Matt Arnold (matt_arnold) wrote,
Matt Arnold

Laser Cutters And Social Justice

We can't level a playing field by pretending it's already level. The laser cutter that I use is frequently mis-aligned, and cuts poorly unless I level the platform. Imagine if I keep getting bad lasering jobs, and instead of leveling the platform, I get mad because I feel all defensive and accused. "I'm in favor of a level playing field! I'm not the sort of person who pushes it out of level! Why would I do that?"

This is why there are two definitions of racism and sexism. By one definition, racism and sexism are deliberate choices, made by bad people, out of hostility and antagonism toward a group. By the other definition, racism and sexism are systems of unintentional disadvantages, resulting from the well-intentioned actions of good people, like you and me. If you don't understand why somebody told you that you did something racist or sexist, it might be the second kind.

The second kind is like my laser cutter's alignment.

I'm going to say something now that will be scary to many of you for a minute, but bear with me, and it will get less scary. Almost every time I use the laser cutter, I have to grab the higher end of the platform (whites, men, straights, Christians, able-bodied, thin, that's you), to keep it from rising, while I grab the lower end of the platform (non-whites, women, LBGTs, non-Christians, disabled, fat, that's you) and lift it up to the same height. That's how to get a level playing field.

Un-leveling mostly happens accidentally, passively, easily. Leveling happens deliberately, with energy and difficulty. I favor the lower side of the platform over the higher side until there is no longer a higher and lower. I can't do it by being "level-blind". If I'm "level-blind", I'm keeping the platform out of level. Breathe deeply while I say the next thing-- Are you ready? -- By the second definition, if you say "I'm color-blind", you are an unintentional racist.

If the higher end of the bed were a person, it would probably feel like it's being punished. If it only knows the first definition, un-leveling is only something that happens deliberately. It knows it's a good person who does not deliberately put the platform out of level. Therefore, it assumes the bed is already level. All it has to do is abstain from deliberately un-leveling it. Therefore, the laser must be cutting fine, and the resulting parts must have been intended to look that way. And even if it is out of level, isn't it the whole machine's fault? So change that! Or redefine the word "up" so the current alignment of the platform is the absolute reference frame of the planet Earth. Anything but putting my hand on top of the right side of the platform to prevent it rising while I raise the left side.

The right side of the bed will assume, since it believes that it's already level, that if it lowers, it will go out-of-level, and be lower than the left side. This is why, very early in any discussion of equality, the subject changes from helping a disadvantaged class, onto making sure the people who are already advantaged do not become a new persecuted class. We pay far too much attention to that. That is not what's at stake, but that doesn't even need to be said. Whites, men, straights, Christians, the able-bodied, and the thin, do not need to ask for reassurance about that.

If you want reassurance of that, just be on the lookout for your advantages. It takes time, but it's possible to start noticing them. Pretty soon you'll realize how wealthy with privileges you are, and you'll realize just how little it costs you to level the playing field. And that's the part where this concept becomes much less scary.
Tags: equality
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