November 10, 2021

The vampire isn’t an angel just because it’s scary.

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 1:08 am by chavisory

This is adapted from a recent Facebook post, since I decided not to antagonize this person on Twitter, which I judged would be a poor use of both of our days.

[Tweet by a person whose name and image I’ve pixelated reads “I think what a lot of folx don’t quite understand is social justice isn’t meant to make you feel comfortable. It’s quite the opposite really. It’s meant to make you confront the injustices in this world which is inherently an uncomfortable process. /1”]

But I think it’s worth talking about why this tweet actually encapsulates, really concisely and eloquently, part of why I have always found the social justice movement as we presently know it so profoundly alienating.

(The other part involves its incredibly close resemblance to the dynamics of evangelical Christianity, but that’ll have to remain another soapbox for another day right now.)

When I first started getting into activism, I believed, perhaps naively, that the point was to see justice done. And sometimes that does involve changing a lot of people’s core beliefs and opinions.

And that takes time. It takes different approaches for different people and different situations. People mainly change their essential worldviews over long periods of time, for personal and complicated reasons, not because the right person yelled at them, berated them or made fun of them.

And sometimes it means getting shit done regardless of what other people think about it.

Sometimes it is inevitably going to be uncomfortable. Sometimes you’re going to learn things you wish couldn’t be true or that you didn’t want to know. Learning and growing can be painful. Confronting your own cognitive dissonance or the failures of your worldview can be uncomfortable. Pain and discomfort can be necessary to growth. People seriously interested in confronting their prejudices should be ready for that. You’re not always going to be reassured that you are good and right or that what you’re trying to do is the best possible thing.

That’s life.

But I believe the inversion—not just that confronting injustice is likely to be uncomfortable, but this thinly-veiled (and sometimes not-at-all-veiled) “the point is making people uncomfortable,” “the point is to make you do things that are going to make you uncomfortable” rhetoric that has become such an article of faith in social justice advocacy—is too much of an open door to deciding that whatever you need to do to make the right people uncomfortable is justified, to the point of open mistreatment and upsetting people for the sake of it.

You’re making someone else uncomfortable, so that must mean you’re doing the right thing, right? That’s just what it takes, right?

That must mean they needed to be made uncomfortable, right?

I mean, that’s the logical extension of the directive that “if you’re defensive, that means you’re wrong, so just own up to it and apologize.” So if you’ve made someone defensive, it’s because you were right to. That’s just what confronting injustice means, right?

It’s a mistake I’ve seen in a lot of social justice rhetoric over the years now—that if you’re making someone uncomfortable that means you’re doing it right. Regardless of what, if any, other effect on the issue at hand you’re actually having.

And as someone who, for various reasons, lots of people over the course of my life have decided that I needed to be made uncomfortable and that it was their moral imperative to do it…I can tell you that that is not ever going to go the way you hope it will.

While I think it probably wasn’t the intentional primary thesis of the show, events at one point in the recent Netflix series Midnight Mass vividly illustrate the horrible potentialities of the inversion.

[Major spoilers for Midnight Mass from here on out!]

[Not kidding! If you have not watched Midnight Mass but you do intend to do so, do not read!]

When Father Paul reveals the vampire to his parishioners at the midnight Easter Mass, he first attempts to reassure them in their understandable alarm by reminding them that angels have almost always had to announce their presence by saying “Be not afraid.” Because the normal reaction of a human to the sight of an angel is terror.

“And remember, brothers and sisters! Have faith, that in the Bible, every time they mention an angel, when an angel appears to we humans, we are afraid!”

And it’s true—the Bible describes angels as terrifying and bizarre, and the messages they bring to humanity as usually disruptive and uncomfortable.

What that doesn’t mean is that anything terrifying is an angel.

Vampires are scary. Angels are scary.

But the vampire isn’t an angel because it’s scary, and being scary, in and of itself, isn’t proof of something being an angel.

Sometimes things that are ultimately good are terrifying. Sometimes good news is scary. But not everything terrifying is actually good. And not everything “uncomfortable” is actually justified, or even true. Sometimes the reason you’re uncomfortable or defensive is because you are being treated badly. Sometimes the reason you’re being told to ignore your instincts or your values is because it is in the interests of abusers for you to do so. Sometimes your cognitive dissonance is because what you’re being told is right and necessary is wrong and messed up.

Sometimes the thing you’re being told is an angel looks like a vampire because it is one.

And sometimes the rat poison you’re being served as a sacrament is actually just rat poison.

The bridges you burn may light your way. Or they might strand you on a burning island full of vampires.

I think once we’ve decided that making people comfortable or uncomfortable is the point of our activism, once we’ve decided how other people are supposed to feel and that our moral prerogative is to make them, we’ve already lost our way.

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