sea nerd blog — us & them

It’s very very easy to fall into the trap of us & them. If you divide people between us and them, you are saying there is something that we have that they do not, or vice versa. If this division is something which is made by free choice, such as signing or not signing a contract, then fine. It is, though, easy to make presumptions, such as to presume someone had free choice on signing the contract, so one must verify the presumption. But if it is verified, then there’s nothing wrong with discrimination on the basis of the contract content in a matter to which that contract applies.

If, however, that something is a matter over which they have no control, such as colour, disability, gender, choice of parents, then you are on dangerous grounds. There is a very good chance you are being bigoted.

If someone lacks an innate ability that prevents them doing something that you can help them do, and they wish to do it, then assisting them doing so is politeness. If someone is blind, and you help them to cross the road, yet you do not help sighted people cross the road, that is fine.

But if someone lacks an innate property, and you treat them differently on a matter that has no connection with that property, then you are wrong. For example, if you refuse to consider the opinion of a blind person when you would consider the same opinion from a sighted person, you are a bigot.

By innate property, I mean a characteristic that applies to a person over which they have no choice. Deciding whether or not to sign a contract is not an innate property. Being blind is. Deciding not to eat meat is not an innate property (normally; there are some weird allergies about). Choice of parents is.

To look at it on a very basic level, dividing people into us and them is favouring us over them. This becomes problematic when the factor used to make the division is choice of parents. It is not exactly shocking to discover that, actually, one cannot choose ones parents. Yet so many people decide to favour or otherwise others on the basis of something which came about before they were even born.

This is why such things as race, culture, nationality, and many other divisions, are so poisonous.

And this is why discriminating against people because they are immigrants, e.g. they chose foreigners as parents, is fundamentally bigoted. If you want to treat immigrants differently to natives, you are racist. If you are not ashamed at yourself for being racist because you want to treat immigrants differently from natives, you are disgusting.

Anyway, back to the basic point. The error is not finding the wrong place to create a division between us and them, the error is thinking that some people are them. The error is not the place of the division, the error is the division itself. Whilst you think in terms of us and them, you are incapable of avoiding error. People are people are people; don’t try and create a them whom you consider to be less people than you. Just don’t do it. You cannot avoid descending if you do.

But the whole story gets worse. Imagine you are an anti–immigration nationalist. Imagine you want to do the best you can for your own people. This means you treat your own people better than your treat others. This means treat other people worse than you treat your own people. In other words, you mistreat others simply because you don’t approve of their choice of parent, something over which they have no control.

Now imagine you start to deny these other people things that you permit your own people. You are drifting into active discrimination. If you decide to enforce the denial, by forcing people to move home, or worse, you are drifting from active discrimination into screwing up peoples’ lives. You are trying to do good, but because you divide people into us and them, you harm others, you actually do evil.

The mistake is to divide people up into us and them. The mistake is to mark some people as them. Do not do it. That division leads you to evil. Do not make the division. Do not divide into us and them. Do not treat immigrants as them. Do not treat anyone as them. Do not do evil. Do not be evil.

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