Thursday, August 8, 2013

Against the Factions

I like this article (and agree with most of it), but there are two things that trouble me (in it and in much of public discourse about -ists practicing -isms, including feminists practicing feminism).

(1) The business of leadership. Much -ist rhetoric falls into the trap (as I see it) of asking the Platonic question, "Who will rule?" (Men or women? Republicans or Democrats? Liberals or conservatives? Mormons or evangelicals? Company men or free spirits? and so on and on). The answer to this question, historically speaking, is always, "An asshole." No matter what regime we set up, some asshole will always be in charge of it eventually. The fact that someone takes issue with a leader (male or female, -ist or non-ist) is not necessarily an indication that that someone wants to oust or replace the leader (with himself). I have no interest in telling people (men, women, or children) what to do with their lives, what they must do, how they must think, etc. But that does not mean that I am following someone else's lead (i.e. that I endorse any leader in society or any "social order," explicit or implicit, that may exist and cause damage).

(2) The business of class. While I get the idea of "passing" in society (and have been on the business end of "not passing"--a valuable learning experience), I don't like to accept passively my existence as part of a class (or faction). Following Karl Popper (especially his idea of "the open society"), I think class (i.e. faction, no matter how it is defined--i.e. by race or gender or wealth or politico-religious affiliation) is an artificial construct that is in fact unreal.  (At the very least, if class seeks to make itself real, it should be resisted and thwarted at every turn.  People of conscience should always attack it, looking to destroy its claim to offer valuable noumenal insight into reality.  This destruction should not occur as part of a reactive campaign to keep the status quo at all costs.  Instead, it should be part of a deliberate effort to avoid sanctioning the recognition of implicit factions that individuals must belong to because they bear some characteristic that another person has marked as being significant. "You bear the mark of our tribe's totem in your face, and so you must be one of us!"  No.  Not until I do your deeds can anyone make me justly yours.  And even if I do appear to think as you do, I can always repent.  My allegiance is never unconditional or eternal, and I must resist every attempt to make it so.)

I reject my membership in "the male faction" (the same way I reject my membership in "the Mormon faction" and "the conservative faction" and "the white faction" and any other faction that cares to enlist me without my consent and then invoke me as its agent, complicit in all its crimes). I don't think there is inherent sympathy between males (or Mormons, or conservatives, or white people) that is more significant than its concomitant antipathy.

I find a lot of "male things" (conservative things, Mormon things, white things) utterly worthless, and I work actively to dissociate myself from these things (including the persistent classist, racist, factionist idea that I must be a member of some faction, following some leader or set of guiding lights readily available to public discourse, which pretends to know me by collecting statistics about my demographic and then calling the result "social science"). (A man I met in passing in the Book of Faces quoted his wife, a physicist, thus: "Economics is a social science, like astrology." I agree, not because astrology is utterly worthless, but because it becomes dangerous when we take it for simple, generic, objective truth.)

Nothing in this position of mine should be taken by anyone as an endorsement of "the status quo" (that has hurt them). I am not saying one should not resist the enemy. I am not saying what happened to you (or anyone) is right. If I become aware of people giving me undue "privilege" (treating me better than someone else because of perceived class affiliations), then I do my part to fix that. I do not ride the bus that I see refusing a seat to Rosa Parks. I do not send pictures of my disgusting genitalia to other people. I don't like you or anyone more than somebody else because your ugly genitalia look like mine. Melanin count is nowhere on my list of criteria for picking good friends (or culture: my personal disgust for Eminem's music is not at all mitigated by his melanin count). I hate American football. I didn't play with "the guys" in school, and to this day I never presume my perspective is welcome anywhere. I only offer it to people I care about (people I respect enough to engage in civil discourse, be they male or female, black or white, bond or free).

I think the social pressure to "make good kids" who fulfil some external ideal that they have never internalized is fundamentally evil. If you don't want to do something (be a parent, get a job, have long hair, live another day, etc.), then you shouldn't do it--no matter what anyone else says. Even if not doing whatever it is you don't want to do leads to "bad results" (in your own or some external judge's eyes), it is always better to refrain from acting on external values than to embrace them against your will.

Little boys are as impressionable as little girls. Little Mormons are as impressionable as little atheists.  They often wind up acting on values whose goodness they mistrust because, "Mommy (or Daddy or Jesus or Science) said so!" This is evil.

I am willing to be misunderstood. I am open to being hated, too--even by people I respect and aspire to love. But for those who feel as I do (but perhaps lack the tools to express themselves clearly or consistently), I feel obligated to speak out.

[Counterpoint]: Don't say to women [or other oppressed minorities], "Just don't follow that conditioning!" because that is fundamentally blaming the victim, being oblivious to the very real ways that society will punish her [or them] for lacking the privilege that comes with being you [someone whom the totems mark as faction-master].  Don't make it all about you, bringing your faction-master perspective to an issue where history disqualifies you from having an opinion worth sharing.

I don't say, "Just don't follow the conditioning." We cannot help following it. We are primates. Social hierarchy works for us much as for baboons, at least in the beginning (when we are little kids aping Mom, Dad, and the other "big kids"). But we do grow up, eventually, and if we are really lucky (privileged), we get the chance to "check our luck (i.e. privilege)" and realize that it has much less to do with us (as individuals) than we might want. I didn't choose to be what I am today (in every detail). I didn't make all my decisions with full knowledge. I haven't always done the right thing. As a lucky fool, I function by taking in discrete data from my environment and spinning it into narratives (lies) explaining why I am not dead yet, why my food tastes good, why I am talking here instead of writing my syllabus, and so on.

What I seek from human interaction is honest conversation from people who see my environment (the human condition) from an angle different from mine. We are all limited. We are all broken. We all hurt ourselves and other people. I don't think we can reach back into the past and erase that, or even into the future to make sure nothing like the past ever happens again. But I do believe we can exist more pleasantly, compassionately, honestly, and openly in the present. I value the women in my life. I value the men there, too. I value my friends. I value my enemies (differently, sometimes, but they are still valuable). I seek to love everyone, even the greatest criminal I know--myself. My discourse is about me, not because I don't value other people, but because I do value them. I value them too much to pretend that I understand them.

[Counterpoint]: How do we deal with inequality?  Is it fundamentally intractable?  How are you anything but a hopeless fatalist?

When dealing with equality, I like to focus on process (how do I treat people, how are people treated in a particular environment) rather than results (particular success or failure in terms of getting a job, marriage, making a friend, acquiring goods and services). Life is inherently unequal in terms of results. Lucky people win and win more. Unlucky people lose. But we can do things to mitigate the process, constructing it so that losing doesn't mean being destroyed (so that it is as easy as possible for the loser to pick him-/herself up and try again). I don't want to win all the time, or for everyone always to have the same rewards from life (an impossibility). But I do want to be able to survive my inevitable failure. I do want to avoid being kicked while down, and I want to avoid kicking others who are down. 

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