Archives for posts with tag: world views

The rallying cries to end racism, to end homophobia, and to smash the patriarchy are all passionate pleas calling for sanity in a world gone crazy with unfounded hatred and hegemonic power imbalances. They all wish for the same thing: the elimination of injustice. We want to destroy capitalism. We want to abolish racism. We use colourful language like this with grand images of violent revolution because it is an anger that stirs within us that wants to lash out in retaliation against the oppression that we see inflicted upon the less fortunate. Seeing the devastation that injustice can bring would indeed drive any rational person mad, so to condemn the seething reactions begotten by this social terrorism is as absurd as condoning the appalling apathy that inevitably accompanies it. I use “we” because I am not excluded from these feelings, though my preferences tend toward simmering cynicism over boiling rage.

What are these injustices? Racism is the preference of one race over another, often structurally enforced by anachronistic institutions built prior to the bleeding heart enlightenment. Basically samesies with sexism, replacing race with gender where appropriate. And so on. Now, obviously they’re not identical and intersectionality has come a long way in explaining why, but they do share one common element: they are all ideas. Ideas fused into systemic practice, yes, but at their foundation they are intangible worldviews.

How do you destroy an idea? Tangible things are easy. Audrey Lorde’s quotation about being unable to dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools would be irrelevant if she were talking about a literal house. That shit would be a breeze to knock down. We have hate speech and anti-discrimination laws in Canada that prevent overt oppression meaning that, on paper, injustice has been triumphantly eliminated from our country. Well done, Canada! Except obviously it hasn’t. The tangible injustice is all but gone, leaving only the insidiously abstract injustice to be destroyed, and it seems the abstract is far more resilient.

Yet to destroy, demolish, dismantle, and decimate (if you wish to reduce injustice by a tenth) can only succeed negatively. What I mean by this is eliminating injustice can only ever negate the status quo. It seeks to thwart an inherently destructive idea with other destructive ideas. If you believe Lorde, then it’s simply never going to work.

Within the last year, there have been several sexual assault cases that were gravely illuminating about the flaws within our justice system. Kesha was forced to continue working with a man who sexually assaulted her. Brock Turner received a slap on the wrist. The judge for the Jian Ghomeshi case highlighted the problem by stating that without hard evidence, it comes down to the testimony of the accuser against the accused. This is then subject to often harsh cross-examination which can easily raise reasonable doubt as trauma is neither the best for memory nor unambiguous in its mental affectations. Thus, too often does justice ignore the victims of one of the most heinous crimes today. The legal system is an institution, but more than an institution, it is an idea. It is an idea that did not take into account the unique tragedy of sexual assault victims during its conception.

Screaming that the legal system is broken will not fix it. An argument could be made that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but imagine a group of workers complaining about the conditions of their factory to the owner. The owner may eventually implement a solution, but it will be a solution created by the owner who is likely going to avoid shifting the system too far as he is the one currently benefiting from it. Progress requires new ideas. The elimination of injustice will be the byproduct of these new ideas, not their predecessor.

The Broadway musical Rent has a lyric that states that the opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation. This line is then followed by a jubilant WOOOOO! to celebrate its veracity. Peace is only the stagnation of where the war left off. Creation is the opposite of war because creativity produces something new. We need to stop trying to destroy, and start building.

Gustave Le Bon, a French social psychologist, is considered the father of crowd psychology and offers a cynical yet more than likely accurate analysis of the nature of individuals when they renounce their individuality and embrace being a part of a group. A crowd is a herd of people centered on an idea, but Le Bon posits that for an idea to be populist enough for a crowd to rally around, it must be simplified to the point where they are able to grasp it. In today’s context, it would need to fit within 140 characters. Typically, the crowd looks to a leader, as the leader is the one who comprehends the idea (or is Machiavellian enough to manipulate the crowd with the presumption of their comprehension) and can direct the pedagogy of its ideals. Those within the crowd abandon their individuality and are willing to sacrifice anything for the sake of the greater benefit of the group. The 20th century was rife with examples, such as Lenin and the Russian Revolution, Hitler and the Nazis, or Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement. Crowds are not intrinsically moral or immoral constructs, but we will talk more on that later.

Social media is rife with the crowd mentality, as each individual zealously adheres to their chosen ideological clique, but these cliques notoriously do not have an individual guide who possesses the intellect to direct them. Occupy Wall Street, the movement borne of the social media trend, celebrated its lack of leadership before floundering within the maelstrom of differing priorities and beliefs. The Arab Spring suffered similar defeat when the movement was co-opted by the military due to its distinctive lack of leadership and the power vacuum it invariably created.

The traditional online movements, such as the MRAs, the feminists, the Tea Partiers, and the SJWs rely on memes, tweets, and Tumblr posts as their ideological directors. The crowd creates its own ideological drive, and given the mediocrity of the crowd mentality, simplifies their ideological canon even further to the point of inane nonsense. However, the crowd mentality survives and the zealotry that begets self-sacrifice offline translates to the most vitriolic diatribe as people fearlessly defend this nonsense with the online anonymity that precludes consequences.

Let’s look at an example:

l05snt4On the surface, this meme appears to illustrate the fear allegedly inherent to the female experience, and offers a means for men to potentially empathize with them. However, it’s really a very shallow surface. Let’s look to see what it’s saying.

Who is this meme for? That’s easy, it’s addressed to you. However, using the second person narrative personalizes the message, and by its assumptions about the way you treat women and the way you feel about gay men, it becomes accusatory. Being online, this accusation lacks any humanity behind it, and therefore is simply alienating. Anyone who could genuinely benefit from its message will dismiss it based on its very nature.

Ignoring what I just said, maybe it’s for homophobes in general. Except its definition of homophobia excludes women from being homophobic, despite women being only marginally less homophobic than men (34% opposing gay marriage in the US in 2015 compared to 36% of men). It also does not account for how one could possibly be homophobic toward lesbians, thereby delegitimizing its entire definition of homophobia. And really, what message is it giving to homophobes anyway? That the homophobia you experience is akin to the lived experiences of women? Would that not justify homophobic beliefs if we consider women’s fear justifiable, or alternatively, render irrational (if we assume homophobia is irrational) the fear derived from women’s lived experiences? This leads me to believe that this meme is not for women either (despite the sage who offers her great wisdom being the clear protagonist of this story), as I doubt most women would want the fear they experience in a parking lot likened to the fear a homophobe has of sharing a taxi with a gay man.

Is it for misogynistic men? Are they supposed to foster homophobic beliefs in order to develop the empathy needed for a greater connection to the female experience? I’m assuming that is not the intent, but maybe I’m giving it too much credit.

So, it’s not for anyone, its message is contradictory to its intent, and it’s oppositional and divisive by its very nature. Its target audience is the crowd. Its message of empathy, feminism, and LGBT rights is watered down to the nonsensical, yet those who reject its message are considered outsiders and enemies. Its place is in an echo chamber of stupidity.

Why would people want to be a part of this idiocy? Le Bon theorizes that being a part of the crowd masks the impotency that individuals face when large obstacles need to be overcome. There is strength in numbers, and crowds are necessarily required for revolutionary action. However, the strength of the online crowd is only an illusion, as social media activism does not lead to any kind of tangible change. The impotence that the individual is running from carries over into social media, but it becomes hidden in the confidence derived from being a part of a crowd.

Crowds on their own are neither good nor evil. Occupy Wall Street was founded on the same principles as the Tea Party movement: discontent over the plutocracy running America. Even Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump share the belief that corporate-financed politics and mass globalization are detrimental to the world at large. The fiery division results from the ideological zealotry of each crowd. Our moral judgement of the followers of Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders comes from our interpretation of their ideals, however bastardized, to which they as a crowd are beholden. However, Le Bon argues that being part of a crowd enables the beastial nature within us to bare its fangs, as personal responsibility dissipates when surrounded by peers. This leads the typical crowd to veer toward less-than-savoury dogmatism, as seen in the fights breaking out at rallies. Of course, with a capable leader, such as Martin Luther King, a crowd can adhere to strictly non-violent methods and still accomplish their goals. The online crowd prefers chaos, antagonism, and memes, however, but luckily it is ineffectual enough to enact real change.

Intersectionality is a word that my Chrome browser does not recognize. It offers internationalism, intersection, and internationalization as potential replacements for my incompetent typo. Intersectionality is a word, however, and my competency levels are indeed high enough that I am in fact spelling it correctly. And, as a real word, intersectionality describes possibly one of the most critically important sociological aspects of the world today.

It is the notion that when differing identity markers (race, class, gender, etc.) intersect, they offer a distinct experience from the possession of a single marker. For example, a white woman will have a different experience of the world than an aboriginal woman. If society uses broad strokes to address its ills (in the form of feminism, say), then those broad strokes will address them from the perspective of the most dominant marker of that group (upper-middle class white women). This means that those who possess multiple markers are pretty much ignored by the mainstream, and progress is somewhat glacial for the more oppressed minorities.

However, there is a bit of a catch. Perhaps you are a homosexual, and are furious that I put in an etcetera before including sexual orientation in my list. I am also ableist and ageist in my exclusions. Markers can carry on ad infinitum, and our aboriginal woman from earlier may also derive divergent experiences based on her height, weight, the marital status of her parents, her own marital status, abuse she may or may not have suffered as a child, abuse she may or may not suffer now, her social status among her peers, and now I will throw in the etcetera. We also can’t ignore the individual attitudes each person will adopt in the face of their experiences, which in turn will alter the experience of… their… experiences. Right. Anyway, if we rely on intersectionality to address the unique experiences of intersecting markers, then ignoring any marker will result in a generalization that intersectionality was theorized to prevent in the first place.

Which is fine. We’re all special snowflakes. No biggie. My mom and dad have been telling me that since I was a kid without the use of words Chrome doesn’t understand. Intersectionality is about addressing oppression, however. That’s why when I said gender, I picked female instead of male. Since we’ve determined intersectionality essentially divides us into our own singular selves, then oppression must split along the identity marker variances, and form unique pockets of oppression in each individual.

How does one address this? It’s pretty simple to make policy to take care of women (even if, you know, we still don’t), but policy that is directed toward the oppression of the unique individual is preposterous. Even the commonly held vision of intersectionality that addresses the relatively broader trends in race, gender, class (sexual orientation, mental and physical health, age…) leaves much to be desired in creating practical specifics that can lead to more fruitful progressive policies outside of adding a plus sign when writing out LGBTQ+. We all desire uniqueness, and luckily we possess it, but when addressing social ills, demanding the recognition of our partitions as separate from all the others is not the solution. Conquerors don’t need to do the dividing if the people are doing it to themselves.

Intersectionality looks at oppression from the top down. It sees the unique oppressions felt by minority groups and correctly establishes them as distinct in the way that they intersect. We see the effects of oppression in all their unique glory, but what about the cause? If I, as the infamous straight, white, male, look down at all the people I’m oppressing, I can see that uniqueness. What do those unique experiences see when they look at me? What does it look like from the bottom up?

Anne Bishop offers an interestingly Marxist analysis: class is the measure of oppression against all of the oppressed. This makes sense, to some degree. Racial minorities and women are statistically poorer than their counterparts, so identifying class as the root cause of oppression is often regarded as true, but sadly it’s not. Communist countries the world over have proven that eliminating class does little to eliminate oppression. Incidentally, it’s easier to figure this out without analyzing world politics, as a trans individual being beaten to death clearly isn’t being oppressed by class.

Bishop does raise a good point, however: there is a whole being ignored if we focus solely on the individual processes of oppression. It’s just not class. It’s power. Communist countries divert power from the class structure into the political structure, and bullies exert their dominant power in the form of violence. The cause of oppression is a power imbalance, and limiting ourselves to its effects can only treat the symptoms while the disease rages on.

Does an intersectional ideology really distract from the root cause of oppression? Not inherently, but it certainly can. The idea of being an “ally” to an oppressed group means that sympathizers from outside of that group can only take a supportive secondary role rather than stand beside them as equals, thereby increasing the volume of the voice against greater inequality and oppression. It also seeks to enfranchise people into an already broken system. To go back to Marx, equality and equitable treatment of racial, gender, and sexual minorities in a system that necessitates oppression is not a success. It only further entrenches neoliberal ideology as the default.

Why would I start out by saying intersectionality is super important, and then write a whole bunch about how it’s divisive and counter-intuitive to solidarity? Well, mostly because it’s an accurate description of the way the world works. The language we use and the actions we take will always have an impact on the world around us, and possessing intersectional awareness will greatly improve our approach in those areas. We can’t ignore its truth, but we also can’t ignore the singular root that is responsible for the problems intersectionality identifies.