Put You Down

Since when do you have to agree with people to defend them from injustice?
Lillian Hellman

We seem to live in a world where few people are prepared to say what other people are doing right, but almost everyone is ready to say what others are doing wrong.

The old formula for makeover shows was simple: 25% you have it wrong, 50% here is how to fix it, and 25% you are so much better now.

The new formula is different.   Now it’s 80% you have it wrong, 15% here is how to fix it, and 5% you are so much better now.  Producers have found that not everyone cares about the actual makeover or the happy ending, but the mass of people like to watch others screwing up, making mistakes, living out stress and cheap drama.

I was the anti-Jennifer during my time in the trans support community.  Jennifer’s mode of operation was simple: if she could put you down, she felt like she put herself up.   As long as she could tell you what you were doing wrong, she didn’t actually have to be concerned over what she was doing right.

For me, this is the hallmark of negative self identity, the idea that all you need to define yourself is a clear belief about how others are doing it wrong.

Your own identity becomes reactionary, becomes based on the fact you are not one of the assholes like them, rather than being based on pride in your own coherent, focused and integral choices.    All you need is someone to look down on, someone to piss on, and you are good enough.

This negative identity is not a formula for leadership.   Leaders have to show a good example, have to model best practices and have to encourage others to do better in order to make strong organizations or communities.

It is impossible to be someone’s ally, fighting for them, if your habit is to pick at other people, to point out where they are wrong, to identify where they are responsible for their own failures.

This comes up in many ways.  Recently, there have been a rash of discussions about dress codes that seek to blame young women for their own sexual harassment and abuse because they don’t dress properly.   By identifying what they are doing wrong we don’t have to do the hard work of making structural changes that foster respect and maturity.

You can always, always, always find some example of behaviour in others that is not perfect, choices that open someone in the target group to charges of faith.   When we first seek for those examples, rather than seeking for our connection, rather than looking for the best in people, we become blamers, looking to fob off responsibility for standing up rather than taking the lead in finding better.

One of the key reasons I retired from internet discussion around 2000 was the understanding that people speaking up on the net rarely felt the need to find common ground, rarely worked to present possible shared ground and potential solutions.  Instead, they felt their only obligation was to use any means necessary to demolish someone else’s position, use any tactic to “prove” someone else was wrong,  believing that all they had to do was silence someone else to claim victory.

You have not converted someone just because you have silenced them, and you certainly have not built community or coalition by doing that either.   Democracy only works when we focus on what we have in common, not when we strive to create polarization by focusing where we are different.

The only way to come together is to come together and coming together always requires that you are not first focused on putting others down, showing how they are wrong, so that you can feel more self-righteous.    There is no humility in gloating, no compassion in judging, no humane empathy in rationalizing.

There is only one human nature and we all share it.   Every flaw you can point out in another is also a potential flaw in yourself.  If the only technique you have to defend your choices is pointing a finger and saying “Well, look at them!  They started it!  They are the real baddies!”  then you never take responsibility for both your human nature and your power to transcend it.

I know that this idea is hard to get across to people who believe that they can argue themselves out of any challenge.   They believe that all they have to do is show a few good anecdotal examples, rattle off a few slogans and plump up their own obfuscation & rationalizations before smugly deciding that they have won the day again, proving that I just don’t understand their own superior arguments, the same ones that all the other people in their group have signed up to agree with.

The idea that life is a game of opposites, starting with winners and losers being the fundamental opposite, because winners are right and losers are wrong, is the first step in creating a polarized and dysfunctional society.   Trying to prove yourself right by proving others to be wrong, choosing to take satisfaction in what you see as the obvious failings of others ignores the truth that we each struggle to grasp a shared reality bigger than any one of us can understand alone.

The only way to come to balance is to come past pairs of opposites.  The habit of judging where others are wrong and taking any kind of delight that we are somehow better than they are because we can see their messy, myopic humanity, is hubris that stops us from really being able to connect with others and make change in the world.

Since when did you have to agree with people to protect them from injustice?   Do not allow to be done onto others that which would be hateful to you; that is the golden rule of social responsibility.

Or would you rather just explain why they are wrong and why they brought this shit down onto themselves?