Sunday, October 26, 2008

Visual Hybridity

Apparently not everyone gets or agrees with the social construction of race. There are still people who are shocked when they find out that there's no biological basis for our racial categories whatsoever. These interesting photographs illustrate how we construct the race of people of blended heritage. All via Sociological Images.

First, the image on the right is of little Barack Obama with his grandfather (Stanley Dunham) who looks remarkably like the picture on the left of the adult Obama (although the picture looks slightly stretched to me).
Obama, to my eye, is the spitting image of his grandfather. Yet, we see Obama and Dunham as separate races, members of two categories we see as diametrically opposed, even biologically distinct. <rest>

Then this photo project makes us question how we assign racial or ethnic categories by providing faces that are difficult to categorize.
This project consists of a series of 16 color portraits of people of mixed ethnic origin in front of primary color backgrounds. The images challenge the concept of race by highlighting the disparity between the stark natural boundaries between the primary colors, and the ambiguous and artificial, yet commonly accepted boundaries between the different races. This project asks the viewer to question the existence of race in nature.

The aim of the portraits is to strip our idea of race down to its elements. It is in this nakedness that the viewer watches the races literally dissolve in front of their face like so many moth-eaten clothes. The tone is neither confrontational nor ironic, but rather unassuming in its directness

Finally, this story of fraternal twins - one "white" and one "black". Well, actually both are of mixed race, as are their parents. Over at SI, she uses this example "to illustrate how skin color (which is real) is translated into categorical racial categories (which are not)."

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Anti-Capitalist, Anti-statist Goals and Strategies

It should be quite obvious, but apparently it’s not, that we can’t devise an anarchist revolutionary strategy until we have a clear idea of what it is we’re trying to achieve.

Regrettably, there has been a vigorous ban on thinking about the future society we want[...]

This lack of attention to the goal is a tragedy, because although it’s true that we live in potentially calamitous times, what with peak oil, climate warming, and the more general crisis of capitalism, we also live in exciting times. A window of opportunity has opened up to create at long last a decentered world, without capitalism, states, or god, a world of democratic autonomous communities.

There are at least two important reasons for this opening. One is the near total collapse of the prevailing social philosophies which have underpinned capitalism to date. Conservatism is dead, as is liberalism... Neoliberalism this second time around through these past forty years has exposed as probably nothing else could have the absolutely destructive, vicious, murderous, immoral, and insane nature of the practices of capitalists.

A second and perhaps more important reason for this historical opening is the possible demise of capitalism itself. At least one eminent anti-capitalist scholar, Immanuel Wallerstein, believes that world capitalism has reached its limits, and faces structural restraints that it will not be able to overcome. He believes we are entering a period of chaos, a time of transition between capitalism and whatever comes next. Whether he is right or not I guess only time will tell.

But at the very least, we know that the century of the USAmerican Empire is coming to an end, and that even if capitalism survives there will be a period of confusion before a new hegemon can establish itself.
Fortunately for us, anarchy, humanity, and the world, many anarchists pretty much ignored the ban on imagining the future.
Actually then, we are not in trouble at all as regards the goal. There is no reason for us to be confused or apologetic about what we want. There is a solid historical consensus on what we want. We want to get the ruling classes off our backs. We don’t want to be exploited or alienated. We don’t want to be slaves. We want to be a self-governing people, free and autonomous.
There is great power in social organization. Revolution means rearranging ourselves socially.... These social forms [e.g.assemblies, cooperatives] will enable us to escape wage-slavery and embed ourselves instead in cooperative labor. They will enable us to get out of commodity markets and build a world based on mutual aid and gift giving. They will enable us to become a self-governing people, free and autonomous in our local communities, and to establish an association of such communities. This is a plausible, realistic strategy.

You see, it is not enough to seize the means of production. We must take all decision making away from the capitalist ruling class and relocate it into our assemblies. To do so we must shift the focus of our attention to these three strategic sites [neighbourhood, workplace, household], and away from protest politics, identity politics, labor unions, and single issue campaigns, which are not getting us very far toward defeating capitalists and establishing anarchy.

What I like about this particular liberatory anti-statist approach is that it works in the interstices, something talked about more and more these days as the vast juggernauts of states and transnational corporations seem impossible to affect. Not to mention they are the only thing we know at the moment - you can't destroy a company someone works for or the state that pays their social security and expect them to be grateful! We need to create positive alternatives, and we need to make sure our movements practice deeply democratic egalitarian principles.

Although I don't agree with abandoning more-or-less failed strategies like electoral politics, identity politics, marches and rallies etc. (I think they do serve an important purpose) I definitely agree it important to connect movements, and work on alternative strategies. Read the rest of this interesting article by James Herod

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Illusion of Independence - A Rambleogue

More than ever I am convinced that Marx (and others, including many feminist thinkers) have been right when they remind us that humans are quintessentially social. We require community, in the most robust sense of the word, and human nature can only be understood relationally. Indeed, without living in community, can we even truly be called human?

Thrown out alone in the wilderness, the human individual can only last so long, even though the body might survive (survival is possible, though very difficult without shared resources as a sort of insurance, until the day you get too old, sick, or otherwise weakened to provide food and water for yourself). But in order to express our humanity, do we not need other people? Is this not why solitary confinement is such a harsh punishment?

We tend to forget this, and think of ourselves first and foremost as autonomous individuals, who choose to live in relation with others. Capitalism fosters this illusion, its forces trying to make us into competitive individuals, "free" from societal constraints as much as possible. In this view, freedom follows a consumption model of choice - freedom means choosing how to spend our dollar, or with whom we spend our time. The end result is often shallow relationships, a sense of restlessness, alienation, loneliness and unhappiness. (Despite this, we often do manage to have deep and abiding and satisfying relationships, which is a testament to just how unnatural the absolute individualist model is.)

In fact, I would say the only reason we are able to hold the illusion of our autonomous individuality is because of the protections and comforts our wider society affords. It provides for us many of the things that a small community once might have. So many fundamental shared institutions underwrite our individual activities. Without infrastructure, a measure of security and stability, relative agreement about social norms, regulation of some aspects of industry etc we could not live a life that seems independent and autonomous. And yet precisely because these things are simply there, taken for granted, largely provided by a faceless state or society, we tend to forget how much we depend on them. It is the communal wealth and social capital provided by the state and society that allows us to imagine we are independent, to forget our interdependence.

In some ways, the current financial crisis is driving home this exact point. When faced with an economy in crisis, the myth of the self-made man seems a little silly, doesn't it?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Liveblogging Debates

Yeah, I'm getting in on the action too...

So far, so good - nice pacing.

Checking the jobs stat that Harper threw out...

What's with Harper's blue lasers-for-eyes? Creepy the way he looks at his opponents while they talk.

I'm tired of Stevie lying about the Green Shift. I hope Canadians DO go and read it, as Harper recommended, so they can see it is revenue-freaking-neutral. I'm not even a Liberal supporter, but it's a pretty good plan.

Lizzie is a great addition. I don't agree with everything she's saying, but her input is very welcome. She is bringing in some really important facts.

And over in the USA, both VPs agree that same sex marriage is baaaaaaad.

The Gentlemen and Lady are making many good points. I certainly think the centre-leftists are "winning" though Harper is not doing too badly considering...

Good moderation. Nice work, Paikin (aside: I met him at a taping of The Agenda once and he's really tall)

blah blah blah - getting boring - complex issues don't always lend themselves well to 45 second politicking.

It's been like the superbowl, just missing a halftime show. Maybe next election

Blame the Poor (and the minorities, and social justice movements) for the Financial Crisis

Did you know the current financial crisis is the fault of poor (which means lazy and immoral) Americans and brown and black people. Not only them, but evil socialist Carter and Clinton and probably Obama, too. ... whaaaa?

Have you noticed recently everywhere you look, someone is blaming visible minorities and the poor (or organizations and governments that support them)? New talking point starting to catch on? (Too many people listening to Neil Cavuto: "Loaning to minorities and risky folks is a disaster."?) Every online article - even in Canada - has at least one comment now to that effect. Just today:

The Star - top of second page:
The Democrats, over the years, in their zeal for social interventions created the perfect storm and then failed to step up when it hit. Their policies, especially Clinton's threats to banks over "discriminatory banking" paved the way for the "poor" to get mortgages that a free market would have never permitted. This caused as housing bubble they resulted in many people paying inflated prices for housing. When questioned about this practice the Democrats threw up charges as ridiculous as racism (many unqualified mortgage holders were minorities) and refused to listen or investigate the concerns. This bit of social engineering by bullying the free market has done a lot of damage. Perhaps voters will pay attention to political parties who will damage economies to push their socialist goals. There is only so much money available for social programs and the economy can't be pillaged to find more. The Democrats control the House and they must find a solution acceptable to enough Democrats.

CBC: comment on 10/2/2008 9:04 AM EDT
One of the major 'stories' I see missing in all this coverage is how we wound up here in the first place. Wall Street, lenders and banks get blamed but no one examines how or why they were able to 'set up' the subprime mess.

Answer? Go back to Jimmy Carter in 1977 and the Community Reinvestment Act which essentially forced banks to make loans to people without sufficient credit history to warrant loans under regular credit terms.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were set up to essentially guarantee those poor quality loans which gave the incentive to make more loans. Banks were also mandated to provide those loans and were graded on the number of subprime loans they made. They could be penalized if they didn't make subprime loans.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac became safe havens for US Democrats who insulated themselves from regulatory oversight thanks to Clinton and other powerful US democrats. Obama has represented a radical group (ACORN) in court to press for subprime loans.

In short, capitalism, traders, investors are not to blame for this mess, look instead to naive pandering socialists and their pie-in-the-sky legislation.

Interesting that everyone is blaming Bush (who tried something like 17 times to reign in Fannie and Freddie but was fought by the same 'senators' screeching so loudly today) and Conservatives for a Democratic mess that they set up, perpetuated and protected.

Not that I think Clinton's policies were so great - mostly because they were too similar to the Republicans' - but to blame this crisis on the Community Reinvestment Act and the people it helped is ridiculous, not to mention false:
The CRA just affected banks and thrifts, which are regulated. 'The heart of the crisis was caused by unregulated and lightly regulated mortgage brokers and independent mortgage bankers and affiliates that are not subject to the CRA,' says law professor Michael Barr.

A good round-up of the debunking here: 11 Racist Lies Conservatives Tell to Avoid Blaming Wall Street for the Financial Crisis

So, aside from the fact that their argument is false, why does this matter?
One could certainly oppose the CRA on principle. But simply shoe-horning that argument into the current crisis connects the argument with an ugly, ugly history. One of the most disturbing aspects of racism is how whites have historically used the black community as a kind of sin-eater for their own moral shortcomings. So post-slavery, even as sexual assaults on black women were virtually never prosecuted or punished, whites concocted the myth of the rapacious, sex-crazed black ogre and organized mass lynchings to purge themselves of the beast. Of course they were really purging themselves of their own guilt. So today as we pay the price for becoming overconsumers, we now hear voices telling us that the real problem is that the niggers and spics are overconsumers. It is from the conservative disciples of the same people who historically defended southern white thuggery that we get this novel theory. It's hard to not wheel around and hurl large objects across long living rooms when faced with such brazen displays of cowardice, and blatant punk-assness. But as I've said, it's best not to dwell on these people. At night, when no one is around, they know who they are. And now, so do we.<Ta-Nehisi Coates>