Continued from last post . . . Maybe now you can see why Laurie Penny’s ideas have so quickly become so important to my own projects. From my own position as a blogger with a small following, respectable pageview numbers, and a couple of books either out or on the way out, I’m trying to help change the world through my ideas.
I’m not as successful as Penny, of course, because I spent my 20s in graduate school and she spent it hustling journalism. Also, I don’t think I would have done as well as she has, or even been able to formulate the ideas I have if I hadn’t taken the path that I did.
|I'm calling it right now: Wollstonecraft, de Beauvoir,
Steinem, Cixous, Penny. She goes on the list.
I started my life as a pretty blinkered guy who thought that status quo was generally alright, and I’m becoming increasingly radical in my political beliefs as I get older. It’s supposed to run in the opposite direction, with youthful, naive radicalism calming down into an oppressive conservatism. The voice that asks contemptuously why you weren’t able to buy a house when you were 25 because I did in 1974.
But if we think that’s the voice of everyone in the previous generation, then we’re just playing into the hands of people who want to profit from the destruction of welfare state institutions. If a young person struggling with debt and wages they can barely live on sees a senior in poverty and spits in their face, “Now you know what it feels like, old man!” . . . Well, I don’t want to become that person.
I don’t want to become that person for the same reason I couldn’t let myself become a man who hates women and thinks that feminists want to torture men. Not just because it’s based on a lie, but because giving in to spite, anger, and revenge is the expression of weakness.
It’s easy to deal with difficulties by hating the ones who had it easier than you did. The most difficult path of understanding and empathy is the more noble one, and it says a lot about humanity that we’re so hateful and resentful a species. It’s in this sense that I think Penny is very Nietzschean:* she understands that attitudes of resentment and hatred hold us back from progress as societies and as souls.
* Do ignore Nietzsche’s intense sexism. I do. Nietzsche himself tells you to ignore his sexism, as he sets off those passages in Beyond Good and Evil with an introduction that essentially says that his sexist beliefs are the most contemptible, resentful parts of his own personality, part of what makes him less than the ethical nobility he aspired to be. Would that we could all be so honest with and about ourselves.
|A dress that's making a new
activist in New Brunswick
every day. So some very
beneficial outrage for us all.
And as I’ve said, Penny understands the limits of anger. So much of the horrors in the everyday moments of modern life, especially the modern lives of women, find their genesis in systematic causes. When a harm is born from an intention, and the intention was itself the spontaneous genesis of the harm, then we have a reason for anger, revenge, and punishment.
But patriarchy is a concept which distills a massive system of gendered oppression of both women and men. Women are oppressed in all the ways that we now know are obvious: they are objectified into things whose only value is in how they please others, particularly men. Men are oppressed in being twisted into hateful, raging, abusive, violent beasts, taught to blame women for the violence of their own desires, which only makes them even more violent toward women.
A morality of retribution, of punishment for wrongs committed, is not appropriate to deal with patriarchy in this sense. We are all complicit in the socialization of gendered oppression, and we can’t punish everyone in society. Fighting systematic injustice requires healing, not punishment and revenge. When you have to heal the entire world, only restorative and reparative models of justice will work.
Advocating for the reality of systemic causation is the ontological and epistemological aspect of the current fight against new liberal ideology. My own government in Canada, the Conservative Party of Stephen Harper, is the most pure embodiment of new liberal thinking I’ve ever seen, and that I think the world has ever seen.
The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs recently said in Parliament, completely believing his own words, that when an Aboriginal woman is murdered, it is simply an isolated crime, and that when an Aboriginal teenager commits suicide, it is simply an isolated failure of a single family. This is an example of the refusal to see systemic causation.
The politics of restoration, healing, and love as community organizing within flexible social networks is the endpoint of my giant work of political philosophy in progress, the Utopias project. It’s the set of principles that we have to pick up going forward if we’re going to fight and defeat the injustices of our own era.
And I’m not delivering this from some lofty position. Then I’d just be one more cis-gendered straight white man with an awesome beard authoritatively telling people how to fight authority.
Laurie Penny has arrived at the same organized anarchism of healing in love through the mess of her own experiences as a journalist and activist, wandering like a vagabond Doctor through the marginalized places of our society and describing them to the safely housed masses.
That she and I have come to such similar ideas through our very different paths and methods is a sign that my own thinking and writing can, in some small way, help articulate a revolutionary idea that is already in the popular consciousness. Maybe I can wake a few people up, or at least nudge them a little bit more, into changing how they conceive themselves and their lives, and changing how they live and treat people accordingly.
That is what philosophy is for. I find it a little awkward writing about my contemporary as a research source. My education was in philosophy, a tradition of old white dudes stretching back centuries. But philosophy at its best has this uncanny power to change the world through thinking and writing, the influence of ideas to enlighten. In speaking with this highest power, Laurie Penny has shown herself to be a great philosopher.