Tuesday, March 03, 2015

17 Questions for Revolutionaries

I'm a big fan of The 36 Questions that come from Mandy Len Catron’s recent Modern Love essay, “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This.” In the article she refers to a study by the psychologist Arthur Aron (and 4 co-authors) that explores whether intimacy between two strangers can be accelerated by having them ask each other a specific series of personal questions. But the essay got me thinking -- if progressive politics are central to one's life (as they are for many of us) what questions would we want to ask each other to build intimacy while deepening consciousness? In some ways these questions feel like a cliche of so many radical political discussions over the last 100 years. And yet these are the things that I want to know so here goes:

Part I, Sex, Desire, and Gender

1. What is your idea of manhood?  What is a good man? Have you read Wendy Brown's Manhood and Politics. If not, let's read it together and discuss.

2.  What is womanhood? What is a good woman? Have you read Judith Butler's Gender Trouble and Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex?  If not let's read them together and discuss.

3. What is sexy?  Seriously what is sexy for you?  How do you think desire has been socially constructed in your life?

4. Is egalitarianism sexy? If so, what exactly makes it sexy? Is difference sexy? If so, what exactly makes it sexy?

5. (I cringe to even ask this but I want to know and there is only one way to find out so here goes) if gender is socially constructed, how do we explain the hard biological determinism connected with the idea of "transgender."  

Part II, Economics

6. If capitalism is so abundantly and evidently flawed, how has it managed to persist so long and continue to expand?

7.  What does the revolution look like for you?  What does the world look like when we win?

8.  What explains the failure of communist states in the 20th century?  If you are going to claim that the Soviet Union et al were not true communism, then what is true communism for you?

9.  What's the difference between true communism and libertarianism? Is ideology a spectrum or a circle?  

10. How do you overcome the problem of Hayek/Foucault? Namely, if value really is subjective for each individual, aren't the liberal assholes right on some level? (Bonus: is postmodernism a CIA plot to destroy the left?)

11. Aren't Marxism and modern ecological concerns in conflict? 20th century Marxists really thought that we could solve the distributional problem and even outgrow capitalist states through central planning. But now we argue that growth is the problem and that we should aim for zero growth to save the planet. Isn't zero growth theory in response to global warming actually in conflict with Marx?

12. What do you make of the fact that most revolutions have in fact been carried out by elites? Wasn't Marx fundamentally wrong about the notion that the proletariat would surely rise up?

13.  How do you explain the fact that so many communist revolutions ultimately devoured their own? Stalin imprisoned over a million revolutionaries (killing 3/4s of them). The main torture center during the Khmer Rouge was devoted to killing people who had actually participated in the overthrow of the previous government. Why are radical lefties so completely awful to each other (and how can we stop that)?  (Bonus: why are the anarchists and communists always fighting each other, doesn't that ultimately just serve the interests of capital?)

14. "From each according to his abilities to each according to his needs," how exactly is that evaluation and distribution supposed to be carried out? Aren't the roots of totalitarianism built into that sentence? What's a better organizing principle for the revolution?

15. Aren't unions as they currently exist today just rentiers?  They simply want a bigger share of the capitalist pie -- but they are often just as committed to the perpetuation of the capitalist system as any CEO. And yet so many progressives keep acting like unions are going to save us. When we talk about the radical conscious wing of unions (the ones who actually have risen up in the past) aren't we in fact talking about something distinct and different from unionism as it currently exists?

16. So many of us love Paulo Freire. But is he actually correct? Radical consciousness is not innate and peasants don't necessarily have more or better consciousness than anyone else. Radical consciousness is socially constructed through years of painful study. Isn't Freirian pedagogy disingenuous on some level -- claiming to be honoring peasant consciousness while in fact shaping and instilling a hard won progressive elite consciousness about gender, politics, and economics?

17.  Are people fundamentally good or bad?  How do we explain the persistence of evil in the world?  How should societies prepare for and respond to evil?

And then if you are still speaking to each other at this point (lol), stare into each other's eyes for 4 minutes.  Oh my.

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