Action Barriers Part 3: Blame

Part 2: Guilt
Part 1: Defensiveness

(I do still exist, I just moved in to a new apartment last week and have been busily doing many things that are not writing)

In the trifecta of reasons why our friend P doesn’t have to do anything about sexism, racism, homophobia and oppression, though he knows they exist, recasting blame is the most frustrating to deal with, in my experience. Again, it’s interconnected with both defensiveness and guilt, but I feel like there’s an extra layer to unpack in dismantling these blame-deflections before we can get at the actual point.

There are tons of variations of the blame theme, all amounting to “Everything is fine here in my corner. Look over there.” Claims of reverse discrimination, saying that “real” racism now comes from POC, casting blame on feminism for the ills of men. These are pretty obvious tactics for making sure that, whatever else is going on, we’re not talking about P and we’re probably no longer talking about oppression.

The variation I’m most frustrated with lately is the blame that excuses inaction by refocusing on the missteps of those who speak out in the first place. Al Gore shouldn’t get the Nobel Peace Prize because he drives a private jet, John Edwards talks the anti-poverty talk but gets a $400 haircut, Bono has no right to tell us to do something against global poverty unless I see just how much money he’s personally giving to the cause. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Look over there. It’s not that these people aren’t right, it’s just that I don’t have to listen to them if they’re not perfect.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t criticize these people for their shortcomings, or that we should excuse, say, a self-identified feminist who ends up saying something racist or even sexist. I, personally, want to be called to constant self-improvement and have no expectation that I’ll ever reach 100% on the mythical scorecard I’ve been inventing, but I’d like for people who care about me and about the world to help me get closer.

The thing about focusing on the stones that Gore is throwing, Bono is throwing, Edwards is throwing, and then pointing to their glass houses is that all you’ve done is throw your own, slightly smaller stone, and now you’ve retreated into your own glass house. Why does Gore’s jet and John Edwards’ hair matter? In what way are those things standing in the way of making changes to your won life, from seeing the opportunities to have a positive, creative impact that are staring you in the face?

I’m not grading my own moral self-evaluation on a curve. Someone else did something worse, the next someone else neglected to notice something equally or more important, and another someone else falls short or is a hypocrite. Fine. Agreed. Also irrelevant, and leading us to talk again about why not to act, why not to change, when, just like when we somehow ended up on not-rapists and not-racism, that’s the exact opposite of the point.

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5 thoughts on “Action Barriers Part 3: Blame

  1. Richie says:

    I used to run into this a lot when I was failing to convince geekboys to stop being raging asshats. There was an especially shitty variation where they’d wade into an argument they weren’t previously involved in and try to shut it down by blaming both sides simultaneously. Always with this incredibly patronising undercurrent of “OK, kids, stop arguing now, you’re both right in your own special ways”. Like, total neutrality on the issue was the only reasonable stance because neither side was indisputably right, and anybody who disagreed was a blinkered extremist who should calm down and listen to the amazing insight of twentysomething white guy #36-A.

  2. purtek says:

    One of the motivations for this series was the recurrent theme of a coworker (twentysomething white female, but nonetheless) who continually points back to the idea of equal validity in argument/agree to disagree…I don’t understand how people don’t understand that “neutrality” is not neutral, and that there are plenty of positions where somebody is actually just *right*, or if not completely comprehensively right, at least way more right than the opposite viewpoint (like, say, climate change). And then think that they’re being all magnanimous and I’m just some kind of know-it-all bitch when the reality is, their gracious acknowledgment is, as you say, both condescending and silencing.

  3. Richie says:

    Yeah. And there’s also this sense of, you know, if they don’t understand what the big fuss is about, then it must not matter at all. I remember during the last US election there was this big political debate on the forum I ran and this guy who’d previously had no input at all just barged in and said “I wish you’d calm down, there’s nothing wrong with voting for Bush OR Kerry”, and we’re all supposed to kneel before his superior wisdom or something. Thanks, guy. Then the subject changes to video games and suddenly that’s worth him getting hyper-defensive and angry about, so it’s nice to know he’s got perspective.

  4. purtek says:

    if they don’t understand what the big fuss is about, then it must not matter at all

    Ah, the P who has all the time to see and know and develop the distanced, rational perspective. This one usually thinks he’s *totally* being both an iconoclast, by espousing this awesomely revolutionary “Can’t we all just get along” idea, as well as a uniting, moderating force who will bring both sides to see the value of the other’s points. The thought that some of us may actually have spent significant amounts of time prior to this considering those points is not on his radar.

    The video game debates would be amusing if these people didn’t spend all that energy trying to shut us up.

  5. Richie says:

    “The thought that some of us may actually have spent significant amounts of time prior to this considering those points is not on his radar.”

    Oh Christ, this hit total crisis point when this guy was claiming that rape couldn’t possibly be that big a problem because prisons aren’t overflowing with rapists, ergo they obviously aren’t committing it. So I linked to a bunch of rape statistics sites, and after a five minute pause, he shoots back with “those numbers don’t add up”. I should have just blocked him then and there.

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