Over My Shoulder #44: on Roe v. Wade, governmental “victories,” and the ennervation of the Women’s Liberation Movement. From Sonia Johnson, Wildfire: Igniting the She/Volution
Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 14 years ago, in 2009, on the World Wide Web.
Here’s the rules. Except, note that I have changed them significantly, and plan to keep this new version from here on out. Check it:
At the top of the post, make a list of the books you’ve read all or part of, in print, over the course of the past week, at least as far as you can remember them. (These should be books that you’ve actually read as a part of your normal life, and not just something that you picked up to
reada page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)
Pick one of those books from the list, and pick out a quote of one or more paragraphs, to post underneath the list.
Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, which should be more a matter of context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than they are a matter of discussing the material.
Quoting a passage absolutely does not entail endorsement of what's said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn't really the point of the exercise anyway.
Here’s the books:
- Carol Tavris (1992). The Mismeasure of Woman
- Sonia Johnson (1989). Wildfire: Igniting the She/Volution. Albuquerque: Wildfire Books.
- Susan Sontag (1966/1990). Against Interpretation and other essays
- Nicholas Lemann (2006). Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War
- Alan Ebenstein (2003). Hayek’s Journey: The Mind of Friedrich Hayek
Here’s the quote. This is taken from Chapter 1, Who’s Afraid of the Supreme Court? from Sonia Johnson’s Wildfire: Igniting the She/Volution.
Often when I say that laws are not worth warm spit in patriarchy, those women who are frightened by the revolutionary implications of that statement often counter with the argument that Roe v. Wade is incontrovertible evidence that women can go through men and their system to win freedom. I reply that, unfortunately, Roe v. Wade is incontrovertible evidence not of freedom but instead of one of the most blatant co-optations, or re-enslavements, of women by patriarchy in history. I go on to tell them how I think Roe v. Wade saved and continues to serve patriarchy.
I wasn’t a feminist at the beginning of the second wave of feminism in this country in the late 60s and early 70s, but I have talked with hundreds of women who were. From them and from the literature written then, I can almost feel the incredible excitement of the Movement in those days. Despite, or perhaps partly because of, very legitimate and healthful anger, women were fairly bursting with energy and enthusiasm. Euphoria and elation might best describe the general atmosphere. It was a very heady time. Every woman I have spoken to who was an active feminist then looks back at that time with nostalgia: Those were the halcyon days, the Golden Age.
There were many reasons for that feeling, but chief among them, it seems to me, was that liberation seemed not only possible, but imminent. In addition, many feminists had a basic understanding of women’s enslavement that has since been lost in a general way: that women are men’s colonized lands; that just as the Englishcolonized— a racist euphemism forconquered— Nigeria and India, for instance, men have colonized women. The English declared themselves owners of these countries, and their people, made all the laws that governed them, and pocketed the profits themselves. Britanniaruledby plundering and raping the colonials and their lands.
The Indians, the Nigerians, the othercolonizedpeoples of the world (and colonization takes firmest hold in the feelings and perceptions of a people) tried to make the usurpers’ system work for them. They struggled to get laws passed that would give them more leeway, and they managed in some instances to infiltrate low- and even middle-level government echelons and to attain a few managerial and supervisory jobs in the industrial/corporate world. A token handful got into the educational institutions reserved for the masters. Some of them regarded these inroads as progress.
But enough of them eventually realized that it did not matter what else they seemed to achieve, if they did not have home rule, they could never be free. They came to the understanding that freedom was simply not possible for them–ever–in the colonial system. Freedom means owning themselves, owning their own lands, using their resources for their own enrichment, making their own laws. The revolution began with their feelings and perceptions of themselves as people who not only should but could govern themselves.
Women were the first owned, the firstruledpeople in every race and class and nation, the first slaves, the first colonized people, the first occupied countries. Many thousands of years ago men took our bodies as their lands as they felt befitted their naturally superior, god-like selves and our lowly, animalistic natures. Since this takeover, they have made all the laws that governed our lands, and have harvested us–our labor, our children, our sexuality, our emotional, spiritual, and cultural richness, our resources of intelligence, passion, devotion–for their own purposes and aggrandizement. These have been men’s most profitable cash crops.
The burgeoning women’s health movement of the early 70s was evidence of women’s awareness of our physical colonization and of our realization that no matter what else we did, no matter how many laws we got men to pass, no matter how many low-echelon government and corporate positions we won, like the Nigerians and the Indians and all other colonized peoples, unless we had home rule, everything else we did to try to free ourselves was meaningless.
So we were sayinghowdyto our cervixes for the first time in our lives, our own and our friends’. We may have been the 17th person to see them and the first 16 may have been men, but finally we were meeting them face to face. In doing so, we realized that it didn’t take a man’s eye to see a woman’s cervix, it didn’t take an American-Medical-Association, male-trained mind to diagnose the health of our reproductive organs or to treat them. We were shocked to remember hownaturalit had seemed to go to male gynecologists, and realized that, in fact, men’s being gynecologists was perverted, gross, and sick and that our accepting them as experts on our bodies–when they had never had so much as one period in their lives, never experienced one moment of pre-menstrual psychic clarity, never had one birth pain, never suckled one child — was evidence of our ferocious internalized colonization. It began to appear as obscene to us as it truly is.
As obvious as this may seem now, it hadn’t been obvious for a very long time.
So in learning to examine our own sexual organs, to diagnose and treat our own cervical and vaginal ailments, to do simple abortions, to deliver babies, and in beginning to think seriously about developing our own safe, effective, natural contraceptives and getting the word out, women were moving out of colonization, out of slavery. We were taking back and learning to govern our own countries.
In those days, the movement was called The Women’s Liberation Movement, and that, in fact, was what it was. Women were breaking the contract that exists between all oppressed people and their oppressors, in our case our agreement to allow men to own us and to exploit us as their resources. Though we agreed to it under the severest duress imaginable, in order, we thought, to survive, we nevertheless agreed.
Those who do not understand how the thirst for home rule among women at the beginning of the second wave of our Movement in this century rocked the foundations of patriarchy worldwide simply do not understand the necessity of women’s slavery to every level of men’s global system. Perhaps even many of the women at that time did not fully understand the revolutionary nature of what they were about. But in establishing a new order in which women owned our own bodies and were not men’s property, they were destroying the very foundation of patriarchy. Since any power-over paradigm is totally dependent upon those on the bottom agreeing to stay there, men’s world organization was in grave peril. If women would not be slaves, men could not be masters.
The men who control the world are not intelligent, as is evident to even the most casual observer, but they are crafty, particularly about maintaining privilege through control. Over their thousands of years of tyranny, they have acquired a near-perfect understanding of the psychology of the oppressed–if not consciously, then viscerally. They knew precisely what to do when women began refusing to honor the old contract, and I am absolutely convinced that their move was conscious, plotted, and deliberate.
They sent an emissary after the women as they were moving out of the old mind into a free world. Hurrying after us, he shouted,Hey, girls! Wait up a minute! Listen! You don’t need to go to all this trouble. We already know how to do all the things you’re having to learn. We know your bodies and what is good for you better than you do. Trying to learn what we already know will take too much of your time and energy away from all your other importantissues.
Then he used men’s most successful lie, the hook we had always taken in the past because men are our children, and we need to believe they value us, that we can trust them.You know we love you and want your movement to succeed,he crooned.So do you know what we’re prepared to do for you? If you’ll come back, we’ll let you have legalized abortion!
How could we refuse such a generous, loving offer? We had listened to men’s voices and trusted them for so long–in the face of massive evidence that they had never been trustworthy, had had so little practice in hearing and trusting our own, that we lost our tenuous bearings in the new world and turned around and walked right back into our jail cell. We allowed them to reduce liberation to anissue.We forgot that anybody that can let you, owns you.
So the men let us have legalized abortion. Some women protest that women won the right to it, forgetting that the legal system is set up to keep patriarchy intact, which means to keep women enslaved, and that men own the law. They will never use it to free us. As Audre Lorde states clearly,The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.[Audre Lorde, essay by that name in Sister Outsider. The Crossing Press: Freedom, CA 1984, p. 110.]
You know how pityingly we have looked at the benighted woman who says,I don’t need the Women’s Movement. My husband lets me do anything I want.But our pity has been hypocritical: Roe v. Wade, thegloryof the movement, is exactly the same sad phenomenon — our husband the state letting us, and our feeling grateful for it. But, of course, like a husband the menletus not because it is good for us but because it is necessary for them. It keeps us colonized, our bodies state property and our destinies in their hands, and it rivets our attention on them.
So the men let us have legalized abortion, and almost instantly the energy drained from the movement, like air from a punctured balloon. Instead of the Women’s Liberation Movement, we became simply the Women’s Movement, because liberation is antithetical to letting men, depending upon men to, make the laws that govern our lands. For the last 15 years we have been nailed to the system by Roe v. Wade, our mighty energy and hope and love channeled into begging men in dozens of state and national bodies not to pare away cent by cent the truly miserable allowance they promised us for abortions for poor women.
If we hadn’t trusted them again, if we had kept on going in the direction we were headed, with the same time and money and energy we have since expended on groveling, we could by this time have had a woman on every block in every city and town who is an expert on contraceptives, women’s health, birthing, and abortion. We could have educated the women of this country in countless creative ways about their bodies and their right to rule them. We would have learned how to govern ourselves, discovering a whole new way for women–and therefore everyone–to be human.
And, significantly, a Bork could have been appointed to every seat of the Supreme Court, men could have been spewing laws aimed at controlling our bodies out of every legal orifice, and all their flailing and sputtering would simply be irrelevant. Having removed ourselves from their jurisdiction, we would have settled the question of abortion and birth control, of women’s individual freedom, blessedly and for ages to come. When the Nigerians and Indians got ready to rule themselves, the English had no choice but to go home. Tyranny is a contract. Both parties have to stick to it.
But in the early 70s women hadn’t had time to complete the necessary internal revolution in how we thought and felt about ourselves that was necessary for us to be free. Evidence of this is that we took as models for our movement the movements that had preceded ours, all of which were reformist because they involved men. Since our own internal, authentic women’s voices were still very weak and difficult to hear and when heard still without sufficient authority, we didn’t take seriously enough the fact that women and men are in wildly different relationships to the system. We didn’t realize that since the entire global system of laws and governments is set up with the primary purpose of keeping women of every color and class enslaved by men of their own color and class, and often by other men as well, talking about civil rights for women was oxymoronic. We had still to learn how colossally brainwashed we are by patriarchy to do in the name of freedom precisely those things that will further enslave us.
Roe v. Wade was very smart politics for the men; now, regardless of what party is in power or who is on the Supreme Court, the groundwork has been laid. The hopes of thousands of dedicated feminists are bound firmly once more to the husband-state. And we are all a dozen years further away from trusting women and finding a lasting non-male-approval-based solution to the problem of our physical and emotional colonization.
It is time for us to remember that no one can free us but ourselves. Time not to try to get the men to do it for us — which reinforces their illusion of godhood and ours of wormhood and perpetuates the deadly power-over model of reality–but to do it ourselves. Time for thousands of us to learn to perform abortions and to do all that needs to be done for one another in so many neighborhoods throughout the country that our liberation cannot be stopped. Time to manage our own bodies, heal our own bodies, own our own bodies. It is time for home rule.
This is how I want women to spend our prodigious intelligence and energy.
Obviously, Roe v. Wade doesn’t stand alone; it simply models patriarchy’s subversive tactics most clearly. Almost all segments of our Movement have suffered such co-optation. Many women who have been active in the shelter movement for years, for instance, have pointed out to me the similarities in strategy and effect between Roe v. Wade and government funding for shelters.
To obtain funding for shelters in the first place, women must tone down their feminism and conform to male officials’ standards and expectations. To keep the money, the women who work in the shelters as well as those who come there for help are required to do masses of paper work, the purpose of which seems to be to keep women from helping and receiving help. In some areas, when women are in crisis and call a shelter, before their feelings and needs can even be addressed they must be asked a dozen questions and informed at length about the conditions under which the shelter will accept them (they can have no weapons, for instance). Many women simply hang up in total frustration and anger. In other instances, funders won’t allow discussions of racism or homophobia or of battering among Lesbians. They also often control who is hired. Funders regularly split women’s organizations apart by clouding the issues of who is going to define the group, what their work is, what their analysis is, and even what the issue is.
In addition, nearly every funder’s prerequisites are designed to keep women powerless, thinking and behaving as victims. One state, for example, requires shelters to use only professional counselors, specifically prohibiting peer counseling. Peer counseling, I am told by women with much experience, is the only counseling that has yet been seen to have any significant effect upon battered women.
Because of the scope and depth of the subversion of our purposes by funders, local and national, many shelter workers agree with Suzanne Pharr who concluded her brave speech at the 1987 National Lesbian and Gay Health Conference in Los Angeles with these words:From my experience, my strongest urge is to say, DO ANYTHING–BEG, BORROW, STEAL–BUT DON’T TAKE GOVERNMENT FUNDING!
–Sonia Johnson (1989). Wildfire: Igniting the She/Volution. Albuquerque: Wildfire Books. 19–31.
Roderick T. Long /#
My favourite line:
And the moral obviously generalises ….
Roderick T. Long /#
I found another great quote from Sonia Johnson online:
Martin Radwin /#
How many of these feminists in the early days of “The Women’s Liberation Movement” were libertarians or went on to become libertarians? My impression, without having seriously studied the question, is that very few of them followed this path. The true “libertarian feminists”, such as Wendy McElroy, were always a very small minority in the movement.
Roderick T. Long /#
Feminists and libertarians have both worked hard to alienate each other, piss each other off, and miss the point of what the other is saying. Even Wendy, alas, has fallen into this to some extent; see section 5 of this piece.
I still think that left-libertarians would be well rewarded if they tried to make an effort to find allies among pro-sex feminists; people like Susie Bright, Annie Sprinkle, Carol Leigh, Carol Queen, Patrick Califia Rice, and the late Ellen Willis.
Authoritarian feminists are unfortunately still common (if not always dominant) in academia, but in the subcultures where American (and, I’ve heard, French) feminism is made the pro-sex feminists are winning on the ground, or at least were two years ago. In NZ the feminist party line has somehow managed to avoid the classic intrafemale sex-class split (if not without some rancour), and the result is the best legal status quo on sex laws in centuries on Western history.
There’s a history of libertarian/pro-sex femininism already in place: Norma Jean Almadovar’s LP-CA gubernatorial capacity was the symbol of that high point. The name of Wendy McElroy in still remembered respectfully in sex-positive circles (I wish with Long and Johnson that she had remained more radically feminist). Nick and Soviet here seem to have already forged some constructive links. Starchild and I organised some prostitute rights presentations with the California Libertarian Party when I lived in SF, but of course that’s meaningless now(#).
That said, precisely because mainstream libertarianism has flopped and the paleos could never be mistaken for friends of any kind of feminism, left-libs are in a good position to pick up the threads of that old alliance… if they want to. The recent exchange in this forum suggests to me that left-libertarian theory really can be friendly to feminism; the only thing which keeps me uncertain of whether this would work is a lack of knowledge of Kevin Carson’s stances on feminist, sexuality, and cultural freedom issues. I mention this simply because Kevin is left-libertarianism’s Marx, and it’s objectively impossible to confidently represent left-libertarianism as a committed friend to feminism until the WoG has spoken.
But if that issue was made clear, (and assuming my face sets well enough to let me back in the industry) I would be glad, for instance, to make up some ALL pamphlets in ISIL brochure tyle promoting cooperation between left-libertarianism and pro-sex feminism, or on any number of related topics. Or: I know a friend who promised anyway to help me with a website. Or: with Charles in Vegas it wouldn’t be hard to have ALL do presentations at sex workers rights conferences. Or: I might very well be able to convince a friend to help me set up an ALL stall during Wellington’s next summer season for block parties (I can’t chair a booth solo due to health reasons). Or: this is a maybe, but I might be able to get the local anarchist collective to help promote Carson’s works.
I haven’t done most of this stuff before, so a bit of guidance would be appreciated, but I think I could be of help here.
And I promise, this time I’ll actually put the effort forward and get it done. Many of you spent a good amount of time and brainwork saying the right things over the national anarchism issue, and I’d like to do something in return. I hope Charles will make allowances for the fact that I still follow a different brand of feminism than he does, but I’m not laughing lightly at it any more, EVER. And Charles has, despite his skepticism as to the possibility of genuinely freely chosen sex work, stood up for the humanity, dignity, and rights of sex workers more than has any other libertarian intellectual since at least McElroy, and with more deeply feminist convictions.
Still, political reality is that Dworkin and MacKinnon won’t sell to sex-positive feminists any better than they will to libertarians. If cooperation between different schools of the selfish side of the force can help human liberation, then that’s a good alchemy which even the good and the just would have reason to bless.
Here’s what pro-sex feminists have to offer left-libs: First of all, they’re better than anyone on sex laws. Duh. They’re almost as uniformly perfect on drug laws, for some odd reason. We’re all for 110% free speech… erotic writers get hit first and worst by every wave of censorship laws. We hate rapist pigs… er… I mean, ‘our upstanding law enforcement professional community’. No illusions here about the goodness of the state. Too much support for welfare statism, perhaps, but for Carson’s kind of reasons, not out of any love of central planning. There’s a very clear understanding of how state ‘help’ as a control mechanism and a protection racket works. Crony capitalism? That’s how every damn male-owned brothel and strip club works, and, shall we say, it really sucks. The principles of mutual aid allied with individualism are there, or would be if sex workers would stop fighting each other for class crumbs. And pro-sex fems are not hostile to stupidly markets like most leftists…. we’re even rumoured to be less than scornful of the profit motive. Praxeology? Agorism? Romantic egoism? We were there first (ahem, miss Rosenbaum- you with the French Romantics education). Most are pretty good on foreign policy, and especially on immigration issues. And of course, just about everything sex positivism has said has a linear continuity with the abortion rights movement. On that issue its left-libertarians who need to stand as be counted as white-hats.
Plus, pro-sex feminists offer libertarian more credibility on the ‘left’ side of ‘left-libertarian. A bit more gender diversity would really help distinguish left-libism from the standard white boy’s club perception which most leftists have of libertarians. Pro-sex feminists hold the same standards as anarchists on race, feminist, gender issues. Keeping communication between the two groups would very much encourage the formation of a left-libertarian culture which cully assimilates to these values, and the result would be that anarchists and other radical progressives would feel much more inclined towards trust.
The same is true on class issues… at least in theory. Pro-sex feminists know the right leftist words to use, but here libertarians like Johnson and Carson must be admitted to have the moral advantage. C’est la vie. But pro-sex feminists hardly have a worse record than most libertarians in this regard. It’s hardly unfair if those concerned with class exploitation issues fear false friendship from people who emulate class climbers like Madonna or [ommitted due to conflict of interest]. But we also might object to allies whose ranks include loud defenders of Wal-mart and Microsoft, not to mention the isn’t-worth-my-spit lumpencapitalists who run the clubs and the review boards. Put perhaps we could forgive each others’ moral flaws and waive these objections. We, at least, do not press it. We look over it.
As for what pro-sex feminists would get from the deal… guys, we need all the friends we can get. Organised friends. Educated friends. Too little has survived from the old sex worker subcultures to maintain a working solidarity or cultural infrastructure, which allows the patriarchal monotheists to pick us off one by one and keep our best minds fixated on unbelievably petty internal struggles. San Francisco had FOUR different sex work rights groups at each others’ throats which barely managed to truce to work for Prop. K, and I rarely saw anyone lift the proverbial finger to help anyone else whose hair was a shade less blonde. A lot of the best sex workers do their activism as attaches to male-oriented groups, simply because they see it more likely to get something done. But that kind of individualised alliance never balances fairly. Meanwhile, libertarians tend to have developed precisely the skills which pro-sex feminists haven’t, for all the standard gendered reasons.
And lastly, all feminist movements have to contend with a world in which nothing a woman says counts until a man repeats it. Which means male help is unfortunately necesse est, and male help which won’t claim all the credit becomes a godsend. Anything a sex worker says gets ignored when a sex worker says it, and while the bad girl image can advance individual careers, by definition it can’t change the existing relations of power.
Just having allies ready to call out those who dehumanise sex workers and other sexual nonconformists would help a great deal. Having the world use you as a generic symbol of evil gets very old the day you realise that you can’t go back, that art and pleasure have also become serious survival. That day phrases like ‘fellow workers’ and ‘class war’ stop being slogans and start being problems that won’t fix themselves. Anna Morgenstern once rightly told to me that the inner divisions of left libertarians are essentially a matter of house slaves and field slaves fighting each other instead of the Romans. She was right. And by the same general principle, political alliances can help everyone as long as each side’s needs and perspectives aren’t neglected.
I think there’s a potentially mutually beneficial relationship here. What do y’all think?
(#) (#) (#)
(#) Incidentally, their serenities Starchild and Angela Keaton of the Grassroots Libertarian Caucus deserve a great deal of credit for doing everything in their power to prevent the LP debacle. They fought what happened tooth and claw all the way down. Both did so while under vicious personal attacks on sexuality issues. Both were deeply hurt first by the Portland Massacre and then by the Barr treason. Keaton especially worked herself crazy for the Party, invested much of her life for the cause, played a straight game on male terms on a tilted playing field, and was repeatedly backstabbed by her comrades as reward her efforts. One party high-up behaved so villianously towards her that one would suspect him of lifting his lines from an operatic script, were that not an unwarranted presumption of literacy. Angela dealt with it all in perfect form, with all the credit put under others’ names, because liberty mattered more to her than all that.
And like Saint Chris Sciabarra, she did all of her good deeds without a shred of sappy altruist in it. Angela is the most pure egoist I’ve ever met, an order of magnitude in individualism beyond anything I would dare.
Soviet Onion /#
I distinctly remember him once mentioning Rod and Charles’ piece on libertarian feminism with great positivity and gratitude that they were exploring that dimension, but I don’t remember where it was and there’s just so much digging . . .
This must be what Soviet Onion is referring to:
“Long also draws Ayn Rand into the picture, pointing to her fictional treatment of private social pressures toward conformity as the primary evil in The Fountainhead (his original use of the argument appeared in an excellent essay on libertarian feminism coauthored with Charles Johnson).”
The quote comes from here
Soviet Onion /#
. . . so I think whatever his particular beliefs are, he sure ain’t no paleo. I think that he first and foremost embodies a tendency within left-libertarianism to be overly ecumenical according to the wrong set of unifying principles, and treat a desire by groups to secede as more strategically important than their innate qualities, but that discussion’s been done.
As I said once before, social issues just aren’t some people’s specialty. If KC masterpiece wants to write about multi-machines and shake his fist at highways because that’s his forte and it’s what interests him, then more power to him. I am, after all, a proponent of the division of labor.
Regarding pro-sex feminists and sex worker activists, I can definitely confirm your assessment, although there are a sprinkling of quasi-libertarians within that group already. They’ve already put one foot out in our direction, and I really can’t imagine why, other than that they truly are individualists who mistakenly believe the Libertarian movement cares as a whole embodies the same attitude. I imagine they people would jump at the idea of a libertarianism that actively treated their concerns as its own.
The only things I’ve been able to glean about Carson on social issues:
1) He has (or had) a set of his links on his blog promoting ‘cultural freedom’ as a friendly agenda, meaning what I would mean bythe concept, but without any further explanation.
2) He wrote to me a number of years ago and stated a belief that traditional families and parenting relations ae not per se non-oppressive.
3) There was a bibliographical note somewhere expressing aesthetic, but not substantive, appreciation for another writer’s Calvinism.
4) He’s shown persoanllyappreciated worker-solidarity respect for sex work.
5) His writings fairly often use sexual metaphors for power dynamics which are common and clearly not intended to attack anyone, but they jar me a little.
6) Lots and lots of evidence that he’s good on race, better than any libertarian except maybe Charles on class, good on environmentalism (and I’m only beginning to be convinced one ought to be ‘good on environmentalism’ myself), great on colonialism.
7) He’s written lots and lots of good stuff on the police/prison/survelliance state which, directly intended or not, helps all victims of authoritarianism, women and LGBTs included.
8) While he’s at it, he’s one-upped Scott Adams in trashing the heirarchical tyranny and sheer stupidity of the megacorps.
In short, a picture missing too many peices to make out what’s being portrayed, but more pieces look good than bad. The quote on the Long/Johnson essay helps- thanks, freeman. So does appreciation for Sciabarra(#). But the only person who can speak for Carson is Carson, and I apologise in advance if any offense is taken from my attempts to put his relevant writings on this dissection table.
Soviet, I don’t find the localist/hoverbike dispute to feel very threatening any more. As long as were clear that alliances with anarcho-nazis anf the like are off the table, everything else the localists want seems fully compatible with those of us who prefer Babylonian fleshpots. Charles’ very eloquent essay on the virtues of neighbourhoods really moved me, and pointed out a lot of good things I’ve overlooked while defending the rights of cosmopolitanism. I really like Charles’ dialectical win of pointing out that there’s a certain sense of neibourhoods and common projects which makes cities themselves so fascinating. I loved Chinatown and the Mission in SF. I love Cuba Mall and Lambton Quay in Wellington. If that’s what people want, and to do their version of the same thing with more trees and gardens, more space, and less people- please go right ahead- solitude’s always been another way in which free spirits deal with closed society. Besides, I can’t hope to generalise an aristocratic ideal if people can’t try out new bloodless forms of country estate living. I call first dibs on Schloss Neuschwanstein when the Revolution comes.
I think there are still issues to be worked out- especially on the local tyranny problems. I’d feel more comfortable with decentralism if it was done in a way that took seriously the problem of children trapped in authoritarian and abusive families. A society where most people are trapped for 18 years of indoctrination and abuse before being let lose is not a free society no matter what the laws say, and it’s also pretty much a guarantee that the laws will be teh suck. But there’s a difference between those who haven’t been there and don’t get how bad it is to be stuck in a familial cage and those, like Preston, who do much worse than deliberately go out of their way not to care.
As long as the defenders of localism are clearly opposed to local tyranny and defend secessionism and decentralism with the intention of increasing or at least not stalling others’ progress towards more cultural freedom, I don’t have any principled quarrel with them. I still don’t agree with others here on many issues of method, but if everyone gets that our plans for utopia should have a place to give everyone a meaningful fair go at the kind of life they want, then sure- respect the absolute right organic farmers do their own thing. We’re just about a diversity of tactics and a need to maintain cordial connexions between differently-focused affinity groups. And it’s in everyone’s division of labour economic interest to see that each gets what the want. I may write better than those who grow food, but the best way for me secure the time to write is for the people who most enjoy agriculture to do agriculture as their expertise sees fit.
Now back to Carson- yes, he’s more back-to-the-land and localist than my personal preferences could ever be happy with. I was worried for awhile, especially given his Burkean background, that he did see cities as immoral centers of parasitism and that there was a bit of Southern agrarianism hidden underneath the mutualism. But here again, the Great Battle between left-libertarians highly suggests that there’s no conflict whatsoever between the lifestyle I want and the lifestyle he wants. As you wrote to me, I think all that cosmopolitans need to do now is consistently make sure that our voices are not forgotten, and that a fair deal for urbanites gets into the unwritten left-libertarian constitution. I suspect the most practical way to do this would be to get together and start showing what we Babylonians can get busy building.
The previous center of discourse let in real provincial bigots who are, quite bluntly, out to kill us. But if and as long as the localists show by their actions that they have no intention of empowering or excusing bigotry, then I don’t think we have a conflict here. At least for me, left-libertarianism is finally becoming a serious and promising project which looks to be heading in a good direction. So let’s get a hammer and a nail and start working!
Finally, again on Carson. He’s written a couple of Great Books(##), or close enough to that different human standards start applying. If liberal civilisation survives this century people will be reading him at the end of that century- and he might just deserve some of the credit for that survival. Given Carson’s stature, I’d still respect him even if he came out as an outspoken patriarch- I’d be very dissapointed, but you can’t write off Nietzsche just because he was a sexist prick. If instead he came out as a sex-positive feminist … well, that would suggest that we have a movement which with a decade’s work or so could seriously rock the world’ boat. I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve recently feeling like the writing we’re doing here is starting to feel like it really matters.
(#)If you are a friend of Sciabarra or have benefited from his work, these times would be a very good moment to write to him. He’s the one who made left-libertarian possible.
(##) Kevin Carson may have been the first person in history to write a major theoretical work with a picture of a guy with a head up his arse on the cover. That this says something very striking about our times, I’m sure. What is means for our times I have no idea. But any cultural elite which listens to empty suits and tenured mediocrities instead of its Kevin Carsons has WAY lost the mandate of heaven, and deserves every bit of filth Kevin can fling in its direction.
Kevin Carson /#
Aster: I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the role of left-libertarianism’s Marx–that’s kind of a heavy load for one man’s shoulders.
On issues of cultural and sexual freedom, I’ve evolved over the years from what would probably be considered paleo or agrarian roots. At one time, I leaned toward Catholicism. Now I consider myself an agnostic. When I was drawn toward religion, years ago, my view was more or less that of C.S. Lewis: I accepted pretty much the standard orthodox Christian position on the whole laundry list of prohibited sins, but agreed with Lewis that sins of the flesh were far less important, and far more human, than spiritual sins of cruelty and domination. As an agnostic in recent years, I’m skeptical of all attempts to put moral labels on voluntary choices that don’t harm others. My general attitude toward life was best summed up by Willie Nelson: the world would be a better place if everybody smoked a joint every day and minded their own damned business. But then, even back when I was religiously inclined, I took a dim view of seeing people pushed around and denied the freedom to make their own choices, or treated badly by people who couldn’t distinguish moral disapproval from personal unkindness.
While I admire what Roderick and Charles have done on cultural issues, and what Chris Sciabarra did laying the groundwork for thick libertarianism, cultural issues are really just not my thing. As Soviet Onion said, I’m pretty much the decentralist tech guy. And I’ll probably do a lot better job at that if I don’t get turned into a left-libertarian pope. I’ve tried to avoid any public focus on myself as an individual that would detract from the ideas I promote, and have studiously avoided having my voice or likeness appear online because I’m intensely private and like my ideas to be considered on their own merit. I just want the ideas to get around.
As for the secessionist ecumenicalism Soviet Onion mentioned, I do agree with Keith Preston that the centralized machinery of Empire and the corporate state are the unique danger of our time. And I agree with him that patriarchal groups in a panarchy are relatively limited in the harm they can do compared to the centralized state. And I’m grateful to him for the extent to which he hosted and promoted my writing at ARV early in my days as an online writer.
That being said, I do think Keith has gone too far in many instances in the size of the big tent he’s willing to maintain, and the groups he’s willing to allow within it. And I do think he’s crossed way, way over the line in his personal comments directed at you (although IMO it was mostly an inappropriate way of reacting to having been kicked out of your list for comments that, as I recall, didn’t warrant it).
I seldom jump in on threads on cultural issues because of the division of labor thing, like the Onion said, and I feel like I’m already spread about a micron thin keeping up with the economic stuff that’s my primary interest. But since you’ve raised these questions a couple of times, I thought I ought to go on the record.
Marja Erwin /#
I think the problem goes far beyond inviting dangerous groups into an alliance (an all-too-common mistake, and an easy-to-forgive one).
Regardless of the different personal preferences and cultural commitments of Aster, Charles, Roderick, Libertatia, Nick, Onion, Rechelon, yourself, myself, et al. I hope we share a commitment to certain social values (including individual flourishing, egalitarianism, rational discourse, etc. as well as voluntary society).
I think we, the left-libertarian movement, need to develop the groundwork, and speak for our social values as well as against capitalism and the state. Our philosophies are incompatible with Keith’s strategy, and it seems, his philosophy may be incompatible with our strategies. Under the circumstances, the break has been inevitable.
Roderick T. Long /#
Why Kevin, there’s a perfectly good picture of you online right here.
Kevin Carson /#
Ah, well, at least the face and naughty bits don’t show.
This post from Renegade Evolution, if you haven’t already seen it, might be promising for your left-libertarian/sex positive feminist alliance:
Granted its not clear what kind of libertarian she is exactly, and the comments below the entry discuss this.
From her profile:
‘Often over generalized as a bit of a clockwork apocalypse, heartless capitalist and generally ruthless scum, the terrifying truth is RenEv is a stripper, Internet porn performer, sexual mercenary, sex workers rights advocate, swinger, gonzo fan, BDSM tourist, blogger, history buff, feminist expatriate and all around gamer geek who is unapologetically addicted to caffeine, nicotine, action movies and sports’.
Nick "Natasha" Manley /#
I didn’t speak to but saw Renegade Evolution at Sex Con 2.0. She’s quite an imposing figure! Angela Keaton actually mentioned her to me on Facebook ~ saying her and Aster found her via a debate on Robert Jensen. Angela describes her as a Libertarian esque moderate, but I am not sure what that means exactly.
Discussed at radgeek.com /#
Rad Geek People’s Daily 2009-05-26 – Over My Shoulder #45: How Empire comes home in the form of sado-statism and police brutality. From Fred Woodworth, “Evil Empire Notes,” in The Match! # 107 (Summer, 2009):