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July 23, 2008

The Idiot's Guide to the Principle of Intentions vs. Effects

#11 - Privilege to Define Everything

In Short:
The only perspectives and experiences ever covered in the media, analyzed by scientists, sanctified by religion, validated by politics, or protected by the law are men's perspectives and experiences. Men's claims will not be contested, even if they make no sense.

Derived From:
#8 - Privilege to Make the Rules
#9 - Men Own Religion
#13 - Privilege of Not Being Judged
#14 - Men are the Default Gender
#15 - Privilege of Unquestioned Majority
#20 - Privilege to Speak

Exclusive to Men Because:
Men's perspectives are allowed to supersede the experiences of women. The intentions of men's actions are more important to society than the actual effects their actions have on women. Men's ideas about women supersede women's reality. Men can declare themselves feminist whenever they want, or even declare themselves more oppressed than women when convenient.

Women's lives, and the oppression and violence they suffer at the hands of men, is completely ignored by a society that only views the abuse of women through the rationale of male abusers. Women are thus defined by men into a less-than-fully-human class of people who are unworthy of regard and whose only value stems from the abusive sexual and servitude demands of men: the sex class.

Men who grow up in a society that encourages belief in their perceptions of women over the words and experiences of women are incapable of having a genuine intimate relationship with women. Until you believe that it is possible for your mother, wife, girlfriend, daughter, sister, aunt, niece, female friend, etc. to radically alter any of your deeply held views on life, they are not fully human to you, and will always be unknowable to you on the far side of a gulf of unshared human experience that you refuse to reach across.

A society dominated by the perspectives of only half of its members is doomed to dysfunction. One half of society is stunted by marginalization and violent oppression, while the other half learns to deny reality as it becomes enamored with its own mistaken delusions.

If You are a Good Guy:
You must ascribe to the Principle of Intentions vs. Effects. The Principle states that, whenever you are acting from a position of privilege, your genuine intentions are not what gives your actions their moral value. Rather, it is the effect of your actions on other people that decides the moral value of your actions. Furthermore, the Principle states that people who are wronged by your actions get to name those wrongs, and get to say what you need to do in order to redress the wrongs caused by your actions.

In short, actions speak louder than words. The consequences of your actions on those who are marginalized by your privilege is what matters. Your (genuine or fabricated) feelings when you acted do not matter, as they will not change the effects of your actions.

You cannot undo what has already been done. So when you insist that those who were wronged must consider how you felt when you acted, you are essentially telling the victims of your actions that their feelings on being wronged are themselves wrong. You are telling them that they need to feel different because you don't like their opinions about your actions, and that you want them to let you off the hook. If you are a good person, you will not want to do this to your fellow human beings. Instead, you will want to rectify the harm done and change your behavior so that you will not hurt them in the future.
Part 1 - The Idiot's Guide to the Principle of Intentions vs. Effects

Privilege to Define Everything
(Part 1):
The Idiot's Guide to the Principle of Intentions vs. Effects

" "Yes, young people are usually blind to everything but their own wishes, and seldom imagine how much those wishes cost others," said Mrs Garth....

"I cannot conceive how it could be any pain to Mr Farebrother," said Fred, who nevertheless felt that surprising conceptions were beginning to form themselves.

"Precisely; you cannot conceive," said Mrs Garth, cutting her words as neatly as possible."
~From Middlemarch, by Mary Ann Evans (aka. George Eliot), p. 218

To start, let me point out that this blog really isn't an idiot's guide.

As the official Idiot Guides love to say, "You're no idiot, of course." The vast majority of men are not idiots when it comes to the effects of their actions. They have had plenty of opportunities in life to figure out when they are harming women. If they hadn't figured that part out, they wouldn't be using their 'good intentions' to shield themselves from responsibility in the first place.

Rather than trying to educate idiots, I am using the Idiot's Guide motif to pick apart that shield and show how the intentions of the privileged are being used to silence the unprivileged and legitimize abuse.

Now some of you might chafe at the idea that others can hold you liable for the unintended consequences of your actions. Before you dismiss my argument, consider that the consequences of your actions will remain the same regardless of whether you or I are right. A house will remain burned down whether or not you intended to start the fire. So what you are really against is having to fix harms caused by your actions that you do not want to fix. You prefer not having to face those who are wronged by using the cover of, "I didn't mean it."

For those of you who do not suffer from such a sociopathic lack of conscience, perhaps the Idiot's Guide to the Principle of Intentions vs. Effects will help clear up any remaining confusion about this basic concept of social justice:

Chapter 1
The Invention of the Intention

Sometimes the best way to understand something is through an example. Let's take the 'controversy' surrounding the New Yorker cover of Barak and Michelle Obama that came out a few weeks ago.[1] Now all the brouhaha seems revolve around whether or not the cover amounted to an attack on Michelle and Barak Obama, or a mockery of their detractors. Now, for reference, here is the cover that caused the 'controversy':

It's a lot like the Rubin Vase, isn't it? Is it a cup? Or two faces? Is Barak a terrorist? Or is it another attack on Michelle Obama? You may find that your interpretation of the picture shifts every time you stare at it!

Chapter 2
Weighing the Sides: Let's Reflect on the Effect

Since the cover is so hard for people to interpret, let's instead try to step back and examine the two sides of the controversy.
Did You Know That: Every controversy in life can be conveniently boiled down to two sides. And to make things even easier, the minority view is always crazy or evil [see: #11 - Privilege to Define Everything, and also #15 - Privilege of Unquestioned Majority].
From here, we can look at both sides to see whether or not the cover amounted to an attack on Michelle and Barak Obama. On the attack side, we have the following:
And on the defense side, we have:
  • Well, the author said it wasn't an attack on Obama. So you're an idiot if you believe otherwise:
"I think the idea that the Obamas are branded as unpatriotic [let alone as terrorists] in certain sectors is preposterous. It seemed to me that depicting the concept would show it as the fear-mongering ridiculousness that it is." [2]
(Emphasis added)
With such equally compelling arguments on both sides, how people like ourselves judge the effects of the cover?
F.M. Sez: Remember that the Author's intentions will have no effect on how people interpret the cover, so it is likely that the author stated his intentions as part of an effort to avoid blame for the consequences of his work.
How did we get to the point that a single white man's word, backed by no other evidence, could stand up solidly against a chorus of opposition? How does an obvious case of Michelle-and-Barak-bashing get stymied in a 'controversy' that lets the cover's creator off the hook?

Chapter 3
Putting It All Together

Here's an interesting observation: Mr. Blitt did not offer any solid evidence that he was against the fear-mongering rhetoric. And why should he? Our Patriarchal society never expects men to prove that their intentions were genuine [See: #13 - Privilege of Not Being Judged]. A man's word is trusted by default. Mr. Blitt did not need to show us an Obama 2008 bumper sticker on his car, or a donation receipt to the Obama campaign, or even a simple showing of past cartoons that skewered republicans. He need to do to clear his name was make a single statement that he was against the fear-mongering rhetoric to the press. (I doubt Arianna Huffington would ever be let off the hook that easily!) His statement of good intention is all we need, right? And since he intended no harm, there was no foul?

Not so fast. Even though the cartoonist never owned up to any harm, harm was still done by this cover . But as we have seen in the case of the New Yorker, any act committed against an unprivileged individual isn't a crime unless the privileged perpetrator [4] says it is! This isn't justice, this is Hierarchy. And since the words used by women to rebut men's intentions are regularly rewritten by men, this is Patriarchy.

Chapter 4
What You Need to Do

The Principle of Intentions vs. Effects simply asks that we take responsibility for the consequences of our actions, whether we intend them or not. The alternative is to retreat into the life that the Patriarchy offers: a the guilt-free and conscience-free infantile existence supported by Male Privilege.

If you do not wish to retreat from the life of an adult, then you must ascribe to the
Principle of Intentions vs. Effects, and give up the Male Privilege to define the feelings of those that you have wronged. You can start by fighting the urge to contest every single complaint that anyone has about your actions.

Admit it, you don't take complaints without a fight. But, come on, every single time? Human beings are immensely fallable creatures. You can't be right 90% of the time, because no one is! Just think about the last time you screwed up majorly. I bet you gave your wife/girlfriend/mother trouble when she confronted you, even though you were the one who glued the refrigerator shut. Well that has to stop! Don't worry, you're not "whipped" just because you finally decided to listen to someone besides yourself and your buddies who always agree with you. This is actually called maturity.

Taking complaints without comment may bruise your to your ego a bit, but trust me, you will grow into a better human being because of it. You'll also stop screwing up so much once you start acknowledging your mistakes and learning from them (This is unlike the show Home Improvement, where all mistakes and their morals were conveniently forgotten in time for the next episode.). You will also enjoy the added bonus of seeing newfound happiness in the faces of your close female relations as you finally acknowledge their legitimacy to have opinions that matter.

Also, stop using the phrase "that was not my intent", or "I'm sorry if you felt that way" every time you screw up. Instead, learn to apologize for real. If you truly regret something, then be sorry for the actions or words that caused the offense, and change your actions in the future.

And if you still find yourself balking at these simple and basic requests, then you may want to consider how you already take responsibility for the unintended consequences of your actions elsewhere in life. Do you wear a seat belt? Do you own collision insurance on your car? Do you say, "my bad" to your male buddies when you screw up, or "that was not my intent"? If you're fine with owning up to unintended consequences in these cases, why not the rest of the time? Why not with women? Unless you desire to ride high on a tide of injustice and oppression, you must give up the privilege to define the consequences of your actions.

Extra Credit:
Here is another of Mr. Blitt's covers:

Now what does this cover say to you?

A: "Nothing. I feel nothing except whatever Mr. Blitt says it depicts. Can he tell me what it means?"

Appendix A:
Intentions vs. Effects for Right-Wingers

If you still find it hard to see the effects of the New Yorker cover, let's see what happens when we turn the tables around. Vanity Fair recently ran this cover:

You believe me when I say that the author intended to highlight the ridiculousness of attacks against McCain age, right?

The Least You Need to Know:

In the delusional world of Male Privilege, men's actions never have consequences, no matter how blatant they are, until the male culprits themselves say they do!

[1] In the interest of full disclosure, I am an enthusiastic supporter of Hillary Rodham Clinton, also called a "castrati" by some Fox News pundit who regularly mixes sexual harassment with delusional paranoia about his rivals.
[2] Note how the cartoonist uses the passive voice to avoid attributing any action to himself. He says, "It seems to me that depicting the concept would show it as..." instead of the less cagy, "I decided to show the concept as...". Not that I am making any judgments as to the truthfulness of the cartoonist's statement. That was not my intent. [3]
[3] If you believed that last sentence, please read this Idiot's Guide again.
[4] Mr. Blitt is enjoying the privilege of being a nationally renowned cartoonist who is free to draw whatever he feels like for consumption by millions of people around the globe, in case you who were wondering.

Copyright June 2008 by F*ck M*sculinity

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