In a post published a month ago, I argued that we should not see people as evil. This post sparked some debate on facebook and other web communities. One of the first questions I got was “X isn’t evil?”, where X stands for a derogatory label. My response was that we should not reduce a person to being seen as only such a label. And also that we should be careful with how we label behaviors in the first place.
There are at least three kinds of labels here: Labels for behaviors we don’t like, labels for emotions we don’t like, and labels for opinions or beliefs we don’t like.
Using such labels is not necessarily wrong, but we need to be careful with them. In this particular case, the person was flinging around an ambiguous label that applied to another member of the discussion group. This time, the label was “sadist”, and the first person meant it only as a slur for individuals who enjoy bullying. But the word can also mean “Person who is into BDSM, taking the role of top”, which applied to the second person – who naturally felt attacked. The first person quickly clarified that he only meant the word in the other way. A more common variant of the same situation is when someone use “gay” or “jew” as a slur, without actually intending to refer to real life homosexuals or individuals who are born into a Jewish family or embrace the Jewish faith. When you don’t intend to stigmatize sexual, ethnic or religious minorities, it is better to not use such words that way.
Replacing the ambiguous word with the more unambiguous word bully… Is a bully evil? Well, bullying is very bad. “Evil” may or may not be a too strong word, but I’m sure we can agree on the general idea. However, bullying is a bad action. That a person does a bad action does not mean that the person who does it is bad and only bad. Being a bully is bad, but no person is only a bully and nothing but a bully.
When you express dislike more than just disagreement, when you argue that something ought to be stigmatized… there’s a huge difference between doing this against a behavior, an emotion, a belief or an opinion, and on the other hand doing it against a person.
To some extent everybody do bad things and feel bad things. This doesn’t make them outright bad persons, since everybody has both good and bad in them. Arguable, everybody feel really awful things sometimes, as well. Arguably, since many will deny – even to themselves – that they ever have feelings or impulses that it would not be socially appropriate to talk about in public. Regardless of whether or not they actually do. In either case, most people are capable of keeping any bad or unaccepted impulses under control, and chose to do so. We should not have the Orwellian concept of thoughtcrime: We should not condemn people for thinking and feeling things that would become very bad things if they were made real. Condemnation should be reserved for when people actually DO really bad things – including advocacy in favor doing really bad things. Even then we should show restrain in our condemnation, avoid reducing people to being only their bad sides.
As for opinions and beliefs, we must always fight to maintain a balance. Having an opinion or a belief usually include believing that those who doesn’t share the opinion or belief – especially those who negate or invert it – are wrong. This disagreement is something we have to accept. On the other hand, this should not mean that we accept any behavior just for the sake of “agree to disagree”.
We should assume that all humans exists and that all humans are equally human. Reality is real, and it is not a conspiracy. Other people are just as valuable as you are, they are not illusion in your own head or some kinds of machines pretending to be human. Thus, we must give everyone the basic respect that comes with being persons, and acknowledge their Human Rights. This means that our beliefs and identities does not give us a right to have power over other people. Neither within the group or outside of it.
Sadly, it is common to build an identity on dividing people into “us and them” and then argue that the people who are “us” are superior while the people who are “them” are inferior creatures who should not be treated as equals. And then demand respect for this identity. Of course, this is worth nothing but contempt. While such supremacist notions should not be accepted or respected, a word of caution is needed: Identities are usually complex. We can accepts some parts of a person’s identity, while condemning others.
If someone identifies with a certain nationality or religion, encourage them to focus on the good sides of that culture or religion. But don’t let them get away with oppressing or stigmatizing other people for not being them.
An absurd argument that is sometimes voiced is that gay marriage would oppress conservative Christians by denying them their right to discriminate homosexual couples. Or that policies against bullying based on skin-color would oppress white nationalists by denying them their right to trample “der untermench” beneath their feet. Of course, they usually don’t call it oppression, justified or otherwise. They call it “daring to say the truth”, “standing up against the political correctness”, or simply “having a bit of harmless fun (never mind that it is at someone else’s expense, and often doesn’t feel so harmless for those targeted)”.
Categorism against Christianity and nationalism, of course it exists. And we need to stand up against it. For starters, most Christians and most people who love the country they were born in does not base their identity on “us versus them”. They do not consider people inferior for not sharing their religion or geographical origin, and they do not behave in ways that are reasonable to interpret that way. We need to remember this when standing up against homophobia and racism. We must not blame all Christians for homophobia done in the name of Christianity, and we must not blame everybody who have sentimental feelings about their country for racism perpetuated in the name of nationalism.
In my youth, I helped organizing some anti-racist rallies. Back in those days, there was trouble with neonazi organizations. These organizations was hated by pretty much everyone, and some people expressed their dislike by lashing out at symbols the neonazis were using. The Swedish flag. The Swedish national anthem. Thor’s hammer, an ancient symbol in our culture. Claiming these symbols for themselves as copyrighted private property, changing their meaning into expressing hatred for Jews and everyone who is not white. Those who lashed out at the symbols unwittingly helped the racist Hitler-worshippers to establish their ownership over the symbols.
The rallies I participated in organizing took a different path. We waved Swedish flags, and sometimes UN flags too. We sang the Swedish national anthem, among other songs – Swedish and otherwise. Some of us was wearing the Thor’s hammer necklace. We made our point, that Swedish culture belong to all swedes – including new swedes and all those who welcome them. Hating those you don’t consider Swedish doesn’t make you more Swedish, and it doesn’t give you any special right to our mutual heritage.
Today, the same mistake of lashing out blindly is being repeated. People are righteously outraged with the barbarism of Islamic dictatorship and totalitarian Islamist groups. To show their outrage, they fight to give these very dictatorships and groups ownership over all Muslims and over Islam itself.
Meanwhile, the whining about skin-color continues. Recently, the festival known as “Lucia” was celebrated. It is an pagan festival originally known as “Lusse”, later using the catholic saint Lucia as it’s excuse to live on in a culture where Christianity was the only permitted religion. One Swedish school put a girl of African heritage in the role of Lucia, and of course there was a lot of outrage and hatred from the “You have no right to call us racist, you should call us brave instead” subculture. Some bullshit about how this celebration oppressed their right to live in a country where only white people are included in the ancient traditions.
Sorry guys. The right to oppress is not a human right. On the contrary, the final paragraph of the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights is: “Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.”
The fact that you don’t get to oppress others don’t make you victims of oppression.