The other night, I had a big argument with my parents. It was a family argument in the Jewish sense: a minor disagreement leading to a heated philosophical debate that gets the juices flowing, unveils deeply-held beliefs for a thorough savaging, and leaves everyone feeling warm, fuzzy, and closer than ever before. (As a general FYI, if you're the kind of person that finds big arguments upsetting rather than unifying, you probably shouldn't date anyone who can claim descent from the Chosen People. Just sayin'. From rabbinical midrash to which pages of the Pesach haggadah we can skip to whether Superman or Batman or Spider-man is the best, bonding through disagreement is in our heritage and in our blood.) (Have I mentioned before that I'm Jewish as well as Christian? Future posts will explore this further, I promise.)
The subject of our argument was feminism. I think my parents view my feminism the same way they view my being gay: they don't totally get it, but they've come to accept it as a part of who I am, and they're willing to engage with it. A lot of people believe in the fundamental tenets of third-wave feminist thought, even if they wouldn't self-identify as feminist, and my parents are no exception. But when they asked me what I think about affirmative action, or “positive discrimination” as they put it, we parted ways.
I said that I think affirmative action is far from ideal, but it's at least an attempt at redressing the centuries of imbalance and ongoing institutional bias against minorities. They said it's unfair to punish today's white men for the privilege enjoyed by their forebears.
It would be quite possible to spend a few hundred thousand words unpacking everything that's going on in this dispute, but if you're reading this blog you're presumably – unlike my parents – familiar with a lot of it, not least my feelings about white people, my feelings about privilege-denying, and OH MY GOD WE CAN'T FORGET ABOUT TEH WHITE MENZ WHO IS GOING TO TELL THEIR STORIEZ? So, yeah, there's still plenty of educating to be done (Mother, Dad, I love you, start here), but at least we agree on one thing: the system is broken.
Our world is a zero-sum game. Earth's resources are finite, so where one person gains something, somebody else loses out. Human society is broken on such a fundamental level that I don't know how to begin fixing it, and that's one of the reasons I believe in God – because I don't see how we can possibly get ourselves out of this mess without outside help. (This is also why I hope for benevolent extraterrestrials to gift us with their wisdom before we run out of resources.) As such, I'm not sure there's any such thing as unqualified Right in this life. Every attempt at a good action has bad consequences, either immediately or somewhere down the line. Does this mean we should stop trying? Surely not; that way lies despair.
Today, the UK is holding local elections and a national referendum. Voter turnout at local elections tends to be dismally low, and I'm sure that one of the reasons for this is a widespread belief that the system is broken beyond saving and that therefore there is no right choice.
That's true. There is no right choice. I've been a voter for four years now, and most of those votes I wish I could retroactively change. (Not just my conscience-defying Lib Dem vote last year - would you believe, in my very first local election I voted Conservative? In defense of my younger, stupider self, they're the most unionist party, and that was back when we feared the SNP might walk the walk of Scottish independence instead of just talking the talk.) However, there's not one of those votes I would retract altogether. I'm proud to have voted in every UK election – local, European, London mayoral, general – since I turned eighteen.
I vote because of Emily and Emmeline and Millicent. I vote because of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. I vote because of every person in world history who has ever fought or died for a right that I was gifted on a platter at birth just because of where I was born and who my parents are.
I have serious issues with the whole concept of nationality. (And I have issues with my issues, because I'm very conscious that said issues are largely a product of the oceans of socio-economic privilege that permit a comfortably transnational childhood like mine.) However I may feel about it, I own a UK passport and I benefit from that hugely, in a number of ways. When the UK government takes action, it does so in the name of the British electorate – in my name. Given a chance to influence, even in the tiniest of ways, what is done in my name, how can I not take it?
Whoever I vote for, it won't change the fundamental injustices of our world. But I have to do what little I can: when life hands you a teaspoon, you darn well use it.