Katya Donets, Grace Barin

Dear Hypocrite: An Advice Column


ISSUE 49 | ARGUMENT | FEB 2015

“Dear Hypocrite” is a monthly advice column, with questions answered by a rotating cast of hand-picked counselors. Got a problem? Send it our way: hypocriteadvice AT gmail DOT com. The theme of the next advice column will be “Furniture.” Discretion guaranteed.

Dear Hypocrite,

My roommate is a very enlightened male, who identifies as a feminist and generally bends over backwards to be tolerant and to recognize his white, male privilege. However, every once in a while he seems to use this reputation as "built up Karma" to excuse what I consider bad behavior and moral aggrandizing. Do you have any advice for dealing with a well-intentioned friend who doesn't understand why it's offensive to negatively describe someone as a "Super Feminist," and thinks that their moral high ground prevents them from falling prey to the pedestrian problem of sexism (or any other -ism)?

From,
Don't All Super Feminists Wear Capes?

There’s the potential for a shitty result when we separate the analysis of these –isms from a radical and totalizing political project: being a good person becomes a matter of tallying points rather than participating in a utopian politics, becomes a matter of mouthing off rather than wielding genuine care, becomes a matter of acknowledging oppression (full-stop). If this is your roommate, he is not an “enlightened male”: at best he is a bumbling and not so self-aware sometimes-jackass, at worst he is feminism’s equivalent of a pedophile priest. Likely he is somewhere in between: a man who has adopted anti-sexist, anti-racist postures and phrasing in part because he really likes going to parties and also because he has a very real but not yet well-formed sense of justice that it would be uncomfortable for him to personally explore. This isn’t the worst thing but is far from enlightenment, and this is the key point: bare recognition of one’s privilege, for the liberal urban elite set, is simply not uncomfortable, and certainly not evidence of any general moral high-ground.

Advice? In public, next time he runs his mouth, quickly and publically make a joke at his expense, a revelatory and very funny one[footnote: we’ll be at the bar, come by for specifics, or bring him and we’ll provide], then offer to get him another beer and move the conversation forward. Make sure he isn’t drunk. An argument or discussion with him will only confirm in him the idea that maintaining the right posture is an adequate substitute for the psychological work necessary to behave well when one is inclined to behave poorly. The shame which can result from a joke will do much more than any discussion or argument to prevent him from repeating that behavior, and the discomfort involved might provoke an exploration of himself and thereby allow him a small measure of the enlightenment you’ve already (too-quickly) attributed to him. Full speed ahead for that project, for all of us.


Illustration by Rebecca Rau

Dear Hypocrite,

Who should I vote for in the 2016 US Presidential election?? This is a serious query.

Thanks,
Moon in Gemini

Dear Moon in Gemini,

There is no good answer to this question. What we mean, really, is that walking into a voting booth and pulling the lever (or, these days, filling in bubbles with a ballpoint pen as if you were taking the cursed SATs all over again) for some candidate you don’t like all that much is not all that hard. The more urgent question is how to stay sane and not give up on politics altogether during the shitshow that is the two years leading up to a farcical presidential election. In fact, your sanity is under attack already. These two years are a shitshow in part because of the ridiculousness of the media’s sobriety when covering what amounts to a horse race and in part because of the repeated claim that via this process we stand together as citizens and not as a collection of overstimulated monkeys being processed by those who actually stand to gain or lose anything particularly valuable. To resist this siren song requires a continual rededication of ourselves to the thing that actually allows us our political selves. In other words, a repeated and intentional immersion in the societies in which we participate, the art in which we construct ourselves, and the natural we grow and do not necessarily consume (sometimes we do). Thus for good reasons and because we ourselves lack a coherent politics, we’d repeat the advice of others: organize and participate in local political action campaigns, drink beer at bars with strangers and not just around them, twist and squirm to get on any jury you can and mark not-guilty every time, block highways with your body, research and learn about and vote for down-ballot candidates (especially those judges), and if you can make public art that exposes the farce for what it is, please do that.

To this well-worn advice we’d add: garden. Gardening is meditative, gardening involves visible growth, if gardening does not involve visible growth you’re well aware who’s at fault (you) and no one will be able to convince you otherwise. Do these qualities actually make gardening political? Maybe not, but it can prepare us for the political so far as it can allow us to retain both our awe and our arm, and our best interactions with the natural allow nature to retain its twin mystery and manipulability, and anyway you’re going to need all the solace you can find, especially if 2016 turns out to be a Clinton v. Bush situation.

Vote Bernie Sanders 2016.

Dear Hypocrite,

My ex is getting married (to a nice guy). I have serious misgivings about her marriage, cause fuck marriage and fuck weddings and fuck legal fake promises and fuck empty signifiers and all the other oppressive mainstream institutions and traditions.

I know she really wants this, but I don't know why. It seems like she is trying to prove something. My brother says I should just show up at her wedding and get drunk with our friends and celebrate her happiness, but the problem is that the wedding seems like a big fake bandaid over unhappiness. I don't know if I am reading too much into it. Am I just jealous? Is it none of my business? But a big wedding production makes it everyone's business. Seriously what is even the point of a wedding?

I just want to know if I should say anything to her, or what I would even say except congratulations. Anyway there is no point being the asshole who said "don't get married" if they're going to get married and then it's awkward if I want to hang out with them as a couple.

Trying to be a good friend and be honest at the same time

Dear Trying to be a good friend,

To start: MARRIAGE ISN’T THE DAMN ISSUE HERE.

To continue: we’re going to make some assumptions and interpretive stretches:

1) Before you broke up and maybe even now, if you’re still close, you’ve had a lot of conversations about marriage with your ex, about its strangeness, its oppressiveness, the fact that participating in it might make the participants collude in all its worst aspects.

Given that, we don’t necessarily think it likely that you’re “just jealous”, but think that it is possible you feel somewhat betrayed, because that’s one of the shitty and oppressive things about marriage: even if you’re out of it, you’re still involved with it and around it, and this person who probably more or less agreed with you about marriage being shitty and oppressive, isn’t she sort of a hypocrite? And wasn’t I good enough to want to marry? Wouldn’t we have done a pretty good job of aiding and abetting each other in marriage just like everyone else? Because even though she’s an ex and you both are friends and all that, even though you presumably don’t and didn’t claim any ownership over her, some part of you certainly claims ownership over the time you two spent together, and her getting married is in part a demand that you reevaluate and reinterpret that time. So take it as an opportunity.

2) Your ex and her boyfriend have been together for a bit and their marriage, unless they sort of suck (he’s a nice guy, after all), won’t dramatically change their relationship or your relationship to her, however…

3) This is about you, and maybe you’re not really trying to be a good friend here. In fact, you aren’t really all that concerned about your ex’s unhappiness or the strength of her relationship. That might sound harsh, but bear with us.

If you’re correct, and their wedding is a Band-Aid over unhappiness, so be it. It is probably far from the worst Band-Aid in her life, and honestly when the hell did Band-Aids get such a bad rap? Band-Aids force wounds closed so that, if the flesh wants to, it will heal. Maybe you think she’s ignoring what isn’t a minor cut but in fact a festering sore and that twenty years from now her unhappiness will rear up again and be stronger and become gangrene and then she’ll die, maybe.

But as we think you know, the majority of her life and your life and my life involves kicking the can down the road, so unless you’re prepared to be the teacher of her enlightenment not just in relational and sexual realms but in literally every psychic and spiritual realm, accept that people have different Band-Aids and whether they work or not isn’t really the point of them, and won’t even hurt much so long as the flesh can at least breathe, and so long as you’re not covered in Band-Aids from head to toe. If the marriage is a Band-Aid, encourage your ex’s as yet uncovered flesh to breathe and forget about what the marriage might do to her or what she might be doing by getting married. We tend to agree with your implication that marriage is not a very good Band-Aid, for what it’s worth, and might not allow her flesh to breathe. Still..

4) You’re the sort of person who isn’t above a big fucking party with friends and booze and the possibility of slightly sad or lonely sex with a new partner (that good sex).

Because that’s all a wedding is, and the fact of a wedding doesn’t make the particular marriage and all its potential flaws and hypocrisies everyone’s business, just the odd fact of the existence of marriage and the party everyone’s attending. So: what is the point of a wedding? We’re glad you asked this, because as it turns out, weddings are strongly linked to a marriage, but participation in a wedding certainly does not have to involve a celebration of marriage. Moreover: there will be marriage business going on at the wedding, and it is between the two or more parties getting married whether this marriage business will involve any happiness, but your participation in the wedding, including getting drunk with your friends, isn’t really about celebrating anyone’s happiness. It is about being at a party where friends and family comingle in potentially irreverent ways and the shock of realizing how rare it can be for a single party to involve both friends and family, which means it is about a thousand different relationships that aren’t made up of the folk getting married, and which express love too, and about which it is possible and healthy to feel joyIt is about how long it has been since you saw this particular face which belongs to a person you love, even though the face has been and will be distant from you, it is close today. It is a meditation on the strangeness that history piling up behind us can give weight and meaning to what might otherwise be any other big fucking party, even though we suspect that the original decisions involved had an arbitrary quality to them which means the habits and traditions to which they gave rise are by no means static. It is about how odd it is that society, in all its grace and even as it oppresses us, can be reflected in simple acts. A wedding is more or less a literary event.

Given that: your question includes a number of reasons you identified for having misgivings about your ex’s marriage, but those are beside the point. So what do you even say to your ex? Don’t say anything unless you really need to, but if you do, ask a question about her unhappiness and how her learning is going and whether either is strengthened by the “nice guy.” Be quite gentle when you ask this question, accept her answer, and don’t bring it up again unless you notice something that might soon develop into a festering sore. And then ask yourself why you didn’t ask her the same question when they were dating and why it only came up in the context of a wedding. Our guess is that the reason for its coming up now doesn’t have very much to do with marriage as an institution or even with your ex’s relationship and its transition to marriage but with your quite correct intuition that the full scope of sexual and relational possibilities in a society is not yet being adequately encapsulated either in you or in the party being thrown, so go to the party, get drunk, and encapsulate them.


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