Us vs. Them or “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”

When I was much younger I once voted for the Progressive Conservative party of Canada in a federal election and, this has shocked people who know me well. Would I vote for the modern Conservatives? Not at the present time. Does this mean I have changed my political views? Not necessarily as I have voted for different parties for different reasons throughout my life; either they are supporting an issue that I find important or, as Mark Twain reportedly said “Politicians are like diapers they both need changing regularly and for the same reason.”

In the same vein I don’t do labels in the same way as some others do. People are complicated, a tin of peas is not.

When someone has an identity they claim for themselves, I’m fine with that– but I am still going to want to know what your position is in detail. I have had friends hurt by people claiming the label MRA but I have had friends of mine hurt by people claiming the label feminist. What counts to me is not what you label yourself, but how you treat other people. Do you try to put yourself in other’s shoes? Are you willing to listen instead of only screaming? Do you try to negotiate a common position you both can agree to and work together on?

I’ve said I agree with a limited set of feminist ideals in a previous blog post. I also pointed out that these ideals appeared to me to be basic humanist ideals applied to women. There are positions that support men that I agree with, but these are humanist ideals. Here’s an analogy I hope clarifies my point. Somewhere there are two painters assigned to paint a building. One part of the building is to be painted white, the other part painted black. The painter painting the white walls is female and the black wall painter is male. A fight between the painters leaves a mess and the house will never get painted. The house is humanism. In reality of course we have a rainbow of colours for the house and lots of painters.

Mr. Clemens again “Look at the tyranny of party — at what is called party allegiance, party loyalty — a snare invented by designing men for selfish purposes — and which turns voters into chattles, slaves, rabbits, and all the while their masters, and they themselves are shouting rubbish about liberty, independence, freedom of opinion, freedom of speech, honestly unconscious of the fantastic contradiction; and forgetting or ignoring that their fathers and the churches shouted the same blasphemies a generation earlier when they were closing their doors against the hunted slave, beating his handful of humane defenders with Bible  and billies, and pocketing the insults and licking the shoes of his Southern master. – “ “The Character of Man,” Mark Twain’s Autobiography.

People love to form groups or tribes and these groups always end up with politics. I suspect the mindlessness of game theory and evolution explain this. Evolutionarily politics would enable group action which is sometimes constructive but often just plain stupid. I also suspect all of us have the primitive desire to be the alpha in our group and if not the alpha, to feel this power by proxy by showing dominance over other groups — like monkeys raiding other groups of monkeys. Our one concession to civilised behaviour is at least we don’t eat the other group.

“’When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’ ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’ ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’” — Lewis Carroll.

I see arguments all the time from various groups, one group tells me I should only be a humanist. If it makes you happy sure. One group tells me I am a egalitarian. They do love to cherry pick my tweets  to support their position! Sure, why not? What is going on here is not that I am uncertain of my beliefs, I’m the master of them, what is going on is politics. I’ve seen some nasty arguments on twitter that reminded me of Canadian parliament. On my bad days I assume the worst, you don’t want to talk, you don’t want to understand each other, you don’t want to make this world a better place, you simply want to somehow control others. On my more charitable days I think you have been emotionally hurt and this blinds you to being human.

All I can do is sit back and sigh.


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