Open Letter to Brandon Cook

Brandon,

I am writing this because I take umbrage with your recent articles on addiction. I sympathize with your struggle, I do. I even sympathize with your urge to romanticize your struggle. But I fear it will not help.

You know as well as I do that the darkly romantic, the gritty and obscene permeates our pop culture. It’s why photobooks of addicts sell. It’s why the words ‘heroin’ and ‘chic’ preposterously found their way together in 20th century fashion. It’s why the Sex Pistols hired Sid Vicious, who couldn’t play the fucking bass guitar, as their bass player – he didn’t need any musical talent, the Sex Pistols weren’t about music, they were about image. And what image did he embody which made him an ideal member of a group that was the very epitome of trendy packaged goods to be sold to millions? He was mentally ill, dysfunctional, and a heroin addict. That was the appeal. That sells.

And it is true that most addicts, recovered or not, do not feel they can be open about it: there are obvious social and economic costs which will vary from person to person. And yet, addict-diarism has been a popular genre for decades. I suggest that often the people who do come out as addicts have a tendency to glamourize their experience in the kind of prose which has featured in dozens of books and hundreds of article over the years and which features now in your articles. I suspect the motives are much the same in each case, albeit usually unconsciously so: in the culture climate we’ve grown up in, being an open addict and a writer makes you interesting, it draws negative attention but also a kind of voyeuristic enjoyment, it has social capital. I intend no disrespect, and I certainly don’t believe this motive is conscious. Nor do I mean to suggest it is trivial; the desire to make something from your experience is perfectly natural.

What I do mean to say is that we should think carefully when we write about addiction. I have no doubt your words are authentic to you, but they’ve been said a thousand times before and all it ever seems to achieve is new writers of the same genre. There really isn’t that much to say about the subjective experience of addiction. The subjective experience of addiction sucks. We ought to convey that truth plainly and matter-o’-factly. It is not a topic for literary journalism, it is a topic for cold, sober appraisal in the light of day. The most accurate description of the subjective experience would probably be as dull, as empty, and as soulless as a methamphetamine comedown; as fun as a home detox or a swift kick in the bollocks.

I agree that it is important that we make it possible for addicts to be honest and visible, but I believe the best way to achieve this is to show the incredible diversity of human beings who suffer from addiction, which the present literature does not do. The only addicts we ever hear from are those who write and self-publish personal memoirs, which if we’re honest probably doesn’t represent the broadest cross-section of the addict population. Addicts are as diverse and as colourful and as interesting as any demographic, and they should be known and loved for their individuality as all people should. Addiction itself is mundane and utterly, profoundly boring, and it has been a long time since anyone said something original about the experience.

Take care. Best wishes for your recovery.

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For Liberal Feminism; Against Illiberal [Third Wave] Feminism

I want to say a few things about feminism, but before I do I need to say a quick something about discourse. One of the major barriers to rational, intelligent discourse today is the tendency of vocal activists to vehemtly argue about words which have more than one meaning, both parties acting always on the assumption that they’re talking about the same thing. Feminism is one such word. The meaning of feminism has not so much changed as fragmented. Feminism as it was in the 60’s and 70’s, as it has developed from that legacy, is still a living and important idea. But there are other feminists, as well, most notably the so-called ‘third wave’ of feminism which is in many, even most respects diametrically opposite to classical feminism. So it is that someone will say “I am so sick of [third wave] feminism,” and somebody else will object that, “how can you reject [classical] feminism, do you hate equality?” And so a fierce argument ensues between two people who are talking at cross-purposes and probably agree on most, if not all, substantial issues. As another example…it is my intention in this essay to explain why [third wave] feminism is a deeply confused, toxic, anti-intellectual and illiberal cult, and that what society really needs is [good old, classical, liberal] feminism.

I should begin by explaining how it is anti-intellectual, for the rest only makes sense if you understand this underlying issue. In it’s reactionary hatred it goes far beyond fighting against oppression. It identifies (correctly) that misogyny has been a central feature of historical societies. From here it makes an immense logical leap, concluding not that the development of civilization should be studied with this in mind, that misogyny forms a significant part of the historical context, but that all history, and therefore the entire legacy and development of the human species, is a product of misogyny and can be discared at their convenience. Andrea Nye argues in Words of Power: A Feminist Reading of the History of Logic that logic is a tool of male oppression and “in its final perfection is insane.” But this is not the opinion of a lone nutjob; Christina Hoff Sommers has quoted a professor who was concerned that for “students who have been trained to take the ‘feminist perspective’…reason itself is patriarchal, linear, and oppressive.” The Philosopher Susan Haack wrote (in Manifesto of a Passionate Moderate) that she was unsettled to hear feminists say “that thinking about evidence and inquiry as I did revealed complicity with sexism or racism.” And it certainly is unsettling. The implications are, of course, that they have no obligation to base their arguments on reason or logic, they require no proof, because these are all patriarchal constructions. They allow for no standard according to which their opinions can be measured, discussed, objected to, or disproven. And from their own group they demand total and uncritical adherence to orthodoxy. In Women’s Ways of Knowing, the authors argue that instead of men’s “separate knowing” which consists of “mastery of the relevant knowledge and methodology,” women are better served “if they emphasize connection over separation, understanding and acceptance over assessment, and collaboration over debate;” in other words, critical thinking and independence is inimical to their ideology. Again, the argument is that deviation from the group, critical thinking and debate, are all intrinsically male, that females are more feeling and intuitive and should adhere to irrational groupthink rather than “relevant knowledge.” It is indicative of how toxic these sentiments are that the fact they embrace misogynistic gender stereotypes in toto (only arguing that the stereotypical female ways are superior) is the least objectionable thing about this whole line of reasoning.

And this is an ideology which is disseminated largely from university and college campuses. Impressionable young people who intuitively care about misogyny and oppression and liberation are quickly indoctrinated into the third wave feminists absurdist hi-jacking of these causes: they are taught not to think critically, not to question orthodoxy, and rather than being empowered to have their own voice they are silenced if they stray from the acceptable opinion which is handed down to them to be received quietly and gratefully. In the most flagrant dereliction of pedagogic duty, they are taught what to think, not how to think; they are politically indoctrinated to be pliant adherents of the ideology, who learn all its buzzwords and stock phrases and mechinically repeat them. They are, in short, denied a quality education, they are instead relieved of their heritage, the fruits of all human thought which preceded them, and are given a narrow, toxic ideology which is harmful to their own well-being.

Being freed from the need to make sense, these ideologues disguised as teachers can state their opinions and prejudices as though they are proven facts or academically respectable opinions. One of those opinions is a simple reversal of the same old prejudices which have driven global hostility and war in the last century. They rightly dismiss American exceptionalism and disrespect for foreign cultures. Instead, they disdain Western cultures and treat non-Western cultures with respect and reverence by default. Even when this contradicts their ostensible goal of fighting oppression. This explains the absurdity of alleged ‘feminists’ shutting down legitimate criticism of the way women are treated in Islamic countries by labelling it ‘Islamophobic’. Perhaps that’s enough said about that: it does clearly demonstrate how intellectually vapid their theory is. But it’s not just the confusion, the contradiction, the stupidity. This is also a perfect example of several other notable features of third wave feminism. Firstly, it is an example of dogma trumping principles. For all the pomp and arrogance with which they portray themselves as the saviour of women, it shows that they will ignore the crisis of half the world’s women the moment it requires them to stray from their inane orthodoxy by criticising anybody but straight, white, males. Better to leave the subjugation of women unchallenged then introduce an element of nuance into their analysis of power and society. Secondly, as the previous point suggests, it is an example of the way the whole ideology moves in lockstep on any given position, the stunning lack of original or independent thought. Thirdly, it demonstrates that like race-hatred, like everything they ostensibly object to, their problem is not with the oppression of women per se, as a matter of principle, but with the oppression of women by straight, white males. The sins of the white devil are beyond criticism when performed by non-whites.

This can be explained: like so many dogmatic ideologies, third wavers don’t try to examine facts to arrive at conclusions but begin with an assumption (or series of assumptions) and set out to re-enforce it. The root assumption is that straight, white males are the root of all evil. I suppose this is concluded from the fact that positions of power and prestige in Western society are disproportionately occupied by straight white men. The leap of logic is to conclude, therefore, that all straight white men are powerful, which is another foundational assumption. Thirdly, in support of the first assumption that they are the root of all evil, anybody other than straight white men is presumed innocent. All white men oppress. All oppression is white men. The problems with this are obviously numerous, but one of the more obvious consequences is that it commits them to defending, acting as apologists for, or erasing the existence of crimes they ought to deplore. The misogyny, transmisogyny, racism, homophobia, etc., of all non-whites is defined out of existence and therefore is left unchallenged. It also commits them to never thinking critically about their own groups, or the actions of other groups (other than white men), and thereby renders them useless to people they should be protecting.

A corollary of this mythology is that they paint an unrealistic picture of other cultures. We’re asked to believe that all non-white cultures, all women, all LGBT communities, are perfect, pure according to the standards of third wave feminism. So it is that we have the revival of nationalism. So it is that we don’t ask difficult questions about why misogyny has been a part of most human societies, not just white, Western societies. It is not acceptable to think critically about history. After all history tells us that most native cultures developed the same patriarchal attitudes and institutions as those that eventually formed western nations. It tells us we can’t ask why both historical white cultures AND indiginous Australians and many other native cultures treated women as property, and based marriage not on love but on utility. In short, it keeps us from exploring our common humanity, and all that means, both the difficult questions and the beautiful sides of our species. We cannot understand what causes us to behave in oppressive ways, and we cannot understand how and why people break these patterns. And if we cannot take an honest look at ourselves, we cannot change, we cannot progress. And what’s worse we do not learn to see each other as brothers, sisters, non-binary siblings, as equals, as human beings.

In disowning the ideology of racism and seeking to work for a better world, there are certain common sense principles which most Leftists outside of the strange cohort we’ve been talking about take for granted. They are nonetheless heresy to the anti-Left. Where white racists appealed to xenophobia to promote division, we seek unity. Where white racists argued that there are fundamental differences between the races which puts them naturally and necessarily in competition, we believe that all human beings have more in common than they have disparities. Etc. The anti-Left, as I said feels differently. Where white racists appealed to xenophobia to promote division, they appeal to nationalism to promote division. Where white racists argued that there are fundamental differences between the races, they agree, only they reframe their answer in terms of POC superiority.

It should be the easiest thing in the world to reach agreements on such questions. Unity, not division. Common humanity, not racial differences. Mutual respect and friendship, not mutual antagonism. Racial harmony, not racial hatred. These common sense liberal positions, this fundamental opposition to racism, is disputed by the academic cult of fake social justice. They have updated the meaning of ‘racism’ to be a relationship of power; so that racial hatred is not in itself racist, only racial hatred on behalf of a powerful group is racist. The logic is if x no longer means y, but z, then y isn’t x. It is a tautology, but let’s set that aside. The argument is regularly deployed to justify racial hatred on the grounds that it “isn’t racist” or oppressive because whites “have the power.” The most disturbing aspect of this argument is the belief that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with racial hatred. The most stupid aspect of it is the claim that individual people wield power by virtue of belonging to a demographic. That there is no principled difference between this race hatred and the race hatred of the KKK may be gleaned from the belief of Karenga, a major figure in Black Studies (from whence this tautology comes) that “[they] must move on every level to get power. [They] must have an organization that thinks, acts, breathes, and sleeps on the question of power.”

Do I really need to ask: what is the true spirit of a movement which practices racial hatred, which claims that its racial hatred is justified because it does not possess power, but which incidentally is devoted to claiming power? It is a less succesful bastard cousin of white supremacy – it is as degenerate, as vile, as spiritually and intellectual empty, and to see it defended by oh-so-progressive “social justice” advocates is as sickening as it is maddening. These are the people who are trying to monopolize anti-racism, feminism, and the fight against oppression. They are no more than the fascist opposition to a fascist encumbent; that they are not in power does not vindicate their toxic gibberish.

Is that who we’re going to let define the struggle of millions of unique human beings? Fuck that, I say.

Bring Back Humanism, or ‘Where Have All the Liberals Gone?’

I’ve written about a lot of different subjects in the last few years, but I have really struggled to express how I feel about the new leftist identity politics, ‘social justice’ activism. Partly this is because the subject upsets me. I feel like the things I’m passionate about have been co-opted by cynical pseudo-intellectuals. I am a feminist, and a popular movement has emerged using the name of feminism which espouses toxic ideology and would be furious to hear me call myself a feminist; they would rather I be a bigot than a white dude taking up their intellectual space by affirming beliefs they criticize white dudes for not understanding. I do my best to be a friend to LGBT people, but some activists who claim to speak in their name will ostracize pretty much anyone who doesn’t toe their party line, especially cishet shitlords like myself. I am virulently opposed to racism, but the mantle of ‘anti-racism’ has been people who have not rejected but inverted our ugly past and are more concerned with racial superiority than harmony. I am concerned with traditionally leftists ends in a time when they are largely the domain of an elitist intelligensia which renounces traditionally leftist values like freedom of speech and association, universalism, etc. Allow me to elaborate, because it makes me genuinely sick to my stomach to let these voices reign unopposed.

The moral bankruptcy of this faction is suggested by the irony that they commit what their own ideology proscribes as the worst of all sins: cultural imperialism and elitist condescension towards minorities. At the outset, let’s keep in mind the immensely important point that identity is not solidarity. With that in mind, yes there are some voices speaking from the place they’re speaking about, fighting against their own genuine hardship at the hands of systemic oppression. But there is altogether more voices which resound from a university-educated intelligentsia which dictates a top-down morality, a familliar the-intellectuals-know-best attitude which has poisoned everybody from Plato to the Bolsheviks who saw no problem with violently suppressing several vastly more popular parties an speaking in the name of “the People” when the people most emphatically did not support Bolshevism. This is precisely the kind of posturing engaged in by the current crop of university intellectuals who give condescending lectures on privilege and disadvantage whilst remaining utterly disconnected from the working class that makes up the majority of most (if not all) demographics. I will return to this shortly.

I am a humanist. One of my most important beliefs is that the only decent and intelligent thing to do in a world like ours is to love everybody; to understand that people behave badly for a reason, that everybody feels, everybody needs, that no being deserves to suffer without respite, and the purpose of an intellectual and a humanitarian is the same: to reduce human suffering and to seek the greatest happiness and fulfillment of the greatest number. Feeling this way, I have many points of agreement with the social justice crowd, of course. But, and this is a major source of my unease, I fear we part to the extent that their ideology rejects humanism. Their ideology promotes kindness for some people, tolerance for some people, but it sets strict limits on who is deserving of sympathy and kindness and, therefore, relief from suffering. In this, it is deeply anti-humanistic. To such people “POC,” or “LGBT people,” refer to abstractions and not real flesh and blood people, because abstractions are innocent, pure, and thus adaptable to their rhetorical worldview where white people are the only thing standing in the way of a veritable Garden of Eden. Meanwhile, those of lesser education or intelligence are scorned, as well as anybody who rejects their dogma. It is as though I, as a humanist, told you my creed was to love other humanists.

This elitism is part of our broader culture, too, and it is infecting the activism even of the more sincere and positive leftists. When I see “white people” jokes made my POC, the appreciative audience is invariably predominantly white. It is argued at such times that the reason these white people are able to laugh at the stupidity and ugliness of “white culture” and white people is that they’re enlightened and self-aware enough to realize it’s not talking about them. If you’re offended, therefore, well you ought to be. To put all of that another way, university-educated, middle class whites with a penchant for sociopolitical activism are able to laugh along with social justice advocates at the poorer, less educated whites, who are less acceptable to the top-down ideology of the intelligentsia.

There is something else to be said about this trend of mocking white people and white culture. I said at the start that the ideologies of the past have not been rejected but reversed: white supremacy is worthless not because racial pride and racial prejudice are ipso facto bad, they are worthless because of the power relations which undergirded the actions of white supremacists and because whiteness and white culture are bad. But racial prejudice by other groups, unaccompanied by power imbalances, is acceptable. The result being that social justice advocates adopt formerly right wing positions, root and branch, only they argue for the inherent value of indigenous culture and the inferiority of whiteness, they argue for purity and therefore against immigration, against integration, for segregation and mutual antipathy. They become a mere reflection of what they’re thought to be fighting against. “Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land.” This is axiomatic in the new left. “Always was, always will be, English land.” This is right-wing hate mongering, and it is philosophically identical.

This reversal of values lies at the heart of the recently popular sophistry which declares ‘racism’ to exist only where there is a power imbalance, and thereby seeks to excuse racial antagonism provided it isn’t perpetrated by the dominant culture.

Interestingly, there has been a parallel tendency of certain right-wing factions to mirror both the current leftist identity politics and traditionally leftist viewpoints, now that they can be made to serve these individuals purposes. For instance, those who conflate criticism with the denial of free speech often mirror the current social justice argument that words constitute a serious affront. And their concern for commentators denied a platform by twitter and other organizations has caused them to adopt anylises they’ve always denied as leftists applied them to the economy. The worker is free to abide accept subsistence wages or to starve, just as he pleases. Well, the right-wing shock jock is free to conform to twitters conditions or be denied a platform just as he chooses, too. Members of the so-called ‘alt-right’ are often inclined to see no fault in the former and yet be outraged at the latter. Their concern, which has long been the concern of leftists, is that when a small number of elite groups control the most prominent platforms of speech, this does in fact impose on ones ability to freely exercise speech. Yes, and when a small number of elite groups control the economy and, thus, labour, this does in fact impose one the freedom of labour. It is sadly true of all too many leftists and right-wingers they whether they accept these propositions, and which of them they accept, depends primarily on whether or not they intuitively care about the issue in question – that is, there critiques are not principled but self-serving.

Nobody seems to consider tolerance an inherently good thing. They will fight fiercely for tolerance of their own culture and their own people, but both ‘sides’ are fundamentally intolerant of each other. They have no desire to coexist or to resolve their differences, their goal is dominance. This is one of the most frustrating things about the whole “culture war” phenomenon. Two sides fighting for cultural hegemony, both expounding quite toxic ideologies, sadly don’t cancel each other out. Their powers combined, and the whole discourse is occupied by petty differences in identity and culture which have been politicized and blown beyond all proportion. One of the worst things about the alt-right is that for all it’s fury and indignation it fails to provide intelligent opposition to the social justice crowd. And vice-versa. The fact is that both sides agree that identity politics is the central issue of our time, that it is not only reasonable but urgent to fight against people who are culturally different or have different attitudes about how to voluntarily act as a member of society, and this renders their differences insignificant. To affirm their senseless conflict, to take either side, would be to negate the ideal of peaceful coexistence. To enter the conflict, more importantly, is to ignore the significant oppression under which both ideologies, and the people they claim to speak for, exist, and to divert attention and energy from the struggle for liberation. If you’re more worried about the “LGBT agenda” than the neo-fascist corporate economy, if you’re more antagonistic to “white people” or cishet shitlords than you are to the leviathan state and it’s increasingly militarized police forces and security aparatuses, then beyond being a member of the alt-right or a social justice advocate you are a counter-revolutionary who serves only to distract people from real issues and to set the oppressed, disadvantaged and suffering people of the world against one another.

I implore decent people everywhere to rekindle the flame of humanism.

And I encourage leftists not to be taken in by the co-optation of leftist concerns by groups which fundamentally reject leftist principles. It is not altogether surprising that one of the few truly inciteful critiques of the social justice cohort comes from the left-wing, since it is the left-wing whose history they are desecrating and many on the left still take that history seriously. As that critique noted, “increasingly, one set of ostensibly left commitments – anti-racism, anti-imperialism, and anti-militarism – are deployed against the values of universalism, free speech, and solidarity.” The new priorities of social justice ‘leftism’ were indeed demonstrated by the fact that “large segments of the Left refused to express solidarity with the twelve left wing journalists murdered by right wing extremists. As the gunmen were Islamists, left attention immediately leapfrogged over the actual murder of leftists to the possible (however likely) anti-Muslim backlash.” They are not opposed so much to terroristic assaults on the freedom of speech and of political action as they are to the culture of the West. We can criticize the content of Charlie Hedbo, of course, but when we feel more kinship with right wing extremists violently suppressing political speech, our priorities are clearly demented.

Finally, the purveyors of toxic social justice are, above all else, fanatical, arrogant, and rigidly dogmatic. The word ‘fanatic’ comes from the Latin word for temple, meaning roughly ‘worshipper at the temple’. Their dogma is like holy scripture and dissent is blasphemous. They see the world of discourse and ideas not as an organic and living exchange between varied points of view but, like all fundamentalists, as the enlightened an the ignorant; those who have accepted the word and those who haven’t. But they lack the zeal to convert. The consequences of this attitude towards discourse are: (1) that they behave like a clique, down to shaming and ostracizing people who differ from the pack, (2) that they judge people’s value primarily by whether or not they belong to the clique, and (3) that anybody who disagrees with them is labelled an enemy, and is therefore slandered as an enemy of their ostensible wards, LGBT people and POC, and they don’t need to engage with such people (that is, people who do not uncritically endorse their every opinion). Nevermind that they are an elitist minority who are as thoroughly disconnected from the general population, including the general population of LGBT people and POC, as anybody, and probably further removed than the working classes of different ethnicities are from one another, culturally and intellectually.

Opposing the Bolsheviks in 1917 meant being labelled a counter-revolutionary by counter-revolutionaries, being labelled an enemy of “the People” by the very group exploiting the people against their explicit wishes. The same has been true anywhere the spirit of authoritarianism has masqueraded as populism and the voice of the masses, and the same is true today. Decency demands that I topple sacred icons and in consequence face accusations of indecency. I don’t care. Let people accuse me of whatever they like, just so long as they engage me in debate. I would relish the opportunity to show them for the frauds that they are. I’m tired of reactionary, toxic ideologues acting like they’re the only ones who are allowed to comment on issues of great importance to all people. I am not going to tacitly endorse the racial antagonism, anti-enlightenment, anti-humanist and illiberal hacks who have hi-jacked the Left. I shall henceforth be acting as the humanist delegate to the Congress of Socio-Political Nutjobs, because humanism is too important to be drowned out by hysterical university students and part-time pundits who think the vilest ideological positions are justified if only they’re advanced in the name of ‘the People’, or ‘POC’ or ‘queer liberation’.

After all, frauds aren’t hard to spot. Let us give our support to people who truly stand for justice and tolerance and kindness. This means being concerned with eliminating opression in all forms and of all people. This means affirming the universalism which has for so long been inseparable from the leftist c ause. This means thinking of people not merely as demographic statistics or as members of groups but as individuals. Correspondingly, this means abandoning the ugly notion of collective guilt which has been practiced by every disreputable tyrant, from Gulag to gas chamber, from Buenes Aires to Algiers. This means striving for unity, not agitating for nationalism or partisanship or sectarianism; this means denouncing racial prejudice as ipso facto toxic, not justifying it with tautological arguments about power imbalances. Society is not a zero-sum game. One groups advancement does not have to be at the expense of another group. Through mutual cooperation we are all enriched, socially, culturally, and economically.

Well, that’s my 5 cents. Or perhaps it’s a fistfull of change. In any case,

Peace.

Dispatches: Tolerance for Trans People

It seems as though society is consistently given far too much or far too little credit. As a survivor of Auschwitz once poignantly wrote: “We have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.” I could have known, and yet: I have been repeatedly stunned, lately, to see just how vile, hateful, narrow minded and reactionary much of the population is. The fear and intolerance people routinely demonstrate for peaceful, decent human beings is difficult to comprehend. But there it is. Every dim witted, shallow hearted bigot broadcasts their useless opinion on matters they don’t understand; as someone who isn’t an idiot or an asshole I feel compelled to respond.

Firstly – I want to state unequivocally that I respect the chosen identity of all trans people. I accept the validity of trans experience and I take it seriously. I have no interest in discovering or distinguishing inauthentic from authentic trans experience, people who it is alleged may be doing it because it’s popular from those who are considered legitimate, and I think you should refect on your motivations if you do.

I regularly see people argue the issue with great anger, claiming merely to be stating an opinion on biology. If you are someone who does this, you should firstly bother to learn some actual biology before commenting on the issue; the most rudimentary knowledge you could acquire being that sex as distinct from gender is not determined by sex organs alone. “If you have x sex organ you are x gender, that’s just science,” is not, in fact, science, and you need to google hormones, chromosones, and examples of ambiguity in sex classification totally aside from the distinction between sex and gender. If you furiously comment everywhere that “these people expect society to revolve around them and bend to their every whim,” you’re greatly exaggerating how incredibly minimally accomodating you need to be to eg. use “she/her” pronouns to refer to a trans woman and to remember her name. This simple request acquires next to no effort and contributes greatly to people’s mental health, sense of identity and general well being, and you need to ask yourself why that pisses you off so much.

Discrimination against transgender people is a very serious issue.

People exercising control over their own identity is not an issue at all. It is a nonissue.

People need to chill out. The path of least resistence, the greatest happiness for the greatest number, both principles would lead you to simply accept people’s identities respectfully. It makes no sense to be bitter and angry about somebody making a decision which means the world to them and nothing to you.

The state of discourse would be greatly improved if everybody, on all sides, would abide by this simple principle:

Be kind.

P.s: we all know that the US military is a morally bankrupt institution; that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care about Executive Orders which single out transgender people for discrimination. Should transgender people even want to serve in the military? No, probably not; that’s not the issue. The issue is that passively accepting discrimination from the highest echelons of power legitimizes anti-trans discrimination, encourages bigots, and generally has a broad impact on the perception of this issue.

P.p.s: being transgender is not a mental illness. You need to stop saying that.

“White People” – Yelling at Historical Figures

On the Absurdity, Narcicism and Cognitive Dissonance of Southern Whites, circa 1865

To be honest, I’ve always been a little irritated when people start a condescending exposition on “White People.” And I use the word “irritated” quite deliberately: I’m not shocked or offended, it’s very far from the worst affrontery I see, and while it is racist [1], it is pretty damn mild and ignorable as far as racism goes and in no way compares to the racism which non-white’s are far too often subjected to. It’s just obnoxious and I find it a little annoying, like people who carry a speaker with them to listen to bad “aussie hip hop” on the train because if they used headphones nobody would know how cool they are. But anyway, I have been reading Been in the Storm Too Long, a history of the aftermath of the American civil war, and I sympathise more than ever with tone in which people sometimes utter the words “white people”. More than once I have thought aloud, “white people are fucking crazy.” So I get it. It will stthannoy me sometimes, no doubt, but I do get it.

Southerners circa 1860, however, are in a class of their own when it comes to stupidity and racism. Their thoughts, words, and actions are so constantly and so glaringly hypocritical, and often absurd, that it is hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that these people actually existed. I can’t imagine anybody saying so many of the things they said with absolutely no self-awareness or sense of irony, but there it is, incredibly, a matter of historical record. There are so many examples of Southern hypocrisy that I hardly know where to begin. So I’ll start with the portion I was reading today, the facet of Southern life in the first years of emancipation which has brought me such joy and laughter to read about: former slaveholders and their families having to work for the first time in their pampered lives and complaing vociferously (and frankly, deliciously) about it to their diaries and in letters to family. After so many other statements to the effect that coloured people were inherently lazy and disinclined to work, the very same people would soon lament, seemingly oblivious to the irony, that “I have not one human being in the wide world to whom I can say, ‘do this for me’.”

In their lifetime of cursing the idleness of coloured folk, nothing had prepared them for this great tragedy; as the wife of a Louisiana ‘planter’ [2] declared, “I never so much as even washed out a pocket handkerchief with my own hands, and now I have to do all my own work.” Meanwhile, a Virginia woman admitted “with considerable [and delicious] anguish” that “the distances separating the kitchen, the spring, and the dining room seemed all to formidable.” And although they had no apparent sense of irony, they were at times keenly proud, as was one Emma Holmes who saw women left without servants “cooking and washing without a murmur” as a great example of the “heroism and spirit” of southern womanhood. Another southern woman discovered the significance of the opposable thumb when she took up knitting, though it was hard on her “poor unused fingers.” But perhaps I give the wrong impression: men and women alike found themselves suddenly doing chores around the house, its just that the men were more apt to complain about their trouble finding free labour without slavery, so most of the descriptions of families’ newfound domesticity came from women. Although the patriarch of one family who had divided the chores amongst themselves told them: “This is what has made the Anglo-Saxon race great: they are not afraid to work.” Again, he did not seem to be aware of the contradiction in believing colored people were lazy inferior despite their ability to perform backbreaking labour for ten hours a day, six days a week, but extolling the “greatness” of his own race when once his family had done the work of feeding and cleaning up after themselves for a week.

Seemingly the incredible difficult they had performing a fraction of the labour they demanded of their slaves never once gave any of them pause to reflect on how hard it must have been to do it for ten hours a day, six days a week, for somebody else, from birth until death without compensation, under threat of beatings and murder. No, it was they who had it hard, having to take care of themselves after a life time of idleness. A woman from Tennessee wrote perhaps the starkest example of the selfish and delusional attitudes of southerners towards housework and the people who formerly performed it for them; “I’d give a mint of money right now for servants like I once had,” she wrote, “to have one all my own! Ladies at the North, if they lose their servants, can do their own work; but we can’t, we can’t!” Her former slave had moved to St Louis and made a living as a dressmaker. “She could read and write as well as I could. There was no kind of work that girl couldn’t do. And so faithful! – I trusted everything to her and was never deceived.” If this reads like a confession that the colored people who she held in bondage were better and more independent than her by a country mile, it is not a conscious one – this woman concluded that “emancipation is a worse thing for our servants than us. They can’t take care of themselves.” Yes, the woman who does not know how to perform any kind of labour, is incapable of feeding and clothing herself while maintaing her household; the women who just praised her former slave as capable of any kind of work, her former slave who not only worked at a trade now to earn money but managed to feed and clother herself and maintain her home as well; yes, that woman is really claiming it is the gainfully employed coloured girl who cannot take care of herself. Like no other people I have ever read about, the civil war era southerner is truly the living embodiment of cognitive dissonance and narccicism. And I have only mentioned their opinions on one issue.

The push for segregation in the first years after the war was driven largely by white fears of ‘miscegnation’, or interracial breeding. And yet not one southern man of the era seems to have recognized the irony of them, who had for decades been using their slaves as sex objects and birthing mixed race children by them, they the principle practitioners of miscegnation, suddenly acting outraged by the possibility. Had somebody pointed the irony out to them, they would no doubt have argued that it was different; a white man forcibly raping his slave is perfectly civilized, but a white woman freely engaging in consensual relations with a black man is depraved. Often this fear was the unspoken motive behind white attitudes and policies, but it was also talked of openly, many expressing their concern that if miscegnation were to be allowed their bloodlines would be polluted and the glorious white race bred into extinction. They argued for restrictions on blacks on this basis without any sign of recognizing that such a scenario would equally require their own participation; that if they did not want to breed with newly freed blacks they could simply refrain from doing so. It was as though they couldn’t trust themselves to heed their own warnings, which in fairness, to judge from the large number of mixed race slaves at the outset of emancipation, they probably couldn’t.

It was even argued, at one point, that it was dangerous to give equal rights to colored people because if placed on an equal footing they might surpass the white race. The reason this would be unacceptable, if you’re wondering, is because coloured people are naturally inferior. It would be a profound injustice for the inferior race to surpass the superior race by such unfair means as equal opportunity. Certainly it wouldn’t prove that the belief in their inferiority was erroneous in the first place, though, right? Come to think of it, acknowledging the possibility is already and implicit admission that this belief was erroneous. Never mind, the southern man is not troubled by logic or by implications – if it couldn’t be grasped by a three year old it is imperceptible to the southern imagination.

As well, the utter depravity and savageness with which so many whites act did not cause any of them to question their unshakable belief that black people, by virtue of their colour, were “savages”, and therefore civilized and unstable white men were right to beat, stab, shoot, or hack at them with an axe at the slightest provocation. Just one Bureau officer, reporting only part of the crimes in a few counties, reported the following: twenty-three cases of severe and inhuman beating and whipping; four men beaten and shot; two more robbed and shot; seven just shot, two of those surviving with wounds; four beaten to death; three women beaten and raped; two women tied up and whipped mercilessly “until insensible”, and two men and their families beaten and driven from their homes, their property destroyed. Again, this was just in a few counties, in one year, and the Bureau officer did not include all crimes because there was insufficient evidence for many more. The stories are plentiful, but I’ll recount just a couple. One old colored man working in a saw mill “sassed” a white man, so somebody split his head open with an axe. Another colored man walking peacefully down the street was asked by a passing white man who he belongned to, and when he answered (truthfully, since the savage and inhuman institution of slavery had been abolished) that he belonged to nobody, the white man demanded, “sass me?”, proceeded to beat the man and cut and stab him several times with his knife. This is the behaviour of men who believed themselves to be the civilized race, and blacks to be mere savages. Fully prepared to murder a human being in cold blood because they didn’t like what he said. Unmoved by the women they’re whipping, beating, raping, unmoved by their screaming and crying and pleading, totally insensible to human emotion, seemingly bordering on sociopathically inhuman, and yet, with still no sense of the irony or the absurdity, they declared that “niggers don’t have human emotions.” Do you, poor buckra? You never noticed or cared how devastated they were as you casually tore them from one another, separating wife and husband, mother and child, without the slightest hesitation or sympathy for their tears or their begging; do you have human emotions?

Finally, the absurdity and cognitive dissonance of southern thought in the civil war era aside, I want quickly reflect on the significance of armed resistance

The era following the civil war is also a very important, and much neglected, period in the history of the second ammendment. Here was a newly freed people who were under constant assault from civil society, who were not afforded the rights which are customarily the privilege of free men, neither the police nor the courts could be trusted to lift a finger in their defence, and even the Yankees for whom they had fought to put down the Confederate revolution now sided with the whites they had called traitors and ordered these same colored men to shoot only months, or years, before. Juries were all white, and would almost never convict a white man of murdering a colored man, and yet would never fail to hang a colored man who had killed a white in self defence. In New Orleans, a criminal court sentenced a white person to one day in prison for the theft of goods worth $13, and on the same day, in the same court, a colored person was given three months for theft of goods worth $18. As the local black newspaper put it, “three days for stealing and eight-seven days for being colored.” Perhaps worst of all, white men freely paraded around with there rifles at the same time as police conducted unconstitutional raids to seize any weaponry black citizens may have. Hence, one black citizen wrote, “if there is no protection for us at the hands of the municipal police or the military guard, if there is no redress for our people before the Criminal Courts in cases of murder and rape, then let us form at once societies for self-protection and have recourse to personal defence.” Indeed! And ever has it been true since. People of colour can not count on the police or the government for anything but belligerence – it is their right, and necessary for their safety, to arm themselves and actively protect their families and their communities from the depravity of racist, violent white trash. “In times of peace prepare for war,” a black man in New Orleans wrote: “They have burned our churches, murdered our friends in their own yards, in the presence of their own family, and yet our civil government is still running, and the murderers are still allowed to roam our streets undisturbed.” Here was the true spirit upon which America was founded; resistance against tyrants, standing up to oppression and asserting the rights of oneself and others! As the New Hampshire state motto puts it, live free or die.

In the seventy years that elapsed between these events and the beginning of WWII, things can barely be said to have progressed much at all. Perhaps that is the most disturbing thing of all. Colored were still murdered without provocation, inhumanly beaten and hanged from trees. I recently read Clark Terry’s autobiography – even he was very nearly lynched for standing next to a pale skinned girl. A police man knocked him out and left him in the mud while he went to round up a mob. When he returned with a gang carrying knives, bats and chains, and asked Clark’s white colleagues where “that nigger I left lying in the mud” went, they misdirected the gang, having already brought him inside their train car. He also talked about a girl he dated who was uncomfortable around white people, because when she was a girl a group of them had dragged one of her cousins out of her house and hanged him from a tree in the yard in front of the whole family. Fair enough. I wouldn’t feel comfortable around white people either. One hears of the bravery of the US soldiers who fought Nazism, but one has to wonder, if it had been black people in the gas chambers of Germany, would the white south have even objected to Nazism? One might suspect they’d be sympathetic to fascists with delusions of racial superiority and programs for restoring purity.

Things change ever so slowly. In 1866 as in 1940 as in 1963 as in 1993 as in 2017, justice is far from assured, racism is institutionalized, and the right of the people, especially marginalized peoples, to keep and bear arms is of paramount importance as it has always been. It is only through privilege that people can pretend there is no reason somebody should ever need a gun; many millions of colored people have had very, extremely good reasons to arm themselves to the teeth. Indeed, the Union may not have won the civil war if it hadn’t finally relented and allowed the formation of coloredregiments. If peace may only be wrestled from the cold dead hands of the sons and daughters of American racism, then so be it; leave the oppressed with the only equalizing device they’ve ever had available to them.

I won’t get into the argument over whether and which gun control measures make people safer. Even if disarming minorities made them a little safer, it would make them a lot less free. And if people had never been prepared to sacrifice a little safety for their liberty, emancipation may never have come about. Anyway,

Peace.

[1] People have taken to saying that racism without power isn’t racism, which sounds important and significant, but when you examine the foundations of this new theory you will find it doesn’t actually mean anything. It is a tautology. The logical argument is ‘I have decided to refer to concept x as label y, therefore x is y and the concept formerly known as y is now something else. Racism without power isn’t racism in the same way that y is no longer y. It doesn’t express any new information, it simply changes labels whilst pretending the concepts themselves had changed. And all of this to introduce the concept of systemic racism into the discourse. Couldn’t we have just talked about systemic racism? Did we really need to change labels around in order to be able to say thag systemic racism is the only ‘real’ racism? Does anyone think this strategy has lead to a broader understanding or discussion of systemic racism? No. Instead it made the definition of a word the focus by changing the definition and not acknowledging that that’s what happened and frankly the whole affair is fucking inane.
[2] ‘Planter’, as distinct from a farmer who works for a living.

On Power and Oppression

Or, Why Identity Politics is Counter-Revolutionary

Having decided it was important to say something about Identity Politics, I have spent a long time agonizing over how exactly to go about it. In part, this is because I am frankly angry, and yet I feel that one of the major problems with the discourse on this issue is that it’s so loaded with emotion and anger and hyperbole, so what use would there be in me writing another angry screed? None. I thought also of simply writing a systematic critique of both ‘left’ and ‘right’ Identity Politics, exposing the flaws and falsehoods I see in these ideologies, which at least has more merit than simply blowing off steam, but is still too reactionary to feel useful. Another reason I feel so compelled to write something is to offer a sane analysis of identity and related issues, to offer a third way, in the hope that less well-intentioned young people will get caught up in toxic movements and hateful ideologies if there is a rational and humane alternative, and this reason, finally, suggests a way to proceed. I am so angry partly because the issues involved in IP are extremely important, and I see them being co-opted for all the wrong reasons, and I see it being profoundly harmful to the disadvantaged and the oppressed in the long run. I don’t disagree with the identity politicians of the left because I’m uninterested in discrimination and inequality and oppression, it’s precisely because I care about these issues that I find their ideology distasteful. So instead of reacting to their version of ‘leftism’, I offer you a constructive view of what a ‘leftist’ movement which truly empowers and liberates might look like.

Leftism is a vague term to begin with, and we know that politics is too complicated to be explained in terms of ‘left’ and ‘right’ – I choose to use these words, for now, because they still have currency. For the purposes of this essay, a ‘leftist’ position is concerned with subordination, deprivation, and exclusion. In short, it is concerned with the welfare of human beings, particularly those who don’t have enough, those who are excluded or discriminated against, those who are oppressed and controlled, and so on. We are interested in power; in how it functions and where it resides, who possesses it and with what consequences, should it be dispersed and how, etc. Ultimately, this is what the arguments and conflicts of identity politicians are about.

Power is distinct from privilege, though they are related. To my mind, this distinction is too frequently blurred or ignored in the discourse of identity politics. The ‘right-wing’ identity politicians (henceforth RWIP) sneer at the concepts of white privilege and male privilege, but they are perfectly reasonable. Because we live in a society that has been shaped in part by misogyny and racism, there are certain undeniable advantages to being born a white male in a society which tends to favour white males. This means that a white male is in a more privileged position than a white female of comparable circumstance, or a coloured man of comparable circumstance – he doesn’t have to deal with the discrimination they do, or overcome the hurdles that they do. What it doesn’t mean (and it is this interpretation that has often brought the concept into disrepute) is that a white man is ipso facto more privileged than females or POC. This is obviously false. But I don’t think this interpretation is as popular as RWIP like to portray it as, in fact they often talk like this is all that white privilege means and therefore the whole concept is bunk. This is also obviously false. But it is worth pointing out, because it tells us something about the limitations of generalization, and of applying analysis of groups to individuals.

Left-wing identity politics (LWIP) supposedly has roots in intersectional feminism: a concept describing the overlap or intersection of social identities when describing oppression, eg. a black woman faces problems that neither black men nor white women do. This is also accurate and useful for revealing general truths, but it too suggests that one must focus in on individuality for a better measure of truth. In the same way that a black woman is uniquely positioned in society, so is a disabled man, or a white woman with a severe mental illness, etc. Different traits and identities intersect and therefore interact in so many ways that when you get down to it, terms like ‘white man’ or ‘woman of colour’ are inadequate descriptors in many circumstances. No two individuals are alike, nor can any one individual be defined solely by his race or gender.

It seems to me that the predominant narratives of power and oppression focus on racism and misogyny; and in these narratives, as a corollary of POC being oppressed white people as a group are identified as the oppressor, and as a corollary of women being the oppressed party men are identified as the oppressor. Obviously these are important issues, but this presentation is not entirely honest or enlightening, and there is much more to be said about power and oppression in society. The fact of white privilege does not bestow a controlling interest in society to all white people, and the same is true of male privilege. It is a factor, but it is not the primary determinant of someone’s position in society.

There are other ways in which people can be privileged. Access to better education, being born into a wealthy family who could afford to send you to a good university, these are quite important factors. Lots of people are born into poverty, and they are at an inherent disadvantage. This affects people of all races and genders. Some people are born into abusive or broken homes, and this is perhaps the greatest disadvantage of all. We know that people who are abused during childhood are far more likely to suffer from mental illness and drug addiction in later life, and account an extremely disproportionate number of prisoners. Life is complicated, and there are thousands of big and small factors which influence a persons place in society. And this is only to address disadvantage, leaving unexamined the issue of organized oppression.

So we’ve discussed deprivation and exclusion, but a leftist position worth its salt will also give a detailed analysis of subordination – in other words, oppression. And no such analysis would be complete without an understanding of how wealth is generated in our political economy.

We live in a society defined by a large and powerful State and an economy dominated by goliath corporations. The nature of this economy was best described by Murray Rothbard described “total neo-mercantilism” and “what is essentially a neo-fascist ‘corporate state'” This neo-fascist state, which is a powerful influence on the economy, is bought and paid for by corporate interests. As such, far from being restrained by economic regulation, as even Noam Chomsky would like to believe, corporations are very often the beneficiaries of “an intricate and decisive network of subsidies, privileges, and direct and indirect grants of monopoly protection.” This is important to anybody seeking to understand and fight oppression, for clearly this economic order, and the businessmen and corporations who thrive on it, the state functionaries and enforcers who benefit from it, in short, the ruling classes, are the major source of oppression in our society. “White people” don’t hold the power in our society, this is a clumsy use of language; CEO’s, judges, district attourneys and politicians, etc., hold the power.

In saying this, I am by no means denying that racism is still an important factor. It is true that CEO’s and politicans, etc., are disprortionately white males. But by no means are the ruling classes made up of one race. More importantly, it is a minority who belong to this ruling class – as you go down the ladder of economic and legal heirarchy, you find the masses – the black and white, male female, immigrant and native masses. You find the majority of society working hard for fifty plus hours a week just to survive, and why? Because our neofascist corporate economy is designed to benefit the few at the expense of the many; because the masses have been robbed over generations, decades, centuries, they have been denied their due. So still, they are at the mercy of the company that hires them. They have no capital, generally, and if they do have capital the State forbids them to use it. So they have no choice but wage labour, for fifty or sixty years until they retire or die.

But keep going down the ladder, and you’ll find an even more multiethnic and diverse group of people who are the most oppressed of all. These are the disabled who are vulnerable to abuse and receiving inadequate care. The mentally ill who struggle to even perfom wage labour for subsistence, who experience great pain and little sypmathy. Then there are those struggling with drug addiction, who have been systematically demonized for a century now, who have been literally criminalized, who are treated as scum by the general population and by the police alike and who, if they are unlucky, are thrown in a cell and let out only to perform slave labour for the State. More than a million people in the US have been imprisoned for “victimless crimes” (which are not crimes), ie. drug posession. And the thirteenth ammendment, famously, inlcuded a clause which allows the State to hold slaves provided only that they’re criminals; and the State, famously, can decide on a whim who to call criminals.

And this leaves the most difficult task of all before us: the task of empowering the disempowered and dismantling the ruling class. But this task becomes much, much easier once we realize that we are all suffering under the same oppression, that we are not enemies, and begin cooperating. This, most of all, is what I wish to ask of identity politicians, left and right: stop this infighting. Stop trying to cause fights amongst the oppressed matters over petty issues. Help unite people in common struggle against the leviathan State and the corporations that it is beholden to. Help us secure the welfare of the poor, the disabled, the addicted, the mentally ill. Let’s have a real discussion about what needs to be done.

If you want to write articles about why white girls shouldn’t have dreadlocks, or why liberal arts students need to harden up, then you are a counter-revolutionary. You may as well be an agitator for the State. You are NOT HELPING. This “Culture Wars” bullshit doesn’t help anybody.

Welfare for Libertarians

Okay, we all know that moderate libertarian parties are for lowering taxes and government spending, and certainly that’s important, but there is danger in believing therefore that cuts are ipso facto good. And yes, there are far too many rules and regulations governing trade and everything else, but again I would implore you to stop and think about whether we should therefore support any and all repeals.

Here’s why: the order in which government functions disappear is important. For example, you wouldn’t defund the fire brigade and then privatize it the next year. It might be a silly example, but the point is important; the illogic and the consequences generally aren’t so stark, but there are consequences. Because there is what you might call primary and secondary economics interventions. A primary intervention is done for it’s own sake; a secondary intervention deals with the effect of primary interventions. They’re amendments, essentially; sometimes laws have unforeseen consequences, and rather than repealing them, new laws are introduced to ‘fix’ or in some way alter those consequences.

To give a real world example, put on your libertarian lets-slash-welfare hats and think about all the laws surrounding the research, production and sale of pharmaceuticals. Quite a lot, isn’t it? Tends to make the whole process, and therefore the drugs themselves, pretty expensive, especially with patents allowing de facto monopolies for a set number of years. We also have laws establishing a Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, so people with low incomes can still access important medicine without the burden of government-mandated testing imbedded in the price. So we have an economic intervention: a set of laws governing the pharmaceutical industry. We have a consequence: higher prices for medication. And we have a second set of laws dealing with the consequences: the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

Now, your ideal may be a society in which neither of these laws exists. Me too: I’m an anarchist. But I don’t happen to buy the idea that removing the secondary intervention but leaving the primary intervention is a libertarian policy.

This is profoundly important. Critics of libertarianism tend to believe that economic interventions and regulations are intended to govern and restrain corporate power. Some libertarians believe this too, but it’s nonsense. The facts clearly (and extensively) refute this notion, showing that in fact economic intervention is enacted on behalf of the corporations they’re believed to restrain; that the State is an instrument of the wealthy and well connected, a channel for the orderly and systematic predation of private property, which has created the situation we have today: an economy defined by corporate power, and by an overwhelming majority of people utterly dependent on wage labour to secure bare subsistence. The critics of libertarianism, mistaking the cause for the cure, believe that removing the laws and regulations which enable corporate power would make things worse. They are wrong.

…unless of course libertarians advocate for removing secondary interventions, leaving primary interventions largely in tact. Unless they remove benign and beneficial regulations but leaving pro-corporate regulations in tact…This is where it becomes important. I’m not arguing for libertarian purity, but if you believe in gradually dismantling the State, there is a right way and a wrong way; go about it the wrong way, dismantling welfare, education, and healthcare at the individual level while leave corporate power otherwise in tact, then you will prove the critics wrong.

But I haven’t spoken about welfare yet! Oh! Because the reality of a rigged, pro-corporate economy, is that workers are disempowered by the fact that there are less jobs than workers, a permanent unemployed class, and therefore for unskilled labourers jobs must be taken on whatever terms they’re offered. And this unemployed class, which is unavoidable in our corporate economy, needs to eat. Therefore, there needs to be welfare. Remove the system which creates the class before you removes the means of that classes subsistence.