Bullshit is Still Bullshit
As I write this, the following message posted by McPherson Explains It All is trending on Facebook with over 2370 shares:
This sort of logic is becoming worryingly prevalent. It’s worrying to me because it’s intellectually bankrupt, and, if it’s more widely adopted, it will do nothing to better society. In fact, it will do the opposite.
The last two sentences of McPherson Explains It All’s post are the only parts with any possible meaning. The rest is pure bullshit. If we care to think about it a little more, much of it is demonstrably ludicrous.
Example 1: A man is talking to a woman. The woman says women should know their place and that it is a woman’s role to look after men, children and their home. The man cannot call her out on that outdated bullshit view because he is a man and doesn’t get to decide what misogyny is.
Example 2: Two colleagues at work. One white and one black. The black person uses a racist slur about an Asian person (or even a white person). The white colleague does not challenge their colleague about their behaviour because they don’t get to decide what racism is.
Example 3: Two rich people are chatting and one of them exhibits very classist views about poor people, including saying that they should have to have a license to breed. But it can’t be called out as bullshit as the rich person who thinks that what the other rich fella said is bang out order, simply doesn’t get to define what is classist.
Example 4: Etc, etc. (I think you get my point).
In any case, there are way too many assumptions in McPherson Explains It All’s post about who holds privilege when in reality it’s massively nuanced and changes significantly depending on the circumstances.
A poorly educated unemployed working-class white person in destitute conditions doesn’t hold much privilege compared to a black middle-class well-educated well-paid employed person living in relative comfort. If that black person called the white person ‘cracker’ or refused to serve him simply because he’s white, then are we to say based on the widely shared argument above that this is not racism or do we get to say that this one of the exceptional circumstances in which we can agree that the behaviour of a person of a race that is generally less privileged in society can be racist to a person of a race that is generally more privileged?
If we see people on the internet saying, hmm, I don’t know, shit like this:
Are we supposed to just say: “Well white people hold overall societal and structural privilege therefore what they’re saying is okay”?
Perhaps a white person is expected to respond to these comments as: “Who am I to criticise? I am white therefore must not dare to question whether this way of thinking might be detrimental to society.”
Just because a ‘victim’ is within a more privileged demographic or part-demographic doesn’t mean we should redefine the entire concept of prejudice in order to exclude them from ever claiming legitimate victimhood or observing the prejudice of others.
Society regresses if it increasingly rejects people from being heard or taken seriously on the simple basis of their identity, regardless of whether they hold some privileges or whether a demographic they belong to is linked to higher societal privileges.
McPherson Explains It All’s widely shared message is basically calling on us to produce a more regressive society. He even has the temerity to pretend that it’s in the name of progressivism. In fact, his very argument is actually encouraging prejudice, based, perhaps, dubiously on what Bertrand Russell defined as ‘the superior virtue of the oppressed’ thinking.
I’ve written a fair amount in response to similar arguments to McPherson Explains It All’s post, and I think it’s fair cop for me to share them here.
In Discouraging Solidarity, I wrote:
“The… skewed understanding and over-extension of… important and useful frameworks — that stress the importance of considering hegemonic and cultural relationships, individuality of actors, and being aware of one’s own privilege and the dangers of making assumptions about large groups of people — have resulted in the oblivious hypocrisy of addressing white people as a homogenous whole.”
It’s almost embarrassing for me to feel the need to say this, but I’m conscious of how easily my points could be misunderstood given the current climate of online (and offline) regressive-leftism, so I might as well express it clearly here. I’m not saying that white people don’t have more privilege in general. Black people and people of colour/minority ethnics/non-whites are far more likely to have encountered and suffered from (and continue to encounter and suffer from) systematic prejudice. However, this does not mean, for even a fucking second, that racism can or should be redefined so that a person of colour (or any person for that matter) who exhibits prejudice against a white person for the fact that they are white is not being racist. The same goes for sexism — yes, we live in an overall patriarchal society, but if a person acts with prejudice against a man for the reason that they are a man, then their act is sexist.
All in all, I can’t help but feel that… the people who write guides for white people are impotent at bringing about the genuine change they want to see because they disincentivise too many people from standing up to oppression by demanding that, before they stand up to it, they do a full and rigorous privilege check first and learn the entire history of imperialism and systematic prejudice. In too many cases, people are silenced before even daring to offer an opinion or demonstrate solidarity.
In The Myth of the Feminist Hijab, I wrote this:
“Worryingly, both post-structuralism and intersectionality frequently serve as catalysts towards a form of relativism which hijacks relevant and important debate or discourse by automatically dispensing an author from that debate by virtue of their privilege, rather than the strength of their argument.”
“In essence, there seems to be an increasing movement advocating for opinions or arguments to be ignored based on who holds them, rather than their content. If such a logic prevails, it only serves to limit our opportunity for relevant debate, discourse and, ultimately, development in almost any conceivable subject, providing an immoral protection to subject matter by notions of identity.”
“[This way of thinking] contributes to a highly irresponsible position when one might have an opportunity to prevent or limit something harmful, but, instead, cowardly refuse to do so for fear of being perceived as so culturally insensitive to define an act as harmful in the first place.”
“This logic, as Allen Wood explains is: ‘…totally incapable of combating any form of culturally entrenched imperialism, racism or ethnocentrism. For whenever we find these ugly things built into a culture’s beliefs, cultural relativism is committed to endorsing them.’”
What we’re seeing and seem to be increasingly seeing with the sort of argument posted by McPherson Explains It All and the fact it’s been so zealously shared by others, is an over-extension of privilege-checking to a point of stupidity. Privilege checking is hugely important, but that shouldn’t translate to silencing entire demographics nor should it translate to automatically redefining entire concepts and words.
Maybe the point that McPherson Explains It All was trying to make was that people belonging to privileged groups don’t get to decide what’s not racist, homophobic, etc. Okay, maybe he was trying to make that point, but that point is still bullshit.
Let’s say that I say something negative about Israel (e.g. The ongoing occupation of Palestine is illegal and should cease immediately) and a Jewish friend says that what I said is anti-Semitic. Sure, I can try and explore the issues with my friend, but bullshit is still bullshit. I actually do get to decide whether what I said is anti-Semitic. I certainly don’t just have to accept that what I said was racist if it wasn’t racist.
The determining factor for whether what I said is racist (or not racist) should be based on coherent and logical argument. I shouldn’t automatically be defined as racist simply because a person is upset by something I’ve said and considers it racist. Surely the basis as to whether what I said was racist should be about the overall content, the overall intent, whether there is any logical evidence for such a proposition, and, of course, contextual basis.
If the claim that my comment is racist is based on incoherent and irrational argument or logic, then it it’s hard to see how it has any basis in reality. Similarly, it’s impossible to see that there is in any logical basis to say that white people don’t get to decide what is racist, just as there is no basis to say that men don’t get to decide what’s misogynistic, just as there is no basis to say that straight people don’t get to decide what is homophobic, etc.
Those arguments are incoherent and irrational. The logic is bullshit. And we should call out bullshit when we come across it — especially when we notice people trying to hide it — because, otherwise, society might end up stepping in it.