For someone who identifies as liberal and progressive, I certainly spend an odd amount of time criticizing fellow liberals and progressives. Unlike other bloggers of my general type, I don’t do all those muckraking-type posts detailing the latest scandalous Fox News segment or hypocritical Republican politician’s speech. Instead, I prefer to rip on people that I mostly agree with. Why is this?
Several reasons. First of all, getting my panties in a wad over some stupid conservative comment takes very little intelligence, and I prefer to utilize my intelligence as much as I can. The typical liberal kvetch-post usually goes something like this: “Well surprise surprise! [Insert Republican candidate here] gave a speech in [insert small conservative town here] yesterday and claimed that ‘good Christians’ should not allow gay couples to go to prom! It never ceases to amaze me how vile these Republicans are!” Or: “Last night [insert Fox News talk show host here] claimed on his show that people on welfare are ‘dirty rats pilfering our hard-earned money.’ Perhaps he should try living on welfare for a while!”
Okay, I exaggerate, but hopefully you see my point. It’s just that it takes no mental energy whatsoever to criticize people and ideas that are so ludicrous. For instance, today in Salon: talk show host Sean Hannity thinks Sesame Street is an attack on “family values” (whatever the hell that means these days), and Representative Michele Bachmann (R-Minn) apparently thinks that the US should support Israel so that the Jews can rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem and Christ can return. Um, okay.
Now, what Salon (and the liberal blogosphere in general) does with their time and webspace is their own business, but one has to wonder why so many intelligent writers would would want to waste their energy railing against the likes of Hannity and Bachmann and the rest of that entire cadre of shockingly brainless people. Because, really, what is there to actually say about the two links I just mentioned, aside from the fact that they are really stupid?
Meanwhile, most of the intelligent conservative perspectives that I’ve encountered unfortunately involve economics. For instance, Northwestern’s president, Morton Schapiro, refuses to implement a living wage for workers in dining halls, housekeeping, and etc. because he thinks this idea is economically unsound–and he’s a well-known, respected economist. No matter how much I’d love to see a living wage on campus, I can respect his opinion.
However, one little problem–I know absolutely nothing about economics, and I am prevented from learning more by the fact that I find it insufferably boring. So not only am I completely unqualified to even try to argue with the likes of Dr. Shapiro, I also have little desire to do so. (Likewise, it seems, with most liberals. The Living Wage Campaign at Northwestern, for instance, has insisted on using passion and emotion to fuel its arguments, even though President Shapiro, when asked what would convince him to implement a living wage, answered, “Good arguments.” Meaning, of course, arguments that are evidence-based and rational.)
As for why criticizing liberals is a good idea, that should be self-evident. I care deeply about seeing the causes I care about succeed. Sometimes, however, I feel that people are going about them in the wrong ways. For instance:
- I want to see gender roles eradicated, or at least reduced greatly. But I don’t think that hiding your child’s biological sex from the world is the way to do it.
- I want to see our society achieve gender equality, but not by putting men and their issues out of our conversation, using sex to manipulate others, or encouraging women to always choose work over love.
- I want to encourage mental health on campus, but doing meaningless little things like flying kites won’t necessarily help.
- I want to help businesses be more ethical, but not by childishly refusing to buy their products–and not actually doing anything to encourage them to change.
- I want to take steps to end racism, but I don’t think that blathering endlessly about stuff like “privilege” and “entitlement” does any good. (What does help reduce racism? Working together in diverse groups towards a common goal. Any social psychologist can tell you that.)
Incidentally, there are just so many types of privilege now. White privilege, male privilege, class privilege, heterosexual privilege, cis privilege, abled privilege, thin privilege, even vanilla privilege! A veritable buffet of privileges. For the record, I do believe privilege exists, in a way. But I don’t think it’s worth talking about, because bitching and moaning about it and yelling at people you disagree with about how they can’t “see past their privilege” contributes nothing useful to the larger discourse on social justice. I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t. All it does is alienate people that you might have otherwise persuaded.
I’m getting really off-topic now, but another quick comment about privilege–although this is a matter of semantics, I think it’s much more useful to view non-privileged people as disadvantaged rather than viewing privileged people as “privileged.” After all, we don’t want everyone to lose privileges like not being accused of stealing, being paid fair wages, and being able to easily find the right hair care products. Rather, we want everyone to have these privileges. So rather than implying that it’s somehow “bad” that I, as a white woman rather than a black one, can walk into a store and not be followed by a salesperson, we should be implying that it’s completely wrong that a black woman would be followed while a white one would not. Different emphasis entirely. I know any progressive would agree with me on this, and yet they persist on using language that problematizes the privileges that some of us have rather than the disadvantages that others face. The privileges I have as a middle-class, cisgender white person are privileges everyone should have. The privileges that heterosexual men have are privileges that I should have. And so on.
Back to the point. This is why, in most of the posts where I’m explicitly criticizing something, I generally propose some alternatives–organizing a protest rather than personally boycotting a store, finding a healthy balance between work and love rather than sacrificing one for the other, and so on. I hope that by doing this I have shown that I do actually care about finding solutions rather than simply criticizing things. I get a lot of satisfaction from identifying ways that things are being done wrong and suggesting ways to do them better.
But bloggers who endlessly chronicle the bon mots of Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh are doing absolutely nothing productive. I’ve always believed that a “good blog” is one that contributes something meaningful to the world rather than simply chronicling things that piss off its author.
What a brilliant post! I rarely fins myself agreeing with anybody as much as I did here. The endless blabber about how “we need to examine our privilege” is something that makes it very hard for me to read most Liberal website.
Yes. Every time I see those comments I just want to hit my head on a wall. Every time I disagree with a post about race, I need to “examine my white privilege.” Every time I disagree with a post about class, I need to “examine my class privilege.” Every time I disagree with a post about transsexuality, I need to “examine my cis privilege.” Um…or maybe I legitimately disagree with their point? NO WAY…
I don’t know what they think when I disagree with a post about gender, though. Maybe I’m secretly a man and need to “examine my male privilege?”
Thank you! 🙂
Just wanted to stop by and say that I completely agree about the baby Storm issue – I can’t say that I’m particularly aware when it comes to current events and other things, but that just pissed me off sincerely. What is hiding their child’s gender honestly solving?
Yeah…the mom recently wrote a letter to a newspaper about it, and even though she claims that she’s not doing this for the attention and that she’s been declining interview requests, well, writing a letter to a newspaper isn’t exactly going to help it die down. Also, as I mentioned in the post I wrote, the email she sent to friends and family about it was just ridiculous. Way to turn a child into a political statement.
Thanks for reading! 🙂
I think your comment on the semantics of “privilege” is off-base. Understanding society in terms of both privilege and oppression *is* fundamentally in service of activism. If my interests in feminism/anti-racism/what have you were purely theoretical, it wouldn’t matter whether or not I understood white people to have “white privilege” or “no experience being racially oppressed.” The former is obviously just a quicker way to express the latter.
But in terms of activism, understanding privilege as a separate phenomenon is fundamental. Because our privileges almost always start out as “blind spots.” So on the “women’s issues” panel that I’m hosting this year, I will have to keep in mind that there are men (with male privilege!) in attendance, and that their male privilege will make it much harder for them to understand how threatening street harassment can feel. Someone is going to have to explain it to them. If I were just addressing a group of women, I would skip right over that fact and jump to “why is it that men are allowed to make us feel uncomfortable?” A question that would confuse a man who has never been made to think about his place in the hierarchy of gender.
So things like privilege checklists, “understanding our privilege,” etc. are–when they’re done right–just tools for acknowledging the limits of your own lived experience.
I think that a lot of discussions about privilege don’t immediately acknowledge this fact, which does make them kind of pointless. But dismissing a valid concept because it is sometimes misunderstood is intellectually lazy. Why not just call out the misuse? Especially if you want to take a stance against being unproductive.
Yeah, I see your point. I should have clarified that the issue I take with the concept of privilege is the way I see it discussed most often–which is the way Clarissa mentions in her comment above. What you’re doing for your panel is a completely different discussion than I ever see in the liberal blogosphere. I never see “Because you’re male, you have the privilege of not experiencing street harassment, so let me explain it to you.” What I see is more like “What a naive comment. Come back when you’ve examined your male privilege.” Comments like that really don’t help anyone.
In any case, thanks for reading and responding!
You don’t think they help women who want to have a discussion beyond “yeah, no. That really isn’t okay”?
Though I agree that there *is* a lot of useless “privilege examining!” Which has the extra bonus of re-focusing the conversation on the people who aren’t actually being marginalized (talking about racism sometimes leads to ridiculous shows of “white guilt,” and so on).