Saturday, May 24, 2014

The United State is a Dystopia

Kudos to all the great dystopia movies blockbuster films that have been coming out recently. But the spate of dystopia films is just reflecting the wider fact that the United States itself is quickly becoming a dystopia.  I remember seeing Blade Runner back in the day and thinking, wow, what an awful future.  But in many respects the present reality is even worse than Blade Runner.  The current state of affairs goes something like this:

The air, water, soil, and food in the United States are toxic as fuck.

The reason they are toxic as fuck is because we have 80,000 untested chemicals in circulation (in our air, water, soil, manufactured goods, and food) -- and no precautionary principle to require companies to prove that they are safe.  Newborn babies already have over 200 toxic chemicals in their system from the moment they emerge from the womb (and toxic chemicals administered during childbirth don't help matters).

Target, Home Depot, and Walmart are happy to sell us these toxic chemicals and toxic food because it is extremely profitable.  They sell them to us with the promise that they will make us happier.

Companies that generate toxic waste are located in poor communities of color. When people in poor communities of color then suffer the ill effects of this exposure, they are blamed for their bad moral choices.

The result of this toxic stew is an explosion of autism spectrum disorders including aspergers, autoimmune disorders, obesity, chronic illness, learning disabilities, and a rapid increase in a range of mental illnesses.

These chronic illnesses are treated with more toxic chemicals that never cure the problem and keep people in a perpetuate state of dependence on more drugs. Mental illness is treated with toxic chemicals that work no better than a placebo and often have the side effect of homicidal rage.

These mentally ill people, their symptoms inflamed by these drugs, have access to an unlimited quantity of guns.  The reason they have access to an unlimited quantity of guns is that gun manufacturers created and generously fund an astroturf terrorist organization made up of paranoid, racist, men on the margins of society that lobby members of Congress to insure unlimited access to these guns (or they will lose their jobs in the next election).

These mentally ill people, then go on mass killing sprees. Weekly. So many massacres that the news can't even catch up.  So many massacres that they no longer make the front page of the New York Times. So many mass shootings that the population (except those in the immediate vicinity) registers no emotion and changes the channel.

Those who would point out that this all starts with the pursuit of profit over people are silenced in elite academic institutions by professors, many with aspergers type disorders themselves, who teach that profit is the only thing that matters. Those who would point out that it starts with toxic chemicals in our environment are silenced in elite academic institutions by science professors who claim that they cannot prove any connection. Professors who question the system cannot get hired and if they do get hired they cannot get promoted.  Those who don't attend elite academic institutions are increasingly taught by people making less than minimum wage who are just struggling to get by and not in a position to question the system (and unable to meet the enormous academic needs of students who have been exposed to this toxic stew).  If you don't attend higher ed you many never get a job in this economy.  If you do attend higher ed your debts may be so high that you may never be able to pay it off in this economy.

Social media comes in and commodifies social interaction just as capitalism earlier commodified nature.  Twitter at 140 character is only good for posting links, shouting at people, and apparently stalking. FB promises connection will always be free and then limits connection so that you have to pay to promote.  The number one song in the summer of 2011 was a catchy little ditty (with whistling in the chorus) about shooting up a school.  The number one movie in 2012 and 2013 is a series about teenagers who have to kill each other in order to survive.

This is an incomplete sketch.  But the cycle is something like profit, toxicity, personal dysfunction, profit driven solution exacerbates the problem, societal dysfunction, repeat.

Yes, I get that the only sane response is to unplug, go to a farmers market, have a conversation in person, and detoxify as much as possible from all the madness. But I think it's worth pointing out, from time to time, the insanity of our present moment.

Friday, May 23, 2014

I think I'm on to something

[If we are working from the premise, that gender is theater, then the question is: theater in service of what?]

So initially, the purpose of masculinity, may have been to protect against nature.  But I imagine that was a small role (nature was pretty abundant -- the threat of wolves and bears and snakes and things has always been smaller than the threat from other people).  Mostly the purpose of masculinity, and the reason it is still valued, is because it offers protection. But protection from what -- other people displaying masculinity.

That seems pretty ironic.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Contract and Domination, part 2

Carole Pateman and Charles Mills continue to bring the thunder, from Contract and Domination, p. 77-8:

"Political theorists have a part to play in bringing the question of legitimacy out of the shadows [i.e. the legitimacy of Canadian, U.S., and Australian sovereignty given that these nations were founded on the unjust legal doctrine of terra nullius.] A start has been made in recent discussions of the role of early modern theories in justifying European expansion and in debates about the rights of Indigenous peoples. The problem is that most political theorists, including democratic theorists, take the modern state for granted. Tully has recently called attention to the way in which much contemporary political theory obliterates any discussion of embarrassing origins; argument proceeds from "an abstract starting point...that had nothing to do with the way these societies were founded" (2000: 44). The most prominent example of such an abstract starting point, contract theory as revived by John Rawls (1999h), is a direct successor to early modern theories of an original contract.

Rawlsian contract theory has become extraordinary influential, but it takes no account of the actual origins of countries that, it is held, are best understood as if they were based on an agreement in an original position. Few traces can now be found of the settler contract and dispossession; contemporary contract theory is peopled by parties who are abstracted from social and political institutions and structures. The parties are provided with preferences, tastes, and a degree of risk aversion and are concerned with distributive justice rather than subordination or structural change. They are deprived of the knowledge that they systematically benefit from dispossession and the structures of racial privilege that constitute the modern democracies of the two New Worlds. For them to have such an understanding would require that the histories and institutions so efficiently eliminated in contemporary contractual theorizing are put back in place, a very difficult task within the confines of Rawlsian theory.

The logic of theories of an original contract is that the "beginning," the creation of a new civil society, is made on a clean slate. Such a condition can be part of a thought experiment but it forms no part of the political world; the lands of the two New Worlds were not empty. Terra nullius is now a legally and politically bankrupt doctrine and questions about sovereignty and legitimacy will have to be tackled in the long run if a just accommodation and reconciliation is to be achieved. The three states where terra nullius was central to the justification of their creation pride themselves on their democratic credentials. The credentials will be more presentable once the settler contract is repudiated and a new democratic settlement is negotiated with the Native peoples."


Me again: This is how imperialism works -- Kant, Hobbes, Locke, Smith, Ricardo, Rawls, Sandel -- "let's talk about an idea/hypothetical world." THAT'S THE HUSTLE -- It's the shiny coin in the hand of the magician. And meanwhile right outside their window, the multinational ships plow across the oceans to plunder distant lands. But don't look at that, let's debate 'what would you do in a state of nature'...

Related question, posed by Carole Pateman -- how come indigenous nations in Canada, Australia, and the U.S. do not have seats at the U.N.?

Contract and Domination, part 1

Carole Pateman and Charles Mills', Contract and Domination, is a revelation:

"By the mid-eighteenth century the British were in need of alliances with the Native [what became American] nations because of the conflict with France. Indeed, a Proclamation in 1761 stated that the peace and security of the North American colonies depended on their friendship (Borrows 1997: 261 n 39). This was  followed by the crucial Royal Proclamation of 1763, issued at the end of the Seven Years' War. John Borrows argues that the Proclamation together with the Treaty of Niagara in 1764 reaffirmed Native sovereignty. In itself the Proclamation is ambiguous; it "uncomfortably straddled the contradictory aspirations of the Crown and First Nations." But it was also central to the Treaty negotiated between the Crown and about 25 Native nations, represented at Niagara by some 2,000 chiefs. The Treaty was sealed diplomatically by a two-row wampum belt signifying peace, friendship, and mutual non-interference in internal affairs; that is to say, the sovereignty of the Native parties was acknowledged. In the 1840s Native peoples in (what became) Canada still possessed copies of the Proclamation (Borrows 1997: 160).

The Crown had set in motion a process of colonization from which it did not withdraw. However, the colonists had different ideas about both imperium and dominium. In (what became) the United Staes the Royal Proclamation brought matters to a head. The British government was concerned about the settler's continued territorial expansion and its implications for alliances with Native nations. The Secretary of State wrote that the principle of informing British policy was that "invasion or occupation of [The Indians'] hunting lands" was to cease, and possession "is to be acquired by fair purchase only" (quoted in R. Williams 1990: 235).

The Proclamation reserve the lands beyond the eastern mountains to the Indian nations, and stated that:it is just and reasonable, and essential to our interest and the security of our colonies, that the several nations or tribes of Indians with whom we are connected, and who live under our protection, should not be molested or disturbed in the possession of such parts of our dominions or territories as, not having been ceded to or purchased by us, are reserved to them or any of them, as their hunting grounds.

Anyone who had "either willfully or inadvertently seated themselves" in the reserved lands was "forthwith to remove themselves from such settlements." The Proclamations further laid down that if Indians wished to sell land it was to be purchased "only for us, in our name [i.e., the Crown] at some public meeting or assembly of the said Indians, to be held for that purpose by the Governor or commander in chief of our colony (reprinted in Commager 1868: 48-9). Such restrictions on expansion and appropriation of land were anathema to colonial elites and the Proclamation became a precipitating cause of the American Revolution."


Me again:  There was always a piece of the original Boston Tea Party that didn't make sense -- why did the colonists dress up like Indians? But if the British were making alliances with Indian Nations -- and one of the main motives of the American revolutionaries was to undo those alliances so that Indian lands could continue to be confiscated, then the Boston Tea Party may have been a false flag operation, designed to provoke a rupture in the British/Indian Nations alliance. Wow.

Friday, May 02, 2014

The strangest thing in the world

For me, the strangest phenomenon in the world is the assault on the feminine.  Here I'm defining the feminine as a set of qualities that include nurturance, kindness, empathy, and compassion.  And historically (but not always), these qualities were embodied by women.  These are qualities that connect people and are the basis for love. [I realize I'm in all sorts of dangerous territory here with these definitions because they risk being essentializing, partial, or just plain untrue. So for example, is love a feminine quality or is there a masculine version of love or is love beyond gender? But that's a question for another post.] These are the qualities that provide us our greatest joy as human beings.  So then rape is not only a crime, in fact, it makes no sense at all (it should not exist, it should be beyond our capacity to imagine it) because it's the one thing guaranteed to take us farthest away from the source of love and joy.

But then the case gets even weirder -- because the Jesus story is an attempt to explain the human assault on the feminine.  Of course at this point we have to note the obvious irony that evangelical Christians in the U.S. have built their entire faith around an assault on the feminine and the deification of hegemonic masculinity.  But as far as the actual Biblical text, Jesus is the most feminized guy one can imagine in the ancient world.  While there is debate as to whether he was married to Mary Magdalene, asexual, or gay -- he was certainly queer.  He walked around basically homeless with a band of social misfits and he connected with EVERYONE regardless of their station in life.  And he gets killed by a collusion between the mob and the state (indicting both culture and institutionalized hegemonic masculinity).  While the Old Testament is trying to answer the theodicy question (why do bad things happen to good people -- Old Testament answer: it's our fault) the New Testament is trying to answer a trickier question -- why on earth do people try to quash the feminine when it is the pathway to love? Jesus being killed on the cross is a metaphor for misogyny and the mystery of societal contempt for the feminine (when it is largely defenseless, only there to do good, and for most people, the primary source of love).

And so basically I have no sympathy or interest in hanging out with people or institutions that participate in the assault on the feminine -- Republicans, masculinist (which is most) religions, capitalism, most men's movements, Wall Street, Ivy League universities, fraternities, BDSM cultures (whether straight or queer), masculinist alternative movements, etc.  In fact, my work is to undo the harm they create in the world and provide an alternative.

I fear I've simply revealed my own unique ontology here rather than shedding much light on the human condition itself. (For example, I believe that most women I know would strong disagree with my analysis here and are much more comfortable with and sympathetic to masculinity than I am.) Still, this is the question that animates me so I thought I would post it here.