Everybody knows it’s coming apart, 15

8 12 2014

Ironically, in seeking to curb the individual will to power in favor of equality, leftists invest their own subterranean desires for freedom-as-power in the activist state. In my view, the revival of the left depends on relinquishing this investment. We need to recognize that despite appearances the state is not our friend, that in the long run its erosion is an opportunity and a challenge, not a disaster. I don’t want to be misunderstood: I’m not suggesting that we stop supporting social security or national health insurance or public schools or antidiscrimination laws. If my immediate choices are the barbarism of unleashed capital or a state-funded public sector, the tyranny of uninhibited private bigotry or state-enforced civil rights, I choose the state. Or rather, I choose the social goods and civil liberties that are available under state auspices.The distinction is important, because the idea that the state gives us these benefits is a mystification. Basically [Charles] Murray is right: government does not cause social improvement. In actual historical fact, every economic and social right that we’ve achieved since the nineteenth century has been hard-won by organized, militant, and often radical social movements: the labor movement; the socialist, communist, and anarchist movements; the new left student movement; the black and feminist and gay liberation movements; the ecology movement. . . . The role of the state from the New Deal and the postwar compact till the start of its present no-more-Mr.-Nice-Guy phase was to manage potentially destabilizing social conflict by offering carefully limited concessions to the troublemakers.

. . . The government’s current rush to abandon any pretense of social responsibility ought to make this painfully clear: what the state supposedly giveth it promptly taketh away as soon as the balance of power shifts. In this case, of course, social power is shifting away from the national state itself; liberals and social democrats are still trying to board a train that’s already left the station.

In parallel fashion, the statism of the cultural left does not further equality so much as it reinforces law and order. . . . Insofar as the demand is to outlaw overt, provable discriminatory acts by employers, landlords, store, owners, and so on, it simply aims for public recognition that (pace [David] Boaz and Murray) discrimination is a coercive act as unacceptable as violence or theft. But the problem, from the social movements’ point of view, is that overt, deliberate discrimination is only the crudest expression of a deeply rooted culture of inequality. For many opponents of that culture, it has seemed a logical next step to invoke state power against patterns of behavior that reinforce white male dominance and exclude, marginalize, or intimidate vulnerable groups.

Actually, it’s a plunge into a dangerous illusion. The ingrained behavior and attitudes that support the dominant culture are by definition widespread, reflexive, and experienced as normal and reasonable by the people who uphold them. They are also often unconscious or ambiguous. A serious effort to crush racism and sexism with the blunt instrument of the law would be a project of totalitarian dimensions—and still it would fail. Transforming a culture and its consciousness requires a different kind of politics, a movement of people who consistently and publicly confront oppressive social patterns, explain what’s wrong with them, and refuse to live by them. . . .

It’s time for the left to become a movement again. That means, first of all, depending on no one’s power but our own. . . .

Ellen Willis, Their Libertarianism—and Ours, 1997

There is much which is provocative—in the best sense of the word—in Willis’s work, and much of her left-libertarianism with which I agree.

But she doesn’t confront the contradiction in her own essay: the gains of past movements, gains which she wouldn’t give up, were accomplished through the actions of that compromised, unfriendly, authoritarian state. She criticizes the right-libertarians for not recognizing the coercive power of the marketplace and warns leftists of the coercive power of the state, but merely criticizing parallel coercions does not in an of itself offer an escape from them.

Yes, by all means, we need a new, new-left movement (NL x.0?), a new vision of freedom and equality in which we live in “voluntary cooperation” with one another. But we can’t get their simply by dismissing either the state or the market as coercive—and not only because coercion (or, if you prefer, power) itself may be inescapable.

It’s nice to say we ought to rely on no one’s power but our own, but is that enough? And what if it isn’t? That is the dilemma, and the work.

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Na na na na, hey hey-a, good bye

26 06 2013

I have sympathy for people who lose political contests. I know what it’s like to be on the losing end—it hurts—so on those occasions in which my side wins, I don’t much feel like grinding down ordinary folk on the losing side. (Leaders and sundy celebri-pols are another matter. . . .)

But on the DOMA case, my reaction is pretty much We won you lost; good! (And to the leaders and sundry celebri-pols rending their garments over the decision, my reaction is: We won, you lost, fuck you.)

The winning or losing of elections is not in and of itself a matter of justice: it’s a sorting mechanism for governance which can may lead to (un)just legislation, but any justice is located in the fairness of the contest itself, not the outcome. If you lose, it sucks, but it’s not unfair; as such graciousness is called for.

And if you win, that’s great, but it’s not a triumph of justice; as such, graciousness is called for.

But some laws are unfair, and as such, graciousness doesn’t apply. The Defense of Marriage Act was manifestly unfair, preventing same-sex couples full coverage under the law and thus equal protection of those same laws. DOMA actively disfavored a minority of citizens just because a majority thought they were icky.

(Yes, I know SSM opponents say that’s not at all the case, but I don’t believe it.)

DOMA was unjust. Those who supported it supported injustice. Whatever else they think DOMA stood for, it stood for injustice.

Thus, my ungracious response to DOMA defenders: You lost. You deserved to lose. And you deserve no sympathy for the loss.





Well done, Mr. President

9 05 2012

 

 

Sullivan has a round-up of reactions, a fair number of which are. . . peevish. He only did this because he had to, or it’s not courageous because a majority of Americans now support gay marriage, what took so long, etc.

For fuck’s sake: really?

He is the first sitting president of the Yoo-nited States to state publicly his support for marriage equality, and bitching about suspect timing or impure motives is so much pissing into good beer.

This is a solid goddamned win. Learn to enjoy it already!

Shees.

(Screenshot taken from Slate, because I keep forgetting how to do screenshots.)





Just like everybody else does

2 06 2011

Were slaves humans to those who enslaved them? Were Jews and the Roma and Slavs human to Nazis?

Yes. And no.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’s interests and mine once again intersect, this time on the question of who is human. TNC has posted a number of pieces in which he notes that the slaves-weren’t-human-to-slavemasters trope really doesn’t hold up; in his most recent post on the topic, he notes that

But throughout the South there were (poorly enforced) laws against the murder of slaves. Enslaved people were often encouraged to embrace Jesus, and ministered to by white preachers–treatment that mules and dogs were generally spared. Slave populations were filled with the progeny of white people who had sex with slaves–again treatment which most mules and dogs (as far as we know) were spared. It is surely true that blacks were seen as biologically inferior, but they were nevertheless generally recognized as human.

Frederick Douglass, as well, observed in What to a slave is the Fourth of July? that

Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man? That point is conceded already. Nobody doubts it. The slaveholders themselves acknowledge it in the enactment of laws for their government. They acknowledge it when they punish disobedience on the part of the slave. There are seventy-two crimes in the State of Virginia, which, if committed by a black man, (no matter how ignorant he be), subject him to the punishment of death; while only two of the same crimes will subject a white man to the like punishment. What is this but the acknowledgement that the slave is a moral, intellectual and responsible being? The manhood of the slave is conceded. It is admitted in the fact that Southern statute books are covered with enactments forbidding, under severe fines and penalties, the teaching of the slave to read or to write. When you can point to any such laws, in reference to the beasts of the field, then I may consent to argue the manhood of the slave. When the dogs in your streets, when the fowls of the air, when the cattle on your hills, when the fish of the sea, and the reptiles that crawl, shall be unable to distinguish the slave from a brute, their will I argue with you that the slave is a man!

The Nazis, too, did recognize that Jews, Gypsies, and Slavs were human, in their prohibitions and punishments, their sterilization campaigns, the theft of their goods, their enslavement, their use as experimental subjects, and, perhaps, above (or below) all, in their willingness to rape Jewish women, Roma women, Polish and Russian and Ukrainian and Serbian women.

Such practical recognition (one which is likely shared by all chauvinistic peoples) must be conceded: the superior knew the inferior to be human.

This concession does not, however, end the debate, for there is also the matter of the ideology of the slaver and the Nazi, one which also drove the practices of enslavement, brutalization, and extermination.

TNC admits to a kind of admiration for Cannibals All! author George Fitzhugh, largely due to Fitzhugh’s willingness to extend the logic of superiors/inferiors to all peoples, such that even many white people could justly be enslaved. Again, I’m not so sure that this consistency deserves any praise, but even more than that, I think a focus on such consistency itself obscures the practical reality of slavery, to wit, that those who were enslaved were both human and not human.

TNC, from the same post:

This posed a philosophical problem for the nascent Confederate intelligentsia. Thomas Jefferson’s notion that “all men are created equal,” particularly rankled. If black people were part of “man,” and all “men” were created equal, how could one justify slavery? Well, one could completely ignore the discrepancy, which is exactly what a lot of Confederates did.

He goes on to consider the “more radical position” that Jefferson was wrong, that the mere fact of humanity did not make one equal.

I happen to agree with this: the liberty and equality we grant to one another is just that, a grant in recognition, and one which could be either extended or withdrawn. (Arendt, too, noted that there was nothing particularly sacred about the “naked human”, and that acknowledgment of humanness is hardly sufficient to guarantee any sort of right.)

But TNC, having opened himself to this radical possibility, gives himself over to those who assert inequality  without also considering that they, too, were engaging in double-talk and legalistic bullshit, that is, that assertions of inequality or inferiority covered up their own discrepancies regarding humanness.

These discrepancies are, frankly, much easier to see in Nazi propaganda, what with their constant references to vermin and bacillus and disease and corruption (in the case of Jews) or weakness and stupidity and beastliness (in the case of Slavs): these people aren’t really people.

What you see, in other words, is that the Nazis had a kind of Platonic Form of humans, namely, the German* (with the asterisk indicating that to be truly German was to be not-Jewish, not leftist, not sick, not mentally ill, not handicapped, not Christian, etc.), and that those who were not-German—that is, those who deviated from the Form—were therefore less human. This dynamic could be seen as well in the belief that some Czechs and Ukrainians and Poles could, perhaps, be “Germanized”, that is, brought closer to  True Human Form.

In short, this is less about equality or inequality than about degrees of humanness: those who are closer to the Form are more human than those further away from it.

The question of the constitution of the form and the determination of relative distances to it is, of course, not a little caught up in questions of power, in particular, in the question of power over. This is where not a few of the discrepancies enter: are more human if you’re on top? if you win? If so, what does loss (as in, say, WWI) mean regarding your humanness? Et cetera. . . .

To bring the point closer to home: We Homo sapiens  use other species; norms and regulations over such use have both varied over time and space and from species to species, a variation dependent upon (among other things) utility and perceived nearness to us. In the US (as in many parts of the world), for example, the Great Apes—our nearest evolutionary relatives—are accorded rather different treatment than mice, rabbits, worms, and flies. And shall we discuss our agricultural and culinary uses of, say, chickens and cows and pigs. . . ?

This brings us back, then, to Fitzhugh, or at least, to the title of his work, Cannibals All! While cannibalism is not unknown among our species, it is an exceptional rather than normal practice—which itself indicates some widespread (if not quite global)  and basic acknowledgement of one another as being of the same kind.

That basic acknowledgement, however, is not quite enough: there is more to being human than, well, being human.





A message for John McCain

18 12 2010

Re:

“I hope that when we pass this legislation that we will understand that we are doing great damage,” Mr. McCain said. “And we could possibly and probably, as the commandant of the Marine Corps said, and as I have been told by literally thousands of members of the military, harm the battle effectiveness vital to the survival of our young men and women in the military.”

Go fuck yourself.





No comment: a roundup

25 09 2010

The Texas State Board of Education adopted a resolution Friday that seeks to curtail references to Islam in Texas textbooks, as social conservative board members warned of what they describe as a creeping Middle Eastern influence in the nation’s publishing industry.

Huffington Post

***

“Thai women are a lot like women in America were 50 years ago,” said Mr. Davis, before they discovered their rights and became “strong-headed and opinionated.”

“The women now know they are equal,” said Mr. Davis, a retired Naval officer who has been divorced twice, “so the situation is not as relaxed and peaceful as it is between an American and a Thai lady.”

New York Times

***

The Obama administration urged a federal judge early Saturday to dismiss a lawsuit over its targeting of a U.S. citizen for killing overseas, saying that the case would reveal state secrets.

The U.S.-born citizen, Anwar al-Aulaqi, is a cleric now believed to be in Yemen. Federal authorities allege that he is leading a branch of al-Qaeda there.

Washington Post

***

Mr. Dooley said the F.B.I. broke down Mr. Kelly’s door around 7 a.m. and gave a search warrant to his companion. The warrant said agents were gathering evidence related to people “providing, attempting and conspiring to provide material support” to terrorist organizations, and listed Hezbollah, the Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

The warrant also authorized the agents to look for information connected to the Freedom Road Socialist Organization and to unnamed “co-conspirators” and allowed them to seize items including electronics, photographs, address books and letters.

Mr. Kelly is known in Minnesota as a prominent organizer of the Anti-War Committee, a group that has protested United States military aid to Colombia and called for the removal of American soldiers from Afghanistan.

During the Republican gathering in 2008 he was a primary organizer of a march that drew thousands of participants.

Mr. Kelly was also served with a summons to appear before a grand jury on Oct. 19 in Chicago. The order directed him to bring along pictures or videos related to any trip to Colombia, Jordan, Syria, the Palestinian territories or Israel, as well as correspondence with anyone in those places.

New York Times





No comment

11 11 2009

Gay Funeral Rights Bill Vetoed By Rhode Island Governor

AP – Gov. Don Carcieri vetoed legislation Tuesday that would give same-sex couples in Rhode Island the same right to plan the funerals of their late partners as married couples.

The socially conservative Republican said the proposed protection represents a “disturbing trend” of the incremental erosion of heterosexual marriage. Rhode Island does not recognize same-sex marriage.

“If the General Assembly believes it would like to address the issue of domestic partnership, it should place the issue on the ballot and let the people of Rhode Island decide,” Carcieri said in a letter to lawmakers.

(Filed by Elyse Siegel/at Huffington Post)