Monday, March 23, 2015

Self-sabotaging sexism

Warning: brief mention of sexual assault and harassment

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Whenever I come across a site or blog overrun by misogynistic rants, its strikes me just how insulting that perspective is toward men, and how misogynists lack the self-awareness to recognize it.
For example, there are those who claim that men and women are fundamentally, diametrically opposite and that those differences are purely a result of biology rather than social conditioning. They use this to rationalize professional discrimination against women, saying that women are simply unfit for leadership roles or jobs in science and math because of biology. They say that women tend to avoid those fields by choice and that it’s perfectly reasonable to hire more men for those positions because women are less suited for them. They dismiss the influence of social conditioning and the discouragement and harassment that so many women receive when entering those fields, shrugging it off with a flippant “that’s life” and “get used to it”. However, they would never be so dismissive about a man who was facing discrimination. They complain about men not doing as well academically or having more trouble with subjects like English, yet they never blame that on the same gender stereotypes that also affect women. They’re oblivious to the fact that it comes from the same source.
If you believe that women are naturally more inclined toward language and writing, as so many gender essentialists claim, then it would make sense for women to rise above men in those fields. But: 1) male authors are still more widely represented in academia and literature, so there is no phenomenon of men being silenced in those areas, and 2) sexists only want to tout gender essentialism when it can be used to justify anti-female bias and institutional discrimination against women. They only decry that same belief system when it disadvantages men. They point to programs that are specifically arranged to create more opportunities for women and call it preferential treatment, but those programs exist to counteract the effects of discrimination. They would otherwise be unnecessary. Programs geared specifically toward helping men get ahead in STEM fields don’t exist for the same reason that there is no financial aid for wealthy students.
Misogynists also say that men are better suited for high-risk fields and that women should be excluded from them, yet complain that more men are killed or injured at work and say the male sex is seen as “disposable” because of these jobs. If you believe these jobs are only appropriate for men, then you are the one who sees men as disposable.
Sexists say that the types of jobs which are most heavily populated by men are the more important ones, and that’s why men tend to get paid more. But they fail to see that those jobs are only deemed “more important” because they are associated with men.
There are myriad ways in which misogynists negatively stereotype men in other areas of life as well. Sexual assault is a glaring example. I’ve heard so many “Men’s Rights Activists” and other anti-feminists excuse rape and sexual harassment by calling it “male sexuality.” They use it as an umbrella term, rather than acknowledging that there is no singular form of male sexuality. (What about men who are sexually submissive? What about men who value consent? What about non-hetero men? Trans men? In the eyes of misogynists, they are not “real” men and don’t count.)
Misogynists are fond of saying that feminists and the legal system “criminalize male sexuality,” but they are the ones conflating male sexuality with sexual assault. They’re the ones saying that “real men” yell obscene comments to women on the street, grope their female coworkers, drug and rape women at parties, and try to solicit sex from fourteen-year-old girls. They are the ones defining that as manhood, just as they accuse feminists of doing (and, for the record, I have never heard a feminist say that all or most men commit these acts). The difference is that misogynists laud, or at least excuse, that type of behavior. Misogynists constantly accuse rape survivors of lying about their assaults, but they don’t see that this victim blaming also does enormous harm to male sexual assault survivors—despite the fact that they frequently (and accurately) point out that men are raped, too. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to want to discuss male rape as an issue in itself. They only want to bring it up when it can be used to talk over women who have been assaulted.
Those are just a few ways in which I've noticed that anti-woman beliefs are self-sabotaging, but there are so many more. Misogyny is an endless feedback loop of wanting to have their cake and eat it too, but then poisoning their own cake and blaming women for allowing a man to bake for himself.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

When the highways sleep

(View from the passenger seat in Mike's car)

Foggy days are often described as eerie or gloomy, but to me they have always felt safe.
A misty landscape has a quality that makes you want to whisper. It’s partly because of the stillness that inspires reverence, and partly because the world seems asleep and you don’t want to disturb it. It’s also because your surroundings are playing hide and seek, and you don’t want them to hear you approaching. Fog is what happens when nature decides to become a puzzle or perform a vaporous striptease. It’s a game in the same way that changing leaves are dress-up.
Photos of the fog never seem to do it justice, because it irons it out onto a flat surface. This cloudiness is anything but flat. It was never meant to be confined to a two-dimensional space.
Like snow, fog is compared to a blanket, but it’s different than the blanket that snow provides. Snow is static, while mist is in constant motion. It lets you enter and shows you things if it trusts you. The view becomes crisper as you move close. You earn it, like getting to know someone who is usually guarded.
Any light in the haze looks ethereal, even if it’s from cars on the highway. They’re like alien fireflies. This kind of fog makes the highways seem so stark; a near-abandoned alternate world. Every trip out is an adventure in discovering old things in a new light.
Lights become guides, and the sky turns into a milky ocean with a moon eye. It’s unseeing and draws you closer with the tides. Indiscriminately, it draws everything home.
Driving through mist can make you feel embryonic. It’s safe in the way confined spaces are. Of course, mist doesn’t really confine a space by veiling most of it. It just creates that sense while opening more possibilities.
                Many times I feel like I’m walking through a fog in a world of my own. When there’s a tangible fog embracing the landscape, I’m not alone. Everyone is in that same space with me, exploring together. We're in an all-enveloping cocoon, waiting while our surroundings evolve and then finally resurface.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

I'm a resident of Tot Town

When you're working with small children, there's a very distinctive kind of dread caused by handling plastic food in the play kitchen and discovering that it's soggy. There's also a particular relief in bending down to pick up toys, catching a whiff of an anonymous diaper, and knowing you're not the one who has to change it.
You're asked questions you never thought you would be, like "Why do deaf people have ears?", and you explain to someone that old black and white pictures didn't mean the world actually used to be in grayscale.
You see preschoolers in T-shirts that say "Single and Loving It!" and wonder why there are clothes for little kids featuring statements about dating. You wonder if it's fair to dress a child in a proclamation they don't understand, then wonder if that's comparable to putting a band T-shirt on a baby, and eventually conclude that band shirts lack the presumptions of heteronormative and sometimes blatantly sexualized toddlers' clothes, so you don't have to feel ambivalent about dressing your hypothetical future baby in a Sonic Youth onesie. (Or maybe that's just me.)
And you're continually amused by the things that young children get so emphatic about. The other day a four-year-old girl in the arts and crafts area was vehemently resistant to the suggestion of putting glitter on her cardboard unicorn ("Unicorns DON'T SPARKLE!!"), but insisted that they do have tails made out of confetti.
Most of these things could also apply to being a parent, but I don't know anything about that yet. I'm just loving working with them for the time being.
             At present, my life includes a lot of glue sticks and hand sanitizer, and I come home glad to have spent time with the kids but relieved that I can give them back at the end of the day.

Crossroads and crosswords

I've decided that my life is essentially a crossword puzzle. Those of you who saw my essay about living with NLD know that I have a lot of trouble navigating space and make my way around with no sense of direction, so words are used to compensate for the void. And that's exactly how a crossword puzzle is filled out; finding the right words to fill in blanks and trying to make them fit together. That's where words and space converge; crosswords and crossroads. It's the interim where my life stands on tiptoe, trying to find a harmony between the two.

Cycles of abandonment

An all too common relationship pattern I notice: One person is afraid the other is going to leave them, and this fear may not be grounded in reality. So instead of trying to talk to their partner about what's going on or try to reconnect and be closer, they lash out at them and become vindictive because they're anticipating abandonment. And then, in a self-fulfilling prophecy, the other person does leave them—but only because of the way they started behaving. This seems to happen a lot.

The horror of diagnosis

A lot of horror movies feature themes of psychiatric hospitals and patients. I can enjoy some of those films as long as they're well-made and don't generally vilify people with mental health issues, but I notice that the theme seems to be prevalent because mental illness frightens the public. It can be scary to see someone behaving erratically, but a lot of the fear is based on lack of information or on misinformation—much of which is spread via this type of media. It becomes a cycle. And while there should be a difference between fearing a mental health issue and fearing the actual people who have it, these fears tend to become intertwined. Although a person with a psychiatric disorder can be violent or predatory, it's almost always because they had an inclination to be that way in the first place, not because of the disorder. Sometimes the fear isn't entirely projected onto others, though. Sometimes people are afraid of developing a similar condition themselves.
I used to think mental health-centered horror films were purely told from an outsider perspective; from the narrative of someone encountering others with psychiatric conditions. That's undeniably a huge part of it. However, there's also a common theme of the main character finding themselves in a similar state. So many horror tropes seem to mirror the experience of entering psychosis or having an episode. Demonic possession may represent being taken over by a force (in this case, a psychological one) which is completely unfamiliar and terrifying to them, but coming from within. In that way it might seem like even more of an imposition than an external force would, because it can feel like self-betrayal. The same is true for plot lines involving alien abductions or ghost hauntings. It symbolizes a problem that intrudes upon your life and your mind, refusing to leave. This problem could be trauma, or it could be an innate condition. Paranoia of the main character can look very much like the paranoia suffered by a person in the midst of psychosis. The story trope of nobody believing the protagonist, and either mocking or persecuting them for talking about what's going on, is very true to life for those who manage day to day with mental health issues. So is the sense of isolation and dread which manifests physically in the scenery of horror films. The sudden, startling movements which are frequent in these films can be similar to hallucinations. And in horror movies, magical thinking is always real. It feels just as real to many who struggle with it.
Of course, there are numerous other mental health conditions other than psychosis-based ones. But horror movies tend to most strongly evoke themes of psychosis-based disorders. I have a lot of friends who have experienced these things and describe them in similar ways. I myself have depression, anxiety, and OCD. I've never been in a psychosis, but even the problems I have remind me of some of those themes.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The 3 most dishonest arguments from pro-lifers

Everyone has heard a virulent pro-lifer refer to those who disagree with them as “babykillers”, because believing that abortion should be legal is the same as “killing a baby,” and because pro-choice people must obviously see a fertilized egg as a sentient being and gleefully celebrate the death of it. Not all pro-life individuals believe this, but the most vocal and aggressive ones do. In addition, many of the loudest tend to rely on a host of bad faith arguments to make their points. To argue in bad faith is to make an argument you don’t genuinely believe to be true.
So far, these three talking points seem to be the most commonly used—and misused—by those opposed to choice.

-Religious fundamentalists who believe abortion should be illegal but support the death penalty will argue that those two views are not in opposition because they care about protecting “innocent” life, and they don’t see death row inmates as innocent. But the truth is that many of them don’t believe innocent life exists at all. This is the view of many anti-choicers—and I say anti-choice instead of pro-life because it’s possible to be personally opposed to abortion but still want to keep it legal. However, these people want to eliminate the choice altogether. The fundamentalist Catholics who are anti-choice believe in original sin. They think everyone is born with an inherently “sinful” nature, including infants. Many conservative Protestants believe this, too. I have actually seen a really outlandish, disturbing blog post by an extremist who claimed that crying babies are sinning by expressing “selfishness”! (And no, this wasn’t satire.) So if these particular anti-choicers say it’s consistent for them to support the death penalty while calling for an end to legal abortion because they care about innocent life, they either lack the self-awareness to recognize their cognitive dissonance or they are arguing in bad faith.
On a related note, many of these same folks will claim to believe in an “age of accountability” in which a child automatically goes to heaven if they die before a certain age, usually before twelve years old or so. Following that line of thinking, it seems counterintuitive that they don’t extol abortion, considering their belief that all fetuses are “saved” from hell. If they really believe this, then wouldn’t they do anything possible to salvage its soul? Horrifically, some fundamentalists have even ended the lives of their fully sentient, non-fetal children in the belief that they were securing them a place in heaven. But for some reason, they still wouldn’t support abortion. (For a more detailed argument from an ex-fundamentalist, I’d recommend reading this: ).

-Anti-choicers claim to regard a child as a “gift,” but their punitive attitude toward women who have any kind of sex they disapprove of is very telling. I’ve had countless discussions with such people who call pregnancy a gift and say that all women should be grateful for it, and then go on to say, “If you have [premarital/unprotected/“promiscuous”] sex, then this is your punishment.”

-And finally, there is a third bad faith argument which pretends to be disinterested in the ethics of abortion and instead focuses on demonizing the poor. This is what happens when somebody says they think abortion should be legal, but only for those who can afford to cover it themselves. The reasoning usually goes, “I don’t care what you do with your body, but don’t ask me to pay for it.” Whatever the speaker may say, they do care what others do with their bodies if they decide there are certain expenses they don’t want to help with via insurance or taxes because of their own disapproval. It’s possible for someone to object to paying into any medical care of any kind, but that is rarely the reason. Usually the one making this argument will say, “Well, I’m fine with helping to cover something like cancer treatment, but I don’t want to pay for anyone’s birth control coverage or abortion.” Picking and choosing based on personal tastes is a moral judgment, and they want to be in the position of limiting options for those living in poverty. It gives them both a feeling of moral superiority and a paternalistic sense of control, under the guise of “I’m the one who knows what’s best for you.” This patronizing attitude is also seen in the way people want to regulate what kinds of groceries others are allowed to buy with food stamps.
They accuse the poor of being irresponsible and dependent, but they really seem to relish treating them like helpless children who can’t make their own decisions. Then, when poor women have children they can’t financially support, the same people will grumble about it and say “I don’t want to pay for your child” or even “You should have kept your legs shut.” They want to enforce celibacy on those who are living below the poverty line, like parents who tell their fifteen-year-old daughter to keep her bedroom door open when her boyfriend is over. And then they go on about how the poor need to act more like adults.

            There are other bad faith arguments to mention, and you are welcome to contribute any you have heard. Once recognized, you can call them out for what they are: dishonest attempts to look righteous or discourage dissent.

Saturday, March 7, 2015


I work at a children's museum and I love the conversations with toddlers. They can be hilarious or incredibly fascinating. But once in a while I hear something jarring and know I shouldn't be surprised, but it's still alarming to hear such ideas from someone who's barely more than a baby.
The other week I was in the arts and crafts area, cutting out shapes for kids to draw on, when a talkative girl sat beside me and began asking questions. She couldn't have been older than three. She was wearing glasses, and I'm a complete sucker for bespectacled toddlers. When I see oversized glasses on a tiny face, I pretty much overdose on cuteness. She was very precocious for her age.
"Excuse me," she prompted, "What do you do when everybody leaves? You and the other people who work here? Do you go home?"
"We close up the place, and then we go home," I told her.
"What do you do to close it?" she asked.
"We clean up, and then we leave, and then somebody turns off the lights and locks the doors before everyone leaves."
She wrinkled her tiny nose and looked puzzled. "But if somebody locks the doors, don't they get stuck inside?"
Amused, I explained that locks work two ways; they can be used to keep others out. She picked up a brochure for the museum and studied it with intense fascination.
"Who are the people in these pictures?" she asked.
"They're people who have visited the museum," I told her. "Pictures of people doing fun things here."
Her eyes widened. "Real people? Ones who are still alive?"
I laughed. "Of course they're still alive! And yeah, they're real people. Kids just like you. You could even be in one of those pictures!"
She seemed really excited about that idea and pored over the photos, seeing if she could spot herself anywhere. Then she returned to her art project, which she was carefully wrapping in tin foil and taping together. It was open on one side like a pocket.
"Are you making a purse?" I asked.
"No, I'm wrapping this up for my mommy. But I don't think I can take it home, because it needs more tape." She paused. "What do you do with the things that we leave here? Do you keep it for us or do you throw it away?"
"I can keep that safe for you until you come back, if you want to leave it here," I said.
She seemed pacified by that. "I'm going to give it to my mommy," she said. "She'll have to lock it up with all her special things. She locks up all her important stuff so our maid can't find it, because the maid only speaks a little bit of English, so mommy says she can't trust her. She says Spanish people steal things."
It shouldn't have come as a shock, but it did. I struggled for the right response. I couldn't just let that one go, but couldn't exactly say, "Well, your mommy's full of crap and she sounds racist."
"A lot of Spanish people don't steal things," I said to her. "And a lot of people who speak English do." Like whole cultures. "Anybody who speaks any language can steal things. That's why they have a word for 'steal' in every language."
"Oh. Yeah, they do." She shrugged and kept taping the tin foil. When it was time for her to go, she asked me my name and I told her. Then she told me hers and said, "Thank you for talking to me." I smiled and shook her hand.
I haven't been able to shake that exchange. She is such a strikingly smart little girl, probably not even out of diapers but asking about the structure of our program. I couldn't believe how articulate she is for her age. But her mother is sowing the seeds of bigotry in that brand new mind, and her daughter doesn't even know what it means. She probably has no idea that "Spanish" has ethnic connotations, or a concept of what race even is. But she's a white child with a maid, and her mother is training her to distrust that woman. It's so strange to see where it starts, and how many people never question it. How people grow up only parroting what they're told and taking it for granted because someone older than them said it was true.
I don't know if I responded the right way. She could take the wrong conclusion from what I said. I wonder if she'll continue to believe that all "Spanish" people steal, but decide that everyone else does, too. Maybe I could have said more, or less. I don't know. My hope lies in the possibility that she'll come to a more open way of thinking--regardless of where she learns it. Maybe her mother will serve as an example of what not to do.
She's so cute, so inquisitive, so smart. So impressionable. Advanced in many ways, but severely held back in another--and, at two or three years old, that's no fault of her own. But it becomes somebody's responsibility once they're old enough to know better and choose not to know. Once they're echoing those sentiments to their own children.
I hope she'll break the cycle. She can, as long as she keeps asking questions.

Friday, March 6, 2015

On Quirkiness

It’s funny that “quirky” has become a whole niche market, since that seems to contradict the whole concept of being offbeat. If you Google “quirky”, there’s a specific aesthetic that shows up—an aesthetic I’m fond of, myself. Cat eye glasses, scarves, cartoon owls, vintage bicycles, handlebar mustaches. I find that look very charming, but I personally don’t regard it as quirky or even indie. As soon as something becomes a trend (whether that trend is mainstream or popular within a subculture), it is no longer independent. As soon as there’s any subculture associated with it, it’s not unique.
The concept of “quirky” has been watered down solely to an aesthetic and thus made marketable, and that’s what I object to. It’s a way of trying to advertise and sell an identity—or, rather, a look that’s sometimes used as shorthand for one. But there is so much more to identity than what someone wears or what music they listen to. Those do play into it, and they sometimes extend from a deeper part of the self. But they don’t entirely define a person, and I feel that the commercialization of “quirkiness” is an attempt to flatten a three-dimensional and endlessly diverse concept onto a billboard.
As I said, my problem is not with the style or the tastes in entertainment that are associated with quirkiness. My problem is with the tortured contradiction of telling consumers they can buy and wear an identity, selling them a mass-produced aesthetic, and then pressuring them to be unique. Maybe there is nothing fully unique at all, since it stops being so as soon as there is more than even one person doing it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Rather, I’d say it’s to be expected.
I think the fixation on quirkiness is related to our culture’s idealization of independence, of the whole narrative of “I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and never asked for help from anyone. I am a self-made person.” It’s ironic, since indie culture tends to define itself in opposition to the corporate kind, but both are a lot more interdependent than they like to admit.
While it’s obviously possible to be financially successful, nobody is truly financially independent. We depend on those who pay us, and they depend on those who fund them. We need the roads to get us to work. Our careers are hinged upon the education that prepares us. We rely on banks and credit unions and factories that print money and credit cards. There are also structural privileges set in place which many lean on, such as the greater opportunities afforded to those who come from rich families or born able-bodied. (The aforementioned types of preferences are unfair and need to change, and those are just to name a few.) My point is that, while achievement is certainly more of a challenge for some than for others, nobody attains success without any kind of collaboration—even if the help simply came from the conditions in which we live.
The same is true for artistic endeavors. The end result may be unique, but it’s created from resources that already exist and were put in place by others. Art supplies, materials, and even the sources of inspiration are all provided by the world around us. Similarly, no one is completely emotionally or intellectually independent. We may not care what everybody thinks, but we all value the opinions of at least a select group of others, or even the hypothetical approval of a future self we hope to become. We may construct our own theories, but like all other creations, we work with what we’re given and connect concepts that have already been established. We combine them in new ways. We branch off preexisting ideas. It’s all patchwork, and the patches are made up of threads spun by our surroundings.
So feel free to wear vintage sweaters and get a tattoo of an owl if that appeals to you. It's a fun look and it can brighten up the whole scenery around you. But here's a word of advice that I'm leaving as an offering, and only in the friendliest way: If you consume things that are marketed or widely seen as "quirky," do it because you genuinely take pleasure in them, not because you think you're supposed to. And if you come up with a new idea or become wealthy, that's wonderful. You deserve to take pride in it and be happy. At the same time, though, please remember the conditions, inspirations, and people who brought you there. Do what you can to help others contribute their own offerings to the world.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Can you believe terrible things without being a terrible person?

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to definitively answer that, since illustrative examples are include too much gray area for any person of any ideology to feel fully comfortable with.
Hating already-marginalized groups is certainly more likely to lead somebody to do terrible things. As I’ve said before, beliefs don’t exist independently of consequences. They profoundly affect the way you treat everyone around you. People of all belief structures will often say their worldview has brought them peace, but inner peace counts for nothing if it doesn’t also entail bringing that peace to the outside. By “peace,” I don’t mean complacency or avoidance of conflict if those conflicts are needed to bring about positive change. I mean making an active effort to comfort people, to encourage them, to expose abuse and to do our best to end injustice. I mean motivating others toward goals that will instill social peace in the long run and right the wrongs in society.
If someone claims to have “inner peace” on account of their political or religious perspective but then only uses that perspective to make people feel hopeless or bring agitation for no reason, then their “peace” is not productive. I’m thinking of Christians who tell non-Christians they’re going to hell. I’m thinking of atheists who troll internet prayer groups and tell someone whose mother has cancer that there’s no use praying for her because heaven is a fairy tale and she’ll only end up as worm food. I’m thinking of conservatives who proudly embrace bigotry because they think it makes them brave and unique, free from the “politically correct” masses. I’m thinking of far-leftists who tell more mainstream liberals that all of their views and causes are worthless unless they become radicalized and embrace Leninism. I have met people who fit every single one of those descriptions.
I used to say you can tell you’ve become an extremist if you think it’s impossible to go too far within your own belief structure, and if you think anyone who disagrees with you is extreme. I still maintain that for the most part, although I don’t think it’s possible to go “too far” with the belief in equality, because equality by definition is fair. Most people will say they champion equality, but will differ in their ideas on how to achieve it—as well as in their perspective of who is actually being persecuted. We all believe we root for the underdog, but we’re largely defined by who we believe the underdog to be.
Even white supremacists think they are defenders of equality. They’re convinced that the way to achieve it is to restrict the rights and freedoms of non-white people, because they are genuinely certain that racial minorities are privileged and that whites are being oppressed by said minorities, as well as by self-hating white liberals. You see it in their propaganda all the time. “Anti-racist is really code for anti-white.” “Diversity=white genocide.” Of course their beliefs are not deserving of equal consideration or respect. They’re wrong, plain and simple. Wrong in a way that’s empirically and statistically provable, as well as morally bankrupt. They have a long-standing history of doing horrendous things in defense of their beliefs.
But I think it’s important for everyone to remind ourselves that even if we believe the right thing, we’re also capable of taking it in negative directions.
In recent years, I have been called an extreme ultraliberal. Maybe I am—although I have only been called that by people who are far-right conservatives, rather than those I would consider mainstream. Maybe the fact that I see them as radical means I am radical, or maybe they really are extreme. But I do know there are people who are further left than myself, and further left than I’d strive to be. For example, I’m not a socialist. I have socialist friends whom I highly respect, but it’s not a camp I fall into. I was raised intensely conservative. My father used to say that most Democrats are closet socialists, and that socialism will lead to communism in the same way that HIV often leads to AIDS. He said that communism is socialism perfected. I grew up fully believing that, but then I met plenty of liberals who don’t identify as socialists or communists. I met socialists who say that communism goes too far. Eventually I became liberal, and I recognize the difference. Liberalism is by no means a monolith.
To my dad’s credit, he never discouraged me from making friends with leftists. Some of his closest friends are liberal, and he once told me that sometimes it’s not worth it to argue with people you like. The lessons I’ve chosen to retain from my upbringing are scarce, but that’s one I still carry.
One of the problems with believing liberalism=socialism is the assumption that all socialists are socially progressive. The Nazis are solid proof that it’s not true. Many conservatives like to hold up Nazi Germany as a socialist boogeyman, but their beliefs and practices were heavily socially conservative. They restricted abortions and birth control for the Aryan women they encouraged to reproduce, while forcing eugenics on those they deemed “undesirable”—the non-white, non-Christian, mentally ill, LGBT, poor, and disabled populations, all of whom are still popular scapegoats for social conservatives today. They used fundamentalist Christianity and an entirely literal interpretation of the Bible to drum up hatred of Jews and other non-Christians, which is still a common tactic among the religious right. I am not going to make the same sweeping assumptions about All Conservatives that I used to make about All Liberals. There are conservatives who don’t espouse bigotry, but most of these types of bigotry do seem to be espoused by those of a conservative bend.
At the same time, it’s definitely possible for a left-leaning person to behave terribly and think it’s excusable because they hold progressive beliefs. I’ve known my share of liberal activists who treated others with complete inconsideration and rudeness on an individual level, but thought that was justifiable because they cared about humanity in an abstract sense and because they were fighting for the correct political causes. I had one former friend who stands out particularly in that sense. She thought she’d become a better person because she had honed her Marxist philosophy, but she was still just as narcissistic and manipulative as ever. She didn’t become a better person, just a better communist. Some might say that meant she wasn’t a “true” communist; that real communism would have resulted in the improvement of her character. But whether or not that’s true, it falls too close to the No True Scotsman territory.
Some beliefs may justify or excuse someone’s preexisting negative traits, but it’s hard for me to believe those views are entirely responsible for creating them. Unkind people tend to be drawn to unkind ideologies. A good person may be brainwashed into a terrible worldview, and they may say and do awful things as a result, but I have faith that their natural drive toward decency will save them in the end. And a cruel, vindictive person can adopt a benevolent belief system but refuse to practice it properly, using it to rationalize their abusive tendencies instead.
It’s hard to tell for certain where beliefs start and identities end. I just think they form circles which often overlap one another and sometimes even eclipse.