Category Archives: Radicalism

Bourgeois Defense Mechanisms.

Being privileged is an uncomfortable position. People are made to feel like they are responsible for the victimization of other groups. Coupled with the fact that privilege is invisible, the privileged are made to feel guilty for something they believe does not really exist. This is a position which must elicit some response.

The most obvious response is to try to claim the higher ground of victimhood and project the violence of one’s privileged group onto the victimized group. Because this is a reaction mainly based on hatred, this is the reaction of more aggressive people. I have written about this in earlier entries, and I have nothing new to add about it.

The other response is to defend one’s own ego and deflect blame by adopting a “progressive” ideology or taking “progressive” actions, which “proves” that one cannot be blamed (“I’m not part of the problem, I’m helping!”) and that their privilege is no longer relevant. These ideologies have a great variety of theoretical purposes, and people who follow them do not explicitly believe that they are using a defense mechanism.

* Social justice movement and hashtag movements: These Internet movements have arisen recently, with seemingly good intentions. They give Internet users the feeling that they’re doing something, anything, to help resolve a social or international issue. In reality, such movements not only don’t actually accomplish anything except occupy space on the Internet, but they can also potentially be damageable.

Although it is not an ideology or a movement, I think the phenomenon of tone policing is in some way related to these. A lot of social justice on the Internet seems to consist of tone policing and reframings of very personal issues (like sexuality and gender), which makes it simultaneously profoundly offensive and silencing.

* Positive thinking movement, self-help movement, New Age movement: Superficially, again, these movements seem like they are powerful agents for change. They promise you the Moon (become the best you you can be! get the kind of life you want! evolve to a higher plane of existence!) and portray themselves as the ultimate solution to social problems.

But from a radical standpoint, there are fundamental problems with any “solution” which concentrates on individuality. Social problems cannot have individual solutions because individual action cannot change the institutions which (through various social constructs and their concrete implementation) are the cause of those problems.

Another fundamental problem is that such ideologies ultimately amount to blaming the victim, and institutional causes are ignored. If your life is not as good as you wish, it’s your fault for not being positive enough. The hardships in your life are the result of your lack of evolution. Got fired? Got raped? Got imprisoned? The institutions have nothing to do with it, you just need to learn from these events and become a better person. You are responsible for your own hardships.

At this point, the “solution” actually becomes part of the problem. The more we concentrate on ourselves, the less we are able to change the actual agents in society that harm and exploit people. Nourishing the ego in such an introverted fashion ultimately means hurting the world.

I would also include Buddhism in this category, if the practitioner becomes a Buddhist for selfish reasons.

* Charity: There is no easier recipe to feeling like you’re doing your part than to throw some money at a charity. But the emphasis on charity turns welfare into an individual endeavor, and diverts attention from political solutions. As Janet Poppendieck discusses in Sweet Charity?: Emergency Food and the End of Entitlement, charity is necessary to alleviate poverty in the absence of political engagement, but it is a time and energy trap for the providers and for the donors, making real solutions impossible to achieve:

There is a little of Wenceslas in most of us. We, too, “find blessing” in exerting ourselves on behalf of the poor, especially if we can simultaneously prevent waste. And we, too, have become distracted by these labors from challenges that urgently require our attention. This is what might be called the “Wenceslas syndrome,” the process by which the joys and demands of personal charity divert us from more fundamental solutions to the problems of deepening poverty and growing inequality, and the corresponding process by which the diversion of our efforts leaves the way wide open to those who want more inequality, not less. The Wenceslas syndrome is not just something that happens to individuals and groups that become deeply involved in charitable activity; it is a collective process that affects our entire society as charity replaces entitlements and charitable endeavor replaces politics.

* Liberal feminism, sex-positivity, trans genderism: Here I am talking mostly about men, since they are the ones with privilege where gender is concerned. Men call themselves “feminists” and “sex-positive” in order to show that they are on the side of women and that they oppose the objectification and exploitation of women, but these ideologies are individualistic, promote objectification, and exploit female bodies and “consent.”

It’s been proven by studies that men who insert themselves into female-dominated fields are given more attention, and I think this is also true of liberal feminism. In practice, many men adopt feminism as a way to attract women or as a rape blanket; by the latter, I mean an opportunity to rape a woman without losing the support of other women because they are ostensibly “feminists” and “one of the good guys” (a real “good guy” wouldn’t claim to be a “feminist” and wouldn’t talk over women’s voices in the first place).

* Cultural relativism: Of all the ideologies I list here, relativism is perhaps the one that’s closest to the “hate” side of the scale. Certainly there is something very hateful to posit that an individual who’s victimized by a cultural practice is not “really” a victim and that we (meaning, Westerners) should just accept all cultural practices, including those who entail harm or death to innocent people.

But I think that in some way relativism does bolster their ego as well. There is something attractively self-righteous in the notion that we should just accept the practices of other cultures and stop criticizing. It feels respectful and right, and makes the person appear as if they support the self-determination of other cultures against imperialist conceits.

The problem comes when we actually look at real acts happening in the world. Acts are not done on cultures, they are done on individuals. And when we look at the fact that cultural relativism is telling us that the suffering of actual people is irrelevant because their culture has authorized it, then we can see how much hatred is hidden behind the self-righteousness.

So unlike the other ideologies on this list, the problem with cultural relativism is not its vulgar individualism but rather its complete inability to confront individuality. It does not propose absurdly individualistic solutions; rather, it proposes doing absolutely nothing because it refuses to acknowledge that there is any problem. In this, again, it is more similar to the hate ideologies than the ego ideologies.

Since I am now mentioning hate ideologies, let me talk about a few of them. Most of the ideologies on this list has a “hateful” counterpart (I can’t think of any specific counterpart for the social justice movement):

* Conservatism (hardships are your fault, you deserve no help) for positive thinking/self-help (hardships can be alleviated by thinking right, you can help yourself).
* Capitalism (social problems will either be solved by the free market or should not be solved) for charity (poverty can be alleviated by you giving money or time).
* MRAs and anti-feminism in general (it is in the natural order of things for women to be oppressed) for liberal feminism and sex-positivity (choosing to be oppressed is freedom).
* Imperialism (we must impose our culture on others) for cultural relativism (we cannot criticize any culture).

You may note that, except for the last point, there appears to be few differences between my comparative descriptions. Indeed, one of my points here is that while these hate and ego ideologies may superficially be seen as opposites, they really are complementary.

So you’ve got positive thinking coming straight off American religious conservatism (see the book Bright Sided for the history of this). You’ve got charity being used by a wide range of (money-raking) religions, businesses, and umbrella organizations to justify their existence. You’ve got the genderists from the right and the genderists from the left basically playing from the same pro-pornography, pro-prostitution, pro-gender roles, pro-rape playbook (in both cases the objective is the protection of male privilege, but for different reasons). And finally, the belief that there is no right or wrong can only lead to the rule of force (because who’s to say that force is bad?).

I am not saying that these ideologies are always used as defense mechanisms. I am also not saying that people can’t hold to one without the other. Obviously you can be into positive thinking or self-help without being a conservative, or a sex-positive advocate without being explicitly anti-feminist. My point is not that these things are the same, but that from a general radicalist standpoint they are adjacent and self-reinforcing pieces of the same puzzle.

If you look again at the three stages of reasoning, I think “hate” ideologies align with the reactionary stage, “ego” ideologies with the libertarian stage, and radicalism with the liberationist stage. And this makes a lot of sense: reactionary ideologies generate hatred for people who don’t keep the party line and hierarchical inferiors, while libertarian individualism massages the ego.

Individualistic ideologies have two facets to their individualism. First, which I’ve discussed extensively as regards to voluntaryism, is the evaluations of actions as if they exist in a vacuum (divorced from any social context, historical context, class theory, or consequences). Second is that the individual is sold on the idea that his or her personal actions are powerful and that individual action can affect social problems (and by extension that failure to resolve one’s problems is the result of individual failure). The latter is what interests us here.

As always, the radicalist response is, as in the three stages of reasoning, that the evil principled stance of the reactionaries and the mindless individualism of the libertarians are the equally incorrect thesis and antithesis which provide a springboard for integrated, systemic reasoning. The radicalist position is both principled and freedom-seeking, but unlike both alternatives it states that social problems cannot be resolved without seeking knowledge about the facts of the matter. The typical reactionary stance is that there are no facts of the matter, only allegiances and inter-subjective truths, and the typical libertarian stance is that facts are irrelevant: both are mired in the subjectivist viewpoint (either that belief creates reality, or a complete refusal to confront reality).

In this entry I did not mention much of religion or politics, although they are an important part of bourgeois defense mechanisms as well. Perhaps this will be a topic for a future entry.

Red flag terms.

It is a well known fact that words are far more than ways to point to concepts, that words can be symbols which stand for a whole perspective or even worldview.

[T]he terminology we use is heavily ideologically laden, always. Pick your term: if it’s a term that has any significance whatsoever- like, not “and” or “or”- it typically has two meanings, a dictionary meaning and a meaning that’s used for ideological warfare.
Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power

This is true in any area of life. In general, the use of words typically gives us a good indication of a person’s allegiance. The framing and reframing of words and concepts are the main weapons used in ideological warfare, and so it should not be surprising that people on different sides deploy words in different ways.

The textbook example of this is the “pro-life” (instead of “anti-abortion”) and “pro-choice” (instead of “pro-abortion”) reframings. In general, people who use the reframing terms are proponents of what they stand for; opponents of the position have no reason to agree to the reframing. I would never call anyone “pro-life” because I believe that term is a lie (anti-abortion is a much better descriptor); “pro-choice” is at least more accurate, and in that case I’d rather attack the concept of “choice” itself than argue semantics (although perhaps “pro-imposition” would be better).

So here is my list of red flag terms, mostly on feminist issues, which immediately make me suspicious of anyone using them. Note that I am not arguing that people using these terms are always wrong; I sometimes use these terms to explain why they are imbecilic. “Red flag” means alert, warning, not exclusion.

Agency, choice

These are red flag terms, not just because they refer to things that don’t actually exist, but because they are routinely used to nay-say systemic analysis and support an individualistic view on feminist issues.

Basically, the argument underlying these words is that women have “agency” and “choose” to be oppressed, therefore “proving” (only to an idiot who believes that reality magically changes depending on what we call it) that they are not actually being oppressed. A related term is “consent”: while consent is a useful ethical term, it can also be used to argue that women “consent” to be oppressed.

Cis, cissexist, cis-privilege

Here is my entry on this subject. But furthermore: the concept of “cis” is an organized attack against feminism because it pushes forward the idea that people who identify as women are privileged by virtue of having been born women. One of the basic principles of feminism is that the gender hierarchy places men at the top and women at the bottom, and that therefore women cannot be privileged because of their gender. So any use of the term “cis” is fundamentally anti-feminist.

This term has gained widespread support amongst liberals, which makes it easier to weed out non-radfem sources.

TERF

This is a slur term against radical feminists, which means: Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists. The term is meant to imply that there are good (non-trans-exclusionary) radical feminists and bad (trans-exclusionary) radical feminists; a thinly-veiled attempt at divide-and-conquer.

Radical feminists are not “trans-exclusionary” and do not seek to exclude transgender people from analysis or consideration. Trangender people are not the issue, but rather the genderism (and therefore anti-woman ideology) generated by trans activists to bolster their unscientific worldview.

The term “TERF” is most commonly used against people who support women-only spaces. Since historically we know that women-only spaces are essential for women’s liberation and safety, this means anyone who truly honestly support women’s liberation and safety will be called a “TERF,” ironically turning it into a badge of honor.

Kink-shaming

This term is used to nay-say systemic analysis of BDSM. The basic principle is that criticizing BDSM as a practice is really a personal critique of everyone who practices BDSM by “choice.” Any critique of BDSM must therefore be an attempt to shame individuals for their “kinks” (a term which sounds much more innocuous than “bondage” and “domination,” and therefore hides the reality).

In reality, a critique of BDSM for being hierarchical is no more a form of “shaming” than a critique of prostitution is meant to “shame” trafficked women. The goal of systemic analysis is to evaluate institutions and processes, not individuals. So the term “shaming” is simply propaganda.

Slut-shaming

No woman deserves to be called a “slut,” even in a sympathetic way. People who use the term “slut-shaming” to defend young girls and women who dress in “unapproved” ways are calling these young girls and women sluts for the way they dress. They are no better than the accusers! Do not support such people, and call them on their behavior. No one deserves to be called a “slut” based on what they wear, even if the name-calling is supposedly done to support them.

Vanilla sex

This term is used by BDSM proponents as a slur against people who do not practice BDSM, especially people who criticize BDSM. It is not only a slur but a concept which promotes hierarchical thinking about sex:

The s/m concept of “vanilla” sex is sex devoid of passion. They are saying that there can be no passion without unequal power.
Audre Lorde

Sex-positive

I’ve already addressed this particular point: sex-positive, like other terms I’ve already listed, aims to break down any attempt at making a systemic critique of sex.

Innate gender, gender identity

This term is used to nay-say gender atheism. There is no scientific or logical proof of any such thing as “innate gender.” I accept that people feel that they have one, but that’s no more evidence for an innate gender than personal experience is evidence for race or religion.

There is nothing inherently wrong about the concept of gender identity, but it is most often equated with innate gender or to the effects of innate gender. Any analysis of gender identity, gender self-identification, identification of others, must start with socially constructed categories as its basis. Any biological argument for gender identity is essentialist.

Sex work

This term is used to try to normalize the trafficking, abuse, rape and murder of women in prostitution and to pretend that it’s just another form of work. It’s used by liberals who are trying to reframe the radfem position against prostitution as singling out prostitutes for punishment when they are just “workers” doing their job. It hides the fact that prostitution is not, and cannot, be just another form of work because it is predicated upon the exploitation of women’s bodies.

Girls

The use of the term “girls” to talk about adult women is infantilization and aims at trivializing women’s speech and women’s beliefs by portraying those women as children.

Men’s rights, Men’s rights advocates

This term seems trivial: after all, men are humans and all humans have rights. But the term is a code-word for men who believe that women are the true rulers of Western societies and benefit from privileges acquired at the expense of men. These men (and a few handmaidens) are no more connected to reality than Creationists or Scientologists.

I have debunked MRA “evidence” in two entries (1, 2). This has infuriated some MRA groups because their ideology is mind-bogglingly stupid. Fortunately, they don’t meet any radfem-allied men and thus have no idea what to do with me (a fact about which I am eternally grateful).

Alpha male

MRAs believe that the “alpha male” and “beta male” structure of dominance in wolves also exists in human beings. Unfortunately for them, the whole concept of “alpha male” was a scientific fabrication; so are the MRAs’ bizarre theories about how humans operate, but at least the former has been corrected.

Intersectionality

This is not a bad term in itself. Intersectionality tells us that a person’s identity is composed of many different hierarchies, and that you may be superior in one and inferior in another. In order to understand the story at the individual’s level, you have to look at how all these statuses intersect. Being a white woman is different from being a black woman, being a handicapped fat person is different than being a non-handicapped fat person, and so on.

The problem comes when intersectionality becomes one’s most important, or only, tool of analysis. Because intersectionality inherently focuses on individual conditions, using it exclusively becomes nay-saying of any systemic analysis. For example, feminism assumes that there is such a thing as female socialization and female experience, but intersectionality may lead someone to claim that there is no such thing and that every single woman is a different case, thus making feminism impossible.

As Aphrodite Kocięda argues in this article for Feminist Current, intersectionality is not a good model of oppression because it fails to include the sources of oppression and portrays hierarchies as fixed and immutable. If you want any sort of accurate model of how oppression works, you have to understand fundamentally that oppression is constantly created and recreated by social institutions, and how this is done.

Essentialism (or “biological determinism”)

I’ve decided to add this word, not because it is inherently bad, but because it seems people don’t know what it means any more and are using it as a weapon against radical feminism without regard for meaning.

Essentialism actually conveys the idea that every thing has an essence, which has attributes on which the identity of the thing depends. In sociology, it conveys the belief that gender, race, ethnicity, and so on, are fixed constructs which reflect biological realities, and are part of the “essence” that makes a human being. It is therefore the opposite of constructionism (the general radicalist position) that these things are social constructs and are not part of the “essence” of any human being.

Anyone who uses the word “essentialism” to support any form of genderism or attack radical feminism is therefore either lying or an idiot, and in either case cannot be trusted. Radical feminists are against gender and do not believe that gender reflects any biological reality; it is genderists, both traditional and trans, who are essentialists.

It seems that they try to associate “essentialism” with “believing that sexual organs matter in identifying someone.” But that’s not essentialism, that’s biology 101; radfems do not believe that the nature of a person’s sexual organs prove anything other than someone’s sex. What makes women have interests in common is not sexual organs but socialization, exploitation, objectification and an inferior status, all of which are a result of social institutions and ideological traditions, not biology.

Fearing the non-conventional.


Above: Matt Bors illustrates atheismophobia. Click to enlarge.

Fear seems to be wasted a great deal on things which are not at all powerful or horrible. People fear things as abstract as the redefinition of marriage or the disintegration of Western society. There is a lot of legitimate fear about losing one’s job or dying of a disease, obviously; I am more concerned with the illegitimate fears, because there seems to be a lot more of it going around. The personal fears are kept locked up in people’s brains, but the illegitimate fears are bandied about and spread like venereal disease.

A good example I’ve written about lately is the fear that determinism will be widely accepted. I think most people would agree with me that this is a pretty abstract fear, as are the claims that human life will be devalued or that Western society is under threat. What would be the concrete results of determinism being widely accepted? I don’t think those fundamentalists have even tried to imagine what a deterministic society might be like, or is likely to look like.

Another one is the fear of Hell. Many otherwise convinced atheists live with that fear for a long time. This is because Hell and its dramatic images live in their imaginary, not in their rational faculties.

Or take a more mundane example, like “Stranger Danger.” Now, we all know that’s a damn lie, and a dangerous lie. But it appeals to the widespread narrative of strangers lurking in the dark waiting to kidnap and rape children. Again, it appeals to the images that have been engraved in our imaginary, it is pre-rational, it is insidious and a form of indoctrination.

The main feeling that parents experience, I think, is not contentment or happiness, but fear. Everything they do to their children seems to have a component of fear to it, fear that the child will grow up “wrong.” What “wrong” actually means in this case is “maladapted to this society,” which in practice means that the child must be mentally broken in order to fit in our bizarro society.

In addition to a human being which is, in emself, complete, a child is also a potentiality. There is no obvious way to predict how a child will grow and mature. But a parent, through their ownership claim, seeks to control the child, so there is a fundamental tension there; they seek to control a child’s future but they really cannot. So there is a constant fear of a terrible hypothetical future for the child if ey “fails to adapt” to our dysfunctional society.

In all cases, we are talking about fear emerging from the imagination, the fear of a disastrous hypothetical futures, because we can always imagine greater threats in the future than the ones that actually exist in the present. A maxim is “better the devil you know.” Uncertainty triggers insecurity, insecurity triggers anxiety, and anxiety demands a remedy. This is true in all spheres.

Radicalism is a good way to stimulate people’s fear reflex, because it is innately counter-culture, and therefore summons up an uncertain future. Atheism triggers fears of the chaos of a world without the dogmatic, relativist morality of religion. Anarchism triggers fear of the chaos of an egalitarian world, devoid of obedience and submission. Antinatalism triggers fear of the chaos of a world without human life. Radical feminism triggers fear of the chaos of a society without gender roles. In all cases, fear is motivated not by arguments (although arguments may be used as rationalizations) but by the realization of radical difference.

But there is a deeper correlation between fear and chaos, between fear and counter-culture. We already know from observing society that fear makes people flock to hierarchies (“order”). The kind of hierarchy depends on the kind of fear: for instance, fear of death pushes people towards religion.

The explanation given is that people who feel threatened fall back on the culture and values of the groups towards which they feel allegiance. The contrast to the “chaos” of radicalism, obviously, is the “order” of hierarchies, where everyone knows their place and everyone has a role to play. Hierarchies represent a security blanket because they give you easy answers about how to organize society: there are inferiors and superiors, the superiors deserve their status (for whatever ridiculous reason), and the inferiors should obey the superiors in exchange for their lives or livelihood.

The fact that these answers fail time and time again, or the fact that hierarchies are not really a form of order and egalitarianism is not chaos, does not prevent the believer’s fear, because this emotion in based in the imaginary, not in rationality.

It is not, I think, a lack of imagination as much as a fertile imagination unbounded by rationality. The fact that people imagine all kinds of disaster scenarios in this fashion kinda proves that point. This indicates to me that the best way to combat it is by presenting an alternate and more credible narrative (such as my reframing of anarchism) and by presenting an alternate future.

Why skepticism isn’t so great…

I’ve never really bought into skepticism, and since most rationalists profess to be skeptics as well, I suppose I should provide a good explanation for my indifference. It will not exactly be a popular position, but I have to tell the truth about it.

The fact is that most of what skeptics oppose is fairly trivial. I do agree that it’s terrible that “psychic mediums” exploit tragedies for their own gain, and that quack medicine draws in billions of dollars in revenues around the world (but while skeptics rail against quack medicine, they do not rail against the medical establishment that, in the United States at least, prices medical treatment outside of many people’s ability to pay, and pushes them towards quack medicine). But arguing against things like belief in ghosts, angels, New Age pap, or secretive monsters, things that don’t really hurt anyone, only makes skeptics look like Grinches.

Skeptics are notoriously reluctant to address religious issues, even though they are most rich in nonsense. When they do, it’s mostly to address extremely peripheral issues such as Virgin Mary apparitions or the eucharist. Really, who cares?

The triviality is not my only problem with skepticism. My other problem is that they hold a pretense of rationality by debunking weak variants of things that actually have a great hold on our culture in stronger variants.

Nowadays skeptics laugh at the fetish religions of Western Africa. Of course we should be dubious of the claim that an inanimate object could command respect and maintain order in a marketplace or city. And yet we attribute similar powers to the US Constitution or bodies of laws. They are only pieces of paper, but we routinely hear claims that “the US Constitution guarantees human rights” and things of that nature. Of course they are entirely powerless without guns, but we revere the papers themselves as necessary for order.

Skeptics rightly see inter-subjective agreement on religious matters as irrelevant and silly, that claims must be evaluated on their own merits. But what is money? Money is just a piece of paper which we inter-subjectively agree represents value (not any fixed amount of value, just some random amount of value). On its face, money is worthless and any pretense of it being valuable is as ridiculous as the belief that a eucharist turns into Jesus’ epidermis. And yet we are not “skeptical” of this.

Skeptics are very critical when contra-causal claims are made, except when that contra-causal claim is free will.

Skeptics are also skeptical of magical words. And yet they hold to the taboo of profanity (I actually got banned from the James Randi Educational Foundation board for profanity), a belief which attributes magical power to words, that if people (especially children) read these taboo words, they will go apeshit and revel in criminal behavior. Skeptics may not believe in that, but they do believe in the existence of taboo words.

Skeptics do not believe that wearing anything (such as a special bracelet or a special shirt) can have any direct effect on the person (except if you do something stupid like wearing something you’re allergic to). And yet we also believe that a person shooting another is murder without a uniform, and that when this person wears a uniform, the shooting is not only not murder but relatively acceptable. This is a paranormal claim far more puzzling than any Q-Ray bracelet.

Skeptics are doubtful of religious claims made on the basis of myths, regardless of the religion to which those myths belong. And yet no skeptic I know of challenges modern myths. In the case of Americans, we’d be talking about myths regarding the foundation and history of the United States, of which there are legion. I have seen activists and historians challenge these myths, but not skeptics.

I once had a skeptic tell me straight-faced and point blank that the police exists to protect people. This delusional myth completely ruins the lives of millions of people. How many people’s lives have been completely ruined by believing in leprechauns or Bigfoot?

I expect that the reaction of skeptics to my points is that none of them are “paranormal.” Skeptics circumscribe the paranormal in terms of being an extraordinary claim or going against scientific understanding (or fundamental scientific understanding). Yet all the claims I have presented are extraordinary and either go against fundamental scientific understanding or are beyond the province of science. I don’t care what rationalizations skeptics use to limit their methods, because these claims are as testable as other claims they refute.

One may also argue that my claim relative to murder is untestable, since it concerns an ethical issue. But skeptics investigate claims that include murder as a concept and seem to have no problem using an operational or intuitive definition of murder (e.g. psychics who “divine” information about murders, or the belief that ghosts are the spirits of murder victims, or when they compare the Biblical rules against murder with actual incidences of murder in the Bible). They obviously think murder can be discerned through objective facts in some way.

Finally, one may reply that skepticism cannot criticize such things because it would mean taking a political position, and that this would be divisive (same as they argue against criticizing religious claims). But this is merely proof that skeptics are more concerned with being a movement than about the truth. So why should we trust such people?

This is not a facetious question, but a serious question. If the goal of skeptics is to maintain a coherent movement, to the point that they refute to address religious and political issues, then how can we trust that their skepticism is not motivated by these same motives? I won’t name any specific person or issue (*ahem* Climategate *ahem*), because skeptics can always then object that “this is not what all skeptics think,” which would be a fair point.

My main point, however, remains that skepticism draws an unnecessary and arbitrary distinction between two kinds of extraordinary claims, some that are very controversial and some that are less controversial, and only claims the latter as its domain. Skeptics then use this arbitrary distinction to defend the status quo and its extraordinary claims.

So they end up being just another group of status quo defenders, another bunch of mostly liberals and a few libertarians and conservatives who get uppity if you try to argue there’s anything fundamentally wrong about the societies we live in. In fact, skepticism is explicitly for the status quo:

To be skeptical means to reserve judgement on the veracity of a new claim that is different from what has been previously established. The established idea is effectively the null hypothesis — the idea that will stand if the new one is shown to not have enough supporting evidence.

The trouble is that this only works if you look at the natural sciences, where every law and theory is painstakingly criticized before being eventually accepted. It does not apply to any other area of human knowledge. So being skeptical is an extremely incomplete epistemology.

On the inconvenient truths about human sacrifice.


From Matt Bors.

A lot of what I post about is on sensitive issues, so I have come to expect the usual denial and obfuscation from my opponents. I expect a lot of denial on this issue also. Human sacrifice? HAR HAR HAR! Surely that’s a relic of past, ignorant ages!

Not really. We still practice human sacrifice and praise it, but we just do it without the pomp and circumstance. Human sacrifice happens when you know someone will die but you justify it as being for some higher purpose (be it religious, social, economic, or other). Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while may remember this example.

However, we need not restrict ourselves to this kind of example. The simple fact is that anyone who rejects the “do no harm” principle to the point that they find some number of deaths “justifiable” supports human sacrifice in some form. I am not saying that such a position is automatically invalid, but it does have the burden of proof, and “well, I think it’s justified” doesn’t cut it.

The problem is that people who support human sacrifice also refuse to admit that they support human sacrifice. This is understandable; anyone who would openly make such an admission would discredit emself as a normal human being. So they have to finagle, whine and bitch.

A good example of that is the commenting rules I applied for a while on the pro-abortion series. I asked people the following questions:

What maximum number of women dead from botched back alley abortions per year under an anti-abortion scheme do you consider a fair and just tradeoff to prevent all abortions that would happen under a pro-abortion scheme? (for anti-abortion people)

What maximum number of children afflicted with spina bifita/Tay-Sachs/leukemia/cancer/Downs Syndrome/etc a year born under a pro-choice scheme do you consider a fair and just tradeoff to prevent the distress of women who would not be allowed to have a child under a pro-abortion scheme? (for pro-choice people)

My reasoning behind these questions was two-fold:

1. To get my opponents to admit that they support the deliberate sacrifice of human beings for their goals.

2. To get them to quantify their support of human sacrifice, so we can advance the debate beyond rationalizations and get to the heart of the matter.

Of course my attempt failed. Some people claimed they were unable to answer because the question didn’t apply to them, and tried to finagle their position so it wouldn’t apply. Other people refused to consider the issue because it was too damageable for their position. Yet others simply didn’t answer. It’s the elephant in the room.

One person tried to return the question to me, asking me how many lives my beliefs are worth. But that’s a misfire, because I can always hit that one out of the park: the answer is, and always will be, zero. I don’t give a shit who you are or what you believe, no one’s beliefs are worth the lives of innocent human beings.

When I say, “do not impose harm,” I don’t mean “do not impose harm unless you’re not doing it to a specific person.” I also don’t mean “do not impose harm unless it’s on someone you don’t like or who you think deserves it.” I also don’t mean “do not impose harm unless it’s legal.” I mean “do not impose harm.”

One may reply, what answer do I expect? Do I expect an exact number? No, not really, but at least an order of magnitude. If it is justified to have people die for your beliefs, it would be nice to have an idea of how much death is warranted, and whether the current death rate is warranted.

And there are people who are able to be clear-headed about this and answer the question, such as Biting Beaver in this entry. We need more people with her high level of honesty. I still think her position is fucking disgusting and wrong, but at least it’s something we can debate. Without some kind of starting point, how can there even be a debate?

Let’s go back to the abortion question. If you are pro-choice, it is an incontrovertible fact (no matter how much you try to finagle out of it) that you support the birth of compromised children, some of which will die in horrible sufferings, and others who will experience lives of suffering. So how many child deaths are pro-choice policies worth? It’s a simple question that demands an answer.

Sure it’s uncomfortable to advocate the death of children, but if that’s the problem, then stop advocating positions that entail the death of children. And if you really believe that the pro-choice position is right beyond pragmatic considerations, then don’t be ashamed of its consequences and answer the question. It’s as simple as that.

Listen! If all must suffer to pay for the eternal harmony, what have children to do with it, tell me,please? It’s beyond all comprehension why they should suffer, and why they should pay for the harmony. Why should they, too, furnish material to enrich the soil for the harmony of the future? I understand solidarity in sin among men. I understand solidarity in retribution, too; but there can be no such solidarity with children. And if it is really true that they must share responsibility for all their fathers’ crimes, such a truth is not of this world and is beyond my comprehension. Some jester will say, perhaps, that the child would have grown up and have sinned, but you see he didn’t grow up, he was torn to pieces by the dogs, at eight years old. Oh,Alyosha, I am not blaspheming! I understand, of course, what an upheaval of the universe it will be when everything in heaven and earth blends in one hymn of praise and everything that lives and has lived criesaloud: ‘Thou art just, O Lord, for Thy ways are revealed.’ When the mother embraces the fiend who threw her child to the dogs, and all three cry aloud with tears, ‘Thou art just, O Lord!’ then, of course, the crown of knowledge will be reached and all will be made clear. But what pulls me up here is that I can’t accept that harmony. And while I am on earth, I make haste to take my own measures. You see, Alyosha, perhaps it really may happen that if I live to that moment, or rise again to see it, I, too, perhaps, may cry aloud with the rest, looking at the mother embracing the child’s torturer, ‘Thou art just, O Lord!’ but I don’t want to cry aloud then. While there is still time, I hasten to protect myself, and so I renounce the higher harmony altogether. It’s not worth the tears of that one tortured child who beat itself on the breast with its little fist and prayed in its stinking outhouse, with its unexpiated tears to ‘dear, kind God’! It’s not worth it, because those tears are unatoned for.

These questions apply to any issue where people’s beliefs entail suffering or death. Natalists blather on and on about how happy they are and how life is a gift, so we have to ask: how many horrible deaths is your happiness worth? It is a fact that perpetuating the life-system entails not only natural deaths but also horrible torture for billions.

Darwin’s Hamster talks about it on this video. His point is that for the debate on natalism to advance, natalists need to answer this question. Until they continue to refuse to answer, the debate will always remain stalled.

Darwin’s Hamster also points out that this question is no different from the atheist argument that religion harms people, and that therefore it is hypocrite for an atheist to agree with the atheist question but not the antinatalist question. You can’t point out the harms of religion and claim it’s a good argument while claiming that a look at the harms of natalism is a bad argument.

When faced with this question, natalists have to divert the issue and argue that death is just a fact of life and we should accept it, that we antinatalists are just whiners who want perfect lives. The trouble is that this is a straightforward lie: we humans are the ones producing this suffering, it is not a “fact of life,” it does not need to exist or have to exist.

But like pro-choice advocates, they must ignore the fact that we are the ones producing the suffering, that we are responsible for its existence and continuation. If they can silently reclassify suffering and death as an inevitability, they get themselves off the hook. It just happens, don’t you see? Babies just pop out of thin air, I’m tellin’ ya! They just appear and there’s nothing we can do about it! In the same way, capitalism is validated because human life just is a contest for survival and there’s nothing we can do about it (when in fact it is capitalism that creates most of these rigged “contests”).

Misogynists use the same “inevitability” gambit towards pornography and prostitution. So we have to ask, how many deaths of female prostitutes are justified in order to serve men’s supposed needs? Well, prostitutes are not really human, you see, so it’s better to just forget about it. So there is an inevitability argument, but also simple bigotry. Both will do equally well.

In a more abstract way, I also talked about a similar problem relative to God giving people free will. It seems to me to be a conclusive argument against Christianity that God giving us free will implies all the crimes people have committed in history, including all murders, wars, torture, rapes, and so on.

We can also ask, how many deaths of innocents are justified in order to maintain a State? Or how many deaths of workers are justified in order to maintain coal mines? People still die of coal mining accidents every week even in the most advanced countries. How many deaths at the hands of mafias and drug impurities are justified by the War on Drugs? And so on, and so forth.

The basic principle, I hope, is clear: if you are proposing a policy that entails innocent people’s deaths, you have the burden of proof to show that such a policy is worth it. For example, having hospitals entails many deaths due to lack of hygiene (hundreds of thousands of people die every year because of it), but it’s still better than not having health care. A decentralized system would probably be far healthier and less deadly, but if we simply compare hospitals to nothing at all, I think the choice is pretty clear. Sure it takes lives, but its primary purpose is to sustain life. The medical establishment, on the other hand… the less said about that the better.

So what’s the point of these questions? Am I just trying to shut people up and drive them away? No, the topic of my entries already does that for me, and besides that wouldn’t be very productive. This is not going to be a big surprise given the topic of this blog for these past months, but it obviously has to do with radicalism.

The prevalent utilitarian worldview tells us that human sacrifice is justified if the sacrifice is of some benefit to us, no matter how small (such as in our economist believing that horrible deaths are justified by relieving a headache). That is quite a trivialization of the right to life: your life may be worth as little as a headache, so it’s barely worth even considering. Like most economists’ constructs, the mockery of ethics used by economists serves ruling class interests and trivializes workers’ lives and values, and therefore is fundamentally anti-radical.

From the voluntaryist standpoint, I imagine all these questions are pointless, because a person who believes in any of these positions is not necessarily creating harm. A goose-stepping statist may not necessarily use violence against dissenters, or even support violence against dissenters (although eir statist belief still aids and abets the people who do the violence). So why should we attack the statist for eir belief? Ey’s “doing nothing wrong.”

Radical analysis tells us that it is possible for a person to voluntarily and harmlessly participate to a coercive and harmful system. One may work at some retailer or other and be completely ignorant that one’s work is subsidizing corporations that have financed or are still financing death squads (Chiquita, Dole, Chevron, General Motors, Ford, IBM… the list goes on and on). Admittedly this is unlikely to convince anyone to leave their job because, after all, we all need a job. But my point is that the actions of the worker are harmless, while serving a genocidal system.

So no, I am not saying that every single advocate of natalism, pro-choice, misogyny, statism or Christianity is committing harmful actions. Like all radical analysis, this is not about individual actions but about institutions and the harm they perpetuate on individuals. Because of their scope, institutions can magnify evil, bigotry or ignorance a million fold. One person cannot perform genocide, but an army can. Implicit in the concept of an army is not just a group of people but an ethic of obedience and violence, political aims, wages, buildings, weapons, provisions, an economy that can produce these things, and so on.

There can be no step taken towards making an equal and just society if one is unable to analyze existing institutions and their effects on society, as well as imagining institutions which are structured around egalitarian and just values. There can be no more fundamental principle for such a society than the principle that we should not impose harm. As Anarchism tells us, hierarchies are the root of the problem, and the goal of hierarchies is to exploit others for an elite’s benefit, no matter who the elite is.

As such, human sacrifice is only part of one extreme end of a spectrum that goes from genocide, to slavery, to exploitation, to alienation, to freedom. Our goal is to analyze institutions from the other end of the spectrum, that of individual freedom and social autonomy. The fact that some people openly support human sacrifice and its logic merely tells us that they are no friends of freedom.

In answer to the question “how many human lives can be justifiably sacrificed for your beliefs?”, most people will just hem and haw, argue that you don’t understand their position, that the question is not fair, that human sacrifice is worth it, and will basically do anything but answer the question. My answer is simple: zero.

To end on another quote from The Brothers Karamazov, which reiterates my challenge to my opponents:

“Tell me yourself, I challenge your answer. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature—that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance—and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth.”

Come on people, tell me the truth. Can you do that?

Bring in the Fake Dissenters.


A photo op for a fake demonstration, as reported on American Everyman.

I already discussed gatekeepers and how they operate (see the second half of this entry). In an ideological movement, a gatekeeper is a person who is in charge of some organization or group, or perhaps some well-known figure, who can delimitate the acceptable margins of discourse within the movement. Usually this is a spokesperson or a public figure, someone who has a wide reach and who can mold public opinion within the movement in question.

The kind of person I want to talk about in this entry is also a role within a movement, but a different kind of role. On his epic blog Once Upon a Time, Arthur Silber calls it “the Obedient Dissenter,” and, using the example of such a dissenter (journalist Matt Taibbi, “dissenting” against the upcoming war in Iran) identifies two main traits of Obedient Dissent:

1. “[A]ccept[ing] all the assumptions and premises of those [they say they are] criticizing.”
2. “[L]ack[ing] even the faintest understanding of the false set of beliefs to which [they cling] so desperately.”

To which I would add:
3. Because they fail to criticize the premises of those they claim to criticize, their dissent is wholly superficial and contradictory.

I call them Fake Dissenters because they make the claim of being dissenters when in fact they are merely reinforcing the premises enforced by their supposed enemies. In the case of Matt Taibbi, he claims to be a dissenter towards the American government, but he reinforces the prejudices that the American government uses to demonize its chosen enemies and he reinforces the myths used to prop up American imperialism. While Taibbi may be against the upcoming war in Iran, he fails to question American terrorism, American prejudices against Iran, or claims of American exceptionalism. That’s not dissent, that’s just a normal disagreement that lies well within the margins of discourse set by the American government and American journalism (although when the war in Iran drumbeat gets going for real, it will become unacceptable).

You can observe this fake dissent in all areas.

* No one is for abortion, but we should allow women to choose whether they want an abortion or not.
I already discussed that one in the entry on gatekeepers.

* People who have children are doing a wonderful service to us all. But the Duggars are just ridiculous, am I right?
The Duggars, and the Quiverfull movement in general, are easy targets because they represent excess and the objectification of women. But if we start from the premise that having children is a wonderful service to society, it’s not clear how having nineteen is more or less excessive.

* Radical feminism is totally crackpot, but we should give women the same opportunities we give men.
I’ve already written about how equality of opportunity is an elitist conceit which seeks to amplify existing oppressive institutions. Radfem provides the systemic investigation which is lacking from “equality of opportunity” rhetoric, so radfem must be demonized.

* We must respect religious freedom, no matter the religion, but group X is corrupting the true religion.
I refer you to my entry on religious freedom as to why this is a terrible idea. Saying that a certain group X corrupts “true religion” assumes that “true religion” actually exists and that it’s somehow different from the religion people actually practice. Furthermore, there’s no reason to believe that this “fake religion” is any less valid as a form of “religious freedom” than the “true religion.”

* After every new example of police abuse is unveiled: the police is here to protect us, this is just the work of some bad apples.
It is not the job of cops to protect us (for more on this, see The Enterprise of Law, by Bruce Benson), and we know they lie to obtain convictions. The rhetoric of “bad apples” is used to perpetuate institutions which systemically, through noxious incentive systems, makes people act in an evil way, like the police.

* We respect the military and the sacrifices they make for us, we just think this war is unjust…
The job of soldiers is not to protect us but, like cops, to enforce the interests of the power elite. Also, the way in which people argue that a war is unjust is almost always by supporting some part of the apparatus that makes war possible (such as some part of the government which is supposed to provide checks and balances).

Fake dissenters are utterly unable to make the simplest observations about social institutions (e.g. the basic nature of the work of cops and soldiers, the basic nature of religion, the existence of the patriarchy, the lack of justification for breeding, the fact that some people are pro-abortion and that compromised children provide an obvious basis for such a position). This is because doing so would force them to question the core premises of their beliefs about those institutions. The principle at work for these people, whatever movement they are a part of, is: ignorance is bliss.

There are gatekeepers in all movements, and there are fake dissenters in all movements. So yes, there are gatekeeper atheists and fake dissenter atheists (although these have been rather less visible than the very real dissenters such as the Four Horsemen), there are gatekeeper Anarchists and fake dissenter Anarchists (like “anarcho-capitalists,” or pseudo-Anarchist State-supporters), and so on.

This fits within the mainstream media’s control of the margins of discourse, because any movement will inevitably vie for the attention of the mainstream media. Therefore gatekeepers will endeavor to cut dissent’s legs to fit in the Procrustean bed of the media’s margins of discourse, and fake dissenters will slavishly follow these operations. As long as it’s acceptable to criticize a war, they will criticize it; as soon as it becomes unacceptable, they will stop. As long as it’s acceptable to criticize a government program, they will criticize it; as soon as it’s under attack, they will start supporting it.

Fake dissenters often use tactics similar to those of gatekeepers. You will sometimes hear both use sentences like “can’t we all agree that X?” or “no one really believes X” as a way of narrowing discourse and keeping core premises out of the discussion, while blowing the existing debate out of proportion. The difference is that when a gatekeeper does it, ey is also sending a message to eir followers to limit discourse in this manner, and that’s where the fake dissenters get their marching orders.

I know this sounds conspiratorial, but there’s no conspiracy involved. It’s just part of what people naturally do when they’re in a movement.

I may be accused of not distinguishing between fake dissenters and moderates. The difference is that a moderate may take various positions which are not considered a completely coherent set, but that doesn’t mean they act as fake dissenters on any single issue. A moderate can be a fake dissenter on any issue, but ey doesn’t have to be. Unlike moderates, fake dissenters buy into the premises of their movement wholesale and want to be good followers to further the aims of the movement.

“But what about teh menz??”


From the MRA Marmoset.

The mechanisms of control I’ve described on this blog so far have been attempts to address dissent head-on (e.g. invalidation, blame) or by making dissent more difficult (e.g. thought-stopping, competition). I have not yet addressed misdirection. Magicians, and rogues in fantasy movies, know that the best way to keep someone from realizing something is by misdirecting their attention.

Mainstream media, serving the interests of the power elite in constantly setting the margins of discourse, diverting our attention, and omitting important facts, is the quintessential example of this. Noam Chomsky calls it the manufacture of consent; I would go further than that and call it the manufacture of entire worldviews. After all, television, movies, books and other narratives inform the vast majority of what we believe about other people and other times.

Misdirection also takes place at the personal level. The use of coded rhetoric, as politicians’ speeches are stereotyped, is one of them. Another is “what about teh menz??”. This is the name radfems have given to men who barge into feminist discussions demanding that men’s interests be made the center of discussion. This is especially egregious when men not only demand that they be made the center of discussion, but insist that they are the “real victims.”

As one person described it:

In any discussion focusing on women’s issues, the probability that someone will come around and say “men are [fill the blank], too!” approaches 1 the longer the discussion gets.

The “what about teh menz” argument does not only apply to radfem. One can easily observe it within pretty much any ideology. “What about the menz” complains run the gamut from the factually reasonable (“men get raped too”) to the extraordinarily bigoted (“but look at how many American soldiers have died from this war”) to the sublimely ridiculous (“Christians are the ones who are persecuted, because we’re not allowed to express our hatred of homosexuals”).

It’s obvious that part of this tactic is based on the “virtue of victimhood.” Based on the profound moral intuition, persecutors are always evil and victims are always good, members of a persecuting group will use any reasoning they can, no matter how absurd, to portray themselves as the “real victims.” The reason why this gets so absurd is because it implies that the victims are actually the persecutors. So neo-nazis fall back on Holocaust revisionism and anti-semitism, conservatives posit that “illegal immigrants” are ruining the economy, the police state portrays pot users and anarchists as dangerous criminals, and so on. This contributes to the marginalization of the real victims.

There is also a strong part of entitlement in this. The privileged feel that they are entitled to be seen as the “good guys” by virtue of being part of a privileged group. They also feel that they are entitled to the attention of the marginalized, that their issues are the only important issues. As Derailing for Dummies points out:

Privileged People® are accustomed, after all, to it being “all about them”. Not used to simply sitting back and listening to othered people‘s issues, Privileged People® like to be the centre of attention at all times. It reminds them that they are important. By doing this, you will feel good about yourself and send a crucial message to the Marginalised Person™ (yes you really can diminish their experience by making it all about you, all the time!).

Also related to trying to divert the topic is the attempt to have spaces reserved for the privileged. For instance, some men establish “men’s rights” groups, even though all rights are already men’s rights. Others want a White History Month, even though history is already about white people. This is merely a more elaborate and structured form of the same kind of misdirection. The ultimate result of such initiatives is to obscure the fact that the privileged are privileged.

They can also be based on voluntaryist analysis, which omits the context or history behind existing institutions and judges them purely on the basis of their present, isolated actions. This means that patterns of inequality are ignored. This can lead to a “you want to complain, then I get to complain too, so it’s fair” mindset. The problem is that this concept of fairness relies on a perspective completely divorced from reality. Fairness means to treat each other as equals, not to turn a blind eye to exploitation and deal with people as if every action exists independently of any other.

Taking socio-political critique as a personal attack.


From Sinfest.

There is a peculiar phenomenon which exists in all critiques of social institutions, but especially in radfem: every time a radfem provides criticism of some social institution, many women will object on the grounds that their experiences are different or by communicating their Not My Nigel! syndrome. When talking about pornography, some women will say that the pornography they’re into is less exploitative; when talking about prostitution, some women will say that they know some privileged prostitutes who are not exploited or abused; when talking about the inequality of sex, some women will say that their Nigel is the bestest in all the world and that he would never ever ever abuse his privilege.

It must always be pointed out that radfem is not about the individual, but rather about the patriarchy, which is a universal system of privilege. Within this system, women have to decide how to “deal”: deciding where on the scale from complete submission to complete revolt they wish to position themselves. Whether a woman who voluntarily, and in full knowledge of what she is doing, positions herself at the end of complete submission (think Sarah Palin or Phyllis Schafly) should be blamed is an issue of contention. But it is widely agreed by radfem women that women who make compromises with the patriarchy are not to be blamed for those compromises.

These knee-jerk reactions to criticism apply to any socio-political issue, not just radfem. It can be pretty obviously transposed to other statements against institutionalized prejudice, such as racism or classism. Other ideologies may receive variants of the “my X is not that bad” rhetoric (“my religion is not that bad,” “my version of statism is not that bad,” “my parenting is not that bad,” and so on). These responses are as irrelevant as the “Not My Nigel!” responses.

In a variant of this, socio-political critique can also be explicitly used as a personal attack by people who oppose the critique. All the opponent has to do is “remind” you that your position is supported or exists only because of the mainstream. For instance, men may lament “but what about the menz??” or argue that men have made modern society possible for women (“we hunted the mammoth for you!”). Statists may argue that anarchists are hypocrites for using public roads and public libraries (or may even argue that such usage disproves anarchism). Atheists may be reminded that they were raised in a Judeo-Christian culture and should not stray from it, that science came from a Judeo-Christian culture, and so on.

Feeling personally attacked by a structural analysis is as bizarre as blaming one slat of a wooden floor for the fact that the house is in bad repair. But it makes sense when you keep in mind that we are taught that methodological individualism is the only serious way to approach any issue, and that methodological collectivism is mainly relegated to the dustbin of history.

This all may not be as obvious as I think, so let me clearly state my main argument:

1. We are indoctrinated to believe that our society is egalitarian and that therefore problems can only be solved at the individual level. (see atomistic individualism)

2. Victims of social institutions are held to be responsible for their own victimhood. (see cultivating hatred through personal responsibility)

3. Therefore non-radfem women see radfem criticism of social institutions as a personal attack against their own actions and as a statement that they are responsible for their own patriarchal exploitation, even though this is not the radfem intent and that it really makes no sense.

This reasoning is ingrained in our linear thinking, and the reaction by non-radfem women is instant and automatic, as any thread on some radfem conclusion reveals. No matter what the topic, women will pipe up and feel offended that the radfem is attacking their own lives, even though she is doing nothing of the kind.

The consequence for activism is what we observe with funfems and other forms of mainstream activism- their solutions are tailored to an individualistic, capitalistic, democratic society. They try to address collective problems at an individualistic level, a noble but ultimately pointless process. Obviously we do need people on the ground resolving individual problems, but to only address individual problems is to put oneself on an unending treadmill. As anarchists say, one needs to “strike at the root,” the systemic causes of the individual problems.

These mainstream activists, like funfems, liberals, pro-choicers, church-state separation advocates, and so on, are effective at helping individuals but are ineffective as agents of change because their actions are framed within the system that oppresses them. And they frame their actions in this way because the system is invisible to their methodologically individualistic ideologies.

What about “the personal is the political”? Aren’t all of our decisions political in nature? Sure, but there’s a step between evaluating actions in a political context and berating people for them. I believe we do bear collective responsibility for the harm caused by our social institutions. In the same way, men and women share a collective blame for the patriarchy, but no individual man or woman is directly responsible for the patriarchy and its effects on individual women (hence the word “collective”).

More importantly, “the personal is the political” also tells us that our actions must be analyzed within the larger context of the patriarchy’s vast influence. Personal decisions are made in response to the situation a person is in, and the situation a person is in reflects the political situation.

Maybe it isn’t all about you. Maybe the things that turn you on, make you feel hot, and give you orgasms aren’t *just* about your own personal, private, individual life. Maybe the things you do are shaped by outside forces like patriarchy. Maybe your actions have a larger impact. Maybe you didn’t spend your formative years deep asleep in a magical fairy cave only to awake from your slumber to suddenly and mysteriously have fantasies about hog-tying and raping women…

Just like I don’t care what specific kinds of porn you are into, just like I don’t care how much super awesome empowering fun stripping on stage for an audience is for you. You liking something doesn’t make it innately ‘good’. There is no protective bubble around things we think are fun.

As I said before, it’s hard to look at a Sarah Palin or a Phyllis Schafly and excuse their actions. That’s because we recognize at some level that there’s a difference between passively coping with the patriarchy and actively, voluntarily supporting the patriarchy. It’s the difference between a woman getting pepper spray to cope with rapists and a woman holding a rapist’s victims down so he won’t rape her instead. Both are coping mechanisms, but the latter is a crime, while the former is not.

But, and here’s the thing, we blame these actions for being criminal in nature, not because of a prior socio-political criticism. Radfem does not say “it’s wrong to hold down a woman so she can get raped” or “it’s wrong to speak against the equality of all individuals” because these things are basic ethical issues which should not even need to be stated. People may disagree on the punishment or restitution to be imposed on the accomplice, or on the kind of equality that one should advocate, but those are finer points.

If a woman calls the cop on a man who assaulted her, she is legitimizing the violence of the State (including the disproportionate violence directed against women), and putting herself and her assailant under an unjust amount of risk. But we can’t blame any woman who makes the calculation of risk and decides that calling the cops is better than not. It’s the system we need to blame, not the woman who feels she has no better choice.

But if a woman decides to become a cop, go through the schooling needed to do so, and threaten, assault and railroad innocent people as all cops do, then we have to blame that woman as a criminal element. But by and large, this is not the kind of woman we talk about. On the whole, we talk about normal women with an ethical compass struggling to cope with a patriarchal society, not sociopaths who love to degrade or hurt other women. It is to these women that we say, “it’s not about you/your Nigel.” It’s about the P.

I leave the final word to a IBTP commenter named “eb”:

For all I know, you can be the Holy Fucking Virgin Mary mother of God but you still don’t live in a vacuum. Just because you are a good person, doesn’t mean bad things don’t happen in your name or because of your choices.

Step outside the ‘I’.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 200 other followers