Sunday, May 16, 2010

Privilege as Philosophy

Matt Yglesias points to a sort of glee with which conservatives have hailed Iraqi war veterans who, despite having been charged with crimes against detainees, are now running for congress.
Love of violence and brutality is deeply ingrained in the conservative worldview, which I think is what you can see here.
While I think this is true, it is also the sort of thing that liberals are always saying about conservatives, and that conservatives are always complaining about being accused of by liberals.  So it's important to look at where this accusation comes from, and why it is important.

Conservatives by definition have a much more closed view of what their group is. It is established authority – white, western, American, Christian, wealthy, heterosexual patriarchy. Because the group is so limited and narrowly defined, it is felt to be constantly under threat. As a movement, conservatism is, by definition, about exclusion. This creates a state of permanent fear. Look at all the issues they care about: free markets, abortion, guns, gays, religion, government… the common denominator is a fear that their group is under threat.

So you have a toxic mixture of groups exclusivity and existential fear. It is understandable that such a worldview would be highly susceptible to resorting to violence and brutality. Conservatism has been at the heart of oppression throughout history. It is no wonder they have little concern for possible infringements on the rights of Hispanics, Muslims, prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Gays, or possible Iraqi & Afghan civilian casualties. It is no wonder they demonstrate little concern for poor, minority children, whether in policy or media coverage.

Of course they will deny all of this, and make excuses that each is merely about policy. But the pattern is clear. Bill O’Reilly doesn’t talk about the “War on Christmas” for nothing. They don’t want to kill ethnic studies programs in Texas for nothing. They don’t oppose gay marriage or hate crime laws, call illegal immigrants “illegals”, hate welfare passionately, maintain that America is a “Christian Nation”, talk about bombing the middle east back to the stone age (joke that it’s already there), and generally belittle and devalue anyone outside their exclusive group for nothing.

The fact that they are so quick to deny this reality, and so defensive when anyone accuses them of acting on it, is evidence that they have a very limited knowledge of self. Any liberal who has been through an ethnic studies 101 class recognizes this as privilege bias: we tend not to notice, and to take for granted, the ways in which we benefit as members of the privileged group. Yet because conservatives identify this group as being superior, and see out-groups as a threat, they actively resist any critical self-reflection that might weaken their sense of superiority. When they decry secular humanism and moral relativism, what they are really talking about is any attempt to critically evaluate this group from an objective standpoint. They assume that the world revolves around them, and they want to keep it that way. When Sarah Palin refers to “real Americans”, she is unconsciously stating this bias. What she really means is white, Christian, heterosexual, patriarchy-identified conservatives; i.e. people just like her.

No comments:

Post a Comment