Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bigotry feels itself aggrieved, part 1

I have a working rule about bigotry and in particular about those who try to justify willful injustices.  I believe such people convince themselves that they are victims of the very victims against whom the injustices are perpetrated.  They feel themselves aggrieved by the victims and use that sense of grievance in a process of self-seduction to support something they might not otherwise believe justifiable.

By "willful injustice" I mean an injustice that someone chooses to do when they could have chosen otherwise.  I do not mean an instance where someone weighs all options, finds them all unjust, but must make a decision and tries to choose the least unjust option possible.

By "seduction," I mean making an argument to convince the will to accept something otherwise unacceptable.  By "self-seduction," I mean the person bears some fault both for succumbing to the argument and for engaging in it.  It is not necessarily the fault of the person alone.  Wider discourses about why "those people" need to be segregated, or why "those people" need to be disfranchised or why "we" need to expropriate (the word "steal" is not used) "their" land--they aid in the process.  But the person is an active participant.  The person sees the apple and knows that it is bad and yet convinces him-/herself that it would be nice to play god and to make themselves the final arbiter of what is just.

The feeling of grievance cum bigotry can manifest itself in many ways, and in future posts I shall explore my idea further and provide examples to illustrate.  But there are two challenges to what I've written so far that I should acknowledge even though I can't fully resolve them.

First, I haven't actually defined "bigotry" here.  The dictionary definition of a bigot goes something like this: "a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially :  one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance."  The problem with that defintion, as with many dictionary definitions, is that it doesn't really explore the qualifiers, especially the adverbs and adverbial phrases:  obstinately, intolerantly, with hatred, with...intolerance.  I submit that most people whom we can accurately describe as bigots either do not see themselves as obstinate, intolerant, etc. or delude themselves into thinking that they are not.  Indeed, that's another way of summing up what I'm arguing in this post, that bigotry feels itself aggrieved.  Still, I realize that my framing is circular.  I'm stating it is because it is.  I'm not proving it.

Second, and somewhat related, my hypothesis presumes something about the internal states of others.  It can therefore be construed as a judgment upon those others of the sort theNew Testament warned against:
Judge not, that ye be not judged.
For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Now, whatever my actual practice, I do not in theory really think it's acceptable to impose moral judgments on others' souls.  (That doesn't, by the way, mean I believe all "judgment" is necessarily wrong, just that certain kinds of judgment are off-limits for mere mortals.)  But by introducing the ideas of "self-seduction" and "willful injustice," I am edging toward something that looks like a judgment.

My response to those two points--that I define "bigotry," if at all, in a circular way and that I am judging the internal states of others--is to partially concede the point but also to redirect how I want to use this concept.  I think we need to look at bigotry not as an isolated phenomenon, but as a way to measure our actions.  The goal, then, becomes not which of our actions is bigoted, or who is bigoted, but rather in what ways our (or others') actions are bigoted.  People who feel themselves especially aggrieved or victimized by others do, in my opinion, really believe at some level that they are aggrieved, even though I also argue that feeling or belief is partially a product of self-delusion.  We lie to ourselves and we are responsible for the act of lying, but we do on some level believe the lies.

As I provide further examples in later posts, I hope my general statements here become clearer.

No comments: