The “Self-loathing” Argument
I was flicking through articles yesterday, and saw one which accused FairTrade buyers of being middle-class self-loathers. I think the idea was that people who buy FT products do so out of guilt and pity rather than an actual commitment to justice, as the author of the comment didn’t seem to offer any alternative method of dealing with global poverty.
I was reminded of an essay by a favourite singer of mine, David Rovics, entitled “Journey of a (self-hating) Jew“. Its a very powerful description of his journey of someone who’s Jewish but rarely makes anything of it towards a role in the Palestinian Liberation/Solidarity movement. Where ever I look this term keeps cropping up.
The fact is, as a white, middle-class, western straight male I have a lot to feel guilty about. I’ve referred to myself on more than one occaision as a ‘Stupid White Man’ (apologies to Moore) and regularly feel a certain amount of guilt about the many and varied ways in which those I bare a striking resemblance to have ruined the world for the vast majority of its inhabitants. As a Christian, I’m used to starting services with a confession of my guilt, perhaps another act of self-loathing I’m prone to.
I’ve even been known to have announced that ‘real justice’ for African asylum seekers would not just involve them being allowed to settle here, but the whole white population being deported to slave-labour in Africa. I understand why thats a bit extreme, and no, I don’t really believe that that would solve anything; there are different kinds of justice, and the retributive type rarely works out for the best.
Occasionally when I’m doing pro-Palestinian (or this summer, pro-Lebanese) campaigning, people tell me (usually by method of shouting across the street) to put myself in the shoes of the Israeli’s. I think the answer they want goes something like “Oh, I hadn’t thought of that, oh dear, maybe the Israeli’s do have a right to attack the Palestinians for their own protection”.
There seems to be an assumption that once one starts to imagine one’s self in the situation of perpetrating injustice, one will suddenly feel the need to continue it. Unfortunately for anyone who wants an answer to the question (many don’t feel the need to listen to one), I know I’m a self hater: I don’t need to be Jewish to feel loathing at what ‘my people’ have done: we’ve promoted slavery, racism, patriarchy, war, destruction of the environment and of indigenous livelihoods, and so much besides. The answer to the question is simple: “I’d just feel self loathing all the same”.