Tuesday, May 02, 2006

"Trumps"

No, not the plutocrat with the really bad toupees and the anger management issue, or his fugly buildings. Here referring to a recent intrablog kerfuffle centering around some genius' assertion that "gender trumps race."

Enough other people have fisked the bigotry/stupidity of the original comment and its author (who is not someone I take seriously enough to bother with; yet another asshat grimly riding the border between "kneejerk ideologue" and "frootbat"). And for a specific breakdown of why this particular "trumping" is both racist and really, really stupid/ill-informed, as well as the original context that led to the remark (spinning off the Duke case), see nubian's posting either at her own blog or at Alas (same post, different set of comments).

The thing is, fuckwitacious as the author of that comment may be, she is in fact only voicing a common sentiment among lefty circles more baldly than usual (frootbats do have a way of doing this). Well, several sentiments, in fact; like I said, racism among white feminists/ism (and/or particularly that one) is being addressed elsewhere. Also see: Women of Color Blog, Black Amazon, Slant Truth, and Smackdog Chronicles, among others.

(Black Amazon puts forth a rather nice rejoinder in response to the defensive whine that

"[anyone] who doesn't agree with or isn't familiar with feminist of color issues is going to be called a destructive terrible racist"


namely,

No you're not a racist

Your the motherfucking laziest intellectually torpid fuckers.


...which is the sort of retort that warms my shrivelled little heart. Hello. It's called "Google." It's called "the library." It's called GO TO THE FUCKING SOURCE AND ASK/LOOK IT UP YOUR DAMN SELF BEFORE SPOUTING OFF. Particularly if you're going to side with the faction accusing anyone else of "whining:" while you're at your research project, consider looking up the term "projection.")

anyway.

I'm still stuck on the whole notion of one oppression "trumping" another. Because, like I say, it's far from the first time I've encountered that idea in (loosely defined) lefty circles, although perhaps never stated quite so bluntly. Or the word "trump," for that matter: it tends to suggest, as I've often suspected for some people, that at some level it's all a big game. Sort of like the old "Queen for a Day," I suppose. "Sociopolitical Queen For A Day." So: what do you win? Validation? Understanding? The argument? A year's supply of Rice-a-Roni?



Bitch | Lab puts her finger on the problem with this way of thinking. "More Oppresseder Than Thou:"

The very notion that we can have an ‘oppresseder than thou’ sweepstakes is built right into left social movements and feminist movements specifically.

...On a standpoint epistemology, where you are in the system can tell us how much access you have to the truth. The argument goes back a long way, but I’d say its moral persuasiveness derives from Hegel’s master-slave dialectic. What comes out of Hegel is this idea that the slave actually has to know more than the master. The master only has to know his world. The slave, however, has to know how the master thinks and why so as to serve the master. The master doesn’t have to know the slave — on the very definition of being the master. The slave is the one that performs the labor to transform nature into things the master can consume. So, the slave is closer to nature as well and knows how nature works far better than an aloof master who never has to get close to nature to get the things he needs to live.

The notion that we need an oppression sweepstakes isn’t just an aberration. It’s pretty much built into our assumptions about how to gain access to the truth. Truth here is knowledge of how to create the good society: what it might look like, how to get from here to there. Theorizing from the experience of this oppressed group, understanding how the world works from their standpoint … this would help us come up with better ways to change the world and better visions for what the good society might look like. After all, what would knowledge from a master’s perspective look like? A master would just recreate the world to suit him, right? Wouldn’t the oppressed class come up with a vision of the good society that would be better for all? We often assume that a member of an oppressed class wouldn’t want to create an unjust, unfair, harmful world, right?



Indeed.

Well, I'll get back to that last assumption in a moment.

But I do find it especialy ironic when proponents of an ideology that essentially claims to have the goal of abolishing hierarchy are, in fact, recreating a hierarchy within their theories and arguments. The fact that it's now some kind of inverted wack-ass limbo hierarchy, where it appears that the ultimate goal isn't in fact about being on the top, but on the bottom, doesn't make it any less of a hierarchy. It just means that there's going to be a lot more passive-aggression within the communit(ies), and a rather staggering amount of ineffectuality within any activism derived from this mode of thinking.

Seriously, think about it. Why is it that so much of the (loosely defined) left in the U.S., at least, has been about as effective as a sack of wet spaghetti over the past few decades? There are a lot of reasons, of course; but prominent among them, it seems to me, is this fucked-up notion that the winner is the loser (but of course, we're against the whole concept of competition to begin with, so we can't even truly acknowledge that this is going on). By the time you've wrestled your way out of that kind of headfuck, who has time for actual, you know, progress? Who has the energy? And besides: if the winner is the loser, then if you ever seem within striking distance of actually achieving your stated goals...uh-oh. That means we, like, win, right? So that means we're, like, now the oppressors, right? Which means we're bad people, in the wrong, and have lost the clear, pure light of the Truth. Fuck.

The fact that the (loosely defined) right has appropriated this sort of language more and more in recent years doesn't make the whole thing any less lame, or us any more likely to get back in power, much less to achieve our purported goals. Not as long as we just keep doggedly trying to outbid the "oppressors" in low-ball. Of course it's fucking idiotic and insulting to whine about how much worse you have it than the people whose necks you're stepping on. Point out the fact that their foot is on your neck, sure. But, you can't stop there.

Because the bottom line is, ultimately? If you're oppressing someone, generally speaking, you don't really care that someone has it worse than you, or even that you're contributing to their problem. That's what oppression is.

It is true that sometimes people can be reasoned out of their position. And/or appealed to on the grounds of common humanity/experience/emotion. So, sure, it's certainly worth a try or seventy-times-seven. Of course, the effectiveness of this approach is dependent on a number of factors, in addition to one's own rhetorical skills:

that this particular stepper is at least somewhat of a reasonable/conscientious person to begin with

that s/he can hear you from all the way up there

most important, that the stepper is not so invested in his/her position that s/he is determined not to give it up, even if it means plugging his/her fingers in the ears and going LALALALALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU, or worse. If the stepper is convinced that s/he is going to fall into the void without the solid comforting weight of your neck beneath his/her foot, as opposed to mostly just being an oblivious klutz (it happens), then you're gonna have a much tougher time of it.

Meanwhile, if you've pointed this problem out to the stepper till you're blue in the face, if you've used every rhetorical and logical move you know, if you've appealed to every possible vestige of guilt and/or shame you think the person might have, and they still haven't moved their foot...maybe, you know, it might be time to try a different approach. Or several.

For instance, you could:

firmly grasp their ankle and simply remove it from your neck. Sometimes you have enough power to do this, sometimes you don't. In which case you will probably try:

bite their ankles, which may work briefly; but unless you can quickly get up and stay up while they're startled, it's likely to result in heavier boots and other reinforcement plus retaliation

tickle them, which might take longer to get the startle/remove response, but is more disconcerting and perhaps less likely to result in immediate and heavy retaliation

roll away or knock them over in some sort of Aikido-like move, using their own power against them. this is probably the most effective technique, but it takes a fair amount of training and/or rethinking to pull off, and it's still a mystery to most of us how this works, if we even see this happen at all.

lie back in defeat and exhaustion, or at least try to ignore the foot, somehow

attempt an out-of-body experience, the better to see more clearly

simply keep struggling to sit up from the position you're in. This probably won't get you up right away, but the constant pressure will put the stepper increasingly off balance. eventually the goal is to get the stepper to figure it's more trouble than it's worth to stay where s/he is..

cast your gaze to your left and right to see who else is down alongside you, and whether you might somehow be able to help each other

And/or, you might notice that there is someone positioned below you, and that by stepping on them, you can increase your leverage. Which brings us back to the original subject. Lather, rinse, repeat.

On that note, Bitch | Lab has another fisk of a separate but (to my mind) related kerfuffle: the resurrection of the notion that transgendered folks somehow pose a threat to the feminist movement. (It's like some gawdawful B zombie flick sometimes, I swear: some things and ideas just never die, they just keep on resurrecting themselves and creakily lurching back at you. Or the wall. Bump. Bump. Bump).

anyway, what I said there, in response to this bit (which B | L takes on herself, and in other directions as well):

...the claims that women can’t oppress transfolk because they are not denying that they should have formal economic and political rights

was this:

there’s a lot to say here, but just quickly: the whole “__ can’t oppress ___” really chaps my hide. In this case especially, of course, I think it’s egregious: on the whole, TG folk are a lot more marginalized than non TG women, per se. (no, none of the above rant was ever meant to suggest that I do not, in fact, think that some groups and/or individuals have it worse off than others, on the whole). But even if that weren’t so: I hate hate HATE that formulation.

It’s one thing to say something along the lines of,

“Look, you stupid fuck, the fact that you have this complaint really doesn’t signify some sort of conspiracy against you and your’n; couldja maybe try paying some attention to the numerous and serious grievances discussed here in this space instead of sucking up all the attention with your own drama? Or if you’re not capable of doing that, fuck off? THANK you.”

or even,

“Historically, (yourgroup) has oppressed (mygroup) in xyz ways. I feel the weight of this oppression in abg ways; I really don’t have the energy or patience to be dealing with your trifling complaints. Don’t look at me for sympathy.”

At least that would be owning one's own exasperation and anger, even as one discharges it (righteously or otherwise; and who's to say, ultimately, if it's righteous or not? Facts are facts, and are debatable; but feelings are feelings, and really aren't debatable).

But to proclaim, as if from a mountaintop,

“Foobar cannot oppress fweebah,”

…to me always feels rather disingenuous. It’s usually followed up by some sort of semantic distinction, suggesting that the author is trying to say that while yes, it is possible to be prejudiced on an *individual* level, there is no such thing as “reverse” ___ on an institutional level (which is usually when this sort of remark comes up; some dumbass is whining about “reverse” something-or-other).

But…I don’t buy it. Not worded that way, as if from the mountaintop: this is Just The Way It Is. For one thing, it’s way too easy to take that formulation and conclude that it means,

“Therefore, as a member of group foobar, I can say or do anything I want to you and you have no right to be offended, much less hurt, by it.”

or even,

“Not only is it historically and currently true that group fweebah is oppressive of group foobar, it could NEVER EVER happen in any possible world that foobar people could be oppressive of fweebah people, in any way”

…which in turn implies that the difference between foobar and fweebah people is *not* just a sociological construct, but in fact innate; and/or that the state of affairs as they currently are can never, ever change.

Which, to me, goes completely against the whole reason for becoming politically active, particularly on the left, in the first place. It's about change for the better. It's about, as much as possible, changing the dynamic from win-lose to win-win. Otherwise, you're just basically licking your wounds. And maybe, just maybe, tearing them freshly open just when it looks like they might start to heal.

14 comments:

Sage said...

Excellent post, belledame. I love being made to think and laugh in one go!

It really bites by butt when someone in an oppressed or powerless group somehow manages to get on the other side of the fence, and we all watch, waiting for them to rally from the other side, but instead they get merged with the other dorks at the top. Then they actually start doing the stepping on their old buddies.

I've see this too many times, and it never fails to shock me. I know, power corrupts yadda yadda yadda, but please!

antiprincess said...

thank you for speaking up for the fweebah community, but as a fweebah of fweebah I feel it is important to point out the many authentic fweebah-american voices that fweeb fweebly all over the interfweeb.

you fweeb?

:)

belledame222 said...

Good point.

Bitch | Lab said...

fweeb.

LOL

what sage said.

In the Marxist circles, all of this gets spun into the search for the 'third world oppressed'. They escape the problem but only slightly, though, when they insist that while knowledge begins with the third world oppressed, it doesn't stay there. it has to be developed "in the struggle"

hence, a clique of marxist grad studs from the english department who always signed off from everything with "yours in struggle".

and also hence the tendency to think anyone in the us isn't oppressed, to shut the fuck up, and worry about the people who really have it bad.

and it all causes a lot of resentment b/c i think a lot of times that sentiment comes from the simple fact that the poor in the us just aren't exotic enough anymore, they don't have a cool culture or cool crafts to buy and put up on your wall in your office to say, "i'm down with the struggle."

i'll never forget noticing that when people at a conference in toronto walked by the homeless, gakking out at them, but were making a beeline for an arts and crafts fair by the lake. you guessed it: the fair featured authentic handmade guatamalan, indian, etc. trinkets which everyone oooed and ahhhhed over. i had to laugh. i presented a paper at a conference in michigan a month later. same craft type fair, same stuff.

it'd all been mass produced anywya. :)

belledame222 said...

:eyeroll:

yeah. it's shit like that that makes me understand, just a little, from whence the anti-left reactionary sentiment came, or some of it. one doesn't necessarily *have* to be an oppressive unenlightened tool of the ___; one might mostly be tired of all the bullshit.

of course if one then switches over to *right-wing* politicking, I've no sympathy at all. it's bad enough mouthing hilarious hypocritical bullshit without being indentured to Darth Vader on top of it.

Spc. Freeman said...

In college, I had a group of friends whose favorite hobby, it seemed, was playing a game I called "Which band sold out this week?" It's a topic with no real focus, nor any real terminus, so you can play it forever. Same with "Who is most oppressed?"

People try to dominate the oppression issue, as if claiming that anyone so trumped can never be anything but part of the problem. And you're right, people who go-right wing over internecine squabbling on the oppression card lose the right to lay claim to their purported ideals.

Me? I don't give a shit. Oppression is bad, and I'm going to keep fighting it. I'm not going to pull a Caitlin Flanagan and go run crying to the Conservative side just because someone on my side of the fence was a dick to me.

I'm an abrasive person. People are going to naturally dislike me. And fuck 'em. The cause is more important than the club. I do what I do because I BELIEVE. Not because it looks good on a fucking resume.

antiprincess said...

belledame - appropos of nothing, I just wanted to tell you that you totally rock my world.

thanks for all the linkage and comments and such.

fweebah!
H.

Mickle said...

I love the "Queen for a Day" reference - spot on.

I don't get the idea that one oppression trumps another either. I think a lot of white feminist fall into in part because we have to spend so much time explaining "why feminism?" to people who think "humanism" that allows UN workers to rape (oh, sorry, have sex with) little girls is adequate. But that still doesn't excuse such sentiments, especially since the invisibility of privilege is always needed for one to do so.

i think a lot of times that sentiment comes from the simple fact that the poor in the us just aren't exotic enough anymore

ooooh...this brings back memories of arguing with my first year roommate

ginmar said...

I'm reminded here of the time Bitch/Lab decided to boast about her hawt popularity on her blog site after I talked about harassment in school. It was a big joke to her. Obviously, strong women like her don't get harassed coz they fight back. Huh. Where were the bullshit police then?

Meanwhile, I'm left with the feeling, still, after all the bullshit people have been saying about me, that if the races were reversed in the Duke rape case, that loyalties would switch as well.

ginmar said...

who is not someone I take seriously enough to bother with; yet another asshat grimly riding the border between "kneejerk ideologue" and "frootbat"

I didn't see this. Thank you for wasting my time.

belledame222 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
belledame222 said...

You're welcome, although I'm fairly certain I didn't ask you to read or post at my site. I do appreciate your perspective on Iraq.

We have, in fact, encountered each other before, and I have read a fair amount of your writings and encounters with others in other contexts. I promise you that my impression of your overall 'Net persona was not, in fact, based on second-hand "bullshit" tale-telling; it was arrived at independently, as much as these things ever are.

I realize that you are a complex and real human being, as are we all; and I recognize the contributions that you've made to online discourse, particularly regarding Iraq. I also know that I've found a lot of your online behavior quite toxic; and that I am not alone in this. I posted in anger here, as I have done elsewhere and likely will do again. You are certainly free to respond with more anger of your own. It will not, however, be likely to change my or anyone else's impression of the above-noted encounter or any other if you do.

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