We have been taught that an individual is free to make choices about her life, when in fact our choices have always been limited and defined by gender, our race, our class. Free choice and individualism are the basis of many arguments which support oppression. For example, we have been told that women choose marriage and motherhood because they want that life, that they are happiest and most fulfilled as wives and mothers. That view ignores the socialization of women from birth to make this particular “choice.” This myth, exposed by the many women who could not live it (and so were often incarcerated in mental institutions) was finally denounced by feminists. Women have wanted more than “story book” marriages and have been capable of more than menial and low-paid jobs. The concept of “free choice” is often a smoke screen for socially determined behavior. Proponents [..] do not question why an individual would choose [it] nor do they ask from where such fantasies arise. What looks like free choice is often forced upon people by education, the media and other cultural institutions…
Along with fantasy violence, the media gives us fantasy sex. The “sexual revolution” and “personal growth movement” encouraged the idea of sexual gratification without emotional commitment or even involvement between partners — sex for pure physical pleasure. In this fantasy sex there is instant gratification — deep intimacy and high ecstasy are supposedly achieved with little effort. Gratification becomes an end in itself and any means to it are valid. Reduced to orgasm, sex becomes a commodity, one more thing to “get.” However, such encounters, characterised by lack of feeling, growth or intimacy, are not often satisfying on any emotional level. At the same time, real-life relationships pall in comparison to fantasy and frequently suffer as people set themselves impossible goals.
Is Sadomasochism Feminist? A Critique of the Samois Position
Category Archives: Book quotes
“I’ve done work in mathematical linguistics, for example, without any professional credentials in mathematics; in this subject I am completely self-taught, and not very well taught. But I’ve often been invited by universities to speak on mathematical linguistics at mathematics seminars and colloquia. No one has ever asked me whether I have the appropriate credentials to speak on these subjects; the mathematicians couldn’t care less. What they want to know is what I have to say. No one has ever objected to my right to speak, asking whether I have a doctor’s degree in mathematics, or whether I have taken advanced courses in this subject. That would never have entered their minds. They want to know whether I am right or wrong, whether the subject is interesting or not, whether better approaches are possible — the discussion dealt with the subject, not with my right to discuss it.
But on the other hand, in discussion or debate concerning social issues or American foreign policy, Vietnam or the Middle East, for example, the issue is constantly raised, often with considerable venom. I’ve repeatedly been challenged on grounds of credentials, or asked, what special training do you have that entitles you to speak of these matters. The assumption is that people like me, who are outsiders from a professional viewpoint, are not entitled to speak on such things.
Compare mathematics and the political sciences — it’s quite striking. In mathematics, in physics, people are concerned with what you say, not with your certification. But in order to speak about social reality, you must have the proper credentials, particularly if you depart from the accepted framework of thinking. Generally speaking, it seems fair to say that the richer the intellectual substance of a field, the less there is a concern for credentials, and the greater is the concern for content.”
“This is one of the keys to the whole thing. Everyone is led to think that what he knows represents a local exception. But the overall pattern remains hidden. Information is often given in the local papers, but its general significance, the patterns at the national level, remain obscured. That was the case during the entire Watergate period, although the information appeared just at that time, in its essentials, and with extensive documentation. And ever since then the discussion has rarely been analytic or anywhere near comprehensive, and has not accounted for what happened in a satisfactory manner. What you face here is a very effective kind of ideological control, because one can remain under the impression that censorship does not exist, and in a narrow technical sense that is correct. You will not be imprisoned if you discover the facts, not even if you proclaim them whenever you can. But the results remain very much the same as if there were real censorship.”
“To my knowledge, in the American mass media you cannot find a single socialist journalist, not a single syndicated political commentator who is a socialist. From the ideological point of view the mass media are almost one hundred percent “state capitalist.” In a sense, we have over here the “mirror image” of the Soviet Union, where all the people who write in Pravda represent the position which they call “socialism” — in fact, a certain variety of highly authoritarian state socialism. Here in the United States there is an astonishing degree of ideological uniformity for such a complex country. Not a single socialist voice in the mass media, not even a timid one; perhaps there are some marginal exceptions, but I cannot think of any, offhand. Basically, there are two reasons for this. First, there is the remarkable ideological homogeneity of the American intelligentsia in general, who rarely depart from one of the variants of state capitalistic ideology (liberal or conservative), a fact which itself calls for explanation. The second reason is that the mass media are capitalist institutions. It is no doubt the same on the board of directors of General Motors. If no socialist is to be found on it — what would he be doing there? — it’s not because they haven’t been able to find anyone who is qualified. In a capitalist society the mass media are capitalist institutions. The fact that these institutions reflect the ideology of dominant economic interests is hardly surprising.”
“Any serious social science or theory of social change must be founded on some concept of human nature. A theorist of classical liberalism such as Adam Smith begins by affirming that human nature is defined by a propensity to truck and barter, to exchange goods: that assumption accords very well with the social order that he defends. If you accept the premise (which is hardly credible), it turns out that human nature conforms to an idealized early capitalist society, without monopoly, without state intervention, and without control of production.
If on the contrary, you believe with Marx or the French and German Romantics that only social cooperation permits the full development of human powers, you will then have a very different picture of a desirable society. There is always some conception of human nature, implicit or explicit, underlying a doctrine of social order or social change.”
“As soon as one endeavors to detach power with its techniques and procedures from the form of law within which it has been theoretically confined up until now, one is driven to ask this basic question: isn’t power simply a form of warlike domination? Shouldn’t one therefore conceive all problems of power in terms of relations of war? Isn’t power a sort of generalized war which assumes at particular moments the forms of peace and the State? Peace would then be a form of war, and the State a means of waging it.”
“Power is not a substance. Neither is it a mysterious property whose origin must be delved into. Power is only a certain type of relation between individuals. Such relations are specific, that is, they have nothing to do with exchange, production, communication, even though they combine with them. The characteristic feature of power is that some men can more or less entirely determine other men’s conduct – but never exhaustively or coercively. A man who is chained up and beaten is subject to force being exerted over him. Not power. But if he can be induced to speak, when his ultimate recourse could have been to hold his tongue, preferring death, then he has been caused to behave in a certain way. His freedom has been subjected to power. He has been submitted to government. If an individual can remain free, however little his freedom may be, power can subject him to government. There is no power without potential refusal or revolt…
[T]hose who resist or rebel against a form of power cannot merely be content to denounce violence or criticize an institution. Nor is it enough to cast the blame on reason in general. What has to be questioned is the form of rationality at stake. The criticism of power wielded over the mentally sick or mad cannot be restricted to psychiatric institutions; nor can those questioning the power to punish be content with denouncing prisons as total institutions. The question is: How are such relations of power rationalized? Asking it is the only way to avoid other institutions with the same objectives and the same effects, from taking their stead.”
[On the first historical appearance of racism:]
When the status of large numbers of people were depressed purely and simply because of their derivation from a denigrated ethnos, a line had been crossed that gave “race” a new and more comprehensive significance. According to Leon Poliakov, the French historian of antisemitism, the Spanish attitude towards the [converted Jews] that developed in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries implied that “Jews were evil by nature and not only because of their beliefs.” Thus, he contends, “sectarian hatred” became “racial hatred.”
The modern concept of races as basic human types classified by physical characteristics (primarily skin color) was not invented until the eighteenth century. The term for “race” in Western European languages did have relevant antecedent meanings associated with animal husbandry and aristocratic lineages…
The notion that there was a single pan-European or “white” race was slow to develop and did not crystallize until the eighteenth century. Direct encounters with Africans had of course made Europeans aware of their own light pigmentation, but in other contexts whiteness, as opposed to national and religious affiliations, was not a conscious identity or seen as a source of specific inherited traits. At a time when social inequality based on birth was the general rule among Europeans themselves, color-coded racism had little scope for autonomous development.
George M. Frederickson, Racism: A Short History
Whatever is said to be typical of women’s speech is also said to make women less well suited than men to occupy positions of power and authority. In traditional societies which value indirect, consensus-seeking speech-styles, those styles are associated with men: women are considered too direct to make good leaders. In the West, where public and leadership roles have been seen to demand direct and assertive ways of speaking, it has also been men who were thought to possess the necessary verbal skills, while women were considered insufficiently direct.
What is happening to [boys and girls between the fifth and sixth grade] is that they are beginning to participate in an emerging ‘heterosexual market.’ Although they are still pre-adolescent, and in most cases not yet interested in sex as such, their interest in the trappings of adult heterosexuality is driven by what Eckert points out is an overriding social imperative among children: the need to demonstrate maturity by moving away from the ‘babyish’ behavior of the past…
Thought both sexes are engaged in this project, it changes the girls’ lives more profoundly. Boys cultivate a more adult masculinity through the same activities that were important to them before- for instance, sporting activities that show off their physical strength and athletic skill. For girls, on the other hand, cultivating a more adult femininity means replacing the activities and accomplishments of childhood with a different set of preoccupations. In particular, they abandon physical play: instead of using their bodies to do things, they start to focus on grooming and adorning them. They watch boys’ games from the sidelines, or as Tannen notes, ‘simply sit together and talk.’
If handedness generates fewer soundbites than sex, that is probably because findings about it cannot be slotted into any larger narrative about the difference between right-handed and left-handed people. We don’t conceive of them as different species from different planets; we don’t see them as locked in an eternal ‘battle of the hands.’ Except perhaps in the domain of sport, we rarely think about them at all. Handedness, in short, is not significant for the organization of human social affairs: it does not determine a person’s identity, role, or status in society. An account of how left-handers differ from right-handers would therefore lack one of the crucial ingredients which draw us to accounts of how women differ from men: it would not serve the purpose of justifying institutionalized social inequality by explaining it as the inevitable consequence of natural differences.
In The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker argues that… we can talk about biological sex-differences without compromising our commitment to gender equality. ‘The case against biology,’ he says, ‘is not a factual claim that humans are biologically indistinguishable: it is a moral stance which condemns judging individuals according to the average traits of certain groups.’
This is all well and good, but perhaps a little disingenuous. What Pinker is overlooking is the point I made before, that not all biological differences matter to us in the same way. People don’t usually come to the subject of sex-differences as ‘blank slates.’ They come with an agenda: they are looking to biology to justify certain views about society- how it is and how it should be… [M]ost people are susceptible to the argument that if a difference between men and women has a biological basis, it is inevitable (‘you can’t argue with nature’), desirable (‘what’s natural is good’), and the world should be organized around it.
Deborah Cameron, The Myth of Mars and Venus
Full text is available here.
One of the cardinal differences between liberals- those who insist that Everything Will Be Okay- and the truly radical is in their conception of the basic unit of society. This split is a continental divide. Liberals believe that a society is made up of individuals. Individualism is so sacrosanct that, in this view, being identified as a member of a group or class is an insult. But for radicals, society is made up of classes (economic ones in Marx’ original version) or any groups or castes. In the radical’s understanding, being a member of a group is not an affront. Far from it; identifying with a group is the first step toward political consciousness and ultimately effective political action.
Classical liberalism from Locke forward has a contradiction at its center. It believes in human sovereignty as a natural or inalienable right, but only against the power of a monarchy or other civil tyranny. By loosening the ethical constraints that had existed on the wealthy, classical liberalism turned the powerless over to the economically powerful, simply swapping the monarchs for the merchant-barons… [T]he pursuit of wealth for its own sake had been considered a sin and such pursuit had been constrained by a whole series of social institutions. But Smith argued that the “Invisible Hand” of the market would provide what society needed; any government interference would be detrimental.
With power removed from the equation, victimization looks voluntary, which erases the fact that it is… social subordination. What liberals don’t understand is that 90 percent of oppression is consensual. As Florynce Kennedy wrote, ‘There can be no really pervasive system of oppression… without the consent of the oppressed.’ This does not mean that it is our fault, that the system will crumble if we withdraw consent, or that the oppressed are responsible for their oppression. All it means is that the powerful- capitalists, white supremacists, colonialists, masculinists- can’t stand over vast numbers of people twenty-four hours a day with guns. Luckily for them, and depressingly for the rest of us, they don’t have to.
Judith Herman asks, ‘What happens if you are raised in captivity? What happens if you’re long-term held in captivity, as in a political prisoner, as in a survivor of domestic violence?’ You come to believe that all relationships are based on power, that might makes right, that there is no such thing as fully mutual relationships. That, of course, describes this culture’s entire epistemology and this culture’s entire war of relating. Indigenous people have said that the fundamental difference between Western and indigenous ways of being is that even the most open-minded Westerners view listening to the natural world as a metaphor as opposed to the way the world really works. So the world consists of resources to be exploited, as opposed to other beings to enter in relationship with.
The triumph of the pornographers is a victory of power over justice, cruelty over empathy, and profits over human rights. I could make that statement about Walmart or McDonalds and progressives would eagerly agree. We all understand that Walmart destroys local economies, a relentless impoverishing of communities across the US that is now almost complete. It also depends on near-slave conditions for workers in China to produce the mountains of cheap crap that Walmart sells. And ultimately the endless growth model of capitalism is destroying the world. Nobody on the left claims that the cheap crap that Walmart produces equals freedom. Nobody defends Walmart by saying that the workers, American or Chinese, want to work there. Leftists understand that people do what they have to for survival, that any job is better than no job, and that minimum wage and no benefits are cause for a revolution, not a defense of those very conditions. Likewise McDonalds. No one defends what McDonalds does to animals, to the earth, to workers, to human health and human community by pointing out that the people standing over the boiling grease consented to sweat all day or that hog farmers voluntarily signed contracts that barely return a living. The issue does not turn on consent, but on the social impacts of injustice and hierarchy, on how corporations are essentially weapons of mass destruction. Focusing on the moment of individual choice will get us nowhere…
Gail Dines writes, “When I critique McDonalds, no one calls me anti-food.” People understand that what is being critiqued is a set of unjust social relations — with economic, political, and ideological components — that create more of the same. McDonalds does not produce generic food. It manufactures an industrial capitalist product for profit. The pornographers are no different. The pornographers have built a $100 billion a year industry, selling not just sex as a commodity, which would be horrible enough for our collective humanity, but sexual cruelty.
Many people have longings for a spiritual practice and a spiritual community. There aren’t any obvious, honorable answers for Euro-Americans. The majority of radicals are repulsed by the authoritarian, militaristic misogyny of the Abrahmic religions. The leftist edges of those religions are where the radicals often congregate, and that’s one option; you don’t have to check your brain at the door, and you usually get a functioning community. But for many of us, the framework is still too alienating, and feels frankly unreformable. These religions have had centuries to prove what kind of culture they can create, and the results don’t inspire confidence.
‘We can’t stop them.’
This is the Om of the alternative wing. There can be understandable personal reasons for believing in the invincibility of an oppressive system. And there are certainly reasons that those in power want us to see them as invincible. Abusive systems, from the most simple to the most sophisticated, from the familial to the social and political, work best when the victims and bystanders police themselves. And one of the best ways to get victims and bystanders to police themselves is for those victims and bystanders to internalize the notion that the abusers are invincible. Even better is to get the victims and bystanders to proselytize about the abusers’ “invincibility” to anyone who threatens to break up the stable abuser-victim-bystander triad.
On the positive side, most of the Tilters are at least willing to engage with the issue and to tell some difficult truths. Population is not an easy topic for people who care about human rights. Historically, some very nasty elements have used population as an excuse for “population control” policies constructed around a simmering racist metanarrative: the problem is really that brown people are too stupid and/or too sexual to control themselves. Those of us who come to the population discussion from the perspective of resource depletion, human rights, or feminism have to distinguish ourselves from the racist history entwined in the issue. When we say “overpopulation” we need to define what we mean and why it matters.
What I personally mean is that the earth is a bound sphere. The planet is finite. There are absolute limits to the numbers of individuals that any species can attain. That is what carrying capacity means: how many members of a species the environment can support indefinitely. Too many members and that species is drawing down resources, degrading the landbase for itself and for other species, and will most likely end in extinction. That is physical reality.
The authors of this book are repeatedly asked, ” How do you want people to live?” The question is often thrown like a challenge. The assumption is that civilization is the only way and once pinned to the wall we will be forced to admit that. But while progressives and environmentalists propose solutions that are really just grasping at industrial straws, there are people living sustainably in Sweden, and doing it so intimately they can describe one reindeer out of a thousand. The civilized and the industrialized are still trying to destroy them — the people, reindeer, and rivers — to rum a lace work of interdependence into production units and consumer goods. Still, the Sami persist. If the civilized could learn by example, surely of all people the Swedes would. But it is not the lack of examples of sustainable, egalitarian, and peaceful cultures that is the problem and it never has been. The problem is power, and the bottomless well of psychopathology that is eating the planet alive.
[T]he foundation of this culture is force. And the primary reason we don’t resist is because we are afraid of that force. We know if we act decisively to protect the places and creatures we love or if we act decisively to stop corporate exploitation of the poor, that those in power will come down on us with the full power of the state. We can talk all we want about how we supposedly live in a democracy. And we can talk all we want about the consent of the governed. But what it really comes down to is if you effectively oppose the will of those in power, they will try to kill you. We need to make that explicit so we can face the situation that we’re in. And the situation we’re in is that those in power are killing the planet and they are exploiting the poor, they are murdering the poor, and we are not stopping them because we are afraid.
There will never be another oil age. There will never be another natural gas age. There will never be another Iron Age or Bronze Age. Further, there will never be — or not for a very, very long time — an age of tall ships, for example, because the forests are gone. This culture has destroyed so much that there will not be the foundation upon which a similar civilization could be built. Topsoil is gone. No, there will never be another rise of a civilization like this. There might be — presuming humans survive — some small-scale civilizations, but there will never be another one like this.
DeCaro notes that [John] Brown’s reputation in history has been consistently attacked and “the ‘facts’ of his case have been mediated from slave masters, pro-slavery people, and pacifists.” (Those in the latter category will hopefully find it relevant, if embarrassing, that they are lumped in with such dreadful company.) But not everyone has been so easily convinced that Brown was wrongheaded. Malcolm X, not surprisingly, had great respect for John Brown and little patience for white liberals who criticized his methods. “John Brown… was a white man who went to war against white people to help free slaves. And any white man who is ready and willing to shed blood for your freedom — in the sight of other whites, he’s nuts.” In other words, those who hate Brown do so in large part because he was a “race traitor.”
[T]he only reason large-scale agriculture even functions is because of cheap oil; without that, large-scale agriculture goes back to depending on slavery and serfdom, as in most of the history of civilization. In the year 1800, at the dawn of the industrial revolution, close to 80 percent of the human population of this planet was in some form of serfdom or slavery. And that was with a fraction of the current human population of seven billion. That was with oceans still relatively full of fish, global forests still relatively intact, with prairie and agricultural lands in far better condition than they are now, with water tables practically brimming by modern standards. What do you think is going to happen to social justice concessions when cheap oil — and hence, almost everything else — runs out? Without a broad-based and militant resistance movement that can focus on these urgent threats, the year 1800 is going to look downright cheerful.
Race Traitor was a magazine on race issues which unfortunately seems to have ended publication in 2005. The book Race Traitor is a compilation of some of their best articles, including pieces on race theory, personal experiences, and world events.
I would suggest that multi-cultural education is a project of defeat. Those who are in the forefront of efforts to multi-culturalize the curriculum are, often enough, intellectual and personal products of the upsurge of the 196t0s. But they have abandoned hope in the utopian desire of the 1960s and have substituted, for that desire, the social/political/educational equivalent of managed care…
The multi-culturalist vision has a limited social goal- people should learn to live and let live. But what the proponents of the multi-culturalist creed often overlook is that in America living and letting live is premised on a continued complicity with the reproduction of race distinctions.
The struggle for wilderness is inseparable from the struggle for a free society, which is inseparable from the struggle against racism, whiteness, and imperialism, which is inseparable from the struggle for the liberation of women, which is inseparable from the struggle for sexual freedom, which is inseparable from the struggle to emancipate labor and abolish work, which is inseparable from the struggle against war, which is inseparable from the struggle to live poetic lives and, more generally, to do as we please.
The distrust of whites is only natural: anti-white sentiment is not so much prejudice or ‘reverse racism’ as it is a justified historical distrust of whites. Even when whites abandon white privilege it is always temporary or, as in the case of [Steven] Cole, fatal. Throughout almost every moment in history, we whites always eventually grab our white privilege back. As the Black guy on the bus told me a few weeks earlier, ‘I bet you’re just like all white people, nice to me now, but you’ll soon turn around and stab me in the back.’ The problem, of course, is not attitudes like that, because whites have given people of color in America no reason to feel any differently. The problem is whiteness and white privilege, and the task is to destroy it.
Defenders of white blues are often proponents of “color-blindness” as the ultimate weapon of anti-racism, but many of these color-blind whites are really resisting the importance of consciousness of race and race matters, with all the nagging reminders of racism contained therein. They believe that by refusing to use race as a criterion for anything, they are being the ultimate non-racists, but they are actually blinding themselves to the complexity of racial issues.
Race Traitor believes that the main target of those who seek to eradicate the color line should be the institutions and behaviors that maintain it: the schools, the criminal justice and welfare systems, the employers and unions, and the family. In this we stand with the original Abolitionists, who never tired of pointing out that the problem was not the slaveholders of Carolina, but the loyal citizens of Massachusetts.
Race Traitor, edited by Noel Ignatiev and John Garvey
“Though confusion and fear may well be consequences of prior conformity, individuals generally react to these feelings by conforming still further. In part, this is because, already feeling vulnerable, people cannot bear the thought of being the object of collective scrutiny, and thus, perhaps the object of collective hurt. But it is also because, uncertain as to why they are unhappy to begin with, confused as to the causes of their dissatisfaction, individuals are likely to turn to other people in order to see what they want, on the assumption that what other people want must be what would make those individuals themselves happy as well. This is not, most often, a conscious process of inference, but a more immediate, imitative response. It is, in a sense, a response to a type of mild panic.”
“[M]ost people grow to maturity with fundamental beliefs about the physical world that are roughly Aristotelian. In studying physics, people may come to internalize Newtonian or Einsteinian beliefs. They may be able to act on these beliefs, reason via these beliefs, and the like, when they are taking a physics exam or are doing research in physics. But even those who go on to do advanced work in physics rarely substitute the Newtonian or Einsteinian beliefs for the Aristotelian ones. The Aristotelian ones remain fundamental, guiding thought and action in most of life, while the Newtonian or Einsteinian views are “triggered” only by such contexts as that of research or test taking. As Holland et al. explain, ‘Strong rules learned in childhood will not be forgotten or replaced by subsequent learning. Instead, such rules will remain in the system, to be called up when later circumstances resemble those under which the rules were first learned,’ which is to say, in this case, the circumstances of ordinary life- in contrast to the far more limited context of the classroom or laboratory. Moreover, at any time, the presuppositions of the former may spill over into the latter, leading, for instance, to errors in exams, or even in the design and interpretation of research. In sum, ‘people reliably distort the new rules in the direction of the old ones, or ignore them altogether except in highly specific domains.’
Clearly, the discrepancy between fundamental and contextual beliefs is highly consequential outside of academic science. It is no doubt that one cause of such phenomena as the U.S. populace’s contradictory tendency to assert that politicians are all corrupt and dishonest, and at the same time, to accept unquestioningly much of what politicians actually say. It can be seen in the conformist behavior of rebels, the racist actions (and even remarks) of “antiracists,” and so forth. Along with self-interest, it is no doubt one of the reasons for the common tendency for revolutionaries to slip into conformity. In each case, there seems to be a strong, consensual, fundamental belief operating in contradiction with a more recently acquired, nonconsensual belief, with the former asserting itself outside of special contexts or at times when one’s self-conscious vigilance flags.”
“In a famous phrase, Marx referred to [religion] as ‘the opium of the people.’ The analogy indicates that religion is a form of distracting pleasure that numbs people to their own oppression. But, perhaps even more important, religion operates to co-opt the vision of eudaimonia, and it does so in the service of the present system. Much as a commercial society fashions people’s material demands from the impulses of their legitimate needs, religion (or at least officially dominant religion) forms nonmaterial desires out of people’s legitimate aspirations toward eudaimonia. Whether it urges people to seek heaven or nirvana, it turns their sights away from establishing a real eudaimonic society here and now; it encourages them to aim for an ideal life beyond this world or in detachment from it. Indeed, it often does this by fostering social consent to specific and overt ways. To take only one of many possible examples, the role of Christianity in the colonial domination of Africa was, as Walter Rodney has noted, ‘primarily to preserve the social relations of colonialism, as an extension of the role it played in preserving the social relations of capitalism in Europe.’ In order to achieve this end, ‘the Christian church stressed humility, docility, and acceptance,’ and ‘preach[ed] turning the other cheek in the face of exploitation’ so that ‘everything would be right in the next world.'”
“Specifically, the content of the ideological assertions concerning hierarchized group difference is fairly constant and contributes directly to dehumanization. Members of the dominant group (men, whites, Europeans, straights) are characterized as rational, methodical, and restrained, while members of the dominated group (women, blacks, Arabs, gays) are depicted as irrational, emotional, and hysterical. One way of discouraging identification is by presentnig the thought processes of the opposed or oppressed group as inscrutable, most often due to inconsistency or even insanity. If another person’s thought processes are incomprehensible , if he or she is unpredictable in thought or feeling or action, one simply cannot invoke any representational schema in his or her regard. Even the bare schema of human subjectivity assumes a commonality of reaction to pain, disappointment, or insult; it assumes a similarity in aspiration, desire, and moral principle. Even the bare schema of human subjectivity involves structure and predictability. To make the Other incomprehensibly different is, in effect, to make him or her inhuman, by making his or her feelings and ideas merely random. The situation is only made worse when that other person is viewed as duplicitous as well- a further racist and sexist commonplace. To take one example from the Gulf War, in U.S. News and World Report, Judith Kipper maintained that, ‘We go in a straight line; [Arabs] zig-zag.’ More exactly, ‘They can say one thing in the morning, another thing at night and really mean a third thing.’ The similar sexist clichés about female illogic are too well known to require repetition.”
“Movies and television shows, news programs, and magazine articles, morever, all tacitly invoke these imagoes by, for example, contrasting the heartless businesswoman with the affectionate wife and mother- a recurrent structure in recent television and cinema, as Susan Faludi has stressed. In doing this, they not only foster consciously conformist beliefs and attitudes (say, those that condemn highly independent women) but also link these with powerful unconscious imagoes: the devouring mother and the nurturant mother, in this case.”
“A perhaps more obvious function of transference in the Gulf War was the negative transference onto Iraqis, and Saddam Hussein in particular. Hussein was not only dehumanized; he was repeatedly characterized in terms that encouraged an identification of him with the negative paternal imago of a violent brute and lascivious rapist- an imago already central to both antiblack and anti-Arab racism. In fact, he was implicitly characterized as a rapist of children, a particularly effective cue for the threatening oedipal imago. Some striking instances of this may be found in Bush’s speech announcing the beginning of the war. (I am grateful to Marianne Sadowski for pointing this out.) Bush begins by characterizing Kuwait as a child, “small” and “helpless,” that has been “crushed” and “brutalized.” He goes on to contrast the “family of nations”- the phrase serves to trigger positive infantile associations- with Hussein’s treatment of “tiny” (again, childlike) Kuwait, which “Saddam Hussein systematically raped.” Bush further specifies Hussein’s crimes as “unspeakable atrocities” against “innocent children”- an especially effective image, in context, if also one that is particularly obscene in its hypocrisy (recall the hundreds of thousands of innocent children killed because of the war and subsequent embargo).”
“[P]anic tends to foster racism, authoritarianism, and more generally, consent and conformism- a point that is deeply consequential for U.S. society today. As Susan Douglas has maintained, the news media are largely driven by the dictum, “If it bleeds, it leads,” and are filled with sensationalistic stories of crime and disaster. This “body-bag journalism bludgeons the viewer into a state of cynicism, resignation, and fear.” These “sentiments… serve a conservative agenda,” at least in part, because they lead people to shift from positive to negative attitudes in their beliefs or prototypes. This is most obvious in the case of race, but it applies to a wide range of social phenomena. Everything from places to institutions to people are conceived of via topics inflected by attitudes. As attitudes in general become bleaker, people are more likely to shift to negative specifications of topics across the board. Douglas argues that “the more TV you watch, the more inclined you are to exaggerate the level of crime in society, and to exaggerate your own vulnerability to crime.” In consequence, “people who watch a lot of TV are much more likely to favor punitive approach to crime- such as building more prisons and extending the death penalty- than are light viewers.” Presumably, part of what is going on here is that panic leads people to specify crime-related topics in the most negative and dehumanizing way. This, in turn, leads to the advocacy of the harshest and most authoritarian responses. (For a summary of research linking authoritarian convictions to fear of a hostile world, see Duckitt 1992). “
Two items here. First, a quote from Benatar discussing why we can’t “cancel” out good and bad to give a hedonistic evaluation of a human life. Then, a link that further disproves the point.
“How well or badly a life goes depends not simply on how much good or bad there is, but also on other considerations- most prominently considerations about how that good and bad is distributed.
One such consideration is the order of the good and bad. For instance, a life in which all the good occured in the first half, and uninterrupted bad characterized the second half, would be a lot worse than one in which the good and bad were more evenly distributed. This is true even if the total amount of good and bad were the same in each life. Similarly, a life of steadily inclining achievement and satisfaction is preferable to one that starts out bright in the very earliest years but gets progressively worse. The amount of good and bad in each of these alternative lives may be the same, but the trajectory can make one life better than the other.
Another distributional consideration is the intensity of the good and the bad. A life in which the pleasures were extraordinarily intense but correspondingly few, infrequent, and short-lived might be worse than a life with the same total amount of pleasure but where the individual pleasures were less intense and more frequently distributed across the life. However, pleasures and other goods can also be distributed too widely within a life, thereby making them so mild as to be barely distinguishable from neutral states. A life so characterized might be worse than one in which there were a few more noticeable ‘highs.’
A third way in which the distribution of good and bad within a life can affect that life’s quality derives from the length of life. To be sure, the length of life will interact dynamically with the quantity of good and bad. A long life with very little good would have to be characterized by significant quantities of bad, if only because the absence of sufficient good over such long periods would create tedium- a bad. Nevertheless, we can imagine lives of somewhat unequal length that share the same quantity of good and of bad. One life might have more neutral features, sufficiently evenly distributed over the life not to affect the quantity of good or bad. In such cases, one might plausibly judge the longer life to be better (if the life is of sufficient quality to be worth continuing) or worse (if it is not).
There is a further (non-distributional) consideration that can affect an assessment of a life’s quality. Arguably, once a life reaches a certain threshold of badness (considering both the amount and the distribution of its badness), no quantity of good can outweigh it, because no amount of good could be worth that badness. It is just this assessment that Donald (‘Dax’) Cowart made of his own life- or at least of that part of his life following a gas explosion that burnt two-thirds of his body. He refused extremely painful, life-saving treatment, but the doctors ignored his wishes and treated him nonetheless. His life was saved, he achieved considerable success, and he reattained a satisfactory quality of life. Yet, he continued to maintain that these post-burn goods were not worth the costs of enduring the treatments to which he was subjected. No matter how much good followed his recovery, this could not outweigh, at least in his own assessment [the only assessment that matters], the bad of the burns and treatment that he experienced.”
Better Never to Have Been, chapter 3
Now look at this entry from Suicide Treatise. The basic argument is, if we accept this “canceling out” process and that this somehow validates the harms of procreation, then why not do this for any other crime? Why don’t natalists take it to its logical extent and permit assault, theft or rape if an equivalent good is given to the victim? And if not, why is it okay for the harms of procreation but not any other creation of harm?
I do not believe this book is available in any other language but French, and it is now out of print. Its subtitle is “anti-natalist manifesto.” It was released in 2006, therefore predating Better Never to Have Been, so what we have here seems to be the actual, very first, ur-text on antinatalism, unless I am gravely mistaken! This is quite a find, especially since I appear to have found the very last copy available on the Internet (although some more may turn up later). I contacted de Giraud and he told me an English translation was in the works for 2015.
The quotes below will differ from the English version, since I translated these quotes. All errors of translation are mine.
Chapter 1 presents “the three sufferings”: the suffering of birth, the suffering of living, and the suffering of death, laying down the case for considering all three to be quite negative (his analysis of childbirth is especially poignant). In the second suffering, he presents a case for Asymmetry very similar to that of Benatar (including the fact that the non-existent cannot suffer or be deprived), with “the ten laws of existence” (caps in original):
1. We are born weaved by Needs which, unsatisfied, engender Pain.
2. To satisfy our Needs, there is constant necessity of Effort and Fight.
3. Unhappiness abounds, Happiness absconds.
4. Pain is felt more intensely than Pleasure.
5. The temporality of Happiness is more brief than the temporality of Unhappiness.
6. Pleasure only lasts while the stimulus lasts; Pain lasts much longer than the stimulus that caused it.
7. Health does not in itself procure any positive sensation; Sickness engenders very perceptible unease.
8. The essence of desire is Dissatisfaction and its realization causes Disappointment.
9. Prolonged happiness causes two new sufferings: Boredom and the Anxiety of losing this hardly acquired benefit.
10. Anxiety is the skeleton of all destinies.
CONCLUSION: Suffering is cosubstantial with Existence, and being Anxious of suffering the very texture of our Humanity!
“Answer without flinching: if there existed a solution that could abolish the totality of all evils inflicted on disastrous humanity, if it was possible, by some simple remedy, incredibly cheap, immediately accessible, scrupulously inoffensive, of absolute and definitive efficiency, to stop all distress, all cries, all cries of pain, all pathologies, all protests of ill-being, all despair, all cataclysms, all anxiety, all unhappiness, in short all tortures afflicting the human species, would you have the macabre stupidity to reject such a remedy, to disdain such a miracle cure? No, that goes without saying.
Well this solution does exist, and the mysterious is thereby delivered to us: it consists simply, in its saintly simplicity, to not procreate…”
“To see a recent birth, his body creased, cyanotic, asphyxiated, as the medical literature admits, to contemplate his face labored with cries, his eyes lashed with anxiety, his cheeks raked by tears, who would doubt that he just went through the equivalent of a beatdown by a horde of cavemen? What sadism for parents to inflict, in full knowledge of the cause, such mistreatment, such hardships, on their “dearest”?”
Chapter 2 goes through the laundry list of arguments in favor of procreation. The following are addressed:
a. Love (having children as an expression of love)
b. Adventure (having children is a wonderful adventure)- where he also addresses the “why don’t you kill yourself” objection as well
c. Mankind (perpetuating the species)
d. Leaving something behind (self-perpetuation)
e. Religious obligation to have children
f. Economic reasons
g. Child as religious soldier
h. Natural reasons
i. Envy of other parents
De Giraud draws not only from good sense and logic, but also from a wide variety of literary sources, and nowhere is this more obvious than here. He does not hesitate to draw from a very wide variety of sources, religious and secular, from all eras of history. His intent is to demonstrate that antinatalist sentiments have been widespread throughout history. This is one of the big strengths of the book so far.
Another strength of the book is how exhaustive and persuasive it is. De Giraud hits all the points and leaves nothing behind: it’s obvious that he’s not just well read but also has a profound understanding of the subject.
One thing I dislike about the book is how florid the language is. I think he is doing so to make his argument more persuasive. In this he only partially succeeds, and the failures distract from his flow of reasoning.
“Another argument comes back time and time again from the irresponsibles who breed. They want to “leave something behind.” A curious impulse.
Let us first argue from an ethnological standpoint that this seems to correspond exactly to the attitude of many mammals to mark their territory. The dog urinating on a street lamp leaves something behind: this trace, however, unlike the baby’s, benefits from the privilege of not having to bear the tiresome constraints of existence…”
“The political discourse vaunts procreation for economic aims: we must make more children to guarantee pensions for the next decades, to rejuvenate the aging workforce, to prevent a dangerous reversal of the age distribution, or to sustain industrial growth, etc.
So many emetics that are knocked about regularly in the mass media.
This is then the theme of the child as wealth-giver: it goes without saying that this argument for procreation as prosperity contradicts the minimum requirements of Ethics, since it is founded on the objectification of the Other, that is to say the principle of slavery… We demand the birth of an individual to help solve our economic problems: how sordid! It is to be regretted that so few politicians are publicly slapped.”
“We procreate sometimes because of a need, sometimes for pleasure. The former is nothing more than slavery, the latter sadism, but whatever the reason, we only procreate from absolute selfishness! The child is never conceived as an end but always as a means, which is purely machiavellian!”
Chapter 3 addressed, not the rationalizations or the dogmas, but the real psychological reasons why people procreate. They are:
a. Our natural programming
b. Sadism- knowing the child will suffer and getting joy from it
c. Narcissism- having children to satisfy their desires, transmit their genes
e. Infantilism- having children means to go back to an infantile state
f. Cultural conditioning
g. Jealousy- desire for the status granted by procreation
h. Pride- of having children
i. Exhibitionism- showing off one’s children
j. Despotism- the inherent fascism of the family structure
k. Servitude- of the child to the parents
l. Pedophilia- sexual abuse of children
m. Other perversions
Since the arguments pertain after all to human psychology, it would be easy for de Giraud to go off the rails into psychoanalysis or some other flummery, but he does not do so. I thought his arguments were particularly persuasive here. Again he draws both from facts and logic, and from a deep understanding of human psychology.
“If it was otherwise, if procreation was not the result of the most scandalous narcissism, if our odious parents were really moved by some generosity, prospective adoption candidates would be incredibly more numerous than the millions of children who wait, right now, to be adopted! But talk about adoption and you’ll see a big frown of “yes-but-not-for-me” form on their face, greedy to possess a prey coming entirely from their bodies. Orphans? Someone else’s baby? Come on, get scientists to help vanquish my infertility instead!”
“Observe how, intoxicated with presumptions, the future torturer- pregnant woman, I mean- shows herself off from all angles in the certainty that her baby bump makes her the belle of the ball…
The pride of the father, who can’t himself harbor such a creation and jealous of such a gestational privilege, is essentially testicular, the baby playing the role of witness to the orderly functioning of his sperm and showing to all and sundry that he had the good fortune to insert his miserable penis between the legs of a consenting female at least once in his life…”
“The more a male suffers from frustrations (think of all those paltry procreators, all the professional or affective failures, the innumerable mediocrities who can’t even hide it), the more he will rejoice at the birth of a child that his weakness designates as an ideal scapegoat. All breeders internally rejoice at being able to exert near-unlimited authority over the terrified creature he calls his child…
This is how, in final analysis, the family is revealed as the archetype of all fascist regimes. Note that these regimes never cease lauding prolific families and singing the supposed “virtues” of patriarchy! A song and dance repeated by the mafia, great supporter of traditional family values…”
“After careful review, we conclude that no child exists for its own ends, we are all merely parental appendages. There is no legitimate child: we are born only to become, in the fullest sense, our parents’ scapegoat. According to the law of human selfishness, if we did not expect the child to heal our wounds, we would prefer not to burden ourselves with it!”
Chapter 4 asks the question: given all that’s already been said, why do we love our parents? The answers are not too surprising: children “love” their parents out of self-interest, imprinting, conditioning, and the idealization of these parents who, to the young child, seem like the gods of their universe.
Chapter 5 is even shorter and dedicated to one specific argument, which seeks to demonstrate the incompatibility of ethics and procreation. The argument is the following:
“Making others suffer is incompatible with Ethics.
To live is to suffer.
Therefore to give life is incompatible with Ethics.
This comes at the end of an explanation as to why being against making others suffer against their will is the foundation of all that people have fought for throughout the ages, and the summation of ethical philosophy. Although I think that here, as elsewhere, he can sometimes overstate his case, I don’t need to be convinced.
Chapter 6 is concerned with the right of children to sue their parents for negligence or otherwise not providing for them adequately. He points out the numerous inequities that may befall children and why it makes perfect sense ethically to allow children to have such a right.
“It’s not just suicide that casts blame upon the parents’ lost bet: there is anorexia, delinquency, runaways, vandalism, drug use, violence, and all other forms of revolt… So many symbolic methods used by the forcibly-created to hurl their NO at the existence they were burdened with!
For those that public hypocrisy tars with the labels “sick,” “immature,” “dysfunctional,” those who are called “crazy,” all those victims of being born only adopt such rebellious behaviors because they see their existence not as a blessing but as a harm!”
“The first articles of any Charter that aims to protect Children’s interests should look something like this:
1. The first right of any child is not to be born.
2. The second right of any child resides in the power to sue, if they deem it necessary, those who grievously harmed them by botching their first right.
We can hope that such legislation would strongly encourage parents to acquire the maturity and the skills they need to give their child the greatest standard of happiness!”
Chapter 7 concerns overpopulation. Here de Giraud again gathers the quotes and arguments to point out that our level of population is leading us to enrivonmental disaster. This planet may be able to house billions of people, but it cannot sustainably host even a billion people based on the standards of living of the Western world. Not just that, but overpopulation will cause wars, famine and overwhelming misery.
“Finally, let me point out to my environmentalist friends, admirable champions of Ethics, that on a planet with failing health due to the irrational quantity of its inhabitants, an environmentalist who reproduces is a dubious environmentalist…
Let me remind you that the famous commander Cousteau promoted, with the intent of saving the planet, an optimal number of 800 million human beings: seven times fewer than currently! To work, IUDs! Keep cranking the vasectomies!”
Chapter 8 is called “For agathogenism,” a word which seems to have been created by de Giraud to mean “procreation according to the Good.” The chapter concerns ensuring that every child is only born to people who are able to raise it perfectly. He asks the obvious question: why aren’t there breeding permits? He discusses measures which would work towards agathogenism, including: mandatory parenting classes in schools, psychoanalysis of parenting candidates, and the prohibition of breeding prior to 30 years of age.
Chapter 9 concerns another coined term, “Metatocy,” which de Giraud translates as “transcending the beastial,” His basic thesis is that humans must sublimate their desire for children (a beastial desire, which all animals have) into the desire for intellectual and social works.
Chapter 10 which, in my opinion, is one of the strongest, concerns feminism and its connection to antinatalism. It continues the discussion of chapter 9, starting that women can only be emancipated when they reject child-raising and strive for excellence (instead of trying to “have it all,” which is only a handicap). He also looks at woman-hatred throughout the millennia and concludes that it is displaced hatred of the trauma of birth.
“If you ask yourself why femininity has, at all eras, been subject to such virulent and universal denunciations, we find no other answer than this: all born from a woman’s body and all hating- subconsciously at least- having been born, we can only hate those who carry in their insides the matrix of all our suffering!”
“It is of great import to understand that only by dissociating motherhood and femininity can we hope to end Patriarchy, and it is in this enormous work of de-confusion, of semantic de-tangling, that lies the main challenge of future feminism: as long as women invest their identity in motherhood, or claim it as the essence of their destiny, they will only expose themselves to the hatred of the people wounded from being alive, as well as unconscious self-hatred.”
“We must say: women have better things to do during the best years of their lives than to raise children which our polluted humanity has no need. We must say: women have better to do with their formidable personalities than suffocate them under a mountain of diapers. We must say: women are wrong to dissolve their talents in the futility of milk bottles. We must glorify the female poets and scorn the breeders.”
“Knowing that a frustrated woman will seek a remedy in having children, knowing that a woman in possession of intellectual tools who flourishes outside of the home is a woman who breeds little or none, knowing that a woman who can choose the number of her pregnancies will most often opt for a very reduced number of children to whom she can ensure a quality existence, antinatalism can only push the same way as feminists when they fight against all forms of gender domination and fight for the universal right to contraception, abortion, homosexuality, celibacy, sexual liberation, erotic completeness, choosing one’s career, and the refusal to procreate if they feel called to a higher destiny than that of walking incubator from which must come out more and more children!”
Chapter 11 is called a Brief Elegy of Adoption. In this short chapter he notes adoption as another solution and how much harder adoption is than breeding.
Chapter 12 and 13 are also short and more or less a recapitulation of what came before.
Well, that’s my review of the book. I hope you can all read it when it comes out in English, hopefully next year!