Thursday, January 30, 2014
Monday, November 12, 2012
Last night I read a very good article on AlterNet about the way our society's view of libido and sexuality is so broken that many of our cultural problems with gender, sex & equality can trace at least a portion of their insidiousness and apparent unshakeability to that broken conception. It got me thinking about how the feminist movement set out to raise social awareness, elevate women to an equal status in society, undermine rape culture and generally make society a place where all human beings can have an equal claim to a healthy life & to comfortably express their economic potential, identity, gender, sexuality and personality. The line of thought inevitably led me to a realization:
We have put a lot of social discourse into attaining the feminist goal, but very little by way or real, legitimate effort has been made toward acheiving that goal. The fact is, our society has largely accepted the precepts of equality that feminism has brought to its attention. The fact that with that acceptance has come so very few results, to my mind, means one thing and one thing only. Society has failed feminism.
It's a bigger problem than some out there might wish to admit. As much as the feminist critique largely focuses on redressing those sectors of our society and culture where there has been abject failure to ensure the physical and mental health, economic well-being and equal status of women, we often forget the consequences of those failures. Women are not the only victims of this social failure (as the AlterNet article touches on). When women cannot expect to make the salary they deserve, the economy suffers and problems of unemployment can quickly be exacerbated; when women cannot expect to control their reproductive lives, the health and social costs to society can become staggering, social mobility for men and women at the bottom of the economic spectrum becomes utterly stunted; when women cannot expect to be believed when they claim that they have been raped, men cannot expect their sisters, mothers, aunts, neices or daughters to feel safe, be safe or expect justice; when society paints every woman as a sexual commodity, it robs our government of true representation because women cannot be expected under such circumstances to compete fairly in the democratic process; it means that men can only expect to be viewed as predators or consumers of sex and marginalizes assertive women, emotionally sensitive or expressive men and anyone at all who isn't willing to agree to be a dominantly sexual man or a submissively sexual woman.
That is a very short list. But it speaks to an unbearable failure. It speaks to a society that values neither women, nor men, nor anyone at all - or at least that the value assigned to each is lower than anyone really agrees it should be.
The most terrifying part of that failure is that we all have internalized it to some extent. I am, with the love of my life, living in a sex-positive open relationship and I wrestle with unreasonable and ineffable guilt every time I spend a moment with another woman. I struggle with jealousy whenever my love spends time with another man. But it doesn't make sense. I want to spend the rest of my life with her and she with me, we love each other comepletely and we ensure that every moment we have together is ours in a way I don't think I've ever experienced. And yet... I feel society's yoke around my neck. I'm certain, to a lesser or greater extent, you, my reader, do as well.
I think it is necessary for us, as a precondition to living up to the expectations and ideals of the feminist movement, that we attempt to shake off that yoke. It cripples our capacity to move forward by impairing rational moral thought. It cripples our capacity for compassion for the same reason. We need to be better than we are. I need to be better than I am.
Posted by Steven Alleyn at 7:01 PM
Friday, November 25, 2011
The reason I have chosen to discuss 1984 now is, to be frank, my revulsion at the way police, the media and the government have behaved vis-à-vis the Occupy movement in the US primarily, but also here, in Canada. My thoughts began from there and went on to ponder a much larger political and cultural reality, but I want to be straightforward & state very clearly that a support for the Occupy movement served as my starting point.
Ultimately, during the course of my musings, I was forced to conclude that we in North America have a serious problem with the language we use to discuss all facets of our political reality. Language has always been a weapon in politics, and no one saw more clearly what it could accomplish in that capacity than George Orwell did in the shadow of World War II. It is therefore difficult to truly grasp how twisted our language has become without contrasting what is happening in our very real, everyday, actual world with the events in Winston Smith's fictitious world of 1984.
In 1984, this refers to a perception fostered by the political régime of Oceania that peace is impossible without perpetual war against either Eastasia or Eurasia (the enemy du jour being retroactively edited into records as having always been the enemy, with the ally du jour receiving the same treatment). The war is not perceived as perpetual, mind, merely as necessary to ensure peace.
In 2011, ten years after the declaration of the War on Terror, we are repeatedly reassured that "Thanks to the [war in Afghanistan] our citizens are safer and our nation is more secure;" that internationally illegal incursions over the borders of sovereign, ostensibly allied countries in order to commit state-sanctioned murder are "justice;" moreover, the same state-sanctioned murder is celebrated with elation in the streets of the capital of the most powerful country on the planet, a scene disturbingly reminiscent of the cheering depicted during the public hanging of Eurasian prisoners of war in Orwell's book. In a very real sense, then, we in 2011 understand - or at least our governments would have us understand - that WAR is, indeed, PEACE.
In the world of 1984, every party member is free to think exactly within the boundaries drawn by Big Brother & no further. Language itself is being curtailed, remade into newspeak, in order to eliminate the very possibility of heterodox thought. People's minds are being made slaves to ingsoc orthodoxy in order to allow them complete freedom within a terribly limited scope of behaviour. Proles - that is the bottom level of Oceanic society - have far more freedom than Party members, but theirs is a different slavery: no education at all; given the most menial & unintellectual tasks in society; kept drunk & hooked on mechanically generated radio shows meant to keep them distracted & uniterested, proles are slaves to vice, forever unable to manifest into a genuine political or social force.
The modern example, while nowhere near as insidious, is nevertheless worrying in the extreme.
In 2009, the Tea Party movement made headlines by carrying guns & behaving in an intimidating fashion at political rallies under the dual protections of the first & second amendments to the United States Constitution. Their extreme, but ultimately conservative (& therefore Orthodox) message was protected. I can find no instance of police intervening to break up a single Tea Party rally or protest in any periodical online.
By contrast, the more heterodox liberal/socialist message of the Occupy movement has provoked multiple & violent interventions by police to silence, displace & disperse the movement's encampments in municipalities all over North America. The protesters deserve it because they have no clear demands. They are hippies. They need a bath and a job. Never mind their rights as US or Canadian citizens.
No appeals to either the First Amendment in the US or the Canadian Fundamental Freedom of Expression (which is a little less narrow a right than the American Freedom of Speech in that is a. covers more than speech & b. does not only refer to the citizen's interaction with government) have allowed these protests to resist being shut down or violently attacked by police. In situations like these it becomes abundantly clear that freedom of speech is a freedom only so long as the message being articulated is consistent, at least in part, with the prevailing political orthodoxy. If the message is counter to that, it would seem, then it is not subject to any freedom at all.
The contrast with modern politics is striking. There is no willful amnesia among the modern electorate - merely a glorification of ignorance. How else do we explain candidate Herman Cain's statement that "we need a leader, not a reader?" Or the attacks against Obama as an intellectual, a lecturer-in-chief, a professor or an elitist?
This is a polity in which it is a disadvantage to be educated. The evidence is everywhere: among the websites above, "Harvard-educated" shows up as a slur; there are dozens of news stories google-able with headlines like "don't believe what they say;" for god's sake, Michelle Bachmann repeatedly demonstrates unbelievable ignorance & gullibility & remains a semi-viable candidate in the GOP presidential primary.
Do we live in a 1984, Winston Smith, Big Brother kind of world? I like to think, & hope, not. But the language we use to talk about our politics & the culture surrounding the big questions of leadership, freedom, the economy & our government are geared to produce a very limited & limiting outcome that favours one specific segment of our society. It is difficult to pin down exactly when it happened, but at one point since the 1970s, war did, indeed, become peace. Freedom, while not quite slavery, became a far more limited notion than we might imagine. Education became a liability, not a strength.
There is something worrying in that. The potential consequences of this perversion of political language and culture are terrifying to behold & we should be wary of allowing it to exacerbate the already tenuous situations of our economy & civil rights.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
He was working at the base of the statue of Queen Victoria when I photographed him. The tools of his trade were a simple black marker & a small sheet of plywood. What he was drawing was a beautiful, if a little terrifying, piece of artwork. This was the moment that my scepticism about Occupons Montréal faded & was replaced with hope – cautious hope, cautious optimism – but hope nonetheless.
The reason I had felt sceptical, the reason I had felt that Occupons Montréal might fade into irrelevance until I saw it for myself, is rooted in my understanding of other occupations worldwide – most notably, Occupy Wall Street, where the message is much clearer than the media is portraying it to be & the protestors’ organizing prowess & sense of community repeatedly seems to win out against the established powers & authorities. Globally, we are seeing a sort of 1968 all over again – a mass protest movement, simultaneously local & international in scope, with issues ranging from ending war, economic justice, student debt, unemployment, animal rights, etc. The momentum of this movement seems implacable & the energy of the people participating in it is contagious when you are around it.
So when I saw, over the weekend, a headline on the Le Devoir website saying that Occupons Montréal was associating itself with a march for Québec independence (the headline has since been removed), I felt my heart sink. The rest of the world was challenging an unfair, unscrupulous & predatory economic system that is pushing governments to austerity & here I was seeing my city’s Occupation rehashing old battles & using old, still-divisive politics to undermine its own message & popular support with nearly half of Québec’s population.
Except it wasn’t, and it isn’t. The Occupation General Assembly’s Minutes don’t mention a word about sovereignty or independence. The Occupation seems to be about changing the system to make it fairer for the people in our society who aren’t at the top of the wealth & power pyramid; the old battles are being brought up in the media, but not in the discussions I heard people having down in Square-Victoria-cum-La-Place-du-Peuple. Some of the ideas being discussed are frivolous, unachievable, blue-sky pushes for revolutionary, total world-system reform, but mostly what’s talked about seems to be about making the movement work, making the occupation durable &, beyond those goals, it seems to be about making the world better for people who need it. Allowing people not just to exist, but to live.
So yes, my scepticism faded. It faded because of the message of the Occupation, which is simply “Here are the problems foisted on our society by the wealthy & the powerful at our expense & in our name. Fix them. Now.”; it faded because of the people at the protest, who are living together with a sense of community I have simply never seen in Montreal; it faded because artists are sitting next to enthusiastic political activists, drawing pictures & sculpting stones while someone lectures about inequality and social justice, just because this place has given them the opportunity to express themselves in a way they could not before; it faded because in a city where people will riot because a band can’t play a gig for being held up at the border, there is a village of tents cooperating in an astonishing display of direct, deliberative democracy to change things for the better & not only has it not descended into chaos, but it has grown larger, more organized & more beautiful.
The artist with his plywood canvas sat on the plinth of a statue in a true, 21st Century Agora. If nothing else is accomplished by this movement, the community & the sense of being at the bustling, creative heart of a true democracy will nevertheless stay with me always.
Posted by Steven Alleyn at 5:16 PM
Labels: anglophone, canada, canadian politics, capitalism, communism, democracy, economy, environmentalism, free market, historical moment, montreal, occupation, occupons montréal, occuponsmontreal, occupy, occupy montreal, occupymontreal, ows, quebec, québec politics
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Or Yemen, or Tunisia, or Syria, or Libya, or any of those North African & Middle Eastern nations seeing nascent democratic - or at least rebellious - movements within their polity.
The People's Republic of China [PRC] will not see its government overthrown in the next few months by hordes of repressed, outraged, angry Chinese protestors clamouring for régime change & democracy. Sorry for deflating the bubble, but that is just the truth of the matter. There are a number of reasons for this. The Chinese government has tighter control (though this is by no means hermetic) of foreign press than Egypt, Tunisia, Lybia or Yemen; issues in China are largely local & issue based (see Charter '08), rather than national & personal/general; additionally, the economic situation in China is positive, growing &, importantly, provides full employment. That last factor is, by far, the most important to consider.
Media wise, it is true that young people in China can and do use proxy servers to easily circumvent the national firewall. This means that foreign media & information contrary to political doctrine is hardly difficult to access. It's propagation is not particularly restricted, either. Free speech is not total in China, obviously, but it exists in a great enough degree that the state cannot be accused of grossly violating it. Nevertheless, the average citizen is subjected only to media that exists in partnership with the State; there are enough people in China that even if millions upon millions of people circumvent state media & propagate that information, the vast majority does not. As such, the population is less likely to be swayed by external support, pressure or information than the middle-eastern countries abovementionned.
As for the issue-based Chinese outrage: China is very much a country in development with much work that remains to be done. The Chinese people know this and they are willing to work at it & make the country better. A great example of this is the young Rock & Roll musician in the Tank Man documentary who tells the interviewer that an full-fledged, complete transformation of China that would solve every problem the country faces and give them democracy & free choice is unrealistic. That improvement will take work and slow, methodical change.
And so the Chinese people work at it, pressuring their government one issue at a time. Weathering leaders like Jiang Zemin & embracing leaders like Hu Jintao, they work toward a better country.
Importantly, in many ways, they live in a much better country than they did in 1989, when a lone man stared down a tank in order to stand up to his government. The Special Economic Zones [SEZ] have been massively expanded. Every major eastern urban center is as capitalist as New York ever was. The Chinese people realize this success is true, aswell.
The old adage says, "It's the economy, stupid!" It isn't a lie. For every problem China faces, the fact remains that the Chinese Communist Party [CCP] has delivered on its economic promises. Chinese economic growth is just plain staggering and as long as it remains that way - as long as the CCP continues to deliver on Deng Xiaoping's promise to make China prosperous - the real risk of rebellion in China is infinitesimally small.
The argument can be made, aswell, that China has been revolutionary since the Taiping Rebellion; that what we're seeing in China is the slowest, most utterly complete, most methodical revolution in world history. That we won't see new revolutions in China because they aren't done with the one at hand. I think there is some truth to the argument. & I believe that the outcome of this revolution is far from certain: we may witness something novel in China in the coming years. Not Communism, Socialism, Liberalism, Corporatism or any other permutation of socio-political organization we're familiar with, but rather a sort of new social order... With Chinese characteristics!
Hang on & enjoy the ride. This one'll be interesting.
Posted by Steven Alleyn at 2:39 PM