Friday, September 19, 2008

OF TROJANS AND HORSES

I mentioned in a Comment Response to a recent Post several points that I think are important enough to say again here:

My concern however is not ‘feminism’ per se. It is the Second-Wave feminism because it was during the era of that Wave’s influence that most of the media imagery was set and the legislative ‘gains’ were registered and set into law. And it is precisely therein that one finds deeply troubling concepts and assertions. Yes, many of those ‘thinkers’ are now past their prime and their thoughts have either been countered or watered down, either from within the movement or from outside it, or shrewdly allowed to fall into the abyss; but those were the folks whose agendas or thoughts created problems for which Our present troubles seem in many ways to be but consequences of what constituted the Second Wave’s ‘vision’ and political program.

Whether the Democrats and the other politicians in general intended to support those visions or only sought to placate a desperately-embraced voter demographic; whether the Democrats and the other politicians actually realized the extent of those conceptual underpinnings or had given any real thought to the consequences that might play out; whether the Democrats and the other politicians were the willing or only the captive enablers of these agendas; whether the Democrats and the other politicians breezily thought they could ‘handle’ the feminists or whether instead they felt themselves at some point in the gut-thudding position of those who had ‘hired’ Hitler only to find out very soon that they were now inescapably caught in a web; whether the Democrats and the other politicians ‘failed’ in their legislative and regulatory imposition of the feminist visions of the Second Wave either because they were heroically trying to limit the damage to the common weal or because they realized they had created for themselves an inchoate but profoundly deep hostility among other voters among the citizenry and thus started trying to hedge their bets … these are all valid and fascinating questions for deep research. I imagine that one day historians will build entire careers trying to answer them.

But I don’t think it can be denied that the visions enunciated by many of the most well-known of the Second Wave, not necessarily the most balanced but the most vivid, were a tremendously significant element in the atmosphere that fueled some of the largest legislative initiatives and that set the lineaments of the ‘script’ that the mainstream media (that was pretty much the only ‘media’ there was at the time) adopted and pretty much continue to use up to this day, amplifying it and disseminating it through Our popular culture as well as supporting the changes to Our political and legal structures themselves.

And to the extent that those changes are still with Us – enshrined in law or regulation or jurispraxis, accepted without opportunity for examination or dissent by generations fearful of losing their jobs or by generations raised on television shows and films – then to that extent the Second Wave, as past its prime and mastodon-ish as it is seen even by younger generations of women, is still something We have to reckon with.

So, a few of the main points and themes:

1) Liberalism itself was seen as ‘masculine’, and thus hopelessly compromised and incapable of forming the conceptual vehicle for the vision. Since the equal-rights of women had been largely rejected and unsupported by Liberalism through its refusal to allow the state into the private lives of the individual citizen and of the family, then Liberalism was an unfit vessel and was indeed ‘part of the problem’.

2) Since democracy in the United States had been inextricably intertwined with Liberalism and with the bourgeois-capitalist [yes, the analysis does sound kind of Marxist] repression of women necessary to keep the system going, then ‘democracy’ as it usually understood was also unacceptable.

3) And certainly, since women’s rights were taken as a given, and since they had been ignored or actively repressed for so long, then this constituted an ‘emergency’ that required immediate action, and thus a democratic deliberation or consensus among the citizenry was far too slow a process upon which to rely. And since the entire ‘game’ was rigged in favor of men anyway, then the results of any such deliberation could not be accepted as binding [the presumption apparently being that a nation-wide public deliberation – either through hostility, inertia, or simple skepticism or doubt as to the scope, depth, or speed of the changes demanded by the vision – would not accept the vastness of the changes deemed necessary].

4) The alternative to Liberalism must be a ‘radical democratic politics’ [although there is no clear explanation as to how a ‘radical democracy’ differs from the imposition of a vision upon the citizenry by a vanguard elite that considers itself the only true and competent bearer and definer of the vision].

5) The basic unit of society is not the Individual nor the Family but rather the Identity, especially as formed by gender, considered to be the ur-category of Identity. [It is unclear how this assertion can be squared with American society and polity. It seems very clear just from the assertion itself that any commonality, any shared sense of unity, among the citizenry, will suffer from the raising up of Identity as the prime category. And this is true when considering only one Identity; in a situation – and it did rapidly develop – where there are multiple Identities, based on race or sexual orientation or degree of physical integrity or victimhood, then the bonds of unity among the citizenry, among The People, are further compromised. To bind all Identities together under one or another conceptual rubric – minority status or victimized status are two currently deployed – is not going to nullify the profound danger of communal dissolution. And would you care to have a go at imagining what it might mean to enjoy a “post-individualist freedom”? Or what it will mean to live in a “post-liberal democracy”? In this regard, I would paraphrase a Russian bon-mot: 'Radical democracy' is to 'democracy' as 'electric chair' is to 'chair'. Ah brave new world!]

6) Identity is constituted by an injury perpetrated upon one’s group. That injury has a perpetrator, and the protection from that ‘perpetrator’ and the punishment of that ‘perpetrator’ are the defining purposes of all members of the Identity. [This is a highly negative mode of grounding one’s identity, one’s purpose and sense of fulfillment in life. It is actually reactive rather than self-initiating or self-sustaining, and thus effectively keeps the Identity dependent upon those by whom it feels threatened. Thus, an insoluble problem is constituted at the core of any social dynamics between the Identity and the rest of the host society . There is also the almost inescapable possibility that motivations of Ressentiment and Revenge will permeate the entire society, as the Identity seeks redress for ever-expanding injury, and the legal system will become deformed under the pressure to demonstrate that it is sympathetic to this theoretically insatiable demand for punishment so as to achieve ‘closure’ – sound familiar?]

7) In light of (6), Security is more important than Freedom. If the Identity is not secure or does not feel secure, then it cannot exercise its Freedom and remains oppressed. [The valuing of Security – and especially a state-enforced security – over Freedom sparked the valorization of victimhood and the Victimist Identity, a still unchecked fire that demands an ever-expanding intrusion of the government police power even into the center of the Family and the home, areas heretofore considered as beyond the bounds of government police intrusion. And the erection of ever more clearly ‘tagged’ ‘enemies’ whose exclusion from society will theoretically somehow lead to more ‘safety’ and ‘security’; a fire that then leaped from US domestic affairs to foreign affairs, with increasingly unavoidable disastrous consequences.]

8) Liberty itself can only be defined as an absence of impositions and the license to do whatever one feels best for oneself and one’s interests. No constraints or limits can be imposed by any outside force or pressure. This however, only holds true for the members of one’s Identity; the oppressors and perpetrators of one’s Identity must of course be deprived of liberty since they have proven themselves, by nature, oppressors and perpetrators and have forfeited the right to liberty. [Weirdly, this sounds very similar to the Fundamentalist declaration of a person or group as being ‘evil’ and therefore beyond the pale of civic legal rights and membership. Such a double ‘support’ may explain the recent stunningly easy career of prison-expansion and incarceration in this ‘land of the free’, as well as Our catastrophically unhappy invasions in the Middle East. The definition also poses profound problems for any process of maturing, since the shaping value of limits and the trellis-ing value of structure, and the inevitability of encountering limits, is essential to any maturity capable of sustaining an individual intrapersonally or interpersonally or societally. ]

9) Since harm has been done to the Identity by the male oppressors – which justifies their being prosecuted by the police power of the state [which is already compromised in essence by being ‘masculine’ and a running-dog lackey of masculinism – go figure] then there can be no ‘privacy’ because within any such domain of privacy the male can oppress the female. [Thus, the guarantees of certain Amendments in the Bill of Rights are simply power-plays to maintain the subjection and oppression, and are thus – in the eyes of the Identity – illegitimate. And is there any wonder where Bush and his darkling band of history-makers got the idea that they could get away with pooh-poohing the Constitution and the Bill of Rights? The ‘left’ attacked those fundamental principles before the ‘right’, and that second attack was only after the floodgates had been knocked awry in the service of the security of Identity.]

10) Since the male oppresses in all domains of life, then the ‘political’ is no longer confined to the arena of public affairs; rather all of the areas or domains of one’s life are now to be governed by ‘the political’. [This plays hell with such historic and vitally nourishing non-political affiliations as the personal, the interpersonal, the social, the religious, the communal – even the patriotic – and their respective domains. The spiritual, of course, has already taken a beating from traditional American materialism and consumerism. And so much of this sounds so eerily Soviet or Maoist, like communist indoctrination; and as with those movements, the ‘cause’ rapidly expanded to engulf individual lives as well as societies and cultures.]

I would add a couple of other consequences, some of which are mentioned by Wendy Brown in her 1995 book of essays “States of Injury” (We recall 1995 as the year after the Violence Against Women legislation and the year before the sex-offense mania started up). Hers is a handy compendium of Second Wave thought, mostly readable although the going can get tough when she is quoting from thinkers who took large cues from Marxist thought or Leninist praxis or when she lets herself go and simply starts speaking in the hugely compressed and freighted lingo of pomo philosophy and thought.

There is a sense of dislocation, of human beings unable to ‘place’ themselves in the world, in life, in any wider or deeper context of meaning and purpose. Since ‘abstractions’ can easily mask ideological ‘justifications’ and ‘structures’ of oppression – however defined – and distract attention from the here-and-now political realm which is the only site of revolutionary corrective action, then ‘abstractions’ must be done away with. But this creates a hugely Flattened world, a world with no ‘ideals’ and – worse – no Beyond, whence cometh – in actuality or only in belief – much Help and even Companionship and Support.

In this sense, I think, Identity-ism, of which this Second Wave feminism is the first large American variant, actually shrinks the domain of meaning for Us, even as it purports to extend the realm of ‘freedom’, which is defined negatively as a freedom from oppression and defined positively as do-what-you-like-and-accept-no-constraints. And when I say Us I am not referring to simply ‘males’ or simply any non-members of this or that Identity. The same crushing – oppressing – effect is laid upon members of the Identity (or: Identities). This is a recipe for maturational, cultural, spiritual, and moral disaster.

There is no appreciation of the redemptive – even in the psychological or emotional sense – power of suffering. All suffering is ‘oppression’ or ‘injury’, the oppressor or perpetrator must be found and punished, and thus ‘closure’ will be found – sooner or later. But especially in light of the Flatness of Identity-ism’s ‘world’, and the lack of any Beyond that would act as Judge as well as Comforter and Sustainer, then I think it becomes clear why Our experience with Identity-ism and Victimism have proven such acid (and ultimately corrosive) experiences in prosecution and imprisonment: there is no Beyond where ‘justice’ will be done, so it all has to be done here, and before anybody ‘gets away’.

This explains the profoundly disturbing sentiment voiced by more than one ‘victim’ upon discovering that an alleged perpetrator has ‘died and gotten away’; or the sentiment voiced after an execution that the perpetrator has now ‘escaped’(and thus there will be no ‘closure’, especially if that ‘closure’ involves the ‘satisfaction’ of seeing the perpetrator suffer). And these are comments voiced by persons who would probably describe themselves without hesitation as ‘God-fearing’ and ‘believers’.

You might wonder how folks such as these think they are going to be treated by Justice for their own transgressions – there is that messy but ominous observation about the measure you measure with being measured unto you – but since there is no Beyond or any Justice in Identity-ism’s concept of the battle-space, then they probably haven’t factored it in. No wonder it was so easy for Us to go to war in the Middle East without a serious and accurate assessment of the battle-space.

And it sows the seeds for political disaster as well. Two of them, actually. First, because there is in human beings a deep-seated need for connection to some sort of Beyond. This need has been so strong and so consistent throughout human history that even the ancients thought it was not only a social or psychological (such as they had it back then) datum but actually indicated the nature of this reality and of that Other reality and even constituted evidence of some sort of Beyond. Yes, along came Marx and Freud and a host of others (not so much Darwin at all) who tried to Flatten the immaterial into the material in the name of a materially-bound science (and they called it 'progress'); but except among the trend-susceptible, this hasn't really worked. Thus, any 'movement', 'cause', or 'revolution' that seeks to abolish - even with force and violence (even with 'good' intentions) - or otherwise ignores this profound human characteristic is going to ultimately fail in its objective.

Secondly, any political regime that seeks to achieve this - directly or through its support of a materialism - is going to piss off a lot of folks. And those folks are going to reject it - directly or subtly - simply primarily because they sense and reject its Flatness and its assault on their need for the Beyond. If you climb onto a whale's back and stick your arm down so as to block its blowhole, then it will react negatively forthwith - not because it rejects you specifically, but because it senses a threat to its very life. Even the commies learned that.

And like all materialisms, Identity-ism (and its offspring Victimism) disenchant the world. We are left with a world not only Flattened but devoid of any sense of mystery or of any sense of a Beyond that can raise Us up out of the Flatness and the greyness. We are all Ninotchka, only not so good-looking.

As if industrial and post-industrial life, and the unending tug of consumerism, aren’t bad enough.
And like them, Identity-ism and Victimism too promise a liberation. But it is a freedom merely to slide further and faster along the hard and slippery surfaces of life, like ice skaters going downhill and not sure how to stop, or fat globules along the surface of a hot skillet. This is living? This is what a human life is all about?

This is enough to sustain a democratic politics? The Republic? The People? Can persons thus hobbled ever function as The People? If they can’t, then the rest of Our arrangements – the Constitution, the Branches , the Bill of Rights – will start to slide and twist into deformity.

And if We are hugely lessened, then Our government will be too. The Framers didn’t build Us a church. They built Us a system of government, a machine that needed to be tended, a ship that still needed to be crewed (as well as captained).

As the world has become more complex, as the structures of American society have become more complex, then We don’t first and foremost need more government. We need more of The People. Because if those struts are not capable of holding their position, then a larger ferris wheel and a larger motor are simply going to be a larger catastrophe waiting to happen.

Things have gotten so bad now that it doesn’t look like American politics is going to ever be able to let another Washington or Lincoln rise up, even though there are probably more than a few somewhere around here. So We are going to have to pull Ourselves up and pull Ourselves together.

We must live together or We shall surely all perish separately.

Labels: , , , , ,

4 Comments:

Blogger David said...

You are perfectly right to sound the tocsin for many of the sequelae of the multiple 'identity' ideologies: erosion of constitutional protections, engorgement of the police power, the intrusive brutalization of public policy etc. One must ask, however, who ultimately benefited from these developments? Certainly not Dworkin, MacKinnon et al.

With the end of the Vietnam war, the movement for social change imploded into dozens of feckless shards: environmentalism, animal rights, LGBT, AIM, Weather Underground, Panthers etc. - all artfully divided and conquered by the narcissistic turn to Identity in lieu of a strong social analysis which accounted for environmental degradation, class, race and gender oppression from a higher, more inclusive viewpoint. Each of these smaller factions were riddled from within by government provocateurs, Cointelpro etc. and smothered from without by the toothless posturing of Baby Boom 'counter cultural' consumerism.

You are starting to sound like those enraged people who take Cheney and other repellent corporate stalking horses personally. These are not the real culprits except in the most literal sense. "It's business, Sonny, not personal". At this sad point, impeachment would not change anything here.

Like rock and roll and other trappings of social rebellion, Feminism had become totally commodified by corporate interests even before Steinem put out the first glossy issue of Ms. Magazine in '72. The ultimate triumph of such torsion is Sarah Palin as the new paladin of women's liberation - corporate style.

Contraception, no-fault divorce, indeed, the whole 'women's liberation' gestalt were all men's ideas from the get-go. Corporate interests needed to get women into the job market at a 35% discount and thus destroy the post WWII idea of a manufacturing wage which could support a nuclear family. The manufacturing unions had a good run until the early 60's.

When things got out of hand and women started demanding equal pay, the corporations began sending American jobs off-shore in 1970 and left everybody but management and their slick marketing divisions stranded with no benefits and service economy wages while finance speculators picked-over our bones.

Women's lib and other identity fetishes were bright shiny objects that distracted us while the multinationals liquidated the country (families, corporate assets & all) and went global with the proceeds.

8:31 AM  
Blogger publion said...

It's not so much that I am 'taking it (Second Wave Feminism)personally' as it is that I realize that 2WF's toxic messes - evident even then to anybody who would have looked - a) constitute a large part of the basis of Our present problems as a Republic and a society and culture and b) are still operative insofar as the laws and regulations that they spawned are still on the books and that general Sense of anti-male, hostile, aggreived yet 'empowered' victimhood is still very much with Us in the media and assorted other key sites of discourse.

Now, if I am worried 'as a person' that all this is going to make things worse, for me as for the rest of Us, well then, in t-h-a-t sense, I am taking it personally.

No, I don't want to see the 2WF-ers 'prosecuted', say, for what they said and did and thought decades ago. But I very much do want to see their handiwork, at least in law and popular (mis-)conception repealed and reduced. We cannot cohere as a People if that does not happen.

7:05 AM  
Blogger David said...

Your approach to this thing is like getting mad at the ventriloquist's dummies (Bush, Cheney, Steinem, Cosmopolitan Magazine etc.) while the ventriloquist (American multinationals) is sitting right there silently doling out the campaign contributions and subverting the culture for his own purposes through the activities of his surrogate dummies witting and unwitting.

8:11 AM  
Blogger publion said...

I am completely in agreement with you: the corporate or mega-corporate mentality is a huge danger, and doesn't even seem to understand how dangerous it is. Surely it is a premier example of 'the banality of treachery'.

But the Identities - and especially the 2WF that provided the ideology and first-impetus for all the Identities and for Victimism - sought to play ball with the corporations. And wound up, as you say, being consumed. But that doesn't make them 'victims' - not in the media sense that one is 'pure and innocent' and suddenly predatory and strange evil comes at you. Nope.

They were more like small-time hoods who thought they could run with the big dogs and when the bank job came they either got shot in the fray or got left behind by their 'allies'.

They were witless enough not to see how much damage their ideology and their political method would cause; they were callous enough to keep pushing the stuff on, perhaps figuring that if it didn't work out right this time then maybe it would do so the very next time - Westmoreland in heels. And to date they have done nothing to deploy their clout - such as it still is - in trying to repair the damage they've caused.

And all of this prescinds from the fact that individually some of their visions make no sense and taken as a group, their various sub-visions are either incompatible or mutually contradictory. And suggesting that it's all in our minds and we simply need to let go and glory in 'paradox' (a nicer word than 'contradiction') is just not enough.

They tried to effect a revolution. It has failed, not so much from backlash as from simple skepticism, uneasiness, and (some of)the public's resistance to being stampeded for any reason. And not so much from lack of will as from internal incoherence even among the 'women' who were supposed to be the 'workers of the world' in the feminist variant on Marx.

That said, We are all citizens together and must all reason together to come to acceptable, or at least tolerable, arrangements. That's what a democracy is; the feminists tried to take over this government in order to use it as a weapon in their revolution against men and whatever else they were aiming at, and the best grace I can muster is Lincoln's after the Confederacy closed up shop. But I guess I could do a lot worse.

3:42 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home