Category Archives: Book quotes

Quotes from Unconditional Parenting, by Alfie Kohn

“A child is yelling, obviously upset, and when she quiets down her daddy lies in bed with his arm around her and reads her a Frog and Toad story. In response, the proponent of conditional parenting exclaims, ‘No, no, no, you’re just reinforcing her bad behavior! You’re teaching her that it’s all right to be naughty!’

This interpretation doesn’t merely reflect an assumption about what kids learn in a given situation, or even how they learn. It reflects an awfully sour view of children- and, by extension, of human nature. It assumes that, given half a chance, kids will take advantage of us. Give ’em an inch, they’ll take a mile. They will draw the worst possible lesson from an ambiguous situation (not ‘I’m loved anyway’ but ‘Yay! It’s okay to make trouble!’). Acceptance without strings attached will just be interpreted as permission to act in a way that’s selfish, demanding, greedy, or inconsiderate. At least in part, then, conditional parenting is based on the deeply cynical belief that accepting kids for who they are just frees them to be bad because, well, that’s who they are.”

“Ultimately, conditional parenting reflects a tendency to see almost every human interaction, even among family members, as a kind of economic transaction. The laws of the marketplace- supply and demand, tit for tat- have assumed the status of universal and absolute principles, as though everything in our lives, including what we do with our children, is analogous to buying a car or renting an apartment.”

“When we make children feel powerless, forcing them to submit to our will, this often generates intense anger, and just because that anger can’t be expressed at the moment doesn’t mean it disappears. What happens to it depends on the child’s personality and the specifics of the situation. Sometimes the result is more battles with the parent. As author Nancy Samalin comments, even ‘when we ‘win,’ we lose. When we make children obey by force, threats, or punishment, we make them feel helpless. They can’t stand feeling helpless, so they provoke another confrontation to prove they still have some power.’ And where do they learn how to use that power? From us. Not only does authoritarian parenting make them mad; it also teaches them how to direct their anger against another person.”

“External regulation can interfere with the development of internal regulation not only with regards to eating but also with regard to ethics. A heavy-handed parenting style does nothing to promote, and actually may undermine, children’s moral development. Those who are pressured to do as they’re told are unlikely to think through ethical dilemmas for themselves. This can quickly create a vicious circle: The less chance they have to make decisions about the right way to act, the more likely they are to act in ways which cause their parents to cite their irresponsibility as a reason for continuing to deny them the right to choose.”

“During any (recent) given year, more than 1.3 million children are homeless in the United States. Between 22 and 26 percent of young children are classified as poor, which is far higher than the rates in other industrialized societies. Americans continue to tolerate the real suffering that lies behind these statistics, and this speaks to our attitude towards children as surely as does the number of people who grouse about ‘these kids today.’

Here’s the point: If children in general aren’t held in great esteem, it becomes easier for parents, even basically good parents, to treat their own kids disrespectfully… It’s not a coincidence that authoritarian parents, who demand absolute obedience, also tend to attribute unflattering characteristics to children- and sometimes to people in general. A study of more than three hundred parents found that those who held a negative view of human nature were likely to be very controlling with their kids.”

“The most popular false dichotomy runs as follows: ‘We need to take a hard line with kids and stop letting them do anything they feel like.’ In effect, traditional discipline is contrasted with permissiveness. Either I punish my child or else I let her ‘get away with’ whatever she did. Either I take a hard line or I draw no line at all…

Paradoxically, neglecting and punishing aren’t even really opposites. Both share the feature of offering absolutely no productive, respectful adult guidance of the sort that kids need.”

“Their interest in controlling others isn’t limited to children; they feel obligated to demonstrate that they’re superior to other adults, too. But it’s easier, and more socially acceptable, to do it with kids. Norman Kunc, who conducts workshops on inclusive education and non-coercive practices, points out that ‘what we call ‘behavior problems’ are often situations of legitimate conflict; we just get to call them behavior problems because we have more power” than children do. (You’re not allowed to say that your spouse has a behavior problem.)”

“To focus on children’s needs, and to work with them to make sure their needs are met, constitutes a commitment to taking children seriously. It means treating them as people whose feelings and desires and questions matter. A child’s preferences can’t always be accommodated, but they can always be considered and they need never be dismissed out of hand. It’s important to see a child as someone with a unique point of view, with very real fears and concerns (often quite different from our own), and with a distinctive way of reasoning (which is not merely ‘cute’).”

“Second, we need to get in the habit of asking ourselves a very specific question: ‘If that comment I just made to my child had been made to me- or if what I just did had been done to me- would I feel unconditionally loved?’ It’s not terribly complicated to perform this sort of imaginative reversal, but to do so on a regular basis can be nothing short of transformative.”

“The late psychologist Herbert Lovett once observed that if we ignore children when they misbehave, what we’re saying to them is: ‘We don’t know why you do this and we don’t care.’ To justify such a response by insisting that children who act out are just doing it ‘for the attention,’ Lovett added, seems to imply that ‘wanting to be noticed [is] a mysterious or stupid need.’ It’s as though someone ridiculed you for going out to dinner with your friends, explaining that you do this just because of your ‘need for companionship.'”

“There’s nothing brilliantly original about the notion that kids should be part of the problem-solving process when things go wrong, or, for that matter, that they should have some say about what happens to them on an ongoing basis. Yet I continue to be struck by how often parents fail to consider these possibilities, or neglect to act on them, or even angrily resist them…

The first argument is a moral one: All people ought to have some control over their own lives. In the case of children, of course, there are limits to how much control and what kind; plenty of things have to be decided for them, particularly when they’re young. But that doesn’t negate the basic principle. I believe our default position ought to be to let kids make decisions about matters that concern them except when there is a compelling reason for us to override that right.”

“Some parents talk about ‘choice’ not in the context of allowing kids to have more say but rather as a way of blaming them for deliberately deciding to do something bad. A sentence such as ‘You chose to break the rule’ amounts to using the word almost like a bludgeon against children. It’s also a way of trying to justify a punitive response, so it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that people who talk this way are indeed more likely to use punishment and other power-based interventions.
Adults who blithely insist that children choose to misbehave are rather like politicians who declare that people have only themselves to blame for being poor. In both cases, potentially relevant factors other than personal responsibility are ignored.”

“Children of different ages are frequently described as ‘manipulative.’ But, again, from the child’s perspective, she may just be struggling to have some say over what happens to her. If anyone is trying to manipulate here, it’s probably the grown-up. Perhaps kids would benefit from a helpful book called How to Handle Your Difficult Parents.”

Quotes from Against Love, by Laura Kipnis

“However much the decline of arranged marriages is held up in this part of the globe as a sign of progress and enlightenment (including, lately, as propaganda for modernity when seeking to score political points against Islam), however much it flatters our illusions of independence to imagine that we get to love whomever and however we please, this story starts to unravel if you look too closely. Economic rationality was hardly eliminated when individuals began choosing their own mates instead of leaving the job to parents; it plays as much of a role as ever. Despite all the putative freedom, the majority of us select partners remarkably similar to ourselves- economically, and in social standing, education, and race. That is, we choose ‘appropriate’ mates, and we precisely calculate their assets, with each party gauging just how well they can do on the open market, knowing exactly their own exchange value and that of prospective partners… The real transformation of modern love, as sociologist Eva Iluouz points out, comes with the fact that ranking mates for material and social assets is now incorporated into the psychology of love and unconscious structures of desire, with individuals having now internalized the economic rationality once exerted by parents, thus ‘freely’ falling in love with mates who are also- coincidentally- good investments.”

“[W]hy has modern love developed in such a way as to maximize submission and minimize freedom, with so little argument about it? No doubt a citizenry schooled in renouncing desires- and whatever quantities of imagination and independence they come partnered with- would be, in many respects, advantageous: note that the conditions of lovability are remarkably convergent with those of a cowed workforce and a docile electorate. But if the most elegant forms of social control are those that come packaged in the guise of individual needs and satisfactions, so wedded to the individual psyche that any opposing impulse registers as the anxiety of unlovability, who needs a policeman on every corner? How very convenient that we’re so willing to police ourselves and those we love, and call it living happily ever after.
Perhaps a secular society needed another metaphysical entity to subjugate itself to after the death of God, and love was available for the job. But isn’t it a little depressing to think we’re somehow incapable of inventing forms of emotional life based on anything other than subjugation?”

“[B]anished thoughts include comparing the unfreedoms we subscribe to in personal life and the unfreedoms we oppose in political life. Or, as another noted comedian, Isaac Berlin, once put it: If an individual votes himself into slavery and thus gives up his freedom, is this really political liberty?”

“[I]t remains a baleful fact that making happiness any sort of an open political demand- or even just a demand of politicians- is a dangerous thing. But at least there was adultery, the current secret code for wanting something more. Adultery, whatever its inherent problems- as with other supplements and shopping sprees and pleasure quests- is at least a reliable way of proving to ourselves that we’re not in the ground quite yet, especially when feeling a little dead inside. Or at least until a better solution comes along.”

Quotes from Revolution at Point Zero, by Silvia Federici

“Beginning with ourselves as women, we know that the working day for capital does not necessarily produce a paycheck, it does not begin and end at the factory gates, and we rediscover the nature and extent of housework itself… [W]e see that while it does not result in a wage for ourselves, we nevertheless produce the most precious product to appear on the capitalist market: labor power. Housework is much more than house cleaning. it is servicing the wage earners physically, emotionally, sexually, getting them ready for work day after day. it is taking care of our children- the future workers- assisting them from birth through their school years, ensuring that they too perform in the ways expected of them under capitalism. This means that behind every factory, behind every school, behind every office or mine there is the hidden work of millions of women who have consumed their life, their labor, producing the labor power that works in those factories, schools, offices, or mines.”

“Wages for Housework means that capital will have to pay for the enormous amount of social services employers now save on our backs. Most important, to demand Wages for Housework is to refuse to accept our work as a biological destiny, which is an indispensable condition to struggle against it. Nothing, in fact, has been so powerful in institutionalizing our work, the family, and our dependence on men, as the fact that not a wage but ‘love’ has always paid for this work.”

“If it is true that the remittances sent by immigrants constitute the main international monetary flow after the revenues of the oil companies, then the most important commodity that the “Third World” today exports to the “First” is labor. In other words, as in the past, today as well, capitalist accumulation is above all the accumulation of workers, a process that occurs primarily through immigration. This means that a significant part of the work necessary to reproduce the metropolitan workforce is now performed by women in Africa, Asia, Latin America or the former socialist countries, the main points of origin o the contemporary migratory movements. This is labor that is never considered in the computation of the “Third World” debt and yet directly contributes to the accumulation of wealth in the ‘advanced’ capitalist countries, as immigration serves to offset demographic decline, keep wages down and transfer surplus from the colonies to the ‘metropolis.'”

“[W]e must challenge [Marx’s] assumption of the necessity and progressivity of capitalism for at least three reasons.

First, five centuries of capitalist development have depleted the resources of the planet rather than creating the ‘material conditions’ for the transition to ‘communism’ (as Marx anticipated) through the expansion of the ‘forces of production’ in the form of large scale industrialization. They have not made ‘scarcity’- according to Marx a major obstacle to human liberation- obsolete. On the contrary, scarcity on a world scale is today directly a product of capitalist production. Second, while capitalism seems to enhance the cooperation among workers in the organization of commodity production, in reality it divides workers in many ways: through an unequal division of labor, through the use of the wage, giving the waged power against the wageless, and through the institutionalization of sexism and racism, that naturalize and mystify through the presumption of different personalities the organization of differentiated labor regimes. Third, starting with the Mexican and the Chinese Revolution, the most antisystemic struggles of the last century have not been fought only or primarily by waged industrial workers, Marx’s projected revolutionary subjects, but have been fought by rural, indigenous, anticolonial, antiapartheid, feminist movements. Today as well, they are fought by subsistence farmers, urban squatters, as well as industrial workers in Africa, India, Latin America, and China. Most important, these struggles are fought by women who, against all odds, are reproducing their families regardless of the value the market places on their lives, valorizing their existence, reproducing them for their own sake, even when the capitalist declare their uselessness as labor power.”

Quotes from The Wretched of the Earth, by Frantz Fanon.

I think this book is not just interesting because of what it says about colonization, but also on how it reflects the way colonization within our own societies work- the dynamic between marginalized groups (say, women or POC) and the State, for example.

***

“The colonized world is a world divided in two. The dividing line, the border, is represented by the barracks and the police stations. In the colonies, the official, legitimate agent, the spokesperson for the colonizer and the regime of oppression, is the police officer or the soldier. In capitalist societies, education, whether secular or religious, the teaching of moral reflexes handed down from father to son, the exemplary integrity of workers decorated after fifth years of loyal and faithful service, the fostering of love for harmony and wisdom, those aesthetic forms of respect for the status quo, instill in the exploited a mood of submission and inhibition which considerably eases the task of the agents of law and order.”

“Challenging the colonial world is not a rational confrontation of viewpoints. It is not a discourse on the universal, but the impassioned claim by the colonized that their world is fundamentally different. The colonial world is a Manichean world. The colonist is not content with physically limiting the space of the colonized, i.e. with the help of his agents of law and order. As if to illustrate the totalitarian nature of colonial exploitation, the colonist turns the colonized into a kind of quintessence of evil. Colonized society is not merely portrayed as a society without values. The colonist is not content with stating that the colonized world has lost its values or worse never possessed any. The “native” is declared impervious to ethics, representing not only the absence of values but also the negation of values. He is, dare we say it, the enemy of values. In other words, absolute evil.”

“For the colonized subject’s last resort is to defend his personality against his fellow countryman. Internecine feuds merely perpetuate age-old grudges entrenched in memory. By throwing himself muscle and soul into his blood feuds, the colonized subject endeavors to convince himself that colonialism has never existed, that everything is as it used to be and history marches on. Here we grasp the full significance of the all too familiar ‘head-in-the-sand’ behavior at a collective level, as if this collective immersion in a fratricidal bloodbath suffices to mask the obstacle and postpone the inevitable alternative, the inevitable emergence of the armed struggle against colonialism. So one of the ways the colonized subject releases his muscular tension is through the very real collective self-destruction of these internecine feuds. Such behavior represents a death wish in the face of danger, a suicidal conduct which reinforces the colonist’s existence and domination and reassures him that such men are not rational.”

“The basic confrontation which seemed to be colonialism versus anticolonialism, indeed capitalism versus socialism, is already losing its importance. What matters today, the issue which blocks the horizon, is the need for a redistribution of wealth. Humanity will have to address this question, no matter how devastating the consequences may be.”

“Experts and sociologists are guiding force behind these colonialist maneuvers and conduct numerous studies on the subject of complexes- the complex of frustration, the complex of aggressiveness, and the complex of colonizability. The colonized subject is upgraded, and attempts are made to disarm him psychologically and, naturally, with a few coins. These paltry measures and clever window dressing manage to achieve some success. The colonized subject is so starved of anything that humanizes him, even if it is third rate, that these trivial handouts in some cases manage to impress him.”

“The colonized must be made to see that colonialism never gives away anything for nothing. Whatever gains the colonized make through armed or political struggle, they are not the result of the colonizer’s good will or goodness of heart but to the fact that he can no longer postpone such concessions. Moreover, the colonized subject must be aware that it is not colonialism which makes the concessions but him.”

“Violence alone, perpetrated by the people, violence organized and guided by the leadership, provides the key for the masses to decipher social reality. Without this struggle, without this praxis there is nothing but a carnival parade and a lot of hot air.”

“When we consider the resources deployed to achieve the cultural alienation so typical of the colonial period, we realize that nothing was left to change and that the final aim of colonization was to convince the indigenous population it would save them from darkness. The result was to hammer into the heads of the indigenous population that if the colonist were to leave they would regress into barbarism, degradation, and bestiality. At the level of the unconscious, therefore, colonialism was not seeking to be perceived by the indigenous population as a sweet, kind-hearted mother who protects her child from a hostile environment, but rather a mother who constantly prevents her basically perverse child from committing suicide or giving free rein to its malevolent instincts. The colonial mother is protecting the child from itself, from its ego, its physiology, its biology, and its ontological misfortune.”

Naomi Klein on: individual action versus collective action.

“When I was 26, I went to Indonesia and the Philippines to do research for my first book, No Logo. I had a simple goal: to meet the workers making the clothes and electronics that my friends and I purchased. And I did. I spent evenings on concrete floors in squalid dorm rooms where teenage girls—sweet and giggly—spent their scarce nonworking hours. Eight or even 10 to a room. They told me stories about not being able to leave their machines to pee. About bosses who hit. About not having enough money to buy dried fish to go with their rice.

They knew they were being badly exploited—that the garments they were making were being sold for more than they would make in a month. One 17-year-old said to me: “We make computers, but we don’t know how to use them.”

So one thing I found slightly jarring was that some of these same workers wore clothing festooned with knockoff trademarks of the very multinationals that were responsible for these conditions: Disney characters or Nike check marks. At one point, I asked a local labor organizer about this. Wasn’t it strange—a contradiction?
It took a very long time for him to understand the question. When he finally did, he looked at me like I was nuts. You see, for him and his colleagues, individual consumption wasn’t considered to be in the realm of politics at all. Power rested not in what you did as one person, but what you did as many people, as one part of a large, organized, and focused movement. For him, this meant organizing workers to go on strike for better conditions, and eventually it meant winning the right to unionize. What you ate for lunch or happened to be wearing was of absolutely no concern whatsoever.

This was striking to me, because it was the mirror opposite of my culture back home in Canada. Where I came from, you expressed your political beliefs—firstly and very often lastly—through personal lifestyle choices. By loudly proclaiming your vegetarianism. By shopping fair trade and local and boycotting big, evil brands.
These very different understandings of social change came up again and again a couple of years later, once my book came out. I would give talks about the need for international protections for the right to unionize. About the need to change our global trading system so it didn’t encourage a race to the bottom. And yet at the end of those talks, the first question from the audience was: “What kind of sneakers are OK to buy?” “What brands are ethical?” “Where do you buy your clothes?” “What can I do, as an individual, to change the world?”

Fifteen years after I published No Logo, I still find myself facing very similar questions. These days, I give talks about how the same economic model that superpowered multinationals to seek out cheap labor in Indonesia and China also supercharged global greenhouse-gas emissions. And, invariably, the hand goes up: “Tell me what I can do as an individual.” Or maybe “as a business owner.”

The hard truth is that the answer to the question “What can I, as an individual, do to stop climate change?” is: nothing. You can’t do anything. In fact, the very idea that we—as atomized individuals, even lots of atomized individuals—could play a significant part in stabilizing the planet’s climate system, or changing the global economy, is objectively nuts. We can only meet this tremendous challenge together. As part of a massive and organized global movement.

The irony is that people with relatively little power tend to understand this far better than those with a great deal more power. The workers I met in Indonesia and the Philippines knew all too well that governments and corporations did not value their voice or even their lives as individuals. And because of this, they were driven to act not only together, but to act on a rather large political canvas. To try to change the policies in factories that employ thousands of workers, or in export zones that employ tens of thousands. Or the labor laws in an entire country of millions. Their sense of individual powerlessness pushed them to be politically ambitious, to demand structural changes.

In contrast, here in wealthy countries, we are told how powerful we are as individuals all the time. As consumers. Even individual activists. And the result is that, despite our power and privilege, we often end up acting on canvases that are unnecessarily small—the canvas of our own lifestyle, or maybe our neighborhood or town. Meanwhile, we abandon the structural changes—the policy and legal work— to others.”

Naomi Klein, Climate Change Is a Crisis We Can Only Solve Together

Quotes from Who Rules the World? by Noam Chomsky

“[A]s [Michael Scheuer] explains, bin Laden largely succeeded. ‘US forces and policies are completing the radicalization of the Islamic world, something Osama bin Laden has been trying to do with substantial but incomplete success since the early 1990s. As a result, I think it is fair to conclude that the United States of America remains bin Laden’s only indispensable ally.'”

“Support for democracy is the province of ideologists and propagandists. In the real world, elite dislike of democracy is the norm. The evidence is overwhelming that democracy is supported only insofar as it contributes to social and economic objectives, a conclusion reluctantly conceded by the more serious scholarship.”

“The protection of slavery was no slight concern to the founders: it was one factor that led to the American Revolution. In the 1772 Somerset case, Lord Mansfield determined that slavery is so ‘odious’ that it could not be tolerated in England, though it continued in British possessions for many years. American slave owners could see the handwriting on the wall if the colonies remained under British rule. And it should be recalled that the slave states, including Virginia, had the greatest power and influence in the colonies. One can easily appreciate Dr. Johnson’s famous quip that ‘we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes.'”

More things that make you go hmmmm… on the similarities between abusers and MRAs

More quotes from Why Does He Do That, by Lundy Bancroft, which reminds me pretty heavily of MRA behavior…

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* He has negative attitudes towards women.

A man may claim early in a relationship that he views you in a light different from that in which he sees women in general, but the distinction won’t last. If you are a woman, why be involved with someone who sees women as inferior, stupid, conniving, or only good for sex? He isn’t going to forget for long that you’re a woman.

Stereotyped beliefs about women’s sex roles also contribute to the risk of abuse. His conviction that women should take care of the home, or that a man’s career is more important than a woman’s, can become a serious problem, because he may punish you when you start refusing to live in his box.
***
In a typical abusive inversion, my clients often attempt to convince me that they are the sexual victims in their relationships. As one man said: “My partner uses sex to control me, that’s how women jerk men around. Women are the ones that really have the power over men because they know they have what we want the most, and they have the power to shut us out. My wife wants me to be her little puppy dog, begging and drooling and wagging my tail, that’s the only way I’ll get sex.” The underlying attitude comes bursting out of his words: He believes his wife is keeping something of his away from him when she doesn’t want intimate contact. He sees sexual rights to a woman as akin to mineral rights to land- and he owns them.
***
Over the years I have had many clients use… sociobiological arguments with me, saying that from a genetics standpoint males have reason to desire sex with as many females as possible, while females succeed best- in evolutionary terms- if they choose their partners carefully. You might call this the “human beings are basically baboons” argument. In reality there are plenty of examples of stable monogamy in nature. But these arguments are ultimately beside the point; there is simply no excuse for double standards or for any other aspect of abuse. (I sometimes ask my clients, when they attempt tom lead me into this theoretical quagmire, “Do you cook your meat before you eat it?” When they answer that of course they do, I say “Isn’t that awfully unnatural? I’ve never seen any other animal doing such a peculiar thing.” Human behavior can only be measured by human standards.”
***
Children sometimes see the abuse for what it is and take whatever steps they can to protect themselves, each other, and their mother, including perhaps disclosing the abuser’s treatment of her (or of them) to outsiders. The abusive man’s typical response to this is to claim that the mother is turning the children against him. Some prominent psychologists have, unfortunately, contributed through their writings to the myth that it is unhealthy for children to distance themselves from an abusive father and that the mother is probably the cause of their desire to do so…

I have noticed that charges of “parental alienation” are sometimes leveled against the most competent mothers, because of their strong and supportive bonds with their children- which the abuser terms enmeshment or overdependence- and because the children have learned to see through the abuser’s facade and therefore choose to try to keep away from him…

Abusive men also assert falsely that there is a rampant problem of women’s false allegations of abuse, that child support obligations are unfairly high, that domestic abuse is irrelevant to custody decisions, and that men are abused in relationships just as much as women.
***

Things that make you go hmmm…: MRA edition

When The Victim [type of abuser] joins an abuser group, his story tends to go like this: “I put up with my partner’s mistreatment of me for years, and I never fought back or even tried to defend myself. But I finally couldn’t take it anymore, and I started to give her back a little taste of what she was doing to me. So now I’ve been labeled abusive. Women are allowed to do those things and nobody cares, but as soon as a man does it h’e s pariah.”

This line of reasoning many times develops into a discussion of how men are the victims of women overall in society, because women run the world. This is a startling distortion, given what gender actually dominates almost all legislatures, police departments, judgeships, businesses, and so on ad nauseam. When I point our this reality to the Victim, he describes a kind of paranoid fantasy in which women are behind the scenes secretly pulling the strings, largely by getting men to feel sorry for them. His capacity for turning things into their opposites in this way is a central cause of his abusiveness.

Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?