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If you are going to read this, please read the whole thing.  Otherwise, you may miss the point entirely.

This afternoon, I was contacted by an acquaintance from a long time ago, who was seeking my help in starting a program in the public schools in his area to "crack down on violence against LGBT youth".  I respectfully declined, saying that that type of activism isn't my area of interest, and was called a homophobic bigot.  I'm kind of used to it at this point.  I've been called homophobic, sexist, anti-feminist, racist, and more because I find the idea of "group rights" "hate crimes" and "protected classes" to be dangerous.  It occurs to me, though, that I've never thoroughly explained why, so here's my attempt at doing so.

People in our culture have this funny idea about injustice and interpersonal violence -- that the motive is more important than the act -- and it is damaging our society in countless ways.  First off, it bears pointing out that:

* If someone beats you to death, you are equally dead whether they did it because you made fun of their favorite sports team, or because you are black.

* If someone rapes you, you are just as raped if they did it because you were there and looked like an easy target as if they did it to "make you straight".

* If someone shoots you, the bullet doesn't care if they were a spurned lover, or if they disapproved of your religion.

* If you are imprisoned unjustly, the food is just as bad, the walls just as cold, and the company just as mind-numbing if it was because the judge and prosecutor were stupid and careless as if it was because someone didn't like your politics.

Unfortunately, ignoring the concrete problems of violence and injustice in favor of trying to make everybody like everybody else is really, really ineffective at stopping violence and injustice.

It provides a built-in out: "I didn't do it because she is gay/trans/Persian/female/whatever, I did it because she pissed me off" and suddenly the discussion is about whether it is okay to be $whatever, and whether the perpetrator has a problem with $whatever and not about the fact that the perp just stabbed or shot someone.

It divides people.  Systemic problems with violence and injustice affect everyone, because the targets are just a matter of fleeting fashion.  However, when you make the issue being $whatever instead of being free of violence, you've made it an issue only for those who approve of $whatever.  Consider this quote attributed to German pastor Martin Niemöller about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and the purging of their chosen targets, group after group:

> First they came for the socialists,
> and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.
>
> Then they came for the trade unionists,
> and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
>
> Then they came for the Jews,
> and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

> Then they came for me,
> and there was no one left to speak for me.

He saw how the Nazis used a campaign of "othering" various groups to break down resistance to the violence and oppression they caused.  Making race, religion, sex, gender, or anything else the issue instead of violence and injustice themselves gives power to the perpetrators, because it separates their opposition.

Our founding fathers got this, by the way.  They realized that the only way to protect their religions was to protect all religious expression, because that way every single person in the country had some skin in the game.  This was far more effective than trying to carve out protections for individual faiths, because members of other religions (or no religion) would have no stake in keeping that type of protection alive.

When I lived in Texas, I was attacked by a man who said he was going to beat me to a miscarriage because I was pagan, and my baby and I "didn't belong" in a Christian neighborhood.  The neighbor who came to my aid was Christian.  I asked him why he did it, given that he would likely face social fallout or even violence for having done so.  He told me that he didn't care what the guy's excuse was, killing babies is not okay.

Uniting people works better than dividing them.  If you want LGBT students to be protected in a community that isn't very comfortable with gender differences or differences in sexual orientation, you'll only thwart yourself by launching a campaign to change people's (often religion-based) disapproval of those things.  The truth is: we don't need everybody to like everybody else.  As a matter of fact, there are a lot of people I don't like being around -- religious evangelists, stupid people, pacifists, and so on -- but I don't get violent about it.  As a matter of fact, if I'm present when unprovoked violence or injustice falls on members of those groups, I'll step in if at all possible because I am against injustice and unprovoked violence.

Non-defensive violence and injustice are not okay.  Saying it's less okay for some reasons or against some people is saying it is more okay for other reasons or against other people, and it moves the goalposts from eliminating violence and injustice to making it okay to be X.  This approach traps us in arguments about demographics and internal thoughts of the perpetrator where actually addressing the crime is lost, divides people, fails to solve the general problem, and makes safety from violence and oppression contingent on being accepted rather than simply on being human.  None of those things are good.

Just say no to group rights, "hate crime" laws, and protected classes.  That's the only effective path to a safer, more just world for everybody.
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28 comments
 
I wonder how many would read that, as I did?
 
+Rhys Williams I don't know.  It's a hard thing for some people to hear.  If I change a mind or two, though, I consider the time spent writing this worth it.
 
+Susan Stewart Thank you.  There are an assortment of people I've seen described as "Social Justice Warriors" and "outrage junkies", and they seem to be louder than ever in yelling about their perceived injustices.  Disagree, and you get labeled as one of the Enemy, because of course, all good and right thinking people see the world as they do.

The late psychiatrist Eric Berne did an analysis of terrorism that impressed me, because he felt the principle motive for the terrorist was the act of causing terror.  He believed many terrorists could be "turned" to work for the other side under proper supervision.  The cause they labored in provided the materials they used to cause terror and an excuse they could use to justify it.  Just give them the means to create bigger bombs and cause more terror, and provide an excuse they could use for doing it, and you have your man...

I feel a bit like this about some of the more strident campaigners for social justice.  I'll do them the credit of assuming they sincerely believe in whatever rhetoric they spout, but for too many, the principal motive doesn't seem to be the cause, it's the attention they get promoting the cause.  I suspect some might switch sides in a heartbeat and promote the opposite side if they thought they could get more attention doing so, and would come up with reasons why it was okay.

The ultimate problem with this sort of thing is that it sharpens the divisions in society and polarizes the discourse, and makes any real resolution of the problems less likely.
 
I can pretty unequivocally say that the majority of the people I've known who've stopped being prejudiced (against whatever group) have done so because they got to know, personally, member(s) of the groups they disliked.  Laws, and fear of career consequences, are far more likely to cause people to limit the expression of their prejudices to forms which they feel they can get away with.  

Unless anyone reading this has not merely stopped speeding, but decided in principle that it was unconditionally wrong, when you heard about harsher enforcement... as the millionaire told the actress, we're down to talking about details.  
 
Came over from an +Eric Raymond re-post.  I've tied to get this same point across a couple times (my area seems to have a lot of door-to-door cause campaigners) and it could always go better.  Your version is very well said.
 
From Terry Pratchett's Interesting Times:

"But there are causes worth dying for," said Butterfly.
"No, there aren't! Because you've got only one life but you can pick up another five causes on any street corner!"
"Good grief, how can you live with a philosophy like that?"
Rincewind took a deep breath. "Continuously!"
 
...violence and injustice affect* everyone...

But, nice article!
 
I am not sure how to solve the social issue you point out. I whole heartedly agree with you, though. Injustice and violence are widespread, because of fear, hatred, and just self centeredness. I think the latter is more common, honestly. 
 
I think the way to solve the social issue is to do just as Susan has done -- communicate her views gently yet persuasively to as wide an audience as possible.
 
I'm with you 100% on education, but still think groups and organization are needed. If you are a black in the 1960's, do you not need the Civil Rights movement? If you are a woman in 1900, do you not need the women's suffrage movement? Social change might a push against the inertia of close-minded, self-centered beliefs.
 
+Dan Eastwood You absolutely need groups, and groups will inevitably occur.

But it is precisely social  pressure that changes beliefs.  The problem is that it does not, and cannot, take place quickly.  The attitudes and resulting opinions of people do not change overnight.  The process can take decades and more. Laws will not make it happen, and you arguably won't get  laws until the underlying agreement that what the law mandates is the right thing to do already exists.
 
Again I agree, it's social pressure that brings change. The part that bugs me here - is this seems to imply that you should NOT be an activist for any cause, but just wait for everyone to come to agreement on it. Perhaps I am reading a meaning Susan did not intend. (and if so, my humble apologies.)

Laws (and the National Guard) did impose integration in southern schools. This enforced a sort of equality before the social change happened. In retrospect perhaps there was underlying agreement, but I don't think people saw it that way 50 years ago.

So I guess I am saying DO be an activist, but choose your battles carefully.
 
What exactly would you propose to reduce anti-LGBT violence and bullying in schools, for example? Simply condemn violence and wait for it to trickle down to LGBT cases? Given that bullying and violence are widely condemned, but persist disproportionately against some groups, I think your position is hopelessly naive.
 
No time to reply this morning, but I think you might find suitable examples by looking at the history of social movements.
Edit: perhaps Gordon was not addressing me.
 
+Gordon Barber So let's take methods that are failing for the general population and apply them to our selected groups of "special victims", but just do it harder, or something.

And them expect them to be grateful for being singled out. Because that always encourages tolerance.
 
+Margaret Leber Campaigning against violence in general doesn't necessarily involve the same methods as working against anti-LGBT violence. And I wouldn't call it failing if it simply doesn't stop all violence - it can still have some measure of success if it reduces anti-LGBT violence, or violence against anyone else.

But my main point is that it would be more productive for +Susan Stewart to propose some positive steps towards fixing the problem. It's fair if she thinks identifying and focusing on marginalized groups isn't the way to go (I disagree obviously), but is she proposing an alternative? The status quo doesn't seem to be helping.
 
And +Susan Stewart let me apologize for saying you were hopelessly naive, which sounds more hostile in retrospect than I intended. I just think you're taking a strangely principled absolutist stance against something that can work, with no alternative suggestion. How do you expect things to get better?
 
+Gordon Barber If you're using methods based in law, your range of methodological options is limited. And abrogating the 14th Amendment seems in particular to be a highly paradoxical way to show your desire to "protect" minorities. 
 
+Margaret Leber I was talking about the general problem of confronting anti-LGBT violence and bigotry. That doesn't have to involve the law or me abrogating the 14th amendment :)
 
The problems of anti-LGBT violence and anti-LGBT bigotry are separate and should not be conflated...even though the bigotry can be seen as a cause of the violence.  

I think bigotry is best fought by living your own life and allowing people to see who you are, and being patient as the Overton Window moves. It is the method that has delivered the best results to date.

The proper response to violence  -- regardless of what we may percieve the various causes to be -- is another matter altogether....and I certainly don't believe in waiting for a solution to bigotry to address the problem of violence.

Bigotry occurs in a completely different domain from violence; one in thought, and the other in behavior.

Attempting to control behavior by attempting to control thought is fraught with peril.
 
We seem to be discussing two different topics here and just talking past each other. Or else I've walked into the middle of an ongoing conversation and I don't know the full context that everyone else has. Either way, I think I'm done here. Thanks for the conversation.
 
That can happen if you fail to read the OP and comment thread.
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