Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"It's what you do that defines you."

It's a frightening thing to realize that someone you're talking to doesn't disagree with you because they're coming from a vastly different set of values, but because they've never actually thought very hard about how to apply values the two of you allegedly share. The moment you realize this is the moment you realize that you are fighting a losing battle, and it's an appropriate time to walk away (or run screaming from the unspeakable Cthulhoid horror that is their critical thinking ability).

Of course, there are other options. I could sit and explain things in terms they perhaps have not heard before. I could have a long discussion in which I dig down into people's self-images and alleged values to force them to look at their own decisions as closely as I'm looking at them.

I could get them to think about themselves, instead of being blindly reactionary. I've done it before, so I know it's possible. But lately my immediate reaction to someone who says, "I think all Americans should be equal under the law," but also says that legally "redefining marriage" to include everybody is wrong... is to write them off.

How about another example? A missionary telling me that they respect the beliefs of people they're evangelizing to--even if they still think those people would be better off abandoning them.

How about another, you ask? Someone who claims that children shouldn't be raised by two men because they need the judgment and influence only a mother can offer, but that that same mother isn't morally mature enough to be allowed to decide for herself whether to bear a child in the first place.

There are more. Someone who knows they should seem informed to be taken seriously, but who replies to all offered evidential proof with, "we could all link statistics all day and it wouldn't mean anything."

Maybe those people who know it's bad to say black people are inherently inferior to white people, but still don't want their daughters dating them, or voting for them.

I'm anthropology-girl. It's my job to pay attention to people and try to make sense of them. But is it really worth the trouble to do this with people who aren't even paying attention to themselves? I just want to send one last message and then ignore them forever. "I don't have time to teach you the critical thinking skills necessary to compare and contrast the contradictory things you claim to believe."

I think the problem here is a disconnect between how people want to be seen and how they are. It's "politically correct" to avoid expressing overtly homophobic, jingoistic, misogynist, anti-intellectual or racist sentiments, and doing so will cause you social disruptions. The problem is that people have internalized these growing cultural expectations without actually thinking about why. This means that they don't understand why it's bad to be homophobic or racist. Just why it's bad to get caught.

If you don't want people to think that you're scared of what'll happen if homosexuals are equal under the law, maybe you should really ask yourself why people with those fears are reviled as ignorant or bigoted.

If you don't want people to think that you're an arrogant fanatic, maybe you should ask yourself why people treat missionaries like they're arrogant fanatics.

If you think a woman cannot be trusted with a choice (but can be trusted with a child), maybe you should ask yourself why people seem to think you're cornering women into a single social role.

If you don't think research can prove anything, why do you think people treat you like this is a bad thing that makes you uninformed?

If you don't want to be seen as racist, ask yourself what it is that makes people think racism is destructive.

Ask yourself questions. Figure yourself out. Don't make me do it for you, because I just might show you a person you've been taught to dislike. I just might show you the person I've seen all along: someone who will claim to hold whatever values make them look like a good person, but who works against those values whenever they think they won't get caught.

In my current frustration, I can't help but think that these people are either completely comfortable with hypocrisy, or they're just too damned dull for the sustained critical thinking necessary to detect hypocrisy in the first place. This isn't to say that all people who disagree with me must be either evil or stupid. But people who disagree with me and claim to be upholding the very values they are eroding... they're a different story.

The shortest way to say this? "Be what you would seem to be." If you wouldn't uncritically accept someone else's beliefs without comparing them to their actions... why should anyone accept yours?

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