Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Privilege or Responsibility?

I find the practice of assigning corporate guilt to any sociological segment of humanity to be despicable. Corporate guilt is the practice of attributing fault or responsibility to an entire (usually stereotyped) grouped based on the real or supposed actions of a few (or many). Corporate guilt has been partner of all atrocities that punish the whole group for the sins of a few, whether or not these sins were actual or only sins against the situational norms or mores of the elite. Examples of corporate guilt include South African apartheid, U. S. segregation, the Holocaust, and British and French colonial imperialism. From what little I have read, Peggy McIntosh advocates corporate guilt, and therefore has some strange bedfellows indeed.

Corporate guilt results in two diverse outcomes. For one, it hides the true guilt of the majority, for if everyone is guilty, in a sense no one is guilty. If I confess so many inconsequential sins and injustices and accuse my compatriots of the same, it is easy for me to cover my true failings. Secondly, corporate guilt provides a scape goat for the truly guilty, the oppressive, and tyranny. Nero escaped the blame for burning Roman by accusing and subsequently killing Christians to appease the anger of the mobs. Mob rule of this sort is true democracy in action. It is not the rational, but the emotional that win the day.

As a case in point, lets take McIntosh as our paradigm of hope. As she confesses all the guilt of whiteness, is she trying to hide a greater fault. Is it really the privilege of using a check rather than a credit card, or is it that she has chosen family instability and forced her choice upon both her children and partner? Now the one sin is theoretically partaken of by all the white, the second is her personal responsibility, but choice and consequences only lie with the second. And is it the greatest evil that McIntosh can cohort with those "of her own kind" at any time or is it a greater sin that she ignores a colleague or known face in the grocery store that happens to be a Republican, pro-lifer, or Evangelical? Is it privilege that McIntosh can walk into a store without being "watched" or is it privilege she walks out with a $100 bottle of Merlot to get into her BMW bought with her six figure salary from her tenured position. It is these last few items that privileges her above the majority of humanity, though she fails to either confess or bewail such gross luxury that exists between her and the rest of the world.

Let me bring the point home to each of us. The problem is not that we fail to provide for all the faceless unknowns of the world, but that I fail to help Johnny or Alan or Kim or Christi when I know they need me. I can not cry over the nameless needy and use that to justify ignoring those in need whom I know, even if they are white or black or red. It is not dedication to "the cause" that makes one just, but the dedication to real individuals with names and faces. What McIntosh calls privilege I call responsibility. I can either wear the hair shirt and flagellate my body for having it, setting myself up as a pseudo-saint, or else I can offer the same to those within my reach, starting the long pathway to true responsibility and authenticity.

How can people be so heartless
How can people be so cruel
Easy to be hard, easy to be cold

How can people have no feelings
How can they ignore their friends
Easy to be proud, easy to say no

Especially people who care about strangers
Who care about evil and social injustice
Do you only care about bleeding crowd
How about a needing friend, I need a friend

How can people be so heartless
You know I'm hung up on you
Easy to be proud, easy to say no

Especially people who care about strangers
Who care about evil and social injustice
Do you only care about bleeding crowd
How about a needing friend, we all need a friend

How can people be so heartless
How can people be so cruel
Easy to be proud, easy to say no
Easy to be cold, easy to say no
Come, on, easy to give in, easy to say no
Easy to be cold, easy to say no
Much too easy to say no.

(Three Dog Night, 1971)

38 comments:

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