Let me set the scene: it was an early morning D (400) level Feminist + Postcolonial Development class. A student, for the sake of storytelling, I will name him Derek, brought up the story of John Bolton’s resignation/firing (still contested), and highlighted the differences between Bolton’s foreign policy and Trump’s.
In the end, his main argument was something along the lines of, “Sometimes, we (in reference to Trump) need to work with our enemies (in reference to the heads of Saudi Arabia, North Korea, and Russia).”
I can say, with no hesitation, there was a general consensus in the air. We all understood, and knew that Derek’s point of having to work with “bad” people to then create some good changes, was logically incorrect. Many in that room, brought up several different examples, including personal anecdotes. One student mentioned how someone she knew, even while holding Liberal (comparable to Democratic) views still decided to run his riding with the Conservative (comparable to Republican) Party.
I think in many ways, she was elucidating the point, that we all to a certain extent work with people who hold different opinions from us.
Here is where I spoke up. I felt, and do feel, heavily inclined, to voice the differences between “working with people we do not like”, and systematic decisions to work with leaders who stand on different planes when it comes to protecting and providing justice and freedoms to its citizens.
Derek was confusing these individual acts and choices as synonymous and equivalent to systematic power relationships that are curated and defined by and through these seemingly individual acts. Trump and all of these figures that he was discussing are not acting as individuals, they are held to an account of the nations and states that they are governing, and they are also held to account of transnational and global doctrines that bind them.
Them choosing to engage in specific acts that are oppressive, tyrannical, exploitive, racist supremacist, patriarchal, colonial, the list can go on and on, are not individual actions between a group of “bad people” or those who just don’t like each other that much. That is not the concern. The concern between these relationships is not one of an individual nor one of opinions or personal choices. These are differences in moral and ethical standpoints, and this is the point that I really wanted to make.
Derek was not referencing individual opinions, his argument was really, sometimes we need to work with people who morally and ethically wish to deny peoples’ basic freedoms, rights, and liberation.
This is the point, I wish I had explained better. Your moral standpoint/ethical foreground and your opinion are two very different things. They are two different mechanisms through which you logically understand, view, and process your world. Your moral and ethical standpoint is the values, the ethics, the morals, the philosophies, and the processes through which you see, you analyze, you experience, and you embody what’s going on in the world. This is the backdrop, the theoretical, logical and conceptual plane through which you go about your day to day life.
Your opinions, all of them, are not frames. They’re not theoretical backdrops or logical contentions. Your opinions are expressions of the particular experiences going on in the world that you find yourself in. They are the way that you express your feelings, your emotions, your thoughts into tangible points of view in your day to day life that you then hold onto when making decisions.
I love this TV show because xyz, these are your opinions. Your opinions range from trivial, I like this TV show, to more complex such as who you’re voting for, or how you organize and resist fascist governments (if that’s your jam). These are all your perspectives, and if you look just close enough, you can see a metaphorical ribbon running through them. That ribbon, that essence of your opinion, is your moral and ethical standpoint, your theoretical backdrop. This standpoint is the frame through which you recognize and assert your opinions.
Your moral standpoint exists regardless of specific opinions you have. I think that this might be a bit confusing, so let me explain. While your opinions are largely shaped by your moral standpoint, your moral standpoint itself does not have to be dictated by any of your opinions. It does not need to be expressed through all of your opinions in the same fashion as all of your opinions in some fashion express your moral standpoint.
If we go back to the student, Derek, he claimed that we should work with our enemies/bad people or just in general be able to collectivize with those who have different opinions from us. However, he was looking at opinions and these very individual actions, preferences, and choices as somehow equivalent to the moral ethical standpoints that we exhibit and draw from in our day to day lives. While you can work very well in many cases with people that hold different opinions than you, working with someone who has a different moral and ethical standpoint, one that demands your subordination, that demands your oppression, that demands your marginalization, that demands your subjugation, is implausible.
Also, just to be clear, when I say different, I mean different. I mean, with liberal and conservatives (some of them) at the end of the day, their overall standpoints are kind of similar. I know many people don’t want to hear that. I am one of those people too. But, hear me out.
Maybe the mechanisms through which conservatives and liberals see themselves asserting those moral standpoints are different, i.e. in which ways do we achieve what we think is important? But, that backdrop is not fundamentally opposed. And while, of course, we may disagree with individual and collective opinions, there is most definitely fluidity within the parties on moral standpoints, that must be taken into account.
We, by compromising and conflating these moral and ethical standpoints with opinions, serve to further oppose our own existence, our own justice, and our own freedom.
Moral standpoints are not debatable spheres. They are not topics that can be dissected and convinced. It’s not possible for me to convince you about my right to freedom. I should not have to convince you of that because if I do, my friend, you are not somebody who morally stands on a ground that wishes for us to be liberated and achieve justice within this society.
And, to Derek, and all the other Dereks, who may not share the name, but share his actions, I hope you understand that ethically and morally, we are not here for your consumption. We’re not here for your recognition, for a pat on the back, or for validation. We don’t exist for you to come in and convince us that our freedom really lies in working with our oppressors.
There is no compromise between the oppressed and the oppressors other than the decision to dismantle their oppression. There is no other compromise. There is no other opinion. There is no other choice.
You either fight for liberation by dismantling the relationship of domination and subordination between oppressors and oppressed within several capacities in our Colonial Capitalist Supremacist Patriarchy, or you do not. Until those relationships of power are dismantled, justice will not be served. Liberation will not be achieved. And if you are opposed to that, that is not your opinion. That is your moral standpoint. And that is why I will not be working with you.