Conservative Rhetoric, "Goodness," and Human Value

by - Friday, September 28, 2012

Ok, so this is related to the John Stewart video I posted earlier, which is a pretty incisive take on the conservative media's spinning of the 47% Romney gaff (or whatever you want to call it). There are two quotes from this piece that really cut into some of my biggest frustrations with nastier conservative rhetoric at large (this is my caveat that of course this doesn't apply to all conservative thought, just a particularly loud strain right now):

 "The biggest problem with the denizens of Bullshit Mountain is they act like their shit don't stink. If they have success, they built it. If they failed, the government ruined it for 'em. If they get a break, they deserve it. If you get a break, it's a handout and an entitlement. It's a baffling, willfully blind cognitive dissonance."

"This is the heart of bullshit mountain. The 49% entitlement society that Obama enables. That is the core of the bullshit mountain fiction is how only since Obama have the half of Americans who love this country and work hard and ARE GOOD have had the fruits of their labor seized and handed over to the half of this nation that is lazy, and dependent, and the opposite of GOOD"

The first quote has been getting a lot more attention, but it is this divisive idea of "goodness" that has been on my mind so much in this election. I have noticed in Romney's rhetoric and tactics that there is a genuine appeal to take America back for the GOOD people, which from what I can tell are the rich white people. But the problem for his campaign (which I think appeals to the fear he continually tries to tap into), is that this is a democracy, and too many people now exist who do not fit into his definition of being good and well-behaved. This kind of logic is bound to fail, but it clearly is going down swinging, and I believe that women are bearing the brunt of the social anxiety (because it is political suicide to be racist or homophobic, but being classist and misogynistic is still in style on BOTH sides of the political spectrum).

One of my facebook friends posted, while watching the Sandra Fluke speech, posted that she felt frustrated that democrats speak as if they speak for all women. I agree, this is a problem, because clearly there are intelligent conservative women who have their own opinion and should certainly not felt spoken for. At the same time, the issue of "goodness" could not be more important and imminent than in discussions of womanhood and women's rights, and I often get extremely frustrated with conversations with conservative women because there is an "us and them" mentality. Basically, I am a good woman who is doing things right, and women who do not behave like I do deserve to be punished/ have their rights taken away/ not be allowed to marry their partners/ should be forced to have children they do not want. Because they are not good like we are. I am sure there is plenty of nuance there, and certainly my many conservative lady friends are welcome to speak up, but this is what I hear.

 This same woman, maybe six months ago, posted an article about natural family planning, suggesting all women should get off birth control and let their male partners take primary responsibility for who's getting pregnant when. The article suggested that this is the one truly feminist choice, and those other feminists are actually trying to trick women into more responsibility/burdens/ whatever. There was also a bunch of stuff about how birth control is keeping women from getting married and being happy and so forth.

I want to be clear, that if natural family planning works for your situation and is agreed upon between you and your partner, it is certainly not an un-feminist choice. Being married and having babies is a perfectly feminist option, and I think that if it is what is right for you, that is genuinely a great thing. But there are so many assumptions about women, their sexuality, and their relationships with their sexual partners that are patently false inherent in assuming all women have or want a partnership in that way. But this article essentially assumes that if you aren't married, you are probably a lost cause anyway, and there is no feminist choice for you.  Any time that you try to argue that this is the ONE truly empowering choice for women, as a feminist thinker you have already failed.

Every woman has her own situation, her own born-with priveleges, and her own choices. Treating other people's difference as a threat, or even worse an affirmation of just how "good" you are, robs you of the opportunity to learn something. I can only imagine living your life like that would be scary and very frustrating, because they will never receive the punishment you think they deserve. It also comes with the very difficult tautological reasoning, as Stewart articulated at the end of this piece in the quote that has become so popular. You like you, so what you do is good. You don't like them, so when they do THE EXACT SAME THING, it is evil.

So, as a feminist, you have to be willing to A. Concede that works for you wouldn't and shouldn't work for everyone. and B. Be willing to stand up and help people have the options they need and deserve, even if it is not the choice you would make. I do not think I could get an abortion unless the pregnancy threatened my life, but I think that it is absolutely necessary that they are available to every woman. Absolutely, because you can never fully understand the situation and subjectivity of another human being.

You can educate women on their choices (and the consquences of them- because just about every decision comes with a mixed bag of those), you can stand up when people, including women, are doing things to hurt others, and, if you are willing to keep struggling with it forever, you can constantly keep your definition of goodness in flux. Because thinking goodness looks like whatever you're doing is crazy- you know all the flaws you come with and (like the denizens of bullshit mountain) you know the hypocrisy in deciding that you are good, so what you do is good. Crazy pants! So to me, that is the constant challenge of feminist thinking, but it is still a challenge worth grappling with.

This has been my first effort at a radical lack of antagonism. I truly don't have a problem with conservatives, but I do have a problem with some of the rhetorical strategies at play in this election- this easy antagonism (again, on both ends) prevents anyone from listening and learning. Let's just decide that as long as a person isn't trying to hurt or take away the rights of others, they are probably mostly ok. Maybe even good.

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