This is not an issue that directly relates to any form of rights I’ve spoken about. It’s about boundaries, finding an ethical code that won’t tear you up inside with hypocrisy, and protecting yourself.
I was, like a lot of people, brought up to believe that honesty was one of the biggest virtues someone could ever have; at least where I grew up, kids were inundated with feel-good stories about “doing the right thing,” and not getting punished because they had the goodness of soul to stand up and proclaim The Truth. No, the world doesn’t work like that, which makes it an even shittier propaganda tactic to use on children, but the idea of honesty as paramount still looks awful good until you take a look at it in the context of reality—power, prejudice, inequality and defense.
Much like pacifism, the people most likely to benefit from widespread “honesty” are also the people least likely to have to practice it, because the power imbalance is heavily tilted to their side. The rich, the powerful, the white and the dickled have much less to lose from practicing (or not practicing) pacifism and honesty; there’s less of a line between a choice to do so or not to do so for them.
What’s the worth of a white person’s choice to be a pacifist in a society that does not target them with violence, inequality and disenfranchisement? It’s not like that white pacifist won’t be hurting the people of color who do suffer those things; they’re institutionalized. One white dude’s symbolic gesture of non-participation—especially while zie is still participating in other oppressions that highlight and entrench racism like capitalism, carnism, technocentrism, for a start—doesn’t do a whole lot to reduce the impact of racism on actual people. Not even talking about it will stop that shit; it’s not in your hands.
And what does pacifism symbolize to the power structure when taken up by a person of color, except a willing acceptance of victimization?
I’m not asking about the personal value of these beliefs, whatever they may be. I’m asking about what they do. I’m asking where these supposed “subversions” of the power structure become actual subversion, actual sabotage. Especially since I do want to enact violence against the power structure—I want to destroy it utterly. Again: I’m trying to chop down the tree of oppression. You don’t have to join me, but you had better stay the hell outta my way while I’m swinging the axe.
What effect does honesty have on the power structure? How does it help, or harm?
The first time dishonesty as a political act, instead of as simple self-protection, was driven home to me was when Aslan and I were homeless together, living out of a tent bought with the money I’d saved up as our last vestige of hope. We had an average income of $0/mo. I’m the black sheep of the family and have never had any kind of financial support from them; Aslan grew up on the streets under a welfare mother and zeir working-class stepfather was seven hundred miles away, assuming he’d be willing to help the kid he abandoned at four. No trustifarians we. So you can imagine how we got food. Not through a dumpster; they’re mechanizing them all nowadays. Anyway.
We ate better than we had in months, even walking a minimum of 30,000 steps every day. Not particularly because we got “a lot,” but because we managed to get enough. It helped that we’re vegan—carnist foods are much riskier to shoplift than anything else. Some karma thing, I dunno. But it struck me, the first time I went in with Aslan with a goal in mind, just how much capitalism has invested in imbuing this strange, distorted “honesty” into you: the entire structure of a corporate grocery store is designed to hide the underhanded shenanigans occurring on every level of the capitalist establishment while at the same time trying to make it so that you do not have the ability to hide anything from them.
And most of that attempt consists of psychological tactics. Most people don’t know not to twitch, to act as if you have a right to be there, and to do your best to remain as invisible, unforgettable, and impersonal as possible.
There is a direct line from one to the other here. You have to ask: who is profiting from these beliefs? In other words, who is profiting off of making you too nervous and guilt-ridden to ensure that you can eat, regardless of whether or not one of the upper caste will accept your petition to work? Because the answer is fairly clear. Instilling the belief that honesty is a necessity, even and especially when it harms yourself, in order for those who hold power over you to cement that dynamic straight into the ground.
Put another way: if you are honest, who is going to hurt you?
As a matter of policy, I don’t particularly believe that anyone is obligated to tell the truth when they are long the power imbalance. There are a few caveats to that—the consideration, for example, of whether or not you’re going to be directly hurting someone else by lying—but the rest stands. In many cases, I see lying as an obligation, such as with the quintessential “he went thataway!” misdirection of oppressors in search of a revolutionary. The only person you should ever make a policy of total honesty with is yourself. And maybe your best friend/long-term lover, but I’m pretty sure that requires negotiation. A lot of people start “opening up” and then take it way too far because they have no experience with what is an acceptable and desirable limit to that.
Question these social norms you are given at their premise. Why is honesty desirable? Why is pacifism? Why is femininity? Why is carnism? Why is nationalism? Why is the human race? Ask not just why but how—how are these things desirable, and whose interests do they serve?
Your ethical code needs to be informed of this, to be malleable, so that you needn’t sacrifice yourself to the power structure in order to live by your ethics, and so that you needn’t betray your ethics in order to protect yourself. Revolution is not an easy path to walk: you need to set aside a lot of your honesty for yourself, so that you will be neither willing nor able to tolerate or make excuses for yourself when you veer too close to being the kind of person you do not want to be.