Category Archives: atomization

The hemisphere is on fire

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Forty-nine years ago this week, Salvador Allende took office as president of the Republic of Chile, setting Empire into motion with a series of diabolical plans. While wages went up and prices went down in Chile, economists in Chicago were salivating at the possibility of instituting a new form of governance called neoliberalism, a nightmare born into the world with the blood-soaked hands of a fascist dictatorship backed by the CIA, the Pentagon, and, of course, Wall Street.

While the forces of life were set in motion – gathered in the streets, the workplace, into assemblies – the forces of death were grasping at all bureaucratic straws to try and roll back the progress of real democracy. The lawyers were maneuvering in the courts and cruel politicians were maneuvering in congress, but it took a brutal military coup led by a US-trained reptile to push humanity back for the next 50 years.

The bodies piled up in stadiums and mass graves. So many that it became difficult, as it often is in any war, to put faces and stories to the dizzying number of martyrs. Yet one victim loomed larger than any. Democracy was the first victim on September 11th, 1973. No matter the will of the masses; under neoliberalism they would all become slaves.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, a flurry of financial crises, and the complete shifting of hegemonic power, democracy became a macabre corpse put on display, on flags and on newspaper headlines. Her broken body was used to justify endless imperial wars, sanctions, coups and regime change. The very surface of the planet itself began to rot under this regime. It became a hothouse for fascism and disenfranchisement, for sad and lonely people.

Forty-nine years later, and the hemisphere is literally on fire. The Amazon is burning, California is burning, and the ice caps are melting. Fires from molotovs are lighting up cops in Santiago. Barricades are aflame in Bolivia. Argentina shivers from the fires lit by indigenous torches held high in the streets of Ecuador. This winter, the houseless in New York will hold their hands towards this flame to warm themselves with the promise of change.

The ghost of democracy has been haunting the western hemisphere, but terrific spells have been cast and she is stirring into existence again. The altar was set by millions taking to the streets in support of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela – not just in Venezuela but across the world. The resurrection began with hundreds of youth in Chile leaping over turnstiles to protest fare hikes, a spell so powerful that it reverberated 5,000 miles to Brooklyn, where hundreds of youth did the same to protest a crumbling infrastructure felt most keenly by the fists of cops landing on Black and brown children.

The spell is convoked by thousands of voices singing Victor Jara.

The spell is convoked by thousands of voices chanting: se siente, se siente, Allende esta presente.

It is a promise articulated by a woman in the streets with a weary face, holding a sign that says: Neoliberalism was born in Chile and will die in Chile.

As we go into the year 2020, a scary year, it is necessary for us to hold hands and keep chanting, for us to join hands with our family elsewhere in the world and put our hearts and bodies to the task of resurrecting democracy. It will be the most difficult here, in the belly of the beast, where democracy never took root in a country where 30% of the labor force was once enslaved, where certain human beings were only counted as three-fifths of their white counterparts. Empire has no interest in its denizens meeting each other to pursue justice, equity and liberation. Yet, it is in the whole world’s best interest that we learn how to do this thing, and that we learn to do it well. The process will not be easy, but it is urgently needed.

Here’s to fires burning in all the right places.

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Red-baiting as the cliff approaches

We draw closer to another imperialist war and as the global economy creaks beneath our feet, red-baiting is again back in fashion.

We are to believe there is no choice between ISIS and Obama.  There is no choice between abject poverty and crushing student loans. No choice between the burka and the bikini. In a culture where choice is worshipped as part of holy agency, holy self-value and atomization, the choices presented to us are rather bare bones – we will have neoliberalism or we will have death. “There is no alternative.” And don’t speak, don’t even think, about seizing the means of production.

In the clip above, released by the US State Department, we have a strange comparison. On the left, we have communism, and on the right, ISIS. The title is “Destruction of Holy Sites”.

At first blush, this might seem rather nonsensical. The two historical and geographic contexts presented to us in the video are completely different. Did the United States and its allies fund communism, for one? But then to examine the context of the propaganda: does communism have a strong history or a foothold in the Arab world? Well, the answer here is yes. Red groups and red money has shaped much of the policies of the region. Today, red groups are making some of the strongest gains against the rag-tag lot of foreign takfiris styling themselves after the sahaba who also call themselves Dawlat Islameeya, the Islamic State. These revolutionaries don’t accept the idea that the barbarity seen mounted on the spikes of the Raqqa’s city centre is homegrown, a natural conclusion to the horrific chapter of American occupation. They don’t accept the idea that this is a tribal spat, an ethnic power struggle. No, they see it as part of class war, as foreign imperialism making a play.

And so a false equivalency is generated to guide those who would otherwise gravitate towards pointing the finger (rightly) at American and Zionist designs on the region, away from a politics of liberation and towards capitalist enclosure.

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I’m a red. The people dearest to me in this life are reds. I have immense respect for Mao Tse-Tung, who liberated the Chinese people not only from imperialism, but also from poverty. Maoism inspired millions of people worldwide to struggle towards their own liberation. And I don’t recall Maoists in China kidnapping women and putting heads on spikes, but perhaps this is a part of the story Maz might not want to discuss. Regardless, back to the context – really? Are reds in a position of power as ISIS is? Can we fairly compare the two? Or is this is a smear against reds in the same tradition as the US State Department video mentioned earlier.

Likewise in Ferguson, Missouri, where we again find the horrified whisper regarding “outside agitators”, a civil rights-era slur against those who struggled for the liberation of oppressed nations in the United States. Now, to be fair and give credit where credit is due, the civil rights movement was certainly supported by communists in the United States and abroad. More importantly, it would be a tragedy and crime to erase incredible leaders such as A. Philip Randolph, Paul Robeson, Bayard Rustin, Angela Davis and most of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense – all reds. But where are they now? Is the RCP secretly getting paid by a Soviet Union that no longer exists? Back to the context! While this smear of “outside agitators” was used against the civil rights movements as a dog whistle for communists, and as it is used today for reds and anarchists, it’s also an exercise in mystification, in red-baiting and in smearing the ideology of socialism as something ‘foreign’ to the people.

Stalinist (or Baathist) is just another term used to defame reds – mainly those who are against imperialist war in Syria. Even as Libya writhes in agony after a NATO war that left the African country with the highest HDI and best public infrastructure in smoldering ruin, to suggest you are against such further aggression will earn you the title of ‘Stalinist.’ And again, to give credit where credit is due, the USSR under Stalin did annihilate the Nazis and liberate most of Europe. But to be called a Stalinist (or even Baathist) by someone who is most certainly not a red is to be smeared, and is unambiguously used to discipline other reds and pinks to shy away from speaking out against NATO intervention in Syria for fear of being a secret Stalinist, whatever that word even means outside Cold War hysterics.

All of these things aside, why now? Why the recent spike in red-baiting? From Arabic-language State Department videos comparing ISIS to communists to VICE “journalists” denouncing Stalin like they’re lifelong members of the fourth international, there seems to be a resurgence on the periphery of some sort of – and I can only call it preventative – red scare. The language of being a red is gone – now you are either a radical or a barbaric Stalinist. Radicals can shill for bombing Libya, radicals can produce ‘ironic’ racist burlesque minstrel shows, radicals represent the underclass and everyone who disagrees with them are now comparable to mercenaries who crucify people (including reds) in public squares in Syria.

So what danger on the horizon, then, from reds?

The disciplining is remarkable – Steve Salaita is fired from a tenured position over his views on Gaza, and an unknown but certainly existing number of academics switch off their profiles, put everything to private. Reds are doxed – their address, their phone numbers, their emails, their boss’s info are posted to the internet along with their designation as DANGEROUS COMMUNISTS and they suddenly disappear. Public campaigns from neocons against leftist magazines that publish anti-imperialist articles. Visits from FBI agents with dossiers triggered by what exactly – maybe it was a tweet? Julian Assange locked in the Ecuadorian Embassy for how many years now? Chelsea Manning in solitary confinement. No wonder people go under pseudonyms – the environment is once again getting dangerous for those who don’t think imperialism or capitalism is such a hot idea.

Consider that much of this red-baiting is in response to a growing, powerful war hysteria. It’s undeniable – a comrade of mine in the states observed it’s worse than the rhetoric in 2002. Ukraine must be protected from Putin’s hordes, Syria must be protected from tyrant Assad, and Iraq must be protected from themselves and their barbarian savages. The drums are beating louder and louder, while the working class of the world stands war weary and exploited to the extreme. The most powerful challenge to capitalism in the history of the world emerged out of the first World War. Impoverished millions sent to die on the front line, and while it may not be our boys off to fight in the trenches this time, a world war that echoes the motivations and methods of 1914 will cause damage and pain such as we’ve never seen. In a global economy where billions are underserved, unemployed or barely working, this war can only be won under a red banner. Indeed, now more than ever, the spectre of working class revolution strikes terror into the hearts of the barricaded ruling class. This is why they persist in their handwringing about Stalinists and Maoists – because the moment of truth is approaching once again, and both Stalin and Mao have never been friends of global capitalist hegemony. A revolution that seizes the means of production is not something that is built overnight, as history teaches us, but we need to start on the foundations of such a project as soon as possible. Their anxiety is a cue for us to intensify in our efforts.

This is why they are resurrecting red-baiting, why they are looking nervously over their shoulders for the communist menace to arise. This is why it’s worth it for them to try and entrap the youth on a micro-level, atomize us further, discombobulate our senses and teach us not to trust what is real and what we know to be true in a material sense. Capitalism has produced its own grave diggers, and they are handed a shovel while being told to go support yet another imperialist war.

Nobody Politics

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You may learn in time that “activism” and militancy is the highest stage of alienation.

Do you really think it matters whether you “oppose” imperialism or not. Your yelling and “loud” opposition is utterly ineffectual and impotent.

She’s a bit too “enthusiastic“. I think she’s slightly over-estimating her self-importance and that of those she associates with.

What is a troll? Accused of anonymity and distasteful disagreement, a troll is a nobody. Nobodies inhabit the earth in billions, just numbers on a census, silenced from debate and discourse. A troll is a nobody who goes against what good nobodies are supposed to be doing: acquiescing, marching behind somebodies, those unique souls imbued with a sense of authority by the powers that be. This class of somebodies include tenured professors, experts, pundits, image-conscious journalists, celebrities and politicians.

I laughed when Professor Rechtenwald left the above paternalist comments on my recent essay on the urgent necessity of anti-imperialism. I currently pay for a shared studio with vermin on a street where people are murdered, I make $15 an hour as a temp in New York; no one has to tell me I’m alienated. I do not disagree that militancy and activism are results of alienation. Word on the street is that this is how revolutionaries live: cut off from all sorts of things, certainly from the teat of NYU positions. But his comments got me thinking about unimportant nobodies versus very important somebodies, and I’d like to make some comments about nobody politics.

As much as anyone wants to beat up on Stalin and Mao for “cults of personality”, we have a strange blind spot towards our utterly bizarre celebrity culture.

Celebrity is a gorgeous date for neoliberalism. The cult of the individual manifests itself as worshiping the individual traits of those we have never met or spoken with. We need to see cellulite, we need to read interviews, we need to breathlessly pour over family photos of intimate gatherings on their timelines. This cult of celebrity is encouraged by and exists for the purposes of capitalism. Celebrities mean celebrity endorsements, of course, but they also foster a sense of individual worship. The difference between Stalin and an American celebrity is that Stalin was seen as the embodiment of the Soviet Union and its values, while we love our celebrity because of her individual qualities, namely her saucy attitude, sizzling hot fashion sense, and her performances for us – be they on stage or on Instagram. Stalin never posed for centerfolds, he never gave out fashion tips or spoke about his family and personal relationships at length. He was a portrait, a ghost of an actual individual, an iconic face that meant nothing to most of us on an individual scale.

For sure, our present ruler in the United States indulges in this celebrity, playing to memes or appearing on ironic hipster webisodes. But mainly, we eat up our information from the New York Times op-ed pages. We are told how to think about things by columnists that indoctrinate us with capitalism’s smokescreens and lies, revealing just as much about themselves in the process. These are important people. This pundit class that gets asked to speak and sign autographs are very important people. Their opinions are considered authoritative and valid. They must be smarter, more hardworking than all of us. They must have access to different, better information. After all, they are there for a reason, no?

Much of the authority bestowed on us by capitalism correlates to our socio-economic status and relationship to the means of production. Law makers, politicians, professors, millionaires – by and large these actors come from a certain class, and are generally white and male. What then, of the other voices we see represented  – who are they meant to appeal to? Like the indigene begging for NATO intervention, feminists incessantly speaking about sex work, the person of color arguing that we are in a post-racial society: celebrity pundits must also appeal to power.

I wrote on this about a year back. I wrote about American radicalism and the sacrifices that had to be offered to count yourself among the likes of Assata Shakur, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, John Brown, Bill Haywood, and others. I wrote that the person embraced and encouraged along by the imperialist machine would be suspect, because being an actual radical can be fatal. There are dead workers buried all over this country from crushed strikes that are testimony, among others in unmarked graves. But now there are radicals who promote Pussy Riot, who cheer on the bombing of Libya, who hustle hard for imperialism, who endorse products. Radicals who make lots of money on the stock market and buy brownstones (oh, maybe they give some of their money away, but probably not to the Naxalites). These people also happen to be Somebodies. They are pulled in towards the heart of Empire and so are rewarded not just with wealth and power, but also a platform to speak from. This is somebody politics.

But let’s talk about nobody politics. On the other end of the spectrum, we have those who are hungry, those who are poor and frustrated. These are nobodies. These are the alienated. They are the ones who die under NATO bombs. They are the ones vaccinated without giving informed consent, their signatures forged. These are the youth, the people of color, the poor. They are nobodies. Their voices are seen as insignificant.  Their opposition to imperialism and capitalism is, as Professor Rechtenwald tells me, meaningless, utterly ineffectual and impotent. The militant activists are alienated, not important.  Nobody politics are for nobodies. Somebody politics are for somebodies. So, if you’re a nobody, why not try shilling somebody politics for a change? It may even result in a respite from the alienation, may help one bootstrap their way into a book deal or high-paying job.

Or not. As the numbers tell us, opportunity for youth, people of color, and other oppressed communities is nonexistent compared to the exciting lives of our favorite celebrities. They jet around the world on company money, endorse products for easy cash, and spend an awful lot of time reinforcing to us how empire is blameless and there’s really no other way that things could be. You get the freelance journalists hustling for a staff position. You get the academics hustling for a book deal. You get a lot of hustle from lawmakers, artists – in fact let’s just call then “somebodies” – for just straight-up payoffs and bribes.

Meanwhile, the nobodies hustle for rent, debt, and hospital bills. In fact, the more of a nobody they are, the more they owe, the more they “hustle”. The nobodies hate capitalism. The nobodies hate imperialism. The nobodies hate racism, the nobodies hate sexism. The nobodies hate poverty. They hate hustling. Nobodies want free housing, education, healthcare, food and guaranteed employment. They hide their faces or don’t speak up because they know what they want goes against what those in power want for them. If they are too loud with their discontent, there is a crackdown, minute pressure points in society the people in power can press, releasing spurts of misogyny, racism, xenophobia, and mass incarceration. The somebodies know how to shut nobodies like me up – that’s how they stay in power.

So I laughed when Professor Rechtenwald tried to do me a favor and remind me how unimportant I am. Yes, professor: I have bed bugs, rats, a low-paying temp job, tens of thousands in debt, and unstable access to healthcare. Everything in my life serves to remind me of my unimportance, my alienation. I get it. I’m a nobody. And I live on a street in a neighborhood full of nobodies. A city and country, a world full of nobodies. I write under a pseudonym and I hide my face, among other reasons, because there really is nothing so special about me. I’m not important. Not much unique. I’m just one of many gunning for your class, gender, sexual, and racial privilege with my politics, which I have decided to speak up about. I’m not a celebrity, not quirky and sexy and talented and nodding along with empire, I’m a nobody. Now, move along. We’re talking nobody politics with other nobodies.

reality check: American radicalism

At the start of December 4th 1969, Fred Hampton was drugged by a FBI informant after teaching a political education course at a local church in Chicago. Later, when he was passed out, fourteen cops burst into his apartment and murdered him in his bed, next to his pregnant girlfriend. After two shots to the head to confirm his death, he was dragged into the hallway and left in a pool of blood. He was 21 years old.

Almost 100 years earlier, John Brown sat at his desk, waiting for execution at the age of 59. He wrote his last words to his wife. She was waiting nearby, but he was refused the right to spend the last night of his life with her, that refusal being the only time his stoic comportment threatened to break down. He had helped lead a militant uprising of enslaved people. He was hanged and then put in his coffin, noose still around his neck, and sent back north to be buried.

The list of American radicals who died in battle against a massive system of oppression is long and should be a source of pride for Americans who seek to follow a life fighting for economic and social justice. They were those who were expelled by the society they lived in because of their beliefs, because of the color of their skin, because of their sex, the list goes on. These were people willing to die for their beliefs. Even those who were possibly not ready still died sometimes. They were those whose death would perpetuate the American machine of oppression and pain.

What is a radical? A radical is a thorn in the side of what she opposes. The radical is pushed outward like a splinter under the skin. The radical accepts that she will live a life of lack unless she gives in and changes her mind. Even then, she might not make her way back into the fold. This is to be expected – a radical seeks to disrupt the reproduction of  oppression, not negotiate or change it warmly. As we edge closer to the abyss, as the planet itself threatens to crumble underneath our feet, those who would call themselves radicals must make a decision. Are they pleading or are they demanding? Are they negotiating or are they accusing?

When I was a little girl, I learned about my great-grandfather, shipped over from the old country as a child and sold to a mining company in Montana. He grew up to become an IWW organizer and was beaten, threatened and blacklisted. Blacklisted was the first radical word I learned. To be blacklisted is a heavy thing for sure, and my grandfather grew up in crushing poverty. My great-grandmother begged for food. No one offered him a warm hand because he was a thorn in the side of capitalism, because he demanded that workers have the right to the means of production and to the fruits of their labor. The labor movement was fighting for an eight-hour day. Now, as the eight-hour day slips through our fingers, today’s self-proclaimed radicals write television reviews for major American newspapers and hold court at academic conferences.

They claim they are interested in building a party – but where is the phone number? How do I get involved? Is it a party that will vote Democrat? The academics – and I am an academic, considering my education – fight over semantics and whether or not pornography is ethical. Meanwhile, people all over the country are ready for more. They are ready for disruption. Sectors of this generation see the ability to reproduce themselves being eroded away. Nearly seven million Americans are under correctional supervision. Schools are being closed. Poison is being poured in our lakes and rivers, in our oceans and all over our land. Be sure – this will not hold. It’s not sustainable. But the people in power will try every trick in the book to sustain themselves.

We’ve seen it before. We talk about women as if their biggest problem is what sort of clothes they’re wearing. We talk about race as if we have the first black president. Now the very term “radical” – a comforting dogwhistle nowadays for sleepy anticapitalists – is being appropriated, subsumed into the project of class reproduction. When you broadcast your opinions and find it thrilling that major media outlets have brought you on board, you need to consider your part to play in the reproduction of class. Do you make a living on your radicalism? Do you want to? My beloved once told me: “I want to be a low-level Soviet bureaucrat, but you live the life you have, not the life you want.”

There is nothing wrong with carving out a corner and trying to feed yourself. It is quite another project you are envisioning, however, when book deals with no outlines line up and event coordinators begin to court you. When you imagine a new party, one that appeals to the so-called masses through the capitalist propaganda machine, you must be very careful. When you start getting printed in the New York Times and Washington Post, when you see your face staring back at you as the primary photo accompanying a story, you must be even more careful. A story about you is not a story of the system of oppression that cracks skulls every day in this country.

When your critics become your trolls, this is because you somehow think your points are correct because you have more of a space to speak. You forget how you got this page space, you forget why it was given to you. You (yes, you dear reader!) are part of this machine now. The skin is not pushing you outwards, it is pulling you in towards its organs. Close your eyes and imagine what is is like to have paid staffers, then wonder why so many Black Panthers were sleeping in the same apartment that tragic night in Chicago. When you yell down that someone is a troll because they have less twitter followers than you, remember that you are calling yourself a radical and placing yourself in a pantheon of radicals who gave their lives to end capitalism. Wonder then, why Fred Hampton wasn’t published in the New York Times.

Slavoj Zizek is honest when he says that he thinks there must be a vanguard party because he himself wants nothing to do with struggle, with politics. He wants to be a boring man with a boring life somewhere. Who then, will execute the ideas of those who proclaim to be on the vanguard of the Left today – who are the radicals? Do they exist? The Left Forum is this weekend in New York, and Verso, the leading publisher of leftist books, sent out invitations to their after-party. Have we ever seen such a crowd of communists who are so willing and able to rationalize away their own inaction? Watch them drink cocktails and discuss the importance of this or that idea, watch them rally around positions like it’s some sort of game. I went to an ISO meeting in Brooklyn and met fund managers, people in advertising. We must look at the way that these “radical” ideas should shape our lives. What worth does a bunch of words on paper have when there is no one that is willing to put their thoughts into action? What do these “writers” even think of their own ideas when they do not even inspire themselves to make the necessary sacrifices, adopt the necessary discipline? Here we suddenly find shivering cowards, insisting that they are caught up in their everyday lives too much to put a shoulder to the wheel and push.

Overthrowing capitalism is about sacrifice and discipline. When we fantasize class revolution or wars against Nazis, we fancy ourselves willing to give our lives to the cause. Yet when it comes to choosing paths in our lives, we hesitate in committing fully to our positions. It becomes about this or that obligation, the desire and right, we bark defensively, to lead a normal boring life. Tough shit, comrade! If even Marx shivered in poverty while shoveling what money he had into failed revolutionary causes then surely you puffing up about twitter followers, an appearance on television or in the pages of a society magazine is nothing to brag about. If people like John Brown were willing to put their head in a noose, if strikers willing to be shot in the streets for demanding eight-hour workdays, if tens of millions of Soviets died fighting the Nazis, isn’t steering clear of a lifetime of normalcy and comfort the least you can do?

on somatophobia more generally, or, is “Food a haven for reactionaries”?

T’ai: I hadn’t even read the newest piece and I came to a bunch of the same conclusions about food politics today when reading this article on Gawker. Somatophobia and the fear of hunger.

Em: Yes, it’s horrible.

T’ai: Or rather, you don’t deal with the suffering or need by eliminating the instrument which suffers or needs. Wanting tasty food isn’t a curse. These people probably get angry when they involuntarily sneeze, or laugh. Optimizing nutrution is a great goal, but it’s really wrong to act like something that isn’t whatsoever pleasant to eat is anywhere near to optimal. It really does come down to a weird hatred of being bodied, or anything involuntary, like sneezing or laughing or orgasms.

Em: It’s a weird contradiction. Capital demands individual units, but people seek to discard their own units in an individualistic way. It’s possible that the individual desire to escape the body is the unfocused individual desire to escape capitalism.

T’ai: It’s true that it’s possible to be denied agency by immaterial things, like drug addiction. Which is why I think that “do what you want because it’s your body/drug politics” are stupid. But, like, that doesn’t make every single biological or psychological need a sort of oppression. Things like the need for food can be vehicles for actual oppression, obviously.

Em: Like through capitalism, commodification. All of those items: hunger, sex, disease, they have all been commodified.

T’ai: Yeah, there’s something very No Alternative about it. I feel like the sort of person who is into this displays a really weird desire to escape (and indeed destroy) the human body/condition as such; eliminating biological and psychological needs instead of fulfilling them, uploading one’s mind, and so on. There’s something that bothers me about a viewpoint that sees suffering human bodies (in whatever fashion) as a thing to be made obsolescent rather than a thing to be treated more respectfully and humanely.

Em: Even eliminating them! Eliminating suffering bodies is easier than treating them, for capital.

T’ai: Yeah…

somatophobic feminism I

Dying was the best piece of publicity Shulamith Firestone ever generated. A name I did not hear much in 2012 seems to be making a comeback in 2013. I could not grasp what made her so rehabilitatable at first. “Radical feminism” is almost a slur nowadays, while hissing at and even physically attacking “radfems” is quite  nearly applauded on the left. So when Laurie Penny tweeted about how fond she was of Firestone’s “The Dialectic of Sex” I had to finally raise my hand and ask why. The most memorable chapter I could recall was Chapter 5, “Rasicm: The Sexism of the Family of Man” which was one of the more shockingly racist things I’d ever read from a second wave feminist. Penny said her favorite was the chapter that comes after, on love, and that she could effectively divorce the underlying premises from the previous chapter. How? Even within that chapter we find abhorrent essentialism, totally unhelpful analysis based more on Firestone’s own life than on conditions women face.

The underlying theme to Firestone’s work – and part of why I think it’s been rehabilitated – is a very vicious somatophobia (fear of the body) that complements contemporary racist and classist feminism very well. On request, I emailed Penny to ask her what could be gleaned from such a feminism – she has not responded. This destruction of the female body – either from thinking sex work is “just like any other job” or from the surgical/chemical feminism that holds hands with liberal trans feminism – is rooted in a dangerous essentialism. The woman is unable to escape her body, therefore she must destroy it. Reminders of her body, e.g. birth, menstruation, voluptuousness etc, are considered traumatic.

Masculinity is being able to transcend the body by immersing oneself in the “world of the mind”, by utilizing technology, by challenging the mystification of the body, of reducing people to individuals and individuals to their individual parts. Federici writes on surgery theaters of the late middle ages, of women being cut open and their mysteries being laid bare as a kind of terrorism and disciplining of the female sex. The mystical experience of pregnancy and birth reduced to organs, the rearing of children (reproduction of labor force) reduced to individual events and biological needs, schedules and regimins. In Firestone’s technofetishistic fantasy of babies grown in vats and raised by the state we have made quite a leap. The oppression of woman under capital is found in her body that betrays her by swelling large with children, by losing its perkiness with age, by gaining wrinkles around the eyes. The betrayal trans people describe in the process of puberty is the same betrayal women face as they go through puberty, as they age. The solution to this oppression posited here (with Firestone) is to embrace the flesh and conquer it and shape it to our will using technology and surgery. By embracing  masculinity-through-technology we too can escape our oppressive bodies. The hate is turned inward, festers like an ulcer. We blame ourselves, our lack of spirit, our lack of ability to change our own situations. It is atomizing and alienating.

In this, liberal and pink feminists willfully ignore the forces that assign such values to the body that make us hate them. Infuriatingly, they say there is nothing to be done about this. They say that men will always want to buy sex, they say that women are programmed in their brains to be the way they are, that gender is an essential biological condition as opposed to a system of active oppression under capitalism.

Birth is a powerful thing. Reproducing society is essential to our continued existence. There is no shame in breast feeding, no shame in menstruation, no shame in pregnancy or varicose veins. These are positions of great power for women, it is male technofetishism and capitalism that have turned these things into cause for shame and weakness. That Shulamith Firestone hates the body, hates weakness in the self is understandable, considering the pain that women go through on a daily basis in being women. However, she is misdirecting her hate and fear, putting the blame on women themselves. Her essentializing logic is dangerous, and the fact that her ideas have once again found traction in a “new generation” of “feminists” is troubling indeed. I hope that women are critical when they read these works, that they critically ask their friends to what end they are fascinated by fantasies of birthless, bloodless womanhood. We must make a decision of what we wish to transcend: capital or the flesh?

Further reading:

it’s not crazy – it’s normal!

I knew someone who was institutionalized as a child and went back years later to see her old psychiatrist. She told me he laughed and joked with her about how strange she was as a little girl of 8 or 9 – that she was up late wondering if people had souls or if suffering was normal. So many have lived her life and live as “normal” people now – but how much were they ever crazy to begin with? It got me thinking about some statistics I’d seen earlier about how 6.8 million American children were on ritalin, a 41% rise in the past decade. As the rhythms of our days and nights change, so too do our minds. Over half of “millennials”, those 18-33, are kept up at night due to stress.  The most tragic figure is that of women, who are disproportionately medicated against anxiety and depression to men, 2 to 1.

As I’ve always understood it, sanity was about your reality agreeing with everyone else’s. If you were convinced that the sky was red, and everyone else around you said it was blue, insanity would be doubting their perceptions over your own. Of course, as the pace of our minds increasingly change according to the markets, so does this minority of the “insane” steadily increase. Substance abuse or self-medication, as some would like to call it, is nothing new. However, solutions to being out of sync with reality are becoming more of a public service, less of a private affair and now more the realm of the market. A new pill is rolled out to cure what ails us. Curing cancer is important, sure, but more money is spent on researching pills to take once you have it than on prevention efforts and education. The wheels of commerce roll forward when you are buying something, not when you are eradicating illness. Over $35 billion worth of antipsychotics, stimulants and antidepressants are sold each year in the United States. Insanity is big business. Big business is insanity. It follows that we begin to crack under the strain.

If you look around and see problems with the world around us, and if that drives you to distraction, the practical and profitable thing to do in this modern world is to medicate yourself and seek out someone who can talk you out of your external symptoms of unhappiness.  Taking adderall can help you perform better at work, can help you work two jobs and go to school, etc. Faced with a disappointing middle age spent taking care of ailing parents and distraught children can drive one to antidepressants. Becoming overwhelmed and terrified by a world of distraction and suffering, we start taking anti-anxiety pills.

Anyway, what was so crazy about my friend when she was a little girl? Wondering if one has a soul, if the nature of the world is suffering – these are normal things. If someone is unhappy in a marriage, workplace, prison… this is normal. Instead of changing the world around us, we are ushered into padded rooms and handed pills in paper cups. Children who can’t sit still in class for 8 hours per day only to go home and sit in front of  a screen for the next 6 cannot be expected to have the ability to focus or learn effectively, much less grow into well-adjusted human beings. Adam Lanza was unable to leave his house at the end, medicating a condition rooted in something deeper than his own brain – if Adam Lanzas were normal in this species, we would see spree killing as a historical phenomenon – not something associated with the birth of neoliberal social and economic restructuring.

Of course it’s not sustainable! But many continue to assume that left untouched, we can ride out current era of madness and find something easier on the other side. There is no promise to this, nothing to lead us to believe that inaction would deliver a better world to us eventually. In addition, as history shows us, new patterns of social behavior that rise and fall with material conditions will eventually be integrated into commonplace occurrence, or perhaps the other way around. It’s all fluid and dependent on dominant economic and class mores at the time.  Seventy years ago, it would be strange to think that graphic violence could be celebrated as a part of pop culture through video games, and commonplace among children. So too homosexuality would be considered a mental illness seventy years ago, but perhaps because of this we should be doubly critical of seeing dissent or dissatisfaction with our current lives as symptoms of a disease to be treated with pills. Perhaps we should start to look deeper and wonder if, maybe sometimes, the sky really is red and it really is everyone else who is crazy.