Tuesday, November 27, 2012

When Values Collide

I like Bill Murray. At least, I liked Bill Murray. When I was in second grade, our teacher asked us to tell the class who our hero was. Most kids said one of their parents or a sports star. I said, much to the amusement of my teacher, Bill Murray. I was seven. Whadda'ya want?

So Bill Murray gives me a good perspective on people who apologize for rapists, attackers, murderers, and otherwise antisocial people. We don't want to believe that people are capable of these crimes. We have never experienced these crimes. Nothing in our experience tells us that a particular person is capable of these crimes. It's why men who have experienced sexual assault are much more likely to accept that it happened than men who haven't.

I'm sure that you have figured out without my saying that Bill Murray is a thundering asshole. He's abusive and mean. And while no one escapes his wrath, he is especially mean to women. There are dozens of people in entertainment that have managed to get something of a free pass for their abuse because they are good at being entertainers. As this article at Cracked, a website that produces articles far too good for its name, points out regarding Sean Connery,
It's always interesting to see the double standard we have for different categories of celebrity. If Sean Connery had been, say, a pro athlete or a politician, he'd get tarred with this reputation until the day he died. But he's so fucking suave. His accent wears a tuxedo. It's so impossible to connect that voice with the image of a drunken man slapping around a woman that we wouldn't believe it even if we had it on video.
Precisely. We wouldn't believe it because we don't want to believe it. It so clashes with the rest of our programming that we simply reject it.

For someone like me, it's a slightly different problem. I've more or less managed to push my social biases into the background. They are still operating, and likely will for the rest of my life, but I've overpowered them. This isn't a brag. It's not something worth bragging about. It's something we should all do, and as such, bragging for doing something any decent human would do seems rather counterproductive. It's like demanding recognition for not being an asshole.

My problem is that there are certain characteristics that, for lack of a better phrase, make a person dead to me. Being an asshole is fine, but being aggressively abusive to other people is not. It's the primary reason for not finding out too much about your favorite artists or actors: they are frequently such mind-blowing jerks that it negates one's ability to enjoy their work. Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino, and Mel Gibson all come to mind.

It doesn't necessarly even need to be artists or actors. It can be anything. And so it is with The Salvation Army. In these contentious times, there are many things that can make an entity dead to me. Misogyny, racism, global warming denial. Homophobia is another. It indicates both ignorance, fear, and hatred, but also blind religious dogma. And boy howdy, has The Salvation Army dropped the mother of all homophobic bombs.

They have literally said that homosexuals deserve to die. An organization built on feel-good concepts of caring and helping has said that homosexuals are not just second-class citizens, but they actively need to be killed. Obviously, the organization on the whole has distanced itself from these statements, but it would be foolish to think that this kind of behavior coming from one regional director isn't representative of wider views held within the Army. Those at the top realize that what they say must be more measured, and it becomes a minor catastrophe when someone actually says what everyone thinks.

This is a difficult thing for me to digest. About a decade ago, when my family was in seriously bad shape and had been evicted from our house, the Salvation Army paid our medical bills, which were not insubstantial. I like the Salvation Army. Even though I'm an outspoken atheist and they are an explicitly religious organization didn't much matter to me. They helped me, and I tear up even now thinking about it.

This is causing serious cognitive dissonance. There is basically no way for me to reconcile the problem. With artists and actors, I can at least say that their work is distinct from them. There are many artists who created great art while also being psycho-arsonist-sheep-rapists. But for people and organizations where their actions are so tightly intertwined with their views, I cannot ignore it. I want to!

I know how it feels to want to apologize for the behavior of someone or something you like. You don't want that conflict in your mind. It doesn't matter. Bigotry is bigotry. Violence is violence. Nothing in the past changes that.

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