Friday, August 9, 2013

Taking Offense

Some more random thoughts about how to construe hatred (hot and cold, small and grand) from other people in a way that minimizes harm and maximizes benefit. 

I. Offense must needs come, it seems to me. If I must be offended in order that somebody else may live freer and at greater ease (with herself and the world), then I am willing to be offended (especially when the offense comes through words). I embrace the reality that my psyche is blind and weak, and I seek to temper it, hardening it through manageable adversity to the point where it can encounter hatred and misunderstanding in the world without falling apart.

Serving a foreign LDS mission was eye-opening in this regard, in a very useful way (as was growing up in the Deep South, where my Mormonism made me an automatic outsider among the evangelical Christians who constituted the majority of my neighbors). People hated me--as a foreigner, as an American, as a Mormon. There was nothing I could do. I might smile or snarl, and the result would be the same (with this one difference, that snarling was likely to cause physical confrontations that might easily end much worse than the endless flytings). I learned to grin and bear it. It was hard sometimes, but very worthwhile. If I could listen to the hatred of the Spanish people for me patiently, then I can listen patiently to feedback from people to whom I appear, to my consternation, as an advocate for chauvinism or slavery or some other kind of thuggish behavior.

Nietzsche goes hard on contemporary Christianity for being decadently soft (if I get him right). I think this is what he means, that too many of us project our own weakness onto other people (demanding that they be strong where we are weak) instead of looking inward and steeling ourselves to face our demons however we must (mustering the courage to let others be honest about how threatening and insensitive they find us, even when we come with what we see as peaceful intentions).

II. It seems to me that almost all attempts to define just hierarchy are doomed (historically, when we judge them by their fruits over some arbitrary time period). I don't believe in just hierarchy, personally (except as a fiction in the minds of philosophers like Plato or Hegel). The most we can hope for is more non-fatal volatility in whatever hierarchy (feminist patriarchy) we have got going at the moment. Shift the burden of leadership around more. Let someone else screw the world (and take the blame for that) or save it (and take the credit). Maximize opportunities for the oppressed du jour to recover from their bad luck without being destroyed.

Sometimes, that means that we have to hear things we don't like (no matter who we are). We need to be OK with that. And at some point it is always good to "shut up and listen" (no matter who we are) and even "take our toys and leave" (no matter who we are, again: nobody should hang about somewhere they feel threatened, even if the threat is entirely harmless to somebody else). My sister has Celiac disease. If she eats our mom's whole wheat bread, she starts dying (literally). I don't. My sister shouldn't have to eat bread because I can. Hierarchy (feminist patriarchy) is like food, I think, a necessary poison that all of us must come to grips with individually, subjectively, as we can (not as someone else tells us to).

There is not one -archy to rule them all. There shouldn't be. To the extent that there is, it inevitably becomes hell on earth (no matter who runs it).

III. Any actionable opinion carries inherent the potential to become painfully, dangerously personal. It becomes personal ("about me") when people judge me for looking or speaking a certain way--as though my superficial physical resemblance to rapists made me a rapist, as though my hesitation to lynch every accused rapist meant that I endorse rape.  

People should do whatever they feel a need to do in order to feel safe. If that means they take me for a rapist, I am open to that--provided I have the option of then avoiding (or ending) any relationship with those who have no use for me (for reasons that I absolutely do not invalidate: if my appearance or expression scares people, then I need to know it, preferably before I am lynched).  

Some of your relationships will always be unsalvageable, historically speaking. Nobody should have to live with constant fear (or domination or whatever anyone wants to call it). Sometimes, divorce is necessary (by which I mean separation physical and psychological, separation that might be permanent). If my wife ever reaches a place where her relationship with me is unbearable, where I am the proverbial ball-and-chain, then I will encourage her to dump me (and not feel any remorse about it, at least not any that she doesn't want to feel). 

Nobody owes me a life free from challenge, a life of "privilege" (however anyone wants to define that). And I don't want to be caste in the role of "leader" (which I have never sought, not even when I come to places like this and write advice that some readers might construe as authoritative: my opinion on anything is worth to you precisely what you make of it, which might be nothing or a great deal--your decision, not mine).

For those with kids, I think the best we can do is emphasize the importance of respecting other people as individuals (giving them maximal freedom to be honest and autonomous without regard for their genitalia)--and then let the cards fall. If that means that my kids crash and burn (failing in every way society measures success, e.g. in terms of establishing themselves in stable long-term relationships and living above grinding poverty), then I will still be happy--provided my kids are polite. I care more about how my kids react than what happens to them. As long as they retain the ability to love (themselves and others) authentically, I don't care much about anything else (though of course I won't go out of my way to set them up for failure!).

IV. We all give offense, but only the really good people take it well.  I cannot make myself utterly inoffensive, but I can learn to attune myself those around me, trying to see how they perceive me and adjust my persona accordingly (so that I don't hurt them unnecessarily).  I can make the offenses I receive opportunities for growth rather than threats to an imaginary personal security (that I must renounce as a dangerous lie: I am never utterly safe--from other people or to them).

One common cause for offense is the natural desire we have to protect ourselves and those close to us from what we perceive as harm.  If I see my wife or my kids (or my friend or my sibling) in a social circumstance where they appear overwhelmed, I step in and try to help them (by talking other people down, shouting them down if necessary, and even "taking charge" momentarily to defuse the situation: physical confrontation is not off the table as an appropriate response, though it is one that I have been fortunate to avoid most of my adult life, probably because of my lucky childhood, which involved lots of time practicing and thinking about fighting). This is not done because I am a man (or a Mormon or a white supremacist or an American or a liberal or a hero or a scumbag), but because I don't like to see people I love suffering uselessly (some suffering is necessary, useful for growth, helpful--a fact I respect).

I think this "urge to protect" is something that transcends gender (my wife can be very protective of our kids and me in this same way, for example)--but it sometimes becomes gendered (when certain people, for historical reasons, assume that having male anatomy means "being the default protector"). The problem with this "default" position is that it inevitably infantilizes and weakens (psychologically at the very least) the "protected" by placing them in a place of default dependency ("help! save me! I need protection!"). Stepping out of a dependent relationship is always hard (like learning to walk after spending one's entire life crippled--a nice/awful gendered example that comes to mind is the practice of female foot-binding in ancient China). For those who have experience with the Mormon "faith crisis" (or whatever anyone wants to call it), it is very much like "leaving the church"--an experience involving shock and awe, anger, defensiveness, aggression, PTSD, and eventually a new stasis (we hope! I like to think I have found one, anyway).

As you move forward from a personal crisis of identity that involves confronting and removing unhelpful dependency, it is not always possible to salvage relationships whose existence dates to "before the crisis" (certainly not in the same form they had then). Ceasing to be a dependent is not a painless process. It produces a lot of "bad results" (no matter whose perspective one takes: I see bad results of my own faith crisis every day), but that does not mean that it is a fundamentally evil process (one that should be avoided or squelched). The only thing worse than dying free is living an entire life enslaved to some empty shadow of yourself that you loathe. This is true whether one is male or female (Mormon or evangelical, black or white, American or not). If women (or Mormons or Americans or black people or white people) want to rebel or hate men (or Mormons or Americans or black people or white people or me personally) as part of their quest for freedom, I am open to that. I embrace it. Be impotent and angry (from somebody's perspective). Waste your life (from somebody's perspective). At least it will be yours, and for that I personally will respect you (even if we disagree about something important and/or you hate my guts).

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