Sunday, 27 March 2011

Divide And Conquer

Written on March26th, just as the "reports" on the action were coming along from our hones and truthful media.

The media is falling over itself when reporting over the events of the day, making it abundantly clear that the overwhelming majority of the people who marched on the streets of London today did so peacefully and calmly. The “official” march was organized by the TUC and brought together unions, public sector workers and other disgruntled people in the land. Its core message went from opposing the cuts altogether to not necessarily opposing them as such, but disagreeing with the way they are being done, questioning variables such as “speed” “magnitude” and “focus”. It would be hard to say which percentage of the protesters wanted “no cuts” and which wanted “some cuts, some other way”, but it’s very clear which message the BBC voiced the most. Depending on whom you believe, there were between 200 and around 400 thousand people in that march. Peacefully voicing their discontent. Holding placards and/or children’s hands. A day out for the family, the organizers stopped short at calling it.
Then, there were the “others”. Those with less placards and definitely no children. Those who weren’t voicing their discontent so “peacefully” and “calmly”. Those who most definitely opposed all cuts, and then some. Those who, in short, wanted more: they wanted justice. And were reported by the BBC to use “violence” to get it.
This “others” were in turn made up of two groups. One of them had a name: UKUncut. Their message is very clear: tax the rich and you will not need to cut anything.
If I had gone to the protest, I would have joined them. I would have crashed inside “Fortnum and Mason”, opportunity permitting, and I would have sent my Mum a photo. “Look, Mum! Look at the luxurious tea shop your daughter is at! England is such a beautiful country…”. I may have had to omit the way I got there, but hey. My Mum would be happy at seeing how wonderful her daughter’s life is… And I would have been happy at seeing my Mum happy. The fact that I would have never been able to afford entering the place any other way would be neither here nor there. This country is seen worldwide to be the land of the wealthy, where everyone lives in such opulent luxury. And appearances have to be maintained.
Taxing the rich is a whole different kettle of fish from the demands of the TUC march. Questioning the “speed”, “magnitude” and “focus” of the cuts amounts to slowing down an already ongoing trend; taxing the rich amounts to reverting it. It’s the difference between begging for mercy and demanding justice.
Lastly, there was another group of “others” in today’s protests. They showed little mercy towards… property. And in turn the BBC showed no mercy towards them. They were called “violent”; accused of “causing riots”; they were reported to be “wearing black”. They were most certainly not playing the game like well behaved children. They threw paint bombs, smashed windows, drew graffiti, set off fireworks, and all around trashed the place, transforming London from an international capital of opulent luxury designed for the wealthy to indulge in and into… into… a place with more in common with a poor country. Oh, the tragedy! These were very naughty protesters indeed. And naughty protesters do not get to be treated by the BBC as if their actions were the result of rational behaviour. Despite the fact that fireworks have to be procured somehow, that paint bombs have to be produced, that coloured smoke bombs involves quite a bit of work… Despite the deliberate planning behind this string of actions, despite the fact that the targets were clearly thought out… This “riotous” behaviour can only be the result of one type of people: anarchists. Also referred to as “criminals” by the police. What were these protesters “campaigning” for? We don’t know. Or rather, the BBC doesn’t know. Because irrational behaviour cannot have a “rational” reason for taking place, it is assumed that these “anarchists” wanted to cause trouble for the fun of it. And supposedly go to jail for the fun of it, I guess. Or you can take the police’s view that these criminals are criminalling for… well, your guess is as good as mine. Shattering a couple of windows and leaving the stuff in the shops?
You have to leave the “official” story tellers of the BBC to find out who these “anarchists” are. It turns out that “anarchists”, like most other political movements are made of a) human beings and b) many “fronts” and “groups”. And by the looks of it, their political message ranges from the pure “anarchist” to the more moderate “anti-capitalist”. And that is interesting. It wasn’t that long ago that the whole point of the left was to be “anti-capitalist”. Now the people taking up the idea are referred to as “anarchists”, and ignored altogether, as if history had never taken place. This should make some things very clear. One, we cannot trust "Labour" or the "Unions" in this country to bring about an end to Capitalism. Two, there is no real legitimate "Left" in the country.

Three different groups, three different messages, three different approaches to “protest”. Those with the largest numbers of people had the most “status quo” friendly “requests”, and drew the least attention of the media and the world. Those with the smallest numbers of people had the most radical demands and to all intents and purposes, stole the show.

The media’s approach to the reporting of the violence was to distance the “rioters” from what was otherwise a “peaceful protest, a perfect model of what a protest should be”. Tomorrow I predict that people will carry on with the media’s presentation of the events and wax lyrically about how a few dozens of “anarchists” overshadowed the “real march”, how most people were “peaceful”. They will pout and stomp their foot and claim that “it’s just not fair” that the whole event is reduced to “violence” just because a couple of naughty people.    

And it’s not fair. It’s not fair that “anarchists” know “the truth”, while the rest of the protesters don’t. Anarchists know that we don’t live in a “democracy”, that what the government does is not to act on “the will of the majority”. They know that “peaceful” is almost synonymous with “pointless”, and for proof see the Iraq War protests. They know that the powerful, the “elites”, the government, don’t give in until they have no choice. They know that political change, real political change, doesn’t take place without the use of violence, in one form or other. They know, in a word, that there is no point in “requesting” or “begging”; the only way is to “demand”. And they know exactly how to do it: by making it impossible, unbearable, or expensive for the rulers not to acquiesce.  

Friday, 25 March 2011

Does The Internet Preclude Intimacy?

It seems to me that the internet reinforces the perception that everyone else is superior to us. This fosters an anxiety that leads us to disagree with others almost on principle. Everyone on the internet appears to be a super star. Arguably, it is impossible to participate online without creating a “persona”, deprived of the harsher, less desirable aspects of a human life. This persona will inevitably appear to be superior to the human that it originated from.
We are all creating alter egos, or rather “super egos” of our everyday selves. A being that is superior to us because we can control its presentation to the utmost detail. The effect of this? Preclusion of intimacy, which in turn translates into the inevitable inability to form relationships that will be strong enough to fight for change. Also competition; ruthless competition. If all we see of others is only the nice bits, bits that they have constructed out of thin air for the purpose of appearing before others in a much more favourable light, then we will be more likely to see each other as inferior to everyone else. And we will want to be better. In a world where millions have to compete with millions for the spotlight, we will inevitably want to see others as “not as good as” ourselves. In the case of political environments, it tends to be “not as right as” or even “not as righteous as” me.
The internet hasn’t eliminated hierarchy, nor has it democratized it. It has merely based it on a popularity contest.
We have re-designed ourselves to appear more perfect, more “God like”. But this is an illusion. Gods control reality, they don’t invent a new reality that they can have control over. While we withdraw from a world where we have increasingly less and less control and crawl into a world where we can alter “reality” much more easily, where the acquisition of status and glory is within our reach, the people who ultimately control the physical world carry on unimpeded. And one day they will prevent us from having control over the online world as well, just as they did with the real, physical world. And then we will be in trouble.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Derrick Jensen

Derrek Jensen is an author, environmentalist and all-round political philosopher. He is one of my favourite authors, and I am deeply grateful to him for expanding my mind in areas I wouldn't have considered otherwise and for inspiring me as a writer.

The reason why I love Derrick Jensen is because he writes differently. He is a writer before he’s an “environmentalist”, and indeed any label other than “writer” would be a small fit. I don’t usually read about environmentalism, seeing as most of it is, cold, soul less, and based on empty promises. I have no time for people who patronize me for not being wealthy enough to afford “organic”. Jensen is on a different dimension to the mainstream environmental talk. He has created a new language to discuss political issues, one that is personal, intimate and poetic. This language dissolves the barriers between “us” and the “environment”, and in doing so it makes Jensen’s argument for him. It is impossible, while reading his words, to see ourselves as separate from Nature, which in turn makes it almost impossible to disagree with him on any level. He does use traditional forms of discourse like logic and theory, but he writes in such a way as to make them personal. Reading Jensen’s words becomes effortless, which is quite an achievement considering the topics he writes about. He seems to be tapping into the state of mind (and heart) that made native Americans into poets by the simple fact of living consciously in their land and honouring it.

Jensen is quite radical, if one were to commit the atrocity of placing him somewhere on the political spectrum. I suspect it is because of this language of his that he gets away with striking generous blows to pacifism, the idea that “personal lifestyle changes” will save the world, education, patriarchy, technology and even hope. May I repeat that he strikes against patriarchy? This is a man who gets it.

The only line I remember from him comes from his book “A Language Older Than Words” and it’s thus: “I called myself a writer, but I didn’t write much”. I still cling to that line for the strength to carry on doing what my heart tells me I should do. Knowing that a writer like him struggled in his twenties to write despite knowing he was a writer gives me hope that my story may turn out in a similar way to his. And it’s always great to hear him say that the twenties sucked, the thirties were ok, but the forties so far are great.
This public recognition of his flaws and mistakes, imperfection, this admission of vulnerability, only makes him stronger as a writer, and brings him closer to the reader. And it lends a much welcomed breath of fresh air from the harsh, icy logical, purely theoretical and distant and intrinsically masculine language used by know-it-all authors to discuss political issues. Jensen makes the language personal, and in doing so he makes the issues that appear to be distant also personal. And it is here that Jensen’s arguments get their greatest strength from.

His “greatest” book, both in quality and size, is “Endgame”. Published in two volumes, “The Problem of Civilization” and “Resistance”, this book starts from the premise that civilization is unsustainable and we must put an end to it. Though it would perhaps be more appropriate to say the book starts on 20 premises, on the same idea. He also expands on the similarities between civilization and the relationship dynamics between an abuser and his family, drawing from his own personal experience.

You can read some excerpts from his book here and I strongly recomment everyone to do so, if you can't get hold of the book.

Alternatively you can watch Jensen talking about the book here. He is full of insight and even cracks the occasional joke, which makes for very entertaining watching on what is, admittedly, a rather grim topic.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

The Nightmare That Was Patriarchy

Last Tuesday was International Women’s Day. Again. And everyone was busy writing about what feminism means today and why we still need it. Again. Just like last year, and the year before that. And the year before that.
I’m beginning to feel like Jack Skellington here. 

It is par for the course of the incessant apologizing that feminism has been reduced to. From a wild, angry beast demanding, yes, demanding, that women be recognized as full human beings to a shy little twittering shadow meekly repeating the words “pay gap”, “inequality”, etc, in the vague hope that enough passers by will take its words seriously.
And guess what. Nobody takes the words of Little Feminism seriously. Not even feminists themselves.
Feminism was a phoenix. It carried on its back to promise to save mankind from itself by converting it to humankind. And it got things done. Now, it cannot even keep the advances it has made.
To a certain extent it is unfair to blame feminism for losing its power. Arguably this has been the fate of nearly all progressive political movements since the 90s. It’s important to remember this. It’s not that “feminism failed” because, as the media likes to remind us every so often, “we got it all” or “women like to be oppressed”. The reality is that “we” of the Leftist persuasion have all failed. That spreads the guilt around a bit more.

So, what can we do to bring back feminism from its current place as a cowering, grovelling, compromising little thing to the real threat to the status quo? Here’s what I propose.

a) Bring back “class”, the “material”, “nature”, the “body”. Class used to be at the core of Feminism. Feminism never was about making the lives of well off women that extra bit better. It was about liberating women, ending oppression, all those nice things. And the ultimate measure of oppression is how bad the most oppressed members of a society have it, not how good the least oppressed members of a society have it just because they are women and we are feminists. A bit more on this here
On the more radical spectrum, the whole of Patriarchy can be seen as an attack on “Nature” and the “body”. People’s lives are determined by their biology, and their interaction with the natural world. An attack on women’s reproductive rights is an attack on the female body. And an attack to the female body is an attack to the human body. This is it, in a nutshell.

b) Kill “identity politics”. It is “a politics that stresses strong collective group identities as the basis of political analysis and action”. That beast should have never seen the light of day. In other words people a) choose an identity for themselves and then b) fight oppression from that particular identity. The fight against injustice then becomes a plight to have your identity accepted. Something to get you starting here and here.
It is not how you identify yourself, it’s how you are oppressed. And it’s not how “you” are oppressed, but rather how “we all” are oppressed. Either “we are all in this together” or this is not a political movement.

c) Kill “empowerment”. Empowerment, whatever its links to feminism, has been thoroughly co-opted by the Right, or rather “Business”. There is nothing new about this; the Right has been stealing the language of the Left to use it for their own ends since forever. Last week The Guardian published a shameful “debate” between a woman p0rnographer claiming that “p0rn empowers women” and Gail Dines, a university professor. The p0rnographer has clearly co-opted the language of feminism to promote her “product”. And it rings true because, hey, p0rnography has empowered at least one woman: her. But that’s it. The empowering of one woman at the expense of other women is not “empowering”, it’s merely climbing up the social hierarchy in the only way the system allows: by pushing other women down. This is not social change. That p0rnographer may have a right to say what she wants (and I would dispute that), but so do we. Concepts like “feminism” and “empowerment” belong to us, the people who are fighting for social change. And they are not there to be co-opted by greedy unscrupulous scoundrel trying to make money out of selling stuff. 
There is no “empowerment”. Nothing “empowers” women as individuals while simultaneously empowering “women”. Something that empowers one woman by oppressing others cannot, by definition, be “empowering women”. 
If you have no socio-political power, for instance if you are a poor woman, no amount of “stuff” or individual actions will change that. And if you do have socio-political power, if you are, say, the Queen, you are not likely to go around chasing “stuff”.

d) Embrace the “wacko”. Don’t be afraid to read seriously strange theories. Even if they seem “mad”, at the very least they will expand your mind. Don’t be scared of “radicals” like, say, Dworkin. You don’t have to agree with them in order to read what they said.  

e) Think and Question. Feminism used to be so rich in theory. When you take a look at the feminism of the 70s the level of complexity of the theories they discussed in those days is absolutely mind boggling. They would question everything and from every angle possible. Compare that with the level of discussions we have today on this glorious internet. Endless arguments of who’s got more privilege than whom, who wins the oppression Olympics, and what is feminist and what isn’t. Oh, and what “Feminism means to me” and “why I do this and why it is an expression of my feminism”. This level of discourse is an insult to our intelligence, not to mention a cold slap in the face of the feminists of previous decades who actually knew their stuff. They left their words. So go and read them.

Now. How about we get busy transforming this movement into the the force pushing for social change it once was?