debunking Debunking Class Guilt

I was sent a video about debunking class guilt which I don’t recommend watching and I’m not going to link to, but that I found so naive, self-serving and ultimately disgusting that I wanted to make my response public.

A few notes:

  • The 10 minute video is comprised of excerpts from a radio (podcast?) interview addressing white privilege and Marxism. I’ve pulled quotes that more or less outline the structure of the rather rambling dialogue. Clearly, there are details and arguments that I have not specifically addressed and much is not contextualized.
  • I’m clearly orienting myself as a Christian with a high view of the teachings of Jesus. I recognize that’s not true for all and therefore some of my arguments might not have the same impact, so please recognize my intended audience is rather narrow.
  • I was vaguely aware of the existence and outline of this kind of rhetoric and found it annoying and moderately concerning. I’ve now spent a couple hours untangling one ten minute video and am much clearer about how deeply compromised our situation is. I don’t know what to do about it, but I know it’s really dangerous and is going to be really hard.

 

“In the Social Justice Warrior culture, there’s this idea that you should just step back and let others talk.”

Yes. If I have the privilege to give someone the opportunity to speak, I have the responsibility to shut up and hear what others have to say.  I’m probably talking too much in the first place if I’m in the position to silence someone. Isn’t the point of talking to learn and understand?

“It doesn’t feel self-evident that I am to blame for slavery.”

True, but assigning blame for slavery is not the goal of anti-racism. (I think who is to blame for slavery is pretty self-evident, though? And does it matter how it feels?) It also is not immediately self-evident that white people like the speaker and me continue to benefit from the exploitation of black and brown bodies, but that also is true. The best evidence I think of that is the well documented racial wealth gap. Once you start looking, or listening to people (especially of color) you’re newly giving the opportunity to tell their stories, plenty of other examples will also start to present themselves.

“People proudly proclaim themselves as having Marxist ideology. How do they not understand the history of how that went bad?”

Yes, Stalin and Mao are examples of tyrannical murderers. But let’s not lose sight of what Marxism is: a critique of capitalism, locating value in production rather than ownership, and asserting the community’s responsibility to meet each other’s basic needs. No social or political theory is perfect, as the speaker asserts. They’re all theories and they’re always implemented with various degrees of compromise. Clearly the leadership and implementation of Marxism in the Soviet Union and China lacked human compassion, but those examples do not for me diminish the possibilities of the theory. Personally, I think Marx’s great failure was identifying the institution of the church as a foe to his project but not the teachings of Jesus as an ally. After all anyone familiar with the gospel knows that in order for the rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven he must be willing to sell all his belongings and follow an itinerant carpenter. We know that at the founding of the Early Church the first “little Christs” sold their belongings and gave to each other as they had need. Transforming systems of wealth, power and privilege is always violent in one way or another (again, see Jesus), but that doesn’t mean the project’s unworthy.

“If you’re kind, you tend to treat others like your kin, but that doesn’t work well in larger groups.”

It’s true that being kind can backfire if others in the community don’t also recognize their well-being is tied to yours. It also doesn’t work well when applied in a patronizing, hierarchical way. Treating those who have less as less further confuses the reality that we are all made in the image of our Creator and dependent on each other. We’re all dust, and to dust we will all return. Do unto others, etc.

“The reason any one strives for anything is to produce inequality.”

I honestly had never heard this before, and I will admit I think it’s a pretty good description of our current situation. That doesn’t mean I think it’s right or true or inevitable, though. I also recognize it’s probably the foundation of most of the problems we’re currently facing socially, politically and economically. Nevertheless, just because the rich and powerful have made the pursuit of inequality the carrot we’re chasing, doesn’t mean we all have to accept the pursuit of inequality as the meaning of life. I certainly don’t and won’t.

“If you work really hard you deserve an unequal outcome.”

Again, the Bible (Matthew 20, specifically). But also let’s not forget that “money” is modern and make believe. Humans engaged in production for millenia before we started chasing the money carrot. Indeed, I don’t go to work to make money so much as to make books. I completely acknowledge that that’s a pretty privileged position to be in and that if I my labor was flipping hamburgers I’d probably be doing that for cash and not personal fulfillment, but isn’t AI supposed to liberate us from the necessity of that kind of human labor? Also, universal minimum income has some problems to work out, but I think could be important in moving us into a new more compassionate and equitable economic paradigm.

“To the social justice warriors, are you really willing to say that every person who has accomplished something has done so as a consequence of oppression.”

Essentially yes but with some caveats: success can be defined in a number of ways that relate differently to oppression/exploitation. Creative or social success is often dependent on transforming oppression: revealing the hidden experience of oppression to oppressors or creating new systems of connection to bridge difference, for example. Economic success often follows the speaker’s model of inequality, though: I’m rich because I paid as little as possible to produce a thing and sold it to you for as much as possible. In this way, profit is a two-edged sword: the more I screw the producer and the more I screw the consumer, the richer I get. (Not saying that’s how transactional commerce has to operate, but that’s how our current system does).

“You can imagine that 10 or 20 successful people in the village have a hundred
useless, horrible people who are jealous and resentful of the fact that they’ve been successful.”

Maybe he’s being sarcastic and exaggerating to make a point? Regardless, I find his description of people who happen to have less money than others for diverse and unexamined reasons disgusting and naive. Blessed are the poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God. Human dignity is much more valuable than anything that can be bought your sold.

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