A while ago, in Writing Excuses (fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry and they’re not that smart) they had a host who said something interesting. She said that a good writer should write around two blog-posts a day.
I didn’t have a blog back then, but I’ve been binge-listening to Writing Excuses for a little secret project of mine, and realized that hey, she’s incredibly right. It’s not just a matter of writing regularly and a large amount, it’s a matter of putting stuff out there and placing oneself in the position of the audience.
So… I’m gonna do that. Two blog posts a day. At least for one week. Now is as good a place to start as any.
This is the first blog post of today. I’m not at a thousand words yet, what to put, what to put…
Okay. I know! This one has been burning in my head for a while.
Dignity versus Functionality
Way back when Donald Trump won the election, one of my favourite blatantly-elitist online bloggers wrote this long piece about the election . In the piece, titled “Here’s what I don’t get” (published Nov 10 by Moviebob, in case the link breaks), is one long and relatively eloquent rant about the election. It’s not very different from many of the other rants, and it doesn’t make any observations that weren’t made elsewhere. In many ways, it is kind of typical, and in the ways that it is not typical (“I’m mad because I’m not talented or clever enough to make it in a world that’s no longer arranged for someone like me to just coast on perceived labor-force necessity and resent having to adjust.”) it is kind of classist and disrespectful and… douchey.
Then there’s the end, though.
The end is this thing that has been echoing in my head for months, ever since I read it. The end keeps coming to me time and again when I see ____-ism happening, when I talk to my friends and they tell me about having to deal with stupid shit. The end comes back to me every time I see somebody writing a piece on tone policing and on victim-blaming, every time I see an argument about societal structure or about hate speech or about the way that black kids are presented in America in the news. It comes to me every time somebody says something about “rights being taken away”, or about laws “asking people to die”.
In the end, Moviebob says this:
It will be The Democrats […] asking the marginalized people to swallow not just their pride but their basic sense of self worth and convincingly ask: “What can I do to make my life worth protecting to you?”
Forget not knowing how anyone summons the will to do that – I don’t even know how you ASK someone to so much as TRY to do that.
Explain that to me.
And I keep wondering if there really is something that wrong with that. I keep wondering if that terrible thing is really that terrible. When it is literally your life, why not? Why not swallow your basic sense of self worth and convincingly ask “what can I do to make my life worth protecting to you?”?
It seems to me that the reason why not is because it would be demeaning, insulting, hurtful, and stupid, but… it’s better to be an alive dishonoured person than a dead one.
It seems to me that you’re only in a position to gamble your life and your honour at the same table if you know you’re not gonna lose the former. “How do you ask somebody to swallow their pride?”… you remind them what happens if they don’t.
So… I mean… is that awful? It feels awful. It feels atrocious and disgusting and all of these bad things but you’re talking death here. Death is worse than feeling kind of insulted. And yet it keeps echoing in my head. Why not?
When somebody is in favour of some weird psychotic law that will kill you and your family… why not ask “how can I make my life worth protecting for you?”? Is the implicit assumption that all lives should be worth protecting and that how dare they require a fucking explanation worth your actual life? Is it? Like… really?
I understand being outraged, I have had to explain very simple things to many many people who seem to just… not have bothered to think about this ever before. It’s exhausting and exasperating, at best. Every time it comes up, though, I keep wondering if the indignation at the suggestion that you may have to do that is worth the same as your life. I keep wondering if the righteous anger (how dare you not realize this obviously terrible thing is obviously terrible?!) is ever actually a good reason.
From this angle, anger and indignation just seem like impatience. They seem like an excuse to avoid having to put yourself in the shoes of those who are not in your position, who will never be in your position. They seem to come from the same place that the “other side’s” terrible behaviour comes from; a kind of deliberate dismissal of the position of the other as real, and a presumption of malice and not of ignorance. All so that you don’t have to think very hard about how these people find it so difficult to see your side.
Why is it wrong to ask other people what you can do to make your life valuable in their eyes?
It feels wrong, but… the alternative seems to be more so. Refusing to ask that question, and to pay attention to that answer, seems a lot like refusing to turn your enemies into allies because you do not actually want to win, you just want to be right. If being right does nothing, and winning means you get to save people’s lives… valuing the former over the latter seems pretty fucking stupid to me.
…But then… why does it still feel so wrong?
I look at things like what Dennis R. Upkins writes, and I keep thinking… does it matter that it is wrong? Like, yeah, it’s bullshit, and yeah, it’s terrible, and yeah double standards suck and having to be twice as good to get half as much is awful, and everyone has heard this a thousand times in the past few decades (or if they haven’t, they should have).
…but does that actually matter?
If the only thing you need to do to have people see you in a different light is to be Ta-Nehisi Coates instead of Toni Morrison… is that so hard?
I don’t know. Maybe it is that hard, maybe it is that big a deal. Maybe the idea of giving up dignity is so terrible because “they” don’t have to and why should “we” have to and some sort of indignation about society failing to live up to ideals, as if that wasn’t just how reality worked…
Maybe it’s a matter of intersectionality. Like, okay, you’re a member of an “oppressed minority”, but you’re a member of an “oppressed minority” in one of the wealthiest, biggest, most internationally influential countries in the planet. You have internet, you have the language of commerce as your native tongue. Giving up on human dignity is harder than if you were in Zimbabwe or something.
Maybe that’s why.
Because you can dare to dream, and dare to keep dreaming, when you are in the great and powerful America, and that hope is infectious and spreads everywhere money can touch.
…But is that good, or is it stupid?
Is this even about honour at all? About human dignity? Or is it about status and power? Is this the kind of thing you just go #Marxism on?
I don’t know.