Guilt, Mine, and Paying It Forward, Me
You know, every now and again some dude will read my “Straight White Male” piece or one of the similar follow-on pieces, decide to put me in my place, and barf up a blog nugget consisting of straw men, bad logic, projection and anger issues with me as its target. This is fine, of course. Everyone needs a hobby and at the end of the day I’m not generally psychically or materially injured by the venting, and indeed I’m often amused. So let the blog nuggets fly.
Be that as it may, it’s worth it every once in a while to note a particular poor argument about me and point and laugh at it. The one I’d like to address today is the one which asserts that I have guilt for being white and/or straight and/or male and/or what passes for “liberal” here in the United States. The “guilt” assertion is a favorite tactic of bad rhetoricians, because, oh, I don’t know, if you feel guilt then you are weak, and if you are weak then your arguments aren’t good because SHUT UP YOU PATHETIC WEAKLING I LAUGH AS YOU MEWL IN THE DIRT STOMP STOMP STOMP or something along that line.
Let’s put aside for now the inherent poor logic of “You feel guilt therefore your argument is invalid” and ask the relevant question of: Do I, in fact, feel guilty for being white and/or straight and/or male and/or what passes for “liberal” here in the United States?
BWA HAH HA HA HA HAH HA you gotta be kidding me.
BWA HA HA HA HAH AH HA HA HAH HA HA HA AH HA HA HA no, seriously, you have to be absolutely, totally, completely joking. And if you’re not, that’s about seven different tangy flavors of stupid.
And now, the answer in that offers detail and some nuance:
So, not too long ago, I was at an amusement park with a friend of mine who is notable in his field, which is not my field. And because he is notable in his field, he has fans. At least one of those fans worked at this amusement park and said to my friend, hey, if you come to the park, let me know and I’ll make sure you get the VIP treatment. And who doesn’t like getting the VIP treatment? Very few, that’s who.
So we went and we got the VIP treatment and I have to tell you it was pretty sweet. For example, all those lines everyone else had to wait in to get a popular ride? We totally didn’t. We went down an open path and got escorted right to the head of the line. We passed all those folks who had been waiting for 90 minutes or so while we did it and slipped into a car for the ride. It was a fun ride.
Do I feel guilty for breezing past all the folks who had to wait an hour and a half to get on the ride? Nope. I was offered a break and I took advantage of it, and was happy to do so. It meant that I had an extra ninety minutes to go on more rides, and that my overall amusement park experience was not one of complete exasperation. It worked out well for me.
But let’s be clear: I got a break there, something other people don’t always get. And in my particular case, it was a break that I did nothing to receive — I got a break because I knew a guy. I don’t feel guilty about getting that break, but I also don’t pretend that it was deserved or earned, or that the people we walked past wouldn’t be within their rights to be irritated with me blowing right on by. And I don’t pretend that, for the fact that I just happened to know a guy, I wouldn’t have been in that line for an hour and a half. So, no guilt, but come on. I know what I got out of that situation, through no effort of my own.
Out here in the real world of the United States, me being white and straight and male is kind of like me going to the amusement park with my notable pal. I get some breaks and advantages, at least some of which I didn’t do anything on my own to get. Do I feel guilty about them? No. I have things I want to do in my life — and things I’m happy to avoid in my life — and if I get breaks that let me do/avoid them, I’ll take them. I do take them. But again, I don’t pretend I’m not getting breaks other people aren’t, and avoiding aggravations that other people have to deal with. I recognize what I get that’s due to me and my efforts, and what I get because of things that aren’t fundamentally about me at all.
Now, if you’re unsophisticated enough to confuse this sort of self-awareness with guilt, then yes, I suppose that indeed looks like guilt to you. If you are the sort of person who then additionally confuses guilt with weakness, because you don’t think things through, or because your own set of insecurities and neuroses compel you to do so, or whatever reason causes you to make such transmutations in your head, and you fear or despise weakness for whatever reasons you might have, then I can see why you might be inclined to treat people you see has having guilt with contempt, and their thoughts and opinions unworthy of your consideration. So sure, I get that.
It makes you look like a fucking idiot, however. I really wish you would stop doing that.
(Likewise, the whole bit about “liberal guilt.” Dude, please. Your 1993-era set of Newt Gingrich™ Brand “Mean Things to Say About Liberals” Cue Cards are worn from all the thumbing through they get.)
I don’t feel guilty about the breaks I’ve gotten. I don’t feel guilty about the breaks I still get. But — and I think this is relevant here — I also think it’s important that today and moving forward people who aren’t straight and white and male get access to the same set of breaks that I’ve gotten. I also think that as someone who’s gotten breaks that have worked to my advantage, I should be willing to put in the effort to make that happen. With great breaks comes at least some responsibility.
Now, as it happens, this belief dovetails very nicely with a central tenet of the Science Fiction and Fantasy community: “Pay it Forward.” This means, in its most basic form, that when you’re helped get to where you are, the way to repay that debt is to then help others who need it — take what’s been given to you and send it on. The fact of the matter is that I’ve been given a lot, by people and by the culture I live in. I have a large debt, so to speak, that can be repaid only by paying it forward. I am happy to do it, and I’m especially happy to do it in a way that makes sure that the largest possible field of people, of all sorts, have to chance to pay it forward from there.
So, no. I have no guilt about being a Straight White Male. Why should I? What I would have guilt about is if, as a Straight White Male, with all the advantages I have, earned and unearned, I wasn’t working to make my various communities better for those in them (and for those who wished they would be welcome as part of them). If I weren’t doing that I would feel very guilty indeed. It’s much better to believe in “Pay it Forward” than “I Got Mine.”