded in the idea that you started with nothing, and nobody ever gave you anything, the idea of Privilege can make you (inaccurately) worry that someone’s telling you you were handed things you weren’t handed, or that your life was easy, neither of which are what Privilege means.

People who resent the idea of White Privilege are often arguing that they weren’t born to Wealth Privilege, which is an entirely different thing. These overlock and intersect in lots of ways because of history, with one being more predictive-than-prescriptive of the other, but it 100% doesn’t mean a person’s had an easy life or had things handed to them economically. They’re different things.

Amended

The only institution America was designed to safeguard your Free Speech against consequences from is the Government.
 
This bears repeating after no less than ten incidents this week that I’ve scrolled past, where someone runs their mouth with no concern at all for how they sound, and then gets mad – at best surprised – when people make judgements about who they are because of it.
 
So one more time – the first amendment doesn’t shield you from making a bad impression. People hear you talk and they think what they think. The same as you.
 
You’re only shielded from the state deciding what you said is daft. Not other people.
 
Not from your boss, who doesn’t like the way you’re reflecting on the company in front of its customers.
 
Not the social media site’s TOS agreement with its vested interest in making sure participants feel welcome, while you’re intent on making whole classes of people feel unwelcome and crying foul when somebody makes you feel unwelcome back.
 
Not your friends deciding they don’t like you after something that you said. People listen when we talk, and re-evaluate what’s in our heads and hearts based on the kinds of things we say.
 
Not random strangers here online who block you when they find out you’re a dick.
 
This isn’t hard, and I’m always baffled when it’s treated as a thing that’s Left VS Right. I guess it’s easier to think “yeah he’s a libtard. they just love to take offense,” than to look inward and ask, “was I just a dick to someone else? oh, yeah, I guess it makes sense that they pushed me back.”
 
We want the right to be as rude as we can be, and say whatever we want as loudly and as publicly as we can, with zero consequences levied socially – no judgements made.
 
It’s staggeringly unrealistic.
 
Nobody owes you a fair hearing and a platform. That amendment’s just about making damn sure your government won’t use the power of the state to coerce loyalty from you. That’s where it stops.

Traditionally Obstinate

It’s mostly a priorities call.

I’m all for Traditions.

I just like the ones that don’t ask anybody to live a less genuine, less fully-realized, less-complete life, because during an arbitrary snapshot of our history that we look fondly on now as the good-old-days, we didn’t know enough about X Y or Z kinds of people to see them as valid ways to exist.

I like traditions that include the serving of pie, songs we all know, the things we celebrate annually. I like traditions that we still know and approve the reasons for. Things that remind us who we are and what we love. Mostly the ones that have dessert, but also spiritual bits. I like traditions that a family makes, themselves, that make particular seasons or activities special.

Tradition, for its own sake, as a “virtue” isn’t worth the time you waste trying to tell me it’s a good enough reason to strip ThePursuitOfHappiness off someone else’s inalienable rights. Tradition, for its own sake, isn’t a reason to structure norms in such a way that some people remain an underclass while others rise. Tradition, for its own sake, is a habit, and not all habits are good. Some only feel good at the time, and later end up as the reasons that we die. Go take a cigarette break before you try and tell me that I’m wrong.

Tradition’s great, when all you mean by it is Tradition, not “a whole package of who it used to be ok to ostracize and push around back when the world was good.”

But in the vein of “this is why we can’t have nice things,” you’ve got the “of course women belong in the kitchen and minorities belong in their own dirt poor countries far away and christianity ought to be the only religion here again” WesternTraditionalism crowd ruining the word for everyone else.

So yeah. Priorities. Tradition’s great. Wherever it’s not being used as a pathetically thinly veiled escuse to maintain someone’s oppression and try to sell that as a virtue, then it’s great. But where it is? What’s more important? Liberty – real liberty? For everyone? Or how we used to do things in the past. You get to pick. You’d best pick right.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:
This message has been brought to you by the department of “some jackwagon tried to tell me that women are Simple Creatures who are Much Happier and More Fulfilled in their lives when Given Structure and returned to their Traditional social roles as the Caretakers and maintainers of the home and family, and relieved of the duty to self-direct.”

I imagine you can picture how that went…