Monday, 23 March 2015

Compare and Contrast

I'd like to do something quite unfair, but I think revealing. Below I have two arbitrary snippings from my social media wossnames, which serve to illustrate two extreme perspectives on the concept of privilege. Both are trimmed of all subsequent comments, and I've kept them anonymous to focus on the words over all else.

The first is extreme in the sense of thinking about it a whole lot and really wanting to share understanding of it with others:

Seems very straightforward to me.

The second is extreme in the opposite sense, in refusing to think about it so much that anyone suggesting that it should be thought about must be fought off.

Also... straightforward, I guess? The full context behind this was the choice of cover art for a comic.

The contrast is stark. The former is calmly explaining not just that there is a problem, but why there is a problem, and why we all ought to take a part in addressing it. It's not maximally comprehensive - it's only a few paragraphs long - but it gets to the core of the issue quite effectively. Apart from the final line's snark, it could easily be a Captain Picard speech.

The latter is not calm, not cogent, not anywhere near as well thought through. It's not even one of the badly written Captain Archer speeches. But the key difference, to me, is the perfectly self-centered nature of it. DC must do what this guy wants. Anyone with any other ideas can't possibly have their own valid goals and points of view, they secretly just want to screw with this guy, because this guy's enjoyment of comics is the focus of all things, to everyone. They must also not get in the way of what this guy wants. Anyone who does is a nasty, evil Social Justice Warrior, and this guy curses them with the threat of the mighty Streisand Effect. Because a corporate content choice based on any sort of public input that isn't what this guy wants is the same thing as evil censorship.

It's kind of sad. Especially the complete inability and/or refusal to accept that other people might have real needs, and that these needs might be more pressing than a mere comic. And I say this as a seasoned comic reader, with a collection begun in the '80s, and as a former comic shop sales monkey. I am not anti-comic, they're generally good and positive things on average, but they clearly aren't very important compared with most social problems. Suggesting the reverse is your choice of madness or stupidity.

But I don't think this is even about comics, really. I'd say this is an expression of the exact opposite of what that first person was talking about, the solidarity, the surrender, the clamping down in the name of friendship and cooperation and progress. When you won't do any of those things, apparently you freak the fuck out in the opposite direction, opting for lonely, bitter, self-satisfying solitude over difficult, uncomfortable solidarity. And I have to admit, I do kind of get it.

There's an interesting concept called White Fragility, and I think it's hardly any leap at all to apply fragility to other privileged/oppressed discussions too. Back in apartheid days, my mom made damn sure I was aware of our white privilege. It made me cringe with embarrassment and helplessness every time it came up, because I was 5 or 6, and I really was helpless back then. But that ensured I couldn't feign ignorance as an adult, and I felt no fragility about that. Much trickier was my entry into feminism. That was something I only really started taking fully seriously in my late 20s, and my early- to mid-20s were a regrettable messy series of things going wrong in conversations between me and women, someone kindly explaining my error to me, and my male fragility utterly failing to accept any of it, thus making things much, much worse. There are quite a few women (and a smaller number of men) who quite rightly haven't spoken to me since those days.

But I got over that fragility, I toughed up and learned to accept that I can't have every damn thing my own way all the time. And my life has been much more pleasant ever since.

I'm sure you could find a better written piece to replace the second thing I quoted, something intellectually on the same level as the first piece. I did admit right at the start that I wasn't being totally fair here. But why would you want to? Explaining things well is important, obviously, but the choice here boils down towards the extremes of "help other people" and "fuck other people". And no amount of intellectual rigour really makes the latter a nice thing.

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