Demonstrators flooded streets across the globe in public protests on Saturday, calling for action against gun violence. Hundreds of thousands of marchers turned out, in the most ambitious show of force yet from a student-driven movement that emerged after the recent massacre at a South Florida high school.
The student activists emphasized that they would soon have access to the ballot box as they hope to build support for candidates who support universal background checks and bans on assault-style weapons.
Any time a protest event receives significant media coverage, radical groups put out similar statements. Where does that impulse to endorse come from? Does responding in the same way every time obscure deeper differences between one self-declared “movement” and another?
What place should this “support” have in revolutionary strategy?
A political group employing an activist-networking approach is looking for a new campaign. They read the news to find “hot issues” that are being reported on in the media. Once they’ve determined the issue they want to agitate around, they look for an NGO they can “partner” with, providing warm bodies to show up at the NGO’s events and to help actuate the already-existing strategy of the NGO. Often this looks like showing up to City Hall or the state capitol, as part of a coalition of “the usual suspects,” to lobby legislators to support or oppose a particular bill, or showing up at a rally put on by the NGO in command of the campaign. Usually the passage of a law is the primary goal of these campaigns.
Maybe the group might try to recruit one or two participants from the action, but since most of these people are already organized and are members of one of the larger groups, only a handful of people are brought into the organization. As enthusiasm inevitably drains from the campaign in the face of setbacks, participation bleeds away, so the group ends up back at square one, or worse, end up with fewer people involved than they started with. At this point, groups usually cut their losses and look for the new “hot issue” of the day, thus repeating the cycle.
While their desire to support popular movements is well-meaning, activist leftists are basically ambulance chasers. When they see the media cover something politically exciting, their instinct is to show up offering “leadership” and “the socialist perspective.” Generally, no one takes them particularly seriously when they do. Why should they? The radicals have no pre-existing relationship with them and haven’t shown why they deserve anyone’s attention. So, the socialists’ efforts go nowhere. They lose a few people, pick up a few more, rinse, and repeat. They come to exist for the sake of existing rather than serving a particularly useful role. If an organization’s practice boils down to providing “boots on the ground” for “movement” nonprofits’ campaigns and rallies, why bother with the organization at all? Isn’t it easier to just work with the nonprofits directly? That’s why so few people in a given movement join any of the socialist organizations that try to involve themselves. When a group has made itself superfluous, people can tell. So, leftists continue to exist on the margins of the activist subculture, never realizing that they’ve no one but themselves to blame for their irrelevance.
You are always promoting your ideology to the people around you. That doesn’t mean you’re telling them your opinions. Ideology isn’t made of opinions. Rather, you’re teaching them through example what you actually consider important – and that’s what will determine their perception of radical politics. Ambulance chasing teaches that leftists are basically flaky: they make promises they can’t keep and don’t stick around after the news cycle moves on. People learn that socialism offers them nothing because your actions have taught them that it means talking big and not following through.
The March for Our Lives and the West Virginia teachers’ strike were fundamentally different phenomena.
Conversely, the teachers’ strike was collective action, not media spectacle. West Virginia’s unionized teachers, not Democratic fronts or politicians, organized it themselves. It was a non-symbolic, illegal strike. The point was not media coverage or Democratic voter turnout. The teachers wanted better pay and benefits, so they withheld their labor until they got it. They used their access to meaningful social and economic power to improve their lives. They didn’t have to trust Democratic candidates to keep their campaign promises. Collective action works because class struggle defines class society. But high-profile Democratic Party rallies, like the March for Our Lives and the Women’s March, ultimately only benefit the Party itself.
However, leftist conversations about the strike and the march mirrored each other closely. Are their demands sufficiently radical? How much criticism is too much? How can leftists help? In both cases, the Left offered its support reflexively because “organizing is good.” But there was a category difference between the events. Where was the corresponding category difference between left-wing responses to them?
Well, when you’re an ambulance chaser, you lack a meaningful social base. You act as a club for hobbyists within the protest scene who happen to prefer a socialist or anarchist brand to a liberal one. So, whether it’s a Democratic media event or an actual instance of class struggle, you find yourself on the outside looking in. In either case, your “support” consists of waving placards at demonstrations and publishing official statements until the news cycle moves on. Ideology is practice and for you, there is no practical difference. So, your ideology considers them equivalent. Anything that feels like mass politics is equally attractive, whether that feeling is just PR (as with the March for Our Lives or the Women’s March) or has a basis in something real (as with the West Virginia strike).
A crisis will only catalyze a well-formed communications network. If such networks are embryonically developed or only partially co-optable, the potentially active individuals in them must be linked together by someone . . . In other words, people must be organized. Social movements do not simply occur.
When a constituency mobilizes (whether it’s for a strike, a march, or a show at a nightclub), it’s not because all of the individuals involved just happened to show up at the same time. Just as a venue, sound equipment, etc have to be acquired and set up beforehand, attendance and participation have to be deliberately organized. When the West Virginia teachers struck, they did so through preexisting organizing networks: their union and a private Facebook group. When people attended the March for Our Lives, that was also done through preexisting networks: activist, religious, and campus-based groups went together as groups, and the march’s sponsors hired publicists to reach out to the unaffiliated. Similarly, the crowd at a show mobilizes through friendship networks of clubgoers, performers’ fan bases, and promoters’ advertising efforts.
The importance of organizing networks doesn’t mean that a constituency can’t act for itself on its own initiative, “from below.” Rather, an infrastructure of organizing networks is the means by which it’s able to do so. Leadership doesn’t impose itself from outside. It happens when people within those networks persuade others to act collectively. Distinct from leadership, organizing means constructing those networks in the first place.
Leftists often want to be leaders. They should instead prioritize being organizers. After all, by the time a strike or a rally is on TV, the participants don’t need radicals. They already have their organizing networks and their leadership within them. At that point, revolutionaries can express support in words, but from the point of view of the people mobilizing, they’re unnecessary. It makes perfect sense to ignore them. Then, when the leftists realize their efforts are getting no traction, why wouldn’t they move on to something else? So, radicals are always moving on. They never develop long-term political relationships or a stable base. That keeps them extraneous, marginal, and ineffective.
That’s the ambulance-chasing cycle. It needs to be broken.
Do you want to spread revolutionary ideas?
Remember what ideology is. It isn’t words – it’s a living, physical thing. It’s practice and what practice teaches. Don’t take words at face value, not even your own. The ideology you spread is the ideology you practice (whether you realize you’re practicing it or not).
Is a teachers’ strike important and exciting? Sure. Does that mean most leftists can participate in a meaningful way? By and large, no. They aren’t needed, so why should the strikers care what they have to say? Trying to piggyback on someone else’s organizing and leadership is opportunistic, and people can tell. So, they quite reasonably conclude that radicals are opportunists, not long-haul organizers. The same goes for events like the March for Our Lives (although the weakness of socialists at Democratic media spectacles is probably a good thing on balance. Leftists have no business supporting reactionary goals in the first place).
Being a revolutionary should mean, before anything else, building a revolutionary base. That means identifying a constituency in a neighborhood or industry and making a long-term commitment. Do you have even a small group of friends or fellow radicals interested in doing political work together? That’s enough to start! Go out and talk to people in your target constituency. Find out what their lives are like. What are their needs and aspirations? Then, come up with ideas for programs that tangibly address their lives, have a low barrier to entry (so that as many people as possible can participate), and that can grow your group’s membership and organizational capacity. Reach out – canvass, hold cookouts and potlucks, have public meetings for people to express their needs and views. Build organizing networks. Make promises and follow through. Win credibility. Then, in five or ten years, you’ll have a base of your own. You’ll have created the networks and you’ll have earned enough respect to provide leadership within them. You’ll be the ones putting together exciting mobilizations, and other groups will be the opportunists trying to tag along.
Working and unemployed people don’t need to be told they’re oppressed. They live it out every day – those from specially-oppressed demographics, even more so. But that doesn’t mean revolutionaries don’t have a central role to play! As feminist writer Jo Freeman says, “[P]eople must be organized. Social movements do not simply occur.”
No constituency automatically becomes a revolutionary base. Because liberalism and conservatism enjoy cultural hegemony – they’re so widely accepted that most people don’t realize there are alternatives – social movements tend to become conservative or liberal by default. But, if socialists, communists, and anarchists create the organizing networks through which a constituency can act collectively, then provide effective leadership within them, a movement can be revolutionary instead. Revolutionaries are just as capable of proving, through practice, the value of their ideology as conservatives and liberals. If that’s what your actions teach, that’s what people will learn.
But that means being more than “boots on the ground.” It means taking on the slow, patient work of knitting together a base, year by year, project by project. It means earning the ability to lead, not claiming to have it already.
And no amount of external “support” for the teachers’ strike, the March for Our Lives, or anything else can replace that.
I learned of Making Light through one of Neil Gaiman’s posts on fanfiction. Teresa Nielsen Hayden had written a lovely post on Mary Sue fanfiction and pro fiction. I started commenting there many years ago, although I was always more of a lurker. I started my own livejournal blog, and became friends with Bellatrys, londonkds, oyceter, and spiralsheep.
I never forgot the conversation Making Light had after the 2004 election on gay marriage, how conciliatory they were to conservative members of that community. A stark contrast to how they handled Racefail after the 2008 election.
I’m not sure if the pandagon archives are still there. I think Alas A Blog still exists. I remember Barry Deutsch’s comic about a Jewish girl who was a dragon-slayer. I remember Matthew Yglesias, although I had a very scratchy knowledge of economics. I remember A Tiny Revolution and Michael Berube. My god, all these white leftists and liberals hi-fiving themselves over how superior they were to the religious right and wondering why there wasn’t a big tent coalition on the internet.
The net roots were obsessed with popular culture. The Buffy debates alone took up yards of screentime. I didn’t have a TV then, although I passively and incoherently absorbed everything I read on the internet. This is why I get infuriated when people accuse the social justice warriors of trivializing social justice concerns, because the netroots had not modeled good behaviour, to put it mildly.
Before Racefail, the biggest netroots dustup I observed was with Amanda Marcotte’s plagiarization of Brownfemipower’s work around WOC reproductive rights. The signs had been there, all along. Amanda Marcotte had defended Paris Hilton as a powerful woman enjoying her money as she choosed while dismissing Beyonce as a non-feminist.She was an obsessive anti-theist and was an apologist for harmful hipster elitism. She made much mileage out of her heartbreaking tale of rape and a pregnancy scare that took place afterwards. Which is one thing to defend reproductive rights and abuse survivors, and another to defend a rapist like Hugo Schwyzer.
I wonder how much the anger of the white netroots against the social justice warriors had to do with the fear of aging.
Racefail happened in January 2009. My entry into Racefail happened by way of a blogger who referred to Deepa D.’s essay, “I didn’t dream of dragons.” This was a magnificent essay taking down everything that was Eurocentric about the western high fantasy tradition. Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s livejournals were on my friendslist, and I gaped in horror as they doubled down on racist denial. Will Shetterly started on his rampage of stalking women of color feminists and their white feminist allies. The Nielsen Haydens and Shetterly probably thought they were doing liberal damage control, but it still looks like liberal racist libel and slander of my friends Spiralsheep and Willow, and the ones that I don’t know about, from where I stand.
What made their behaviour even more unforgivable was the fact that Making Light had built its reputation as a bastion of moderacy and approachment between (white) leftists and liberals and centre-rightists. Dave Luckett had posted opposition to gay marriage after the 2004 elections, and instead of being booted out the Making Light regulars reached out and used reason on him, and succeeded. Yet when Spiralsheep and Willow had made completely reasonable attacks on white Eurocentrism in science fiction and fantasy, suddenly they were being divisive and spouting “identity politics nonsense.” Maybe if they had a couple of fiction manuscripts that could have been published at Tor.com they would have been treated better.
I loved the community building that happened post-Racefail. There was the famous POC unicorn sci-fi call-in, where POC fans of science fiction and fantasy proclaimed their love for the genre, and brilliant posts by Deepa D, yeloson, delux vivens, skywardprodigal, and many more. People of color who loved pop culture but had issues with representation realized that they were no longer alone. Racefail was the shot that was heard around the world. It may have been just a Livejournal spat, but it quickly snowballed into massive WOC and QTIPOC online organizing on a global scale.
Now one can argue that I should never have placed trust in the white left to begin with, but hey, I’m a Bangladeshi liberal by birth, breeding, and choice, not an angry black woman with justifiable skepticism of white intentions starting in the womb. And the trauma, added to the already toxic brew of body image dysphoria, bipolar disorder, paranoia, social isolation and first world poverty, made me highly suspicious and angry with my white friends in the Vancouver punk scene. What made things substantially worse was that I felt unable to talk to anyone about my severe emotional pain over seeing white leftists whom I had greatly admired doing incredibly shitty things, misrepresenting the people they had sworn to defend the western right from, and lying their asses off. I mean, Racefail was just a Livejournal dust-up, what was there to be angry about?
What made me even angrier about Racefail was that the Nielsen Haydens were Christian leftists. They talk the talk about mercy, but everybody knows that it’s way easier to forgive the people who hurt you than to forgive the people you hurt. They have never forgiven Spiralsheep and Willow for having been the targets of their abuse. And the Nielsen Haydens’ Christian hypocrisy got enabled like hell by their atheist friends and supporters in the sff community.
At this point the discerning reader will ask, “But Sajia, you hate cultural appropriation rhetoric, why aren’t you more sympathetic to the NHs?” While it’s true that cultural appropriation rhetoric has gotten out of hand, there were legitimate concerns at the heart of anti-appropriation ideology. And it did act as a seed for a massive amount of online community building. And it’s hypocritical for the white left to smear POC pop culture activists when they committed just as shitty behavior not just in the netroots blogs, but earlier on Usenet and the western alternative press. And even if Spiralsheep and Willow had been completely 100 percent wrong, that’s no excuse for the asshole behavior of the NHs and the stalking and abusive behavior of Will Shetterly.
I was pissed off at Teresa Nielsen Hayden dismissing our community building as “bullshit identity politics”, especially because Tor’s reinvention as a bastion of pluralism would not have been possible without that community building. As a bellydancer and yogini I’ve been hurt by POC in-fighting and aggression and policing of white femininity, while the Nielsen Haydens seem to have only revitalized their brand through Racefail.
I was trapped in a digital world, knowing it was unhealthy of me to be spending so much time on Livejournal and Dreamwidth, addicted to communal anger. Part of it is that because I am an empath, I over-identified with the pain and anger of the people whose blogs I was reading, and was unable to create, let alone maintain, good boundaries with my internet friends. Physical movement would prove to be my salvation, but it was years before I could forgive myself for being a Muslimah who liked yoga and a Bangladeshi who loved bellydance.
Part of it was social justice discourse’s “ooh shiny” problem. One person would write something full of heartrending emotion and brilliant insight, the blogosphere would go nuts over them, dropping all common sense and boundaries, until the next blog post full of scintillating wit and heartache came along.
But I made some good friends there. Delux vivens always thought highly of me, and at one point said she would have liked to visit South Asia with me as a traveling companion. It was through her that I met hotcoffeems, a mixed race Sufi revert who loved to bellydance, and who was my inspiration for studying Sufism in Vancouver.
I’d written a post on Boobquake that got a lot of mileage on the internet, and through the links delux vivens had posted I had discovered the LJ blog of hotcoffeemississipi. She was a wonderful writer with a wicked sense of humor. She’d studied ballet as a child and gave me a lot of harsh but necessary advice about the problems with trying to study multiple dance forms at the same time. She’d had terrible problems with her abusive ex-husband but finally managed to get some kind of stability in her life.
She had been stalked and harassed by an internet mob accusing her of ethnicity fraud. She was accused of being a white girl playing dress up with hijab and pretending to have black ancestry in her lineage. She had to change her journal name, but that wasn’t enough and she stopped blogging altogether. I was traumatized, realizing that some of the ideas I had in my head were the same ideas used by the bullies to justify their mistreatment of hotcoffeems. I just didn’t like the scapegoating of white feminine expression by social justice discourse, the obsessive cataloging of privilege, the minute dissection of cultural expression in the pursuit of some obscure purity.
There’s something fucked up about people opposing racial categories as a way of policing human behavior and then using those same racial categories to control access to culture.
I hated the Nielsen Haydens for smearing the online POC community I fell in love with and desperately wanted to be a part of. And then I ended up hating that online POC community for smearing the white bellydancers whose art I loved.
I don’t like being asked to give up things that make me happy. I don’t like people whose main occupation in life is policing other people’s pleasure; whether that pleasure be of religion, art, sexuality, movement practices or community.
I blame the Nielsen Haydens for corrupting our POC media fandom community with the lure of book contracts in a bad economy. I am angry with the POC media fandom community for attacking and even slut-shaming white bellydancers and female yoga practitioners WHO NEVER HURT THEM PERSONALLY while accepting a few pennies from white scumbags in the science fiction fandom hierarchy who had a history of hurting POC fans. No, it’s not restitution if the white people in question continue to lie about Racefail.
And the irony is, in the time of the netroots I really wanted to write for Tor.com. But even if I had a bunch of short stories or a novel ready I’ll be double damned if I lend legitimacy to people who won’t apologize for their shitty behaviour and continue to justify their shitty behaviour towards impoverished POC fans who don’t have a manuscript with which to bargain on their end.
Incomodo: ligeira alteração de saúde; mal-estar, indisposição, não é cômodo, confortável ouaconchegante.
Instintivamente sabemos o que fazer com um incomodo, e na maioria das vezes é muito simples: é só virar a cara e elevar o coração e a vontade para as belas paisagens que criamos em nossa mente. Sim, o escapismo é nossa principal ferramenta de defesa, e com ela nos elevamos ao patamar de humanos, pessoas, indivíduos, cidadãos… Nossa mentalidade é formada pela classe média, que o ideal está em toda parte dizendo o que devemos ser e fazer, eliminado o imperfeito. Nascemos marcados em um tipo de predestinação, não no sentido místico, mas pela probabilidade social muito bem ordenada apesar de parecer um caos. De onde viemos diz muito de nós e impregna na carne, nervos, tecidos e órgãos. A adoração do belo é dos melhores escapismos que a humanidade inventou e nesse mundo que vivemos isso é o mais importante, apesar de o discurso dizer a mesma merda moralista que tem uma palavra tão linda que dá vontade de tatuar na testa- igualdade.
Quantos incômodos por dia evitamos indo para aquele paraíso em que somos os vencedores? Mas pra vencer tem que ter o belo, vivenciá-lo e fazer parte dos belos. O feio só tem valor se se submete a alguma norma, se tornando uma caricatura, e estamos nessa época. Desgastamos a beleza com nossos discursos, o feio cotidiano as vezes é colocado em certos lugares para observarmos uma beleza inexistente, que só usando a força do cinismo dá para suportar o ideal decadente jogado na cara.
O feio está em toda parte, de certa forma somos feios, mas as inúmeras maquiagens nos dão a sensação de conforto.
Não superamos nossos corpos, eles ditam a essência do ser, talvez porque somos viciados apenas em ver. Parece o único sentido que possuímos, apesar de usarmos as palavras elas pouco importam em comparação a essas duas bolas que temos em baixo da testa, bolas que lacrimejam e que não queremos muito esse líquido salgado saindo delas. O que você quer ver, o que procura no espelho, encontrou? Se não encontrar é só não olhar e desviar os olhos. Tarefa fácil, mas as vezes o medo vai se acumulando até virar um esgoto pronto para estourar, quando não somos capazes de suportar o peso de ser caricatura e não nos deixam estar entre os eleitos (olha que são muitos) só nos resta a tarefa mais difícil que é abandonar os olhos e fazer uma imersão introspectiva, e aí vem as malditas perguntas, tu se pergunta porque é o que é, e porque não faz parte, aí tu descobre que é proposital pessoas como você estar onde estar e ter que conviver com a solidão, aí tu se olha no espelho, são tantas coisas que não deveriam estar nesse lugar, os olhos não são claros, a boca e o nariz não são como você se imaginava, a imersão no corpo não para ainda mais que a todo momento você é lembrado que tem um e precisa de manutenção sempre no ideal do belo. Mas e quando a caricatura é ainda mais borrada ao ponto de nem se parecer com algo humano? Você pode falar como os eleitos, se vestir igual e ser tão capaz quanto eles, mas seu lugar de origem e seu corpo vão te empurrar para fora do paraíso, a termos muito claros para a exclusão e uma lista enorme, a caricatura humanoide é rotulada de deficiente físico, e seu corpo não é atlético e sexy como milhões de propagandas despejadas toda hora, você usa alguma prótese ou tutor numa das mãos ou pernas ou nas duas, tu não anda direito se arrastando por aí e há várias formas de se arrastar de joelhos, arrastando a bunda, de quatro… inúmeras posições que marcam o corpo, é uma vida de cicatrizes diversas. A vida passa a ser uma tentativa de se curar, pois quando você se arrasta arrasta os olhos e as bocas para si, a boca entortando de risadas ou nojo, arraste-se todo dia e todo dia as mesmas bocas e olhos. A sua forma de andar diz qual porta ou escada você pode usar, se você depende de uma cadeira de rodas sabe o que estou dizendo, mas ser cadeirante tem suas vantagens se seu problema é só as pernas atrofiadas. Você já reparou naquelas crianças dementes que babam e tem mal formação congênita, ou aquele vizinho que tem uma enorme cabeça por causa de hidrocefalia? Em que lugar eles estão na sua imaginação?
O ideal de belo hierarquiza qualquer realidade entre os não eleitos há eleitos, ainda mais se conseguir disfarçar sua caricatura, alguns como eu usa calça e evita ir em lugares que precise estar com menos roupa, temos a vantagem de nos integrarmos a sociedade fazendo tarefas idiotas, entrando em algum sistema de emprego que dará 10% de isenção a uma empresa fingir que tem preocupação social, mas na peneira só a caricatura menos borrada terá essa chance.
Você está só e sempre estará, mas a solidão é muito mais cruel se tu não tem atrativos para alguém, aí as bolas que estão abaixo da testa não param de lacrimejar, e na maioria das vezes que expressa descontentamento em público, ou tem a sorte grande de ter alguém escutando você, e você ouve que não tem problema, que a merda do mundo é assim mesmo, e que você é uma boa pessoa, e o que importa é o que você tem dentro, e é para parar de reclamar tanto porque você tem uma bela vida e tem piores. Você se pergunta se tem piores e imagina o que dizem para os piores. Os piores podem ser caricatura, eles tem esse direito?
Não ame ninguém porque não será correspondido, sempre vai existir uma barreira, ainda mais se estiver se arrastando. Mate a imaginação, sonhar apenas trás dor e sofrimento, no máximo você terá um quase, quem quer se relacionar com uma caricatura, quem sentirá compaixão ou desejará estar ao lado de um reptil humano? A solidão é a única companheira e ela é ciumenta e sorrirá na sua cara a cada tentativa frustrada ou sonho desfeito l. Acostume-se a estar só mesmo que venha a dor no peito te torturando, mesmo que a cabeça doa todos os dias e sua coluna se desfaça, a maior dor não é estar num ciclo de eleitos e sim de não ser amado, não possuir o respeito comum. A dor é outra companheira, essa é mais perversa, ela gargalha alto te apertando e moendo seus ossos, por mais esforço que faça não será humano, e você verá todos que conhece com suas vidas, tendo seus amores, lutas e desafios, mas você ainda está no mesmo lugar sendo infantilizado por não estar conformado, e será julgado, sendo rotulado de arrogante, anti-social (hoje em dia temos a vantagem de termos amigos imaginários nas redes sociais que é o ápice do anti-socialismo disfarçado em integração social), de não ver as coisas belas da vida, é esse belo que todos enxergam que está em tudo menos em você.
É um poeta, músico e cuidador de gatos de Salvador.
Discomfort: slight alteration of health; malaise, indisposition, not comfortable, pleasant or cozy.
Instinctively we know what to do with discomfort, and most of the time it’s very simple: just turn your face away, elevate your heart and will to the beautiful landscapes that we create in our minds. Yes, escapism is our main defense mechanism, and with it we rise to the level of human, people, individuals, citizens… Our mentality is formed by the middle class, that the ideal is everywhere, saying what we should be and do, eliminating the imperfect. We are born marked in a type of predestination, not in the mystical sense, but by the very well ordered social probability, although it seems a chaos. Where we come from says a lot about us and permeates the flesh, nerves, tissues and organs. The adoration of the beautiful is one of the best escapisms that mankind has invented, and in this world we live in, it is the most important, although the discourse says the same moralistic shit that has such a beautiful word that makes you want to tattoo on the forehead- equality.
How many troubles a day do we avoid by going to that paradise where we are the victors? But to win you have to have the beautiful, experience it and be part of the beautiful. The ugly only has value if it is submitted to some norm, becoming a caricature, and we are in that time. We wear beauty with our speeches, the ugly everyday is sometimes placed in certain places to observe a nonexistent beauty, that only using the force of cynicism can support the decadent ideal thrown in the face.
The ugly is everywhere, in a way we are ugly, but the volumous makeup gives us the feeling of comfort.
We do not overcome our bodies, they dictate the essence of being, perhaps because we are addicted only to seeing. It seems the only sense we have, although we use words they matter little in comparison to these two spheres that we have below the forehead, spheres that tear up and we don’t want much salty liquid coming out of them. What do you want to see, what do you look for in the mirror, did you find it? If you do not find it, just do not look, look away. Easy task, but sometimes the fear is accumulating and becoming a sewer ready to burst, when we can not bear the weight of being caricatures and not letting us be among the elected (see that there are many) we have only the most difficult task, which is to leave your eyes and do an introspective immersion, and here comes the damn questions, you wonder why it’s what it is, and why it’s not a part of life, then you discover that it’s purposeful for people like you to be where you are, to be lonely and have to live with loneliness. You look at yourself in the mirror, there are so many things that should not be there, the eyes are not light, mouth and nose are not as you imagined, immersion in the body does not stop even though every moment you are reminded that you have one body and it needs maintenance, always in the ideal of the beautiful.
But when is the caricature even more blurred, to the point that it does not even look like something human? You can talk like the elected, dress the same and be as capable as they are, but your place of origin and your body will push you out of paradise, to very clear terms for exclusion, and a huge list of them. The humanoid caricature is labeled physically disabled, and your body is not athletic and sexy like millions of advertisements dumped all the time, you wear some prosthesis or tutor on one or both hands or legs, you do not walk around right, dragging around, and there are several ways to crawl on the knees, dragging on the ass, on all fours… innumerable positions that mark the body, it’s a life of diverse scars.
Life becomes an attempt to heal itself, for when you drag your eyes and mouth towards you, your mouth twisting with laughter or disgust, crawl every day and every day the same mouths and eyes. The way you walk says which door or ladder you can use, if you depend on a wheelchair you know what I’m saying, but being in a wheelchair has its advantages if your problem is only the atrophied legs. Have you ever noticed those demented children who drool and have poor congenital formation, or that neighbor who has a huge head because of hydrocephalus? Where are they in your imagination?
The ideal of beauty hierarchizes any reality among the non-electable and the elected, even more if you can disguise their caricature. Some like me wear pants and avoid going places that requires wearing less clothing, we have the advantage of integrating society by doing stupid tasks, entering into some employment system that will give 10% exemption to a company pretending to have social concern, but in the sieve only the least blurred caricature will have that chance.
You are lonely and always will be, but loneliness is much more cruel if you have no attraction for someone, then the spheres that are below the brow do not stop watering, and most of the time expressing public discontent, or is lucky enough to have someone listening to you, and you hear that there’s no problem, that the world’s shit like that, and that you’re a good person, and what matters is what you have inside, and it’s for you to stop complaining so much because you have a beautiful life and some have worse. You wonder if you have worse and imagine what they say to the worst. The worst can be a caricature, do they have that right?
Do not love anyone because it will not be reciprocated, there will always be a barrier, especially if you are crawling. Kill the imagination, dreams only lead to pain and suffering, at most you will have almost. Who wants to relate to a caricature, who will feel compassion or will want to be next to a human reptile? Loneliness is the only companion and she is jealous and will smile in your face with every failed attempt or dream undone. Get accustomed to being alone even if the pain in the chest comes torturing you, even if your head hurts every day and your spine is undone, the greatest pain is not being in a cycle of electables but being unloved, not having the respect. The pain is another companion, this is more perverse, she laughs loudly squeezing and grinding your bones, no matter how much effort you make, you will not be human, and you will see everyone you know with their lives, having their loves, struggles and challenges, but you are still in the same place being infantilized for not rolling with the punches, and being judged, being labeled arrogant, antisocial (nowadays we have the advantage of having imaginary friends in social networks that is the apex of antisocialism disguised as social integration), of not seeing the beautiful things of life, it is this beauty that everyone sees that is in everything but in you.
Is a poet and a musician from Salvador, Brazil. He also takes care of cats.
“Suddenly the crust peels back and all-women are looking into a burning pit of rage.”
From Judith O’Grady
Initially I was planning to write an essay about the puzzling goodness and badness/ impulse towards Right Action and selfishness/ kindheartedness and meanness that exist in all people. So I was talking it over with my friend, “All people are connected blah blah blah” and he countered that people have various cultures that inform their ethical systems and so different judgements follow in different cultures. “But culture is wholly learned….” I said and then brought that biological truism that we are all descended from Genghis Khan (after all) into the discussion. He declined to be descended from the Pillaging Emperor and so later I looked it up—- of course we’re not ALL descended from him but the Wikipedia designation of some hundreds of wives and further hundreds of children must fall short of his actual begottens by some measure as well. Since we’re all in fact descended from the same Mitochondrial Mother, if not from Genghis, it really makes no never mind.
Leaving that aside for a moment, I do find it strange and puzzling that people are so varyingly kind and mean. Some quite dreadful people will act for the common good with energy and self-sacrifice in some instances and with self-serving brutality in others; even though there are clear and present at-danger innocents in all cases.
I adhere, in a bumbling and non-psychological way, to the teachings of Jung and so can bring his concept of the Self and the Shadow Self into play. Not that the Self is Right Action and the Shadow Self is ‘bad’ by any means——- the Self can be the reasonable fear of personal harm or the worry that one is acting outside accepted practice that pushes one to not commit to the Shadow Self’s bravery. We are inextricably both Selves and the complete person is the integrated Self, not the Shining Knight.
Be that as it may, we must all learn to act as the common descendants of the One Mother and stop the pillaging of the Earth. Because another of my beliefs is that She is just about to declare humankind as a failed evolutionary experiment unable to rise above our greed for luxury and blink us all out. The only way we can stay the execution is to all share exactly as if we are all one people, to all live simpler lives of commonality, to make sure everybody has enough. Or else we will find ourselves all jumbled up in that proverbial hand-basket and bound for ‘hell’ (or in my belief system doomed to never again reincarnate as humans or perhaps at all).
So I reported back to my friend “sbna of humankind are related to Genghis Kahn.”
“Well, good! Because those children of rape would be affected by it, right?”
As is obvious, he’s a fairly black/white thinker no matter how much the shades of grey keep irrefutably intruding. Firstly, I pointed out that some of Genghis’ approved wives (as opposed to the spoils of war) might have been moderately pleased with their position—— history reports him as enjoying and valuing his sons and presumably their mothers. On the Other Hand, the children who were the product of rape are an army in their own right, Genghis aside.
On the Gripping Hand, Jung-On-Toast!! Yes, those children DO change humankind. Another of Jung’s precepts is that of the Collective Unconscious— roughly that we all tap into a deep well of previous-people’s lives that inform our own unconscious. We ‘remember’ backwards to that First Mother and the shadows the fire cast on the cave walls. This is a new and unpleasant idea; that not just half of the Speakers in the Collective Unconscious (the raped women, hand of the Goddess over them) but all of everybody (AND their children) has nightmare rememberings.
Secondarily, there is evidence that hardship, particularly disruptive hardship (being a non-combatant in the path of war, being unhomed and made a refugee, living through a famine, being raped and losing your place in your society by it), leaves an imprint on the mother’s DNA—- the children born in the wake of those disruptions are different than those who are not. Biology supports Jung; the cruelty of man creates larger damage in the world than just the sum of their acts.
So when we look further at what is going on in today’s World Emotional Flux it seems to me that there are not one but two inflammatory decision cruxes going on all at once.
The Great Mother Earth will, if we don’t act fast to clean up our lifestyle as well as start behaving as if we all sink or swim together, flick us away with Her fingernail. There are no more new frontiers of resources and land, there are no more Empire-building plans to gradually educate the others into Proper Whiteness being accepted, there are no more excuses that we were just acting according to our nature and that the blame really lies in the actions of the victims that will be allowed. It’s the End Times for us.
What is true in small is true in large: when I used to be testifying inside the conservative small-town system I would ask the women who had just, at the coffee klatch or the Tupperware party, identified their husband as ‘treating them well’, “When you all go out as a family and have a day of adventure together, who drops into a chair with a sigh of relief when you get home and who goes and starts dinner?” Once you see it you can never again unsee it. Further, if you see the imbalance of one act/attitude/ bigoted belief you may suddenly see it all.
“He works hard…..”
“And you don’t?”
Unpaid work suddenly slides into the other side of the balance and measures itself against wage-earners. Suddenly something besides dollars earned has to be used as balance-weight. Hours worked? Tasks completed? Value of the ‘job’ balanced against the enculturation of the next generation?
But that’s true of the whole system just as it is true of each individual action; once all-women say #metoo,
“Why can’t men just treat us as people, treat us as they treat other men?”
Suddenly the crust peels back and all-women are looking into a burning pit of rage.From the troublesome memories of yesterday right back to sexual dimorphism taking away the female proto-human’s right of no, there has never been a good reason for treating one sex or some people as inherently less than the other sex or some other people. Only the ‘better’ group getting away with it is what permits it.
This is a tricky moment ‘cause that man who just has to get over it and give up his privilege and that woman who is finding a shaky solidarity with all woman-kind must ALSO immediately, no time for putting it off, drop everything and get to it, learn sharing and consideration and give up capitalism and resource extortion. We have to successfully work as a team with those exploiters and with those unappealing (for whatever specious reason) others and with those people with unjustifiable beliefs…..
is an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).
A boy in eighth-grade math class walks over and says, “You sit like a woman. What are you, a woman?” We both know there’s no right answer.
When I was born, the obstetrician said I was male. So, growing up, that was the role expected of me. People told me I’d become a heterosexually-married adult man. I shouldn’t have long hair, wear dresses, or cry “like a sissy.”
At some point, though, that comprehensive set of expectations (that gender role) changed. By the time I hit adolescence, no one thought I’d marry a woman. Boys were supposed to like football and act tough, but nobody looked at me and thought I could ever do that. My classmates started calling me gay before I even knew what the word meant. More and more, people expected that I would behave different from my male peers.
Of course, their expectations carried a weight of moral condemnation. When they called me a “faggot,” they made it clear that it was a very bad thing to be. But, none of them seriously believed that someone who looked, moved, and sounded like me could be anything else. I was chastised and punished for filling it, but nevertheless “faggot” was the role I was pressured to fill.
Are gender and sexuality fundamentally personal identities, or are they imposed by a larger social system? How sharp is the line between them?
Walking down the hall in high school, it feels like every other word is “faggot.” An especially churchy classmate tells me that if I was a real Christian, I wouldn’t “want to be that way any more.”
In gym class, the coach sends the boys to one side of the room and the girls to the other to do different activities. No one looks surprised when I go with the girls.
On paper, US conservatism believes in a strict gender binary. You are male or female, birth to death. Men are naturally one way and women another. No one really falls in between. Men, of course, are naturally strong and unemotive. They sleep with women but socialize with each other.
And yet, people who embraced that ideology wholesale would meet me and assume that my friends were girls, that I was emotional and “sensitive,” that I’d defer to my male peers, and – perhaps most of all – that I was sexually available to men. But since they didn’t read me as cis female, why weren’t they bringing the usual male expectations?
When I had straight male friends, why did they expect me to be emotionally supportive and assume I had some special insight into “what women want?” They didn’t seek that from each other, and they’d have either laughed or gotten angry at anyone who asked it of them.
If their idea of gender was as binary as they believed it to be, why didn’t they place me into a male role?
Unfortunately, many women-particularly single women-are afraid of the perspective of wages for housework because they are afraid of identifying even for a second with the housewife. They know that this is the most powerless position in society and so they do not want to realise that they are housewives too…
We are all housewives because no matter where we are they can always count on more work from us, more fear on our side to put forward our demands, and less pressure on them for money, since hopefully our minds are directed elsewhere, to that man in our present or our future who will “take care of us”.
Did those people believe in genders besides female and male?
With their ideas, they didn’t. With their actions, though, they did. After all, they created at least one gender role besides “man” and “woman” – I know because they assigned me to it! My social position was not authentically male. I was failed-male. In practice, my gender was “faggot.”
When they said “faggots aren’t real men,” that was an is, not an ought. “Faggot” is a socially-real gender category distinct from “male.” It is imposed (like all genders) by a social system beyond the control of any given individual. Gender, after all, is more than either individual identity or cultural beliefs. Each gender role corresponds to a particular place in the overall social division of labor.
To be given a feminized gender (like “woman” or “faggot”) means to be given feminized work: emotional, interpersonal, domestic, caregiving, and sexual. When you meet someone, they read a gender onto you. Practically speaking, that means they either expect you to take on those tasks or they expect others to take them on instead of you. There are, of course, plenty of signifiers that help people make that gender assignment (speech inflections, clothes, names, communication styles, inferred secondary sex characteristics, etc). But all that only makes up half of what a gender is – the rest is being expected to do specific kinds of work, and you can’t cleanly untangle the two halves. Being conventionally feminine means being expected to wear makeup, long hair, etc – but also to have a less aggressive conversation style, to step aside for men on the sidewalk, to be “nurturing,” and to sleep with men. On the ground, the division of labor and cultural norms are united. Each upholds the other.
I sit in a therapist’s office and talk about how since transitioning, I’ve felt less and less connection with any sort of sexuality and I don’t understand why. He tells me I just need to accept that I’m attracted to men – once I do that, he says, things will fall into place.
Radical feminism talks about “compulsory heterosexuality” – the idea that heterosexuality is more than a sexual preference some people happen to have. It’s a political institution built into the gender system itself, through which all women (including lesbians) are pressured to treat sex with men as inherent to womanhood. This approach to sexuality cares about the pleasure of men, but leaves non-male desires as (at best) an afterthought. Without it, feminized gender roles (woman and faggot alike) would bear little resemblance to their current forms.
I faced that imperative, just like my cis female peers. To be sure, people delivered it to me on different terms. Attraction to men was expected of me, but never treated as though it were positive. However, it was still part of the role I was assigned. Accepting my lesbianism still entailed a process of soul-searching to break through some deeply internalized messages; it tracked closely with the experiences of the cis lesbians I know.
Sexuality doesn’t neatly come apart from gender. Gender is an overarching system, a way of organizing certain types of work within class society’s overall division of labor. My socialization into a feminized role brought with it certain sexual expectations, just as it carried emotional and interpersonal ones.
Neither sexuality nor gender floats free, separate from each other or from the overall organization of society. They aren’t (just) individual identities, and they aren’t (just) cultural ideas. These roles exist physically: the interactions humans have with each other and with the world re-create them every day. If you ignore that context, you’ll misunderstand the relationship between them.
Cultural norms about gender receive institutional support from the government, businesses, religious congregations, etc. After all, gender is an efficient and elegant way to get some people to do certain kinds of work for free. Sure, some aspects of contemporary gender predate capitalism. However, this gender system is still capitalist to its essence. Why? Capitalism digested those older components and turned them into something qualitatively different (as the historical research of Silvia Federici and other Marxist feminists shows).
Beliefs and practices aren’t merely ephemera. They aren’t fluff on top of an underlying economic reality. They’re part of economic reality because they’re part of how people carry out the daily work of existence. Their function within it is vital. Without them, it wouldn’t be easy to get anyone to do feminized work for free, but with them? People “spontaneously” enforce those roles on each other via social pressure, “common sense,” and violence. Why else do so many women punish each other for deviating from fundamentally-sexist norms?
Again, though, the ideas in people’s heads are only half the picture. The conservative Christians I grew up around believed wholeheartedly that only two genders existed. But when they couldn’t find a place in the male role for people like me, what did they do? They created another one for us (faggot). Did they call it a gender? Of course not, but ideology isn’t what you believe. It’s what you’ve internalized through what you do. And isn’t it telling that if you asked them about trans and nonbinary people, they’d say none of it was valid because “those people are just confused faggots?”
Nearly all liberals (and more than a few leftists) arrive at their politics by first noticing an instance of oppression, then deciding to oppose it. They hear conservatives condemn gays, for instance, and think, “We’ve got to stop that prejudice. Gay people deserve respect!” That’s an understandable approach – disrespect, bigotry, and microaggressions are right there for all to see. Shouldn’t they be gotten rid of?
But when you remember that ideas and beliefs are only half of what’s going on, doesn’t something almost sinister emerge? We can remove the outward signs of oppression. But does that mean it’s gone, or just that it’s harder to see?
When you look at someone’s face, it doesn’t take its shape from the skin on the surface. It takes it from the bone underneath. If outright bigotry is the visible skin, the division of labor and the need to enforce it are the bone. Had I grown up in a liberal area rather than a conservative one, the people around me would have believed that women should be considered equal to men and that LGBT people deserved acceptance and respect. Those categories would have been enforced more gently – but they still would have been enforced. Since capitalism’s division of labor would have remained, feminized work would still have gotten assigned to feminized roles.
They wouldn’t have called me “faggot,” but they would have called me “fabulous” – and at the end of the day, the role expectations are the same either way. Respect and inclusion would have been nicer makeup, but the face beneath would have been no different.
Radical politics should begin with the physical reality of class society and its division of labor.
But because these roles are unified with the class system, the goal can’t simply be greater respect. Imposing them politely is still imposing them. The surface manifestations are an important part of the phenomenon, but they aren’t all of it. And ultimately, radical politics must seek to abolish the entire thing.
And if radicals forget that, then sure, they might find ways to make society look less oppressive.
“As we ever expand, as civilisation grows and spreads, the demand for space, for homes and resources increases.”
From Emma Kathryn
…Which in turn leads to the forced removal of the poor. It happens the world over. As we ever expand, as civilisation grows and spreads, the demand for space, for homes and resources increases.
This last couple of weeks, this issue has hit closer to home.
Regular readers will know I live on a council estate in the middle of England. Many of us on the estate fall into the category of the working poor. We live here because we cannot afford to live anywhere else, but more than that, its home. Many of us have lived here for decades. Lasting friendships are formed, as are allegiances. We stick up for and look out for our own.
A couple of weeks ago, the residents received letters letting us know that the future of the estate is uncertain,that they are looking into regenerating the area and that the council would be undertaking resident surveys to find out the wants and needs of the residents.
Sounds good, doesn’t it.
Only of course, we all know that our opinions won’t get taken into account. Not really. As ever, money talks, and that’s the real issue here. You see, the council are selling off more land to housing developers.
One of the only open large green spaces this end of my town has already been sold off. The playing field has four football pitches and extra space besides. It is the only place where the kids from the estate can go and play for free, where dog walkers can amble and let the dog off the lead, or just for anyone to enjoy spending time outside. It’s a busy place in spring and summer. The council want us, the community, to welcome this change, to really want it and so they tell us about the new and improved sports facilities they will build, but we all know that those facilities will not be free, that the kids from the estate will be priced out of using these if they do in fact appear at all. The council want us to believe that they are doing this for our benefit, that our lives will be improved, and that the proposed two hundred homes that will be built on this land has nothing to do with it.
When are we going to stop believing the authorities?
The fear for the estate is that it will be sold out from under us. After all, it’s land that could be used, that could be sold off to the highest bidder. Money talks and the poor don’t count.
Don’t believe me? All you have to do is look at the Grenfell tower tragedy that dominated the UK news last year.
For those that don’t know, Grenfell tower was a tower block of flats, council owned, in one of the richest boroughs of London. The posh Kensington and Chelsea borough council had decided to regenerated the area, covering the eyesore of a building in cladding designed to improve the view for the towers rich neighbours, because you know, god forbid they should have to look at the reality that many have to face, have to endure, day in, day out.
When fire ripped through the building, killing seventy-one people and leaving many others homeless and with nothing, it soon came to light that the cladding the council had chosen had made the fire worse than it would have otherwise been. Tower blocks are designed to contain a fire breakout in the flat it starts in (and the advice to tenants who live in high rises in the event of fire is to stay inside their flat). The cladding was not flame retardant and instead fuelled the fire, helping it to spread through the entire building quickly.
The council, again, one of the richest, had decided against spending five thousand pounds more on fire-retardant cladding, instead choosing one that isn’t recommended for buildings as high as the tower block. Again, because the poor don’t matter.
The tower is currently nothing but a burnt out skeleton, and many of the former residents are still homeless, despite the public coming together and raising millions of pounds for the victims (though where that money is now, well, that’s another article for another day, but needless to say it isn’t where it should be, helping those for whom it was raised).
More than that though, do you think the land will be used to create housing for those who have lost everything? I would wager not.
I bet land developers and the council couldn’t believe their luck. Prime London land is now unoccupied! When enough time has passed for people to have moved on and forgotten, the council will sell the land and build more homes and services for those with money, for those who either willfully or not serve the capitalist agenda.
I hope that we don’t forget, that those poor and displaced people will fight for what they have lost, will hold the government and authorities to account.
The poor are being squeezed out of London. In fact the poor are the first ones out whenever the land they’re on is needed.
Sporting events such as the Olympic Games displace the poor. When Brazil hosted the games, officials evicted many families before the 2016 games. For example, to make way for one high-speed bus lane, some three hundred and eighty-five families were relocated, sometimes as far as thirty kilometres away.
Sometimes support networks including familial and friendship relationships can be a lifeline for those in need. Friends and family help one another out, whether that’s the lending of money for something to eat, childcare enabling a parent to work, advice and so on. When these support networks are torn apart because of forced removal, it becomes more than land rights.
You could also go one further and say that forced eviction is an act of violence. Whenever and wherever we look to for examples of forced removal or eviction, we see violence. Why else would people leave their homes with little or nothing? Because of the threat of violence. And what can be more violent than war? In war we see the displacement of people, and this is an act of forced removal.
Whatever you think about the politics of refugees, and in this age, there are many differing opinions, no matter your political leaning, there can be no doubt that a war zone forces many to leave their homes.
If we look past the politics of war, past the soldiers who fight in them, past all of that and really see the war machine, then we cannot deny that war is big business. Weapons and other war technologies are for sale to the highest bidder. And after the war is over, why, there’s land that’s going to need to be developed, and there’s going to be all kinds of infrastructure to be laid down. Money money money.
That’s why when world leaders go on state visits to other countries, they take with them arms dealers, construction CEOs and so on.
I don’t know what will happen to where I live. I wish I could say that we will rise up, us residents and fight the council tooth and nail, but I don’t think that will happen, least of all because there are too many who can’t be bothered. There are some who believe the council when they say it will be better, it’ll make their lives better. And there are a few of us who are angry.
I don’t know what we will do. I know I will fight it every way I can, but I don’t think it will be enough. I think the council have already made their minds up, that it doesn’t really matter what us, the residents, think or say. If they really needed land for homes, then why allow companies to build massive carparks in the middle of residential areas (there are two recently new built carparks in the town where I live, one of which is smack bang in the middle of a residential area). The council could have sold that land to housing developers, or refused planning permission for the carpark, but no. It’s all about the money.
I feel connected to the land where I live, where I have lived my whole life. The playing field is home to a host of trees, plants and fauna. The spirit of the place, of the land, of the trees, plants and animals. All of this will be lost, and I fear it’s one more step closer to our disconnection from the land.
My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magic, of course!
We do not revolt because we might fail. People might get shot or imprisoned, vulnerable people might suffer more than they already do, police oppression might increase, and all that effort could be wasted forever. And though these fears have always been good fears, our reliance on technology for re-assurances of certainty has amplified our inaction.
This is not a controversial statement: if many of us can barely try a new restaurant without relying on smartphones to take away the very minimal risk of an awful meal, why would we expect ourselves to face actual, real risk?
A manifesto from Rhyd Wildermuth
“Welcome to the modern world. It’s just like the old world, except it doesn’t work.”
My friend and I were both hungry; me perhaps a bit more so since I’d been traveling all day, hadn’t eaten that morning and it was now mid-evening.
“I’ll take you to dinner,” I told him. “Somewhere close–maybe pizza.”
“Okay,” he answered, and then started looking at his phone. “This place has really good reviews. Just need to take two trains.”
I was really hungry. “How long will that take?” I asked.
“45 minutes, maybe an hour.”
I shook my head. “Seems far and will cost a lot to get there. Isn’t there a place nearby?”
It was his turn to shake his head. “None with good reviews.”
“I don’t care,” I answered, probably a bit too curtly. The hunger was irritating me greatly. “Let’s just walk to one of them.”
So we did, set out into the cold city night, finally coming to an Italian restaurant. I looked at the menu, the prices were decent. “Perfect,” I said, turning to him.
“I can’t find any reviews on Trip Advisor though,” he answered. “But there’s one about a mile from here with a lot of reviews…”
Exhausted and frustrated, I snapped back: “Food’s food. I’m buying anyway…let’s go in.”
“But it might not be good,” he replied, until suddenly seeing something on his phone that made him excited. “Nevermind, I found it. Good reviews, we can go in.”
I’ve thought about this interaction very often since it happened a few months ago. My friend isn’t stupid; in fact, he’s very intelligent, and his magical insights into the world are often quite profound. Nor is he hardly alone in succumbing to the peculiar sort of paralysis of inaction I’ve recounted here. In fact, I suffer from it often too, as no doubt you likely do.
The desire to know if something is good before you try it, to want certainty about the uncertain–that’s hardly a new thing. But what is new, deeply radically new, is our reliance on social media (and the corporations which run them) and technological devices to give us that certainty, to tell us it’s going to be okay, to remove the risk that an action might not result in the absolute best conditions.
As with a night out at a restaurant or a date with a person met online, so too with any of the actions we might take towards revolution. We look to Tumblr and Twitter to gauge the sentiment of others, to divine if our groups and theories and plans are popular enough, have all the required sign-off’s from every possible identity focus-group, and nod sagely when told ‘that won’t work’ by whichever correctly-branded social justice personality happened to come through our feed that particular minute.
We do not revolt because we might fail. People might get shot or imprisoned, vulnerable people might suffer more than they already do, police oppression might increase, and all that effort could be wasted forever. And though these fears have always been good fears, our reliance on technology for re-assurances of certainty has amplified our inaction. This is not a controversial statement: if many of us can barely try a new restaurant without relying on smartphones to take away the very minimal risk of an awful meal, why would we expect ourselves to face actual, real risk?
Those Satanic Mills
If you feel this way of critiquing technology seems bizarre, anti-modern, ‘primitive,’ or appears to ignore all the ‘good’ that technology has done, you might be tempted to describe all this as ‘luddite.’ And you’d be correct, and not in the ways most moderns have come to understand what the Luddites fought for.
The Luddites have always fascinated me. Men and women, sometimes cross-dressing, stealing into oppressive factories in the middle of the night to smash looms to stop production: that’s quite hardcore, regardless of why they did it. Besides the awesome acts of industrial sabotage, however, two other aspects of what the followers of King (or Ned, or Captain) Ludd did two hundred years ago are extremely relevant to us now.
The first aspect is their anarcho-paganism. They all claimed to follow a ghostly captain or leader who urged them on their night-time strikes against the industrialists. The stories they told about exactly who He was varied just as often as their actions: Ludd lived under a hill, or in a well, or under a church, all three places not ironically located “somewhere” in Sherwood forest, where Robin of Locksley and his fellow rogues were said to hide. Ludd was a spirit, a king, or a general (“No General But Ludd/Means The Poor Any Good” went one of their chants), or just a captain amongst them, or even the ghost of a man named Ned Ludd (killed after sabotaging a factory, goes the stories). Like other similar groups such as the Whiteboys and Molly Maguires and Rebeccas, the Luddites invoked the mythic against capitalists and the State to great effect, at least while their resistance lasted.
And that brings me to the third aspect of the Luddite resistance, the part which I find most haunting as another year on this earth passes for me (I’m 41 today, it seems). To explain this aspect, though, we need to step back a bit and look not just at the Luddites themselves but at the era in which they fought and the strange (and eerily familiar) historical circumstances which created the world around them.
If industrial capitalism has a specific birthdate and birthplace, it was 1769 in Derbyshire, England. It was in that year and in that place the very first modern factory was built by Richard Arkwright. The sound of the factory was compared to “the devil’s bagpipes,” a fact memorialized in this poem by Lorna Smithers:
When Richard Arkwright played the devil’s bagpipes on Stoneygate a giant hush came over the town. The blistering whirring sound against the pink horizon of a sun that would not set over clear sights for two centuries of soot and smog was damnable. Yes damnable! Gathering in storm clouds over Snape Fell.
You who have seen a premonition might have heard the village seers tell of smoke for flesh charry knees and the squalor of shanty towns. Red brick mills turning satanic faces to the coin of their heliotropic sun: Empire.
Piecers running between generations bent legged beggers, tongue in cheek defiant. Weavers watching shuttles slipping through fingers like untamed flies. Luddites sweeping across greens with armaments and gritted teeth…
It took forty years for Arkwright’s new terror, “those Satanic mills” as William Blake called them in 1804, to finally spark the resistance movement known as the Luddites. In that space of time, Arkwright’s first mill multiplied into 2400 similar factories spread throughout England (mostly in the major cities), an average of 60 a year.
So, in two generations, Britain had gone from a place where there was no such thing as a factory to a place where there were several thousands. In four decades, an entire society which had started out knowing nothing about industrialization appeared to become irrevocably industrialised, and it was at that point the Luddites struck.
But why then? Why not before? And why fight what appeared to be inevitable?
Against the Modern World
We must first ignore the modern interpretation of what a Luddite is. They weren’t ‘anti-technology’ or slow-to-adapt old people hopelessly left behind in a new world. Nor where they only concerned with fighting for better wages for weavers (who, before the factories, were able to support themselves and large families on the income from their specialized trade).
They were people close to my age and somewhat younger, the oldest people alive in Britain who could still remember the old world before factories, but still also young enough to actually work in them. They were a generation that stood on a threshold between the pre-industrial world and the new industrial capitalist order.
Imagine if you will what it must have been like to see your parents and the older people in your villages, towns, and cities starving because they could not or would not adapt to this brave new world. Many of them were too old, feeble, or weak-sighted to work in the factories, and anyway the factory owners preferred children as young as five to do much of the nimble work (and they couldn’t fight back). So while you see the older generation starving and destitute, you also see your own children or younger siblings coming home from the mills with broken fingers, strange bruises, and unmentionable wounds from their 14-hour day crawling under machinery to tie broken threads or retrieve loose bobbins.
And then there’s you, you and others your age, still young enough to work in many of the mills yet old enough to remember when the world wasn’t like this at all.
Now, it is almost impossible for us to imagine a world before factories, even as in many modern liberal democratic countries very few of us have actually stepped foot in one. That’s not because they aren’t around anymore: they’ve moved mostly to Asia and Africa, where exhausted workers are crammed up like cattle in a slaughterhouse to make the phone and laptops you’re probably reading this on (as well as the clothes you’re wearing, possibly the chair you’re sitting on, and most of the stuff inside the home where you lay your head at night) for little or no wages.
And it is almost impossible to imagine what society was like before the factory. What was it like to only wear clothes made by yourself or people who lived nearby? What was life like before the cities swelled with displaced peasants blinking in the light of dawn before the gates of textile and steel mills, hungry and exhausted but jostling each other in line for a job that day to feed their family? What did the streets and town squares look like at night before everyone had to wake up at dawn to go to work? How did we relate to each other before wages became the only way to survive? And what did society look like before mass-production, when no one ever wore the same thing, when ‘pre-packaged experiences,’ monoculture, and conformity were literally impossible?
It is almost impossible to imagine the world before factories.
Almost, but not completely.
Because we are living in a similar world to what the Luddites experienced.
“All that is sacred is profaned…”*
(* from The Communist Manifesto)
If you can pinpoint any places in western history where technology severely altered the way human society functioned, I suspect there are three. The most obvious one is the industrial revolution, which was also the birth of capitalism. The one before that changed the world as well (but much more slowly) was the invention of the printing press, which gave to early merchants and the bourgeoisie the power to disseminate literature outside the strictures of religious and royal decree. And while we tend to see that invention as a net gain for humanity, we must remember that mass-printing and distribution has always been primarily in the hands of the rich, with the rest of us merely passive consumers.
The third–well, that’s the era we’re in now, the computer/internet ‘revolution.’
The first ‘node-to-node’ digital communication happened in 1969, 200 years after from the birth of Richard Arkwright’s steam-powered looming frame. But being military technology, it took more than a decade for that technology to filter out to non-military capitalists and become the ‘World Wide Web.’ In the following decades, we’ve gone from a world where random (“risky”) human interactions occurred only in public spaces to one where most such interactions now occur ‘online.’ Here’s some other stuff that has changed:
30 years ago, there were no smartphones or texting; in 2015, 98% of all Americans 18-29 years old had a cellphone.
17 years ago there was no Wikipedia, 14 years ago there was no such thing as Facebook, 12 years ago no Twitter, 11 years ago no Tumblr, and 7 years ago no Instagram.
In 1984 only 8% of US homes had a computer of any sort; in 2010, 77% did.
These are all merely statistics about technological saturation; they tell us only as much as the figures about factories in England between 1769 and 1810 told us. But we don’t need to dig very far to understand that this technological change has radically altered what it means to be a human in a capitalist society.
For instance: before cellphones, you could only be reached at home. That meant if you needed to wait for a call you had to stay by the phone, but it also meant that your life was less likely to revolve around the ability of someone to get a hold of you immediately. There was no expectation that your attention could be gotten at any hour of the day because such a thing was impossible.
Before texting and email there were letters. You had to take the time to decide what you were going to say to someone, write it out on paper, post it in the mail, and then wait some amount of time for a reply. Thus human interactions were slower and more ponderous and most of all more intentional. Even the angriest of letters wouldn’t arrive until the next day at the earliest, and this slowness meant there was always at least a little time to rethink your immediate fury, unlike now with our instantaneous ‘send’ buttons.
Social media, however, probably represents the largest shift in how we relate to each other and also how we see ourselves. To have large groups of friends you had to do stuff for them, and with them, call them on weekends or send them letters, catch up with them for coffee or go to their parties or invite them for dinner, take vacations to see them or host them in your home. Now you need only post an update and read theirs to feel you’ve performed acts of friendship.
Accompanying that shift has been an increasing feeling of isolation and alienation. So many people now self-diagnose with introversion (as with trauma, or social anxiety, or many other ailments) that one wonders how humans ever managed to talk to each other before the internet.
The general response to this apparent increase in alienation is to state it has always been there, that being connected to each other more via the internet has helped us talk about it more, and that anyway we are #Blessed the internet came around to let us all be social despite our fear and misanthropy.
But in this case particularly, those of us who stand on the same threshold of change that the Luddites also stood upon cannot help but remember–we all did fine without social media. Better, even. We got over our shyness and anxiety because we had to, and the internet appears to have merely enabled us to not get over such things, to not address our social anxiety and fear of rejection and instead hide safely behind a screen.
Before the internet, binge-watching television (“Netflix and chill”) or staring at a screen for hours a day was a sign you’d given up on yourself and the world around you, were depressed and really just needed a friendly face or to go for a walk. They were symptoms of serious depression, indications that some large issue in your life has been unaddressed for too long and the things to ‘get you through’ had become addictions which prevented you from seeking help.
Now those things are all proud marks of ‘self-care’ enabled by technology without which we’d all surely be miserable, lonely humans. Nevermind that we are still miserable, lonely humans, and probably more so now.
Less controversial but even more unaddressed is what this new ‘technological revolution’ has done to our ability to survive, to earn enough money to eat and pay rent. The much-vaunted and ridiculous ‘internet of things’ has made it so we rarely get to ‘own’ the things we pay capitalists for, and must re-sell parts of ourselves constantly in order to compensate for dwindling wages and no savings. This is the curse of the ‘millenial’ (a marketing term that, like so much else, somehow became a ‘fact’ in capitalist society)–to have no steady income but to have thousands of Instagram followers in the hopes of one day having enough to be an ‘influencer’. To face insurmountable college debt and no way to secure housing but to get thousands of retweets on Twitter.
It is not just the fate of millenials. I’ve had two posts shared over 100,000 times and one seen by 1.5 million people. And yet I haven’t been able to afford eating more than twice a day in years, and have been nomadic for the last five years because 1.5 million views doesn’t pay rent.
The answer to the poverty experienced by more and more people (again–not just millenials) is to ‘monetize’ your life. Or as put in a rather brilliant essay about nomads like myself at It’s Going Down (“Living In A Van Down By The Instagram”):
The point here is not to whine about how we all can’t be special snowflakes or social media super-stars; the point is to state that capital is colonizing all aspects of our lives, including online worlds, and attempting to make us in turn generate profit, content, and value during all waking moments, either online or off. And, there’s no better backdrop to do this than when we are constantly traveling, as we in turn are utilizing and activating our social networks for the sake of monetizing them. Thus, we are pushed to take photos and tag corporations in the hopes that maybe one day we could get $50 for a sponsored post. To fundamentally turn ourselves, and our lives, into brands.
As was pointed out in the new book, Now, by the Invisible Committee, this has become both the economic baseline as well as central anxiety of our time. We aren’t just driving somewhere and enjoying a podcast or randomly picking up a hitch hiker, we are instead missing out on an opportunity to sell our labor power for Uber or Lyft. We aren’t taking photos to share with loved ones, we are building up our brand and trying to gain followers, which we will then sell to multinational corporations. This is the logic of the gig economy applied to all aspects of our lives, at all times, and in all scenarios.
To monetize yourself, though, requires you make yourself more sell-able, becoming a brand, a product, constantly adapting to market demands. Or as Badean wrote in “Identity In Crisis:”, in the Journal of Queer Nihilism:
“The collapse of traditional subject positions is managed through the proliferation of a new positions: app designers, graphic designers, cyber sex workers, queer theorists, feminist publishers, social network engineers, trend hunters, eBay sellers, social justice activists, performance artists, porn directors, spammers, party promoters, award winning baristas.
We are forced to continually define ourselves, to enact countless operations upon ourselves so as to produce ourselves anew each day as someone worth taking to market — our basic survival depends on the ceaseless deployment of increasingly discreet technologies of the self.
Everything is for sale: our sex appeal, our fetishes, our tattoos, our radicalism, our fashion sense, our queerness, our androgyny, our fitness, our fluidity, our abnormality, our sociability. Facebook and Twitter function as the new resume.
We are caught in the unending necessity to be continually educating, training, exploring, perfecting, and fine-tuning ourselves. Our continual self-invention is both economic imperative and economic engine.”
No doubt this seems dire enough, but one more dark truth emerges from this constant race. Because if we are constructing our identities in order to become more sale-able to people (be that for money or Facebook likes or even just to be noticed in this new hyper-gendered micro-radical hierarchy of new identities), how do we even know who we are anymore?
To be honest, I don’t always know. I am a radical queer anarchist pagan nomad punk fag brother boyfriend theorist bard druid, but none of that actually tells me what I am, only the hashtags people might use to define me on a social media post. Labels that once gave meaning now become indelible brandings. Try to shift any of those identities and the world (or the social media world, anyway) pushes back…hard. And just as often, those labels themselves are fiercely contested: I cannot count how many times I’ve been told I’m too ‘masculine-presenting’ to be allowed to use the term queer.
So who am I? Who gets to decide? And why are we using capitalist tools to mediate those discussions in the first place? Or is it possible it’s those very tools which have triggered these crises in the first place?
Not All Revolutions Are Good
The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.
(The Communist Manifesto)
The shift wrought by internet technology wherein identity is now the very battlefield of our ability to survive in the world may seem utterly different from any other struggle which has come before. In context of the struggle the Luddites and the early communists and anarchists fought, however, not much has really changed.
The rise of industrial capitalism triggered vast shifts in social relations which are to this day still being constantly disrupted. It should thus be no surprise to us that ‘disruptive technology’ is a statement of pride for many of the new architects of this current upheaval, an upheaval in which we also take part when we celebrate the destruction of older forms of relating (binary gender, hetero-normative society, class-based politics). What ‘good’ comes from these disruptions unfortunately seems fleeting and probably is. Because while it is a beautiful thing that acceptance of gender variance and queer sexuality have become so prominent, it’s a sick joke to say a poor queer or trans person desperately trying to pay rent by sleeping on a friend’s couch while letting out their bedroom on AirBnb, turning tricks on TaskRabbit or bareback hookup apps, and desperately looking for the perfect filter to get their Instagram account another 100 followers has somehow had their life ‘improved’ by these disruptions.
Yet, to this current horror in which we all find ourselves, perhaps the Luddites might shrug and say, “at least you didn’t have time forced upon you.” Because along with ‘disruption’ of the factory from hand-craft and laborer to factory and wage-slave came the beginning of an oppressive order of time.
Clocks became no longer curiosities but requirements. Suddenly, knowing if it was half-past eight or just ‘morning’ became the crucial difference between feeding your family for a day or starving on the street. Time literally had to be disciplined into us during the birth of industrialization, often times by christian moralists like John Wesley working on behalf of the factory owners. Time became something that you “spent” rather than something that passed, work became measured not by what needed doing according to the season but what the factory boss demanded you do within a set number of hours.
Before industrialization, work was task-oriented. You planted at some times of the year, harvested at others, ground wheat and fixed carts, wove cloth and made clothes not when an arbitrary number declared it was ‘time’ to do so but when the thing itself needed doing. And work itself was determined by how long you wanted to take doing the task, not how many hours the boss said you needed to stand at a counter or else be fired.
When attempting to imagine what that world was like (not very long ago), we tend to imagine it for ourselves, what our own life might have been like. Harder to imagine, however, is what all of society itself was like without clocks as over-seers. Imagine then what life would be like if not just you but all your friends and all the people in your town lived life without clocks, and you get a little closer to understanding precisely what the Luddites were fighting for.
A New Luddite Rebellion
It was against such radical, world-altering shifts that the Luddites broke into factories at night, smashing looms. One imagines they wanted their time back, they wanted their children and parents back, wanted the ability to survive without working in factories back. They wanted back the rich texture of a society where you knew the people who made your clothes, talked to the people who grew your food, or were those people themselves.
We are living in another such time. People older than me lived most of their childhoods without the internet and do not (or cannot) adapt to a world where everything about them is on display, sold piecemeal through Facebook updates and Instagram photos.
Those much younger than me do not know a world without cellphones, do not remember that it was possible to make new friends and meet amazing lovers without connecting first to an always-on device in your pocket. How many of them know you can arrive by train to a foreign city with just a paper map and a notebook and have the best trip of your life? How many will ever get a chance to experience what it was like to not just survive but actually have a pretty decent life in a city on less than full-time, barely-above minimum wage as I did in Seattle 15 years ago? And most of all, how many of them will ever know that risk and uncertainty is not something to be avoided at all costs but very often the thing which makes life worth living in the first place?
I barely remember what that was like.
I also barely remember what it was like to be anonymous, to have hours and hours of free time without devices I felt like I needed always to be looking at, constantly notifying me that emails and texts and retweets and messages are coming in. To have long conversations with strangers while waiting for a bus, to make new friends on the walk to work or find an awesome lover by chance while whiling away the day at a cafe. And most of all, I barely remember what it was like to know who I am without labels–to not need to call myself anything but my name, and have that be enough.
I want that all back. If you are close in age to me, you probably do to. If you are younger than me and don’t know what that was like, perhaps my telling of it is enough to entice you to want it also, and if you are older than me you might be shaking your head, having already mourned what’s been lost.
More than anything, we need this all back. Not just our time (consumed constantly by always-on devices and relentless updates). Not just our Selves (boxed in, categorized, labeled and shelved by any number of ‘identities.’). Not just our ability to pay rent and eat and still have enough money left over to enjoy the ever-dwindling number of months and days we have on this earth. Not just all that, but we need our will back, our reckless desire to act in the face of risk and uncertainty, the chaotic and unscripted interactions between ourselves and the world which make our lives not just exciting, but mythic.
And therein’s the key to the ritual invocation we must perform to take back what we’ve watched slowly sold off of our lives with each new screech of the devil’s bagpipes. There are spirits, gods, and ancestors who keep the memory of the old worlds even as we forget. Ludd was one, and though his followers failed to stop the horror born of the factories in England, some of us still remember their attempt. Be it Ludd or the Raven King, Brighid or Dionysos, or perhaps all the old gods and heroes summoned together, we can make another go at stopping this new horror waking upon the world. From the shattered remains of the past we can reconstruct a new resistance against this increasingly senseless drive towards self-as-product.
And if we fail, we will no doubt be smeared by many for being ‘anti-modern’ just as the Luddites were, dismissed and forgotten by many others, but definitely remembered by some, just as the Luddites are still remembered now.
We may indeed fail. The risks are very, very great, and there’s no Trip Advisor listing to assure us that there will be good food and pleasant ambiance after our uprising. Perhaps our failures will be re-tweeted across the world, Facebook Live videos streaming our defeat to countless millions using greasy thumbs to scroll through the comments. We’ll lose Instagram followers and potential Influencer sponsorships while the rich and powerful of the world destroy more forests, gun down more poor people, and start more wars.
We probably won’t win. But I’m gonna try anyway, because I want my life back.
And maybe you do, too.
Rhyd Wildermuth is a co-founder and the managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He’s a poet, writer, theorist, and nomad currently living in occupied Bretagne. Find his primary blog here, his Facebook here, or support him on Patreon here.
Those of us who know that this world is a mysterious place, who have not forgotten our place and inter-connectedness within it, who remember and hold dear the knowledge that the stuff of stars is also inside of us too, it will be us who must be ready to fight, when the time comes.
From Emma Kathryn
Something is coming.
I am an obeah woman. I have seen and heard things that frighten me, but that’s okay. When you grow up poor and on a council estate you learn from a young age that you have to face or fight those things that scare you.
I don’t write about my own personal experiences very often; never, in fact. But today, dear readers, I shall share with you a vision I had whilst in trance. I think it was meant to be shared with others, others like you, others who would take up the fight, others who want change.
And it’s obvious, isn’t it, that change is going to come? It has to, the world cannot possibly go on as it is.
Something is coming. I can feel it. Can you?
Mudslides, wild fires, earthquakes, pollution, climate change, politics, racism, sexism, capitalism, human rights, the list of problems we face is huge. These things have been around for years and years and years, but this feeling I have has only been simmering for weeks and months.
Something is coming, but I don’t know what.
I work with plants, and poisonous plants are a passion of mine. There’s something so beautifully alluring about those delicate blooms that have the power to kill. They have a duality, these plants, to harm and to heal. They have secrets to tell and it is the job of the obeah woman, of the witch, to hear those secrets, and if necessary, to act upon them.
Of all the witches plants, the Datura is my favourite, the one to which I feel the most connected, the deepest affinity. Such a beauty! It produces trumpet-shaped creamy white flowers. Their fragrance truly is divine. When the flowers die, they leave seed pods, which grow into huge spiny covered balls that burst open, spilling their seed. All parts of the plant are poisonous, but it is with the seed that I make flying ointment.
This ointment is psychoactive and is used to induce trance, for soul flight and hedge crossing, call it what you will. I make it and use it often enough to know what I’m doing, which makes the experience I’m about to relate all the more surprising.
After preparing in my usual way, I laid down on my bed and immediately entered a trance state. It never happens so fast.
It was like being in two worlds. I was in my bedroom, but somewhere else as well, where it was dark, just utter blackness.
But in my room as well.
I was freezing cold, and got beneath the covers, and curled up trying to warm myself. It didn’t help. It was like being outside in midwinter, naked.
There was nothing for it but to move forward, into the darkness. I didn’t want to, not at first. You see, that’s the thing about all of this, it’s fucking scary! It would have been oh so easy to get out of bed, to go to the bathroom and wash off the rest of the ointment, and part of me wanted to. It would have ended things right there and then. I would have gone downstairs and had a coffee had I wanted to severe the link I had made, to end the trance.
I did want to do those things, I can’t lie. But I just couldn’t. I knew I would regret it if I did, and not in any mystical sense, but purely because I don’t like to give in. It’s that same thing, the same grit that makes me get into the ring, that makes me fight. There’s always that what if. And besides, whatever is coming would continue to do so whether I chose to ignore it or not.
So I pushed forward, and the cold got worse. It came in waves, each one colder than the next, and with each pulse it became harder to go on, until at last I couldn’t. Turns out I didn’t have to.
A figure was kneeling down, as if brought to his knees by pain or grief. The figure had no features, wore no clothes. Was like nothing of this earth, of this reality. It emitted a glowing, swirling blue light that moved like mist. This man shaped blue mist was screaming, his hands held to his head, only his screams were silent. His screams were the pulses of cold. This close it was excruciating.
When I thought I couldn’t take anymore, a voice whispered in my ear, a familiar voice, one I have grown to love. She took my hand and I felt warm. As I turned away, the trance ended, and I was simply Emma again.
I slept that night and didn’t dream.When I awoke the next morning, I felt anxious and frustrated. What did it mean? I’ll be fucked if I know. I felt restless, like I needed to do something, but I had no idea what. That feeling lasted weeks. I still feel it now.
Something is coming. This I know, if only because it is inevitable. Perhaps it will be an accumulation of civil unrest, a financial crash, or perhaps nature will finally fight back against the pest she has spawned. Maybe it’ll be all of those things combined, a societal meltdown brought on by extreme climate change. Perhaps none of those things.
I do think this year will bring significant change, though for the better or worse, well, it’s too early to say.
Perhaps I know nothing at all.
All I know, or feel to be true though, is that we must make our actions count. No matter how small. Part of that for me includes my connection to this site, to the writers and the readers and all that we may hope for, everything we aim to achieve.
I know we must stand up for the oppressed whenever we can, in whatever way we can. I know that we must do more to live in a way that doesn’t kill the earth. I know we need to look out for those we care for, and sometimes even those we may not even like very much (but that shit is dependant, we ain’t no walkovers either!). I know there’s a lot of work to be done, and a lot of it dirty.
I also know that when the shit hits the fan, I’ll be glad to have allies like G&R, its writers and readers.
Since having that trance, and this is the first time I have told anyone, other than my sisters, I just cannot get away from the idea of forming networks with like-minded folk, people I can rely on and trust and who can expect the same from me. It is the wide variety of skills, of the learning from one another that excites me about this. The possibility of taking for ourselves our own futures.
I am a fighter, always have been. I love to fight, and when the challenge is huge, the victory even sweeter. We will have to fight for what we want, for the state is stacked against us. Many will want to stick their heads in the sand, and do so already, blissfully ignorant of the challenges we face, kept quiet with their iPhones and the glamour of technology. The screen is king in today’s world.
Those of us who know that this world is a mysterious place, who have not forgotten our place and interconnectedness within it, who remember and hold dear the knowledge that the stuff of stars is also inside of us too, it will be us who must be ready to fight, when the time comes.
Something is coming and we will be ready. I’ll meet you at the crossroads.
My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magic, of course!
“[I]t turns out that extending rights to other-than-human beings is much harder for most people to imagine than giving rights to a corporation. The reason is that we’ve all been indoctrinated in a particular theory of rights: classical liberalism.”
from John Halstead
“The world is full of persons (people if you prefer), but few of them are human.” — Graham Harvey, “An Animist Manifesto”
When I first encountered contemporary animism, it boggled my mind. Animism posits a world full of persons: human persons, yes, but also hedgehog persons, salmon persons, rock persons, mushroom persons…and yes, tree persons. Those whose circle of friends includes many animists, pagans, and polytheists may easily forget just how radical the idea of “tree persons” is.
Hedgehog persons? Salmon persons? Mushroom persons? Even rock persons? When I first heard this, it caused me to wonder what exactly a “person” is. To the animist, a person is a being that exists in relationship. Personhood, in this sense, is an ontological statement. But I didn’t get that right away.
I’m a lawyer, so personhood for me is primarily a legal distinction. In the legal and political context, a person is a being that has rights. What would it mean, then, for a salmon, not to mention a rock, to have rights?
Personhood, in this legal context, is not an ontological distinction, but a cultural one. For that reason, it is more or less arbitrary. That’s why human beings could recognize personhood, and hence rights, of fictional entities like corporations and limited liability companies, trusts and estates, sovereign political entities and even ships, while at the same time denying rights to women, people of color, and LGBT folk.
Now, you might think that, if we can give rights to corporations and states, which are legal fictions, then we should be able to give rights to living beings like trees and natural beings like rocks, which at least exist in the physical world and, in the case of trees, share DNA with humans. But it turns out that extending rights to other-than-human beings is much harder for most people to imagine than giving rights to a corporation. The reason is that we’ve all been indoctrinated in a particular theory of rights: classical liberalism.
In the essay, I want to highlight some of the problems with classical liberalism, and then propose an alternative, holistic theory of rights, one in which we can ground the rights of nature.
The Standing of Mineral King Valley
As strange as it may seem to grant rights to corporations and ships, but not trees, there is an internal logic to that choice. Corporations and ships are human creations, and they have something that rocks and trees lack–human agents. These human agents can, for example, bring lawsuits to enforce the rights of their “principal”, whether it be a corporation or a ship.
Now it has been suggested that human beings might act as agents for other-than-human beings, just like they do for corporations. In 1972, the Sierra Club filed suit to prevent the development of a Walt Disney resort at Mineral King valley in the Sequoia National Forest. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The issue in Sierra Club v. Morton was whether the Sierra Club had “standing”, that is, the right to sue. Although the majority technically decided that Sierra Club did not have standing, in a footnote, the court helpfully suggested that the Sierra Club could amend its complaint to allege that Sierra Club made regular camping trips to Mineral King Valley, and the problem of standing would be resolved. The Sierra Club did so and, ultimately Mineral King Valley was saved from the developers.
(It is significant that the fate of the valley effectively turned on how frequently the Sierra Club camped there. More on that in a bit.)
But the case of Sierra Club v. Morton is perhaps most notable for Justice Douglas’ dissent 1, in which he made the case for recognizing the legal standing of
“valleys, alpine meadows, rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches, ridges, groves of trees, swampland, or even air that feels the destructive pressures of modern technology and modern life. The river, for example, is the living symbol of all the life it sustains or nourishes – fish, aquatic insects, water ouzels, otter, fisher, deer, elk, bear, and all other animals, including man, who are dependent on it or who enjoy it for its sight, its sound, or its life. The river as plaintiff speaks for the ecological unit of life that is part of it.”2
As a result, Douglas believed the case should have been entitled “Mineral King Valley v. Morton”. (Morton was Secretary of the Interior.)
But who would speak for the river and its inhabitants? Douglas argued that human beings could be spokespersons for the “inanimate” natural “objects”, if they had a “meaningful relation” or “intimate relation” to the natural “object”. In the case of the Mineral King Valley, the spokesperson might “hike it, fish it, hunt it, camp in it, frequent it, or visit it merely to sit in solitude and wonderment.” Douglas concluded that such a relation would enable them the person to speak for “the pileated woodpecker as well as the coyote and bear, the lemmings as well as the trout in the streams.”
Who Speaks for the Water Ouzel?
As much as I would have rejoiced to see legal standing granted to the Mineral King Valley or the Kaweah River which runs through the valley, Justice Douglas’ reasoning gives me pause. By what right do human beings speak for a valley or river? I think Douglas was on the right track when he references the human being’s “intimate relation” to the natural “object”. But then he proceeded to speak merely in terms of the usefulness of the “object” to humans–hiking, fishing, hunting, enjoying the solitude and wonder it offers to humans. Consider the list of types of human beings that Douglas says might speak for a river: “a fisherman, a canoeist, a zoologist, or a logger”. Of these, the zoologist at least might have a sense of the inherent worth of the valley–but the logger?!3
Douglas argued that the rivers and valleys themselves could have standing, just as ships and corporations can have standing. But there is an important distinction between ships and corporations, on the one hand, and rivers and valleys, on the other. Ships and corporations are human creations. They have no life or meaning apart from the human beings who constitute them (the crew in the case of ships). The same is not true of rivers and valleys. The latter have a life of their own. The claim to speak for them cannot be so readily justified. And the notion that a logger might speak for all the life that a valley sustains seems presumptuous at best, and dangerous in fact.
Consider also how Douglas described rivers etc. as “environmental objects” and even “inanimate objects”. Because he was unable to see the river, or even the fish in the river, as subjects, rather than objects, he was unable to appreciate the inherent value of the river or the fish beyond their usefulness to human beings. Despite his reference to Aldo Leopold’s land ethic at the end of his dissent, Douglas didn’t quite manage to escape the anthropocentrism which gave rise to the lawsuit in the first place. While he tried to make a case for the rights of valleys and rivers, these remained “objects” in his view, the value of which was determined by human beings.
In the end, Douglas’ approach would have led to more or less to the same place as the majority opinion, with rights of the valley being determined by how often a group of human beings camped there. And this is significant, because it’s not really the interest of the valley that is being protected in such cases, but the interest of humans who want to use the valley.
A State of “Nature”
Even if rocks and trees had agents to speak for them, there is a deeper philosophical problem with granting them rights. Rocks and trees cannotrecognize the rights of others. Rights are a human convention. Corporations and states are made up of human beings, so they can recognize other humans’ rights. The same is not true of other-than-human beings. If we decided to grant rights to trees, the trees would not be able to reciprocate the gesture. In short, trees cannot have rights, because trees cannot recognize rights.
What I’ve describe above is the social contract theory of rights, and it is grounded in the classical liberal political philosophy of John Locke. (Note: Classical liberalism should not be confused with the contemporary partisan label of “liberal”, which is commonly contrasted with “conservative”. Most conservative and liberal political discourse today take classical liberalism as the starting point.)
The classical liberal worldview is based on certain assumptions about the nature of human beings and society. In this view, the basic unit of existence is the individual. Individuals exist prior to their relationships. It is a kind of social atomism. According to Locke, society arises when individuals form a social contract wherein they recognize the rights of one another. This can happen implicitly, even unconsciously, or explicitly, through constitutions and laws.
In the classical liberal view of society, other human beings are perceived primarily as obstacles to the individual’s freedom. Individuals enter into the social contract out of necessity, in order to escape the “state of nature”, the war of all against all. Through the social contract, an individual agrees to recognize the rights of others in exchange for a corresponding agreement that others will recognize their rights. This recognition of the rights of others is given begrudgingly, as it were. This is, at its core, an adversarial, rather than a cooperative, view of society.
The purpose of government, in classical liberal view, then, is to enforce this social contract. It serves primarily a negative function–preventing individuals from infringing on the rights of others. The danger of government, in the classical liberal view, is that it will overstep its bounds and begin imposing obligations or duties on individuals.
In order to enter into a contact, a person has to be legally “competent”. This means that they have to be an adult and of “sound mind”. It also means, though it is usually implied, that they have to be a human being. In the classical liberal view, trees cannot have rights. Trees cannot contract with human beings, so trees cannot be part of the social contract. Human beings don’t recognize the rights of trees, because trees cannot recognize the rights of human beings.
The Air that I Breathe
This is the view of rights that I was indoctrinated with, from childhood on. It is why I had so much trouble understanding animism and the animistic conception of personhood.
I was raised by Reaganites, in a religion (Mormonism) which viewed voting Democrat as tantamount to apostasy. I went to a conservative religious university (Brigham Young University), where I was spoon-fed the theories of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, who inspired the growth of neoliberalism in the late 20th century, the notion that all social problems should be solved through laissez-faire capitalism.
I then went on to law school. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, the standard law school curriculum is deeply rooted in the classical liberal paradigm. Just look at the required substantive courses for first year law students: torts (injury to person or property), contacts, property, constitutional law, criminal law. This curriculum takes for granted the concepts of individual liberty, personal property, the right to contract, limited government, and the state’s monopoly on use of force–the basic tenets of classical liberalism.
But even if I hadn’t been raised in a conservative family and religion and then gone to law school, I would still have absorbed the classical liberal worldview from the American cultural milieu. It’s pervasive–from the public school curriculum to NPR. It’s the political air that we breathe today. And though we take it for granted, the classical liberal paradigm has very real consequences, both for the other-than-human beings who inhabit our shared world, as well as for many human beings who have been categorized as less than fully human at one time or another.
“Natural rights is simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptible rights, rhetorical nonsense — nonsense upon stilts.” — Jeremy Bentham
The classical liberal understanding of rights is justified in terms of so-called “natural rights”, a reference not to nature, but to what philosophers called the “state of nature”, the imagined state of human beings prior to the advent of society.
Natural rights were originally said to derive from human beings’ purported special relationship with the divine Creator–specifically Yahweh of Judeo-Christian scripture. This is significant, because Yahweh is god of divisions, and the nature of the deity determined the nature of the rights at issue. Unlike the dying-and-reviving vegetation gods he supplanted, Yahweh believed himself to be separate from nature. Creation, in first chapter of Genesis, is also described as a process of separation: light from dark, sky from sea, etc.
Similarly, the natural state of human beings, as describe in the book of Genesis, is also one of separation. Human beings enter the world as individuals, not as a community. We are then separated from God and “fall” into the natural world, which is not our real home. Human beings can overcome the separation from God and escape nature by entering into a covenant–a contract–with Yahweh. All of the basic elements of Locke’s social contract theory can be found here: the special nature of human being, the separation of human beings from each other and from nature, and the formation of society through through voluntary contracts.
As society became secularized, so did the justification for rights. But belief in the supposedly unique nature of human beings remained among humanists. Human beings, we are told, are born with “unalienable rights”. The “self-evident” character of these rights depends upon a belief in humankind’s exceptionalism. As evolutionary biology has chipped away at the belief in our exceptionalism, the justification for natural rights been weakened. If human beings aren’t special, just one species among millions, then where do our special rights come from?
Not only is natural rights theory weak philosophically, when we look at history, it’s revealed to be a farce–a facade for the exercise of power. Humans who have had the power to do so have always withheld so-called “natural rights” from certain classes of human beings: usually including women, people of color, and LGBT folk.
Personhood and natural rights exist in a tautological relationship. We define a person as a being that has rights, and then we extend rights only to those whom we recognize as persons. As Christopher Stone explained in his 1972 law review article, “Should Trees Have Standing?”, “Until the rightless thing receives its rights, we cannot see it as anything but a thing for the use of ‘us’ — those who are holding rights at the time.” As a result, people with power can grant rights to anyone or anything they want, and they can withhold rights from anyone or anything, as well. This is why human societies can, for example, extend rights to corporations, while denying rights to people of color.
When we ground rights in social contract theory, human beings will tend recognize the rights of only two classes of people: (1) those that appear like themselves and (2) those who have power. We recognize the rights of those that are like us, because it is logically consistent with our desire that our own rights be recognized. And we recognize the rights of those in power, in the hopes that they will recognize our own rights. Hence, we tend to be blind to the rights of those who are different and/or have little or no power. Trees, for example, are other-than-human and have no political power. So human beings have no reason to recognize the rights of trees–at least as long as rights are based in the social contract.
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness More Property
Historically, political rights in the West have been connected to property ownership. While Jefferson invoked the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, Locke, who had inspired Jefferson, wrote about the rights to “life, liberty, and property“. Four years before the Declaration of Independence was signed, Samuel Adams wrote, in “The Rights of the Colonists,” “Among the natural rights of the Colonists are these: First, a right to life; Secondly, to liberty; Thirdly, to property.” And shortly before the Declaration of Independence was signed, the Virginia Declaration of Rights recognized the rights to the “enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”
Rights were first extended to property owners–nobles, and then landed gentry–and those property owners sought to extend those rights as a way of protecting their property. The rallying cry of the American Revolution, “No taxation without representation,” was the cry of White male property owners–not Native Americans, slaves, women, or unlanded men. Given the close connection of rights and property in history, it should come as no surprise that, today, the freedom of the market has trumped all other freedoms, and the right to acquire property has trumped all other rights.
This is important for understanding why rights are withheld from some classes of people. If people are beings who have rights, and property rights are preeminent among rights, then people, it may be said, are beings who own property. Anything or anyone that is not a person, is therefore property, and anyone who does not own property, is not a person. Enslaved people, for example, were considered to be things that were owned, not people that owned things, so it made no sense for slaves to have rights. The same was true of women and children for a long time–if a woman was raped or if child was killed, it was the father or husband who had a legal right to sue, and the nature of the suit was damage to property, not injury to person.
Similarly, trees today are considered to be things that are owned, not persons who own things. Therefore, they cannot have rights. While property ownership was eventually extended to former slaves, it is difficult to imagine how a tree might ever be said to own property. As a result, it’s unlikely rights will ever be extended to trees, so long as we are operating within the classical liberal view of rights.
Blue Rights, Negative Rights
In the 1970s, the Czech jurist, Karel Vasak, described three “generations” of rights–later called “blue,” “red,” and “green” rights. In this section, I’ll discuss the first two–blue and red rights.
Blue rights are “negative” rights, the right to pursue one’s own self-interest without interference from other people or from government–essentially, your right to be left alone. These include political rights like freedom of speech and the freedom to contract and to acquire (more) property.
Red rights refer to “positive” rights. Rather than the freedom from interference, they represent a person’s entitlement to something, Red rights create the obligations of others to you and you to them. These include economic and social rights, like the right to employment, housing, health care, and social security.
Negative rights are often described as protecting “freedom from” something, whereas positive rights are described as protecting “freedom to” do something. This can be misleading, though. In one sense, negative rights may be thought of as embodying a person’s “freedom from”, i.e., freedom from interference by others. In another sense, negative rights may be thought of as a “freedoms to”, i.e., freedom to speak, to exercise religion, and to acquire property–in the space left by the non-interference of other people and government. Similarly, positive rights can be thought of as freedoms to, i.e., freedom to work, obtain heath care, acquire an education, etc., but also as freedoms from, i.e., freedom from want, fear, ignorance, etc., which result from work, health care, education, and so on.
The classical liberal view lends itself to the recognition of negative rights, but not positive rights . Prior to the New Deal, most Americans understood rights primarily in negative terms. The role of government was to keep people from interfering with other people’s person or property. Social Darwinism was the prevailing social theory and laissez-faire capitalism, which touted competition over cooperation, was the prevailing economic theory. Little wonder, then, that an adversarial theory of rights would dominate public discourse.
The United States’ Bill of Rights is an example of negative rights. Though many Americans today speak of the First Amendment as securing their “freedom of speech”, i.e., the freedom to speak, the First Amendment actually freedom from government abridging speech. This is a negative right, not a positive one. It is freedom from government interference which the First Amendment protects, and it is only the freedom to speak in the space created by the absence of government interference.
Red Right, Positive Rights
Red (positive) rights came to be more recognized through the efforts of FDR. In his 1941 State of the Union address, Roosevelt proposed that people everywhere should enjoy the freedom of speech and worship (blue rights), to which he added freedom from want and fear (red rights). Two years later, in his 1941 State of the Union address, he stated that the political rights identified in the Bill of Rights were “inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness,” because “true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security”. Roosevelt identified several red rights, among them:
The right to job
The right to earn enough for adequate food, clothing, and recreation
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.
These are rights which would be incomprehensible for someone operating wholly within the context of a classical liberal paradigm. The reason is this–from the perspective of classical liberalism, you cannot recognize a red or positive right of one person without creating a corresponding obligation or duty on another person to fulfill that right, and when you create such an obligation, you violate the second person’s blue or negative rights. Where there is a conflict between positive and negative rights, classical liberalism demands that the negative right trump the positive right. Classical liberalism favors negative rights because it takes for granted that free human beings exist prior to forming social relationships.
To use an example from recent news, according to the classical liberal, you cannot guarantee a LGBT’s person’s right to purchase a wedding cake at a particular establishment, without violating the wedding cake maker’s right to be free from indirect participation in LGBT weddings. When conservatives today make this argument, unfortunately many progressives have difficulty articulate a refutation, because they too are starting with classical liberal assumptions.
To contemporary liberals and conservatives alike, the wedding cake case is simply a question of deciding whose rights to give preference to: the LGBT customer’s right to be free from discrimination or the wedding cake maker’s free exercise of his religion. Progressives tend to give preference to the freedom from discrimination over the freedom of religious expression, so they will usually favor the rights of the LGBT customer. But they don’t really question the classical liberal assumptions behind the choice. When we begin with the classical liberal assumption that human beings exist prior to their relationships, then it is difficult to defense the choice of the LGBT customer’s rights over the rights of the wedding cake maker in a principled way.
Rights of Individuals-in-Community
But that is not the only way to see the world. Rather than trying to defend positive (red) rights in the individualistic terms of the classical liberal paradigm, we can start with a more communitarian4 or holistic paradigm. Rather than seeing the individuals as existing prior to society, a holistic view sees society as constitutive of individuals.
We are born into community, and we work out our individual identity through our relationships with other human beings and with the more-than-human world. There’s no such thing as “state of nature”, in which human beings lived before forming social relationships. We born into relation and there is no way to opt-out. In short, individuals do not exist apart from their relationships.
Therefore, there is no such thing as “natural rights”. Rights are social constructions, and they only can be created in society. And they always create corresponding obligations on other people. Rather than separating people, as the classical liberal imagines, rights bind people together, into communities. (This seems to be the view taken by Kadmus in his article here, entitled “Nature’s Rights”.) In this view, a person who has liberty, but no community, can hardly be called a person.
A person only really has freedom if the material and social conditions are present for them to exercise that freedom. We cannot can really pursue happiness without food, education, work, health care, etc. What use is it to tell a person they are free to fish if they don’t have a fishing pole or the knowledge of how to use it? As Adlai Stevenson succinctly put it, “A hungry man is not a free man.” Or, as someone said in the documentary Whose Streets? (about the Ferguson rebellion), “If you can’t read, you’re a slave.”
The goal of rights, in this perspective, is not primarily to protect the atomistic individual from other people, but to enable individuals to realize their potential together, through community. This does not mean that positive (red) rights will always trump negative (blue) rights, but if all other things are equal, then positive rights will be given greater weight, because negative rights are a function of positive rights.
This is not to say that community takes precedence over individuals. Red rights are still individual rights, not communal rights; but they are rights of individuals-in-community. In this holistic view, rights arise, not from the nature of the solitary individual, but from the nature of the individual in society. The ability of people to exercise their liberties depends on other people.
Recall that the classical liberal understanding of rights was rooted in the desire of capitalists to protect their property (and acquire more). But the capitalist’s ability to acquire more property is only made possible through the labor of others (which is exploited). What’s more, the capitalist’s profits depend upon infrastructure, markets, and so on, which are built by other people’s hands. While the capitalist may pay taxes, the taxes any single capitalist pays would be insufficient to create the infrastructure that capitalist needs. In short, they need other people.
As then-candidate for Senate, Elizabeth Warren, explained in 2011:
“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own—nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for.”
Let Them Eat Wedding Cake
Let’s apply this perspective to the case of the wedding cake maker and the LGBT customer. Rather than starting with two separate individuals with competing rights claims, we start with two individuals who are part of a larger community. The wedding cake maker’s demand for “freedom from interference” in the exercise of their religion makes less sense when looked at from this more holistic perspective. As much as the wedding cake maker might want to deny it, they are already in community with the LGBT customer, even before the customer walks through the door.
To begin with, even if the wedding cake maker does not have employees, they nevertheless did not build their business on their own. Their business was created within a community that provides roads for delivery of cake ingredients, police to maintain a safe marketplace, and so on. Maybe the LGBT customer was even one of the people that helped build those roads or a police officer patrolling the neighborhood of the wedding cake business.
What’s more, the wedding cake maker’s right to exercise their religion in public spaces5 is only possible in the context of a culture of tolerance which is created and maintained by the community. The wedding cake maker only has freedom to exercise their religion, if they are if they arefree from fear of discrimination from others. It is hypocritical, therefore, for the cake maker to insist on his freedom from one type of discrimination, while insisting on the right to discriminate against others on other grounds. So, the rights of the LGBT customer should trump those of the wedding cake maker in that case.
“Environmental law is failing. And it will continue to fail because it comes from the same paradigm that created the problem.” — Mumta Ito
At this point, I would forgive the reader for having lost sight of tree persons that I started this essay with, but I intend now to return to them. Blue rights and red rights only apply to human beings, but Karel Vasak described three kinds of rights. So far, we have only talked about two. The third kind of rights is “green rights.” Vasek’s divisions corresponded roughly to the three words of the French motto: “liberty, equality, and fraternity.” Green rights extend both blue and red rights to other-than-human beings and ecosystems, recognizing our “fraternity”–or “kinship” to use a non-patriarchal term–with the other-than-human inhabitants of our world.
The justification for extending rights to other-than-human beings is consistent with the logic of red rights, but simply recognizes that the community of which we are a part includes the more-than-human world–in fact, there’s much more of them than there are of us: hedgehog persons, salmon persons, rock persons, mushroom persons, tree persons and so on. To borrow from Aldo Leopold’s description of the “land ethic”, green rights “simply enlarge the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.”
Recall that red rights were justified by pointing out that the capitalist’s freedom to acquire more property is only made possible through the (exploited) labor of others. And their business relies upon public goods for which they did not pay, like roads. But the capitalist’s freedom is also only made possible through the (even more exploited) natural world: air, water, soil, and the other-than-human beings who inhabit it. The roads upon which the capitalist relies run through land that used to be (and may still be) occupied by streams and prairies and inhabited by myriad living beings. And both the roads and the goods which the business produces are made from materials which come from the natural world.
Mumta It, founder of the NGO, Nature’s Rights, observes that the classical liberal political paradigm is based on a 17th century scientific paradigm–not surprising since Locke lived in the 17th century–which she describes as:
mechanistic (i.e., viewing the world as made up of separate, unconnected objects interacting in a predicable way);
anthropocentric (i.e., viewing the world as existing solely for the use of human beings – this is where ideas about ‘natural resources’ and ‘natural capital’ derive, basing nature’s value on its utility to humanity rather than on its intrinsic value); and
adversarial (competitive/retributive model, where one party wins at the expense of another)
In contrast, the holistic perspective is an ecological view of rights. Unlike more reductive forms of biology, ecology seeks to understand organisms in context of their relationships. The environment is not a backdrop to individual action, but a web of relations that constitute the individual. Therefore, an ecological view of rights is one which views worlds as interconnected, biocentric, and cooperative, rather than mechanistic, anthropocentic, and adversarial.
In the classical liberal view, based on social contract theory, people only have a motivation to recognize the rights of other who or like them (or those who have greater power than them). In the holistic view, based on ecology, people would recognize the rights of those with whom they are in relationship. And since we are ultimately in relationship with everyone, people would recognize the rights of every person and every thing–in fact, every thing would be recognized as a person, which is the foundation of an animistic worldview.
There are only a few examples of green rights in existence, but there appears to be a trend (albeit limited in scope so far) toward recognizing the rights of nature:
In 2008, the Ecuadorian constitution, recognized the right of nature (or “Pacha Mama”) to “integral respect for its existence and for the maintenance and regeneration of its life cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes.” Among other obligations, the constitution required the state to apply preventive and restrictive measures on activities that might lead to the extinction of species, the destruction of ecosystems and the permanent alteration of natural cycles.
In 2010, Bolivia passed the “Law of the Rights of Mother Earth” (Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra), which recognizes Mother Earth as a “collective interest” which includes all its component communities, human and other-than. The law recognizes the rights of Mother Earth to life, diversity of life, equilibrium, clean water, clean air, pollution-free life, and restoration where living systems have been affected by human activities. The law also imposes duties on the state and on the people to realize these rights.
In 2016, a court in Colombia recognized the rights of the Atrato River basin. In negotiations with an indigenous Maori tribe of New Zealand, the government recognized the Te Urewera National Park and the Whanganui River as legal persons in 2014 and 2017, respectively. This was followed by the Indian court recognizing the personhood of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers in 2017. Several municipalities in the United States have also recognized the rights of nature, beginning with Tamaqua Borough, in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania in 2006.
Blue rights, red rights, and green rights are not equivalent and competing kinds of rights. Nor are they exactly hierarchical. Red (positive) rights, in a sense, encompass blue (negative) rights, because the latter are only possible in the context of the former, just as the individual only exists in the context of society.
Similarly, blue and red rights are encompassed within green rights, because both individuals and human communities only exist within the context the natural world–the former could not exist without the latter. To look at it another way, individual human beings cannot harm their human community without harming themselves, and likewise, a human community cannot harm the more-than-human community without also harming itself.
We can think of blue, red, and green rights as nestled within each other, as depicted in the image on the right in diagram below.
Mumta Ito has written about two model of sustainability and the relationship between nature, human society, and the economy using a similar diagram:
“The diagram on the left is the usual model for sustainability. The problem with this model is that it assumes that each circle can exist independently of the others. In reality the only one that can exist without the others – is nature.
The diagram on the right is therefore more accurate. It shows a natural hierarchy of systems because without nature there’s no people and without people there’s no economy.
This then leads to a natural hierarchy of rights with nature’s rights as our most fundamental rights because our life depends on it, then human rights as a subsystem of nature’s rights – and then property or corporate rights as a subsystem of human rights.
In the model on the right, the rights are in service of each other rather than in conflict – working synergistically to protect the integrity of the whole. In this model human activities have to be beneficial for humans as well as nature – or its not viable in the long run.”
Therefore, rather than attempting to balancing the interests of individual humans, human society, and the environment, as if they were equal and competing, the holistic model of rights acknowledges that blue rights are derivative of red rights and that both blue and red rights are derivative of green rights. This does not mean that green rights will trump blue rights in every instance, but it would mean that, all other things being equal–a caveat which conceals a great deal of nuance–green rights would be given greater weight than red or blue rights.
“The Rights of Nature”
The holistic view of rights, in contrast to classical liberalism, provides a basis for recognizing the rights of nature. To say that other-than-human beings should have rights, though, is not to say that no one should be allowed to cut down a tree. Human beings have rights, but they can be incarcerated and even executed under the law. So rights can recognized, and yet withdrawn under some circumstances.
Nor does it say what kind of rights would be extended to the more-than-human world. Not every right holder holds all rights. Corporations have the right to contract, but they cannot plead the Fifth. Children have certain rights, but not the right to vote.
Nor does it say anything about the weight to be given those rights in any given case. U.S. law recognizes that humans have a right to life and also a right to a driver’s license (at least adults). But we can be legally deprived of the latter much easier than the former.
Answering these questions is beyond the scope of this essay. But, following Christopher Stone, I would propose that an acknowledgement of the rights of nature would, at a minimum, mean that other-than-human beings have legal standing in human courts, beyond any public or private human interest in them. So, in the case of Mineral King Valley, discussed above, the caption of the lawsuit would indeed, as Justice Douglas proposed, read “Mineral King Valley v. Morton”.
Merely recognizing such a thing as the “rights of nature” would be profound. In The Wizard and the Prophet, Charles Mann writes about how, in 1948, with the publication of Road to Survival, William Vogt introduced the world to the idea of “the environment”, not just as a particular place, but as a global totality: “Defining a word on a new sense seems academic and abstract,” writes Mann, but its consequences are not. Until something has a name, it can’t be discussed or acted upon it. … Without ‘the environment,’ there would be no environmental movement.”
The same, it could be hoped, would be true of the “rights of nature”. As Christopher Stone observed,
“Introducing the notion of something having a ‘right’ (simply speaking that way), brings into the legal system a flexibility and open-endedness … [T]he vocabulary and expressions that are available to us influence and even steer our thought. …[J]udges who could unabashedley refer to the ‘legal rights of the environment’ would be encouraged to develop a viable body of law–in part simply through the availability and force of the expression. Besides, such a manner of speaking by courts would contribute to popular notions, and a society that spoke of the ‘legal rights of the environment’ would be inclined to legislate for environment-protecting rules …”
It is not impossible that general acceptance of the phrase, “the rights of nature”, could trigger a paradigm shift in Western consciousness, a shift from viewing nature instrumentally–as having value only for humans–to viewing nature as inherently valuable–as having value in its own right. And that could have profound consequences for human behavior and our impact on the more-than-human world.
But who would speak for the rights of nature in human courts? To answer this, I would return to Justice Douglas’ idea that a spokesperson for the rights of other-than-human beings should have a “intimate relation” with those beings. And who better to fill that function than those human beings who already recognize the personhood of those beings–animists!
Who better to speak for nature in human courts that those humans who not only see, but cherish, their own relationships with the more-than human world and the beings who inhabit it? Perhaps, rather than the Sierra Club or a regulatory agency that has been co-opted by industry, nature would be better represented by a kind of legally-recognized priesthood. I leave it to people more imaginative than me to work out what such a world might look like.
2 It’s worth noting that Douglas did not propose granting rights to the fish, aquatic insects, water ouzels, etc., but to a “living symbol” of the ecosystem which included them.
3 There are governmental bodies that are tasked with acting as nature’s guardians, but their history inspires even more skepticism about the ability of humans to speak for nature. Justice Douglas himself observed how regulatory agencies come to be captured by the industries they are supposed to regulate. For example, “The Forest Service — one of the federal agencies behind the scheme to despoil Mineral King — has been notorious for its alignment with lumber companies.” Ironic, then, that he would propose a logger as a spokesperson for Mineral King.
4 Unfortunately, the word “communitarianism” has acquired the status of an epithet in contemporary American culture, so deeply have we drunk from the well of classical liberalism. This is true of many words which share common roots with the word “community”, like “commune”, “communal”, “communalism”, and of course, “communism”.
5 While the theoretical wedding cake business is on “private” property, it is open to the public, and therefore a public space, to my mind.