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malheur wildlife refuge standoff and the deeper implications of privilege

Apparently this happened while we were on the coast. My initial reaction is that this is a great example of privilege, one with deep implications:

Privilege in and of itself is difficult to talk about since it makes a lot of people uncomfortable, especially those in privileged positions. Nobody likes to think that they have some kind of natural advantage in life over others, that they have it slightly easier than someone else just because of who they are. I like how Roxane Gay puts it in Bad Feminist:

We tend to believe that accusations of privilege imply we have it easy, which we resent because life is hard for nearly everyone. Of course we resent these accusations. Look at white men when they are accused of having privilege. They tend to be immediately defensive (and, at times, understandably so). They say, “It’s not my fault I am a white man,” or “I’m [insert other condition that discounts their privilege],” instead of simply accepting that, in this regard, yes, they benefit from certain privileges others do not. To have privilege in one or more areas does not mean you are wholly privileged. Surrendering to the acceptance of privilege is difficult, but it is really all that is expected. What I remind myself, regularly, is this: the acknowledgment of my privilege is not a denial of the ways I have been and am marginalized, the ways I have suffered. (17)

And since privilege is relative, it’s not easy to see, often going unnoticed because it manifests itself as a lack of discrimination that isn’t always readily apparent until we take a broader look at society as a whole. We are, in effect, often blind to our own privilege, or that of others, until we take a closer look at how different groups are treated in similar situations.

In this case, a group of armed, white men who feel entitled to public land and more lenient sentencing for poaching and arson have taken over a federal wildlife refuge building and are currently being given a wide berth by authorities. Would the same be true if it were a group of Blank Panthers or Muslims? How about the Black Lives Matter movement? I sincerely doubt it. No other group in the US could occupy a government and have such a measured response. No other group would get such subdued and even somewhat positive media coverage, let alone a modicum of public support. If it were any other group, that just wouldn’t be the case.

Muslims are automatically labelled terrorists in the media whenever they do anything, violent or otherwise. Black men, thugs. But a white man shooting up a Planned Parenthood or movie theatre? Possibly mentally ill. And armed white men trying to expropriate public land and threatening violence if they’re confronted? Well, they’re simply patriots, militia men, anti-government protesters, etc. And police seem to show remarkably restraint when it comes to armed white men, like the recent Planned Parenthood shooter, Robert Lewis Dear, who was apprehended alive after killing 3 people and wounding 9, or James Holmes, who killed 12 and wounded 30, but not so much when it comes to a black kid playing with a toy gun alone in a park.

But I digress. It’s not just about racial privilege, it’s also about political privilege and social power in the form of capital accumulation. As @nerdosyndical points out, “The armed white people trying to dissolve a national wildlife refuge are not practicing terrorism, they are practicing enclosure. They are trying to privatize public (not common) space for personal and private accumulation of capital.” Land is part of the dispute. Who gets to use it and for what. Grazing and hunting rights seem to underlie some of this, which hints at the history of US settler colonialism and process of enclosure, where common land is ‘enclosed’ and thereby restricted to the owner. These men feel entitled to this land, and they’ve taken drastic steps to assert that perceived right.

But what of Native American claims to land that was taken or promised, many of which are supported by treaties that the US government never honoured? What about Palestinians who are being forcibly removed from their land by Israeli colonizers? These are some of the questions that this incident should raise as I think they point towards the heart of the problem, capitalist class relations and how they manifest themselves.

The relative privilege that white men currently enjoy, for example, has its origins in the socio-economic paradigm the US (and arguably most of Western society) was founded upon, which from the start was created by, and mainly for, white, heterosexual, Christian, male property owners. And while there’s certainly been progress towards a more egalitarian society, the structural roots of socio-economic inequalities that create hierarchies of privilege are still buried deep within the makeup of our society and culture, hidden in plain sight. This is merely an exaggerated illustration of historical processes that have been taking shape for centuries.

The real focus, then, shouldn’t be their gender or their race so much as the underlying socio-economic framework that’s made these things the focus for so long—a complex system of social relations forming the material basis on top of which oppressive and exploitative hierarchies are built, a foundation we must recreate if we’re ever to transcend privilege and oppression.

many new oregon laws set to help women

Some of the new laws taking effect in Oregon at the beginning of the year, many of which should, at least theoretically, help protect women:

New batch of Oregon laws take effect in January

In the workplace, for example, “Domestic workers like nannies and housekeepers will be extended several new protections in 2016, including mandatory breaks, paid vacation time and recourse against harassment.” Most domestic works are women and immigrants, who are often exploited and harassed and have few legal protections and avenues of recompense.

Another law going into effect will double the statute of limitations on rape, “allowing prosecution up to 12 years after the crime occurred instead of six,” and if it happens to a minor, they’ll have until 30 to come forward. In addition, “Secretly filming someone in a place of ‘presumed privacy’ — including bathrooms and locker rooms — will be upgraded from a misdemeanor to a felony in 2016.” Because that’s just fucked up and creepy.

And despite all the recent attacks on women’s reproductive rights, “Pharmacists will be allowed to prescribe birth control directly to women, saving them a trip to the doctor’s office, and insurers will be required to cover up to a 12-month supply in one purchase.”

Onwards and upwards!

the paris agreement

Unfortunately, the new Paris agreement is far from what we need. Despite having the knowledge and technology to make and use energy sustainably, despite knowing that we have to reduce our energy usage and greenhouse emissions immediately to potentially avoid the worst case scenario, the world is settling for less because it’s easier/more profitable for those who currently own and control the means of production. As a result, the world will continue to steam towards environmental catastrophe while all the more economically developed countries are patting themselves on the back for “addressing the threat of global climate change.”

It’s certainly encouraging that steps are being made in the right direction; but we have to stop looking at this issue in terms of whether solutions are economically viable in a for-profit capitalist economy and start exploring alternatives like our lives depended on it. Instead of adopting agreements that fall short of what’s needed, we have to dismantle our existing fossil fuel infrastructure and create a whole new approach to production and distribution. And we can’t simply rely on politicians to do it for us; working-class people have to take a stand, make our voices heard, and help build the next environmentally viable economy.

the less noble sex

A while back, a friend of mine gave me a copy of Nancy Tuana’s The Less Noble Sex and I’ve finally gotten around to reading it. It’s one of the best/most interesting books I’ve read in a long time and I highly recommend it, especially for anyone interested in the history of sexism in the West (or anyone who doubts its existence/influence, for that matter). In particular, it details how patriarchal biases about women’s innate inferiority (along with a healthy dose of Eurocentrism) have permeated philosophy, religion, and science for centuries, conditioning everything from how we interpret myths to how we view and treat women (as well as non-whites) today. For all the positive contributions of great minds like Aristotle and Darwin, there’s a lot of negative social conditioning that must be understood and ultimately undone.

I’ve long thought, for example, that most of social and legal barriers to the use of contraception, as well as a woman’s right to choose, stems from patriarchal ideology. And The Less Noble Sex has further solidified that opinion. In particular, the book details the extent which patriarchal biases on the part of philosophers, religious leaders, and scientists (the majority of which have statistically been male) have influenced their ideas and empirical observations, both shaping and reinforcing the image of man as intellectually and rationally superior to woman, limiting women to their “natural” role as mothers and caregivers, leaving the sphere of public life to the care of men.

For centuries, the dominant ideology has been that a woman’s place is the home, and anything that gives women the ability to share equally in public life and pursue things like education and careers is anathema to that. It’s no surprise, then, that the majority of those who are against these things are the ones who have the most to lose, men. Ultimately, it’s about power. Allowing women (and men) to use contraception and decide whether they want to have a child if pregnant, not to mention having those things be safe, easily accessible, and covered by insurance, takes what little power patriarchal institutions still have over women, which is why I fully support women’s reproductive rights, as well as anything that gives women an equal share in the sphere of public life.

my two cents on the tragedy in paris

Gandhi once said, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” To me, that saying reflects the reality that violence has a tendency beget more violence, a cycle with no obvious winner.

Within the sphere of geopolitics, for example, the imperialist policies and actions of nations (often over generations) both directly and indirectly sows the seeds for future violence. There’s the initial military and economic violence that’s imposed by one nation(s) onto another, and then there’s the obligatory resistance and violent retaliation on the part of those who become radicalized as a result. And violent retaliation, in turn, engenders a violent response, both as punishment and as a reassertion of power and dominance.

In essence, most violence doesn’t arise in a vacuum; and while one can feel horror at acts of terrorism and feel sympathy and compassion for the victims, one shouldn’t allow that to blind them to (1) the violence done to other communities in the name of national socio-economic interests and (2) the role of so-called legitimate violence (i.e., violence carried out by the state) in conditioning the material and ideological foundations/justifications for what’s then framed as the illegitimate use of violence (e.g., protests, uprisings, terrorists acts, etc.).

Everyone blaming ISIL will likely ignore the direct role that imperialist actions and policies of the US and Europe played in helping to give rise to ISIL in the first place; and the more we try to fight this ‘enemy’ by things like invading and bombing foreign nations, imposing harsh economic sanctions, and treating immigrants and refugees like criminals and second-class citizens, the more we radicalize those we’re trying to subdue/tame, sowing the seeds for future violence with no end in sight.

So while I feel for the people of Paris right now, I’m frightened by all the talk of waging a pitiless war on the group responsible, since that will only lead to more violence, more racial and religious tensions, and more civilian casualties (on all sides).

The obvious response to this will assuredly be, So how should France and the world respond to these constant attacks? I think we should start by ceasing all punitive economic and military actions and occupations in the Middle East. I think the West needs to admit that it’s been meddling the region for over a century for its own socio-economic interests and stop. I also think that people need to stop treating Muslims in general as terrorists, and places like France need to reevaluate how they treat their Muslim (and immigrant in general) populations, which is often as second-class citizens.

Then, I think we need to practice patience because this kind of violence and ideology won’t disappear overnight. We can’t just start invading and/or bombing other nations every time a small group commits an act of violence like this. Invading Iraq didn’t help; it actually made things much, much worse. Same with Afghanistan, Syria, etc. It took generations to produce these problems, and it’s going to take time to fix them because it means fixing people’s lives, or at least giving them the space and time to fix it themselves.

Ultimately, we need to face the fact that there’s no easy solution here, especially a military one.

happy birthday, artpop!

Confession time. I’m a big Lady Gaga fan. I mean, what’s not to like? I like her style, her outspokenness, and the fact that she uses her fame to promote things like gay rights and, on occasion, support working-class issues. (And I love the fact that Slavoj Zizek analyzes her theoretical contributions to cultural theory, as well as her “actual theoretical project.”) I’m not quite ‘monster’ status or anything, but I definitely like to dance around the house to “Bad Romance” or “Applause” once in a while. Her music is one of my guilty pleasures. Whenever I’m down, it lifts me up. And whenever I’m happy, it makes me want to dance (which is an admittedly rare and frightening occurrence). Lately, I’ve had a bunch of songs from her latest album, Artpop, stuck in my head; and as I was watching the video for “G.U.Y.” for the umpteenth time, I realized that today happens to be the two-year anniversary of its release. So, Happy Birthday, Artpop!

happy veterans day

In many ways, Veterans Day is a working-class holiday, albeit a somber one. Wars are supremely tragic events that take the lives of countless living beings, both soldiers and civilians alike; and it changes many of those who are lucky enough to come out on the other side. But today is primarily about honouring those who fight our wars, wars that the ruling class declares and that the working class and poor must fight. As Eugene Debs famously said in his 1918 Canton, Ohio, speech:

They have always taught and trained you to believe it to be your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at their command. But in all the history of the world you, the people, have never had a voice in declaring war, and strange as it certainly appears, no war by any nation in any age has ever been declared by the people. And here let me emphasize the fact—and it cannot be repeated too often—that the working class who fight all the battles, the working class who make the supreme sacrifices, the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish the corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace. It is the ruling class that invariably does both. They alone declare war and they alone make peace.

So for me, today isn’t just about celebrating military heroism. Rather, it’s about the sacrifice so many working people have made for the few at the top who, in their tangled web of geopolitics, treat human lives more like commodities in their lust for wealth and power. While every war is portrayed as a just war, they’re often the machinations of plutocrats whose primary concern is the protection of their own economic interests, not the best interests of those who fight them.

We should honour our veterans for the things they’ve had to do and give up, as well as for the physical and emotional scars they must now bear. And we should honour them further by working to subvert the imperialism that drives most wars.