Who Determines What Is “Good” in a Discussion?

Are right and wrong convertible terms, dependent upon popular opinion?
William Lloyd Garrison

Recently, I was in a discussion about equality, when my discussion partner said:

“I have though a lot about topic again, and I now think that you actually are ‘one of the good guys’.”
[German original: “Ich habe nochmal viel über das Thema nachgedacht, und denke mittlerweile, dass du eigentlich ‘einer von den Guten’ bist.”]

My reply was that — while I think that she meant it in the best possible sense — this is also a hugely condescending and inappropriate statement.

Just think about it — in any discussion — if one person claims “you are one of the good guys/girls”, it would imply that this person has the absolute authority to decide what is good … and what is bad. This in turn would make any discussion obsolete, as there is a clear “good” and “bad” — or “right” and “wrong” — and a person capable of identifying it.

Unfortunately, thinking about it, this seems to happen in a lot of discussions.

Just think about who determines the valence of consequences, whether something is good or bad, whether people suffer or not. Personally, the most blatant case I’ve seen was in said discussion. The issue was assistance programs for women and it seems obvious that it’s women who should decide whether this is good or bad. After all, it’s about assistance programs for women. They are the target group. They are the ones affected by something that (seems to) require(s) said assistance programs. Shouldn’t they be able to say whether this is good or bad?

But there are two problems with this view:

  1. Even if it were the case that women should determine whether assistance programs for women are good or bad, who has decreed that it is this particular woman/group of women who have the authority to decide for all women whether the assistance program is good. It’s easy to see a group as homogenous, but even if it’s a group determined by sex, they rarely are. Just look at womenagainstfeminism, regarding the topic, for example, this one.
  2. More importantly, even if the issue is assistance programs for women, these programs do not exist in a vacuum — they affect the non-assisted group as well. Worldviews, movements, programs — these things do have consequences. These programs cost resources (time & money) and they exclude other groups — here all men. This necessarily makes it a topic that should be discussed openly. Because while it benefits some (here: some women), it does affect all (here: all men and all women).

So, frankly, one of the great things I learned from this discussion was to always question when someone claims to be able to determine what is “good” and what is “bad”. And to take part in discussions that do affect me — even if it is ostensibly about another group.

Because, frankly, no man (or woman) is an island. And like written — worldviews and movements do have consequences. So everyone should have a say in it. And regarding the role of sex or gender — it should be irrelevant (for all but a few jobs that require a particular biology). Support people in what they want to become, ensure that the best ones advance, no matter who they are. And don’t use quotas or gender specific support programs. They turn a (likely) perceived injustice into a factual one — and obliterate fairness, merit, and performance on the way.