On White Males and Imaginary Arguments


no tilting

Hi, I’m a white male.  As evinced by the fact that I am typing this sentence right now, I am currently alive, so at least I’m not a dead white male.  But I will die someday, and will permanently remain a dead white male after that, which will make it professionally unwise for anyone to assign this essay in school, so please hurry up and read it now, while I’m still alive.

Now, then:  If you thought that first paragraph was funny, then you are probably either a white male yourself, or you are Camille Paglia.  If you are a white male, please keep reading, as there are some things I’d like to discuss with you.  If you are Camille Paglia, please explain what the hell happened to you, as you used to be cool.

Since this essay is on the internet, the fact that you are reading it additionally strongly suggests that you are not merely a white male but, more specifically, are a white male who is on the internet.  This being the case, I will hazard another conclusion:  either you spent this morning having an imaginary fight with feminists and/or minorities in the shower, or you have not yet taken a shower today.  If the latter, then please understand that I am not shaming you for not having taken a shower.  I don’t know when you’re reading this.  Perhaps it’s Sunday.  I would, however, like to address the whole “imaginary fight with feminists and/or minorities” thing.

With your permission, I will commence by asking you three brief questions.  Here we go.

FIRST QUESTION:  How many excellent and logically airtight defenses have you prepared for things that feminists and/or minorities might accuse you of doing and/or thinking?

Take as much time as you need.  Feel free to make a list.  This list can be arranged alphabetically, or in order of importance, or can be arranged according to no particular order.  When you are finished, please move on to the second question.

SECOND QUESTION:  How many times has an actual feminist and/or minority, whom you are 100% sure you were not imagining, actually accused you of any of these things in real life?  Be advised that, for the purposes of this survey, nightmares do not count as real life.  Be additionally advised that an accusation about a book, movie, or video game that you like does not count as an accusation about you, as you yourself are not a book, movie, or video game.

Again, take as much time as you need, either to be sure that you are exhaustively listing any and all such incidents or, possibly, to try and think of any.  When you are finished doing either or both of these things, please move on to the third question.

THIRD QUESTION:  What do you get when you divide the number from the first question by the number from the second question?

If the answer you got was 1 or ~1, then congratulations, you are spending an appropriate amount of time coming up with logically airtight defenses against accusations of sexism and racism.  If the answer you got was considerably >1, then you may be devoting a somewhat irrational amount of time to coming up with logically airtight defenses against accusations of sexism and racism.  If the answer you got was “undefined,” then there is a very interesting explanation for why this is, but it is long, so finish reading this essay first, and also you are devoting a ludicrously irrational amount of time to coming up with logically airtight defenses against accusations of sexism and racism.  If the answer you got was <1, then you are lying.  And if you got no answer because you were confused by the directions, then stop saying white males are good at math.  It is fine to keep saying Asians are good at math, as long as you are very clear about the fact that this is cultural rather than genetic, and as long as you don’t include Mongolians, since the thing that they’re good at is shooting arrows with deadly precision while riding a horse at full gallop, not math.  Fine, I guess you could call this a type of applied math, but you don’t really have to be “good at math” in the traditional sense to do it.  This concludes the quiz portion of this essay.  I know I called it a survey before, but that was because “survey” sounded funnier that time and “quiz” sounded funnier this time.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure white males didn’t used to do this.  I haven’t seen every episode of Mad Men, but if there were one where Don Draper stared off into space for a long time and then suddenly punched his desk while mumbling something under his breath about fallacies, someone would have emailed me.

One possible explanation for why we spend more time (i.e., all of it) doing this now than we used to (i.e., none), of course, is that we’re being “attacked” now, so we have to.  But I don’t think that’s it.  After all, I just asked you to list all the times you had ever actually been attacked along these lines, and you couldn’t come up with any.  If you’re about to protest that you did come up with some, then you must have skipped the part where I explicitly specified that someone criticizing a video game doesn’t count as a personal attack on you, even if the thing about the game that they don’t like has something to do with men.  By way of analogy, I have been criticizing that Atari E.T. game at regular intervals since 1983 because the whole thing consisted of falling into pits and not being able to get out, but this doesn’t mean I have anything against pits in real life.  I think pits are useful for many things, such as storing municipal drinking water, filling with brightly colored plastic balls at an upscale McDonald’s, and eerily preserving the remains of ancient Scottish people.  A world without pits would not be a world in which I wish to live.  I just don’t like when I have to dive into one in order to retrieve a telephone that is bigger than I am, merely to find to my incalculable chagrin upon so doing that extending my neck to a great length only renders me capable of floating exactly halfway out of it, which is to say, not out of it at all, as getting out of a pit is not a thing that one can do halfway, irrespective of comically enormous telephone possession.

E.T. screencap
Where were you for this shit, Adam Baldwin?

Okay, fine – but even if we’re not actually being attacked, an environment has still clearly been created in which we can be attacked, right?  All of these feminists with their feministing and minorities with their recently being noticed by us as people who exist mean that attacks on white males for something something and accusations against white males of something something can now possibly happen, and the fact that they can possibly happen means that they are definitely going to, any day now, which is why we all need to spend every morning getting thunderous applause in our minds for setting hypothetical people straight on the Our Own TV Shows that we all deserve to have, to make sure that we exit the shower not only acceptably clean, but also conveniently pre-enraged.

But there is an error in these calculations.  I don’t blame you for not noticing it, because it took over twenty years for me to notice it and I’m a genius, but it is there, and it is as follows:  The fact that it has become logically possible for people to attack us does not mean that they are going to, or even that anything is wrong.  It is just something we’re not used to.

I think this is what all those People Who Are Not Us mean when they talk about our “privilege.”  Like you, I used to get mad whenever I heard people make arguments about “privilege,” because I naturally assumed that a) they meant me, because let’s face it, who the hell could possibly not mean me, and b) they were saying that my life has been easy in every respect.  This pissed me off, because my life hasn’t in fact always been easy.  I know this will shock you, coming from a man who has spent his entire adult life writing essays about logic on the internet for free, but I used to get beaten up in high school.  I think I maybe sort-of get it now, though, and what I think I maybe sort-of get is this:  “Privilege” doesn’t mean nothing bad ever happened to you – it means the bad things that happened to you happened for a different reason than did many of the bad things that happened to other people.

I got beaten up in high school, but I didn’t get beaten up for being a white male – I got beaten up for being me, by other people who were also white males.  And as weird as this sounds, getting beaten up for being you – as opposed to for being a member of a certain category – is a privilege.  The bullies in my high school didn’t hate all people with brown hair, or all people with hazel eyes – they hated me.  It still sucks, but it’s better than the other thing.  In a weird way, it’s like being famous.  Think of it this way:  Supervillains aren’t always trying to kill Batman because they hate all people who drive black cars or all people who wear utility belts – they are trying to kill him specifically because he is Batman.  It is still a pain in Batman’s ass, but it feels better than it would to know he is being prejudged simply for being a member of the category “people with incomprehensibly gravelly voices.”

So, “privilege” doesn’t mean we are used to everything always going our way.  Absolutely not.  What it does mean is that we are used to things that don’t go our way happening for reasons that are about who we are as individuals rather than about what categories we have membership in – and, more importantly, that we are the only people who have ever been permitted to be used to this.

We feel like we’re being insulted.  But, again, if you take a deep breath and look around, I think you’ll find it isn’t so much that we weren’t being insulted before and now we are – it’s that we used to feel like it was impossible for us to be insulted, and now we feel like it’s possible (this is why, for example, we complain about the word “creepy” existing, even if we’ve never been called “creepy” ourselves).

But of freaking course it’s possible.  This isn’t really something we should be complaining about, because there’s no such thing as a right to have potential insults about you not even exist.  As we are so fond of telling women and/or minorities when we all rally to defend some shitty stand-up comedian’s bad joke, there is no such thing as a right not to be offended.  And we’re correct when we say that.  But it seems to me that, if we understand that a right not to be offended doesn’t exist, we should also understand that a right to not even be able to imagine being offended certainly also doesn’t exist.

Again, this isn’t just me scolding us about rights we don’t have.  It’s also – it’s even primarily – me reminding us all that we would be a lot happier if we just relaxed here, myself included.  I’m writing this after getting back to my apartment on the subway – where, as always, I spent the ride envisioning a dozen different situations wherein hypothetical feminists simultaneously yell at me both for giving up my seat and for not giving up my seat.  But why do I do that?  What does it get me?  I have never been yelled at for either of these things one single time in my life, much less for both of them at once by two different feminists who are squaring off in a yelling-at-me cage match, so why do I think about it all the time?

Forgive my belaboring the point, but I am starting to feel as though it should be belabored:  This is what runs through my head every single time I am on the subway, which I ride every day, even though this has never actually happened to me, or, to the best of my knowledge, even ever happened to anyone.

I’m just…  Well, I’m starting to suspect I would be happier if I didn’t spend every moment of my life in a constant state of irate defensiveness about fights that I am making up with people that I am also making up.  And you probably would be too.  Instead, why don’t we spend our time, um…  I don’t know, but doing seriously anything but this.  Really, anything at all.  Hey, we’re always talking about all the stuff we invented – why don’t we invent some stuff?  It seems like it’s been a while since we did that.

And I do want it to be clear that I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t defend yourself or argue back if and when someone does actually come right out and rip on you for being a man, or white, or both, or whatever it is you expect to happen.  I think you’re totally allowed to do this.  Heck, I encourage you to do it.  I just think we could all benefit from taking a step back and admitting to ourselves, and to each other, that we’re wasting all this time prepping for and obsessing about this despite the fact that it hardly ever happens.

Remember, though, that when I talk about someone “coming right out and ripping on” you, I’m defining that kind of narrowly.  If, for example, you seek out message boards where women are talking to each other about gender and insert yourself into the conversation just to call bullshit and act wounded, that doesn’t count.  I think a response to a published article is fine – I spend most of my free time doing that myself.  But that’s different.  No matter how many different distinctions I think of, though, the advice is essentially going to be the same: don’t go apeshit about people saying stuff to you until such time as an actual person actually says the stuff to you.

This advice isn’t actually all that restricting – in fact, if anything, it’s kind of liberating.  It means you only have to worry about real insults, and not potential insults.  As anybody who isn’t a white male could tell you, getting pissed about all the stuff that other people could potentially say or do to you is a good way to go freaking insane.  We’re the only people in history who haven’t already known this for a long time – and, again, the reason why not is because there hasn’t even potentially been any insulting stuff that people could say or do to us (as a group, I mean, although obviously it was always possible for any of us to be hurt as individuals) until very recent history.

I feel like a lot of people are totally going to miss this no matter how many times I say it, so I’ll try one more time:  This isn’t about being “politically correct” and “letting women and minorities do whatever they want,” because the only place they are doing whatever they want is in our heads.  All I’m telling you to do is to stop being afraid of something you’re imagining, so this response would be a like a four-year old telling you that you’re letting the monsters under her bed do whatever they want.

Just try it.  We have nothing to lose.  If it doesn’t work, we can always just start pretending to be Native American.  People are terrified of calling bullshit on that.

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