The conscience of bigots

I learned something interesting today.

There was a Facebook conversation, which I reproduce in its entirety below. (As of the time of this post, anyway. It later continued.) It started with general statements about love, but devolved to pretty heavy verbal abuse as soon as I disclosed that I'm in an open relationship.

If you read the whole thing, never mind my feeble attempts to offend them. I'm not very good at it. :)

I'm happy I participated in this conversation, because it turned out to be educational. The two people sparring with me, Caomeng (the Asian letter guy) and Nadia, appear to be deeply prejudiced not only against open relationships, but also against homosexuality. Sensing that there's something to be learned from this, I kept challenging their views, and they ended up making some serendipitous revelations.

What I learned is that:
  • The guy feels jealousy when he thinks of his partner with someone else. This is normal. (Though there's nothing wrong with people who don't feel that.)
  • The guy feels disgust when he thinks of sexual acts related to homosexuality. This isn't nice, but it's common. A large proportion of the population feels this way.
  • But crucially: The guy equates these feelings with conscience, and believes there's nothing more to conscience than this.
Let me summarize the most "aha!" portions of the conversation - omitting the many mutual insults:

denis: You guys seem to think you're superior for having built-in emotions and preconceptions about sex that you have never thought about, or overcome. You take these feelings for granted, and ridicule another person who has mastered them.

Caomeng: That's called a conscience, Denis. "Overcoming" your conscience makes you into a sociopath. ;)

Nadia: you must not have had positive male role models in your life, i feel sorry for you

denis: Can you give me one logical reason why there's something wrong with [insert slightly homosexual act]?

Caomeng: One logical reason? It's wrong, immoral, and disgusting. Pedophilia arouses pedophiles, are you saying that's not wrong either?

denis: Wait a second. Are you saying that homosexuality is wrong and disgusting in the same way as pedophilia? BTW, none of the words you used - "wrong", "immoral", and "disgusting" - are logical arguments. They all describe your personal disapproval of the act, without explaining it.

Nadia: ok, i'm done here. laters.

Caomeng: So you have no conscience, then? Cool. I'm done. :) Later.

Let's think about this for a moment.

What would it take for a person to think that conscience equals learned feelings of disgust and jealousy?

What does it take for a person to think that, if one overcomes the feelings of jealousy and disgust, there is no conscience left? That in this case, all that's left is a sociopath?

What it might take is a person who doesn't have actual conscience - making them confused enough to think that "conscience" is just learned social prejudice, or that "conscience" is jealousy rooted in insecurity.

Let me provide an example of what I think actual conscience is.

When I was a child, perhaps 6 years of age, I was playing in a pile of sand with my neighbor, Uroš. I was sitting in the pile of sand when, all of a sudden, my world blacked out for a moment, and I felt this tremendous pain in my head. When I came to, I saw Uroš standing over me with a hammer, and giggling. He had the thought to just hit me with a hammer for no reason, and he found it funny. I was pissed, but only when I expressed my anger, he began to realize that what he did was wrong. He offered to make it right. He give me the hammer, sat in the sand in front of me, and told me to hit him.

I couldn't hit him. I was pissed, and angry, and my skull was throbbing in pain with a growing bruise. But I couldn't hit him, because I just couldn't do that to him.

That's actual conscience. I didn't hit someone because even though I was angry, even though they had hurt me, I didn't want to hurt them. I didn't need anyone to explain this to me. I didn't need to learn this from a role model. I just knew it was wrong.

What we have in this Facebook conversation is two people who are completely comfortable bullying someone. Yes, I did start it by being aggressive in my initial comments. But once they learn I'm in an open relationship, you can see them willfully trying to use words in a way that might produce maximum pain. They don't flinch, don't shy away from it. They have nothing in them to stop them from relentlessly trying to hurt a person. It is fun for them. They just don't see what's wrong.

Yet in the same breath, these people defend "conscience". A "conscience" which they equate to conforming to learned social prejudice, such as being disgusted by homosexual acts. A "conscience" which they believe is crucial, because if it were removed, there would be nothing left in them but sociopathy.

These people do not have an actual conscience, so they mistake the only feelings they do have for it.

Finally, I must add this: I feel badly - and I ultimately apologized for that in the Facebook topic - for being verbally abusive in my opening comments. That was inappropriate. I acted out of injury, because I still feel strongly about this girl, and I felt Caomeng was being dismissive of that. I should have had better self control. Being on a short fuse is my shortcoming, and I'm sorry about that.


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