Their Own Self Interest

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There’s an argument I dislike that I hear in political and atheist discourse all too often. It says that X group is foolish for supporting Y politician/religion, because Y is only using X. Very often the argument is made by someone with no connection to that minority identity. It’s white atheists smugly telling black Christians slave masters had the same religion, as if they didn’t know.

Hidden beneath statements that one just can’t understand women (or queers or people of color) who are Christian or Republican or whatever, is the assumption that bigotry and discrimination are perfectly reasonable for non minorities. These speakers are saying they do understand when men favor patriarchy. They think it makes perfect sense when whites vote for racist politicians, and the rich trying to get richer by screwing over those with less is just good business practice to them.

This style of objection is based on abuse as normal, on exploiting anyone you can as being an acceptable way to operate. When wealthier, better educated whites from New England scoff at poor Southern whites for “voting against their interests”, they’re saying everyone should vote in ways that harm others but protect their interests.

They’re saying it makes sense, it’s good voting, when we vote for our own interests above others, that it’s only wrong when poor people elect business friendly welfare slashers, and that of course it makes sense for the wealthy to do this. They’re saying it’s not a problem when men favor sexist religion, only when women do.

It’s a way of blaming victims for systems of inequality they try to function within, and to absolve the people profiting from this inequality. If minorities won’t look out for themselves, won’t conjure worthy candidates from the ether, then their suffering was self inflicted. They made a bad choice.

They’re saying that of course men would favor sexist, rigid, patriarchal religions, while ignoring the ways atheist men often favor social dominance too. They’re saying that the only people who should care about sexism are women, while somehow imagining they are a less sexist alternative any reasonable women should prefer. They discount salient facts to laugh at those fools they simply can’t understand, and resist education on possible motives.

I can tell you the reason people vote against their interest, or hold religious views that clip their own wings: because people are whole, multifaceted human beings with complex lives, backgrounds, and motivations. When my mother was an anti-choice, anti-queer more conservative Christian, she usually voted Democratic candidates because they had better education platforms. Was she voting for or against her interests? Is a poor white coal miner who relies on public healthcare and schooling voting for or against their interests when they vote Republican?

Our minds are extraordinary for their ability to engage in constant daily cost-benefit analyses, helping us decide when to wear the nice dry clean only suit and when to wear the less formal easier to care for yoga pants, or whether to move to a safer yet pricier neighborhood. These analyses pull data from our physical state, our emotional state, and the state of our bank account. They are complex, and hard to fully observe.

When I decide what is in a stranger’s best interest, I discount the importance of most of this data. I declare that my cursory glance at incomplete data is a superior analysis to anything they could perform with all the data. It is extremely arrogant and shallow thinking, the peak of condescension.

There is no popular religion or political party that is a true safe haven for women, people of color, disabled people, or queers. We have to choose between a political party that uses us as props and another that does the same, between religions that objectify, infantilize, and condemn us and an atheism that does the same.

This is not a false equivocation; I am not saying all political parties or all religions are alike or equal in degree. I have my own thoughts and preferences, and my cost-benefit analyses have led me to grudging allegiance with atheism and reluctant voting for Democrats. Choosing the lesser evil isn’t exactly worth celebrating.

Please stop smugly pretending you’re better than someone more persecuted for feeling freer in your choices. It makes you a jerk.

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