My left arm has seceded from my body and is planning to go on a solo air guitar tour of the Midwest. At least, I assume that's why it's alternately hurting and numb.
I honestly wasn't expecting the reaction I got yesterday for a dashed-off early morning post, but thanks for all the thoughtful answers. My original point, which was obscured by my use of WalMart as an example, was that when people have a legitimate dislike for something, they also have an unpleasant tendency to launch personal attacks on the people that use that thing. My example, though poorly chosen, was the characterization of people who shop at WalMart as ignorant tasteless rubes.
I think we lose when we go ad hominem. To pick another controversial subject, I sincerely dislike Sarah Palin, but I don't think attacks on her as a woman, or using gendered slurs, do anything to advance the argument against her politics, which are plenty horrific on their own. When I see liberal sites or blogs that think it's funny to call her "Caribou Barbie" or (more heinously) talk about hate-raping her, I get mad, because they're attacking the fact that she's a woman, not that she supports a policy platform that thinks its voters are idiots, or that she thinks women should have no say over their own bodies. Her politics are scary, but that gets lost in the generalized woman hatred. It's simply the other side's tactics against Hillary Clinton, reversed. One can hardly claim superiority when one is perpetuating the same misogyny as the other side.
In the same fashion, attacking people who shop at WalMart as low-income, tasteless, buck-toothed, overweight "breeders" is not a neccessary part of decrying WalMart's business practices.
It is a very common thing to otherize people who disagree with one's viewpoint. Dehumanization makes it a lot easier to treat people badly. This is why war propaganda characterizes the enemy, whomever they are, as animalistic, savage, and non-human. If the enemy/opposition is not human, then it's no big deal to be cruel to them.
It's much harder to be mean to someone when you know they feel the same things you do, and you see them being hurt. One of the reasons flame wars get so vicious is that the participants cannot see the hurt they inflict, so it isn't real, not in the way that calling someone a whore who should die in a fire to their face can be*. When you can't see the tears, it doesn't count.
I know lots of people who fall into the categories that are popularly stereotyped, and really, none of them fit those stereotypes. I could talk a lot about how the people who have a desire to maintain the status quo have a vested interest in maintaining negative stereotypes of the people they want to keep down, but I'm not up for the discussion today. Let's just stick with my opinion: I feel that an awful lot of negative stereotypes exist to help maintain the marginalization of outsider groups. Welfare recipients, for example - people love to extrapolate the behaviour/attitudes of all welfare recipients based on the examples that they have seen or heard about**. It is a common thing to attribute the behaviour of one member of a group to all of that group.
But it's not accurate, is it? And it's not right. I have done it - oh yes, I am not Pristine McPerfectPants, I have been cruel and exclusionary, and I have caused hurt. Part of my journey of self-awareness has been to recognize that what seems like a easy joke is wrong when it is made at the expense of someone who has no control over the characteristic I am mocking. I'm fine with making evil jokes about how Sarah Palin says she "chose life" but wants to remove that choice from all other women, or that I'd give a wolf a gun and a helicopter and let it hunt humans any day, but I'm not going to go after the fact that she's a woman, and I personally hate the moniker "Caribou Barbie", since it trivializes her, and by extension all women in politics, not to mention it distracts from the fact that if she was elected to high office, she would be extremely dangerous to all the principles I hold dear.
Making fun of public figures is a time-honoured tradition. It is even a valuable part of our public discourse. But nothing is gained by mocking women for being women, poor people for being poor, or any group of marginalized people for being marginalized, not to mention that it is just low. It's a form of bullying, a way to make oneself feel big by belittling someone powerless to fight back. And using hateful imagery to make the point cheapens and obscures the actual argument being made***.
I like to try and see things from different perspectives, not to justify something that is harmful, or to advance a particular agenda, but to see the ins and outs of every situation. Very few issues in the world today have easy sound-bite solutions, and I think there are unintended consequences from every choice, so I want to know about every side of things so I can make a more informed choice when the time comes.
I don't like Nestle, and that's been hard, since they make some of my favourite English candy. Not shopping at WalMart is relatively easy, but I'm not as good as I should be about that. I won't buy pizza from Domino's for ideological reasons, but that's hardly a sacrifice, since I prefer Pizza Hut. Life is full of choices, some easy, some very hard, and some impossible. Many economic choices have far-reaching ramifications because of the global economy****. I can't even pin down what "buy American" actually means, and I've been trying. I buy clothes from the thrift store, not just because it's cheap, but because my purchase benefits people in need (plus I'm a fan of recycling perfectly good clothing and household goods rather than stuffing them in a landfill). Again, not particularly hard for me, so it's not like I deserve cookies for my choice.
But I buy goods from China (it's really hard not to, dammit!), and I just got my new Shuffle from WalMart because we were there looking for something we couldn't find anywhere else. I still buy Coffee-Mate creamer. I buy things from Target, and I know their clothes aren't all made in countries that pay a living wage as we understand it.
I'm tainted - we're all tainted in some way. I'm no better than anyone else out there, which reminds me that mocking people for being somehow "lesser" than me is disingenuous. I can disagree with people's actions and with people's ideology, but I can't put myself on a pedestal because I'm lucky enough to be white, well-educated, and born into a middle-class family. I can't mock someone for the things they have no control over.
I'll save my well-deserved snark for the assholes.
*Yes, it did fucking hurt my feelings, even if it was just my ex-husband. It's easy to say "just brush it off", but words pierce to the bone and linger like a staph infection.
**The Republican Party is masterful at exploiting the welfare stereotype of a black woman with tons of kids who stays on welfare for life. Most welfare recipients are white, have one or two children, and stay on welfare less than two years. It's much more complicated than that, of course, but the Republican sound bite is a lie.
***And allows Republicans to play on that snobbery to justify cutting social programs that help marginalized groups, which is really scary if you are fighting for social justice.
****Sweatshops or prostitution? Can we engineer a third, fourth, or fifth choice that doesn't involve human suffering? What will we need to sarifice to make that happen? Are we willing to make that sacrifice? This shit is hard.