Friday, March 7, 2014

Everyone Will Always Be Wrong

For anyone waiting for the perfect intellectual leader, you’re going to be waiting a long time.  In all likelihood, you’ll never stop waiting.  Everyone has their “kill whitey” moments, where they say something so stupid that you lose confidence in everything else they already said.  If it was as easy to analyze every facet of people’s personal lives as it is today with our ubiquitous camera phones and social networking websites, figures like Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln and even Bob Marley would likely not have such immaculate reputations.  In fact, despite the lack of intrusive surveillance in those times historians have still accumulated quite a bit of evidence that proves how flawed they really were.  It makes you wonder if they would have had the same support from their followers had such technologies existed in their time.  How much worse would the horizontal hostility have been between relatively like-minded groups?  Would they have gotten anything accomplished at all? 

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.  Not too long ago Deep Green Resistance, one of the few groups I consider worth listening to, lost a lot of what little support they had because of some controversial statements they made regarding transgendered people.  Having recommended their books and videos to people many times before I found it pretty disturbing that I could suddenly be seen as a supporter of a hate group.  It was especially surprising considering that I’d never heard or read anything about transgendered people in any of their projects.  It didn’t exactly seem fitting with their other ideas.  My initial hunch was that this was probably based on a misinterpretation of their radical feminist rhetoric, which I’m not a fan of either.  As I started looking into it, trying to figure out what they could have said that caused such a backlash, it became increasingly apparent that their critics had no idea what they were talking about.  Their main criticism seemed to be that the founders of the organization were against the idea of letting men who wanted to be women use women’s public bathrooms, locker rooms, dorms, etc. (sounds fair enough to me).  They have addressed the concerns saying basically that they don’t hate anyone based on how they dress but it’s disrespectful to all those women who expect to be in a dick-free zone to give men that permission.  Radical feminists also consider gender to be a hierarchy in our current society and therefore consider the idea of gender to not be a choice.  I find this part of their philosophy a little confusing myself but I do sort of agree with what they’re trying to say.


Admittedly, when I first started looking into this, I didn’t even know what the distinction was between transgendered, transsexual, transvestite and just gay.  This is something I never really thought about at all and so I found it pretty annoying that I could be accused of being anti-something-I-don’t-even-have-an-opinion-on.  I didn’t start supporting DGR for their trans policy or their hardcore feminism.  I supported them because their ideas on environmentalism and social justice were closer to my own than any other group I’ve come across.  In fact, I generally share their work with the caveat “I don’t label myself a radical feminist.”  It’s not that I necessarily disagree with radical feminists.  It’s that I find their explanations to be overly confusing for topics that are already so complicated and controversial.  For example, if patriarchy is a word used to describe male-dominance then why is matriarchy the word used to describe egalitarian societies?  And if you acknowledge that men are being victimized as well since it’s more a class hierarchy than a sex hierarchy is patriarchy really the most accurate word to use in the first place?  How is it “blaming the victim” to point out that women should take precautions (such as not advertising themselves as sexual objects, not misleading men to get them to buy them stuff, not drinking themselves unconscious and expecting someone else to take care of them, etc.) and treat themselves with self-respect?  Why is it wrong to point out the problems with what women of western culture consider normal but not the destructive behaviors men have become accustomed to?  How are women innocent and men guilty if they were both trained how to act by their culture? 


I could go on and on, and to be fair feminists would have answers to all these questions but they would only resonate with other feminists who already speak the same language.  This is why I don’t agree when people call feminists “anti-man”, or just flat out crazy, but I also don’t blame them for coming to that conclusion.  It really is more a case of bad propaganda than anything.


So having said that, what gets someone labeled as transphobic?  And what even qualifies someone as transgendered as opposed to transvestite, transsexual or just gay?  I’m certainly no expert on the subject as I’ve said already (and it wasn’t too long ago that I was using “gay” and “fag” as derogatory terms for anyone or thing that sucked in some way, even though I didn’t really have anything against homosexuals) but it is a pretty nebulous term.  It’s generally used to refer to those who identify with the opposite sex more than their own.  So it’s not really about the way they dress or what surgeries they’ve had or who they’re attracted to.  It basically just comes down to whether they’d like to be treated as a member of their biological sex or the opposite.  This of course brings up questions about accepted gender roles and what makes a woman a woman as opposed to a man, etc.  I mean, can a heterosexual tomboy or male hair stylist be considered transgendered if they choose to be?  This may sound like an insignificant question but it has pretty profound ramifications when you start to consider the rights that some transgendered people are demanding.  It’s one thing to ask to be referred to as a Mrs. Instead of a Mr. but when you consider it a hate crime to be denied access to bathrooms that are designated for the opposite sex you’re really pushing it. 

The other day on Democracy Now! Amy Goodman interviewed a transgendered actress (meaning a man that lives as a woman) and they discussed some pretty disturbing statistics about the struggles transpeople deal with.  Between the hate and the confusion surrounding their lifestyle they’re likely the most persecuted demographic in our society, facing much higher rates of suicide, murder, homelessness and incarceration (Nearly half of all black transwomen spend time in prison).  So of course the question of whether transwomen should be sent to women’s prisons instead of men’s came up, and I was pretty surprised how acceptable the idea is.  To me it seems completely ridiculous to allow them to choose which one they go to.  How hard would it be for any other male prisoner to present themselves as transgendered and get themselves locked up with a bunch of vulnerable, sexually deprived women considering the obscurity of the word itself?  Obviously men’s prisons aren’t a great place to be for a transwoman, or anybody else for that matter, so I don’t know what the answer is for these people but opening up the door for further sexual assaults on women isn’t it.  Yet this seems to be exactly what the majority of radicals and progressives are proposing, and I really don’t get it.

It’s especially strange for the anti-civ crowd to be so shy about criticizing transpeople who use plastic surgery, artificial hormone therapies and who basically embrace everything they claim to hate about the modern materialistic shopaholic female.  It makes absolutely no sense.  These are people who rant nonstop about how disgusting the medical industry is and how wasteful and shallow rich white girls are but if the same behavior is demonstrated by a man it’s suddenly sacrosanct?  I don’t mean to stereotype transpeople or try to create the impression that they all fit into this category.  I’m just pointing out that any time someone is this logically inconsistent they’re either confused or insincere.  They’re being political.  I mean, how do you write books about how disgusting the pharmaceutical industry is, pointing out the effects of pollution from the manufacture and disposal of their products as well as the political clout their profits have given them and the negative social and psychological effects of their advertising then have no problem with someone subjecting themselves to unnecessary surgeries and making themselves dependent on artificial hormones?  This is the type of behavior that under any other circumstance they’d consider a self-induced disease or a further sign of society’s psychological degradation.  It represents everything that people like John Zerzan (one of DGR’s most outspoken critics and someone who agrees with 99% of what they say) would usually decry. 


You find this with virtually every group out there.  In fact, it’s as rare to find groups who have almost nothing good to say as it is to find groups have almost nothing bad to say, most being somewhere in between, none of them being perfect.  In Zerzan’s case, his best solutions seem to be breaking windows and reading poetry as far as I can tell.  I actually listen to his radio show sometimes since there are so few people out there discussing these subjects and one of his books is on my bookshelf even, and with him solutions almost never come up.  These days he tends to rant about his hatred for Derrick Jensen and Chris Hedges, which I found confusing for a while until he complained how they criticized the way black bloc anarchists conducted themselves at Occupy protests, basically trying to break windows and light shit on fire while blending in with non-violent protesters, practically using them as shields (Zerzan’s radio show is called Anarchy Radio).  Like I said, it’s clearly politics.  Their criticism wasn’t even against the “violent” tactics per se, but about sabotaging peaceful protests.  Again, seems fair enough in my opinion.


As for DGR, I’ve already criticized radical feminism a little bit.  They’re also guilty of romanticizing pre-civilized societies, saying things like rape didn’t exist in the Americas until the European colonizers showed up (literally) and that Native Americans never hunted any species to extinction.  Derrick Jensen actually makes a pretty big deal about Pleistocene Overkill in his book Endgame, and he could be right about it but I’m definitely not convinced.  Honestly though, I don’t even see any reason to worry about it.  Of course Native Americans made mistakes, especially during their first years on the continent.  That doesn’t invalidate anarcho-primitivism, bioregionalism, permaculture or anything else the anti-civ crowd advocates.  What should matter is how they learned from those mistakes and later developed sustainable cultures (as well as how some didn’t learn and made a lot of the same mistakes Europeans did).  At least their romanticism isn’t as annoying as mainstream apologism, such as the idea that the desertification of north Africa and the Fertile Crescent is solely the result of the Earth’s 20,000 year cycle as it wobbles in its orbit and has nothing to do with human activity.  The History Channel really pisses me off.


This is sort of what I’m trying to get at with this post.  We don’t need to select an entire package of solutions from any one group.  We can select parts from many flawed ones if we want to.  And Deep Green Resistance remains one of the few groups I’ve found saying the things that I think need to be heard.  I’m not going to reject everything they say simply because they aren’t perfect.  Similarly, New Age spiritual pseudoscience annoys the shit out of me but I still recommend listening to Charles Eisenstein for his insights into economics.  I consider the Zeitgeist movement’s solutions to be so delusional as to be dangerous but I find their criticisms of the current system to be some of the clearest and most persuasive.  I consider the Transition Town movement to be too little too late but I appreciate the success they’ve had in making radical ideas more acceptable to the mainstream.  Feminists and tree-hugger hippie types explain their ideas in ways that don’t resonate with those who most need to hear what they have to say but I recognize the importance in challenging the type of language the mainstream accepts as normal.  And the list goes on. 


Nobody will ever have the one perfect opinion about everything.  Not only that but even the attempt to develop such a thing is itself destructive.  There is no one philosophy that translates the same to every region of the globe.  And even if there was, we should still allow for variations.  Uniformity is inimical to resilience and stability.  As is the never ending crusade for knowledge that scientists call progress.  If knowing everything about everything is the only hope your culture has of not destroying itself then you’re fucked for one thing, and for another you’ll use that to justify atrocities (what are generally referred to as “experiments”).  The alternative is what some have taken to calling an “ignorance based worldview”, an acknowledgement of our cognitive limitations and a more realistic approach to problem solving that doesn’t inevitably lead to further complexity. 


Of course, this is a pretty nebulous concept as well.  The desired level of “ignorance” (or the maximum amount of information that can be learned and remembered without the aid of unsustainable and immoral practices) is certainly open to debate.  The way I look at it, much of our information and our “accomplishments” are inherently destructive to hold on to.  Think not only of the maintenance required for our industrial infrastructure but even our collection of books, artwork and historical artifacts we continually reprint and try to keep from decaying.  Think of what it takes to keep our supposedly accurate history lessons going, all the materials, training and coordination required.  It actually necessitates the repeating of the mistakes that the history is supposed to warn us against.  Isn’t that ostensibly why we make such a big deal about this stuff?  If the importance of history is to learn from the mistakes of the past such as slavery, imperialism and environmental negligence what’s the point in using an education system that contributes to those very problems?  Producing so much paper, building enormous universities that are large enough to shelter thousands from the elements (and that aren’t actually used for that purpose) and producing the excess needed for specialists to dedicate their lives to study and teaching is a brief experiment in human learning and it won’t last much longer. 


There’s a reason no cultures did these things before the age of cheap fossil energy.  They couldn’t.  It takes too much to support these things.  It requires more than any local landbase can provide.  This is why they used songs, stories and other mnemonics to remember what we store in volumes of textbooks and hard drives.  And this is why we should start considering a resurrection of this type of education.  It would be a good idea for us to pick out our most important lessons, leave out the trivia and start translating these ideas into easy to remember myths and jingles, something closer to fairy tale type stories than the dogmas that people have been encouraged to take literally.  Most religions were sort of scientifically designed this way in their inceptions, meant to perpetuate certain desirable behaviors while warning against others.  Teaching the origins of the universe was never really the point, at least not as much as getting people to stop asking such a pointless question.  I’m not trying to say that the ideas are scientifically valid.  As a tool for social coordination however, it does exactly what was intended (which wasn’t necessarily to promote peace and happiness, obviously).  Anyway, how to keep the lessons we’ve learned from our scientific endeavors without a massive industrial infrastructure is something we need to start considering.


Think also of our own personal accomplishments, namely the careers and possessions that are the result of all our hard work.  Think of our identities, everything we’ve committed ourselves to and vehemently advocated, everything we think we deserve.  Letting go of such things can be rough.  What will it take to admit that so much of what we’ve done and taken pride in was not only a waste of time but actually immoral?  And to get this post back on subject, what will it take to admit how wrong we are?  All of us?  About everything?  And that we always will be?  Well, the word “miracle” comes to mind.  Being a little more pragmatic though I guess I’d say something like “a way out.” 


In my last couple posts I went into detail about the importance of losing our dependence on the industries that are currently destroying the world, and therefore the need for what you could call “primitive infrastructure,” basically land restored and designed to produce everything humans need as well as settlement patterns that can give all people local and free access to those necessities (which inevitably requires mass relocation from cities to farmland).  While this may still fit into the miracle category, it is the only possibility to sustain anywhere near our current population size and likely the only way to reverse climate change even with a smaller population so therefore I see no reason to advocate anything more “realistic.”  I’m not going to reiterate my entire argument here for a third time but my previous essays are there for anyone interested.  I also highly recommend listening to people like Geoff Lawton, Allan Savory and John D. Liu for more detailed explanations.  If we’re serious about solving our problems then we really need to stop with the unrealistic prospect of attaining enlightenment and actually get moving with this stuff.