I think one good thing to keep in mind is that things may be just as backwards now as they’ve ever been. I’m talking about chronocentrism. Not the kind where you revere the past disproportionately; the kind where you assume the present isn’t insane. I’m not knocking the present; it’s cool that we don’t routinely perform frontal lobotomies anymore, or make people fight to the death for our amusement, or keep literal slaves, so on and so forth.
Plus, we have nice things. From our personal gadgets to our medical gadgets; our surveillance gadgets to our war gadgets; from our labor saving gadgets in the home, to our — ok yeah, all that. Kickin’ ass in the gadget department.
It’s natural to assume that the things we value are, um, valuable. As if that’s just a given. And maybe they are. But think for a second about how you can look back in time and say, “Wow — that’s crazy they were all so obsessed with (x) that they didn’t even recognize (y) or (z).” How will future generations solve for these variables, looking back at us? They might say something like, “Wow — that’s crazy they were all so obsessed with gadgets that they didn’t even realize they were living in the emotional dark ages, behaving as if everything isn’t connected.” Or who knows! I’m just as trapped in the dominant narrative of our time/space coordinates as anyone else.
It’s unfortunately the most natural thing in the world, to remain unaware of the dominant ideologies that shape our time’s narrative. If you want to become more conscious of them, here’s a trick: they don’t have a name. They don’t have an “ism”. They’re surrounded by isms, though, which by their very ism nature are non-dominant. VeganISM, for instance. VegetarianISM. PacifISM. FeminISM. What dominant ideology do these isms delineate? Omnivorism? Carnivorism? Patriotism? Masculinism? No. These isms skirt an ideology so dominant it doesn’t have a name. But if it did, it would be called violence-ism.
Violence-ism is a way of life in which we accept the premise of violence, but we argue about towards whom it should and should not be directed. And this is an important thing to remember about dominant ideologies of the past — like slavery. Imagine living in a world that accepts the premise of slavery, and merely argues about who should and should not be enslaved. Black people: check. Half black people, colloquially called “mulattos”: check. Quarter black people, colloquially called “quadroons”: check. One-eighth black people, colloquially called “octaroons”: check. In plantation-era Haiti, you might have a shot at being white if you were no more than 1/32nd black.
This is an amazing example of failing to analyze the right issue, while over-analyzing the wrong issue. But over-analysis of the wrong issue is a consistent symptom of those areas where we, societally, are missing the forest for the trees. What issues are we over-analyzing, currently, that may seem as insane, to future generations, as analyzing what smallest fraction of African heritage in an individual still makes you a slave? We couldn’t possibly be doing anything as stupid as that right now, could we?
Oh, for sure we are.
Again, our blind spots don’t lie within faulty analysis — we’re phenomenal at analysis. We can split the most irrelevant hairs, infinitely. Our blind spots lie in those ways our obsession with analysis blinds us to responsibility, integrity, and morality. As a rule. I mean, if our blind spots didn’t involve catastrophes of responsibility, integrity, and morality, then I’d be blogging about something else this morning, and the story of human history would be much different.
I’ll draw an intriguing parallel, here, between modern medicine and modern identity politics. Modern medicine aligns itself with a dominant ideology, certainly. What might that be? Well, it doesn’t have a name, because it’s dominant. What are some isms that exist around it, though? Homeopathy, naturopathy, integrative medicine, holistic medicine, Ayurveda, etc. These alternative modalities delineate a type of highly compartmentalized, pharmaceutically driven, symptom-reduction strategy designed to, mostly, fix acute trauma. I LOVE that it exists — pray god I never break a bone or have a bad accident, but if I do? Release the trauma ninjas! Hell yeah. If the modern medical establishment could have three wishes, it would be this: that cancer, heart disease, and diabetes were all just broken legs.
Meanwhile, we’re infinitely splitting the wrong hair about how to treat chronic disease because the medical model, by its very nature, is unable to take into account those factors that it must, for real coherence. Hence, the rise of various isms all around the dominant one.
So let’s take cancer. Problem: an organism that has chosen to grow a tumor. Solution: cut out the tumor and irradiate/embalm the organism to prevent the growth of future tumors.
Now let’s look at identity politics — the infinite splitting of perhaps the wrong hair.
It seems unavoidable, though, does it not? Western patriarchal culture has largely concerned itself with the interests and priorities of the landed male, and we’ve seen that that’s problematic. I guess the idea was that he’s then supposed to turn around take care of the rest of us. Hence the term patriarchy, and its myriad blindspots.
Enter the feminist movement, complete with its own canon and roots, stretching backwards through time — Mary Wollstonecraft, whoever else I read in grad school, paving the way.
But no sooner was there a real feminist movement, gaining real traction, than it quickly fractured again. The white sisters were like, “Black sisters, join us!” The black sisters were like, “Sure thing — right after we finish cleaning y’all’s houses and raising y’all’s kids. Bitch, please.” The lesbian sisters were like, “Hetero sisters, join us!” The hetero sisters were like, “Wait — I thought the whole point was to have better relations with men…?”
Meanwhile the poor, working class males have enjoyed better gender relations with their females because lower class women don’t want much that the lower class men have. Note: women have generally not agitated to gain more opportunities in coal mining, shit shoveling, railroad tie laying, or oil field rough necking.
But it is easy, these days, to lose track of what women’s historical experience has been. If you want to try a neat trick, whatever your gender, simply ask yourself this question: If I had a time machine, and I could go back to any place, and any time, in human history — but AS A WOMAN — where would I go?
Pretty much nowhere, right? Pretty much no-when.
Meanwhile again, gay men and lesbians (with their own canon and their own heros and heroines, stretching backwards through time — Sappho is a good read, for instance) are at a total disadvantage in their own pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, thanks to the hetero-normative dominant culture. So they need some rights, and they get traction on that.
But then it’s bisexual people too — almost universally scorned by the “true” gays — and then it’s trans people.
You know who hates trans people? The fucking TERFs. Trans-exclusionary radical feminists. They’re so angry about everything that women have had to deal with, from men, and now these same men have the fucking audacity to change their gender and COLONIZE the one last safe place to be a woman? Albeit an incredibly embittered one?
The other entity that hates trans-women is, understandably, women’s professional athletics. I mean, have you seen the images of professional soccer player Hannah Mouncey? Six-foot-two, 220 pounds, just annihilating cis-gendered opponents. It’s not competition — it’s abuse. But what are you gonna do — not let trans-women play sports? For that, we’d have to admit that men and women really are different, which is something we’re not prepared to officially do.
Female to male trans guys are treated maybe just a smidge better. It’s more relatable, at least. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be a male.
I recently volunteered, in group conversation, that I definitely wouldn’t want to be a male, and someone in the group said, “Wow — you’re the first woman I’ve ever heard say that.” We stared at each other in mutual amazement.
Back to the x-chromosome time machine I mentioned earlier, this proves that most men, and apparently some women, would not even travel to the here and now, as a woman, if they could help it. Think about that!
Wrenching my fascinated gaze away from that whole mess in order to continue…yeah, then there’s queer people, who aren’t trying to get up in any particular box — they’re like the Libertarians of the non-normative sexual/gender world. I have a special place in my heart for Libertarians and Queers of all flavors — it’s a “don’t tread on me” kind of stance, basically.
Then we’ve got the I and the A — intersex and asexual. The point of diminishing returns on all this was…somewhere in the rearview mirror, I’d hazard.
Then, you know, Western culture essentially preferences lighter-skinned people. We tend not to nuke whites, for one thing.
Reparations for what Europeans did to Native Americans, Blacks, and Central/South American indigenous people will never, and can never, de-atrocify the past, and in any case, cultural and institutional racism is alive and well.
And as my dad has observed: Europeans were only so good at killing and colonizing brown people because they had so much practice from killing and colonizing each other, first. European/Western culture is excellent at linear, rational, hierarchical thinking because, for fuck’s sake, it killed all of its own members that didn’t tow that line. Caucasians, as a group, can seem oddly devoid of fun, color, spice, spontaneity, mysticism, and reverence for the abstract or the esoteric — those qualities were eradicated from our gene pool long ago. No wonder every colorful, indigenous paradise has been reduced to a ghetto ornamented with ritzy resorts for white folks. Where else are we gonna get that shit?
Meanwhile, differently-abled people are just trying to see, and get around, and stuff. No one’s against them, and it’s great that the ADA acts as their advocate. But even that gets ugly, and can be co-opted. In my home state of Arizona, some lawyers from California all got together and conducted helicopter reconnaissance of all the rural Mom & Pops that weren’t ADA-compliant, and served them each of them with a lawsuit. If the businesses didn’t want to go to court, they had to install wheelchair ramps and pay a $5,000 fine. It was — well, it was many things, but it was certainly a quick, easy way for some out-of-state lawyers to skim five grand a pop off a whole bunch of struggling small business owners.
And I’ve barely even scratched the surface, here. Jews. American Muslims. Gay Mormons. Creationists. Retirees. Vegans. Addicts. Women in trucking. Infinite fragmentations of sub-sub-sub-sub-groups.
Middle and upper class, straight, white, meat-eating, able-bodied males have become the one enemy we can apparently all agree on. So much hurt and violence and pain. It’s got to be someone’s fault, and those guys seem to be the common denominator, right? So, it’s not sexist or racist or classist to blame them! They’re the sexist racist classists! They should have known better than to be…born…I guess.
I hope I’ve made my point. Identity politics: can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em.
The premise of all these movements has essentially been, hey! We’re not a tumor to be cut out. We pay taxes. And we’re not trying to limit your rights, so please stop limiting ours.
The premise of dominant society — impossible to define, but delineated by its various isms — has been: nerp. Cut that tumor out. Irradiate the organism. Prevent the growth of new tumors.
This prevention, this irradiation, comes in many forms, most notably that of Good Christian Family Values — a phrase which generally heralds impositions upon my autonomy that I’m not personally interested in.
The premise of the cancerous tumor in the body is this: I am the undeniable, which you deny. “Cancer is our most adversarial teacher,” declares Teal Swan, one of my spiritual faves, and who will hopefully forgive my paraphrasing her from memory. Cancer demands that we look at our choices. More importantly, it demands that we choose, between life and death. No one thinks they’ve been choosing death — not until they get cancer, that is. Have you noticed that, when people get cancer, they really get after it, in terms of living life on their terms, answering the urging of their soul? It’s a major wake up call.
Cancer is the ultimate caller of bluffs, and can be as much of a blessing as a deadline on term papers, if you look at it the right way.
I like to take ideas to their extreme, in order to grapple with them more decisively. Let’s take this analogy of the society-organism — the various needs of whom are denied firmly enough, and for long enough, that a whole separate movement, or tumor, arises. Let’s pick a group absolutely no one approves of. Howabout pedophiles.
It’s just obvious, right, that children should not be sexualized?
Well, apparently it isn’t, because pedophilia, child pornography, child sex trafficking, and all activities of that ilk are alive and well. Alive-er and well-er than they’ve ever been, in fact. Of course no one you know is involved in this. Oh wait, even that’s not true. I knew a guy in Flagstaff who would brag, when drunk, about vacationing in Thailand and fucking child prostitutes. It wasn’t illegal there. It’s commonly accepted there. And, they were brown. Doesn’t count.
The pedophiles are among us. There couldn’t be this many of them, this much of a demand for child pornography and trafficking, if they weren’t, in every sense, among us. Has there ever been a clearer example of a societal tumor that needs cutting out?
Right. How’s that working?
Apparently it’s not.
What’s creating all these pedophiles, if not a chain of pain accelerating to its most savage illogical, but apparently still logical, extreme? Yes, religion and codes of morality may oppose our more human instincts, at times, but it’s in defense of the otherwise helpless, such as children, that we appreciate their influence. Except — wait, newsflash — religious leaders and religious traditions represent some of the worst sex offenders.
Regardless, we’ve legally encoded 18 years as the age of consent, and everyone, in every state of mind, should be able to at least agree on that.
Except, clearly, we can’t, and we don’t.
What large-scale denial is occurring, giving rise to this?
Again, Teal Swan offers a broader perspective that helps me, personally, pan out. All sexual kinks, she says, from the minor to the major, represent an attempt to balance imbalance. We’re talking the wounds of childhood, here. Disregarded children may grow up to fetishize dominance. Children who’ve been handed too much responsibility may grow up to fetishize submission. Children terrified of rejection in any form may grow up to fetishize — ew — corpses. And, you guessed it, utterly disempowered children, in fact robbed of their own childhoods, may grow up to fetishize children.
If we ask: how are we, as a society, creating masses of pedophiles, for fuck’s sake? That’s a hard question to answer.
But if we ask instead: how are we, as a society, creating masses of thoroughly disempowered people who’ve been robbed of their own childhoods? We might be able to get somewhere with that.
And now regarding the ones we’ve got: what should be done with them? Do we have any notion how to rehabilitate…anyone? About anything? We’ve proven we can execute people, or simply confine them within buildings, essentially sending them to an endless summer camp for criminals, but how do we even approach truly helping anyone?
And what does it mean that children are sexually off-limits in a culture that rates a woman’s sex appeal in inverse proportion to her age? And indeed orchestrates and then winks at the common practice of inebriating young, female sex objects as a dating strategy? Or racking up as many sexual conquests as possible, regardless of whether women express a desire towards an exclusive connection or not?
That, at least, is men’s fault — right? Except…the male sex drive towards visibly nubile females is hard wired in to our species, and many species. Successful procreation and proliferation isn’t optimized through a male genetic predisposition to the pursuit of older, savvier women, however they may know their way around the bedroom.
At what point does healthy sexual competition become violence, if only — or perhaps especially — energetic violence? Do we even know what it feels like, to align energetically with someone? To correctly assess and then take their best interests as our own, as a pre-condition of including them in our lives?
It’s interesting how, in trying to answer the big questions, we inevitably arrive back where we started. The very small questions.
I certainly don’t have answers, but I do wonder: could it be possible that the purpose of life is to painstakingly enlarge our conception of “ourselves” to include…more? To take others’ best interests as our own? Wouldn’t that be a more interesting metric of advancement, a more valuable spectrum to traverse? A more coherent way to analyze societal frictions? And the best part is, we’re all already doing it, so we’re all capable of doing it. And any skill we have can be improved upon.
The biggest problem is, this approach is not enforceable — it’s only role-model-able. You can’t ask anyone to do it if you’re not doing it yourself, first.
Think about yourself. Do you take your body’s best interests as your own?
Frequently the 20 questions stops right there, because the answer is, demonstrably, no. But let’s say it’s yes.
Do you take your family’s best interests as your own? Almost always yes, to the extent that our emotional health allows.
Do you take your family pet’s best interests as your own?
Well, wait — I thought we were talking about people, here. Yeah — so did the slave owners and witch burners. Be careful who you allow, and don’t allow, to be “people”, in your world. Contemporary times may applaud you, but look at the various maniacs and psychopaths applauded throughout human history. Not a golden compass.
The 20 questions can go on infinitely, as you see. And we all have our thresholds. My threshold seems to extend far beyond those of my friends’ and acquaintances’, in some ways, but to also stop short in other areas. Like neighbors. I’ve never once gone over to someone’s house with a casserole. It’s okay to acknowledge what’s true for you; or perhaps I should say, it’s a failure of integrity to pretend otherwise. We’re not all built to be Mother Theresas. For whatever reason, I was able to take animals’ interests as my own, from a young age. And certainly our identities — which, as we can see from identity politics, are both useful and problematic — acquaint us early and firmly with those areas of resonance and disharmony that will serve as our starting point.
What I’m saying is that any dumb ass can resonate with someone just like themselves. Congratulations. It takes work, a special kind of work, to resonate with someone very different, let alone an animal, or a plant. No one’s asking you to do this work — in fact, you’re being encouraged by our current climate to do just the opposite, to fracture down into smaller and smaller pieces, and then to demand your small piece’s place at the table.
So, coming all the way back around to where we started: it might not be worth your while to assume that we’ve arrived, historically, anywhere at all. Or that we got all the kinks worked out in the eternal question of how best to live. History shows that the human race does nothing more competently than split the wrong hairs.
Meanwhile — it’s cool to have all these gadgets.