How We Talk About Ourselves

Some thoughts and clarifications on the subject of identity politics, here in response to “why we talk about ourselves” by Liz Ryerson. It is, as opposed to most of the responses I got, calmly written, but I also have to say that it misses the point of what I said (as I was accused of doing with Mattie Brice’s article). Please note that I’m also responding to a lot of the accusations on Twitter, which are not what Liz Ryerson’s article is about. I’m using some of the things she wrote as a jumping-off point for more general thoughts.

i think his larger point of contention is he wants to bring to light his own experiences of violence he’s had to face every day, as a former citizen of Greece. and i understand where he’s coming from there, to the extent that i can.

This just applies the logic of identity politics to a different identity, and that is precisely what I want to avoid. I wrote about Greece in the context of the necessity of avoiding nationalism, avoiding turning everything into a Greek issue. If I followed the logic of identity politics, I could start all my articles with references to the terrible situation in Greece and my personal pains and fears. I have plenty to talk about, much of it as emotionally touching and politically disturbing as anything in Mattie Brice’s article. But I believe that:

a) What affects me deeply is not necessarily relevant to every article, and it’s too easy to use such powerful emotions to sell yourself and your argument (L. A. Kauffmann notes how identity politics mirror the ideology of the marketplace). This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to make political or philosophical points based on your own experiences (where relevant).

b) Feeling strongly about a matter of oppression that I have experienced viscerally does not give me license to stereotype or dismiss others.

Now, if I was playing the game of identity politics, I could dismiss all criticism with the claim of racism or hellenophobia or even Orientalism. I do have some of those features people associate with the Orient: thick grown-together eyebrows, quickly tanning skin. In America, where the discourse is such, my father would probably be described by some people as “brown”. People who dislike my games? Racists. People who think my politics are wrong? Racists. The people who attacked me on Twitter? Privileged American imperialists replicating their so-called culture’s built-in hatred of everyone else in the world.

See? It’s easy. It’s also bullshit.

Now, I have called quite a few people here racist, because Greece is a touchy subject matter to me, and I do think racism is widespread. But racism isn’t when someone disagrees with an “ethnic” person, it’s a worldview that assigns stereotypical characteristics (including positive, as in the case of the noble savage) to a group of people on the basis of their origins. In the same way sexism isn’t to disagree with a woman (does disagreeing with Ayn Rand make you a sexist? was she oppressed?), but a worldview that ascribes stereotypical characteristics to people on the basis of their gender.

Identity politics conflates the writer with the written. Not a word of my article suggests that Mattie Brice’s experiences are anything but horrific and that violence against trans women of colour is anything but a problem. I never once condemn her for wanting more games to touch on these experiences, for wanting the state to take her persecution seriously. In fact, nothing I’ve ever written would ever suggest that I might even consider such thoughts. But to the logic of identity politics, it doesn’t matter. “You don’t get to talk about this.” “You can never understand her experience.” Those are the answers people gave – you cannot know (because you don’t belong to this group). People are utterly alien to one another, and not having a specific experience means that you cannot discuss the application of that experience to the world that you also live in, which gives that person license to say anything, no matter how offensive or problematic.

Looking outside this box for even a second should reveal how this instantly fragments society into bits that can never talk to each other, never understand, and never come together to fight for structural change. Because almost everyone on the face of this planet is oppressed in some way, they can all construct an identity around that and then defend it with sexist and racist logic that can never be assaulted. We can make it profoundly personal, too. America supported the quasi-fascist governments of Greece, so America supported my grandfather getting tortured. I never saw him able to walk properly, never saw him as anything but a broken, angry old man, and there’s no question that his brokenness, his withdrawn nature, affected my father and ultimately his relationship with me. There would have been so much less pain in my family if not for America, so everything American is not only irrelevant to me, but something to be actively hated. And those American trans people, they’re just another face of the American hegemony, like Obama and his support for the government that is siding with the same political groups that were responsible for all that pain.

See? If I cling to this with enough emotion, and shout enough about it on Twitter, it can sound pretty powerful. It’s still bullshit, though – even though everything I wrote about my grandfather is true. My legacy of sorrow and my personal experiences do not justify stereotyping Americans as evil imperialists, or dismissing the experiences of trans Americans because they belong to that “privileged” nation.

but when he tries to make the point that games like Bioshock and Spec Ops: The Line are relevant to people like him who have been through very real experiences of gun violence, he seems to be seeing a phantom.

I haven’t personally experienced gun violence (the worst I’ve experienced is tear gas, which isn’t fun, though I’ve been spared the newer types now in use in Greece, which are classified as chemical weapons that would be illegal to use against soldiers in a war), and I don’t think that Spec Ops or BioShock are relevant to me because I’m Greek. That’s why I spoke about the horrors in the Middle East and the American soldiers who are used to cause to them. That’s not my everyday life. But the fact that it’s not my everyday life does not mean it’s not real, or not relevant to me as a person living on this planet. Why should the problems I face make the problems others face irrelevant? To understand that the issues touched upon in Spec Ops, in no matter how superficial a way, are real issues – that war is real and terrible and not far away at all – is the essence of empathy. Which is why I found it shocking to be accused of lacking empathy for criticizing an article whose main point was that the problems of others (dismissed with the generic stereotype of the privileged white male, even though so many of those who end up in the army with images from Call of Duty in their heads are neither white nor male) are none of the author’s concern; more than that, that they are basically imaginary.

The inability to relate. Container cultures. “Empathy” doesn’t mean obeying a political dogma because some of the people supporting it are oppressed, it means trying to understand, having an insight into the emotional experiences of others – which the same people who say that I lack empathy claim is utterly impossible. Let the Greeks rot on their streets, let the trans rot in their rooms, let the Iraqis rot in their ruins – none of us can understand each other, and thus none of us can care – or try to understand the roots of our common misery.

I believe in the need for an internationalist, cosmopolitan understanding of struggle, both literally and metaphorically. I believe that we need to tear down these false categories of race, gender, nationality. Not by pretending their effects don’t exist, but by deconstructing them intellectually and by forcefully opposing them in the real world, through personal and political action. I think it’s ridiculous and outrageous to claim this viewpoint to be sexist. You can disagree with it strategically and philosophically if you desire, but it is not sexist.

What is sexist and racist, however, is dumping vast swathes of people into categories based on a middle-class academic phraseology that takes the United States of America to be the centre of the world. Even if you do it out of the best of intentions and with all the emotion of feeling oppression every day.

i don’t want to question his own emotional investment in those games, but it must be said that most of the people who are making the creative decisions on these big-budget games don’t have the kinds of personal experiences, nor have they done the necessary research to really understand the complex issues a game like Spec Ops tries to tackle. Mattie’s characterization of those game developers as privileged is more or less correct – because even if they, themselves, are not the ones benefiting from that privilege, they’re still buying into the dominant cultural narratives or what games should and shouldn’t be – namely, big-budget FPS games.

This is a completely different point now, but it does relate to this idea of identity. I’ve used the word “privileged” myself, but I’ve always been very nervous about it, because it doesn’t really describe something specific. It’s too relative. We can talk specifics about income, housing, political ideology – but just identifying a group as “privileged”, as if it was homogenous, doesn’t really work very well.

Accusing the developers of being privileged because they buy into the dominant cultural narrative because they’re making big-budget FPS games strikes me as unfair and illogical. First of all, the argument could easily be made (and I think is very relevant) that in order to subvert the typical narratives of the military shooter, in order to reach the audience that experiences this propaganda the most, they have to make a game superficially in the same vein. Otherwise their game can never do anything but preach to the converted – something that fits in with the self-centered, inwards-looking ideology of identity, but not with the desire to have an impact on the world and do something, even a little something, against war.

I also can’t agree with the equation of form with content. There’s nothing inherently oppressive about a big-budget shooter (Spec Ops is actually third-person, not that it matters), or even about a big-budget game. This is a kind of primitivism often found in the identity-based quasi-left: because the means of production are not owned by workers, let us abandon them and return to nature. But to acknowledge the problems of the system doesn’t mean to discard everything produced by it, as if there were no progressive elements within it at all. You get the same with some people and Hollywood, rejecting all big-budget films as inherently bad, even when Hollywood has produced far more politically radical films than the kind of self-involved European filmmakers who are often praised as the only alternative.

In fact, I would argue that the mainstream games industry has produced more – tragically few, but still more – games that seriously engage with the bigger picture. Yes, the indie scene has produced a lot of inwards-looking, contemplative, personal games, and that’s fine, but in terms of actually engaging with the world, in terms of looking not into the self but beyond it, there is precious little. Indies are fine with talking about how they feel, what scares them and what turns them on, but very few will even consider looking at the global systems that affect all of us.

but even if they did approach any real understanding of the complexities of real-life warfare, i’m very skeptical of any triple-A game’s ability to make any sort of substantial, coherent criticism of any part of society when shackled by massive team-sizes and market research and having to somehow manage to be enough of a cynically marketed FPS to make a profit within the current market. it just doesn’t seem possible. and yet, we have set the bar so low that we’re willing to convince ourselves that it is. that, i believe, is pure delusion.

There is some truth to this, as the developers themselves have acknowledged – the nature of working within capitalism distorts the artist’s work. But does it make it worthless? And is the indie scene, which also exists within capitalism, in which people are still bound by market forces and the need to survive, that much better? That, I think, is the real delusion: creating identities like “indie” and “mainstream” and assigning them moral values without examining their roles in detail.

One of the people in gaming I respect the most, a feminist and a woman firmly on the Left, works in the mainstream games industry. Do I dismiss her because of that? To dismiss the developers of Spec Ops: The Line without recognizing even remotely their bravery in taking on this subject matter and attempting to shed light on propaganda in the games industry is entirely unfair.

at the heart of Jonas’s criticism, though, is a larger issue. why the sudden, endless descent into discussions of identity on game websites?

Not really, actually. I don’t have a problem with what Electron Dance described as confessional writing, I only have a problem with how it is sometimes used. I believe it can form a part of criticism, but for the most part it is autobiography; interesting, even enlightening, but more about the role of games in our lives than about the games themselves.

still, i cannot and will not devalue the emotional experiences other people have with videogames, or try to say it’s not genuine or valid to write about them, because that misses the point entirely. it’s increasingly impossible to ignore the culture that games have arisen from, and the sort of stranglehold that culture has on all the discourse that occurs. transwomen who want to get into games find themselves on a difficult path (and women in general, but i’m speaking in reference to Mattie’s article). most transwomen experience the sort of social isolation and ostracization that many people who get really into videogames experience, except tenfold. videogames represent spaces and experiences separate from our bodies that we can form our own associations with, free from pressures of social identity, while still participating in an activity deemed “socially acceptable” for those categorized as males. games are rife for emotional projection of whatever kind of role you wish to occupy onto them. i can’t ignore that they can be excellent tools of self-discovery, and i think this is a big part of why so many transwomen are so passionate about games, and technology in general.

Yes! Absolutely! I challenge anyone to find a single sentence in my previous article that suggests that any of this is not true. Of course art engages with the things that matter to us, with our understanding of self, and games are very good at that. That’s important. But it still doesn’t mean that any application of the personal is meaningful, especially when it stereotypes others and dismisses the very possibility of empathy (what a tragic irony). The problem isn’t that we talk about ourselves but how we do it. The self is a powerful thing and it’s easy to get lost in it.

there is a disturbing amount of rage bubbling underneath the secure pockets of technological introspection that so many of us try to escape into when we want to avoid dealing with each other. i believe it is one that will boil over soon enough. if we don’t want to all kill each other, and kill the planet in the process, it’s time we who like videogames learned how to start being human – and how to start empathizing with one another.

That I can only agree with. That’s why I wrote my article. Because I believe that the politics of identity, instead of helping us, instead of cultivating empathy, are in fact one of the pillars of the socio-economic system that profits from pitting us against one another in the name of this flag or that, making us turn a blind eye to the Other even as we stereotype ourselves.

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17 Comments

  1. I think you made some good points in your original article, but I think both it and this defense of it are missing the point pretty widely.

    Returning to your metaphor about America – that you could dismiss and actively hate everything from America, and everyone in it given your history. Let’s look at that from a different angle – say I, as an American, heard someone else write an article complaining that they cannot relate to all of these games about America, that they want games that speak to what they experience, that they want game companies to hire people from where the live and more than that they want games being made in their own country by those that do relate to them. I think, in this hypothetical scenario, that if I as an American were to hear that argument and attack it as stereotyping me, as dismissing me, that would be a defensive/nationalistic response.

    This is, I think, more analogous to the argument Mattie Brice was making than the dismissal and hatred you read in it.

  2. Isn’t there an inherent difficulty in aiming to encourage empathy towards others in a medium that’s built around winning by accruing personal gain? I’m not disagreeing that games would be richer and better. It’s just that at some level a game tends to divide the world into ‘sides’ in order to set up a conflict to be resolved. Puzzles are perhaps the nearest to an obvious format to avoid this divisiveness by virture of tasks being set up by an authority that the player seeks to become an equal to. Yet as hard as it seems, is there any serious effort in the games industry to engage empathy beyond cinematic sequences of soldiers sending heart-rending messages home before the shooter action resumes?

    BTW I like your posts. Found you through Gnome on Twitter.

  3. Let’s look at that from a different angle – say I, as an American, heard someone else write an article complaining that they cannot relate to all of these games about America, that they want games that speak to what they experience, that they want game companies to hire people from where the live and more than that they want games being made in their own country by those that do relate to them. I think, in this hypothetical scenario, that if I as an American were to hear that argument and attack it as stereotyping me, as dismissing me, that would be a defensive/nationalistic response.

    This entire scenario is missing the political angle, though – missing the focus on war, on dealing with issues that need our empathy no matter where we are from. The article wasn’t about games in general, wasn’t about the need for a more inclusive game development scene (that I have argued for many, many times), but about these specific games that actually engaged with something. It specifically attacked the progress that does exist because it does not fit with that person’s identity.

    Your scenario sounds like the typical logic of identity politics, in which representation within an unjust system is equated with justice – struggling “to change the color of inequality” as Gitlin said. You could make games in Greece, by Greeks, and they could still be the same jingoistic shit as before, just like you can have a black President who continues to bomb and torture and oppress, or like there were Civil Rights leaders who supported the war in Vietnam.

    If the article I was responding to simply spoke about the need for inclusivity, or even just about the inability to identify with certain scenarios (though when these are scenarios relevant to the lives of so many people, that speaks to a definite lack of empathy), I would have little to criticize. But when it employs the language of identity politics to perpetuate stereotypes and simplistic divisions, I cannot agree.

  4. I think there is a difference between finding the fantastical depiction of war present in Spec Ops: The Line irrelevant to your life and finding actual war irrelevant.

  5. I think there is a difference between finding the fantastical depiction of war present in Spec Ops: The Line irrelevant to your life and finding actual war irrelevant.

    From the original article:

    For me, military shooters are fantastical, so far apart from what I actually experience that they couldn’t comment on my life. Which was when it hit me- the violence in games aren’t at all based on the violence that actually threatens me off-screen.

    games export violence to extreme situations such as war because it is pandering to the bourgeois of video games

    And so on. (Also note that games use the language of games, and Spec Ops is responding to an existing tradition that does have an effect on how people see actual wars.)

    I think you are looking at the article and seeing what you would like it to say, seeing its good intentions and honest emotions, but not seeing that good intentions and honest emotions have also driven many movements we would now condemn (i.e. the Black Muslims under Elijah Mohammed). The language and ideology employed here are reactionary, even if they do not mean to be so.

  6. René

     /  January 20, 2013

    I think a part of the problem is people equating “understanding one another” to “silencing the other person so you can write something akin to a fake memoir to feel good about yourself”.

    Writing about one’s experience for yourself? That’s fine. Writing about one’s experience for others who have similar experiences? That’s fine too. Writing about one’s experience for people who haven’t had such experiences? Very fine, and something that many people, in the mainstream and outside of it, have done and are doing.

    Declaring that others treated better by society and who haven’t been oppressed as you have, are totally alien, all the same, all hate you, and all love and support and are the status quo… as in, their very existence undermines and denies your own… That’s not a line of thought that anyone should follow. We should be working together towards an egalitarian society, not brooding in boxes about how the Others will never understand you and how maybe that all the box people should rise up and create a society of only box people. Isn’t that the same sentiment that helped fuel the Rwandan Genocide?

    That, I think, is the real delusion: creating identities like “indie” and “mainstream” and assigning them moral values without examining their roles in detail.

    I think that’s the biggest problem, people throwing around labels onto themselves and Others without really examining what they mean. “You’re just a man!” OK, masculinity’s a terrible thing. What part of it is terrible, and why do terrible things make up masculinity? Ideally, those questions would be asked, and lead to an examination, deconstruction, and reconstruction of the parent culture, and then that of other cultures with problematic definitions of masculinity. But none of that will happen if people are more interested in simply replacing one culture with another.

  7. Reading this and the last post it’s clear to me that our views on Marxism are completely different, and your point seems to come from a pretty literal reading of Hobsbawm, a supremely intelligent, aware historian, but not a profound political theorist. Identity politics are deeply ingrained in revolutionary action, and for me it’s a little hard to separate both things (also, I’d argue that the Nation of Islam has done more good than bad for the black community in the USA, and most of the bad has been done under Farrakhan). I understand your point, and agree with the examples you set, but I don’t think it applies to my reality or my view of Marxism. You could brand me a reactionary too, but as a leftist, you know that’s a wild card, as cheap as some of the accusations of racism and transphobia you received.

    But no, I don’t think your struggle and mine are the same. Not because I’m competing to see who has it worse, but because there’s no logical framework that’ll be a Rosetta Stone for you to identify with Mattie’s experience or mine. You don’t need to relate to understand, though. You can talk, or better yet – you can listen.

    But I want to stress one thing that I think is where Mattie was aiming: again, Spec Ops has nothing to do with war. It’s Americans vs. Americans in the most American-friendly of Middle Eastern cities – a very conscious choice from Yager. At first I thought it was cowardice (remember Six Days in Fallujah?), but I’ve become convinced that it’s a thought experiment, the mind of a killer in a test tube – and I think that’s the reason why the game is so attractive to theorists, exactly because it’s apolitical, and doesn’t even begin to talk about race, creed, or US foreign policy.

    I’m also baffled by those “radical blockbusters” that you mention. ¿More radical than An Injury to One, Masao Adachi, Huillet-Straub or the works of the Dardenne brothers? John Walker’s interview of Jeffrey Yohalem made clear that actual satire is impossible in blockbuster games, no matter the intention, and I haven’t seen one game as trenchant in its political/social commentary as Cart Life or any of Pedercini’s games.

  8. and your point seems to come from a pretty literal reading of Hobsbawm

    I don’t get my ideas by imitating academics. He simply expressed a certain point of view eloquently, so I quoted him. If I get my distaste for identity politics from anywhere, it is from growing up transcultural and seeing that identity is an entirely relative concept, used mostly to bolster the status quo.

    Is an internationalist, class-based understanding of Marxism really that foreign to you?

    the Nation of Islam has done more good than bad for the black community in the USA

    By allying itself with the KKK and the Nazi Party? By helping assassinate Malcolm X? Really? By getting people caught up in bizarre religious ideas (nothing to do with actual Islam in those days) and keeping them from engaging in organized struggle?

    But I want to stress one thing that I think is where Mattie was aiming: again, Spec Ops has nothing to do with war. It’s Americans vs. Americans in the most American-friendly of Middle Eastern cities – a very conscious choice from Yager.

    And where is that in the article? It’s not there, and it’s unrelated to the identity politics angle. The political aspect is only of limited interest – “some relevant points friend and colleague Brendan Keogh makes about American interventionism”.

    I’m also baffled by those “radical blockbusters” that you mention. ¿More radical than An Injury to One, Masao Adachi, Huillet-Straub or the works of the Dardenne brothers?

    Yes, there is meaningful cinema coming from Europe. Hollywood certainly doesn’t have anyone like Ken Loach. But on the other hand, directors like that are very rarely presented as the alternative. Instead we get supposedly “thoughtful” or “quirky” French movies about depression and sex. And some of the most intense political films of recent years have come from Hollywood, despite everything, and to reject those because of their origins is just sad.

    John Walker’s interview of Jeffrey Yohalem made clear that actual satire is impossible in blockbuster games, no matter the intention

    It did? To me it just made clear that Jeffrey Yohalem isn’t very good at what he does and that producing a satire was probably never the intent.

  9. I am not attacking you. I truly wish to engage you in conversation, but it’s very hard when you find the perceived holes in my argument more interesting than the points I try to make. I’m sorry, I’ll answer your questions and leave this discussion (but I’ll keep enjoying your excellent work).

    I believe in a modern, democratic, revolutionary form of Marxism that I’ve lived and fought for as “Bolivarianism”, which is based in grassroots cooperativism protected from economic and cultural European and US influence by a paternalist state. It’s real, it works, and it respects cultural and national identity. Afro-ecuadorians have been recognized as an ethnicity in the constitution, receiving communal land that had been denied for 200 years. Bolivian natives can keep their language, their schools, even their own justice system.

    About the Nation of Islam – yes, I believe that they provided an alternative to the sometimes ineffectual US civil rights movement, especially in the early thirties and forties. Muhammad was able to provide a social, economic and cultural alternative in the deep south, one based in pride, as misguided as that may seem to you.

    Obviously, I understand that to a first world man the idea of armed resistance is repulsive, but that’s another ideological argument. And while the Nazi Party dealings were real, and shameful (although coherent with Mohammed’s bizarre segregation ideas), there is no – that I know of – actual evidence of KKK dealings and direct involvement with the death of Malcolm X.

  10. I am not attacking you. I truly wish to engage you in conversation, but it’s very hard when you find the perceived holes in my argument more interesting than the points I try to make.

    Sorry! I didn’t think you were attacking me.

    I believe in a modern, democratic, revolutionary form of Marxism that I’ve lived and fought for as “Bolivarianism”, which is based in grassroots cooperativism protected from economic and cultural European and US influence by a paternalist state. It’s real, it works, and it respects cultural and national identity. Afro-ecuadorians have been recognized as an ethnicity in the constitution, receiving communal land that had been denied for 200 years. Bolivian natives can keep their language, their schools, even their own justice system.

    That is actually compelling, if incredibly complex. I think a lot of questions remain open and objections to what you say are possible, but yeah… I can’t dismiss that.

    Obviously, I understand that to a first world man the idea of armed resistance is repulsive, but that’s another ideological argument. And while the Nazi Party dealings were real, and shameful (although coherent with Mohammed’s bizarre segregation ideas), there is no – that I know of – actual evidence of KKK dealings and direct involvement with the death of Malcolm X.

    Armed resistance isn’t shameful at all, but the NOI didn’t advocate armed resistance. Malcolm X did; the NOI only wanted separation, not revolution. They were waiting for the end times.

    There’s been a lot of significant evidence and analysis about Malcolm’s assassination in recent years (for example in Manning Marable’s work), though of course the subject matter remains highly controversial.

  11. there is no – that I know of – actual evidence of KKK dealings

    from Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention:

    Most of the details about the planning and logistics of this meeting are still sketchy. What is established is that, despite a previous exchange of hostile letters […] both the Klan and the NOI saw advantages to crafting a secret alliance. On January 28 [1961], Malcolm and Atlanta NOI leader Jeremiah X met in Atlanta with KKK representantives. Apparently, the Nation was interested in purchasing tracts of farmland and other properties in the South and, as Malcolm explained, wanted to solicit “the aid of the Klan to obtain the land.” According to FBI surveillance, Malcolm assured the white racists that “his people wanted complete segregation from the white race.” If sufficient territory were obtainable, blacks could establish their own racially separate businesses and even government. Explaining that the Nation exercised a strict discipline over its members, he urged white racists in Georgia to do likewise: to eliminate those white “traitors who assisted integration leaders.”

    […]

    Jeremiah X, who was actively involved in the Klan negotiations, participated in a daylight Klan rally in Atlanta in 1964, receiving the public praise of the Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard Robert M. Sheldon. (pages 178-179)

  12. I wasn’t aware of your 2011 source, and if true, it’s a pretty damning picture. But, again, does it negate Malcolm X’s influence or teachings?

    That is actually compelling, if incredibly complex. I think a lot of questions remain open and objections to what you say are possible, but yeah… I can’t dismiss that.

    See, this is what I don’t understand. Why would dismissal be your first instinct? I think you don’t know much about the Bolivarian revolution, and I don’t expect you too – why would you? Of course it’s not a utopia, but again and again you attempt to use a theoretical framework to deny a cultural movement without bothering to inform yourself about it. Why?

    Down the rabbit hole of dialectics, your pet theory may have an Occam’s Razor clarity to it, but it’s as generalizing as you feel the feminist concept of privilege to be.

  13. See, this is what I don’t understand. Why would dismissal be your first instinct? I think you don’t know much about the Bolivarian revolution, and I don’t expect you too – why would you? Of course it’s not a utopia, but again and again you attempt to use a theoretical framework to deny a cultural movement without bothering to inform yourself about it. Why?

    Excuse me, but you’re being silly. I just said that what you write is very compelling and hard to dismiss, and you accuse me of trying to deny something?

    (The Bolivarian Revolution is debated quite a lot in leftist circles around the world, so it’s not that alien to me. I’m not sure I have a firm theoretical position on it, however, since a lot of the ideas it is based on have yet to stand the test of history. But I wish it all the luck in the world and have often spoken out against how simplistically it is portrayed in the Western media.)

  14. But, again, does it negate Malcolm X’s influence or teachings?

    You’re simplifying the life and struggle of Malcolm X to a very unfair degree; like Martin Luther King, when he was killed he was undergoing a tremendous (and I think very important) revolution in his way of thinking, from inwards-looking black nationalism to internationalism and human rights. Which doesn’t mean he rejected his sense of self-worth, his love for his people, or his criticism of society (or even the belief in self-improvement through organization), but he recognized that the teachings of Elijah Mohammed ultimately reinforced the system rather than subverting it, and in so doing perpetuated oppression.

    Even when he was still part of the Nation, the leadership tended to get very angry with him whenever he strayed from simply denouncing the “white devils” into political analysis. Just like people got very, very mad at MLK when he started talking about capitalism and imperialism, because they simply wanted to be *part* of those things.

    Personally I think understanding that culture is relative and demolishing the nationalist conception of culture doesn’t mean we have to discard the culture itself and our connection to it.

  15. I’m not accusing you of anything – maybe I’m confusing the confidence you have in your logical construct with garden-variety arrogance.

    I don’t really understand what your views on internationalism are. Marxist thought has evolved far from the goal of a stateless communism. Maybe it’s possible, I wouldn’t know, but the assertion of identity – especially an identity denied by the system such as the worldwide trans community or the Aymara in Bolivia – is a necessary step towards true social revolution.

    You write of Malcolm X’s tremendous philosophical revolution in the last year of his life. He disavowed his actions, but didn’t renounce Muslim or black identity politics. Do you truly think that realization could have been possible without the growing pains of the Nation of Islam?

    My point is – there’s a huge difference between the very real dangers of nationalistic insularity in an established culture and the necessary steps that an oppressed culture must take to define and assert itself.

  16. I’m not accusing you of anything – maybe I’m confusing the confidence you have in your logical construct with garden-variety arrogance.

    So admitting that your argument has weight is… arrogance? Confidence? I honestly don’t know where you’re getting this from.

  17. JediaKyrol

     /  January 22, 2013

    This right here is why I read your posts. I might not always agree with your points, but you explain it eloquently and concisely, and never blindly attack others who oppose you. Only when you brought it up specifically did I glean anything of your personal life. Mattie Brice on prefaces every single article she writes with “I am a Transgendered Black Woman” and honestly…I wouldn’t have known (or cared to know) if she didn’t. Some of her stuff I do like, and even agree with…but when anyone brings up an opposing point in her comments, they are immediately treated as a racist/sexist/elitist/whatever-ist by her “supporters”.