Tuesday, January 24, 2017

How you feel about the rights of peaceful bigots probably depends on their skin color

All around the world, there are dumb or uneducated people who hold bigoted beliefs – racism, sexism, homophobia, religious intolerance, etc.  We can divide these people into three groups:

·        Group A is a bunch of vaguely and accidentally prejudiced people who simply don’t know any better.  They would not describe themselves as bigoted, in part because they are too uninformed or isolated from those different than themselves to understand how their culturally ingrained prejudices uphold oppressive institutions.  Examples of people I would categorize as group A bigots include Sean Hannity, Tomi Lahren, many members of my own family, and most of the world’s conservative religious fundamentalists.  It includes people who say things like “gay marriage is wrong” or “sex equals gender,” but not people who say things like “blacks are an inherently inferior race” or “Hitler did nothing wrong.”

·        Group B is a much smaller group of more hateful and misinformed people who are openly and explicitly bigoted.  These people may or may not condone violence against other races, religions or sexualities in the abstract, but they do not personally engage in physical violence against anyone.  Examples of people I would categorize as group B bigots include David Duke, Fred Phelps, certain members of the alt-Right, and the enormous portions of global Muslims who believe that terror bombings are justifiable, and/or that homosexuality, adultery, or blasphemy should be punished by death.

·        Finally, group C is a much smaller group of bigots who become so radicalized in their hatred of certain groups that they actually attempt to personally enact violence on their perceived enemies.  Examples of Group C bigots include Dylan Roof, Omar Mateen, Adolf Hitler and people in ISIS.

Almost everyone agrees that violence is justifiable against the people in group C as means of preventing them from wielding violence on others.  Hardly anyone thinks violence is warranted against the many ignorant but well-meaning people in group A.  What to do with group B, on the other hand, is where political biases reveal themselves.

So far as I can tell, the instinct of the typical American conservative appears to be that if the person in group B is white or Christian, they are entitled to freedom of movement and full constitutional rights, including a conception of free speech so robust that it is violated when private student groups at private universities disinvite them as speakers on campus; however, if the person is brown or Muslim, they are a statistical threat to our society so grave that their 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, and 8th amendment rights (at least) may rightly be violated if they are citizens, and they should not be permitted to live here if they are not.

The instinct of the typical progressive, by contrast, is that if the person in group B is brown or Muslim, they cannot be faulted for their draconian intolerance, because those beliefs are merely a product of their native culture or environment and society has not always been fair to them, such that any criticism or mockery of such people’s beliefs is racist and amounts to figuratively “punching down;” however, if the person in group B is white, you can and should quite literally punch them on sight, and sneer and curse and throw things at them and interrupt their sentences and vandalize their homes and send them hate mail and arrest them if they dare to exercise their rights, because white people are privileged and anything done in the name of erasing privilege is fair game.

The reactionary clash between these inverted instincts has animated a greater portion of the past year’s online debates than I would have previously thought possible.  Almost zero of this debate has been productive, and almost all of it has stoked an anger and tribalism that is tearing this country apart at the seams – and I’m SO              FUCKING              TIRED of it.

Libertarianism strikes me as the only coherent ideology in the whole damn country that is divorced enough from race-based cultural biases to be even-minded about this question.  The NAP applies evenly to people of all skin tones, and it says that the initiation of violence is wrong.  Period!  People in group C have already initiated, or are already initiating, direct physical violence against others.  People in groups A and B have not, and have no plans to.  Ergo, wielding (defensive) force on group C is okay, and wielding (aggressive) force on groups A and B is not.

There are times the NAP may be ethically violated, and there is nuance to figuring out when those times are. But the skin color of those coerced does not determine those occasions. To believe in equal rights for people of all races is to believe in equal rights for bigots of all races. Do that. Figure out for yourself which circumstances you feel justify restricting rights, and then apply that standard evenly across the board. Divorce yourself from whatever defensive biases currently guide your political instincts. And whatever you do, stop churning out commentary that’s nothing but reflexive racial tribalism. Nothing productive will come from it and plenty destructive already has.

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