Five Years, Already, Again

So, I know I said I was going to give it some time, but, eh, fuck it. It’s actually not worth spending a lot of time on. Here’s the thing: there are a ton of drug addicts in the world out there doing shitty things. Some drug addicts even kill or try to kill other people in the course of their addictions.

That still is a horse of a different color than seeing a woman you ostensibly care about passed out on the floor of your home and you deciding that her life is of no more value, that she would be better off dead, and then making active motions to kill her. That’s not “my life is of no more value, I’d be better off dead” (a common addict’s refrain). That’s not “I need your money for drugs. Oops. I killed you.” That’s “I decided the kindest thing to do for you would be to kill you.”

And that, my friends, is fucking scary. It’s creepy, but not in the way I normally toss “creepy” around. That’s “I don’t view you as an autonomous person with a life of your own, therefore I can decide to put you down without consideration of what you might want.”

There are a lot of  things that brought Schwyzer to that point that are reformable–he could get treatment for drug addiction; he could no longer have contact with that woman–things he has indeed done.

But being a drug addict doesn’t make you think that you know better than other people whether they should live or die. Being a drug addict, at most, just muffles whatever part of your brain might send up a warning signal that says “You should not act on this impulse.”

I know this kind of sounds like splitting hairs, but I’m going to split a hair. I think that forgiveness for the attempt on her life can only be given by the woman Schwyzer himself admits he tried to kill. And I think that it is not our place to be doling out forgiveness or withholding it on her behalf. Who knows what she wants? And please, let us all be kind enough to refrain from trying to find out.

But Schwyzer himself has now publicly said that he believed that he was somehow helping or justified in trying to end this woman’s life–either because she was in such a bad spot or because he was so whacked out on drugs or whatever. It doesn’t matter, honestly, why he thought at the time that it was justified. He did.

And even if I can believe that he is truly sorry for trying to kill a person–though honestly, I don’t care if he’s sorry–I don’t believe I have a successful way of knowing that he no longer believes that he knows better than another person what she should do with her life. I am wary of him choosing a profession that lets him hold a position in which he is rewarded for knowing better than young women and getting to guide them to knowledge. That, to me, doesn’t signal “I know I am no better judge than the woman before me of what she should do with her life.” I don’t think running a prominent feminist blog or putting himself out there as a male voice of feminism works to that end either.

I don’t intend to read Hugo Schwyzer. I stopped reading him in 2008, long before he provided all this information about trying to kill a woman.

But when he comes up for discussion on places I do read, or when he posts places I do read, I will be reading with a careful eye about whether what I see before me is proof that he now understands that he is not in a position to judge women or to guide us to the result he thinks is best for us. Because, frankly, it’s only evidence of that change that’s going to make me feel like the fundamental problem has been addressed.

I think this whole issue has been muddied by the way the feminist blogosphere works. People are burnt out on the constant wars, the constant infighting, the purity tests, etc. So, believe me, I understand the impulse to chalk this up to yet another round of this group of people vs. that group of people.  And, yes, I get the desire to pull back and talk about these things in the abstract. Can people be forgiven? Can they be redeemed? Those are interesting questions.

But here is the truth. Hugo Schwyzer told a story about himself in which he illustrated that he once came to a point in his life when his belief that he knows better than someone else whether her life as it is has value lead him to believe it would be best if she was put down and he acted on it.

There is not a thing wrong with anyone–women, drug addicts, people who might become unconscious in front of him–for both being alarmed and disgusted at that story AND for being certain that its not our jobs to repeatedly give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s changed.

I, do, though, also want to acknowledge that Schwyzer is apparently a fine teacher and someone at least some of his colleagues and friends feel very positive about and very loyal to.

I’m sure most “angels of mercy” are fine nurses and help and save many people, as well.

So, the esteem his students, colleagues, and friends hold him in really tells me nothing about whether he now understands that he does not know better than women whether our lives as they are have value, since his job rewards him for teaching women things they didn’t know.

And I won’t put myself in the path of him, for the reasons I’ve outlined above–I cannot tell by how he lives his life now that he gets that he does not know better than women what our lives should be like.

I assume everyone else can come to their own conclusions.

11 thoughts on “Five Years, Already, Again

  1. I agree with everything you wrote. I think it’s important to point out that he also settled himself down to die, though. That, to my mind, is far more understandable than literally putting someone else down while I walk away. There seem to be a number of tragic events that stem from people who think their lives are no longer worth living also thinking that those around them have nothing worth living for. Making that decision for someone else is, of course, unforgivable, but, at least to me, deciding that someone else had nothing worth living for and “putting them down” is more repugnant and less understandable. But it’s still fucking messed up.

  2. Before you posted last week, I didn’t know anything about this person or his past or his attempt at killing someone who came to him for help. I still wish I didn’t. It sets up a terrified nauseated internal cringing in me that I don’t care for a bit.

    It makes me think of young, vulnerable people, alone with folks of unknown morality and inner strength. KAG’s Henry, dying because someone who saw his situation chose, over and over again over a trail of hours and phone calls, not to help. Which is almost as evil as the act under discussion, but still not quite. Which is breathtaking. What the Harpers did was a series of craven sins of omission and self-protection with total disregard for a young life, not but not active sins of commission. That the first series of actions killed someone and the second didn’t was pure ugly luck.

    So, I don’t like this person, I don’t like his writing, I don’t like his tone when he talks about this, and I think that I am (ye gods, sorry, I know the cliche is horrifying) triggered in a serious way by all this.

    B, I’m sorry for blurting all this at you and I will shut up and refrain from reading/commenting on these posts in the future. I just wanted to register my visceral, moral disgust once more.

  3. The thing is that most people who don’t view others as real people with lives of their own who therefore get to make the important decisions about those others’ lives have that view because they suffer from primary narcissism. And primary narcissism can’t be cured. Now, someone with a strong moral sense who suffers from that problem can be sure to check him/herself at each step along the way in dealing with others. But it’s always going to be an issue.

  4. Startledoctopus, he says he intended to die with her. He benefits a great deal from that, though. It makes it seem like the “suicide pact” that the sheriff believed was almost plausible. It makes it seem like his current employer is not completely unjustified in keeping him around.

    So, like much of Schwyzer’s self-presentation, I’m in no position to judge whether it’s genuine. Let me just say that I am suspicious, though.

    Sorry, Jess. Yes, a lot of this reminded me of poor Henry’s situation. Who sees a person in obvious distress and thinks “Well, let’s let nature take its course” or “let me help nature along”?

    No need to apologize. It is alarming and upsetting.

    NM, true enough.

  5. “It’s creepy,…. decide to put you down without consideration of what you might want.”

    This is why so many politicians and people in power are creepy. Seriously.

  6. Like Jess, this guys wasn’t really on my radar until the blowup at Feministe except as a sometime Jezebel blogger, and I always thought his writing was self-congratulatory and patronizing. (And I’m sorry if the comment I left on your first post was a little knee-jerky — I’m not offering this as an excuse, but as a long-time reader of Feministe, and the feminist blog world in general, I kind of brace myself when the discussion devolves into a game of “my feminism is better than yours.”)

    Sheezebub’s comment really sums up what I’ve been thinking about this since the whole fiasco began: “If I were just learning about feminism and saw someone like him given a platform and credibility, I’d wonder about the credibility of feminism.” Irrespective of whether his students and colleagues think he’s a fine teacher, why is his voice privileged over others? One of the things I liked (or thought I liked) about the online feminism world was it’s one of the few places where you don’t have to have a string of letters behind your name — or some other collateral — to contribute. But seeing not just HS but the same voices, the same experts, over and over, makes me really question its credibility.

  7. No need to apologize for being knee-jerky. My very first thought was along the lines of “Yes, he’s a jerk. I’ll just skip this post that’s an interview with him, because what good can come of it.” And then I saw someone link to the comment thread and the “I tried to kill my ex-girlfriend” revelation and I was like “What the fuck?” I felt like it literally took days for my brain to switch gears from “this is a person I don’t bother to read because he’s a jerk” to “this is a person who’s a danger to women.”

    It’s the audacity of it–the confessions of worse and worse behavior toward women coupled with his increasing prominence as a feminist–that just floors me.

    Honestly, though, I have to say, at some level, I get it. People generally expect bad people to be thoroughly bad. But Schwyzer is someone who a lot of people like, who has been apparently very good to some feminists.

    You often see feminists discussing the confusion and guilt they felt upon being abused or raped–like how could this happen to me? I’m a feminist.

    I have to hope that there are some prominent feminists looking in the mirror right now in confusion about how they let a guy who tried to kill his girlfriend get in a position where he could be in a position of authority over even more women.

    But the silence from some of his prominent previous friends is confusing to me. Maybe I missed some kind of public separation, but I don’t know.

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