Wednesday, December 28, 2011

CATHARINE MACKINNON : HOW WE GOT HERE

A classic scene that has always remained with me: In 1939’s film version of ‘Gone With the Wind’, Jane Darwell’s proper Southern dame, Mrs. Merriwether, informed that Union troops were almost upon her beloved city, exclaimed: “Yankees! In Atlanta? How’d they git heah?”

The answer, which came to me as soon as I heard her voice the question, was that they had been coming all along, and for quite a while she had simply refused to entertain the possibility that such was so. Instead she carried on her wonted ways, living the life of a Southern dame as she always had.

And suddenly, the end was upon her.

At which point Gilbert and Sullivan’s obnoxious know-it-all comes to me as well: avoided by all decent company, whom he always loved to put down or to whom he always loved to administer a come-uppance, he laments his situation and “cawn’t think why” nobody wants to spend time with him.

Both thoughts came back to me as I recently put myself through law professor and touted ‘feminist scholar and thinker’ Catharine MacKinnon’s 1989 book “Toward A Feminist Theory of the State”.*

Not that either she or any of her sorority of vanguard cadres have ever declared any such moment of self-doubt; indeed, quite the opposite. She continues to receive encomia from other feminist best and brightest (such as feminist historian Christine Stansell and feminist philosopher Martha Nussbaum, to name but a couple of recent ones).

Such mutual and mutually self-serving encomia seem to be public valentines delivered to each other in assorted publications for all the like-minded to read. One thinks of the gilded if clunky encomia lavished by the early Soviet state upon those who cooperated with its utopian terraforming of Russia: Indefatigable Hero of the Five-Year Tractor Plan! Brass-hard Implementer of the Three-Year Cement Plan! Unswerving and Indistractable Protector of the Proletariat!

Yah.

And behind each element of such encomia, the bloody, soul-flattening wrack and ruin to innumerable lives and the subversion of an entire society and its culture and its people. Oh, and the enslavement of same.

But all in a good, indeed a marvelous and history-shattering, Cause.

Yah.

So anyway, in light of Our current omni-dimensional mess, I recently decided to look at this decades-old work, which contains thoughts which, she says (p.ix), she had been working on and talking about since 1971. Which, as it happens, is the year the Democrats decided to turn the Party toward the tempting female demographic, declare themselves “the Party of women”, and embrace whole-hog the agenda of radical-feminism (which, MacKinnon says, is the only feminism). Which, as it also happens, is the year before the Presidential election of 1972 when The People rejected the whole scheme  49 States to 1. And which, as it happens, is the year the Democrats began toying with the idea that since The People ‘just don’t get it’ then deliberative democracy (and the Framing Vision) were clearly not the way forward. **

And here We are.

And We are here, I will say, not because some amazing and powerfully coherent Theory suddenly swept all prior conceptualizations before it and had to be adopted simply in order to conform to a history-making discovery and revelation of how things work (such as, say, Newton’s Theory of Gravity), but rather because the desperate Dems (later to be joined by the Republicans for their own purposes) simply committed the entire power of the federal government and the Beltway behind it.

One thinks of Hitler promoting the utterly inexperienced von Paulus to command of the 6th Army in the Russian campaign, against all warnings that the man was a theoretician and war-gamer who had  utterly no field command experience – let alone in major combat – simply because Mr. Big figured that the man would be a pliable field commander who would without question carry out his orders. (Let alone that the orders von Paulus was to receive were increasingly militarily whackulent and lethally wrong to begin with.)

Radical-feminism ‘succeeded’ so quickly not because of the coherence and validity of its Theory but simply because the Beltway declared it overnight to be The Way in what has turned out to be a folie a deux of (ironically) nation-shattering proportions. Funny how the Theoretical, conceptual, and political night moves.

So let’s get on with this book – published in 1989, containing ideas she had been flogging since 1971 – and I think you will have a much clearer idea of a great part of the reason why ‘Yankees are in Atlanta’ now and the whole show now looks like it’s coming apart.

For that matter, I would recommend that We start looking at the history of the Confederate government – especially after the summer of 1863. (The Gettysburg and Vicksburg defeats were completed on the same day, July 4th, of that year. Who can say that History doesn’t have a sense of humor?).

What We would want to study, having looked at MacKinnon, is how a government starts to come apart after having fatuously committed itself to a lethal course, drinking vast draughts of the Kool-Aid of best-case outcomes and refusing to imagine any but the best Consequences issuing from its plans, and refusing – even as matters became ever more lethally serious – to ‘revisit’ its whole approach.*** (And can you say Iraq War?)

MacKinnon (henceforth: MacK) declares (p.ix) that she wants to demonstrate how “social power” shapes the way we “know” and how we “know”. In other words, MacK says here that there is no knowledge of reality that isn’t tainted with “social power”. Her plan is to replace ‘male’ social power with feminist social power and thereby create a whole new ‘knowledge’ – and anything built on the old way would be delegitimized.

You can see why radical-feminism was going to be – as Marxism/Leninism was – opposed to the Catholic Church from the get-go: the Catholic position is that there is a Reality, created by God, which human beings through their power of Reason (informed by Revelation) can reliably access: thus, humans can reliably (if not perfectly or completely) access Reality.

A Reality grounded not in human perception, but in God.

A Reality that reliably includes the nature and purpose of human beings, the ultimate meaning of their existence and the general Shape of being-human, boundaried but thus also focused.

Such a Vision was gall and wormwood to Marx as it is to MacK, since it leaves no ‘room’ to philosophically justify their agenda. (This is in no way a totalizing approval of capitalism or of theocracy, but simply a vital and utterly essential and basic aspect of the problem which Marx and MacK seek to merely sweep off the table as an element to be considered.)

MacK’s idea is that “gender hierarchy” actually distorts knowledge of whatever is ‘real’ and literally creates a false reality (p.ix). Therefore nothing that has previously been considered as ‘real’ (let alone Real) really is real, it is all thoroughly contaminated, and everything is up for grabs.

 Imagine, if you will, what such a corrosive idea will do if liberally poured onto the foundations – allowed to flood around, over, and under the foundations – of an entire culture and polity. This is what she’s going for (as Marx was going for) and it was clear not only from 1989 but from 1971 (when, she says, she first put together this book’s chapter on Marxism and radical feminism).

Did nobody in the Beltway care to give a thought to consequences? No. I would say that the Dems  and the Beltway entered into their pact with Marx and MacK and all their pomps and works with as much unthinking, delirious self-congratulation as the assorted State governments of the Confederacy as they seceded and envisioned the quick and easy winning of their war and the ushering in of their idea of the millennium, improving upon the Framing Vision at whatever cost it might take.

They imagined it would cost very little. It was to them as well as the people of the North that Lincoln admitted in his Second Inaugural that everybody had thought to expect “an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding”.**** And, for the Confederacy, catastrophic.  

She will look at the respective claims of Marxism and radical-feminism. (MacK considers radical feminism to be the only feminism; I shall refer to radical-feminism henceforth as R-feminism, to distinguish it from the ‘liberal’ and moderate feminisms which she helped kick to the curb.)

“Whatever its limitations”, she blithely says (p.ix), Marxism “confronts organized social dominance”.

Further, Marxism “identifies social forces which systematically shape social imperatives and seeks to explain human freedom both within and against history” (p.ix).

You have to wonder: did she give no thought to how Marxism actually wound up playing out? How perhaps it had to play out, in the further refinements of Lenin and Stalin and Mao? Mao, in the 1960s, was considered by the American far Left as the great liberator, whose Cultural Revolution – since revealed as a bloody and broad and deep wrecking of Chinese culture – was the clear sign that such a Way was the quick and easy high-road to ‘change’ and ‘progress’.

His 'example' particularly ensnared American leftists and Progressives – who had always harbored deep down an elitism of its elites against the unwashed and ignorant masses who wallowed in benighted ‘false consciousness’ and actually “just didn’t get it” and would have to be herded like sheep and stampeded like cattle toward the Great Good they were too weak and ignorant to embrace on their own.

But she – and she wasn’t alone among far Leftists in this country in those days – must have figured that there would be a way to import this plague bacillus and yet ‘baptize’ it with good intentions and make it work without ill-consequence here.

Or else she knew exactly what she was doing and said What the hell?

And the Beltway backed her to the hilt.

Marxism and R-feminism are alike in that they both have the good intention (let’s hope) of looking at a “social order” with an eye to “change” (p.ix).

And they are “theories of consciousness” before they are theories of change. In other words – sort of like religious belief – you have to “get it” before it all makes sense.

But how she can assert that Marx’s concept of “human freedom” (despite his admittedly good intentions) is valuable is beyond me. He reduced such human freedom to merely the material dimension, and the economic dimension, shearing off at a blithe but ruthless stroke any Higher dimension to human existence, and with it any Higher Purpose or Meaning.

She does the same, comparing R-feminism’s “explanation for the subjection of women” with Marxism’s “explanation for the exploitation of the working-class” (p.x).

This blithe assertion contains two huge assumptions.

First, the assumption that the economic exploitation of the working-class is accurately comparable to the “subjection of women”. Where the economic dynamics of capitalism were widely recognized as depriving the workers of a sufficient economic share of the wealth created, R-feminism’s theory of that “subjection of women” is a far more comprehensive and yet also immaterial, perhaps invisible and perhaps undemonstrable, claim. You almost have to “get it” before you can be sure you can see it … and even then …

Second, the assumption that the “subjection of women” as envisioned and asserted by R-feminism, is actually as easily attributable to some deliberate and determined “patriarchy” as the exploitation of the workers was clearly attributable to inequities in the distribution of the wealth created by the Industrial Revolution and capitalism.

While I don’t deny it as a theory or a hypothesis, yet there are surely alternatives and they are hardly minor possibilities. For one thing, it is equally possible that human civilizations – much like the builders of the Great Wall of China or Hadrian’s Wall – have from the beginning of human history built their social arrangements in some useful conformity with immovable physical realities.

Such as the quite probable evolutionary reality that since human beings are born so weak and require so long a time to reach even basic physiological and neurological maturity, the maternal human (i.e. the mother, a female by Nature’s decree) would be provided as a matter of evolutionary principle with the instincts and core-wiring to oversee that long developmental stretch. So that while the male is ‘gifted’ by Evolution with the urge to propagate, the female is gifted by Evolution with the urge to nurture; and the male is also gifted with the ability (and, it would be nice to say morally, the responsibility) to provide the material sustenance and protection during that long developmental stretch.

I am not here insisting that the Evolution-hypothesis is absolutely demonstrable, but it certainly qualifies as an alternative worthy of deliberation. (But of course, no such ‘deliberation’ was allowed and any such thoughts were, neatly, merely dismissed as “backlash” – not that Evolution seems to have gotten the Memo.)

The Evolution-hypothesis also gives some credit to prior millennia of human beings, who otherwise are hypothesized as being deliberately and mulishly engaged in or enthralled to some “patriarchal” conspiracy that has apparently existed since the beginning of recorded human history.

And that bit instantly raises rather difficult Questions.

How, for instance, did ‘males’ manage to effect this take-over in the beginning? How did they sustain it? If the plan was widely disapproved by half the species, how did it continue for so long (right up until the heroic cadres of America in the 20th century suddenly discovered it)? If the female half of the species did not sense that they were utterly oppressed and denied of some right, then what are We to make of that? If they did realize it, then what is it about them that enabled this thing not only to get started but to go on for so long (right up until the vanguard-cadres of R-feminism in the 20th century A.D.)?

We are induced to simply presume that the “oppression” has existed from the beginning of all time and must now be overthrown, just as Marx insisted that his materialistic reduction of all human meaning and fulfillment to the economic and material Plane of Existence simply be accepted as an irrefutable and fundamentally real given.

That is a huge given. And a huge give-away.

Of course, it is only when you have accepted a certain “consciousness” that you can simply accept the(huge and unproven) assumptions and gallop on from there, in the sure and certain ‘knowledge’ that your efforts to overturn the “dominant” and current “social hegemony” (p.x) are Right and Good and Real.

MacK is sure and certain that R-feminism had from the beginning presumed that it would have a theory of Gender as Marxism had a theory of Class (p.x).

But she establishes her cutting-edge creds not simply by taking Marx and substituting Gender for Class and ‘women’ for ‘proletariat’, but by insisting that Marx had not gone far enough.

So she has sought to “create such a theory by distilling feminist practice”, a theory that “could stand on its own” (p.x) and – nicely – perhaps blunt any objections that R-feminist theory simply took over Marx and made a couple of substitutions and then sought – alas successfully – to seduce the desperate Dems to buy what is basically Marxist analysis and put the resources of the American government at the disposal of the agenda to use that analysis and theory to attack American culture and society root and branch.

Did nobody see this in the Beltway? On the Hill? In the White House? Did the media not do any reading?

She quotes liberal thinker Sheldon Wolin that there are “epic theories” which claim to establish immutable basic principles in political life and then there are “scientific theories” that actually try to establish the facts of society and politics and effect changes here and there as much as they can.

Wolin, and MacK, humbly refuse to make “epic” assertions of principle.

But how establish “scientifically” the basic realities and facts of cultural, social, and political arrangements – especially if you plan to overthrow them from the get-go?

But that brings you right back to the queasy reality, even in MacK’s theory, that you have to “get it” before you can “see it”. And yet once you do “get it” then you “know it”, and even Know it with a capital-K since what your newly-raised consciousness is going to give you is nothing less than a reality (not just an opinion or viewpoint but a reality) that has been hidden from the beginning of time. It almost sounds like MacK has also done reading in St. Paul and John the Evangelist. And the Book of the Apocalypse.

And she surely has managed to resurrect the ancient concept of Gnosis, the special and secret knowledge that only the Elect know and that gives them the Key to all fulfillment and to how It All Works. How do you know the Elect? Only the Elect know the Elect and if you just don’t get it then you’re clearly not one of the Elect and you are hell-fodder so shut-up.

Such marvelous progress.

You hear echoes of MacK in the later John Rawls, as he tries to defend or cover the incoherencies in his own liberal-friendly theory of “justice” (first published, by the by, in 1972), by insisting that grand theories that explain everything (such as Christianity’s or any organized religion’s) with their unprovable assumptions should not be permitted to play a role in public deliberation and discourse since they are matters of belief; whereas his own – and MacK’s – theory does not indulge in unprovable assumptions but rather merely works with the ‘reality’ that “any reasonable person” could see.

Yah.

Marx fails, MacK asserts, because until she came along R-feminism “had no account of male power as an ordered yet deranged whole” (p.xi). Neat! But her assertions are more properly classifiable as a ‘theory’ or ‘hypothesis’ and most surely not as an “account”. The latter implies that it is an accurate and more or less complete explanation of something; the former indicates that it is one possibility open for examination and deliberation and analysis and testing. Which former is not at all what MacK or any other agents of R-feminism have ever allowed. (After all, why should they? Most people “just don’t get it” and any doubts or objections are only “backlash” anyway so what’s the point?)

We are still left with the Question of whether there even is such a thing as an entrenched and millennia-old “male power”, working in every known civilization and great culture in recorded history, imposed for reasons of pure macho greed and aggressive, assertive “dominance” upon females. And that has been deliberately structured merely to “oppress women”; a sort of millennia-long and world-wide Crime Against Humanity, or at least against half of Humanity.

That’s not a small Question.

Nor is it merely an academic or quibbling Question. On the basis of an asserted and assumed Answer to it, the US government has embarked on a truly world-historical assault on not only one half of its Citizenry but on the entire Culture and Ground of American society and its (putatively democratic) polity.

And now that the Consequences inherent in such incoherent presumptions and assumptions are now coming home to roost, this is no small Question at all. (And let Us pass over in silence for the moment the next Question: how any government on the planet – especially the government of a democratic and Constitutional Republic – could dare to abet it. Lenin, Stalin, and Mao tried it – among a pandemonium of lesser totalitarian demons – but this R-feminist 'success' has happened in the America of the past forty Biblical years. And was presented as cutting-edge reform and a Good and Great Idea. What are they going to think of Us, in future – and not too distant – generations?)

The state, MacK asserts, “participates in the sexual politics of male dominance by encapsulating and enforcing it in law” (p.x).

And now We get to where the rubber (so to speak) is going to meet the road. Law professor MacK is going to make her mark by leading the enlightened assault on American law. And perhaps now We get a better inkling of why the Constitution doesn’t seem to be working so well recently, either in ensuring fairness (you can’t, after all, have fairness in a system that is rotten to begin with) or in keeping the government itself within bounds (if any ‘reader’ can interpret the Constitution as a literary text however s/he wants, then why can’t the President?).

So she is going to “create a jurisprudence of change” (p.xiv). Which means that the Law will now serve the Revolution … and neither Lenin nor Stalin nor Mao could have put it more succinctly. In fact, now that R-feminism has so thoroughly infected the Beltway and the government, it could find no objection, or grounds to make an objection, to Mussolini’s world-historically pithy formulation:  “Nothing against the State, nothing outside the State, nothing above the State”. (Funny how the conceptual night moves. And who can say that History doesn’t have a sense of humor?) For if
the State has now become the bearer of the Great (and Gnostic) Wisdom, then there can be no opposition to such a Good Thing. This is a fatal error for a democracy and for a Constitutional Republic.

Then (p.xv) MacK goes pre-emptive. Against some, even among feminists, who ask how if we are the only ones who “know”, can we possibly “talk to” anybody else in this democracy? – MacK answers blithely and dismissively that “just because some people don’t like or fear what you have to say doesn’t make your argument wrong or impossible or untrue”.

 
Which is so, as far as it goes. But the fact that other people disagree with your ideas, perhaps profoundly, doesn’t make your ideas right, either. Except to adolescents, who somehow console themselves with the conclusion that if the grown-ups don’t agree with what they’re doing, then the kids must be right. Because, of course, grown-ups only exist to ruin your day and – not to put too fine a point on it – oppress you.
And which doesn’t answer the rather valid question she herself chose to ‘answer’. And clearly indicates that she’s not looking to talk to other people at all, but merely shut them up so she can make her point, which – she is sure and certain – is ‘reality’ and so those who “just don’t get it” don’t need to be talked-to anyway. Or at least, they should be talked-to, but don’t need to be talked-with.

Is it any wonder that democratic politics seem to have somehow collapsed, to be replaced with some nasty, irrational and childish something-else?

And anyway, she goes on (p.xv), Immanuel Kant’s whole approach of constructing universal principles (you know, like the ones that the Framing Vision and the Constitution are based on) is useless and wrong because it takes “real particulars” but then erects them into a “false universal”. Meaning that if anybody disagrees with you on principles, then all you have to do is wave them away with the assertion that there are no principles anymore and it’s all a matter of who can get the political clout to capture the “social hegemony” (which maybe you shouldn’t say in so many words – at least not til the Revolution is complete – but that’s what you can tell yourself – and then walk out and go have yourself a nice glass of a good Chardonnay with your sister-cadres who “get it”).

Kant is not “engaged” (shades of the ‘60s!) and R-feminists are “engaged” – meaning that they don’t approach a subject in the old masculine, abstractifying, detached way, but instead approach it with their deep inner feelings, which only others who “get it” can also feel. In other words, as the old ditty goes: “Here’s to all who wish us well, and all the rest can go to hell”. That “rest” meaning most of the Citizenry – and We wonder why the sense of “common-weal” is gone now.



But this ‘stance’ can hardly be the only one; even for an individual seeking to accurately understand an issue. This ‘engaged’ stance requires one to remain rather stubbornly and monomaniacally focused only on the problem and more specifically, focused only on the problem as one sees it and further presuming that the way one sees it is a) sufficiently accurate and b) the only way to see it. (One is reminded of the declaration (with its subtext of ominous threat and warning) that accompanied Nazi newsreels describing Hitler’s ‘successes’: Mehr als dieses braucht ihr nicht zu wissen!: More than this you don’t need to know!) Modern politics, influenced direly by this entire approach, also includes the cartoonish ‘logic’ that if you do not remain thus focused, then you must be a deliberate supporter of the problem yourself.

Rather, in order to get a fuller comprehension of a problem, you absolutely must also stand – at least for purposes of accurate analysis – outside the Problem. Once clear of its hot atmosphere, you can get a clearer picture of other factors (and their possible consequences); that is to say, you gain a clearer, larger, and fuller perspective. But this is precisely what R-feminist ‘engagement’ slyly forbids: to do anything that might weaken your burning emotional involvement is to betray the cause. Which, then, is precisely the great psychological and epistemological danger facing all ‘revolutionaries’: they purchase their emotionally vital attachment at the price of any fuller and more accurate comprehension of what faces them. They thus run the awful risks of taking ill-informed actions – which, of course, revolutionary theory would insist is not important because ‘revolutionary ardor’ will see them through regardless of the wisdom or whackulence of their actions. Hitler, as things began to go south in Russia, did precisely this, dismissing the Prussian Halder and taking on the Party-friendly Zeitzler as chief of staff: in the face of intensifying bad news, Hitler told Halder that “what is needed now is National-Socialist ardor” and not Halder’s frumpy insistence on facts and military realities.

I also note that when this approach – already well established in the Beltway and the national politics by 2001 – was deployed by Bush-Cheney (from the Right) in the analysis of intelligence during the run-up to the decision to invade Iraq, with lethal consequences. And if one wished to make the case that Bush-Cheney had decided to invade Iraq even before 9/11, then I would say that this simply demonstrates my point even further: the Objective you have decided on is all that matter, ‘facts don’t matter’ (that crapulent and hoary R-feminist mantra), and your zeal and willpower will force history and reality to conform to your dampdreams. Thus baaaad ideas migrate in the Beltway, to the undoing of all.
The R-feminist ‘knower’ is “inside” the problem; she is “situated” within it – that’s the hallmark of R-feminist “knowing” (p.xvi). In other words, I know what I feel, and what I feel is more right than whatever you think, and so I don’t have to listen to you or talk about it – nyah nyah.
My God.

And the Beltway bought it hook, line and sinker.

American politics as a bad 1970s family sitcom. This is the real dynamic around Carol Gilligan’s Breakfast Table. And it is no basis for a system of mature, adult, democratic government. As should be increasingly obvious.

But perhaps it’s too late for all that now.

Well, that was the Preface. There’s more – stay tuned.

 And start thinking.

NOTES

*My edition is the hard-cover edition published by Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-89645-9.

**See my Post on “Justice Brennan” here.

***In this regard, I remind you of Confederate General Pat Cleburne’s instant observation when informed, in the early months of 1865, that the desperate government in Richmond was going to allow ‘Negroes’ to enlist in the rapidly-dwindling army: “If the Negro can make a good soldier, then our whole theory of slavery has been wrong from the beginning”. Funny how the night moves.

****The text of that Address, here , is well worth a re-reading, imagining, as I have said, Ourselves in the position of the Confederate rather than the Union side.




Labels: , , , ,

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home