Thursday, December 16, 2010

The content of your character

I've been thinking about how totally misapplied and co-opted the "all that matters is the content of your character" theme is. I was recently in a conversation where an acquaintance mansplained this idea and then concluded "if you're an asshole you're an asshole, whether you're male or female, gay or straight, white or black, trans or cis." To which I say "yes and no."

On a personal level, assholish behavior ain't pleasant, no matter who it's coming from. I don't deny that. But that doesn't even come close to making these other political aspects of identity irrelevant the way my obnoxious acquaintance thinks it does. Because being an asshole as a person with social power is a heckuva lot worse than being an asshole when you're at the bottom of the heap. And a person who's been at the bottom of the heap all hir life may have some damn good reasons for being an asshole, or for coming off as one. Having to defend yourself every day in countless ways can do that to a person.

And anyway, this is all beside the point. Every time that phrase is used this way, which it frequently is, it's taken out of context. You might remember that this was part of the dream speech. This was a vision for a future in which people aren't on the bottom or top of the heap because of who they are. So I'll agree. It's true that if we lived in a perfectly egalitarian culture all that would matter would be the content of your character. But look around. An asshole is not an asshole, regardless of their identity. A powerful asshole is a dangerous asshole. A powerless asshole is just an unpleasant person, who probably has good reasons for being unpleasant. Big difference.

4 comments:

  1. Anonymous12/16/2010

    "An asshole is not an asshole, regardless of their identity. A powerful asshole is a dangerous asshole. A powerless asshole is just an unpleasant person, who probably has good reasons for being unpleasant. Big difference."

    i'm gonna write this on a note card and carry it with me to recite in these kinds of conversations

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  2. I think this is right, except that nobody is totally powerless, and nobody is powerful in every situation. Even the most powerful person is the powerless one in some situations and those at the bottom of the heap do have opportunities to harm others, although not as many. Other than that I agree.

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  3. Minerva12/17/2010

    I would agree Will, except that the harm that can be inflicted by a powerful asshole (who has the approval of society at large) is often way worse than the damage someone lower down can inflict. So it goes beyond how many opportunities they have too.

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  4. Powerful Asshole = P
    Oppressed Asshole = O

    P = O + Power - Societal Abuse

    Hence,

    P ≠ O

    :)

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