We might as well try: We do what we’re told, told to do

5 08 2012

Libertarianism and anarchism are necessary adjuncts to any theory, but as theories themselves, they are shit.

Now, if I were as clever as Nietzsche, I could leave it at that: the man knew that aphorisms are so much more delightful—for the writer of them, at least—than their elaborations.

But I am duller than the mad German, more (if only fitfully) dutiful in extending my pronunciamentos into argument.

Still, I am in an aphoristic mood, so allow me to miss the dot-and-cross of explanation in favor of elision and leap and speculation: after all, even political theorists have to play.

And so, declaration upon declaration, a piling up standing in for the more consequential lock of link by link:

I had stated previously that no theory of politics which cannot take account of how we humans are deserve the name of theory; I may even have used the term political science fiction.

And, alas, as much affection as I hold for anarchism, it is as fantastical as libertarianism in its approach to human being. If libertarianism can’t think of value beyond liberty, anarchism cannot imagine the irreconcilability of interests. Libertarianism conceives of humans as adults emerging fully formed from the mud, anarchism sees us instinctively in communion. They see the state, the corporation, as the obstacles to our true selves, the heavy gate locking us away from utopia.

In short, libertarianism is too small in its understanding of humans, while anarchism would have us floating above the ground. One thinks too little of humans, the other, too much; neither knows what to do with coercion.

And there’s the rub: there is no human polity without coercion, no human congress at all, so any political theory which is to direct us has to take coercion’s measure, calculate how to deploy and constrain coercion in a manner most congenial to that theory’s purpose.

Neither libertarianism nor anarchism is fitted to such calculations. Libertarianism falls into hysterics at the merest whisper of coercion, imagining itself Mel Gibson’s William Wallace rasping out “Freedom!” as it is gutted by the king’s men, while anarchism, too, imagines that if it gets rid of kings and bosses it gets rid of coercion. They share the delusion that if only individuals or the people were left alone, that if the state and the corporation were to disappear,  power and interest would disappear with them.

Forced to toil in service to real theory, however, these adjuncts serve a real purpose. Libertarianism reminds one of the massive accumulation of coercive power in the state, and how easily that state may justify to itself any use of that power; if one cares at all the liberty and integrity of the individual, it is good to have a counter-valence to the state. Anarchism remembers that these same individuals and the communities in which they live are capable, often more capable, than is the central state in providing, or at least arranging the provisions, for themselves.

To put this more simply, when serving as a minor chord in a major theory, they are forced to reckon with elements they would otherwise dismiss, and by this reckoning they provide a leavening necessary to the continued functioning of that theory. Their resistance creates breathing room that theory in its denseness would not otherwise provide.

Libertarianism and anarchism, then, are honorable resistance fighters, but it is best if they rarely, if ever, defeat what they resist.

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One day it’s fine, the next it’s black

5 03 2012

Buncha thoughts, none of which currently coheres into an argument or essay:

Why should I have to pay for a woman to fuck without consequences?

An attack on women’s sexuality—yeah, yeah, nothing new—but the logic behind this bares not just hostility to women claiming their full humanity, but to insurance itself.

Why pay for contraception is a question that could be asked of any medical intervention. Why pay for Viagra is the obvious follow-up, but the underlying sentiment is why should I pay anything else for anyone for any reason?

Actually, that’s not just an attack on insurance, but on politics itself.

~~~

When to stay and when to go?

This is an ongoing conflict between my civic republican and anarchist sides: When should one fight to stay within any particular system, and when should one say I’m out?

One part of me wants the full range of women’s health services wholly ensconced in medical education and practice, an integral part of the medical establishment, and another part of me says Enough! We’ll do it ourselves!

I’ve mentioned that when I was in high school I helped to start an independent newspaper. We wanted to be in charge of what was covered and what was said, and decided that the only way to assert that control was to strike out on our own.

Given our options, given our willingness and our ability to do the work, and given what we wanted to accomplish, it was the right choice.

I’m not so sure that peeling ourselves off of the medical establishment would be anywhere near as good an idea, not least because the conditions are, shall we say, rather different from starting a newspaper; more to the point, what would be the point of such disestablishment?

In other words, what’s the best way for us to take care of ourselves?

~~~

For all my anarchist sympathies, I am not an anarchist, and my sympathies do not run in all directions.

I am not a fan of homeschooling, for example, and have at times argued that, in principle, it should not be allowed. I have at times argued that, in principle, no private K-12 education should be allowed.

I have principled reasons for these arguments, but, honestly, there is a fair amount of unreasoned hostility to such endeavors.

This is a problem.

No, not the contradiction, but the lack of reflection. If I’m going to go against myself, I ought at least know why.

~~~

I might be done with Rod Dreher.

I’ve followed Dreher on and off for years, first at BeliefNet, then at RealClearReligion, and now at American Conservative. He’s a self-declared “crunchy conservative”, writing about a kind of conservation care, community, and his own understandings of Orthodox Christianity. He also wrote quite movingly of his beloved sister Ruthie’s ultimately fatal struggle with lung cancer.

As an unrepentant leftist I think it’s important for me to read unrepentant rightists: not to get riled, but to try to understand. And Dreher, because he has so often been thoughtful about so many aspects of his own conservatism, has been a mostly welcoming guide to a worldview not my own.

More and more often, however, that thoughtfulness about his own side is being drowned by a contempt for the other side. This is not unexpected—one remains on a side because one thinks that side is better—but Dreher has turned into just another predictable culture warrior, launching full-scale attacks on the motives of the other side while huffily turning aside any questions regarding his own motives.

Perhaps he thinks the best way to deal with the alleged loss of standards is to double them.

And that, more than any political difference, is what is driving me away: he no longer writes in good faith.





Sisters are doing it for themselves

3 06 2009

Nothing like teaching about women and politics to fire up the ol’ feminist engine.

I’ve been a feminist since junior high, when my college-age sister brought home a Ms. magazine she had received free on campus. Zing! I had a subscription all through high school.

(I also joined a local chapter of NOW. Meetings took place in a nearby town, so before I had my driver’s license, my mom or dad would have to drive me to the meetings.)

And I was a loudmouth in college, of course, and noticed how left-wing men could be incredibly piggish around women. I wore my buttons and shouted my slogans and. . . not much more.

In grad school I studied contemporary political theory, but not feminist theory. There was a fair amount of essentialist crap floating around at the time (women are more maternal, more peaceful, more cooperative, better. . .), as well as the psychoanalytically-influenced theory from Europe. Psychoanalysis: bleh.

So I fell out of it. Yes, still a feminist, but, after awhile, I just stopped paying attention to feminist movements, to actual feminist activities. Distracted, for all kinds of reasons.

Well. The past year or so I’ve been teaching a basic politics course which my department prefers to center on women. I’ve kind of resisted this, wondering about the students in my courses, worried that the men in particular would think this isn’t ‘real’ or ‘serious’ politics.

Stupid, I know, but I did have to remind myself, repeatedly, that I wouldn’t make apologies for teaching a course which centered on race or class, and that, last time I checked, women were, oh, about half the world’s population. We matter! Yeah, we do!

Right?

This summer, however, I’m teaching a course explicitly about women and politics, so I don’t have to worry that the students are going to feel suckered into learning about girl stuff: they know straight up what they’re getting into. And, boy, nothing like reading how women are screwed at every level of politics to rekindle my energies.

One student had asked for some form of analytical framework for the course, and I responded that the main approach would be to consider 3 levels of analysis: at the institutional or official/governmental level; at the level of civil society, in which movements may be directed either toward affecting official policy or toward other institutions and attitudes within civil society; and at the marginal or underground level, which may encompass everything from (peaceful) separatist movements to illegal acts (such as social support networks for illegal abortion) to activities in repressive states. One of the texts I used tracks roughly along these lines, although their third level is that of revolutionary movements.

Regardless, women are screwed at every level. Sure, there are the good and noble exceptions (institutionally: Scandinavia, Rwanda, South Africa), but, far more often, women’s concerns are shunted aside, women’s movements marginalized, and, in repeat of what I saw in college, even in revolutionary situations, women’s liberation takes a back seat to ‘national’ a.k.a. men’s liberation.

Tough economic times? Cut social welfare provisions. Uncertain security situation? Women must fall back and support the men. Taking over the state? Oh, women will be free ‘after the revolution’.

I know, I know: This is nothing new. Still, I have forgotten so much, have resigned myself to so much, even as I kept stating my fealty to the feminist cause. I stopped paying attention.

I’m hardly ready to go jump over any barricades—I am old and lazy, after all. But it wouldn’t kill me to do more than just bitch about this stuff.

And even if I’ve fallen behind on my feminist analysis, I’ve kept up with my political analysis. Thus, my anarchic streak meets up with a refreshed feminism: DIY feminism and anti-patriarchy. No more compromises on women’s liberation, no more standing back or apologizing for daring to think that the emancipation of half of the fucking world might maybe sorta possibly matter.

Half of the world? Did I say that? How about the whole fucking world? Yep, I’m newly comfortable with discussions of patriarchy (a word that I used to sidle away from, embarrassed), and how it traps men as well as women. Yeah, it sucks that women have to prove their ‘toughness’ , but it also sucks that a man can’t be gentle without having his masculinity questioned. And while women have been able to move into so-called masculine fields—because, of course, women would want to move into something better—men have a far more difficult time lowering themselves to enter so-called feminine fields. Chick lawyer? Check. Guy kindergarten teacher? Um. . . .

Enough. I’m too much the post-structuralist/modernist to think that we can ever be completely free of the nest of power relations, but that’s hardly an excuse for not getting rid of the ones we find odious now.

And that ‘we’ includes me—because, as history clearly demonstrates, ain’t nobody else gonna liberate me. DIY, indeed.

(Image from Red Buddha Designs)