I find it very hard to understand people who don’t think pulling the lever in the Trolley Problem is the right choice.
If everyone involved is a stranger, pulling the lever is clearly the right choice. But what if the the person on the one-person track is someone you care about, such as a friend or family member?
Then pulling the lever is still the morally right thing to do. IDK if I’d *do* it, because I’m not a perfectly moral person, but that’s still how it works
fun fact! tibetan buddhist monks have some of the highest rates of lever-pulling in the world.
I’d been talking about the various bad things that happen when people become too afraid of comparing one type of oppression to another. But this one interests me because of how it affects something that is always said by some of the same people who are the most strong enforces of “don’t ever compare oppressions”.
So… they are always telling people to educate themselves, not ask anyone to educate them.
And one of the most effective ways to learn about a type of oppression you don’t experience. Is to take oppressions you do experience, and figure out how they play out in the real world, and then extrapolate some things from that to other oppressions that you don’t experience.
I’m not saying that doing that is always good. I’m not saying that there aren’t things that you cannot possibly learn that way. I’m not saying that every form of oppression is identical. I’m not saying that it isn’t harmful when people draw connections between oppressions, that are not actually there, or assume that their experience of one oppression means that they understand another.
Some things really are very similar no matter what kind of oppression you’re dealing with. And it is possible to work out what those are, and to use that as a tool to learn about oppressions you don’t experience.
Yet some of the same people who say “go educate yourself” are the same people who try to prevent anyone using that particular tool of self-education. They say go educate yourself, and then they also say that it’s always wrong to compare one type of oppression to another.
I think that actually it’s possible, and desirable, to compare one type of oppression to another. It has to be done carefully, of course.
One way I’ve seen comparing oppressions done wrong, which seems to be really widespread, is the way the concept of appropriation is being misused by a lot of people. Appropriation is an idea that mostly got started in order to describe something that happens to people of color, where parts of their cultures are stolen by white people. Like when white people do (real or purported) American Indian ceremonies that they have no cultural right to. And that’s horrible.
But some disabled people have taken up the idea of appropriation to say that, for instance, using a wheelchair when you don’t need one is “appropriation”. And that’s an instance where I do not think you can take an idea from one form of oppression and plug it into another. But weirdly the “don’t compare oppressions” people tend to stay silent on this one, even though it seems obvious to me that people are misusing the idea of appropriation. And misidentifying the experiences of disabled people with the experience of people of color (and white people from ‘minority’ cultures). I don’t think appropriation usually makes sense except when talking about cultures. I know there are “disability cultures” but I still don’t usually see appropriation applying in most cases. Like, using a wheelchair is not stealing something from “disability culture”. The only time I can think of appropriation applying is some things that happen with Deaf culture. (But I’ve also seen the concept misapplied there too — like the idea that a hearing but nonverbal autistic person learning sign language to communicate is ‘appropriating Deaf culture’ is ridiculous but I’ve heard it before. OTOH I’ve seen sign language used in clearly appropriative ways.)
At any rate, I don’t mean to get sidetracked into a discussion of appropriation, but I do think it’s a good example of an aspect of oppression that you should not just apply to every form of oppression that exists ever. Because most of the things people call appropriation, that are not in the context of racism or other cultural appropriation, are completely ridiculous and offensive and trivializing of actual appropriation. And that’s a good example of where comparing oppressions can go badly wrong.
But if done with caution, comparing oppressions can be a very valuable tool to learning about oppressions you don’t experience. For instance, a straight disabled person can understand aspects of LGB oppression that have to do with being from a group of oppressed people who are often born to people who are not oppressed in the same way. Like… people of color have at least one birth parent who is a person of color, and people are usually born into their economic class, but both LGB people and disabled people are frequently born to people who don’t share their oppression. And a straight disabled person can take that aspect of their own oppression and understand aspects of LGB oppression that have to do with being born to people who don’t share your oppression. And there’s nothing wrong with doing that, as long as you understand that even when there are commonalities like that, things don’t play out identically. Comparing oppressions is a first step, it’s not a final step and you can’t do it without thinking really hard about whether the comparisons apply, and to what extent they apply. But you can still do it, and do it right.
And that’s a learning tool that’s being taken away from people. And it’s a learning tool that’s being taken away often by the very same people who urge a person to “go educate yourself”.
I am struck occasionally, usually while snuggling the cat, with our faith in domestication.
The cat is a small, ferocious predator, twelve pounds of…well, flab and fur, frankly, in Athena’s case, but what muscle there is is strong all out of proportion to her size. I have watched three 150+ primates try and fail to subdue a ten pound cat, and consider it not at all unusual. The cat is as flexible as a snake and as strong as an ox. She has quite dainty looking teeth and claws, but there’s nothing dainty about their ability to flay flesh from bone.
If the cat and I were in a duel to the death, I would almost certainly win. I am 15+ times larger than she is, after all, and while my teeth and claws are pathetic, I have prehensile hands capable of doing terrible things. But if I had to go in naked, as the cat does, (and assuming the cat was aware that she was going to have to kill me, and not taking a nap in the corner) I can pretty much guarantee it would be a Pyhrric victory. I’d look like I’d gone ten rounds with a wolverine. I would need stitches. A lot of stitches. Possibly a glass eye. And antibiotics by the truckload. It’d be a mess, and there would even be a chance of an upset if the cat managed to go face-hugger on me.
And yet, despite the knowledge of the shocking amount of damage my small predator could inflict, it never occurs to me to worry. I pick the cat up and she tucks her head under my chin and purrs, canine teeth centimeters from my jugular, and despite the fact that I am carrying a ruthless carnivore in a position where she could, with great ease, remove me from the gene pool, I am thoroughly content with the world. Even knowing full well that cats are not even a truly domesticated animal, that Athena’s kin might best be described as “consistently tamed,” my greatest concern is that my black tank top is now coated in white cat hairs.
We have such faith in the process of domestication, despite the sheer unnaturalness of what’s happening. Small predators do not curl up on the chests of large primates and purr in the wild. And yet, every now and again, generally when my small predator is purring on the chest of this particular primate, I think How strange, how strange… that we’re doing this, and even stranger, that we both take it completely for granted, and find nothing unusual in such a completely unlikely alliance.
tbh this was why i was so enamored with the ‘drift compatibility’ concept in pacific rim like wow look this is a fucking movie that OUTWARDLY DISPLAYS THE CONCEPT THAT FRIEND LOVE ROMANTIC LOVE AND FAMILY LOVE ARE ALL EQUALLY STRONG AND ALL EQUALLY AFFECT YOUR LIFE AND NO ONE TYPE IS GREATER OR MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE OTHER