Video game writer Noel Copeland is on his third scene re-write of the morning, unable to decide just how much violent abuse his female characters should have to endure before they can be considered believable and real.
“Everyone loves a strong female character,” complained Copeland as he slugged back another coffee and lit a cigarette. “But what a lot of people don’t understand is how difficult it is to choose which particular form of violent abuse strengthens them.”
Copeland explained that like Pokemon, strong females actually evolve from regular females once they have accumulated a certain amount of abuse.
“Not a lot of people know that about female characters,” he added. “It’s a bit of a writer’s secret. Trick of the trade.”
Copeland’s current draft calls for his female character to be strangled, stabbed, shot, run over and then shot again – a combination that he calls “gritty, powerful and hopefully award-winning”.
However, he says he’s willing to consider an extended torture scene with implied off-screen sexual violence if it comes to that.
“That’s what’s great about writing female characters,” said Copeland. “They’re so multifaceted.”
“You’ve got your fear of violence from men, you’ve got the actual violence at the hands of men, and of course, surviving the violence inflicted on you by men… video games really allow me as a writer to explore the three specific ways women can be strong.”
“That’s why this medium is so special.”
“What is the speed of dreams?
I don’t know. Perhaps it’s…But no, I don’t know…
The truth is that what is known here is known collectively.
We know, for example, that we are at war. And I’m not referring just to the real zapatista war, the one which has not totally satisfied the bloodthirstiness of some media and of some intellectuals ‘of the left.’ The ones who are so given, the first to the numbers of deaths, injured and disappeared, and the latter to translating deaths into errors ‘for not having done what I told them.’
It is not just that. I’m also speaking about what we call the ‘Fourth World War’ which is being waged by neoliberalism and against humanity. The one which is taking place on all fronts and everywhere, including in the mountains of the Mexican Southeast. As well as in Palestine and in Iraq, in Chechnya and in the Balkans, in Sudan and in Afghanistan, with more or less regular armies. The one which fundamentalism of both camps is carrying to all corners of the planet. The one which, taking on non-military forms, is claiming victims in Latin America, in Social Europe, in Asia, in Africa, in Oceania, in the Near East, with financial bombs that are causing entire nation states and international bodies to disappear into little pieces.
This war which, according to us, is attempting to destroy/depopulate lands, to rebuild/reorder local, regional and national maps, and to create, by blood and fire, a new world cartography. This one which is leaving its signature in its path: death.
Perhaps the question ‘What is the speed of dreams?’ should be accompanied by the question ‘What is the speed of nightmares?'”
“Capitalism is most interested in merchandise, because when it is bought or sold, profits are made. And then capitalism turns everything into merchandise, it makes merchandise of people, of nature, of culture, of history, of conscience. According to capitalism, everything must be able to be bought and sold. And it hides everything behind the merchandise, so we don’t see the exploitation that exists. And then the merchandise is bought and sold in a market. And the market, in addition to being used for buying and selling, is also used to hide the exploitation of the workers. In the market, for example, we see coffee in its little package or its pretty little jar, but we do not see the campesino who suffered in order to harvest the coffee, and we do not see the coyote who paid him so cheaply for his work, and we do not see the workers in the large company working their hearts out to package the coffee. Or we see an appliance for listening to music like cumbias, rancheras or corridos, or whatever, and we see that it is very good because it has a good sound, but we do not see the worker in the maquiladora who struggled for many hours, putting the cables and the parts of the appliance together, and they barely paid her a pittance of money, and she lives far away from work and spends a lot on the trip, and, in addition, she runs the risk of being kidnapped, raped and killed as happens in Ciudad Juárez in Mexico…
Then, in neoliberal globalization, the great capitalists who live in the countries which are powerful, like the United States, want the entire world to be made into a big business where merchandise is produced like a great market. A world market for buying and selling the entire world and for hiding all the exploitation from the world. Then the global capitalists insert themselves everywhere, in all the countries, in order to do their big business, their great exploitation. Then they respect nothing, and they meddle wherever they wish. As if they were conquering other countries. That is why we zapatistas say that neoliberal globalization is a war of conquest of the entire world, a world war, a war being waged by capitalism for global domination. Sometimes that conquest is by armies who invade a country and conquer it by force. But sometimes it is with the economy, in other words, the big capitalists put their money into another country or they lend it money, but on the condition that they obey what they tell them to do. And they also insert their ideas, with the capitalist culture which is the culture of merchandise, of profits, of the market.”
“Juan de Mairena: ‘The free expression of thought is an important, but secondary, problem to ours, which is that of freedom of thought itself. For one, we ask ourselves whether the thought, our thought, that of each of us, can take place with complete liberty, regardless of the fact that, then, we are allowed, or not allowed, to express it. Let us ask rhetorically: Of what use to us would be the free expression of an enslaved thought?’ (Antonio Machado. Alianza Editorial, p. 179)”
Also see previous entries I have written on intuitionism:
What is Ethical Intuitionism?
Why Atheists Should Be Intuitionists.
Why intuitionism supports antinatalist conclusions.
Ideological bias is the main ethical error.
An intuitionist answers Matt Slick re: atheist morality.
Some misunderstandings about intuitions.
Equating intuitionism with “naive intuitionism.”
Intuitionism as used by reactionaries.
Many times, people who talk about morality from an authoritarian standpoint, or from a nihilistic standpoint (which usually end up being pretty similar), will ask the question: “why should I care about what’s right and what’s wrong?” One of the assumptions behind this question is that humans are in a default state of “not caring about morality” and that we need to reason our way into it. If there is no good reason to do so, then the individual should remain in a state of “not caring.”
From an intuitionist perspective, this assumption is invalid. The vast majority of human beings are born with the mental structures which enable morality, and cannot “opt out.” As sentient beings and social beings, we have no choice but to have some idea of what’s right and what’s wrong, because we must act intelligently in order to fulfill our needs. We can only distort our moral balance, generally as a result of some profound moral bias (such as that one might acquire when joining a fundamentalist religion, a cult, or be subjected to some other form of indoctrination). In time, if we leave the source of bias, our moral balance will begin to re-establish itself.
But there is another way we can interpret the question, and that’s to ask: “why should I care about YOUR definition of right and wrong?” That question is more important, insofar as any positive claim or belief must be shown to be based on reality in order to be rational or credible. Many people are unable to answer this question and fall back on the inter-subjective idea of “if you agree with me, then you should care, otherwise you shouldn’t.” This is not a good sign. A position based on reality should be able to point to some fact (however abstract), not just agreement that the position is true.
There is a consideration that complicates things here, and that’s the is/ought problem, which entails that one cannot prove the validity of a moral system based on statements of fact alone. Intuitionism cuts through the Gordian knot of the is/ought problem, in that moral intuitions (and all other intuitions) are part of our biological makeup and partially constitute the kind of organism that we are. We would not ask why humans walk the way they do: the way we walk is a result of our skeletal system. Likewise, our morality is based on our moral intuitions.
To continue the analogy, people may wear all sorts of shoes, may walk or run in various stances, may become handicapped, and all of these behaviors and abilities/disabilities have as their foundation the fact that we are bipedal animals with a certain gait. People may act “selfishly” or “altruistically,” their moral systems may get unbalanced, they may label themselves all sorts of ways. All those behaviors are also based on moral intuitions as their foundation, in the ways some become more important than others, in the expression of those intuitions in our specific societies or subcultures, and so on.
So the question “why should I care about right or wrong?” fails to make an impact on intuitionists, because it has the same general nonsensicality as “why should I walk on two legs?” or “why should I act like a social animal?”. In all cases, the answer is the same: “you’re a human being, so you already do.” Moral statements are derived from moral intuitions, which are pre-existing and therefore do not require justification or reasoning for their existence (or at least no more than being bipedal does).
The question, however, does apply to moral positions which assume some moral system requiring justification or reasoning. So take utilitarianism, for example (or any of its variants). Asking “why should I be a utilitarian?” is a valid question, since utilitarianism is an abstract construct which must be accepted by the individual. If we accept the existence of moral intuitions (which I think we should, as they do exist), then either utilitarianism is based on moral intuitions or it is not. If it is, then why not go straight to the source and skip utilitarianism? If it is not, then why should we care? And equally importantly, how could it possibly be justified without appealing to some form of pre-existing evaluation, whether it’s intuitions or something else?
I have used the same argument structure before about following the Bible as a moral guide. Before one can do so, one must accept the Bible as moral in the first place. This evaluation was made on some basis. So why not just skip the Bible and go straight to that basis, elaborating on it? If the individual already possesses a way to evaluate morality, then the Bible was not needed in the first place. If the individual does not already possess a way to evaluate morality, then they cannot validly evaluate the Bible as moral in the first place.
Of course utilitarians (or other moral realists who believe they have a solution to the is/ought problem) have their own justifications for why they believe what they believe, and I am not dissing that. This is not an analysis of those justifications. I would be willing to examine them on this blog, although I do not know of any right now (feel free to submit any you know).
One further issue is that many defenses of moral realist positions smuggle in supposed intuitionist evaluations as a “check” against invalid moral premises. For instance, some people will claim that negative utilitarianism cannot possibly be true, because it leads to the conclusion that no one should exist. But why cannot this even be possibly true? Well, because it’s “absurd.” That sounds like an arbitrary appeal to intuition (I have analyzed why I believe antinatalism, and by extension human extinction, is harmonious with the intuitionist position here). In practice, it means something like “well, I don’t like this position because it ruins my big complicated arguments about morality, and I can’t obfuscate it, so I’ll just ignore it.” That’s just intellectual dishonesty.
WHAT IS A WOMAN? A non-essentialist view (response to my gender crit friends)
Imagine, if you will, that on a world far from Earth, there are a series of islands. On each of these lives a different tribe which, owing to various factors, are at peace with each other. They use outriggers for trade, and make alliance when dangerous strangers show too much interest in their land and its possible uses, and once a year there is a great gathering at the central island to feast, exchange the results of their arts, and look for likely mates. Because this is a peaceful area, there are no rules about mating except what the individuals make for themselves. One or two outlying islands have some taboos about certain people marrying each other – they’re focused intensely on building a sparse population – but the result since these taboos have been made is to actually slightly go down in population. Several members have chosen to move to other islands with their mates. The rumor is that this tribe will be modifying their rules soon. None of the others much care; it’s none of their business. Those who wish to leave will be welcomed.
To these islands one day comes a wooden boat; large enough to survive the swelling seas as long as there are no typhoons. This one has achieved it. There are only two crew members on the ship; one a member of the Mahalo tribe, and the other a most peculiar looking person, with pasty skin and hair on their chest. The returning Mahalo explains that this is how people look on the other side of the world, and this person has been a good friend – helping steer the ship safely home. The friend, called Bundi, has not enjoyed life in that other nation, and was glad to leave.
As has been true many places on Earth, Bundi is viewed with some suspicion at first. Strangers have seldom come with goodwill. On the other hand, neither have they come singly, with a friend to vouch for them. Bundi is quite good with making ropes stronger than most; it’s in the knotting. Slowly, Bundi becomes familiar; not like the rest of them in appearance, but striving to learn the language and the customs and to be trustworthy. After a time, the Old Ones of the Mahalo declare Bundi welcome, and a member.
As is customary, Bundi comes with them to the Great Gathering. There is some suspicion there. A few people object. Bundi meekly stays among the accepting Mahalo. Over the years, people come to accept Bundi as one of them; but because some still are hesitant, having been invaded the most recently, the tribes decide that Bundi should not come to the gathering. A few friends stay with Bundi every year to have a party of their own. On their island, Bundi belongs. But it would be wrong to push others to accept what they do not wish to accept. When strangers can be enemies, why destroy the pleasures of the Great Gathering? There are alternatives. Because Bundi is an outsider for most of them, Bundi accepts these rules.
A few grumble that Bundi should not live among them, that the hairy ones will always be enemies. But they’re told off pretty quickly. It’s none of their business. They don’t have to come to the island where Bundi lives with the tribe. Since these complainers are usually the hardest to get along with, the consensus is that they’re welcome to come to the great gatherings and otherwise live with their own, rather unfriendly tribe anyway. No one will force them; they cannot decide for others who is welcome.
The moral of the story, if there is one, can only be that groups have the right to choose their own members, on any criterion they prefer. If Bundi had shown hostility, probably fewer would have been welcoming. Nonetheless, Bundi became a member of the tribe once the Old Ones decided. In other tribes, it might have been by consensus. In others yet, the lack of discussion would have been the decision. Just as no one intervenes with tribal decisions, so no other tribe would have had a say about who was a member of Mahalo.
- How Power and Oppression Work
When considering trans people, I think the first consensus radical and socialist feminists need to come to is that different groups have different needs. Each has the right of association. Others have every right to condemn with whom they associate, even distrusting the decisions of the group, but the base must be what the group does; how it makes decisions, how it lives its life.
When groups come together to fight oppression – and as I’ll discuss, women are oppressed and need to come together – they can decide if they wish to include certain groups for any reason. They may not like their politics, they may not trust them to stay nonviolent, they may decide that only people born to the oppressed class should participate for whatever reason. Whatever the reason, the fundamental right to justice is to decide whom to trust, and at whose side you will fight.
People raised in the oppressed group – no matter how badly they felt they did not fit in – have a responsibility to accept this. If, as a group, one side has more power and control, the endangered group has the right to make rules for their safety. No member of an oppressor group can judge this unless they are given permission to judge.
Trans “women” have ignored this rule from the beginning. As a result, the likelihood of permission is far lower than it otherwise would be. When a group declares the oppressed group’s feelings irrelevant, offers no compromise, and uses physical and emotional manipulation to get their way, they are demonstrating ill will. When they use the power of the state to back them, they are underlining their intention of having their way over another, less powerful group. Add to that more economic resources for the group, more propaganda while blocking the voices of the other, and it’s pretty clear that the ones raised as oppressors have, despite verbally rejecting their privilege, cling to it despite the result to the lives and rights of others – rights they try to remove, including the right to a livelihood and the right to speak.
In short, to say trans women are women begs the most elemental of questions: can oppressors by fiat join an oppressed class? Can white people who grew up members of a colonizing population simply declare one day that they are not white? Can the ablebodied buy a wheelchair and claim membership among the disabled? Can those who learn sign language, but who are not deaf, join a community which only speaks by sign language and considers itself a community? Can the wealthy, while not giving up their wealth, declare themselves by goodwill members of the working class? And if they do give it up, do they then have full presumption to speak for the workers, despite the fact they learned a different way of speaking, body language, arts and scientific study?
When women ask such questions, others dismiss them, saying that the cases are not parallel for whatever reason. By tacitly accepting that some marginalized people have the right to make their own definition of who belongs with them, and explicitly making clear that women are not among those marginalized people, one belief becomes very clear: as far as other groups are concerned, women, as a class, are not oppressed, and are not Other. Fifty years of analysis, the development of an understanding of patriarchy, the demonstration that no matter how privileged at other intersections some women are they can’t buy out of the assumption that their body is the entitlement of men, mean nothing. The result is an absolute denial that women have the right to defend themselves if others decide to invade. Women are not given the right of naming their own oppression. When they try to do so, they are attacked. We are again living in the 1950s.
- How Women Developed Women’s Liberation and Lost It Again
Now, part of this comes from the rise of identity politics through the civil rights movement. Both the first and second waves arose out of civil rights movements primarily focused on color and ethnicity. What gets hidden in that narrative is that women of color, like their white sisters, began to notice that they were not equal in their own movements. They began, more and more, to define themselves.
Since whites were a majority in Western countries, it was easy for white women to focus primarily on issues which affected them. Since middle class white women – the ones privileged to go to college – had the leisure to go to meetings and spend weekends at protests, they had the additional privilege of standing up without fear of anything more than harassment, threats, and some physical violence. (Please note that they were subject to that, especially lesbians, who were viewed as an embarrassing deviation by the left; gay rights was rejected by every left-leaning group I knew in 1970 or so.) Only radical feminist groups stood up for the right to choose one’s sexual partner, as a logical extension of the right to control one’s own body.
The third wave has largely made this reality invisible, but it made a huge difference, since not all lesbians were white. The second wave was in fact arguably more mixed in their push for women’s rights because of the extreme marginalization of lesbians of color in their own communities. Adding to their invisibility was their determination to continue loyalties with the rest of their people – so their silencing began in struggles within groups of color, where women had little say, but much to say. At the same time, they were attracted to women’s liberation, because it spoke to them in ways their male-dominated culture did not. But white women, who coming out of the civil rights movement had commitment but coming out of white culture had limited knowledge, often needed more educated than women of color had energy for.
The betrayal of this struggle is best illustrated by the “inventor” of the third wave, Rebecca Walker. Rebecca was the daughter of Alice Walker, one of the most notable Black feminists of the second wave, and a white father. She wrote dismissively of the failures of the second wave to care about black women, even though her mother spent most of her life as a black feminist. Alice Walker for the rest of her life wrote painfully about her daughter, trying to understand how they had become estranged. Rebecca became a well-known “third wave” feminist by using her mother’s fame to be published in a second wave publication (Ms) and gaining a writer’s contract. In other words, she used the resources her parents had acquired and the credibility of her mother to attack her. And since, the failure to understand that women of color were involved in the women’s struggle from the beginning, despite error and unconscious racism, has been used to dismiss feminists as feminist, labeling them as “white” and therefore oppressor class only (no intersections for women!) is Rebecca Walker’s legacy to identity politics.
- How Postmodern Theory contributed to the Destruction of Women’s Liberation
The history of the feminist movement has not been fully told. When Women Studies shifted to Gender Studies, the material base of feminism was lost. Queer theorists are not feminists, coming mostly out of the embrace of postmodernism, a literary theory without a material base. Postmodernism is influenced the most by textual critics who argue that the texts themselves are what imprison people; that changing the texts will therefore liberate them.
This is the precise opposite of Marxist theory, and goes against most radical feminist theory. These groups can be described as materialist progressives. Those dependent on postmodernism are not; they are liberals, committed to language and ideas as the source of status quo and change as all liberals are, just as their predecessors in feudal times were committed to God as the source of the status quo and change. Materialists/progressives ascribe oppression and liberation to changes in the material conditions of life. One does not “enact” oppression; one attacks it with physical resistance and economic change. And one analyzes it via power: who has control? For whose benefit do most laws exist? What do educational systems perpetuate? What do majority religions value? If there are contradictions to overall power, do they operate to overthrow or to teach acceptance?
To “enact” reality is to assume that material conditions are not the base of power. As such, the theory is embraced by people who have achieved economic and state power, or see it in their grasp, and wish to keep it. Academics, for example, can obtain great status with a theory whose actual fundamentals require careful study to find what’s missing; a theory which celebrates obscurity by its own definition of erasing master narratives as a way to end oppression. Marxian scholars – from Marx through Gramsci to Paolo Freire and the present day – view theory and praxis as dialectical, each informing the other and guiding a culture to resistance and revolution. As such, ideas must be accessible to those who are oppressed; the obscuration (?) of ideas is a deliberate ruling class tactic. Postmodernism – even to some extent its more material sisters in poststructuralism – illustrates how that obscuring works. The status quo cannot be challenged, let alone overthrown, by symbolic means. It can only perpetuate those already in power.
In short, the oppressed have always been defined as Other, and marginalized, by those who benefit from the system. The oppressors have control of the structures which keep people unquestioning, or at least obedient. But within each group, marginalized or central, a particular way of doing things, a method of interpretation, develops. Some of these are higher status – a ruling class will define the nature of art, what are the highest status foods, and so forth. But every group develops its own culture. And that culture is partly passed down with tacit assumptions – of course no one wears bright colors to work; of course one doesn’t raise one’s voice when excited. They are passed on by each cultural group.
This communication is useful for maintaining structures of . It’s inevitable in a hierarchical society that the powerful communicate with the less powerful in a certain way which maintains that power. On the other side, the marginalized, who have more to lose when moving among the powerful, have their own code; ways to avoid triggering entitlement rage, for example. They also have customs and ways of speaking among themselves which builds relationships – highly necessary for survival in a marginalized population.
- Culture and Meaning in Women’s Community
These communicative behaviors have been well-established among communication scholars, linguistics, and others who pay attention to difference.
It should go without saying that any definition of woman needs to include both the biological and the material consequences of being female. At the same time, a materialist does not embrace the religious aspects of gender; mystical abilities assigned to one sex or other proceeding from biology, for example. “Woman” is most important for its social implications; that is, the dynamics of power and control. In other words, the “body” of a woman is the site of struggle on which political dynamics play themselves out. It has meaning, and those meanings have consequences.
Without meaning, a body is… just a body. Some have abilities many have not got. In a social world, individual interpretation of one’s body is no one else’s business, unless of course there are medical or other implications in certain specialties. In such a case, a body is only relevant to its owner and the professionals s/he engages in adjusting it for a better physical or mental personal life.
But meaning is universal to humans, except a few extremely brain-damaged individuals. Meaning is culture, and culture is meaning. As Edward Hall says, culture teaches us what to pay attention to and what to ignore. All humans have feet, but only particular cultures assign the feet meaning , so that pointing a foot at an object is a deadly insult. All humans have right and left hands, but some cultures view the use of those hands with awe or disdain. Whether a human is sinister or not may well be which hand they use as dominant.
Cultures may acquire these meanings almost at random, from other power dynamics. But one tendency of bodies is universally noticed historically: the ability to produce children from inside them. And, once noted, culture has assigned meanings to that.
Those meanings are called “gender.” Without going into the early worship of the female for its ability to produce children, I will summarize what gender has meant since the rise of agriculture at least: a division of labor, a particular place in the acquisition of resources, and a constant awareness that culturally men and women are not the same because of reproductive distinctions.