ideological purity and dealing with the devil
February 13, 2016
Since I recently saw a tweet from someone who I used to respect but has been massively influential in how I think about things about ideological purity and survival… the tweet made it pretty clear that there are some things (some) ppl aren’t quite clear about. And if this person, whose insight and intellect aren’t something I question doesn’t get it, I’m guessing there are others too.
I know that some ppl interpret how I talk about this as a kind of politics of despare, but this is one area where making a clear distinction between the individual choices of a person and the position within institutional oppression is key.
My recent writing about ideological purity has been all about how normative notions of this within ~activist~ communities creates situations wherein people are expected to martyr themselves for the cause. Essentially asserting that purity is incompatible with survival. That simply surviving within institutional oppression means that purity is an impossibility (and, thus, a completely unfair expectation for any given human to actually embody).
The idea that we are inextricably caught within systems and webs of oppression; thus, simply maintaining that position generally means overtly or covertly participating in someone else’s oppression. To some extent, it is unescapable within the system (and this is why the system as a whole must be dismantled and reform is impossible).
However. There is a big, huge, massive difference between existing within a system predicated on oppression and violence and the sorts of individual decisions you make within that system. While, yes, purity is impossible that doesn’t mean all actions and decisions within the system are equivalent.
We start out at a default position, but where we go from there is entirely on us. We are responsible for that.
So, yeah, we all must make a deal with the devil if we are to survive. In order to exist within this system, you must strike bargains with power. And so we all are sinners to some extent…
But there are degrees here. Gradations of sin. Some of which are serious and shall damn you for eternity. Some of which are relatively minor and might simply require some penance.
Here’s an example: a white liberal who espouses colour-blind racism is a white supremacist. However, is how they enact and enforce white supremacy no different from a white police officer? Or a skinhead?
They are all united by white supremacy and their actions enforce it and support it.
But are they all truly moral equivalents?
Let’s talk about some more concrete examples. A white liberal who espouses colour-blind racism is more likely to have a bunch of unconsious biases. They frequently don’t know that their position is white supremacist. Say one is in human resources. The way the most actively and directly enforce white supremacy via colour-blind racism is that their unconscious biases tends to filtre out many qualified Black people. Because their names are ‘too Black’ or whatever.
This versus a white police officer in a context where Black people are incarcerated at alarming rates and being murdered by the police at alarming rates.
Both cause harm. Both are violent. Both enforce white supremacy.
But are they morally equivalent?
(i was going to do another example but i’m about to pass out at my desk so i’m stopping)