Posts from November 2004

Condoleezza’s Right

Here’s something that you may have thought you’d never see in the pages of the Rad Geek People’s Daily: Condoleezza Rice is absolutely right.

Over at Stone Court (thanks again, Feminist Blogs!), Fred Vincy’s pointed out Condoleezza Rice’s stance on gun control, offered up by The Times (2004-11-21):

Violence was turning her hometown into Bombingham as Alabama’s governor George Wallace fought a federal court order to integrate the city’s schools. The Ku Klux Klan bombed the homes of blacks who were beginning to move into white neighbourhoods. Among the targets was the home of Arthur Shores, a veteran civil rights lawyer and friend of the Rices. Condi and her parents took food and clothes over to his family.

With the bombings came marauding groups of armed white vigilantes called nightriders who drove through black neighbourhoods shooting and starting fires. John Rice and his neighbours guarded the streets at night with shotguns.

The memory of her father out on patrol lies behind Rice’s opposition to gun control today. Had those guns been registered, she argues, Bull Connor would have had a legal right to take them away, thereby removing one of the black community’s only means of defence. I have a sort of pure second amendment view of the right to bear arms, she said in 2001.

— The Times 2004-11-21: Condi: The girl who cracked the ice

Condi’s experience wasn’t out of the ordinary. During the hardest fights of the civil rights movement in Mississippi and Alabama, ordinary Black families and civil rights activists defended themselves against the Klan terror by arming themselves. (Yes, organizers who were passionately committed to the principles nonviolent civil disobedience did too–nonviolent demonstrations don’t mean letting the night-riders burn or bomb your house. When they asked Fannie Lou Hamer why her house in Sunflower County never was dynamited, her answer was I keep a shotgun in every corner of my bedroom.)

And I think they were right to do so. So I can’t agree with Fred when he objects:

My initial, flip reaction, was — well, that’s not the lesson I would have drawn. Vigilantes make a practice of driving through your neighborhood shooting, and you conclude that making guns more available is a good thing?

Yes, it is–because the night riders wouldn’t have any trouble getting guns even with stringent gun control laws. Stricter gun control in Bombingham would have only meant fewer Black families able to defend themselves against the night riders. And what would they have done? Called the cops? Bull Connor’s cops? Condi is right to point out that what gun control means is that somebody in the government–usually the sheriff or the police commissioner–has the power to decide who can arm himself or herself and who can’t. It means that the government prohibits some substantial portion of the population from buying the weapons that they can use to defend themselves, in the expectation that they will depend on the Authorities for the protection of their lives. But for a Black woman in Bull Connor’s Birmingham, depending on the Authorities to defend your life was a sucker’s bet. Depending on Bull Connor to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous white supremacist terrorists was a sucker’s bet. And the fact is that, for all the progress we’ve made, it’s still far from clear that relying on the cops is a good bet for Black people–or for that matter, for women, for Muslims, for any number of people who have historically had the boots on their necks (see, for example, GT 2004-11-14, GT 2002-02-13, GT 2001-10-25, GT 2001-04-21, and GT 2001-04-04).

You might be inclined to say: look, Jim Crow is over; things got better, and they still can get better. (I think this is the take that Fred’s suggesting when he says for Rice, the deeper lesson of growing up in Birmingham in the early 60s was that government is fundamentally corrupt and untrustworthy.) Yes, gun control now wouldn’t be as bad as it would have been in Bull Connor’s day. But it will still be bad. The answer is not to throw the wankers out and find the right people to head up the gun control regime in their place. There’s a strong historical argument against that suggestion: the first gun control legislation in American history were laws to ban free blacks from owning guns in the South; later efforts were driven by fear-mongering against the alleged criminal (or revolutionary) tendencies of labor leaders, Slavic and Italian immigrants, and urban Blacks. And I can’t see any good reason to set the history of gun control aside when we consider what it means for real people in the present world.

Even setting the historical arguments, though, I still can’t find a good reason to trust the right people to manage a gun control regime. In fact, I’d argue that there aren’t any right people to find: the power to disarm a whole class of people is inevitably a corrosive power. There is no way to do it without creating a class of people who are completely dependent on the ruling class and their agents for the defense of their very lives and livelihoods: that’s what gun control means. As Leftists–opponents of unjust and arbitrary power–it should be very troubling to those of us on the Left when the powerful have all the weapons and the people over whom they have power have none to defend themselves. That’s absolute power, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. You see it today in the professional paramilitary police forces that occupy most major cities today; and it’s important to see how it’s a power that can’t help but corrupt any class that seizes it.

Écrasez l’infâme.

Further reading

Sounds Familiar

Ol’ Jerry Falwell is at it again; the latest, from his 21 November Old Time Gospel Hour broadcast, is the following incisive tidbit:

And we’re going to invite PETA [to Wild Game Night] as our special guest, P-E-T-A — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. We want you to come, we’re going to give you a top seat there, so you can sit there and suffer. This is one of my special groups, another one’s the ACLU, another is the NOW — the National Order of Witches [sic]. We’ve got — I’ve got a lot of special groups.

Ouch! As Jessica put it over at feministing, Yeah, I bet all the ladies over at NOW were huddled around their cauldrons just fuming over that one. Please.

On the other hand, we shouldn’t be too hasty to pile on. Perhaps poor Jerry wasn’t trying to be insulting. Maybe he just got confused, and mixed up NOW with another famous feminist organizing effort:

WITCH was born on Halloween, 1968, in New York, but within a few weeks Covens had sprung up in such diverse spots as Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, North Carolina, Portland (Oregon), Austin (Texas), and Tokyo (Japan). They’re still spreading. A certain common style–insousciance, theatricality, humor, and activism, unite the Covens–which are otherwise totally autonomous, and unhierarchical to the point of anarchy. …

Washington, D.C. WITCH–after an action hexing the United Fruit Company’s oppressive policy on the Third World and on secretaries in its offices at home (Bananas and rifles, sugar and death / War for profit, tarantulas’ breath / United Fruit makes lots of loot / The CIA is in its boot)–claimed that WITCH was a total concept of revolutionary female identity and was the striking arm of the Women’s Liberation Movement, aiming mainly at financial and corporate America, at those institutions that have the power to control and define human life.

Chicago WITCH Covens showered the Sociology Department at the University of Chicago with hair cuttings and nail clippings after the firing of a radical feminist woman professor, and the Chicago Witches also demonstrated against a transit fare hike. They, as well as Witches in New York, San Francisco, North Dakota, and New England, disrupted local Bridal Fairs. The fluidity and wit of the Witches is evident in the ever-changing acronyms: the basic, original title was Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell, but on Mother’s Day one Coven became Women Infuriated at Taking Care of Hooligans; another group, working at a major Eastern insurance corporation, became Women Indentured to Traveler’s Corporate Hell; still another set of infiltrators, working at Bell Telephone, manifested themselves disruptively as Women Incensed at Telephone Company Harrassment. When hexing inflationary prices at supermarkets, a Midwest Coven appeared as Women’s Independent Taxpayers, Consumers, and Homemakers; Women Interested in Toppling Consumption Holidays was another transfigutory appellation–and the latest heard at this writing is Women Inspired to Commit Herstory.

For Rebellion Is As The Sin Of Witchcraft. —I Samuel, 15:23

–Robin Morgan, Sisterhood is Powerful (1970)

photo: Feminist activists dressed as witches storm the Chicago Metro system

Chicago WITCH hexes the Transit Authority (photo by Louise Brotsky)

Double, bubble, war and rubble
When you mess with women, you’ll be in trouble
We’re convicted of murder if abortion is planned
Convicted of shame if we don’t have a man
Convicted of conspiracy if we fight for our rights
And burned at the stake when we stand up to fight
Double, bubble, war and rubble
When you mess with women, you’ll be in trouble.
We curse your empire to make it fall–
When you take on one of us, you take on us all!

–Women’s Independent Taxpayers, Consumers, and Homemakers (W.I.T.C.H.)

Who says that feminists don’t have a sense of humor?

If Jerry F. is trying to get our goat, he’s going to have to try a lot harder than that. You should feel free to let him know that at his contact page.

Update 2004-11-29: Looks like flea had the same idea at One Good Thing (thanks, Amanda):

This, sadly, is what passes for wit in those circles. They’ve been calling feminists “witches” for literally twenty years, possibly more. I think more. I think second wave feminist icon (and one of my heroes) Robin Morgan started a group called WITCH in response to it, where they ran around and did Abbie Hoffman-esque stunts like casting a spell on the New York Stock Exchange to shut it down at the beginning of the day. When the Wall Streeters tried to open the doors, they found that they could not. The WITCHes took full credit for their spell working, of course, and they were indeed responsible, as they had superglued the locks shut the night before.

Buy Something!

Today (or tomorrow, if you’re not in the United States) is Buy Nothing Day, a tradition (not a meme; there are no memes) from the folks at Adbusters. The idea is pretty simple: you’re not supposed to buy anything today. This is supposed to be an action against consumerism. As it turns out, I made a completely unnecessary purchase today: a ticket to see The Incredibles for the third time, a big greasy bag of popcorn, and a big brand name Frozen Coke. Delicious, but oughtn’t I feel guilty?

No. I don’t feel guilty and I shouldn’t, because Buy Nothing Day is, in fact, a collosally misanthropic and subtly reactionary waste of time. Now, I couldn’t care less about the Adbusters crew, but there are people I respect (e.g., Elayne Riggs (2004-11-26), Mark Dilley (2004-11-19)) who support Buy Nothing Day and similar anti-consumerist actions such as the Great Holiday Boycott. I can understand why good people think there is a good idea here: anti-consumerist sentiments latch onto a real problem. But I dissent. Anti-consumerist doctrine, from Marcuse to Adbusters, distorts the nature of the problem, analyses it in terms that are subtly (or sometimes not-so-subtly) misogynistic and classist, and offers solutions that systematically miss the point.

Buy Nothing Day is as nice of an example of anti-consumerist theory and practice as you could hope for. The problem is over-consumption of corporate-made goods; its source is consumers duped into mindless binging by clever ad-men; its solution is waking up and making the choice to opt out of the madness. (Here’s Adbusters: For 24 hours, millions of people around the world do not participate — in the doomsday economy, the marketing mind-games, and the frantic consumer-binge that’s become our culture. We pause. We make a small choice not to shop.) You make the decision to opt out, and to chide others into opting out too–by shuffling around stores in a zombie costume or harassing retail workers, for example; that is the road to enlightenment, and enlightenment means liberation. This attack on consumer culture is packaged as resistance to the bourgeoisie; thus, anti-consumerism is sold as Leftist populism.

The problem is that this is wrong on nearly every count. Stop for a moment to just look at what the theory of consumerism says about the origin of social problems–the delusions that the unwashed masses are allegedly duped into–and what it recommends as the solution–Gnostic liberation from the dirty material world. This is not Leftist critique; it is Romantic misanthropy. Look at how it is cashed out in action: ridiculing ordinary people going about their business by portraying them as mindless zombies, pigs, sheep, or cattle; harassing workers who have done nothing worse than show up for their jobs. This is not Leftist politics; it’s empty lifestylism and a display of personal purity. What it expresses is contempt and what it does is attack ordinary people–workers and women in particular. More on that in a moment. (I don’t want to suggest that everyone who recommends Buy Nothing Day or expresses anti-consumerist sentiments is some kind of slimy reactionary misanthrope. They aren’t; lots of decent and sensible people are involved. But I think those decent and sensible people are making an understandable mistake, and going along with a reactionary program without realizing it.)

Ellen Willis had it right in Women and the Myth of Consumerism (1969):

If white radicals are serious about revolution, they are going to have to discard a lot of bullshit ideology created by and for educated white middle-class males. A good example of what has to go is the popular theory of consumerism.

As expounded by many leftist thinkers, notably Marcuse, this theory maintains that consumers are psychically manipulated by the mass media to crave more and more consumer goods, and thus power an economy that depends on constantly expanding sales. …

First of all, there is nothing inherently wrong with consumption. Shopping and consuming are enjoyable human activities and the marketplace has been a center of social life for thousands of years.

The locus of the oppression resides in the production function: people have no control over which commodities are produced (or services performed), in what amounts, under what conditions, or how these commodities are distributed. Corporations make these decisions and base them solely on profit potential.

As it is, the profusion of commodities is a genuine and powerful compensation for oppression. It is a bribe, but like all bribes it offers concrete benefits–in the average American’s case, a degree of physical comfort unparalleled in history. Under present conditions, people are preoccupied with consumer goods not because they are brainwashed but because buying is the one pleasurable activity not only permitted but actively encouraged by our rulers. The pleasure of eating an ice cream cone may be minor compared to the pleasure of meaningful, autonomous work, but the former is easily available and the latter is not. A poor family would undoubtedly rather have a decent apartment than a new TV, but since they are unlikely to get the apartment, what is to be gained by not buying the TV?

That’s not all, either. Misanthropy is always easiest to take out on the people who are least powerful and most widely denigrated; it shouldn’t be surprising that anti-consumerist misanthropy is so often cashed out in backhanded attacks on poor workers, and especially on women:

The theory is said to be particularly applicable to women, for women do most of the actual buying, their buying is often directly related to their oppression (e.g. makeup, soap flakes), and they are a special target of advertisers. According to this view, the society defines women as consumers, and the purpose of the prevailing media image of women as passive sexual objects is to sell products. It follows that the beneficiaries of this depreciation of women are not men but the corporate power structure. …

The confusion between cause and effect is particularly apparent in the consumerist analysis of women’s oppression. Women are not manipulated by the media into being domestic servants and mindless sexual decorations, the better to sell soap and hair spray. Rather, the image reflects women as they are forced by men in a sexist society to behave. Male supremacy is the oldest and most basic form of class exploitation; it was not invented by a smart ad man. …

For women, buying and wearing clothes and beauty aids is not so much consumption as work. One of a woman’s jobs in this society is to be an attractive sexual object, and clothes and make up are tools of the trade. Similarly, buying food and household furnishings is a domestic task; it is the wife’s chore to pick out the commodities that will be consumed by the whole family. Appliances and cleaning materials are tools that faciliate her domestic function. When a woman spends a lot of money and time decorating her home or herself, or hunting down the latest in vacuum cleaners, it is not idle self-indulgence (let alone the result of psychic manipulation) but a healthy attempt to find outlets for her creative energies within her circumscribed role.

… Consumerism as applied to women is blatantly sexist. The pervasive image of the empty-headed female consumer constantly trying her husband’s patience with her extravagant purchases contributes to the myth of male superiority: we are incapable of spending money rationally: all we need to make us happy is a new hat now and then. (There is an analogous racial stereotype–the black with his Cadillac and magenta shirts.) Furthermore, the consumerism line allows Movement men to avoid recognizing that they exploit women by attributing women’s oppression solely to capitalism. It fits neatly into already existing radical theory and concerns, saving the Movement the trouble of tackling the real problems of women’s liberation. And it retards the struggle against male supremacy by dividing women. Just as in the male movement, the belief in consumerism encourages radical women to patronize and put down other women for trying to survive as best they can, and maintains individualist illusions.

In the past 35 years, we unfortunately haven’t come a long way. (Watch as women and girls are glibly portrayed as empty-headed, narcissistic, and shallow; marvel as unconsumer boys thoughtlessly objectify liberated women to pimp their project.)

So what must we do? Hey, it’s the holidays; let’s enjoy ourselves–even, yes, buy something, if we feel like it–and ignore or ridicule guilt-tripping anti-consumerists who haven’t got anything better to do than hector us. And when we get back to work, shouldn’t we remember that we’re all in this together, and that that the answer is to empower people instead of berating them? Here’s Ellen Willis again, sounding (alas!) eerily like she was writing about Buy Nothing Day itself, instead of the movement 35 years ago:

If we are to build a mass movement we must recognize that no individual decision, like rejecting consumption, can liberate us. We must stop arguing about whose life style is better (and secretly believing ours is) and tend to the task of collectively fighting our own oppression and the ways in which we oppress others. When we create a political alternative to sexism, racism, and capitalism, the consumer problem, if it is a problem, will take care of itself.

Ten days of Feminist Blogs

It’s been a week and a half since Feminist Blogs was launched, and it’s exciting to watch the community grow. We had an awesome launch, thanks to a burst of announcements from our contributors (feministe (2004-11-15), Trish Wilson (2004-11-16), Pinko Feminist Hellcat (2004-11-16), Sappho’s Breathing (2004-11-16), Mouse Words (2004-11-16), etc. etc. etc.). Webalizer tells me that we’re averaging about 100-200 unique readers a day, and the trend is heading upwards. I’m still muddling through the pile of submissions that we’ve gotten in ten days; in addition to the original crew, Feminist Blogs now also syndicates:

Welcome all! Whew!

Besides the flurry of announcements of the launch, discussions have also started to percolate through the community: on the spread of HIV in Black women, for example (BlackFeminism.org 2004/10/27, Trish Wilson 2004/11/16) on the anti-choice strategy behind fetal protection laws (Mouse Words 2004/11/17, Pinko Feminist Hellcat 2004/11/18, GT 2004/11/18, …).

So I’d like to take a moment to step back and thank everyone who has made this project a reality. And also to open up a bit of a discussion about Feminist Blogs itself, now that we have had some time to let it settle in. I hope that some of us can weigh in on some or all of questions such as…

  • Do you like the way that the project is going? Is the website useful to you? How about the newsfeeds?

  • What do you think of the number of contributors that we have? The diversity of voices that you’re hearing? Is the volume of posts too high, too low, or just right?

  • How is Feminist Blogs changing your blogging (if at all)?

  • Do you like what you’re seeing? What could be done to make the website more useful and more of a pleasure to read?

  • What does a community like this mean for us as feminist bloggers? Where do we go from here?

Thanks again to everyone who is making Feminist Blogs a success. Onward!

P.S.: thisgirl at the secret of this girl has gone ahead and made an AntiPixel-style badge for your viewing pleasure.

I know I’m adding it to the sidebar for Rad Geek Pople’s Daily!