Learning from a hateful master?
November 9, 2014 11:01 PM   Subscribe

The person I want to learn from is one of the best. The teachings will be extremely useful—they could even save my life someday. But the speaker might spend their earnings on hate. What to do?

I participate in something Wikipedia categorizes as an "adventure sport." There are not too many people in my country who do this sort of thing, and only a small handful of the "masters" teach. (Hence asking anonymously.) Furthermore, best practices differ by region, and for the place where I live, only one expert is offering the kind of instruction I'm looking for: without being specific, it has to do with getting out of a kind of bad situation that, if handled poorly, could result in injury (or worse).

All of this would be fine if the instructor weren't on the record as having some really odious beliefs, and supporting organizations that champion them. Specifics don't matter here either, but just picture some of the most stereotypically awful beliefs and take your pick. It's pretty bad. There is no way I can rule out the possibility that some of the fee I pay to this person will wind up getting paid out to a hate group later on in the month; furthermore, the knowledge that I am privileged to be eligible for this instruction partially by dint of not being "the wrong kind of person" simply disgusts me.

I don't have to receive this instruction to continue participating in this activity. Furthermore, nobody trained the instructor on this stuff—instead, they learned it from decades of experience. So it's not essential that I pay this person. I have no doubt, though, that if I go through with it, I will be able to take part in the sport I love with more confidence, safety, and enjoyment. The "envelope" of what I'll be able to accomplish will be expanded, because I'll know that I'll be able to do more things without undue risk to life and limb. I will also feel more comfortable introducing new people to the sport, since I know that I'll be better able to handle some rare contingencies.

I hope some of you here have navigated similar dilemmas and may be able to offer useful advice. Since I can't easily respond to queries anonymously, perhaps one kind of helpful advice would be guidelines, rubrics, or even very analogous examples that I can try and translate to my specific situation on my own (albeit without "chatfilter", of course).

Just to clarify some key points:

* This instruction opportunity is essentially one-of-a-kind. I can't get it elsewhere.
* The subject matter has nothing to do with the instructor's awful beliefs.
* The knowledge is not essential to my day-to-day life. However, it will allow me to engage in one of my greatest passions with greater safety.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (58 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Your safety comes first - this one isn't even borderline. Get the training. Donate to an organization that counters his hateful beliefs afterwards, if it makes you feel better.
posted by kickingtheground at 11:12 PM on November 9, 2014 [24 favorites]

Agree with kickingtheground. We don't always get to choose our teachers. If there was another option for you, and for your safely, you would take it. That is not an option.

Take the class. Learn all you can. Learn extra.

Then donate. If you have the funds, donate twice the cost of the class to a suitable place.

If possible? Be a teacher later. Teach the people this person won't. Take the knowledge and make it powerful!
posted by right_then at 11:20 PM on November 9, 2014 [31 favorites]

* The subject matter has nothing to do with the instructor's awful beliefs.

sounds like you've got an opportunity to get some of the best that a "bad" person has to offer. I wouldn't immediately say no to this.
posted by philip-random at 11:20 PM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I personally wouldn't feel comfortable spending time with a person whose beliefs I find so hateful, even if they weren't going to potentially financially support such an organisation with money that I've given to them. They are going to financially support those organisations anyway, so for me the issue is less what they do with my money and more who I feel comfortable being around. I once accidentally sat down next to a neo nazi on the train and as soon as I realised that he had a tattoo of a nazi eagle and a swastika, I stood up and moved.

An example that involves the opposite (ie. taking money from someone with hateful beliefs): One night at a job that I used to have, a group of neo nazis came in. I refused to serve them, even though that meant that somebody else got the table and the tips.

It's really up to you whether you feel comfortable supporting and spending time with such an instructor.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 11:24 PM on November 9, 2014 [8 favorites]

I wouldn't do it. How could you support someone you hate?
posted by Violet Hour at 11:27 PM on November 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

In my fantasy world the instructor enjoys you, learns of your different opinions, and ends up making a micro internal adjustment. It's challenging to demonize others when there's a connection.
posted by Feisty at 11:31 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you really want to do the most ethical thing possible. In my opinion, if you take the training and go on to teach someone else, you will be doing a greater good than having never took the training at all. If you don't, everyone else in your region will still have to go to this hatemonger to get the possibly life-saving training that you speak of.

I am guessing it would be quite an endeavor to have to go on to teach this training yourself, but if you truly want to do the ethical thing, it might be something to consider.
posted by sevenofspades at 11:38 PM on November 9, 2014 [11 favorites]

My own eccentricities would lead me to look for an instructor who isn't a certifiable dickwad. I don't know if that's possible in your case, but if it's not, it may benefit you to consider why that's the case.

I'm working on the theory that it's good to be wary of stereotyping, but it's also profitable to consider that if it quacks and waddles, it may be a duck.
posted by mule98J at 11:50 PM on November 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

I personally refuse to support hate causes in any way shape and form. It's not something I'm comfortable giving any of my resource to, whatsoever.

Is your training really so unique that it's literally impossible to get any other way? Is your training worth supporting hate causes and their spread? Only you know. I personally don't have any hobbies that are worth impinging on someone's freedom or ability to be who they are, however oblique the impingement.

But, you know, everybody is different, and draws that line in a different place.

I am generally more suspicious of myself, when compromising my ethics involves making things easier for me, or results in getting what I want. It seems more than a coincidence, if I can persuade myself that the "right" thing in a murky ethical situation involves getting exactly what I want.

I try not to focus on what others do; others have done a lot of things I wouldn't do. Or how people might judge me etc. I focus on how I would judge myself, and what the person I want to be, the best version of me, would do. It's usually no contest at that point.
posted by smoke at 12:03 AM on November 10, 2014 [31 favorites]

I would not knowingly put money in the hands of a person who will use that money to promote hate, unless there were no other choice.

You have a choice; this is a hobby/interest/recreation, and not something vital (in the Maslow sense) to your life.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:10 AM on November 10, 2014 [9 favorites]

My feeling is this: it's a segregated school. Would you willingly go to a school where white people and people of color are not allowed to be in the same school together? If you get training from this person, that's effectively what you're doing (depending on what his particular odious beliefs are). He wouldn't train them, so I wouldn't want to be his patron or his student.

If this asshole can figure out how not to die without training and still have time for hate, then surely you can, too, unburdened by who your master might have been.

Be careful out there.
posted by inturnaround at 12:29 AM on November 10, 2014 [11 favorites]

Beautifully articulated, smoke, especially the part about looking inward when the desire arises to rationalise the compromising of ethics.

My suggested rubric. If this person is a master who has had other students, I would try to find another student of this person and learn from them instead. If they don't have previous contactible students, then I would not study a safety issue under this supposed master's tutelage.

And from another perspective, how do you know the person doesn't hate something about you? How could you trust a person who holds hateful views with your life? Hatefulness loves a target. Maybe he/she will sense your disgust at their hatefulness and decide to turn it against you.

If it were me, I would find myself looking to learn the skills from other people. If there are no other people to teach me, then I would not trust the skills' value, or I would decide that waiting for another tutor was the most personally ethical option.
posted by Kerasia at 12:56 AM on November 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

I would be most worried with my name or possibly photo being associated with this person somewhere on the internet or some national security black list.
Do you know if he lists his graduates on his website? Or blogs? Or a fellow trainee? Or might someone place photos of you and him on Facebook?
Somehow from your description I get the idea that this person may be someone that has come to the attention of whatver national security organisation exists where you live. Where I live supporters of hate groups are closely monitored.
You run the risk of being listed as his associate in their files. I would consider it not worth the risk of being labelled an associate of such a person.
Also if there is some sort of finacial trail from you to him, and he then passes the money on to a questionable cause you might be implemented into his (illegal? criminal? terrorist?) activities.
Once you have been trained by him, would you really be comfortable being called his graduate and be able to comfortably use his name to advertise your own training?
posted by 15L06 at 1:02 AM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Normally I would say to not give your business to individuals or organizations you know support hateful political campaigns but given that what he has to teach you could potentially save your life I think you can ethically make an exception here.

One way you could make the best of this bad situation is to one day begin offering instruction on what you learn from him to students of your own so that future participants in your sport won't have to make these sorts of tough decisions.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:02 AM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Your question is phrased so vaguely that it's practically impossible to give meaningful advice. For example, without knowing what the activity is and why you wish to learn it, I cannot say whether it's really likely to save your life, or whether alternatives might be available.

There is one point you might want to consider, though. I'm guessing from your description (which, again, is all I'm able to do thanks to your lack of specifics) that this guy is a racist and willing to teach you because you have the "right" skin colour. If you take advantage of this, you will be deliberately playing along with and perpetuating a racist game, purely because you stand to benefit from it personally. (Granted, this is what most white people have done throughout history, but not always in quite so calculated a manner.) If you are happy to live with the knowledge that you have done this, then go ahead.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 1:28 AM on November 10, 2014 [13 favorites]

Everyday it's possible we are inadvertently supporting people whose beliefs are hateful and awful to us. It's definitely happened to me where I find that I supported someone who opposes the things I stand for most and value most. You happen to know this guy is a scum bag, which is good in that you can weigh whether it's worth it. From what you describe, it doesn't sound like this guy is doing anything illegal or violent, and it's unclear to what extent he is trying to spread his hate.

If this is one-of-a-kind training that you can't get anywhere else and will make you happier, I say do it, as long as he isn't crossing the line from "weirdo who vocally shares his gross views" to "dangerous." But do the training with the hope that you can help spread the knowledge around so people don't need to look up to this guy and go through him for this knowledge. If you do this, get your money's worth. Ask lots of questions and be very observant. And maybe be active in some way to combat the hate he espouses.
posted by AppleTurnover at 1:33 AM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

It seems like this just doesn't feel right to you. I wonder if you could get the instruction you seek by spending your vacation time with a similar instructor in another area, or by forming some loose social ties with other graduates of this instructor (like a FB discussion group) where you could glean some of what they've learned in order to shorten your learning curve.

Don't spend time with this guy if it is already triggering red flags for you.
posted by vignettist at 1:39 AM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do the training. Donate an equal sum of money to an organisation that directly counters your instructor's disgusting beliefs. Then go on to teach your skill to the kinds of people your instructor hates, preferably for free. Mentor these people and skill them up to teach others. Change the collective culture of your hobby for the better by making it kinder and more inclusive.
posted by embrangled at 3:47 AM on November 10, 2014 [6 favorites]

I guess I'm wondering where else you could get this knowledge. Like, if the BEST (say) rock climbing instructor is a Klan member, what about his previous students? Could you find the second-best Rock climbing instructor?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 4:15 AM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I just wanted to chime in and say that I don't think the potentially lifesaving nature of the training can serve as the decisive factor here, as some are suggesting. I think it's true that lots of ethically odious things become instantly acceptable when it's "a matter of life or death", but clearly you could achieve the same safety goals by just not participating in the sport. I'm not saying you should or shouldn't, just that you probably shouldn't use this argument as an easy way out.
posted by oliverburkeman at 4:34 AM on November 10, 2014 [23 favorites]

How do you know that the specific dollars you give him would be going to support hate causes? Yeah, he may support those causes, but he also still has to pay rent and buy groceries and stuff, and those things make up far more of his expenses than anything else.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:37 AM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was right there in the grey area with you until you noted that this is a person who not only supports odious causes but would only be willing to train you because you are not a member of one of those groups that he finds odious. To me this is non-negotiable. To take advantage of your privilege in this way -- knowing full well that others are being denied this opportunity -- is clearly wrong.
posted by telegraph at 4:58 AM on November 10, 2014 [13 favorites]

I suspect that many of the things I spend my money on ends up financing the bad guys. It's just that it happens at a distance so I'm unaware of it. Even my taxes go to financing (in part) spying and war crimes and prisons for profit. That battles is already lost.

If you do learn what this guy has to teach, then others in your position can learn it from you. Once you teach 2 people, it will be 2 who he didn't teach and you've actually lowered his income and diminished the hate funds that would otherwise have been provided.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:11 AM on November 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Sounds like an opportunity to learn what a different person is like while doing something important to you.
posted by michaelh at 5:31 AM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

So it's not essential that I pay this person.

Who else has he taught? You can't be the first, or the only.
posted by rtha at 5:43 AM on November 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Save the money on those lessons, then spend it to travel to another "master" and learn from them. I take it this would be a set amount of lessons, not a every-week-for-the-next-20-years kind of thing, so you can take lessons on vacations and research or contact the potential teachers ahead of time.
Do you really feel comfortable putting your life/safety in the hands of someone who wouldn't care if you got hurt if you had a different skin color/sexual orientation/whatever it is that "master" hates? I generally don't put my safety in the hands of complete assholes, if they are assholes to me personally or not.
posted by MinusCelsius at 5:48 AM on November 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Your question seems to me to be "I want to do something that I know is wrong. I don't have to; I just want to. But come on, guys, I really really want to. Give me an excuse please. Thanks."

If you can't safely do this recreational activity without paying a Grand Dragon of the KKK or whatever this guy is, perhaps you should consider not doing this recreational activity.
posted by Flunkie at 5:59 AM on November 10, 2014 [18 favorites]

Is it objectively clear that these safety techniques a) exist and b) are teachable? No chance he's just lying, or has some physiological anomaly that makes this activity somehow safer for him? If any of his former students can actually apply these methods, I'm sure you could learn from one of them, and I'm sure they can't all have been indoctrinated into his belief system (and if they have, yeah, maybe worth questioning the whole thing).

You say this opportunity is "essentially" one of a kind, but it's not, actually. You could still try to appeal to the other masters in your area (or this guy's former students). You could travel elsewhere (you mention 'best practices' but not official rules). I feel like despite the binary you've set up, there have to be 3rd and 4th and 5th options.
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:30 AM on November 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

I find it very hard to believe that Mr. Neo-Nazi (or whatever) is literally (a) the GOLD STANDARD on this hobby and (b) the ONLY OPTION on this hobby ever. I know you can't go into details, but that sounds bizarre that he's the only one in the world ever who can teach mountain climbing on your particular special snowflake mountains where you live in Ecuador. If you're willing to spend that much on an "adventure" hobby, which I'm guessing isn't cheap anyway, you can't travel farther to find someone less noxious? Also, what Flunkie said about how it sounds like you're just looking for a justifiable excuse. Which, hey, if you're (again, I have to guess here, but it kinda sounds like it) a privileged while male, you can do that if you like! It's your conscience. If your hobby is so wonderful and you're going to fall off a mountain and die without Mr. Neo-Nazi's wonderful lifesaving expertise, then you can do that, as a white guy. That's what privilege is for, to get to do whatever you want. If that's your priority and you can stomach it, do what you want. We can't stop you and we won't know. Most of us here apparently wouldn't be up to it, but if you are, mazel tov.

But think of it this way. Picture yourself in class with Mr. Racist. As he's teaching you the proper way to climb a rope, he's making comments to all his students about how those n-words "would be so stupid they'd fall on their asses, amirite? You know I'm right! High fives, everybody! Oh, those stupid Polacks!* Hey, Jimmy (that's you), what do you think about those stupid Polacks?" How are you feeling while that's going on? Can you stomach it? Can you learn well from a guy who's like that? When someone asks you later who your teacher was, do you want to brag someday that you learned from a neo-Nazi and now you won't fall off a mountain?

* TM "Everyone's A Little Bit Racist" in Avenue Q.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:39 AM on November 10, 2014 [6 favorites]

I would definitely do the training so that you'll be better prepared safely to enjoy your sport. As many others have said, you may be positioned to offer similar training in the future--and when you're the master, you can then discriminate against the discriminators!

You asked for some analogues and examples, and I can only think that all of us, daily, probably do business with people we'd find horribly objectionable if we really dug into their private lives. It's part of living in a pluralistic society. Sure, we can all fret over patronizing those people or business we consider ritually impure according to our Brand of Ethics (Nike doesn't pay its employees enough so its products are bad, the owners support Republicans so Koch industrial products are bad, Komen funds cancer research but supports Planned Parenthood so it's bad, etc. etc.). But if you can't get the good or service anywhere else, you either buy it if it's necessary (or approaches necessity) or do without if it's some luxury.

And how much do you believe in your Brand of Ethics? If offered the opportunity, would you die for it?

If something is Your Thing, and no one else teaches safety at Your Thing, and your safety at Your Thing is a necessity, then get the training. If not, and you die for want of safety training, then you can die happy : )
posted by resurrexit at 6:56 AM on November 10, 2014

There's always another path, even though it's easy to rationalize taking the wrong one. There are times when you have to make serious compromises, like to feed your family, but a hobby seems like the wrong place for that.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:56 AM on November 10, 2014 [6 favorites]

Sometimes the only benefit of the easy path is that it is easy. Would it be easier to learn the stuff you want to learn from this person? Sure it would, but I never knew a person that did adventure type sports to take the easy path just because it was offered.
posted by wwax at 7:32 AM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm with smoke. You can compromise your avocation, or you can compromise your ethics. Either way it's a compromise, but I would choose not to compromise my ethics.

Furthermore, I strongly suspect that spending a lot of time with Dickwad-sensei would be stressful, that I'd be on eggshells avoiding getting into an argument with him, or betraying the fact that I found his personal beliefs to be odious. I'm not sure how much that would interfere my training, but I'm sure it would interfere some.
posted by adamrice at 7:34 AM on November 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

I would learn from one of his students or travel elsewhere to learn from a non-bigot. As a side note, I am really curious about what this adventure sport is that's so extremely rare. If it's by chance heliskiing, I have a friend that would have contacts for non bigot teachers.
posted by WeekendJen at 8:19 AM on November 10, 2014

You are asking because you know this is wrong. Normal people making reasonable incremental concessions are how bad people are able to flourish. Don't do it.
posted by dirtdirt at 8:49 AM on November 10, 2014 [8 favorites]

* This instruction opportunity is essentially one-of-a-kind. I can't get it elsewhere.

It's not one-of-a-kind -- you just don't know of another instructor with the skills and region-specific experience to train you RIGHT NOW. In the short term, this means you may run up against some limits to expanding your accomplishments in this sport. In the long-term, other masters with relevant experience will emerge.
posted by desuetude at 10:07 AM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think the funding thing is a bit of a red herring - there's a 100% chance that you have given money to a company that supports causes you are against, or that those companies employ people who support causes you are against. Even ones that you find evil.

However, the fact(?) that this trainer discriminates and does not offer training to people of a certain class would be a dealbreaker for me, especially in a sport, where discrimination by people at the top levels can lead to long-lasting, endemic biases. Especially if this guy is the Only Jedi Master possible, by not using this person's services, you are no worse off than members of the class he is discriminating against. If his services are critical to the safety of the sport, IME you are ethically obligated to support trainers who don't discriminate and put minority members of your sport at risk.
posted by muddgirl at 10:15 AM on November 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

Would you be able to focus on getting a quality education from this guy?

Or would you spend all your time with him slightly distracted and on edge watching for unexpected slurs, questions about your own beliefs and politics, etc.? Would it all be like a hangnail or popcorn kernel stuck in your teeth, some nagging thing that you try to ignore but just can't stop thinking about?

Even if he keeps his professional and political lives completely separate, you deserve to get an education where you can commit your entire brain to it without distraction, especially if it's live-saving material.
posted by cadge at 10:43 AM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

You buried the lede when you mentioned he would only teach you because you are the "right" sort.

This is not like going to a restaurant even though the CEO supports causes counter to my core beliefs. This would be more like patronizing a whites-only restaurant.

For me, the wrongness of this is not in any way ambiguous nor does it reside in a moral or ethical grey area.

I know you mention "life-saving," which seems to elevate the importance of his teachings, but still and all, this is a recreational activity we are talking about, right?

No way could I do this and sleep at night.
posted by kapers at 10:57 AM on November 10, 2014 [11 favorites]

Is every store you shop at staffed and owned by people with the same political beliefs as you? And their suppliers?

Do any of your taxes fund welfare for people with repugnant political beliefs? Is it then an obligation to not pay your taxes?

53% of people voted for prop 8 in California. Do you have an obligation to not buy anything from California?
posted by flimflam at 11:03 AM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Kapers has it. Let's be clear: You want our permission to knowingly benefit from a hateful's person discrimination toward others so that you can participate in a thing that you don't have to participate in and that some others cannot participate in.

I think you know that this is fucked up.

I don't have to receive this instruction to continue participating in this activity . . . I have no doubt, though, that if I go through with it, I will be able to take part in the sport I love with more confidence, safety, and enjoyment.

I question this. Would you really be able to participate with more "enjoyment" if you know that your enjoyment was derived by supporting a hate-monger and actively supporting a practice that discriminates against people who are effectively barred from receiving the training you so selfishly want (but don't need) to receive?
posted by Gray Skies at 11:09 AM on November 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

Will you be comfortable saying the phrase: "I spent some time and studied xyz with Mr. BadPerson."?

Because you may have to explain why you did if you ever come across someone who is also familiar with Mr BadPerson's beliefs.
posted by eatcake at 11:22 AM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Will you be comfortable saying the phrase: "I spent some time and studied xyz with Mr. BadPerson."?

there are those situations we walk into with our eyes open, and those which eventually open our eyes. My most significant experience with a Mr. BadPerson was of the latter variety. In fact, on surface, he was everything that your Mr. BadPerson isn't (ie: had all the right politics etc). But in time, I found him to be probably the most self-centered, hurtful, narcissistic, machiavellian person I've ever dealt with ... and yet I he was also very smart, very well educated, and ultimately very generous with his knowledge (as far as it served him). And in the end, I did learn a pile from him that I doubt I could have learned any other way, and I like to think I've put it to good use in ways that have benefited more than just me. In fact, I know I have. So yeah, if there's a hell, he's probably there now, and yeah, he did a good job of making my life miserable in the end ... but such is life. Nothing's black and white. I look back at it all and am mostly thankful for the lessons learned from Mr. BadPerson.
posted by philip-random at 11:58 AM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

There's always the option of learning everything you can from this guy, going forward safely and skillfully from his tutelage, then going out of your way to share everything you've learned with the people he hates. Because what he has to teach are practical skills, devoid of philosophy.

Take his skills and become a mentor to "the wrong kind of people".

"Yeah, I studied under Mr. Badperson, was the option I had at the time. I'm not the first student to have a teacher who was a hateful dick, but he didn't open up a school of Hateful Dickery, and hateful dickery wasn't on the curriculum. I didn't learn hateful dickery, and I'm not sharing hateful dickery with people, particularly not with the people he wanted not to have access to this technical/practical skill-set.

"So if you now have something to say directly about me and how I live my life and what I espouse, say it. Look me in the eyes and make a fucking accusation and let's go there, and you better fucking bring more than guilt by association.

"Otherwise, shut your fucking pie-hole, and let's go heli-deployed-underwater-cave-flight-suiting."

Best of luck.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 1:46 PM on November 10, 2014

In work situations, there are three basic qualities:

1) Be very good at what you do.
2) Be a nice and approachable person.
3) Be precise and reliable.

But you hardly ever see someone with all those three qualities. More like everybody has exactly two of those qualities. Mister X from the original question might just be very good at what they do, very reliable and an asshole with objectionable ethics. Go for it!
posted by hz37 at 2:07 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Learn from him.


Set up another training academy as penance with deliberately inclusive and anti-hateful beliefs as part of the stated mission. Repudiate him publicly with the "he's the best at X, but his Y-ism cannot stand, it is bad for the sport and it is wrong". Go to the sports founding body; make them make anti-Yism as part of the sports mission and accreditation etc.

on preview, Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey has it.
posted by lalochezia at 2:59 PM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

And yet, privileged athletes will get to train with a Master with years and years of in-field experience, while non-privileged athletes will have to train with a non-master without years and years of in-field experience.

If non-masters are good enough for the non-privileged, why aren't they good enough for the OP?
posted by muddgirl at 3:40 PM on November 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

I personally do not think you should do this. I understand from your question that in the adventure sport you participate in, you believe this person is more knowledgeable about safety practices than their peers. Here are some things to think about though:

1) Best practices differ by region and this individual has not been specifically trained in a formal program - it sounds like there is a lot of room for interpretation of standards in this sport and it is not yet considered so perilous that strict guidelines are put in place for participants... I'm picturing something more like zorbing than MMA fighting (just an example). Are you certain this individual is the only person in your region you can learn from, or has this person just marketed themselves in a convincing way? You are still gaining mastery of the sport so there are aspects of it you are not 100% sure of. Is it possible what the potential instructor is claiming as the next level of knowledge is just an interpretation? Perhaps a medical professional with sports background / sports therapist etc. might be able to give you equally good or better advice?

2) Are there better instructors out there who cannot make a mark on the sport because the hateful expert has blocked their progress / socially shunned them / trash talked them? This is somewhat related to the first point. Based on your question it sounds like (in such an unregulated field) the personality you study with is important - what if there are better out there that your potential instructor refuses to associate with, or will not allow in their competitions / social events etc.? I personally see this happen a lot in academia and is a large part of why I dropped out of grad school

3) If your sport is so exclusive in the sense that everyone knows everyone else, you may forever be associated with this person's non-sport related beliefs. Even if you one day choose to teach the sport and are open to training anyone, people will know who you learned from in order to gain your credentials and possible students who assume you may share the odious beliefs will avoid you to be safe. Think about who will be responsible for giving references and recs to other students (the potential instructor) and what things they may say. Then the people you end up training will self select to mirror the sorts your potential instructor trains

4) If you have loved ones who are part of the group hated by your possible instructor, will this affect your relationship with them in the future? I have let "best" friends become very casual acquaintances because I was revolted by their beliefs and it was hard to respect them once I knew. Will some of your friends or family wonder whether you really support them? To me the respect of those I love would not be worth jeopardizing

5) If you cannot contain your disgust towards your possible teacher's beliefs, is it possible they will start to see you as an ally of the hated group and treat you in an abusive fashion? Or train you poorly out of spite? Conversely, is it possible you may soften to their views because you discover they are not such a bad person after all? What if they are very charismatic and introduce you to associates of theirs who share similar views and will help you socially in your endeavors? My opinion is that it is hard to say how you will feel once you are training with them regularly and when you are around someone regularly who is an influence on your life, there is no saying how your views may develop
posted by partly squamous and partly rugose at 4:25 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm going to take you at your word that this person really is at the top of their field and that there is no-one comparable you could learn from in your area. I'll also assume that there is no ideological or practical connection between their abhorrent beliefs and the sport that you do - i.e., it's not Jimmy's No Gays Skydiving School (or whatever) it's a normal skydiving school run by someone who supports horrible causes after hours.

My thinking is this: If you don't do the training, you you won't be supporting this guy and his beliefs. Which is good. But you also won't be doing anything to challenge his ideology, nor to disrupt the dominance of an awful person in your sport. His status as a lone expert is a force that actively keeps those he considers "the wrong kind of people" out of the sport, and your choosing not to get training from him probably won't change that. If you truly find this person's beliefs abhorrent, you have a responsibility to challenge them in a substantive way, not just abstain from involvement.

So. If you want to do the training for purely selfish personal reasons, don't do it. Spend your money on things that don't support hate. But if you honestly feel that doing the training would help you to introduce others to your sport, do the training. Then make an active and sustained effort to teach, engage and mentor "the wrong kind of people" in your sport. Create safe learning spaces in which hateful behaviour is unacceptable. Use the hateful person's skills against them by creating a culture of diversity that discredits him.

I volunteer for in an organisation that teaches mechanical skills to women. It came into existence partly as a response to other similar organisations whose misogynistic cultures made women feel unsafe and unwelcome. I have been fortunate to learn most of my skills from delightful women and men in a space that is emphatically safe and welcoming to all. But a few decades back, when the field was almost entirely male-dominated…the few women in the industry probably had to learn their skills from men. Some of those men were probably misogynistic dicks. Those who weren't misogynistic dicks were probably trained by misogynistic dicks. Now that I have the skills to teach others, I owe a debt of gratitude to anyone, male or female, who put up with a misogynistic dick in order to gain skills and expertise that were later passed down to me. Because of them, the culture is changing, women are teaching other women, and the remaining misogynistic dicks are starting to look like dinosaurs.

So, you know…if you genuinely feel you have the skills and energy to create cultural change in your sport, get yourself skilled up and do it. Take a deep breath, do the training with the hateful weirdo and then go forth and make stuff better for everyone.
posted by embrangled at 5:54 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would hold my nose and take the lessons. There are so many skilled people in the world with beliefs that I find odious that there is no way I'm not going to take what I like from them and leave the rest, even if it gives a little money to their evil causes. The money and time I give against those causes even it out for such a one-time thing. (For me, this differentiates it from taking a cushy job at Goldman Sachs or something.)

It helps me when their beliefs are so outmoded that I don't feel like they have much chance in the world anyway. Against mixed race marriages? How nice for you. That ship has sailed. Believe transgender folks should be institutionalized/killed/something else horrible? That one's harder for me because it still feels current.

Honestly? I would have had to ditch about 50% of my Russian teachers if I only stuck to ones I agreed with ideologically.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:27 PM on November 10, 2014

FWIW, I also can't keep my mouth shut when people bring up these positions. Not even teachers. To keep focussed I'd probably limit it to something like "Haha! Whatever! One of these days we'll go out for drinks and I'll show you why that is so much crap". So maybe you'll be a good influence on him?
posted by small_ruminant at 10:29 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

As others have pointed out, this guy's personal beliefs and how he spends his money are red herrings. The real issue here is that, according to your account, he actively discriminates against certain groups when deciding whom to teach.

As I said upthread, it's up to you whether you are happy to exploit (and inevitably support) this practice for your own benefit. But if you do so, for the love of God please do not pretend you can absolve yourself from the decision to use race-based privilege to your own advantage by "making a donation" to some anti-hate cause. The fact that a lot of folks apparently consider this a viable option has given me insight into why many black people reserve special contempt for white liberals.

Also, before going down the route of paying this guy for his techniques and then passing his "gift" on to people in whatever group(s) he hates, maybe you should ask people who actually belong to those groups what they think about the idea.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 12:03 AM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

This isn't a white liberal thing. I don't anyone in any oppressed group who hasn't come to grips with the fact that there is no way to be ideologically pure regarding getting the skills they need or want.

I realize that among white liberals (and a few others) ideological purity is practically a religion, but it's a religion that's part and parcel with privilege, like being a raw-food person or a 100% localore.

In short, you just have to live the rest of your life as best you can and realize that to a certain extent this stuff comes out in the wash.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:12 AM on November 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

I believe what goes into you doesn't make you unclean; it's only what comes out of you that may make you unclean. If you are taking in (unrelated) teachings from a hateful teacher, that doesn't make you a participant in the hate. Only if you were to do or say or buy hateful things (which it's clear that you're not).

When you let go of your money, you don't control where it goes after that. You may "know" what someone is going to do with that money, but you really don't control it and you don't have to answer for it. You are buying something that has nothing to do with hate.

My answer would be different if there were some sort of organized boycott. For example, if a bunch of people signed a public petition saying "we won't take lessons from [teacher] until he renounces all ties with [hateful ideology]." If that were going on, I would suggest signing on and supporting the boycott. But if it's just you quietly missing out on something you'd really like to do, and no one even knows about the stand you're taking (cause no one is guessing it based on the anonymity of this message), what is the point? Is any object of the teacher's hatred benefitted by your quietly not doing something you might be choosing not to do for any number of other reasons (not interested, too busy, can't afford it)? I don't think so.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 12:34 PM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

But if it's just you quietly missing out on something you'd really like to do, and no one even knows about the stand you're taking (cause no one is guessing it based on the anonymity of this message), what is the point?

Morality is what you do when nobody's looking.

Sure, you can't control what someone does with money after you give it to them, but to an extent you are responsible for it if you know what they're going to do. This is what a lot of boycotts are based on, and whether it's public or not doesn't really matter except in terms of trying to change behaviour.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:24 PM on November 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Sure, you can't control what someone does with money after you give it to them, but to an extent you are responsible for it if you know what they're going to do. This is what a lot of boycotts are based on, and whether it's public or not doesn't really matter except in terms of trying to change behaviour.

Boycotts work when the combination of publicity and mass action starts to affect the company's bottom line. If the OP were asking whether they should lead a public boycott against this person, I would be in favour. But one person choosing not to get training from another person isn't a boycott; at best, it's a quiet abstention. Abstaining might be better than actively causing harm, but it's not as good as taking action that disrupts the harm caused by others. (And I say this as someone with a long list of companies I won't buy from because their values clash with mine).

Ultimately I guess the answer depends on what's more important to you - actually making things better for others, or feeling morally pure and untarnished as an individual. Personally I believe that working to create long-term change is far better in the long term than quiet inaction borne of guilt. Marginalised people don't *benefit* from you stepping back and feeling bad about your privileged self - they/we become stronger when you use your privilege to actually change stuff and bring them/us into the fold. If putting up with a hateful weirdo is likely to help you do that (and you genuinely intend to follow through) I say suck it up and take one for the team.
posted by embrangled at 4:45 PM on November 11, 2014

Choices are not limited to "be morally pure" (a position unattainable by pretty much everyone) and "knowingly give money to a known bigot while committing one's life to teaching the less fortunate."

The OP is not required to teach anyone anything; neither are they required to give money to a bigot, knowing that some portion of it will go to support the bigot's pet causes. This is a voluntary activity, which the OP acknowledges they can continue to enjoy without giving money to the bigot. The OP has not indicated if they know of other students who may have learned the techniques this bigot teaches, either from the bigot or elsewhere. Learning from someone like that is preferable, in my book.

The OP is not obliged to demonstrate their moral choices publicly, but since they asked this question and this is clearly a situation that bothers them, they know what a troublesome choice may look like to their internal sense of who they are and what they believe.
posted by rtha at 4:54 PM on November 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

The only way I can imagine paying for this training was if my end game was to set up my own training where I would offer this information and provide others with the opportunity to avoid giving money to this hateful teacher in the future.
posted by hworth at 4:39 AM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

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