Against All Nationalisms

Irony

“Why do you write about identity politics and all that stuff if it’s just going to alienate people?”

I get that question a lot. Why always insist on the big picture, on internationalism, on transculturality? Why not support the nationalism of the oppressed? It makes people angry, it goes against what’s expected, it causes trouble and loses you allies. And it’s tedious. It’s cold, hard logic versus the seemingly liberating fire of intense emotion. It’s abstract argument versus the intimacy of personal experience. I get it. Trust me, I wish this stuff was irrelevant. I hate politics.

But take a good look at that picture.

What you’re seeing there is members of the American Nazi Party attending a Nation of Islam rally. (For those unfamiliar with the American Civil Rights Movement, the Nation of Islam was a black nationalist organization that had very little to do with actual Islam. Its most famous members included Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali.) That’s right: members of a white supremacist movement were guests of honour at an event dedicated to the dignity and pride of African-Americans. It gets better: the Nation of Islam also worked with the Ku Klu Klan.

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, Manning Marable describes the relationship between the two groups:

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.

[Manning Marable, A Life of Reinvention, p. 178-179]

I know that this is the kind of disturbing fact, so far outside the common narratives of what it means to be progressive, that one almost instinctively tries to ignore or downplay. But there’s no avoiding the truth. Look at that photo again. Read the last sentence of that quote. Jeremiah X received the public praise of Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard Robert M. Sheldon. And it’s hardly the only such case – the collaboration of Zionist organizations with the Nazis is well-documented (including by Jewish historians such as Lenni Brenner). Read this, for example:

Between 9 September and 9 October 1934 the Nazi Party Berlin newspaper Der Angriff, founded and controlled by Joseph Goebbels, published a series of twelve pro-Zionist articles by Mildenstein under the title A National Socialist Goes to Palestine. In honour of his visit, the newspaper issued a commemorative medallion, with the swastika on one side and the Star of David on the other.

[Wikipedia entry on SS officer Leopold von Mildenstein]

Given the events that followed, it’s difficult to imagine anything more horrific and absurd than “a commemorative medallion, with the swastika on one side and the Star of David on the other.” Yet in many ways, it’s a perfect symbol for nationalism.

This is the part that’s important: on a very fundamental level, all these nationalist organizations were in agreement about how the world was structured. Sure, the white supremacists thought white people were better and the black nationalists thought black people were better. But where they all agreed was that there was such a thing as Whites and Blacks and Aryans and Jews, that these were meaningful divisions of humanity and that these divisions should be upheld. To construct an identity always requires the construction of an Other, against which one can be defined; as such, these nationalisms were different sides of the same coin.

They also shared a common enemy: the many, many people on all sides who refused to be categorized. The majority of German Jews, for example, who did not conceive of themselves as a special group based on ethnic identity (Zionism was a fringe movement at the time). The people on both “sides” who fought and died for equality. The people who committed the sin of intermarriage. And the most dangerous bunch of them all: the communists. To defeat the latter, any alliance would do.

To question the nationalism of the oppressed is not to question the existence of oppression; in fact, the very suggestion is one that “silences” or “erases” (to use the terms commonly employed in modern identity politics) all the many, many people who never embraced an ideology of borders in the first place, who fought for full equality and freedom beyond any concept of identity. It ignores the millions of people who fought and died for their right to be people. Not black people or Jewish people. Just people.

Today’s proponents of identity politics/intersectionality are not that different in their goals from the Nation of Islam: pride for their identity, lifting people of that identity up from poverty, creating jobs for people of that identity, creating and maintaining (and policing) communities. They’re opposed to oppression, but rarely to exploitation – i.e. they conceive of the problem with capitalism as being the unfair representation of minorities in positions of power, not the inherent relationship between working people and the system. The poor whites that Martin Luther King Jr. was so concerned about are dismissed as privileged.

And that’s what it always comes down to. All nationalisms – whether the literal kind, or those of gender, religion, or other cultural groups – are ultimately segregationist in nature. To believe that identities intersect, you must believe in separate, clearly divided identities. To believe that appropriation is a problem, you must believe that cultures exist as contained units. And so there must always be an Other; to construct that Other as the “white heterosexual cis man” instead of the “dark foreigner” changes nothing about the underlying logic. The West isn’t superior to the Orient, but neither is the Orient superior to the West – the real point is that there is no Orient, and thus there is no West. Cultural borders are a fantasy, and it is that very fantasy that we must destroy. We can’t do that by reinforcing the very logic that creates the fantasy in the first place.

I write about these issues because I believe that people should have the freedom to live their lives as they choose to. I believe that the world is plagued by inequality, oppression and exploitation. And I firmly believe that history shows us that nationalism, no matter how attractively presented, no matter how emotionally justified, can never lead to freedom.

Notes:

  1. Malcolm X, of course, eventually grew disgusted with the Nation of Islam and tried to find a way towards equality that embraced everyone. That’s when he became a real threat to the system, and he was killed long before he managed to complete his evolution.
  2. “I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those that do the oppressing. I believe there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice, and equality for everyone, and those who want to continue the system of exploitation. I believe there will be that kind of clash, but I don’t think that it will be based on the color of the skin.” – Malcolm X
  3. Is the Turk a White Man? American liberal politics appear not to have moved on for over a century.
  4. Transculturality: the Puzzling Form of Cultures Today, by Wolfgang Welsch.
  5. The Invention of the Jewish People and The Invention of the Land of Israel by Shlomo Sand.
  6. “In the logic of antiracism, exposure of the racial element of an instance of wrongdoing will lead to recognition of injustice, which in turn will lead to remedial action—though not much attention seems ever given to how this part is supposed to work. I suspect this is because the exposure part, which feels so righteously yet undemandingly good, is the real focus. But this exposure convinces only those who are already disposed to recognize.” – Adolph Reed, Jr. in The Limits of Anti-Racism. And yeah, he’s black. Does intersectionality have space for those of the oppressed who don’t subscribe to intersectionality?
Previous Post
Leave a comment

30 Comments

  1. The West isn’t superior to the Orient, but neither is the Orient superior to the West – the real point is that there is no Orient, and thus there is no West.

    I’d argue further that the West is the West and the Orient is the Orient, but does it really matter, and are the differences really that much of a big deal? I’ve felt the problem isn’t that the differences exist, but that the differences are being made into problems. Men are men and women are women, but they’re all people: likewise, different cultures are different, but they’re all cultures.

    BTW, it reminds me of a great Tommy Sheridan quote:

    “Brothers and Sisters, we’ve got a chance here, we’ve got a chance to stand up
    straight, be proud, not that we’re better than anybody, we’re no better than
    anybody. Hey, nobody else is better than us. We’re equal and we’re gonnae take our
    rightful place on the world stage as a normal sovereign nation.”

    http://justlearningman.wordpress.com/2014/02/15/tommy-sheridan-on-independence/

    I don’t agree with Tommy Sheridan on a lot of things, but this was a great speech.

    I write about these issues because I believe that people should have the freedom to live their lives as they choose to. I believe that the world is plagued by inequality, oppression and exploitation. And I firmly believe that history shows us that nationalism, no matter how attractively presented, no matter how emotionally justified, can never lead to freedom.

    I think it heavily depends on the definition of nationalism, and that goes beyond primordialist and modernist thinking. What would you class the various independence movements in Scotland, Catalonia and elsewhere, if not nationalism of some type or another? In the former two cases, it is mostly, if not exclusively, a political rather than cultural or ethnic issue, and I think there’s a difference between nations as political constructs and as cultural designations.

    Regarding intersectionality, I was always under the impression that the point of it was to show the uniting factors of oppressed groups. Hence a black man can experience racial prejudice, a white woman sexual prejudice, and a white disabled man prejudice against the disabled. I would think that the obvious thing would be to say that those three people all experience some sort of discrimination, prejudice or oppression – therefore, they all have some sort of idea of what it feels like. Not exact, of course, but close enough to realise what discrimination/prejudice/oppression feels like. And this would prompt them to work together for the good of all.

    But the more I read, the more I find that far from it being used as a way to bring people together, it’s being used as a tiresome “check your privilege” game, by trying to say black women, white women, and white disabled men aren’t “oppressed enough” because of their male/white privileges: that rather than the oppression being the commonality, it’s the privelege they’re concentrating on. Rather than think how people of different groups experience the same problems, they think about how they exert the “priveleges” they do have. It’s completely backwards, in my opinion.

  2. But where would you draw the line between the West and the East? Greece? Spain? Germany? Turkey? Where is a place that has not been massively influenced by another place? Where is a culture that does not contain the pieces of “other” cultures? Where is a people that all share the same ideas?

    It’s not that differences don’t exist, it’s that borders don’t.

  3. As for Scotland, this is complicated, and probably deserves a post of its own. You know I have a great deal of sympathy (emotionally and culturally speaking) for Scottish independence.

    Would it be possible to argue for Scottish independence in the framework of an international(ist) socialist struggle? Maybe. Would it be possible to argue for a Yes vote from a purely tactical perspective? I think so. Probably.

    But I do think that as a direction/ideology by itself, Scottish nationalism will lead to exactly the same results as every other nationalism: exploitation by locals rather than by foreigners, but exploitation still. Without the greater struggle against the system itself (against the concept of nations, even), it will not lead to freedom for Scottish people; and it could also easily be used against them.

  4. Alphonse

     /  March 11, 2014

    I’m sympathetic to your overall point, but there are a few parts where I’m hesitant to agree.

    First is with this point: “They’re opposed to oppression, but rarely to exploitation – i.e. they conceive of the problem with capitalism as being the unfair representation of minorities in positions of power, not the inherent relationship between working people and the system.”

    My experience has been that people with a focus on identity politics (gosh I wish I had a better way to describe them) are well aware of exploitation and how it affects everyone. I don’t think their goals of benefiting people with a shared identity opposes, undermines or replaces the fight against capitalism.

    If anything, my experience leads me to believe these people are more aware of capitalism’s ills than most others, so whatever they’re doing, it seems laudable.

    “To believe that identities intersect, you must believe in separate, clearly divided identities.”

    This seems sort of true.

    I think even the strongest identity-warrior knows that separating by gender/race/[insert identity here] is just one aspect of a broader picture of humanity.

    People hold complicated, often conflicting views on the world. I think most people who identify strongly with a particular identity are still sympathetic to my dream of a united world, and act in a manner that is generally beneficial to this goal.

    Nationalism may be theoretically opposed to the grand dream of freedom, but I see people doing good for their communities that I don’t think would be accomplished without their nationalism. When their nationalism starts to do more harm than good, I’ll advocate for their destruction, but until then, I have a hard time seeing nationalism as the enemy, even if it’s not for me.

  5. My experience has been that people with a focus on identity politics (gosh I wish I had a better way to describe them) are well aware of exploitation and how it affects everyone. I don’t think their goals of benefiting people with a shared identity opposes, undermines or replaces the fight against capitalism.

    I think it does, because “identity” is the exact opposite of, not another form of, class (as I’ve tried to explain here). Fighting against a global system of exploitation that relies on the fragmentation of the opposition cannot be achieved by intensifying that fragmentation or by improving the degree to which people are integrated into capitalism.

    Nationalism may be theoretically opposed to the grand dream of freedom, but I see people doing good for their communities that I don’t think would be accomplished without their nationalism.

    That’s exactly what the Nation of Islam relied upon. They did a lot of good for their communities. They also robbed them of hope in the long term, and found ways to make their exploitation more bearable.

    When their nationalism starts to do more harm than good, I’ll advocate for their destruction, but until then, I have a hard time seeing nationalism as the enemy, even if it’s not for me.

    And what if it’s too late by then? When we’re all splintered into a million “communities” who hate each other and everything’s going to hell but we can’t unite because of privilege?

    Identity is the new opium of the people. It lessens the pain and makes you feel better – and in the long run, it kills you.

  6. Alphonse

     /  March 11, 2014

    Fighting against a global system of exploitation that relies on the fragmentation of the opposition cannot be achieved by intensifying that fragmentation or by improving the degree to which people are integrated into capitalism.

    There’s no war without compromise. If nationalism leads to marginalized people having enough economic security that they become better-educated and more-empowered, then it seems like a good thing. They have the memory of what it means to be on the wrong side of the boot, and the power to resist without being effortlessly crushed by economic forces.

    It’s not the only way things may pan out. But I think that we can work with nationalists to ensure our long-term goals of unity are met, despite the philosophical hurdles. Many of them say they’re on my side, and I’ll need all the allies I can get to fight capitalism.

    And if they’re not on my side, then I’ll fight.

    That’s exactly what the Nation of Islam relied upon. They did a lot of good for their communities. They also robbed them of hope in the long term, and found ways to make their exploitation more bearable.

    Well. Yeah.

    This isn’t the only way that things go. I’m a bit underwhelmed by anecdotes.

    And what if it’s too late by then? When we’re all splintered into a million “communities” who hate each other and everything’s going to hell but we can’t unite because of privilege?

    Identity is the new opium of the people. It lessens the pain and makes you feel better – and in the long run, it kills you.

    Do you have reason to think that we’re actually headed in that direction, or are you just speculating based on your philosophical differences with them?

    I share your philosophical differences, but in my day-to-day, I ask myself this: Are these nationalist groups benefiting the greater good, or are they standing in the way?

    It seems to vary. I’m happy with the progress being made by some nationalist groups in America (my country). We’ve made some real progress in gay equality over the last few decades, and I’m no expert on the subject but I think nationalist groups had a hand in that.

    I don’t think it’s necessarily healthy to view the world through a gay/straight dynamic, but right now, they’re doing more good than harm.

    So they’re my allies.

    Someday this may change, and we’ll become enemies. But I’m in no rush.

  7. If nationalism leads to marginalized people having enough economic security that they become better-educated and more-empowered, then it seems like a good thing.

    Better integration of a small amount of people into the existing system of exploitation is not progress towards an end to exploitation. It’s a step towards a more equally exploitative capitalism. Those achieving such positions in capitalism (e.g. minority businesspeople, people in academia) will have absolutely no interest in overthrowing the system that put them there in the first place. Barack Obama is not a socialist, nor is his existence a threat to capitalism. He is, in fact, an active defender of capitalism. The same goes even for people like Nelson Mandela.

    It’s not the only way things may pan out. But I think that we can work with nationalists to ensure our long-term goals of unity are met, despite the philosophical hurdles. Many of them say they’re on my side, and I’ll need all the allies I can get to fight capitalism.

    I’m sorry, but I think “we can work with nationalists to ensure our long-term goals of unity are met” is completely oxymoronic. We can work with the people who fundamentally oppose unity to create unity? I don’t think that will work.

    Do you have reason to think that we’re actually headed in that direction, or are you just speculating based on your philosophical differences with them?

    We’re facing the worst economic crisis in history and are on the brink of global war, but the best we can talk about is the fantasy of a “Western” Other that needs to be expunged via Maoist-style self-criticism. That’s the state of the Left. People are dying and the greatest source of anger is that someone is offended over the wrong use of words.

    We’ve made some real progress in gay equality over the last few decades, and I’m no expert on the subject but I think nationalist groups had a hand in that.

    I’m sure the people of the Middle East are profoundly happy that they can now be blown up by gay American soldiers as well as by straight ones. Meanwhile, ALL people in your country are the victims of a massive transfer of wealth from the mass of the population to a tiny group of capitalists, your constitution is in shreds, labor rights are practically nonexistent and quality of life is plunging. They’re beating you with a stick and throwing you scraps, and you’re grateful that you’re not dead yet. But what you actually deserve is peace and a full meal.

    Someday this may change, and we’ll become enemies. But I’m in no rush.

    You may not be, but some of us have to live with the consequences of US politics beyond the realm of identity. Most of us, actually. Including you, probably.

    (See also: Steven Brust on splitters and lumpers.)

  8. Jonathon Wisnoski

     /  March 12, 2014

    History is complicated. It is amazing how much history, and in particular bigotry the West has come up with in just a few hundred years.

    Great article.

  9. Gentrification is actually a process that is another good example of the problem with identity politics. A situation that is the result of how capitalism operates is consistently portrayed as a matter of race by those supposedly on the left, making it impossible for people to understand the real cause of their problems. It *sounds* all radical and progressive to complain about the evil white people moving into the neighbourhood, but it does nothing to explain the underlying economic logic, which has absolutely nothing to do with skin colour.

  10. Alphonse

     /  March 12, 2014

    Better integration of a small amount of people into the existing system of exploitation is not progress towards an end to exploitation. It’s a step towards a more equally exploitative capitalism.

    I’d rather have allies who are empowered and somewhat corrupted than allies who are pure and powerless.

    And I need allies.

    So I think the best allies I can get are probably people who were recently on the shit end of the capitalist stick, and still remember what that feels like, but have recently come into a bit of influence.

    I’m sorry, but I think “we can work with nationalists to ensure our long-term goals of unity are met” is completely oxymoronic. We can work with the people who fundamentally oppose unity to create unity? I don’t think that will work.

    They don’t fundamentally oppose unity. They want unity, although I’d describe their goals as somewhat compromised. But my experience with the most reasonable nationalists suggests they have a similar dream but a separate approach.

    While you’re right in suggesting that all nationalisms are ultimately segregationist, that doesn’t mean as much as you seem to think. No one is owned by a single idea. It’s reasonable to cooperate with nationalists because, in addition to their nationalism, many of them have a strong sense of the greater community and a vision of the world that is similar to my own.

    I don’t get your single-dimensional view of people.

    We’re facing the worst economic crisis in history and are on the brink of global war, but the best we can talk about is the fantasy of a “Western” Other that needs to be expunged via Maoist-style self-criticism. That’s the state of the Left. People are dying and the greatest source of anger is that someone is offended over the wrong use of words.

    This seems like the sort of emotional argument you criticize in your own post.

    Do you really think the energy that is being expended on political correctness and nationalist rhetoric would actually be spent on combating American imperialism or global capitalism?

    I don’t think it’s a zero-sum game.

    I’m sure the people of the Middle East are profoundly happy that they can now be blown up by gay American soldiers as well as by straight ones. Meanwhile, ALL people in your country are the victims of a massive transfer of wealth from the mass of the population to a tiny group of capitalists, your constitution is in shreds, labor rights are practically nonexistent and quality of life is plunging. They’re beating you with a stick and throwing you scraps, and you’re grateful that you’re not dead yet. But what you actually deserve is peace and a full meal.

    What the fuck?

    Look, man. I understand the goddamn sins of the world just fine. Your preaching sounds fun but I wonder if you have misjudged your audience.

    Nationalists seem to have gotten a few useful things done. Other nationalists have committed horrible crimes.

    You know what, I think it’s pretty lousy of you to be shoving this shit at me when you’re the one saying we should waste time going after all nationalism, not just the forces behind these disasters.

    It’s not like feminists invaded Iraq.

    You may not be, but some of us have to live with the consequences of US politics beyond the realm of identity. Most of us, actually. Including you, probably.

    The sniping is a lot less cute than you seem to think.

  11. I’d rather have allies who are empowered and somewhat corrupted than allies who are pure and powerless.

    I don’t think it’s corruption in that sense, merely the wrong goal. It’s not that poverty should be some sort of marker of purity – as individuals, of course we want people to do as well as humanly possibly – but as a goal of political activity, integration into the capitalist model has, so far, yielded only a weakening of anti-capitalist tendencies.

    Look at the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and look at what remains today. Is it bad that black people are better off? Of course not. But does the existence of a layer of middle- and upper-class blacks help the majority of the population, including the majority of black people? No.

    It’s reasonable to cooperate with nationalists because, in addition to their nationalism, many of them have a strong sense of the greater community and a vision of the world that is similar to my own.

    I don’t get your single-dimensional view of people.

    I don’t have a single-dimensional view of people. I’m not judging them as individuals or saying they can never participate in political struggle. I’m simply saying that, as I see it, their type of ideology can never lead to freedom.

    Is it a single-dimensional view to say that while I appreciate the social ideas of libertarians, I think their economic policies would probably destroy the world? If not, how is this any different? I know the intentions are good, but that doesn’t mean these systems work. I’ve written in great detail on this blog, and linked to many others, to show why I think they don’t.

    This seems like the sort of emotional argument you criticize in your own post.

    What, because I used the word anger? I’m not arguing we should do things my way because I’m offended.

    Do you really think the energy that is being expended on political correctness and nationalist rhetoric would actually be spent on combating American imperialism or global capitalism?

    Yes, I do. I think that’s exactly what the point of all this is: to give people a pressure valve that makes them feel better but changes nothing about how the system operates. To channel their anger not into opposing the system of economic exploitation that produces social antagonisms, but into opposing other exploited people that they perceive as culturally “privileged.”

    What the fuck?

    Look, man. I understand the goddamn sins of the world just fine. Your preaching sounds fun but I wonder if you have misjudged your audience.

    Nationalists seem to have gotten a few useful things done. Other nationalists have committed horrible crimes.

    You know what, I think it’s pretty lousy of you to be shoving this shit at me when you’re the one saying we should waste time going after all nationalism, not just the forces behind these disasters.

    And I’m not making a nationalist argument, I’m merely pointing out what’s going on in the US. You say great progress is being made, I say they take away ten things and give you one. You get small cultural victories – embraced as propaganda tools by the liberal capitalist elite – while all the major battles for human rights are being lost. There is a clear relationship between these things. Capitalism’s ability to embrace identity to create new markets and obscure political processes has been written about extensively, both here and in places like The Charnel-House or The World Socialist Web Site, often by writers who would theoretically belong to these identities, but who completely reject that mode of thought.

    (Those people, incidentally, are left out to dry by those who happily embrace the nationalist logic, which by its very nature cannot brook the existence of people on the Left who don’t subscribe to their ideas, labelling them manarchists and brocialists and – essentially – race traitors. What’s the intersectionalist position on Adolph Reed Jr.?)

    For another country that uses progress on one front to cover up its crimes, see Israel’s pinkwashing strategies.

    It’s not like feminists invaded Iraq.

    Actually, feminists (and atheists, another identity group) provided a great deal of ideological cover for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. I will grant you that intersectional feminism is very critical of that, but it only manages to do so by perpetuating the myth of the Clash of Civilizations that Bush also used.

    The sniping is a lot less cute than you seem to think.

    I don’t think there’s anything cute going on, and I’m not trying to be funny or clever. I’m telling you what I think rational analysis of the situation suggests.

  12. Jonathon Wisnoski

     /  March 12, 2014

    I’m merely pointing out what’s going on in the US. You say great progress is being made, I say they take away ten things and give you one. You get small cultural victories – embraced as propaganda tools by the liberal capitalist elite – while all the major battles for human rights are being lost.

    This.

  13. James Patton

     /  March 13, 2014

    I agree that people are people, not just blacks or Jews or women or any other group. And I agree that we must work together to help everyone see that.

    But…
    “To believe that identities intersect, you must believe in separate, clearly divided identities. To believe that appropriation is a problem, you must believe that cultures exist as contained units.”

    No. Not at all. Identities intersect not because there are actual, concrete identities, but just because people think there are.

    Yes, I believe everyone is a person first and a black or Jew or woman second. But when a black man is shot or beaten by the police because of his race, it seems academic at best and downright distant at worst to say “Oh, but he’s a real person deep down, and not the black man they see.” Of course he’s a person, but the problem is the police just see a black guy.

    Look, I get what you’re saying. But I’ve seen too many rich fucking white boys defend their actions and bigotry by saying “Oh, but racism has ended!” or “Feminists are making a fuss about nothing!” These privileged people are spouting feel-good stuff they’ve half-absorbed in school and they keep on living ignorant lives in a world built for them while other people are paid less, given fewer opportunities, brutalised and live in fear because of their identities. That’s what bothers me about your conclusion: it just comes too close to the “Racism is over” message for me.

  14. Look, I get what you’re saying. But I’ve seen too many rich fucking white boys defend their actions and bigotry by saying “Oh, but racism has ended!” or “Feminists are making a fuss about nothing!” These privileged people are spouting feel-good stuff they’ve half-absorbed in school and they keep on living ignorant lives in a world built for them while other people are paid less, given fewer opportunities, brutalised and live in fear because of their identities. That’s what bothers me about your conclusion: it just comes too close to the “Racism is over” message for me.

    I’ve heard that a lot, mainly from Americans, and I don’t get it. I just really don’t. How is saying race doesn’t exist the same as saying racism doesn’t exist, particularly when we’re talking about racism as the notion that race exists? How can we *ever* get rid of any negative system of thought if we must always argue within that system, never questioning its foundations?

    Let me put it another way: would you feel comfortable arguing that the Aryan race exists, because people died because they weren’t Aryan? Would it be racist in the 1930s to question the label of “Aryan”? (Or “Untermensch”?) Were communists fighting Hitler supposed to embrace that label as a real thing because to do the opposite would be anti-Semitic?

    To argue that transculturality is a more accurate description or how modern culture functions and internationalism is a better day of dealing with problems such as racism is no way shape or form like arguing that “racism is over.”

  15. Jonathon Wisnoski

     /  March 13, 2014

    And I have seen far too much bigotry, hatred, injustice and exploitation defended by saying that all White men are evil enslaving exploiters, and do not deserve equality with a woman or a black.

    I disagree with Jonas in pretty much every way possible (and probably some impossible ways as well), but nationalism and identity politics are just enough word for hatred and bigotry, and the only thing they ever do is feed a circular spiral into hatred and injustice, where barbaric tribal ideals of family feuds and an [two] eye[s] for every eye style revenge are perpetuated. Where somehow someone who had a broadly similar skin pigment as you do, 500 years ago, being wronged calls for you to forever be at odds with everyone with broadly similar skin pigment as those who wronged him.

    there absolutely are relatively minor injustices that still effect American Blacks to this day, but even these are significantly shared with everyone else. But anyone who thinks that Feminism has a point about anything is just wilfully ignorant.

  16. Of course he’s a person, but the problem is the police just see a black guy.

    To put it another way:

    The intersectionalist answer to this problem is to say “Yes, he’s black, but you’re white so you’re privileged and you should be ashamed for hurting him.”

    The transcultural/socialist answer is to say: “There’s no such thing as white or black. This man is a regular person just like you, and you’re both getting screwed over by this way of thinking.”

    The question is, do we want to end racism for good, or do we want to create “equal but separate” capitalist niche markets?

    But anyone who thinks that Feminism has a point about anything is just wilfully ignorant.

    Jonathon is very good at putting things in the way most likely to make people angry without considering his points, but I do actually think that there’s a very real issue buried in all this, which is that a great number of people who are fully dedicated to equality are absolutely unwilling to be associated with capital-F Feminism, and that includes a lot of women. The same thing happens with environmentalism. Personally I believe that it has to do with the guilt-based narratives of these movements, which strike most regular people as self-righteous and hypocritical.

  17. But where would you draw the line between the West and the East?

    I would draw no line at all, so much as a gradient map: as you say, there are no cultures not influenced by others. Perhaps I have a different definition of West and East from the actual one.

    As for Scotland, this is complicated, and probably deserves a post of its own.

    I’d absolutely welcome that!

    But I do think that as a direction/ideology by itself, Scottish nationalism will lead to exactly the same results as every other nationalism: exploitation by locals rather than by foreigners, but exploitation still. Without the greater struggle against the system itself (against the concept of nations, even), it will not lead to freedom for Scottish people; and it could also easily be used against them.

    There’s the rub, I think. The point of Scottish independence, as I see it, is to join the rest of the world as a fellow independent nation, to take responsibility into our own hands, and do things differently from the UK. Scotland is most assuredly exploited, from within and without, and independence won’t solve that in and of itself. I do believe there is a shift towards breaking free of the Thatcherite TINA mantra, though. Much is made of oil, but not enough of Scotland’s massive investment in renewable energy in wind farms. You can control, tax, hoard and deny oil -or uranium, gas and whatnot – but not the wind.

    On that note, have you heard of the Radical Independence Collective and the Common Weal? They seem to be much more up your street in terms of shaking things up. Given Scotland’s abundant resources and the aforementioned renewables, I think we would be excellently placed to go in a different direction.

  18. James Patton

     /  March 13, 2014

    “The intersectionalist answer to this problem is to say “Yes, he’s black, but you’re white so you’re privileged and you should be ashamed for hurting him.”

    The transcultural/socialist answer is to say: “There’s no such thing as white or black. This man is a regular person just like you, and you’re both getting screwed over by this way of thinking.””

    I think we’re exposed to different intersectionalists. The idea that all white people should be ashamed when a black person is beaten up is just absurd, and I can’t honestly believe that anyone serious about combating racism would stand by that idea. Shame solves nothing. Being aware of how you fit into a racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic system is far more helpful. Listening to people who are oppressed is far more useful for everyone involved than beating yourself up about it (metaphorically) while others are being beaten up for it (literally).

    I’m not sure where you’re going with the Aryan idea. Yes it would be great if we could all agree that there’s no such thing as a black race, I guess, in the same way that we don’t talk about an Aryan race now. But while Jews were being killed in vast numbers, people rightly didn’t think of it in those terms. They didn’t pontificate about how best to rethink whether someone was or wasn’t a Jew – they got the Jews the fuck out of Germany. The only reason we’re still thinking in terms of white and black is because oppressed people are under siege. It’s great to affirm that the siege lines are artificial, cruel and horrific, but I don’t think that’s a practical solution when you could combat this in other ways with, say, legislation to protect the rights of minorities or projects to improve social welfare.

  19. Jonathon Wisnoski

     /  March 14, 2014

    they got the Jews the fuck out of Germany

    Not that I disagree with anything you just said, really, but that example did not work out very well for the Jews or anyone else. The world and them would of been far better off left in a post-Nazi Germany/where ever they grew up/wanted to emigrate to individually.

    guilt-based narratives of these movements, which strike most regular people as self-righteous and hypocritical.

    I was overly hard. In reality, you are far far above average even if you just believe slightly different that the media tells you to believe. Jonas is right, I do not write to convince others, and it shows, I write hoping others will convince me.

    While I agree those are failing of Feminism, I do not think anyone hates Feminism for those traits alone. Traits that to me seem completely forgiveable. Feminism is wrong because is is based on hatred, bigotry, stereotypes, and (although I hate this word, and how it is always used) privilege. In my mind Islamophobia, racism, and the like is forgiveable. It is understandable that foreign, far away people, who live in a different culture, look different, and who you and all of your friends have never met and know almost nothign about are feared, and because they are feared, are hated. This is natural, reasonable, and understandable. But feminism is different, it has you (racism styled) hating your brother (literally). Someone you grew up next to, and know is, apparently both inferior, and evil, and is oppressing and exploiting you. This takes a whole different approach to hatred and ignorance. Instead of hating the unknown, bad things need to be fabricated about these people you otherwise would of known and understood. In this I imagine it shares similarities to anti-jewist Nazism, friends and neighbors of yesterday are suddenly oppressors who must be overthrown. But I have yet to dedicate much time to studying Nazi history. But, I would wager that this is a rather modern iteration of bigotry, I cannot imagine it would work quite this well without centralised and ubiquitous Capitalist mass media, who can so completely rewrite history. And no one who deeply understood the REAL history of Feminism would be a Feminist.

  20. I think we’re exposed to different intersectionalists. The idea that all white people should be ashamed when a black person is beaten up is just absurd, and I can’t honestly believe that anyone serious about combating racism would stand by that idea. Shame solves nothing. Being aware of how you fit into a racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic system is far more helpful.

    And yet that sentence almost always translates to the idea that everyone is inherently racist, has something called privilege that is basically Original Sin, and needs to declare their awareness of their privilege in a Maoist self-criticism ritual. It’s a personal solution, not a political one.

    Listening to people who are oppressed is far more useful for everyone involved than beating yourself up about it (metaphorically) while others are being beaten up for it (literally).

    Intersectionalists say “listen to the oppressed,” but they always mean “listen to the oppressed who support intersectionality.” No oppressed group is any sort of monolith, not culturally speaking. (Thus my insistence on economics, the only thing people have objectively in common on a large scale.) Do I listen to Obama? To radical black Christian Conservative women? Or to Adolph Reed Jr. who says that intersectionality is a bourgeois ploy to prolong capitalism, and that a cultural politics is worse than no politics at all?

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence, by the way, that Obama likes to go back to the “we need to have a national conversation about race” shtick every now and then. Identity is basically the only thing that politically separates the Democrats from the Republicans, and it’s what keeps people in the US feeling like progress is being made.

    But while Jews were being killed in vast numbers, people rightly didn’t think of it in those terms.

    It didn’t start with the killings, and it didn’t start with the Jews. You remember how the poem goes?

    First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Socialist.

    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

    That’s what identity accomplished. The people who refused to believe that there was such a thing as “Jews” and “Aryans,” meanwhile, fought back – and paid with their lives for that belief.

    And where did Zionism lead after that? Instead of trying to restore the beautiful complexity of European Jewish cultures (intentional plural), we shipped everybody off to Palestine (along with a whole lot of American religious fanatics who had nothing to do with Europe) to oppress the people there.

  21. And no one who deeply understood the REAL history of Feminism would be a Feminist.

    Well, I have to partially correct you there. The history of feminsm is deeply tied to that of socialism, originally anyway. People like Clara Zetkin and Rosa Luxemburg were major advocates of women’s rights. Lenin, too, thought women’s rights were a major issue for all socialists, and the Soviet Union passed laws to create full equality between the sexes decades before most other countries did.

    However, modern feminism seems to have lost all contact with those roots – much like modern anti-racists seem to know very little about older struggles – and is primarily rooted in postmodernism and academia instead. The lack of historical perspective and knowledge is one thing I find particularly destructive, since it means that every discussion is had as if it was new, with very little learned from the often much more difficult struggles of the past. How many people have a clue about Martin Luther King’s journey from classical civil rights to the explicitly non-race-based Poor People’s Campaign? King already talked about all these issues I’m mentioning decades ago, talking *then* about the necessity of thinking outside these boxes and organizing around class, but does anybody remember? No. Instead, I’m a racist for agreeing with Martin Luther King.

  22. And you know what? While we’re at it, if people should listen to the oppressed, why should no-one listen to me? I’ve been experiencing racism and xenophobia on a regular basis since I was a small child. I still encounter it often – even more often than before, perhaps – including racist diatribes about why an entire country is inherently lazy, broadcast on TV and printed in huge magazines. Do I know nothing about racism? I’ve been bullied for my language, my looks, my name, my inherent laziness, my inherent misogyny (a popular Orientalist cliché), being a thief who takes from German people, being a Nazi, and a whole host of other wonderful subjects. And I still don’t think that reinforcing these idiotic categories, or retreating to defending myself as a Greek or a German instead of a person is the right way.

    (This is an argument only insofar as it shows the problem with “listen to the oppressed” excluding those of the oppressed who have inconvenient opinions. Having experienced racism does not mean that you have any kind of insight into its deeper origins.)

  23. I’m going to explain the whole “race doesn’t exist, but racism does” idea that Jonas has (and that I share) in a simple way so that everyone can understand it.

    It’s like the zodiac, it’s total bullshit, but that doesn’t mean people don’t believe it and don’t make judgements based on it.

  24. It’s like the zodiac, it’s total bullshit, but that doesn’t mean people don’t believe it and don’t make judgements based on it.

    Exactly. So the question becomes: do we encourage people to learn a nicer, less obviously silly zodiac, or we do teach them about science? These goals are not compatible.

  25. James Patton

     /  March 15, 2014

    @Jonas:
    On the whole “intersectionalists only listen to convenient narratives” thing.
    The entire basis of intersectionalism is that everyone has a narrative and everyone is oppressed. That’s, like, intersectionalist 101. I just don’t understand what you’re saying when you state that intersectionalists prefer certain narratives over others – that they will listen to black people but not white people, to people from Africa but not people from Greece. Because that’s not intersectionalism.

    On the Original Sin thing:
    No. The entire basis for intersectionalism is that no one person is part of only one group. Straight white men have more privilege than gay black women. Buuuuut here’s the thing:

    ****Privilege is not a spectrum!!!!****

    (Starred for emphasis.)
    For example. Women are disadvantaged because they are paid less, are subject to sexual harassment more frequently and have to live up to impossible stereotypes (if you’re not sexual enough you’re a tease, if you’re too sexual you’re a slut) and so on.

    But I’m a white guy. I am also disadvantaged by this system. I have to be “manly”, if I don’t have sex when I’m a teenager then I’m a loser, and I’m expected to not share my feelings (“boys don’t cry”) which is not very healthy.

    Now, obviously, I’ve got the easier ride. But you see how our culture oppresses both groups? It’s not that I have more of this magical power called “privilege” and women have less, and gay people also have less. It’s that we should be aware of how our identity gives us advantages that we take for granted.

    What confuses me about your argument is that intersectionality takes this as its basis – that people interact and advantage/disadvantage each other in complex ways. Yes it splits people into identities but come on, man. We’re people. We categorise all the time. It’s how we deal with generalities.

    I can say “I believe all people are people and I never judge people based on their sexual preferences” and also say “but it’s really shitty how bisexual people are often seen as sluts, isn’t it?” Those two sentences are not mutually exclusive.

    @Jonathon:
    I have never met or encountered a feminist as vindictive as you say they are. Ever.

    This myth of an evil feminism that hates men is just a straw man. (Straw woman?)

    The fact is, women are disadvantaged in our society. They are grossly underrepresented in literally every single field of commerce, government or the media. (Note: underrepresentation means that there might be plenty of women working at the bottom of the hierarchy, but only one or two ever get to the top.) They’re underpaid. They are subject to sexual objectification to an extent that still disgusts me and blows my mind when it’s pointed out to me.

    Let me give you a thought experiment. If our culture were truly fair about gender, half of all government positions would be taken by women, and half by men. Half the MPs in the British House of Commons would be women. Half the people in the US Congress.

    Such a world is impossible to imagine for us because these places are about 95% men.

    Also women are more likely to be victims of violence, sexual assault and rape. And when they go to the police to complain about these things, the police dismiss them out of hand. And if they don’t, and the case gets to court, the judge will say that they deserved it. And even if the rapists get a conviction, it will be maybe two or three years at most, and a huge swathe of the media might even, if you’re very unlucky, claim that the rape victim ruined the rapists’ promising young lives as football stars.

    Ugh.

    So, what should people who want to change things call themselves? “Feminist” is a decent term. It’s been around a long time. And the fact is, if you use a word like “equalist” then you’re not being very specific about what you want. “Feminist”, the word, shows that 1) Women are unfairly treated and 2) you are part of a group that wants to change that. It’s a practical word as well as an idealistic one.

    And Jonas, before you jump in and say that feminism is too narrow a focus for a world that’s got exploitation everywhere, look at these blogs:

    http://facebooksexism.tumblr.com/

    http://misandry-mermaid.tumblr.com/

    These are blogs that started as purely feminist blogs showcasing instances of rape culture and misogyny online. But then they branched out and included all kinds of oppression because the bloggers are intersectionalists (they actually identify as such) and are therefore capable of seeing that the problems of feminism are also the problems of black people and gay people and all other kinds of people and they want to make the world a better place.

    It’s just weird for me because those two blogs are 1) intersectionalist and 2) seem to be doing what you think intersectionalists can’t do, ie. look at the bigger picture.

  26. I just don’t understand what you’re saying when you state that intersectionalists prefer certain narratives over others – that they will listen to black people but not white people, to people from Africa but not people from Greece. Because that’s not intersectionalism.

    I’m not sure what you’re not getting. Intersectionality is one system of thinking about and fighting oppression, rooted in postmodernism and multiculturalist or interculturalist ideas of how cultures function, i.e. container models of culture. Transculturality is a different model for looking at cultures. Marxist internationalism is a system for fighting exploitation that is fundamentally incompatible with many of the assumptions and methods of intersectionality. Intersectionality is about creating equal identities. Marxism is about destroying the concept of identity. It’s about freedom from race, gender, etc.

    But people who point this out, people who are opposed to intersectionality from the Left, are attacked with ludicrous terms like manarchist, brocialist, etc. You say “listen to the oppressed.” What happens when the oppressed say “intersectionality is not a model that can lead to freedom”? Because a lot of them are saying just that. The biggest error intersectionality makes is that it assumes the oppressed actually subscribe to its ideals. If empathy and listening to others really is the highest value, why not listen to Adolph Reed as well? Or Eve Mitchell?

  27. Jonathon Wisnoski

     /  March 15, 2014

    Straight white men have more privilege than gay black women. Buuuuut here’s the thing

    Don’t you see that defining everyone as this magic number of a hierarchy is just offensive and stereotypical? And in the end of the day, it is complicated. I see what you are saying, but that black woman would still get 50% of the sentence, if she was convicted at all as the white man, for the exact same crime. She will get better health care, live longer, not suffer any workplace injuries or death, have almost no chance of being a homeless bum and staving to death. And most likely did not lose her job in the recent depression, while the man did. Need I go on? I realise that most people just watch the evening news and believe everything they hear, but they actually do studies about these type of things, and most major government institutions publish statistics.

    Let me give you a thought experiment. If our culture were truly fair about gender, half of all government positions would be taken by women, and half by men. Half the MPs in the British House of Commons would be women. Half the people in the US Congress.

    How does this follow. Would half of all construction jobs be women, would half of all fishers (most deadly job on the planet) be women, would half of all garbage people be women? You realise it is legally impossible to pay a woman less for the same job right? It would be ridiculously easy to sue make loads of money? They have hundreds of studies on this, that prominent feminists support, this is the reason they now say women just do not have good enough women role models. Women, who make the exact same choices as men in their career, either do similarly or do better. Their is no wage gap, their is a choice gap. Women do not like dying or suffering on their jobs, and they prefer to have a better live/work balance. This doe snot mean they are inferior, this does not mean they are stupid and making the wrong choices, and this does not make them oppressed. And at the end of the day women control 60% of all money in the West.

    P.S. No intelligent person would want to work in Congress.

    Have you ever heard of SCUM? Have you never subscribed to a blog/facebook page for Feminism. Have you even read an essay by a woman’s studies professor? Yes, 99% of most of it are inane motivational posters, but the rest are bigoted stereotypical attacks on men and women. I am not saying all Feminists are horrible people, I am not even saying that the bad ones are more than .1% of the population (just like I do not believe all Germans are horrible people), but those .1% are the leaders, the professors, and the people in advisory roles to presidents, and unions of nations. These people who are paid to teach or advise write about genocide, and genetic inferiorities. These people absolutely have manipulated the laws and even the thoughts of the people, to hate men for one, to devalue them and their lives, and a bunch of horrible things to women as well.

  28. Jonathon Wisnoski

     /  March 16, 2014

    One exciting thing in the area of actually knowing things instead of guessing based on how you want something to be is the Internet. I recently saw some very interesting statistics come off of Twitter. What is so exciting is that because of twitter we have a real way to know what people say and what they think. Bringing in 200 university students and asking them to fill out forms is one thing, but in real time tracking every single thing that a huge portion of the population says is completely different. And then you have other sites with huge user bases tracking other interesting stats.

    But on to more specific things. As an example of Feminism is Women’s Rights News. A good Facebook page, staffed with what I am sure are great kind people. It is as “egalitarian” as pretty much any other rights page, most of it is pretty good if somewhat inane. But it is still filled with some horrible things if you are actually aware of the world you live in.

    See: “If your religion or your culture says that: This person [man] … is entitled to a better education … this person [woman] it is wrong. Period.”

    Which there is nothing wrong with. But when it is said in a country where the education of males is in a free fall, while the overall education is raising because women are raising even faster and are well past 50% (something shared with most of the world). When men do worse in school, repeat more classes, drop out at many times the rate of women, when they get less college opportunities, and are less likely to graduate even when they do, all while being force fed medication to better fit in and while Barack Obama holds speeches promising to further focus on women’s education.

    Even egalitarian, nice, Feminists see nothing wrong with the education systematically failing men at every level, leaving them disadvantaged for life. All they are interested in is increasing this trend, while pointing at one or the other of the 2 countries in the world where women get less education.

    But it does not matter, because I am privileged and blind so my opinion does not matter.

  29. I think what Jonathon says is related to one of the main problems I have with much of modern identity politics: the assumption that we are all in competition with one another, and that things that benefit one group go against the interests of its opposite group (since it does always come down to binaries, even if it’s a series of interconnected binaries).

    Whereas I cannot think of a single situation in which people wouldn’t benefit far more from fighting together for their common rights. Educational rights, for example, are being utterly destroyed at the moment. The problem isn’t representation. The problem is destruction.

    Or look at the wage gap (which is a controversial issue, but certainly exists in some professions; the degree is often exaggarated, though, since in many cases and in many countries it would be illegal for there to be a gap). If a woman earns 70% of what a man does, that is not an advantage for the man. For one thing, it means that he cannot defend his own wage; capitalism will always push towards the lowest common denominator. There’s plenty of historical evidence to back that up.

    Just as importantly, though, most people live in families, and most people are struggling to get through the month. So when someone’s wife earns less, it’s insane to describe that as the husband having more power. What it means is that when it comes to feeding the children, or paying the rent, or just having a decent quality of life, everyone is compromised. That’s the significant part, the part that describes people’s experiences of everyday life, their fears, their worries. (That, on a more practical level, is also what you can get people to rally around. Regular people – and by that I mean men and women of all backgrounds outside of academia, the arts and online activism – don’t care about whether the patriarchy exists or not, or how to defeat it. They care about how to pay the rent and take care of their children. The boring, vital stuff that the world actually runs on.)

    But how is this “male privilege” commonly described? As an unfair advantage. And what should we do with unfair advantages? Take them away. Well, guess how capitalism is going to do that. The answer is not “by raising wages.”

  30. And Jonas, before you jump in and say that feminism is too narrow a focus for a world that’s got exploitation everywhere, look at these blogs:

    http://facebooksexism.tumblr.com/

    http://misandry-mermaid.tumblr.com/

    These are blogs that started as purely feminist blogs showcasing instances of rape culture and misogyny online. But then they branched out and included all kinds of oppression because the bloggers are intersectionalists (they actually identify as such) and are therefore capable of seeing that the problems of feminism are also the problems of black people and gay people and all other kinds of people and they want to make the world a better place.

    Those blogs seem entirely typical of intersectional Tumblr feminism. They reinforce categories instead of challenging them (even defending the use of phrases like “men are disgusting”), focus mainly on cases of individual behaviour (i.e. sin), and have nothing to say about class. Oh, they mention classism, but class? Hah. I’m sure they also think that the idea that social antagonisms could be rooted in economics is sexist. What they mainly care about is oppression, not exploitation, and to them oppression is insufficient integration into capitalism (i.e. representation in the upper classes).

    And the solution? Calling people out. Because that helps. Individual self-righteousness will surely help end the systemic crises humanity is facing.

    This isn’t politics, it’s masturbation.