The foundation of linguistic determinism, dictonary.com, defines feminism as, “the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.” I’ve described before how equality is an insufficient measure of defining feminism, and its failure becomes much more stark as time goes by. For instance, women are now as equally incapable as men of getting abortions as in certain US states. Feminism can’t be about equality because the issues facing women are distinct from the issues facing men. It’s a buzzword abused by the left just as tragically as “freedom” is by the right. I don’t mean to completely disparage the term (nor “freedom”, to be perfectly honest) since it does have its uses, but setting up equality as the goal of feminism is to ignore what feminists have been demanding for centuries.

We too can serve under capitalism to support the military industrial complex!

Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792 demanding a place for women in formal education. She argued that preventing women from becoming educated and then calling them dumb is a cruel, self-fulfilling prophecy. Modern examples would be certain vocations being hostile to women, preventing their participation, and then pointing to their menses as the reason they can’t participate, ignorant again of this gatekeeping hostility. To be clear, equal access to education is a significant portion of this argument, but the goal isn’t the equality in and of itself; it’s the education.

Similarly, Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique in 1963 with a less specific, but much more illuminating assertion. She posits that keeping women at home creates an unnamed ennui within them that can only be solved by their participation in the work force. This again requires an equality of opportunity, but Friedan is still not making an argument for equality, but an argument in repudiation of this mystique – that women ought to content themselves with the purpose intrinsic to cooking and cleaning. It’s a “mystique” because of its unnamed quality: up until this point, women were considered biologically-inclined to domesticity, so this role must be the only thing that could possibly matter to them. The language didn’t exist at the time to argue against this narrative.

Probably just a bout of hysteria

Strangely enough, the language was already there. Towards what end does one use an education or a vocation? Today we might say that the answer is money, but we’ve also forgotten that money is a means to an end rather than an end in itself. The answer is actually to create meaning within our lives. Friedan recognized that forced domesticity is deeply unfulfilling – what are the results of the feminine mystique if not a lifelong existential crisis?

Existential philosophers have been talking about the angst of an unfulfilled life since before the suffragette movement (though, notably, not before Wollstonecraft). Victor Frankl recognized the necessity of meaning to existence. Albert Camus recognized the importance of embracing it even in the face of absurdity. Friedrich Nietzsche asked us to devote our lives to creating it. Existentialism is the pursuit of self-actualization in a universe that is actively trying to suppress it, whether through death or, in this instance, the patriarchy.

As Heidegger would say, women only exist authentically in a Being-Toward-Patriarchy

This is what the patriarchy is. It’s not the fancy name given to an unequal system; it’s the name of the cultural norms that systematically repress the existential potential of women. Consider the aforementioned criminalization of abortion. “Pro-life” is a harmful misnomer because it hides the reality of its repression. Consider Judith Thomson’s defense of abortion:

You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist’s circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. [If he is unplugged from you now, he will die; but] in nine months he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.

Do you have the right to choose to remove yourself from this situation that you did not consent to, regardless of the consequences on the life of this violinist? Of course you do. Perhaps the death of this violinist is no cause for jubilation, but the choice is still crucially yours. There’s a reason that critics of the pro-life movement call it “forced birth” rather than pro-life, because it more accurately describes what they’re advocating. The life of the unborn child, regardless of whether or not life begins at conception, has always been irrelevant to the woman’s right to choose.

Well that was a wasted nine months…

The distinction is important because we can see now that being forced to give birth is actually massively detrimental to a woman’s ability to live her own subjectively meaningful life. In a lot of cases, it’s not just forced birth, but forced motherhood. If she so chooses, motherhood can indisputably be hugely rewarding, but if not, she is tragically left with a Kierkegaardian mystique as her life is determined by outside forces.

Having your life defined by the powerful majority is not solely the purview of women. Black liberation movements are about reversing the historical suppression of self-actualization through Jim Crow, red-lining, and police brutality. It’s hard to live your best life when you’re being incarcerated by an unjust penal system. The queer focus on recognizing and accepting the different is about the ability of the different to live out their own self-actualization, even if their version of self-actualization isn’t exactly what Maslow might have had in mind. I think it’s a safe generalization to make that all social movements demanding equal rights are in reality simply asking for the opportunity to live their lives in the way they find most meaningful without some jerk forcing them into a box outside of that meaning. Hell, even Oscar Wilde recognized that under capitalism we are limited in our ability to self-actualize because we’re too busy labouring for the profits of others. You’re not going to be living your passion if you have to serve coffee to assholes in order to eke out increasing rent payments.

Noted socialist, Oscar Wilde. Albert Einstein was a socialist too, for your historical socialists lesson of the day!

One of the rare beautiful things about individualism is its recognition that our meaning ought not be determined by the collective. It’s even quite libertarian to insist that there be no suppression on the expression of that meaning (undeniably within reason). This is why modern day libertarians insist that current oppression is either rooted in biological inclination or in self-selected out-group culture – if the conditions were socially imposed, the cognitive dissonance would become too great.

Human beings, all of us, are meaning-seeking creatures. We want to lead fulfilling lives. It’s honestly such a simple, basic thesis that it ought to be glaringly obvious. It’s just that social structures have been implemented over time to prioritize the meaning of certain groups over others. The high school football player who rapes his female classmate is protected because his future, his ability to make meaning, is threatened by the legitimate consequences of his actions. He can go on to play college ball, and now she can’t get an abortion and is stuck with the life that was involuntarily thrusted upon her. His meaning is prioritized; her meaning is superfluous. It’s an unbalanced existentialism.

That’s patriarchy. Smashing it is feminism.

There’s a common conservative trope in America that responds to any demand for gun reform after a mass shooting with a disappointment in “the left” for making the tragedy “political.” In the most considerate light, this is the assertion that one ought to focus instead on processing grief rather than… what? What are politics? I mean… what am politics? I did a whole bit with my title; I should probably refer back to it for some degree of continuity. So what am politics?

Politics am the process by which a system functions and is successfully navigated. Think of office politics: if I want this report submitted, I know I have to get it in before noon because Pam in accounting has liquid lunches every day and is too sauced later in the afternoon to get any meaningful work done. If I want that promotion, I need to laugh at Scott’s jokes because he is the boss and has a fragile ego and holds a grudge. You have to recognize the power dynamics at play, understand everyone’s role and the eccentricities that inform their behaviour within that role, and perform your own role accordingly in order to meet your own needs within that system.

Politics!

Government isn’t politics; it’s an institution of politics for the functionality of the society that it governs. If I want any hope of a clean energy deal, I have to give Joe Manchin a rusty trombone in order to get it. This is no different than getting Pam to process your TPS reports quicker by buying her a nice vodka cran, if tasting slightly worse. It doesn’t even necessarily matter what the goals are; politics can just as easily gum up a system as it can loosen it. An obstructionist can use all sorts of political tools and rhetoric to achieve the self-interested goals of whatever lobby group is paying for their motivation: that’s also politics. It’s just that the system that it’s sustaining is plutocratic rather than serving the needs of the demos. Systems are legion and intersect in all sorts of ways.

My first example was an office because I specifically wanted to distance politics from government to make it clear that politics exists anywhere. Politics exists across the whole spectrum of governments, and if you think about the vast differences between a democracy and an autocracy, and the different maneuvers that would be required to function within each of them (e.g. how one goes about satisfying the needs of the many compared to satisfying the needs of the one), it’s obvious that politics can be everywhere, even when it’s defined by only its most overt form. Remember, it’s the process by which we function within a specific system. It doesn’t matter what the system is, whether a workplace, a nation, or a relationship, politics is there. When you successfully answer whether those pants make her ass look fat, you’ll likely be congratulated by being told that you provided a satisfactorily diplomatic response: a distinctly political term.

In short, dismissing gun reform by saying, “it’s easy to go to politics” is by definition, politics. If you are carefully considering your words in order to maintain the functionality that serves you within the system you’re navigating, you’re doing a politics. The far more interesting question is, I think, what is political?

What am political?

When something is political, it means that it is attached to a particular system’s functionality. Laughing at Scott’s jokes is a political act. It is conforming to a persona of flirtatiousness in order to succeed within a business dominated by men informed by a lecherous patriarchal worldview. This is why they say that the personal is political: our individual actions either conform to or rebel against the systems within which we function as our means of navigating them (see code-switching as another example). In Scott’s instance, we have to navigate the system of interpersonal relationships wherein we behave in a particular way to avoid ostracization, the system of a workplace wherein we need to perform in a certain way in order to pay for food and rent, and the system of patriarchy wherein I actually don’t have to worry about this part because I’ve been a dude this whole time.

It would actually be a much shorter list if we try to think of things that are not political. Come to think of it, even an act of God like Hurricane Katrina is still political because it showcased the failures and successes of a variety of systems. Similarly with Covid-19, it too stress-tested the functionality of our various systems. These supra-human events are just as political as, say, the Civil Rights movement because if we are paying attention, we can use politics to adjust our systems accordingly to prevent future failures. Or, alternatively, condemn the system as a whole if we see its successes as abhorrent when the veil is ripped away. Anything can be political if it highlights the (dis)functionality of a systemic response, so our short list is a list of zero. Who knew.

Remember when Kanye cared about black people?

All this boils down to a belief that guns, and all the deaths that inevitably accompany them, transcend literal acts of God in that they cannot be politicized. Right? Something that is embedded in the United States constitution, itself another institution of politics, would defy all reason if we approached it politically. It’s seemingly okay to politicize mental health, and I would genuinely love to see massive increases in expenditures to bolster social supports for those with mental illness, but somehow I don’t think that that governmental response is in the cards either. It would be fun to call the Republican bluff and table legislation that did exactly this to see how Republicans find a way to weasel their way out of it, but Democrats have their own systems they’re trying to protect.

A belief that guns are inevitable does not want the system to change; mass shootings are indeed emblematic of its success. Guns mean freedom! All those dead children are the broken eggs intrinsically linked to this omelet of ambiguous “freedom.” Unadulterated “freedom to” with no regard to “freedom from,” this is what the success of that system looks like. Those who use politics in order to hide the abhorrence of that success using the denunciation of “politics” to do so are the vilest of hypocrite.

The communist that everyone loves to hate, Joseph Stalin, is credited with having said that, “The death of one is a tragedy, but the death of millions is just a statistic.” This obviously refers to the intimate heartbreak of having some one person in our lives pass away versus the math class-styled boredom humanity possesses toward the deaths of millions of “other” people. Now I can very easily link this to the anti-vaxxers who either shrug off or outright deny the literal millions of people who have died from Covid-19, but I’m not going to because the vast majority of Canadians have recognized the severe nature of the disease and acted accordingly. The point I’m actually going to make is that the response to this pandemic refutes the quotation: millions died, but there was action taken to mitigate those deaths on a global scale. Despite the impossibility of connecting on a personal level to all of those who were dying, we all got together to do something about this catastrophe. Covid is more than just a statistic; it’s human enough to elicit a response.

On the other hand, we have the communist that everyone hates to love, Karl Marx, being credited with having stolen this line from Friedrich Engels, “First as tragedy, then as farce.” This is referring to the notion that when tragic history repeats itself, the second instance is often a cruel parody of the first. If the deaths from Covid are the tragedy, then drug overdose deaths are the on-going farce.

And we all know Marx liked to party.

In British Columbia, we’ve had 3,547 deaths from Covid so far; in contrast, since the start of the pandemic until March of this year, there have been 4,552 deaths from drug overdoses, with 2022 set to outpace the previous record from the year before. Certainly the measures taken to limit the impact of Covid have significantly reduced the number of deaths that we would have faced otherwise, but we have harm reduction measures to mitigate drug deaths too with remarkable success (no one dies from overdose at safe injection sites, for instance). My point is that one set of deadly statistics was collectively agreed upon to be a tragedy, and the other was not.

Some might argue that a drug overdose death isn’t the same because they cynically believe addiction to be a choice, and therefore, a death arising from that choice is the addict’s own fault. I don’t think that this belief is as prevalent as it used to be. BC just decriminalized small amounts of all drugs, and even the conservative news outlet, the National Post, is framing this decision as being in response to a health crisis. Obviously it’s a health condition, right? Everyone is saying so.

This looks like candy, and I want to eat it.

In response to this fading belief of personal choice resulting in death, alleged advocates will point out that many of the overdose deaths are not regular substance users, but result from those who casually use drugs receiving a sketchy concoction that they were not physiologically prepared for. This is trying to paint a picture where real humans are dying from drug overdoses, so please care about them! Don’t think this is just sub-human junkies! This could just be someone who likes to party! You like to party, right? Even Marx liked to party!

This mad dash to declare addiction a health crisis to eliminate stigma is inevitably destined to fail. During the AIDS epidemic, people were stigmatized not because of the disease ravaging their bodies, but because they were gay. Everyone knew it was a health crisis, but nobody cared because it was ideologically chained to the homos. Similarly with opioid deaths: you can scream all you want that it’s a health crisis, but no one is going to detach drug use from drug users. Destigmatizing drug use will never work so long as we’re ignoring the stigma attached to the users themselves.

I expect that a drug user Pride event would be less colourful, but probably more fun… cuz, ya know, the drugs

If we see stigma as being attached to the addict in the same way that AIDS stigma was attached to the gay community, then what is it about filthy junkies that we just hate so much!? What biblical sin have drug users committed that earned them this stigma? Well, drug users are racialized, for one. They’re poor. They’re abused. They’re hobbled. They’re men (not in a femi-nazi way, but in a “failed men deserve to be discarded” way). Drug users are imbued with the sin of being socially despicable across all fronts. When society starts to embrace its homeless, when Indigenous people stop being followed around in stores, when we stop pitying the disabled, and when we allow diversity within masculinity, then maybe, the stigma against drug users will wane. Unfortunately, we’re nowhere near that.

The ads I see around town regarding substance use these days are linked to the Drug Free Kids organization which, hence the name, advocates an abstinence-based approach to drugs. We’re still teaching our kids abstinence-only programs like we were sex educators in 1950s America. It’s like we haven’t progressed at all since Nancy Reagan told us to just say no. We seem to have evolved passed the puritanism that demonized sex before marriage, accepting that kids are gonna bone and that’s okay, but we have not yet exorcized the demons from the devil’s weed.

I haven’t seen the show, but I wouldn’t believe you if you told me that none of these kids bone

Remember when sex would immediately result in pregnancy and syphilis? From my old textbook on addiction, “Estimates are that only around one-third of people who have injected heroin become addicted, compared to 22% for cocaine and 8% for marijuana. Only one drug causes addiction among a majority of its users—nicotine.” This little tidbit is completely irrelevant because we don’t want our babies to grow up to be crippled natives living on the street, and complete abstinence is the only way to be sure. Our reaction to drug users is an emotional response curated by centuries of racist, ableist, and classist attitudes, and patriarchal definitions of men. Any kind of drug education or strategy that isn’t addressing that is actively harming our chances at overcoming the opioid crisis.

The millions of deaths from Covid-19 are a tragedy because in theory, if not in practice, it can impact anyone regardless of status. There’s no stigma to it. I got Covid. You probably got Covid. Overdose deaths are for “them.” No matter how much the term “health crisis” gets bandied about to proselytize a benign neutrality, it won’t stop drugs from being a social issue. When we stop the farce and address those social issues, then maybe it will be just as okay for people to use drugs as it is for kids to bone.