Tuesday, March 06, 2012
CATHARINE MACKINNON 3
We continue with a look at Catharine MacKinnon’s 1989 book “Toward a Feminist Theory of the State”.
Her second (of three) Section is entitled “Method”. Like Julia Child in her kitchen, MacKinnon (hereinafter: ‘MacK’) will cheeribly and brassily show us how it’s done. And if you want to ‘get it’, then you’d better get this.
Recall that when she refers to “feminism” she means radical-feminism (hereinafter: ‘R-Feminism’) and not the wimpy moderate or Liberal feminisms that she helped kick to the curb in national political discourse in the 1970s and 1980s.
The first thing to do is to immerse yourself in and embrace “consciousness-raising” (p.83).
You have to do this because “feminism is the first theory to emerge from those whose interest it affirms” (p.83). In other words, it is a theory that will not be imposed upon potential oppressees by other, dominant and dominating forces inimical to the interests of – in this case – ‘women’. Rather, it is a theory that ‘women’ (or at least those among them who really do ‘get it’ and who have gotten the Beltway to acknowledge their self-election as spokeswomen for all women in all times and places) have come up with.
That last bit isn’t quite altogether true (to the extent that any truth exists in these matters). As we have seen in prior Posts on MacK and on Gramsci himself, much of the agenda and analysis is lifted bodily from Antonio Gramsci, who in the very early 20th century was trying to find a more efficient way of establishing Marxist-Leninist governance among the established democratic polities of the West through cultural subversion and – if possible – co-optation of their governments.
R-Feminism owes an awful lot to Dead White European Males, especially of the – ummmm – non-democratic sort.
So this is going to be a theory of government based not on a common humanity, but on Gender. From Day One, the Question was begging to be recognized: Is this thing going to be easily compatible with the Framing Vision and its rather more capacious concern for all human beings, sharing a common humanity and facing the same common and fundamental challenge to live decently and justly “among ourselves and with all nations”?
But – long long before Bush 2 and his pandering myrmidons declared ‘questions’ to be signs of disloyalty – MacK was going to be insisting that you as a ‘woman’ can ‘question’ and ‘interrogate’ Western Culture and American Vision all you want since that Culture and that Vision and its polity and its commonwealth aren’t really ‘yours’ to begin with, but rather are the constitutive and sustaining elements of some alien, hostile oppressive Thing, a genderist and patriarchal infamy that must be swept away before you can really be totally autonomous.
Further, R-feminism’s “method recapitulates as theory the reality it seeks to capture” (p.83).
Be ye not deceived by tasteful and complex-appearing verbal formulations. They bear not wisdom or truth, but rather seek to mask something else altogether.
What MacK is going for here is that you can’t ‘get it’ unless you first ‘get it’: you can’t grasp the ‘reality’ that R-Feminism claims is there unless you first ‘experience’ that reality from the inside. Once you’re in it – as it were – then you’ll know it. And thus you’ll know that you’re right and very few other people are right; that you ‘get it’ and very few other people ‘get it’.
Cue the Bhagwan. If all of that sounds like double-talk that’s because, in more formal terms, the reasoning here is ‘circular’: If you presume A exists, then you will reely reely deeply feel that A exists, and thus you will have proven that A exists.
Because – in terms of the theory – truth is in what you ‘feel’, and doesn’t actually exist ‘out there’ somewhere.
Which is merely a trendy restatement of the ancient problem encapsulated nicely by the old story of the six blind men and the elephant: the six of them encounter an elephant in the jungle (a remarkable patient elephant at that) and each of them bumps into a different part of the creature – the hard pointy tusk, the sinuous thick trunk, the leathery flaps of the ears, the tree-like legs, the house-like bulk of the body, the serpentine thinness of the tail – and each makes his own conclusions about what the elephant must look like.
Yet, of course, none of them is right because none can grasp the whole elephant and put all the pieces into that larger comprehension.
Western philosophy, especially in the Modern era (coming to influence in the 17th century give or take), very much came to embody this Problem: each philosopher started with his own (limited) assumptions, and then constructed his own ‘elephant’ and called it Truth and Reality. Thus to be true or real, any quantum or entity had to somehow fit into his system or else it wasn’t true or real.
The mistake in all of it was to assume that if you couldn’t yourself comprehend something, then that something didn’t really exist. If there were so many differing descriptions of the elephant, then – the mistake confidently asserted – clearly no such thing as the elephant exists. Instead, there are just a whole bunch of illusions that this or that bunch of folks have fallen into calling ‘elephant’.
The elephant is merely a ‘social construct’ – and quite possibly constructed out of a tissue of illusions and misperceptions. There is no elephant.
This led the West into all sorts of problems as its very modern thinkers came to consider what classical Christian thought had taken to be not only real but Real: Principles and Virtues that hold the world together in the ceaseless ordering Love of God, in whose Image all human beings are made and from which Image humans derive their purpose and meaning in a world that is flawed (as humans are flawed) yet created and sustained for their support in living out their purpose enroute to their Goal in God.
Mistaking the inability to completely comprehend the Real with the non-existence of any independently existing Real, the Modern West collapsed itself into a merely this-worldly jungle in which nothing was really Real and everything was ‘socially constructed’ out of good intentions or fear or mistakes or insufficient capability to grasp and comprehend (or, as R-feminism will insist, out of a deliberate patriarchal urge and insistence to ‘dominate’ and ‘oppress’ – lifting Gramsci’s terms and giving them a genderist spin).
Marx was a child of this conceptual and existential morass. His own illuminations drove him to call only the Material and Economic ‘real’; only those aspects – he simplistically presumed – were constitutive of human ‘reality’ and therefore only in those aspects could humans find their fulfillment.
But Marx was just one of the many ‘blind men’ in the story; and to embrace him you had to embrace his particular limited take on ‘the elephant’.
Or you could embrace one of the other Modern ‘blind men’: Freud’s deterministic unconscious and sex, Social Darwinism’s ‘survival of the fittest’, Nietszsche’s act of pure ‘Will’, science’s reduction of the human being to physiological functioning, or – from a religious point of view – an equally fundamentalistic insistence that God actually made everything totally clear and you simply have to read the Bible literally (except maybe the part about ‘wine’ which God actually meant to be grape-juice).
In any of those cases (or others like them) you simply had to surrender yourself to the initial presumptions of this or that blind man, and then it would all become crystal clear instantly and in one sudden blinding flash of insight, of ‘getting it’. It would suddenly all be on the level, if you just held your head at the right angle (but didn’t admit you were walking around with your head at right angles to your spine, as it were). Imagine folks on Titanic that awful night, desperately consoling themselves as the deck tilted at increasingly queasy angles by simply walking around with their heads held at just the right compensatory angle to make it appear that the deck was still level.
So too with ‘consciousness-raising’: if you simply feel the way things really are, then you know how things really are. After that, it’s all just ‘organizing’ yourself and your fellow/sister illuminati /illuminatae into taking the steps to make history conform to the ‘reality’ that you now so profoundly grasp and comprehend, since you now ‘get it’ (and most people, as aforesaid, don’t).
Thus, having gotten yourselves together in a room and setting each other off like tuning-forks, you can all vibrate (as it were) on the same frequency and proceed to the “collective critical reconstitution of the meaning of women’s social experience” (p.83).
All of which would simply be another chapter in the long annals of groupthink, except that the Beltway – beginning with the Dems in the period 1968-1972 – bought the whole Plan for political purposes and proceeded to erect it into national law and policy.
Of course, none of this works if you have all sorts of unreconstructed people walking around and mentioning that your head is held at a weird angle and that you consequently don’t actually perceive things as they actually are. Thus, Political Correctness – as Lenin saw – is essential: dissenting observations about what is actually going on and what is actually the case must be squashed or at least must be prevented from amplifying dissent through public channels. You can’t have a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party if some people insist on remarking that the Hatter is indeed – not to put too fine a point on it – ‘mad as a hatter’.
Thus the long march through the Realm of the Red Queen: throughout the ‘liberating’ 1970s, then the 1980s when Reagan sought to induce the mass-delusion that it was 1940 or 1950 all over again, and the 1990s when the Clintons ladled barrels of greasy golden buttery goo over the popcorn of what was an intensifyingly precipitous national situation, and then – ach! – the post-9/11 era when Bush 2 insisted that the country was both the world’s most powerful and was now under attack and at war and would have to be at war for the next couple-three generations at least. **
And who can forget the Bush Administration official who was kicked to the curb in 2002 or so when he had the nerve to do the math and suggest that the Iraq war could cost 200 billion. And the general – Taguba – who was kicked to the curb for suggesting that the Iraq War was going to involve a whole lotta troops in some mighty dirty deeds. After all, if Dick Cheney said We would have to ‘go over to the Dark Side’ then – shades of Nixon! – if the White House says it, then it can’t be wrong (or Evil). America, being both the Chosen and the “indispensable” nation (Madeleine Albright’s contribution to the mess), then it had the magical power to make Darkness into Light, and Evil into Good.
It’s all in your ‘intentions’, anyway – if you mean well, then you’re Good and that’s all there is to it and that’s all the thinking any Citizen needs to do about it.
Feel good about what you are doing, and it’s all good.
Which brings us back to MacK.
R-feminst thought “approaches the world through … women’s consciousness” (p.83). And, I would add, defines the world through that particular lens.
And thus it does not approach the world through “individual or subjective ideas but as collective social being” (pp.83-4). Whatever that might mean. (If you read this particular few pages of the book, you start to get the same dizzy and vertiginous sense of floundering in a dark pool of loose verbiage and buzz words not unlike the experience of reading old Soviet ‘philosophy’ tomes.)
What I think she’s going for here is that once your ‘consciousness’ is ‘raised’, then your own ideas or any old fuddy-duddy ‘subjective’ ideas don’t matter: the collective (R-Feminist) consciousness that you now ‘get’ participates in some ultra-real reality that overrides whatever poor thoughts you yourself might have. By ‘getting it’ you are raised into a realm of certain and indisputable ‘knowledge’ and you had better appreciate and respect that fact; if you don’t, and you dissent or differ, then you most surely are going to ‘get it’ in the really baaaad sense of that phrase.
This is nothing more than warmed-over Bolshevik dogma that once you join the Party then you are bound to its illuminations and your own thoughts (unless they agree with the Party) not only don’t count for anything, but will get you into a heepa trubble if you open your mouth.
On the upside, you don’t have to worry about thinking for yourself at all anymore. The Party will do that for you and all you have to do is go along for the ride. (And who can forget Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘admiral of the Queen’s Nay-veee’: “He thought so little, they rewarded he – by making him the ruler of the Queen’s Nay-vee!”)
Equally so, the assertion that the “key to feminist theory consists in its way of knowing ... projecting its own image upon History” (p.84). [italics mine] And once again, you hear again not only the Bolshevik hubris and Nietzschean hubris that the primary movement in History is that humans project their illuminations (or illusions) upon it, but also the unspeakably arrogant and cocky Bush 2 Administration assertions that ‘we make history, we don’t follow it’. And can you say ‘Iraq War’?
“What brought women to these [consciousness-raising] groups is difficult to distinguish from what happened once they were there” (p.85). Beneath this vague burble is the admission that the participants (in MacK’s view) didn’t so much come together to deliberate ideas as to generate feelings (in the manner of the aforementioned tuning-forks) among themselves, and it was that resulting ‘high’ that they considered to be the Ultimate Knowledge and Fruit of their collective mutual stimulations. Shades of Boomer bong sessions in the middle watches of a university night!
“Feminists tend to believe that most if not all women resist women’s status on some level of their being” (p.86). Thus that just about everybody (female mostly, but not necessarily) agrees with them even if they don’t know it … yet. There’s a world of presumption in there somewhere. There is – shades of Nixon – a ‘silent majority’ of ‘women’ and even if they can’t be demonstrably be proven to agree with the Agenda, yet deep down in their heart they know R-Feminism is right. A variant on the 1964 Goldwater election slogan: ‘In your heart, you know she’s right’. Oh goody!
R-Feminism cannot explain – any more, she says, than “marxism” can (small ‘m’) – why some will have the courage and brilliance to raise their “bad feelings” into “grievances”, but it is truly wonderful and all that then remains is the “organizing”. (I did a series on Saul Alinsky’s ‘community organizing’ and ‘consciousness-raising’ beginning here).
In these sessions “women’s lives are discussed in all their momentous triviality” (p.86). Nothing wrong with that; it’s ‘therapeutic’ in an informal, garden-variety sorta way. But somehow, it seems to me, such ‘triviality’ has become – with the full enabling support of the Beltway – a major basis of national political discourse. And there’s something not really good in that; something unserious, something not-focused on grave matters, something – not to put too fine a point on it – ‘trivial’.
This isn’t intended as a ‘trump’ or a ‘put-down’, but surely this has been a consequence and cost of the past 40 Biblical years: We as a People and a nation have somehow become profoundly unserious. Yet the country and the government remains in control of massive amount of military – if not economic – power and somehow it has taken to rather unseriously going abroad to wield that power.
MacK then asserts that “women are who they are … given the way they are treated” (p.90). There is no other explanation for whatever it is that characterizes or constitutes ‘women’ as a group except that it has been imposed upon them (oppressively, of course) by – of course – ‘patriarchy’. Women, if MacK is to be believed, have been for all of recorded history merely passive blank-slates upon which the patriarchal power has inscribed its self-serving lineaments.
This echoes not merely Marx – that the proletariat has no life of its own except as given to it collectively by capitalism – but also a certain school of thought about American race-slavery: that the slaves had no individuality and no humanity except as given by the Slave Power. Humans are nothing in themselves and are merely inscribable blank slates to be written-upon by the powers of this world. This is more than a Victimist vision of humanity; it is a ruthlessly reductive classification of human beings as helpless and unmotivated animate and ambulant blobs, to be used as the powers of this world see fit.
And, as has been seen over the years now, this presumption about the basic helplessness and almost animal passivity of human beings has somehow migrated and morphed into an elite presumption that most human beings ‘just don’t get it’ and therefore their ideas – especially if they dissent – don’t deserve to be heard in public discourse.***
And then – again – MacK takes a walk on the transgressive side: “Heterosexuality, supposed natural, is found to be forced upon women moment to moment” (p.90). Prescinding from the welter of police-state domestic-violence and sex-harassment and sex-offense regimes that have been erected into law, you can see here the assertion that ‘women’ are continuously under assault by the patriarchy: not simply overt sexual assault, but assault by the mere conceptual existence of the ‘supposed’ naturalness or normality of heterosexuality.
Again, a thought that might deserve more close examination and development, but hardly in itself ready for the prime-time of being erected into a key justification for wholesale erection into national law and policy, enabling a government-run terraforming of American Culture. And yet within a year of this book’s publication, the Dems unveiled their first Violence Against Women law, aimed at quickly changing the profoundly rooted human tendency toward – ummm – ‘heterosexual sex’.
It also remains to be asked if – ummm – nonheterosexual sex is somehow less damaging (or even beneficial) to its participants. But that is one of those ideas still so not-Correct as to be ineligible for elite or public discourse.
MacK then indulges in what has become a key trope of R-Feminism: that “qualities pointed to as naturally and eternally feminine – nurturance, intuition, frailty, quickness with their fingers, orientation to children … “ – are not naturally those of the female of the species, but merely “descriptions of the desired and required characteristics of particular occupant’s of women’s roles” (p.90).
Women – or rather, “occupants of women’s roles” – are not really any better at such things as raising children then ‘occupants of males’ roles; they are simply conditioned to it by patriarchal oppression and requirements designed for the convenience of men.
This puts her and R-Feminism squarely against the best insights of Evolution, as I noted in a prior MacK essay (and makes her sister-under-the-skin to religious fundamentalism – funny how the conceptual night moves!).
And it requires the presumption that somehow at the very beginning of recorded human history the female of the species was forthwith reduced to being the mere ‘occupant of women’s roles’, a condition in which the female of the species has somehow remained until the brilliant Knowledge discovered just recently by MacK and others.
(If one were to envision MacK not as a ‘feminist thinker on women’ but rather as issuing a cri-de-coeur for lesbians who don’t feel attracted to the usual female gifts but rather to more male and guy activities, then you get a far less convoluted explanation for a lot of this stuff. I’m jus’ sayin’ … But if then you imagine that so very much of the frak that has been imposed by the government over these past 40 Biblical years is primarily in the service of the rather small set of ‘nonheterosexual females’ who find themselves unable to participate in guy stuff, then you have to ask yourself if so much profound deranging Cultural terraforming has really been worth it. And you might also start to feel a few feelings yourself about how so much has been wrought and wracked under somewhat false pretenses. I envision Beltway enablers as well as perhaps even some R-Feminist thinkers these days, sitting around wondering – as did that Bolshevik on Lenin’s Central Committee: What happens when the people find out what we’ve really done?)
She continues that after considering the many stories from the consciousness-raising sessions, “it becomes clear, from one horror story after another, that men’s position of power over women is a major part of what defines men as men to themselves, as women as women to themselves” (p.90).
Again, there is no sense here of any larger vision of what being a human is really all about, nor any sense that human beings can and do define themselves through interior impulses to self-definition. Nietzsche was neither the first nor the last Western thinker to respond to the vertiginous existential challenge of simply ‘being’ a human by insisting that there must be some solution that doesn’t involve the Beyond or God or whatever Christianity – to use the most relevant instance – had been trying to get all humans to do from the get-go.
But whereas Nietzsche and his followers tried to ‘solve’ the problem by insisting upon a deeply individual embrace of the situation and a deployment of one’s will to ‘master’ one’s situation with whatever resources were available deep within the self, R-Feminism – rooted in Marx and his ilk – turns away from the individual (‘individualism’ and ‘mastery’ are such ‘masculine’ concepts) and goes for a collective and government-heavy solution that will re-shape ‘History’ and embolden and empower (though the two terms are not at all the same) collectivities (or Identities, here defined by Gender or Sex) not to become free of external powers but rather to wrest control of those external powers and wield them in the service of one’s own collective agenda.
Which, of course, will require an ‘enemy’, an ‘oppressor’, whose interests can be ‘legitimately’ assaulted and upon whom the entire burden of responsibility for one’s situation can be blamed. It is a heady proposition and a hugely seductive psychological and emotional enticement – one that every cult-leader has instinctively grasped, from Marx (or Lenin) to Manson and the Bhagwan.
Against this, the long twilight struggle of working out one’s life in the Image of God and enduring the lifelong crucifixion of the existentially trying human situation can offer nothing but ‘blood, toil, tears and sweat’, ‘in season and out of season’. Americans are not big on crucifixion, especially the long slow kind, and yet there is a certain sense of being ‘nailed to the world’ that goes with being human and always has and always will be.
R-Feminism will opt for a quicker, this-worldly solution, government-heavy and impositional; but also heady and self-justifying.
It wasn’t the route I would have chosen, but it certainly appealed to MacK and to the Beltway, whose sworn denizens couldn’t find anything too wrong with it – especially in light of the electoral bennies.
“The analysis that the personal is political came out of consciousness-raising”, MacK says (p.95).
And that analysis has four interconnected elements.
First, “women as a group are dominated by men as a group, and therefore as individuals”.
Second, “women are subordinated in society, not by personal nature or by biology”.
Third, “the gender division, which includes the sex division of labor which keeps women in high-heeled low-status jobs, pervades and determines even women’s personal feelings in relationships”.
Fourth, “since a woman’s problems are not hers individually but those of women as a whole, they cannot be addressed except as a whole”.
“In this analysis of gender as a nonnatural characteristic of a division of power in society, the personal becomes political”. (All the foregoing, p.95.)
But her first point subordinates women to primarily a group and collective identity, and only secondarily as individuals. And while her ‘theory’ tries to account for this and justify it by asserting that ‘all’ women are thus dominated (a Gramscian term of analysis, not new to MacK), yet are ‘women’ so monolithic a collectivity? And if some or many do not see themselves thus ‘dominated’, are they so easily dismissed by merely asserting that they just don’t ‘get it’ and they just don’t know yet how ‘dominated’ they are?
This is a ‘theory’ that preventively undermines and discredits any dissent or opposition to itself. In Karl Popper's terms (and he wouldn't be pleased) this theory is designed from the get-go to be "unfalsifiable": it posits for all practical purposes that there is no way of proving or disproving it. Neat.
Her second point constitutes a huge assertion: that whatever difference in social roles exists is merely and solely and primarily the result of “society” and that personal nature and ‘biology’ (under which rubric Evolution is slyly and quickly included) don’t have anything to do with it. She offers no proof, but of course her excuse for that is that people (male and female) are so enthralled to the illusion of female ‘inferiority’ and male ‘dominance’ that they just don’t see what’s in front of them because – waittttt forrrr ittt! – ‘they just don’t get it’. This is a self-licking ice-cream cone from hell.
Her third point, from the vantage of almost a quarter-century, seems odd. High-heel manufacturers and other purveryors of feminine apparel and appurtenances don’t seem to have suffered a drop in popularity even after all the terraforming government has imposed, including during the era of ‘governance feminism’ in the greasy, buttery glowing Clinton ‘90s.
More substantially, the assertion that women are so utterly alienated from themselves (or their true nature, although that is an un-Correct element of analysis) that their relationships (heterosexual, but not otherwise) are profoundly skewed and deranged and demeaning again demands proof.
And not simply the ‘proof’ of selected ‘horror stories’ but the proof that refutes alternative explanations for such fraught relationships (and when have human relationships of any kind not been fraught?). Is it not possible that women, for example, being more ‘relationally attuned’, are thus ever somewhat out of sync with males whom Evolution has attuned to sterner concerns? (Although in that case I strongly affirm that both sexes have a lot thus to teach each other, in a truly and profoundly complementary way.)
Her fourth point presumes that her theory is accurate and established, and since neither is at this point demonstrably true, then her conclusion – as dubious as it is – is undermined.
But it is that conclusion which apparently satisfied the Beltway pols that they were dealing with reality and had to do something – a whole lotta something – forthwith, and to hell with the Framing Vision or Reality or anything else that stood in the way.
And as I had mentioned in the prior Post, once the ‘personal’ becomes ‘political’, then so does the private, and the entire profound firewall that kept government out of Citizen’s lives and society’s larger and deeper undertakings was conceptually swept away at a single stroke. Did nobody in the Beltway or the university or media elites notice?
“Consciousness-raising” attacks this problem "by unraveling and reordering what every woman ‘knows’ because she has lived it” (p.96). But while this liberating conceptual surgery is being conducted, what other ‘knowledge’ – for males as well as females – is also unraveled? Surely one of the great problems of Modern thought is that humans can ‘know’ so little, and on top of that Post-Modern thought now has gone and declared itself ‘antifoundationalist’: that there is nothing that can be known because nothing exists outside of whatever we feel exists.
(This ‘epistemological problem’ might usefully be imagined in “Star Trek” terms: the viewscreen by which the command staff observes what is happening outside the ship is not actually a window. Rather it is a large computer screen, fed information by a complex array of sensors, interpreted by computers, and the resulting data reproduced in visual form on the viewscreen. So, as you see, between what is actually outside the ship and what the command staff sees on the viewscreen, there are numerous intermediary phases where the raw data is ‘processed’; and at each phase something is contributed by some intermediary machinery (or, alternatively, accuracy can be reduced if the machinery is malfunctioning). Hence, ‘knowing’ what is going on ‘out there’ is always an iffy proposition. So too with humans. But what Modern philosophy has often frakkulently concluded from all this is that if we cannot be absolutely certain of the accuracy of what we see on the viewscreen behind our eyeballs, then there is no reliable ‘out there’ out there. Or, to use the ancient Indian tale: if six blind men each come up with a widely-variant description of the elephant they stumble upon in the jungle, then the elephant itself does not or cannot exist.)
And the civic incarnation of that frakkulent assertion is that there is no ‘knowledge’ to be had about America or American Culture or the Framing Vision or the Constitution except that nobody can ‘know’, but somebody has to hold the political power to make laws anyway, and so that ‘somebody’ might as well be (fill in your group’s or Identity’s name here).
Your “experience”, she says, is in and of itself your ‘knowledge’ (p.96). In other words, what you feel about what you have experienced is all you need and all you can ever get: no use trying to reflect let alone deliberate about your feelings and experiences (as you see them) because the two phases of analysis – feeling and thinking – are now collapsed into one. Have you ever tried to reason with somebody who already ‘knows’ and doesn’t want to talk about it?
Have you ever tried to do so when that person is demanding a full bowl of the last of the Wheaties because s/he just ‘knows’ that you aren’t going to be facing so difficult a day and so you don’t need any breakfast? Welcome to pomo America.
But even MacK knows when she has to explain this sort of thing. “The apparent circularity of this as a theory of knowing about the world is not a barrier to analysis, but rather the core of the method” (p.96). [italics mine] In other words: Yes, this is ‘circular thinking’ that presumes as already proven what it is trying to prove, but so what? Rational analysis – is there any other kind? – is a male thing, and men haven’t ‘experienced’ the ‘feelings’ that ‘women’ have, so men do not really know.
“Science” as a form of knowing “defines itself in the stance of ‘objectivity’, whose polar opposite is ‘subjectivity’” (p.97). But that’s so masculine. And if men are ‘objective’, then for MacK women must be subjective, meaning that there is no distinction between what they feel they know and what they actually might know. This is the equivalent of saying that Mind and Reason are not vital elements of genuine ‘knowing’; rather, they are one way of knowing (the masculine way) while there is another way of ‘knowing’ that is Feeling (which is feminine).
(But wasn’t one of the great patriarchal put-downs supposed to be that women didn’t have a reasoning capacity but only their ‘intuition’? Yet here MacK goes and erects that ‘stereotype’ into a full-blown philosophical epistemology. Funny how the philosophical night moves.)
And also that since one cannot demonstrably ‘prove’ Feelings (since feelings can only be ‘shared’ by others who feel the same thing and therefore ‘get’ what you ‘get’) then it’s stupid to waste time trying to scientifically assess the claims put forward by ‘feelings’.****
So in case anybody wants to subject her theory to any sort of recognizable ‘scientific’ analysis, well – that aint’ gonna happen and – she would like you to believe – should not and cannot happen.
Would you buy a used car from this woman?
Thus too, women can “know” society (simply) because they live in it (p.98). But how many people fly in aircraft, perhaps frequently, and yet although they can be said in some sense to ‘know’ about the experience of flying, yet they really can’t be said to know anything at all about how to fly an aircraft or how aerodynamics work or how to maintain and service an aircraft?
You would have thought that even if R-Feminist ‘advocates’ claimed to ‘know’ about the experience of society, yet those who might actually be considered professionally knowledgeable in how such a vastly complex organism as a society or a Culture works and how to maintain them would have interposed their own expertise in all of this. Thus the Beltway pols and the ‘experts’ and the academics and scholars and so on and so forth, might have worked to prevent dangerous changes from being made that might affect the stability and even survivability of the whole.
There were many who have spoken out over the decades. But the information and ‘knowledge’ was – to use the term that only became popular during the look-back to Bush 2’s treacherous and witless run-up to the Iraq invasion – ‘stovepiped’: only the ‘knowledge’ that the bosses wanted to hear was allowed into the system, and it went straight to the non-smoking, smoke-filled rooms of the Beltway where laws, policies and directives were quickly issued.*****
“The deepest paradox of consciousness-raising and its most potent contribution is that it affirms that there both is and can be another reality for women by doing nothing but examining the current society’s deadest ends” (p.100). But it’s one thing to get together and ‘vent’ and share your impulses as to what should or could be better about something, and a whole other matter to actually conduct a serious and sober and wide-open assessment as to what might workably be implemented without wrecking the whole thing altogether.
And this is precisely what did not happen in American politics and political discourse.
And yet huge terraforming changes were implemented.
And Correctness was imposed such that dissenting, doubting, or skeptical voices were not allowed into public discourse. Indeed, the huge changes were not only imposed, but were masked as being totally and purely Good and without serious consequence or cost.
None of which was true.
All of which has served to fundamentally derange American politics to the point where there is as much reason to doubt the integrity of the body-politic and the integrity of the political system as there is to doubt the integrity of the economy and the dollar.
Such progress. But it will certainly be ‘world-historical’ – in that sense R-Feminism has indeed fulfilled the Marxist-Leninist dampdream. Even after Marxism-Leninism itself formally collapsed in its marquis venue, the USSR.
“Scientific objectivity” – in the classic neat Gramscian manner – is seen as merely “a legitimating ideology that supports men’s views of what women should think and be” (p.100). So the only and the primary way that American (or any) society and culture and politics have of assessing the demands of this Agenda is quickly dismissed and undermined. You can’t use ‘scientific objectivity’ to try to assess our demands because ‘scientific objectivity’ itself is simply one more part of the patriarchal web of dominance and oppression.
What could be left then except to cave in to the demands or simply refuse them?
But then she gets cagey. “Of course objective data do document the difficulties and inequities of woman’s situation … Whether such data can scientifically conclusively demonstrate that women are oppressed, deprived of power, and objectified is something else again” (p.100). But if none of that could be scientifically and conclusively demonstrated, then on what basis has all of the past 40 Biblical years been conducted?
Well, she says, even though you can prove all that stuff about male “tyranny” to people who haven’t experienced it, they still don’t “know” it in the “feminist sense” because they haven’t experienced it. And, she goes on, since they don’t know it in that special sense then they won’t be motivated to come together as feminists (pp.100-1).
And so what? If people – other Citizens – can be persuaded reasonably that a problem exists, and with the input of the professional government administrators come to some workable means of addressing the problem, then what else can matter in a constitutional democracy?
If some want to get together into a ‘feminist Party’ or some such, well that’s their business. But the Citizenry, when accurately and sufficiently informed, is able to conduct the national affairs.
But of course, that route wasn’t going to guarantee that R-Feminists would get everything they wanted and demanded. The Beltway pols saw that and also saw how they could feather their own nests by cutting deals with the ‘advocacies’ and giving them a free hand to write the laws, policies, and regulations that would effectively try to terraform American Culture and society to their own advantage.
Something for everyone!
Except for The People.
But to paraphrase the dopey come-back of De Maistre: I have met Englishmen, Frenchmen, Dutchmen, and Musselmen, but I have never met a Man, and therefore ‘Man’ does not really exist.
The R-Feminists (following Marx) and the Beltway (following their vote-counts) met ‘people with interests’ but have never met The People, so therefore The People doesn’t exist.
Which, inside the Beltway now, is probably an accurate description of the state of affairs.
But without The People, why have a democracy? Why have a Constitution? Why not just have a government to collect the swag in taxes and then play legislative poker in the non-smoking smoke-filled room with whatever ‘interests’ bring something to the table?
This is Rome towards the end.
Rome without the Emperor – but then again, as Obama builds upon Bush 2, let’s not be too hasty. Nor can it be reasonably expected that anybody can get elected now who isn’t prepared to go along with keeping this Mad Hatter’s Party, this Red Queen Realm of ruinous illusion, going. Surely the Democrat or Republican, ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ kabuki is exposed for the sham masquerade it is and has been for the past 40 Biblical years.
Nor can ‘progressives’ promise any progress except down a darkling road that is hell and gone from the Framing Vision, since the bulk of ‘progressivism’ is now soused not only with homegrown American elitism but the acid, sly, corrosive vanguard-elitism of Lenin as channeled through Gramsci, Eurocommunism, and MacK’s own R-Feminism.
She approves of Theodor Adorno’s (another Frankfurt School associate of Herbert Marcuse) insistence that “the detached observer is as much entangled as the active participant” (p.106). But Adorno here collapses the participant and the observer into the same position, and they are not.
The Participant is emotionally involved – perhaps even willingly involved – in some activity; that emotional turmoil or flux helps to fog the rational faculty that enables humans to assess their experience. The Observer, though, is free from that, and as long as s/he is possessed of rational integrity then s/he can deploy Reason to assess fully and roundly.
Adorno gives no credit for any such deliberate, mature (and professional, as it were) intention to assess and judge. Rather, everybody is presumed to be enmeshed to the point where rational assessment is not possible. Therefore, ominously, decisions must be made on some other basis than Reason – and that is lethal for a mature democracy. But then, the Frankfurt School thinkers looked at Americans through the lens of their experience of Germans in the Weimar (and then Hitlerite) era, and when they looked at Americans they basically saw the Germans of the 1920s and early 1930s. Oy. (In an unhappy but gravid symmetry, MacK looks at ‘men’ and pretty much sees Hitler too.)
But she also ropes in Einstein who, talking about his own researches, made the hardly remarkable professional scientific observation that “it is the theory that decides what we can observe” (p.106).
But Einstein is talking about theoretical and experimental scientists who aren’t sure where they’re going and put together experiments on the basis of what they imagine to be the case. In those instances, at least until you’ve got a sizable working corpus of your own and others’ research to build on, you will see what you are looking to find or expecting to find. (Or you most clearly will not, which is the other possibility, which MacK conveniently ignores.)
Whereas in studying societies or cultures or polities, you can hardly say that in 1972 American observers had no prior material to work with. “The Federalist” (popularly known as ‘The Federalist Papers’) and De Tocqueville alone would have provided a hefty start, let alone the corpus of 19th and early 20th century works. But of course R-Feminism had neatly swept all that away at a stroke: none of it was ‘relevant’ because it was all ‘patriarchal’; it wasn’t listening for women’s ‘voices’ and so it didn’t hear them.
But what those voices had to say, and what substantial policy or legislative means might workably be devised to address them … these were Questions that should not be asked. Just ‘hear’ the voices and then give in to whatever Demands were being made. (‘Folks, this is your pilot speaking: the three ladies in Row 46 really want to land in Kansas City and avoid the thunderstorm turbulence between there and LAX, so that’s what we’re going to do, I guess, and then we’ll see what we do from there.’ Would you fly an airline that operated like that?)
American society and civic competence in 1970, say, was not so primeval as to be unable to handle a large-scale democratic deliberation on the Demands and Agenda of R-Feminism. But that’s not how the Plan was to work: democracy is an iffy thing and takes time under the best of circumstances. Better to attack, create as much distrust and hostility and confusion as you can, and figure you can make some hay out of it. But then, of course, in 1972 the Dems turned the Party and – shortly thereafter – the government over to them, to the vigorously tasteful golf-clapping approbation of the elites who looked at ‘average’ Americans and saw either Hitler writ small or else Bull Connor without the Southern drawl. (Hollywood looked and saw Archie Bunker, who pretty much filled the same role as the former two, with an added dollop of ridiculousness for condescending yuks.)
She ropes in Karl Popper too, where he says that “a science needs a point of view” (p.106). Thus she claims that R-Feminism is science since it has a point-of-view. But science also begins with a provisional hypothesis or –even before that – an initial research question in seeking the answer to which it then conducts careful research according to the rigors of the scientific-method in order to determine if the research and experimental results confirm or disprove the question. And it then publishes its results so that other scientists – whoever and wherever they may be – can try to replicate the results initially reported.
This is hell-and-gone from starting with the axiomatic conclusion that you already ‘know’, and then trolling through ‘stories’ and ‘horror stories’ to confirm and prove what you had already assumed in the first place, and then on top of that only accepting the opinions of those others who ‘get it’ and have already joined in you in your presumptions and foregone conclusions.
This isn’t science; it is ideology masquerading as science. Or – politely and elitely – ‘advocacy science’, which as you can see is no science at all.
And, in a remarkable act of chutzpah, she quotes Trotsky: “It is quite true that there are no limits to masculine egotism in ordinary life. In order to change the conditions of life we must learn to see them through the eyes of women.”
But Trotsky here (in his article ‘Against Bureaucracy, Progressive and Unprogressive’, part of his 1924 book “The Problems of Life”) is actually referring to the refusal of proletarian women to surrender their children for raising by Party members in collective “crèches”; if the Party is going to bring about a new vision of life, says Trotsky, we can’t just be passing laws and imposing punishments – instead we have to look at this problem through the eyes of the women (in order to get them willingly to part with their children and let them be cared for in the Party collective’s child-raising facilities). And while everybody knows that men are ‘egotistic’ (meaning they won’t yield their opinions to Party doctrine and directives) Trotsky senses that there is something even more deeply visceral in the women’s refusal to give up their children to the Party.
I can’t imagine the ideal R-Feminist cadre being unwilling to give up the kiddies so she can get on with Movement work, or a good R-Feminist cadre not urging other women to ‘get it’ and give up their kids to those who know better how to raise them Correctly. But I doubt many of even the most dedicated R-Feminist cadres with children actually do so - and what would that actuality indicate?
So MacK’s snippet here does not support her overall position in any sense. (And even if it did, what does it say that Trotsky’s musings on how to get people to embrace Communism willingly are being proposed to readers – and presumably knowledgeable elites – dwelling in the American political Universe?)
She claims to be operating against “the Western philosophical tradition”, where “method” has always “sought authority” in order to “produce an account of knowledge which is certain, which ends speculation and precludes skepticism, which has power that no one else can as powerfully contest” (p.107). The thrust of all this has been “to end diversity of viewpoint so that there can be no valid disagreement over what knowing is right knowing”.
The proto-Western tradition, evinced by the Greeks, sought understanding – as best might be achieved – of the Genuine and the Real, of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. Aquinas sought to continue this by blending Christian revelation so as to provide a comprehensive Owner’s Manual for humanity: here’s what Reality is, here’s how we humans fit into it, and thus we can figure out (and with God’s help carry out) our purpose in life and achieve genuine meaning and fulfillment.
The danger – admittedly – is that once you feel you’ve got a handle on the Genuinely Real then you aren’t going to want to screw around with ‘diversity of viewpoint’ – but then again, would you fly an airline whose pilots entertained a wide, pluralistic (and, of course, “rich”) diversity of viewpoints as to how to fly an aircraft?
But there can be plenty of room for prudent evolution of the ways to conform yourself to the Genuinely Real without having to deny – one thinks of Nietzsche again, though he was hardly alone – that there even is any Genuine Real (and thus denying as well any Purpose or Meaning to human life beyond what this or that individual or coterie chose to embrace simply through an act of will).
In this regard Marxism and Leninism most surely tried to be ‘scientific’ in the sense that they tried to mimic science’s efforts to solidly ground and prove and refine its conclusions about physical and material reality. But where science – as Popper and Einstein always held – was always seeking to refine its conclusions through the disciplined astringent of the scientific method, Marx and company precisely sought to achieve an authority for their pre-ordained conclusions with precisely no doubting or skeptical questioning to be tolerated at all.
And thus too R-Feminism, whose cadres have never allowed themselves to be drawn into public debate with opponents so that their assertions could be put to the test. In the past 40 Biblical years of R-Feminism and Identity Politics there has been no equivalent of the Lincoln-Douglas debates on slavery and state-rights – the variety-game show ‘debates’ of current American politics are juvenile cartoon caricatures of serious political debate on the pressing issues of the day.
And whereas science seeks an authority achieved through rigorous application of the scientific method, such that a scientist can confidently presume this or that validated conclusion and move on to a further phase of researching the phenomenon, yet the Citizenry of a constitutional and democratic republic must always be fully informed and free to skeptically Kick Tire in regard to any proposals on public policy or law, especially something as broad and deep as demanded by the R-Feminist ‘analysis’ or Agenda.
But Marxism and R-Feminism, MacK unwittingly admits, had to reject whatever was ‘accepted’ and “dominant” in order to acquire the leverage “for change” (p.107). If in the process they disconnected some vital structural elements in the grid of human Meaning and Purpose, if these cocky surgeons nicked an artery in the process of doing their world-shaking and world-historical surgery … well, they could fix that later. And if the 'fix' didn't work ... well, you have to break eggs to make your omlette. Everybody knows that.
Such science. Such progress. Such professionalism. Such confidence we should have in this thing. Oy.
In the event, subsequent developments in anti-foundationalism and Post-modernism now try to assure everybody that lack of Meaning and Purpose is actually a good thing, and anyway it’s the new normal. As Baudrillard insists, within every ‘ideal’ is merely the potential for both self-oppression and the oppression of others; so down with ideals then. (But if so, how hold a society and culture together in that case? By an ever-intensifying web of government-issued laws … precisely the ‘solution’ that Trotsky, in one of his more acute moments, was wise enough to reject back in 1924. Funny funny how the philosophical night moves.)
You can’t have a marxist (small ‘m’) method without class; you can’t have a feminist method without sex (p.107). In case you were thinking that R-Feminism is some unique revelation with no predecessors.
R-Feminism wants to “systematically converge” on a “central explanation for sex inequality” (p.108). But what is ‘sex inequality’ and is there necessarily (or possibly) one single master-explanation for it? Still, this single central explanation – “systematically” arrived at, nicely – is necessary to silence those opinions that wonder if feminism isn’t simply “a loose collection of complaints and issues that taken together describe rather than explain the misfortunes of the female sex” (p.108).
Perhaps the Beltway would not have been as acutely receptive to whatever was pushed their way if the R-Feminist Agenda was seen as simply a congeries of various pleas, plaints, and special interests. Surely, R-Feminism could not have become a major (and publicly-funded) cottage industry for ‘elites’ if it didn’t have its very own System and – but of course – Enemy and Evil Outrages. That is basic Selling To The Government 101. And surely it has worked, for whatever that’s worth and at whatever that’s cost the country.
She goes further and designates “nature, law, the family and roles” as mere “consequences” of what is ultimately and fundamentally “the primary social sphere of male power”: “sexuality” (p.109). The awareness of this prime reality has arisen, she says, through all the stories in the “consciousness-raising sessions” that had to do with “rape, incest, battery, sexual harassment, abortion, prostitution, and pornography” (p.109).
There can, of course, be no other Correct explanation other than the rampant violent dominant urge of “sexuality” (although it can hardly be gender-neutral, can it, since there are only the two sexes (or were in 1989) and obviously it’s not the women who are the accused).
Clearly, any government that bought this blueprint was going to have to construct a police-state. The Beltway signed on and considered it all Good, the pols no doubt fantasizing moistly how they would be greeted as liberators by a full fifty-two percent of the voters.
Simone de Beauvoir is brought in again: “One is not born, one rather becomes, a woman” (p.109). This is really too much. Human beings are not born as totally empty (yet dynamic yet also passive) entities, to be inscribed upon like blank slates by forces outside them.
Possibly de Beauvoir – if, say, she were a lesbian – might have had to ‘learn’ a way of being herself that was both contrary to general societal expectations and also required significant conscious effort. But really, is it legitimate – presuming the accuracy of my supposition – to extend her experience to all women, even that presumably substantial percentage who are heterosexually inclined? And is it honest to mask what seems in essence a lesbian issue as a general women’s issue and on the basis of that misrepresentation to seduce so many into the arcane travails and labyrinths of counter-normative sexuality?
Nietzsche too felt himself desperately driven to define himself over against the conventional herd. But he didn’t try to mask himself in, say, some derivative Marxism that would create political leverage (and a well-funded career) out of an ‘existential class’ of ‘heroes’ besieged by the subtle or overt violence of conventional mediocrities.
But then again, R-Feminism, so quick to divide the sheep who ‘get it’ from the goats who ‘just don’t get it’, has been piggy-backing upon the natural or functional mediocrity of just about the entire population (who are either males who are by nature dominant oppressors or females who don’t yet have the wit to realized they are the dominated-oppressed).
But if for many women, as MacK asserts, sexuality is the “definitive experience of gender definition” [sic] (p.111), and yet also “for many women, it is a rape” (p.111), then you can see that any government committed to an Agenda based on this schematic and these numbers is going to be in the police-state business pretty quick and pretty deep.
This is especially so when one considers the ramifications of MacK’s assertion that so much of heterosexual sex is rape simply because the woman has been “socialized into passivity” (p.112). What this stunning assertion presumes is that just about any woman who has heterosexual sex is a ‘rape’ victim since – long before the act of intercourse with any particular male – she has been conditioned to passivity by society and culture. And equally, she cannot really give consent since she cannot psychologically or emotionally refuse consent (because of that cultural conditioning) and sex without consent is rape and ergo and therefore just about all heterosexual sex is rape.
This, again, offers some legitimate points for thought. Although it also smells rather strongly of the midnight bong session (or perhaps the chardonnay-drenched consciousness-raising session).
But imagine using this type of ‘reasoning’ to justify profoundly corrosive changes to rules of procedure and evidence in criminal trials, as this government has undertaken in the past quarter-century or more. Having to demonstrate ‘evidence’ in a rape trial (or, I would imagine nowadays, any sex offense type trial) is considered, from the point of the view of “the woman” as insulting and irrelevant: after all, she ‘knows’ she has been raped so what’s left to do but throw the book at the perp she has identified?
The requirement for evidence in law is simply a formalization of the “male point of view” (p.112). Women, who ‘know’, don’t require it because they already have it. The job of the state and the jury is simply to take their word for it and get on to sentencing forthwith. This is precisely the spectral evidence gambit that fueled the Salem Witch Trials (as I have said previously).
And I wouldn’t be surprised if by now there are law schools and ‘professors’ who teach that since women may be presumed to be victimized by that “socialization into passivity” then any accused male is not only to be presumed guilty as an individual, but equally so as a male member of a male-dominated society and culture (getting even closer to the Leninist-Stalinist condemnation of entire classes of people simply because they somehow represented the oppressive dominant old order – owning a cow, say, or being able to read).
And how might one distinguish legally between a woman who engages willingly in heterosexual sex acts from one who is simply so “conditioned to passivity” that she is for all practical purposes almost functionally incompetent to know if she is or isn’t willing to have sex?
Or might one claim that any woman who decides she has been ‘raped’ must be viewed solely as a newly empowered and now-unconditioned person, whose new birth of selfhood should not be rewarded with any further questioning as to ‘facts’ (which are such male things)?
The mind boggles at the legal frakkeries engendered by this whole train of assertions, and the civic spirit trembles at the possibilities for mischief in so vital an area as the criminal law, and abetted by the government itself in all its Branches.
This book is not for the faint of heart.
“Feminism … does not aspire to persuade an unpremised audience because there is no such audience” (p.116). In other words, if you are not ‘engaged’, if you ‘just don’t get it’ then R-Feminism doesn’t seek to convert or persuade you because its knowledge isn’t transmittable by such male abstractions as reason and logic and analysis. Thus everybody - whether they want to or not, whether they know it or not - is already divided up as being part of the Problem or being part of the Solution (shades of '60s bong sessions), as being With us or Against us (shades of '60s bongboy Bush 2). Long before 9/11, R-Feminism got the Beltway into some very baaad habits and attitudes towards the Citizenry and The People.
Which, neatly, precludes R-Feminists ever having to get up in front of a ‘non-engaged’ audience (of those who ‘just don’t get it’) and actually try – as Lincoln and Douglas did – to explain their positions and persuade their hearers.
But which also, alas, pretty much short-circuits any genuinely “deliberative democratic process” (which, in 1985, the Eurocommunist-feminist Chantal Mouffe declared to be useless for effecting ‘change’ anyway, channeling Lenin and Gramsci). R-Feminism was never democracy-friendly. And to read MacK, never ever pretended to be.
And yet the Beltway bought it all. And is still making hefty payments on the purchase.
And so then, “the major task of feminism” is “defined” as being “to uncover and claim as valid the experience of women” (p.116). But that’s not quite true. R-Feminism is not simply a vehicle for revealing what it believes should be revealed (the accuracy of the revelations is another question); R-Feminism is an assault-vehicle for effecting ‘change’, specifically the changes that it sees as necessary and as justified by the revelations that its ‘knowledge’ has uncovered.
And not only because “male dominance is perhaps the most pervasive and tenacious system of power in history, but because it is metaphysically nearly perfect” (p.116). Say whaaaaat?
First, is it possible that gravity holds the place it does in science because it is simply the result of the most amazing conspiracy in the history of the planet? Why have we, rather, accorded it the status of a Law of Nature? That’s the mirror-image of what MacK is quickly trying to hurry us by here: is it possible that rather than being hypothesized as the most powerful (and stunningly sustained and competent) conspiracy in human history, whatever the overall human cultural sex-gender arrangement is has achieved its place because it best handles the assorted realities that face any society or culture?
(This is not to approve the various miscarriages of the ideal arrangement, but rather the ideal arrangement itself as it appears clearly to have been adopted by – as MacK implies – all major and most minor cultures and societies in human history.)
Second, is it possible that the current ideal of social arrangement is “metaphysically nearly perfect” not because it has been fiendishly constructed as such but simply because it somehow has demonstrated its useful conformability to human reality?
And anyway, ‘metaphysics’ didn’t begin until the Greeks, and Aquinas didn’t compose his comprehensive explications until the later 1200s A.D., so all those humans and their societies that predated the last centuries B.C. and the 1200s A.D., and all those non-Western cultures that never really went in for metaphysics in the first place … what does MacK do with them? (Answer: she ignores all that – and is shrewd to do so.)
But nothing is going to stop her from pressing on and on she goes.
The idealism of Liberalism is “too unreal” to be of any use to women: women’s inequality (however defined) is too real to be “thought out of existence” (although changing ‘ideas’ can surely bring lasting social change, as evidenced by the Declaration of Independence sustaining the American Revolution even in the absence of actual military victories).
The materialism of socialism is, on the other hand, far too real: “women’s inequality has never not existed, so women’s equality never has” (p.117). But again, if “women’s inequality” (however defined) has existed from the very beginning of human history, then how can one posit a patriarchal conspiracy as if no other alternative explanation were possible? There is more than a whiff of the Necessary Enemy in all of her theorizing: necessary to mobilize the faithful and also to distract attention from the inherent dubiousness of the Cause.
She concludes that thought with as marvelous a bit of verbal legerdemain as one is likely to encounter this side of the old USSR: “The equality of women to men will not be scientifically provable until it is no longer necessary to do so” (p.117). In case anybody was harboring any thoughts about Kicking Tire before the End Times. And by that point, if such equality (however defined) is still not provable, well – she had good intentions and it’s too late now and why look back?
And in case anyone might be laboring under any illusions, MacK asserts that while some consider there to be a socialist and a liberal feminism as well as a radical feminism, yet – let there be no mistake about it – “radical feminism is feminism”; the other two are simply socialism or liberalism applied to women. And she will refer to radical feminism as “feminism unmodified” (by any adjective) (p.117).
“Feminism distinctively as such comprehends that what counts as truth is produced in the interest of those with the power to shape reality and that this process is as pervasive as it is necessary as it is changeable” (p.118).
There is here no sense that truth is anything more than a power play. And she aims to get the power to play that game. In a darkling obverse, she for all practical purposes justifies R-Feminism’s turn to the Dark Side by claiming that men or patriarchy or ‘life’ did it first (a curious pre-view of Bush-Cheney’s excuse for ‘going to the Dark Side’: the real Bad guys did it first, so you can’t blame the Good guys for doing it too).
Nor – amazingly – are there really any women; there are merely “walking embodiments of men’s projected needs” (p.119). It would take a remarkably hard-core and genuinely perverted misogynism to de-realize or de-actualize women as thoroughly as this. To believe MacK is to open the abyssal question: if she is right, how has the human species survived this long at all? Under what conceivable conditions could half the humans that have ever existed submit so immediately and for so long and so thoroughly to so profoundly non-human a regime?
It is utterly insufficient to blithely assert that ‘women’ have forever been grossly and utterly coerced beyond any possible remedy in opposition. As any sort of effort at an explanation for so sweeping and profoundly non-intuitive a theory MacK’s efforts fail hugely. And not subtly.
But MacK tries to cover that base: “The reality of women’s oppression is, finally, neither demonstrable nor refutable empirically” (p.124) because “men create reality before they distort it” and women can’t be blamed for being so totally and thoroughly subsumed in the male power-projection fantasy that they embrace their role so completely that you can’t finally distinguish the genuine woman from the projected one.
Or, in other words, when all is said and done, you can’t demonstrate whether for the entire history of the human species women have been oppressed profoundly or are simply being, somehow, themselves. In fact, to read MacK is to reach the queasy realization that for all humanity knows, there actually are not now nor ever have been any reliably 'real' women and consequently nobody really knows what a genuine and real 'woman' is, because for all these many millennia half of humanity have existed only as blow-up dolls constructed out of male sexual-dominance projections. Give that some thought. Your government has bought the program.
But MacK would no doubt like us – and her sistern of both sexes and herself – to believe that somehow it’s all about the oppression. These days, that’s where the money is – or was, up until recently.
Has the Beltway done what it has done for any demonstrably solid reason (aside from political self-interest)? Have the actual results been worth the costs (and they are both vast and profound)? We’ll probably know the answer to that not long after the government releases a full accounting of the past decade’s worth of wars. Stay tuned, but don’t hold your breath.
So “feminism must create an entirely new account of the political world” in order to answer the questions such as “What explains the inequality of women to men” and “How does gender become domination and domination become sex” and “What is male power” (p.125).
But then MacK’s is not a wide analysis of all the possible answers to those Questions. Rather, it is a Memo outlining to the faithful and the cadres the Correct “account”, and no other. This “account” is to be talked up, but never debated with ‘unfriendlies’, and to be explained only among ‘friendly’ audiences that already ‘get it’ and can be counted on to applaud or ooh and ahhh at just the right spot. (It is perhaps one sign of an American subtlety well evolved over similar productions of the Stalin-era, that scripts of supposedly extemporaneous audience reactions to an address by The Boss were not produced beforehand, with pauses clearly marked for “Stormy Applause – All Rise”.)
And is sexuality merely “a social construct of male power, defined by men, forced on women”? (p.128) Have women no sexuality of their own? Or a shared human sexuality, modulated somehow by unfathomable complexities?
And what happens if “feminism … centers on the perspective of the subordination of women to men as it identifies sex – that is, the sexuality of dominance and submission – as crucial, as a fundamental” but there is no proof that such a subordination as she asserts exists or ever has existed? What happens then? Or what happens if there are far more efficient explanatory schemas that do not require so many contortions and such corrosive civic hostility and so profoundly deranging a set of necessary philosophical and cultural rejections and assertions?
This is not to say that crimes of genuine violence do not exist or should not be prosecuted, but rather that a wise and prudent constitutional democratic government should not – dare not – undertake police-state tactics to combat some especially monstrous and unnatural conspiracy that even its supporters such as MacK admit cannot be proven to exist.
The same difficulty with a single and dubious ‘explanation’ underlies her statement that “most women are raped by men they know” (p.146). Since there is no definition of ‘rape’ (and with this bunch you always have to be careful that even the most seemingly clear words are being used in some special sense known only to those who ‘get it’ that almost amounts to a code) and since she has already laid the conceptual foundation that just about all heterosexual sex is tainted by ‘dominance’, this statement has to be handled very carefully by the reader.
Nor can the reader place complete trust in the use and inclusion of ‘survey’ results as if they constituted corroborated research (p.145). A survey is simply the collection of responses to a set number of specifically formulated (and not always unambiguous) questions, often not collected in person. There is no structured method of verification of the surveyed person’s answers, and that fact – obvious to the person being surveyed – allows for all sorts of possibilities for contamination of the answers given.
If anything, a survey is useful more for political than research purposes. But then, given the inescapably and avowedly political nature of R-Feminism’s entire Project, this might not seem surprising. Still, surveys and their answers are not easily credible as ‘research results’ and it is one of the many hidden costs and damages of the R-Feminist Project that surveys have come to be thoughtlessly accepted as ‘science’ and as ‘research’ in contemporary popular parlance.
And beyond that, there is the fact that since the woman in so many cases knows her ‘rapist’, then alternative explanatory schemas are instantly suggested. The fact that such alternatives are created does not of itself prove or disprove, but it becomes clear that MacK is not simply conducting an objective analysis of all the possibilities, but rather is flogging a single and specific possibility, and a possibility that complicates more than it explains.
This point also affects the reader’s assessment of the large corpus of ‘research studies’ quoted, especially in the book’s Notes. How many of them are ‘surveys’, in addition to how many of them are the poisoned fruit of ‘advocacy science’ (i.e., designed from the outset to prove a point by arriving at a pre-determined conclusion), are questions that cannot be ignored.
Finally, she concludes the Section with the assertion that “the general theory of sexuality emerging from this feminist critique does not consider sexuality to be an inborn force inherent in individuals, nor cultural in the Freudian sense, in which sexuality exists in a cultural context but in universally invariant stages and psychic representations” but rather “appears to be culturally specific, even if so far largely invariant because male supremacy is largely universal, if always in specific forms” (p.151).
She is – in her less than clear way – asserting that the ‘meaning’ attached to physiological sexual actualities are not inherent in the physiological actualities or in the sex acts and is therefore essentially ungrounded and ‘socially constructed’.
But yet – to both account for the similarity of sexual meanings across the world’s cultures and also to maintain her assertions of the male’s dominating distortion of sex - since that male dominance-distortion is pretty much “universal” and “invariant”, there is still a ‘reliable’ problem everywhere on the planet (and R-Feminism can reliably stay in business for quite a while).******
Thus she cuts sex acts loose from any given meaning or contextual assumptions (e.g., sex acts are done out of love or for the purpose of having children or – who knows? – to please the gods). She will insist upon filling this fresh void with the sole and brute supposition of the R-Feminist master-thesis that the meaning of sex in all the world’s cultures is and can only be the reinforcement of male-dominance and the sustaining of ‘the male power’.
Whether this is a world-class ‘revelation’ or merely a world-class stab at cultural (and specifically gender) revolution remains very very much an open question.
As the American economy and sovereign solvency continue to decline in both relative and absolute terms, it will be interesting to see how this entire conceptual proposal of MacK’s and R-Feminism fares. For surely so much of what has been and is still touted and spun as ‘success’ owes as much to government’s (hugely costly) thumb on the scales as to any actual absolute demonstrations of ‘success’ of the Project’s own validity as a conceptual framework or as a government policy.
Unless, that is, you measure its ‘success’ merely as MacK’s effort to ‘change’ the Culture regardless of whether her chosen constructed conceptual vehicle was a valid conceptual enterprise or not. And unless you measure the government’s ‘success’ merely by the purely venal demographic objectives of pols pandering to a juicily attractive demographic, at whatever cost to the national treasury and Culture and commonweal (and – though it is a darkling thought – political stability).
*My copy is the hard-cover edition published by Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-89645-9.
**Of course, it was a MIRV’d benny, this insistence on seeing things just-so. A polity and a Citizenry that by 2001 was already fractalized by Identity Politics could only be united by the hostile presence of some external enemy, even if one had to be kind of ‘imagined’ or ‘constructed’. This remains the problem for Obama, who in addition to having cut his teeth as a ‘community organizer’ (and ‘consciousness-raiser’) in his early days is also confronted with the hardly unpredictable reality that Americans are now so distracted and fractalized by the deliberate civic hostilities demanded by Identity Politics that any sense of common civic or national purpose is now almost impossible. And also that as the profoundly negative consequences of Identity Politics become almost impossible to ‘spin’ or ‘construct’ out of existence, more and more possibility exists that folks are going to start noticing – and may well want to Kick Tire … which is a result that Political Correctness has striven mightily and deliberately for 40 years to avoid.
***I recall to you Herbert Marcuse. A member of the so-called Frankfurt School of thought, which migrated from Hiterlite Europe to the US where it became known as the Chicago School, he opined in 1965 that had Weimar simply quashed the nascent-Nazi Party’s ideas in the 1920s, then those awful ideas would never have been able to win over the public by gaining traction in public discourse. Hence, said Marcuse in 1965, there is a very good case to be made for a “liberal intolerance” of ideas that are so far beyond the pale that no decent society or political discourse should even allow them to be heard.
Of course, hidden in plain sight in such an assertion was the justification for governmental intolerance of dissent or of any ideas that were not – to use the Leninist-Stalinist formulation – Correct. And then that migrated after a few decades of lefty-liberal Political Correctness here to the patriotistic and (equally) government-heavy Right, where post 9/11 dissent of any sort was corralled in pens to prevent confrontation with public figures over major and vital issues of national policy. Along the way, Marcuse’s vision spawned ‘hate speech’ and ‘hateful speech’ regulations and the lethal presumption that squashing such speech is a Good thing and government should do more of it.
****A particularly lethal migration of this whackulent ‘thinking’ has undermined jurisprudence and the rules of evidence in criminal trials now conducted according to ‘victim-friendly’ axioms: the ‘story’ and the ‘feelings’ that the (quietly and quickly presumed) ‘victim’ shares with the police and the jury cannot be challenged or questioned. So once the ‘story’ identifies the evil perp (formerly known as ‘the accused’) then efforts to corroborate or validate that ‘story’, or any doubts about that story, are un-Correct and inadmissible because the story and the feelings can only be ‘shared’ and not doubted or examined rationally. This is nothing more than the old Medieval ‘spectral evidence’ gambit that fueled, among other things, the Salem Witch-craft Trials of 1692.
*****In this regard, I am preparing an upcoming Post – to follow the MacKinnon series – on Theodore Lowi’s vital and insufficiently noticed March, 1967 article in which he warns of what he saw even back then as “interest-group liberalism”: the government would allow interest groups to pretty much write their own laws and regulations and the pols would simply put their official stamp on the self-serving dampdreams thus produced and erect them into law and policy. While Lowi was writing when ‘interest groups’ included only trade unions and corporate trade associations and such, yet within half a decade those groups had suddenly expanded to include Race and Gender interest-groups (politely called ‘advocacy groups’) spinning their dampdreams in the service of their various agendas for their assorted groups (politely called ‘Identities’ as in Identity Politics).
******By the mid-00’s, the hardly unpredictable implications of this aspect of R-Feminism’s ideology and agenda had migrated to US foreign policy, where ‘humanitarian intervention’ – most often military, and in contravention of long-established tenets of international law – had become government practice, and ‘justified’ as a newly-discovered sovereign Right (or Responsibility) To Rescue women who are ‘oppressed’ by their own governments (and, presumably, cultures). Even though it is quite possible that such an asserted Right/Responsibility serves merely as a cynical pretext for far more tangible government objectives, large numbers of Citizens who also subscribe in whole or in part or merely through acquiescence to the overall R-Feminist program can be seduced into thoughtlessly approving such government actions.
I repeat here a thought I have expressed in other Posts:
The R-Feminist Project surfed the wave generated by Martin Luther King’s genuinely American efforts against Jim Crow in the South in the 1950s and early 1960s but actually hijacked that momentum for its own purposes which, stemming from the Alien political and Cultural Universe of Marx, Lenin and Gramsci, has soused the country – with the vital enabling collaboration of American elites and the several Branches of government – with the Content and Method of a fundamentally antithetical and hostile anti-democratic and anti-American and anti-Western political Stance and Vision and Agenda.
As MacKinnon demonstrates, Marx’s Vision was taken over by R-Feminism, essentially substituting ‘women’ for ‘proletariat’ and ‘sex’ for ‘labor’ and furthermore taking the whole matter even further into the abstractions of ‘ideas’ (which, neatly, many don’t even realize they hold) and ideology and igniting a still-burning ‘war of ideas’ deep in the timbers of the nation’s most basic assumptions and core beliefs and first principles.
But in a second and simultaneous take-over, MacKinnon neatly frames the R-Feminist Project as being some even larger, deeper, and more widespread version of King’s (and the government’s) campaign to stamp-out the Jim Crow regime in the American South as it existed in the pre-1965 era.
In this new scenario, the ‘white, male, dominant, oppressive, hegemonic’ (and so on and so forth) Culture is Jim Crow; the white males are the Southern racist ‘whites’, and ‘women’ are the hapless but sturdy Southern ‘Negroes’.
The government’s job now – as then – is conceived as being to root out the ‘regime’ just as the government rooted-out the Jim Crow regime half a century and more ago.
Naturally, back then, since so many Southerners had been raised in the ‘tradition’ and ‘culture’ of Jim Crow, then they could not reliably be expected to abolish the regime through their own democratic action, since they were so soused in it that they didn’t even realize it (and thus, to use R-Feminism’s later phrase, they ‘just didn’t get it’).
So the government – with tenuous legitimacy – had to go in and do the job. And not only abolish the overtly racist web of State laws but also introduce and impose policies and regulatory and judicial procedures that would presume such an incompetence on the part of the Southern Citizenry and would therefore preventively terraform them and their society and culture so that Jim Crow would be thoroughly eradicated.
When now this scenario is transposed by R-Feminism, then the government is faced with an entire country and Citizenry that ‘just doesn’t get it’, and its job is – for as long as the ‘emergency’ exists – to dispense with democratic process and get on with imposing.
But the target of such impositional government action is now the entire American Cultural Universe, which has been allegedly treating ‘women’ even worse than the Southerners treated the ‘Negroes’. The terraforming thus now required is so vast and profound, and requires such essential deconstructing of institutions (family, marriage, ‘sex’ itself) and of first principles (objectivity, tradition, belief in any Beyond, jurisprudence and jurispraxis) and of the Framing Vision’s vision of democratic politics and process that the government must literally become an active, omnipresent police state-type of regime itself.
And of course, since ‘patriarchy’ has been going on since the beginning of recorded history, then this ‘emergency’ bids fair to last almost as long. (Echoed eerily in the post-9/11 ‘war on terror’, which is predicted by government to last for ‘generations’ if not longer.)
This has not only set the government on a verrrry dangerous course vis-à-vis its own Citizenry and polity and Framing Vision and its principles, but it also skews the government into dishonesty and illegitimate practices. Thus, for example, while all the major anti-discrimination laws of the early post-1966 era were framed in race (and later gender) neutral language, and thus clearly meant to apply to all instances of discrimination, yet in practice those laws and associated policies and regulations have actually been deployed only against the ‘dominant, hegemonic, oppressive’ targets and have not been – and some claim cannot be – deployed against certain favored but equally discriminatory targets (i.e. once you are a ‘minority’ thus ‘oppressed’, you cannot be accused of ‘discrimination’ and the anti-discriminatory laws and policies cannot be applied to you). Which further skews what is already a lethally fraught dynamic.
Thus ‘affirmative action’ laws and policies, already gravely fraught in terms of genuinely democratic process, are upheld by the most shaky justifications even by the Supreme Court (whose assorted justifying decisions on affirmative action (race, gender, or otherwise) are, when placed side by side, wildly divergent among themselves).
This can only further corrupt the government, corrode its legitimacy, and further weaken the confidence and competence of the Citizenry, especially seen collectively as The People.
It is no wonder, then, that in his recent State of the Union Address Obama (the poster-president of post-1972 American ‘liberalism’ and himself a constitutional-law professor) burbles longingly that Americans should be more like ‘the military’. This, frankly, stuns. Yet it is also hugely revelatory of the fundamental operative dynamics that have been driving this whole thing from Day One.
Reagan, of course, also valorized the military (as opposed to the ‘civilian’) mindset and culture, trying to compensate for the already-evident frak created by the combined assaults of Boomer-culture and deconstructive, ‘liberating’ anything-goes culture associated with Identity Politics’ need to create cultural ‘space’ for its many new groups and their desires and demands. While also trying to get the country back into that ‘wartime’ unity and respect for order and obedience (and commitment and productivity) that characterized the more highly militarized – or at least organized – America of the WW2 years. This was touted as ‘conservative’.
But then Bush 2 intensified that initiative, not only for the same purposes as Reagan, but also to a) unite a by-now even more deeply fractalized Citizenry b) in the service of a hugely dubious new national militarization and military-dependent foreign policy that would include generations-long ‘war’.
Yet – in what should be a shocking and highly alarming development – We are now faced with a ‘liberal’ President seeking to do precisely the same thing.
Once again, and as it has always been with Identity Politics domestically, an Enemy is all the country can reliably be expected to rally itself around: one can rally around only by being rallied against. This truly fatal gambit shrieks of a profound vacuum at the heart and core of the nation and of the Citizenry.
And who can be surprised, since the nation’s Framing Vision and Culture have been so consistently attacked and ‘deconstructed’ for half a century now? And by the government itself.
And so dishonestly spun as if it were all ‘liberal’ and ‘liberating’ and thus no Correct or ‘appropriate’ opinion could oppose it or even point out the truly awful and lethal costs to such a government and elite-managed agenda.
How ‘liberating’ can it be for The People to adopt the Stance toward their own government (of which, in the Framing Vision, they are the ultimate governors) that soldiers must perforce adopt toward their commanders and command authority? This "presidential liberalism" is no liberalism at all; it is, rather, a profound political regression to that subservience to Crown authority from which the Revolutionary and Framing generation sought to free this country. And of what use will all the liberalistic 'total autonomy' be if one is expected to be a soldier in the army of the President? And there should never ever be a time when a civilian derives more of a sense of meaning from declaring the President to be 'my commander-in-chief' rather than deriving that sense of meaning from his/her status as Citizen of this Republic. Is that news? Is it political rocket science?
Whatever this exhortation of Obama’s leads toward (nor do I expect any Republican candidate to dissent from it) it does not lead toward, nor does it bode well for, a continuation of American democracy in any recognizable sense whatsoever.
All of this flows in great part from MacKinnon (thus also from Marx, Lenin, and Gramsci) and from all her fellow/sister travelers and the noxious and toxic scenarios, framings, and visions that they have sought – with, alas, great success – to impose upon the country, with the aforementioned pandering assistance of the elites and the government itself in all its Branches and in all its burgeoning bureaucracies (and police powers).