Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Places of privilege

The rhetoric of identity politics is debilitating. As both Peter Gelderloos and David Graeber point out, the issue with identity politics is that its rhetoric tends to crush possibilities. For instance, the result of theoretical identity politics upon the possibilities set forward by the desires of the Zapatistas was one of denial. Being Maya originally, identity politics suggests that they could only assert the right to continue to be Mayan or to be recognized as Mayan. “But for a Maya to say something to the world that was not simply a comment on the own Maya-ness would be inconceivable" (See Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology 68). Gelderloos puts the problem succinctly by pointing out that the Authorities that lie behind the construction of the identity determine the possibilities that are permissible for those under the identity  (Lines in the Sand 6).

Given such a point of view it really isn’t any wonder that many white male anarchists cannot accept the labels being thrown their way. The incredulity that one might show here towards Meta-Narratives, a piece of good postmodern philosophy, is the greatest ally in rejecting the story of privilege. I am not a ruler; it wasn’t me that colonized indigenous people. But Gelderloos also notes, importantly, that meta-narratives help to make sense of one’s position in society (4). From this I can reason that I did have the luxury of a better education than most (although it was religious), and that my parents have managed to make a lot of money for themselves. Is it plausible to suppose that this has something to do with systematic privilege? Did blessings fall onto my parents because they are white? Is there supposed to be more to the story than that inference from generalizations? Simply casting this story as a story of systematic privilege does no justice to these objects; what does justice to those objects is what those objects contribute to the goodness of the fit. So the matter cannot be simple.  

This may be the reason for Gelderloos' remark that identities may be useful (for some purpose) but are "never valid" (ibid, 1). My ability to construct an identity for an other may be useful, but the persyns under the identity must determine the fit. So it's better for a person that does identify with an identity to determine the scope of the identitity. Of course, some believe that identities are unnecessary--that they must necessarily miss the point of what I am. 

Gelderloos' point is that Identity labels do not sit well, if one isn’t related to them in any experiential way. More succinctly, if one identifies with anarchism, if one feels it in their bones, then one cannot make sense of the idea that one is also part of the ruling class. Others may feel that a white anarchist has more privilege than others; but here we have an example of an Other constructing an invalid identity for an Other. While useful, such is never valid. So whatever story an anarchist thinks that I need to understand in order to understand systematic privilege, it may or may not be a story for me.
The purpose of an identity construction is to give a name to something that goes to work; but the conclusions of the work must be a matter of individual determination. However, in clarifying how these terms suit us, how they are justifiably applicable, we must not forget that identities have not been designed by us, but are rather a function of society and in particular the machine that we together hope to destroy. In short, they are functions of social (non-anarchist) parameters (an apparatus) and in using these terms we are the voice-pieces of Leviathan. Hence there is something wrong with the general belief that by relating an anarchist to a privation within non-anarchist society, it is likely that the functional term (male, say) will fit. In the very least, such explains why using terms that are prevalent within non-anarchist culture for persons within anarchist culture is often met with hostility and resistance. Such terms of Leviathan do not generally function as a part of an anarchist’s identity (if one has one).--Such terms are designed to hold-back, to make open possibilities seem impossible.

Obviously defining what one means by the term ‘male’ is part of the problematic. If it is a function of social parameters, in the voice of whomever, anarchism means I don’t have to take it seriously. If it is being used differently, it should come as no surprise that the definition will be contested because now we are talking about how I am to be identified. If anarchism has any virtues, surely they include self-determination. So you can bet that anarchism means that I will have something to say about my resultant, relevant, identity.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Most vegans are douche-bags!

Gelderloos' piece

on veganism as a consumer choice is bang-on. However, a number of his arguments deserve a response if only for the purposes of correct thought on the matter. I worry that anarchists might read his text as an excuse for eating meat--as though hierarchy as such ought to be tolerated in anarchist circles. Before we get to the heart of the matter, it would seem that there are two qualifications that require clarification. On the one hand, Gelderloos claims that he does not purchase meat in any way--that such would be a matter of taking part in capitalist consumerist culture--and on the other, that he would not take the life of an animal close to his ken, only those with whom he would not be able to form a relationship.

First, I want to thank Peter for the following points.

1. Veganism, as a culture, is definitely not holy in any sense given that Capitalism is essentially unholy. It is impossible to make capitalist consumer choices without killing animals. So vegans can get off their high horses. "You can't be a capitalist environmentalist."

2. Moreover, pace PeTA, you can be a meat-eating environmentalist. Industrial Capitalism is rather late in the history of human history and within that history one must include indigenous persons, and so, a way of co-habitating with life that is at once environmental and meat eating.

I agree with Peter on these obvious two points, but it is important to note that by arguing (2), all Peter has done is justify meat consumption today for lots of social "justice" activists. (Of course, it is absolutely essential that these activists qualify their meaning of justice advocacy because they are not interested in justice, just social justice.) Moreover, it is important to note concerning (2) that PeTA is targeting a particular sort of person; the person that eats meat from factory farms, and not the person that eats meat from dumpsters, or steals it from the supermarket.--So not Peter Gelderloos. This appears to be a general problem with interpreting PeTA ads--of course, such is the nature of making a controversial ad. Also, it should be noted that fetishizing indigenous culture in such a way has done nothing more than justify patriarchy. Man over Nature! Hoo-rrah!

But this kind of argument (2) raises an interesting problem in the movement. It is impossible to criticize indigenous behavior because indigenous persons have been displaced time and time again. Similarly it is impossible to criticize Black males for being sexist--you are then being racist. (So I cannot criticize Gelderloos for saying that Black people do not need meat or animal products. Of course, some evidence for this claim would be alot more helpful than some empty appeal to intuition). The problem is that the nature of the target of criticism permits easy withdrawal into a totally ridiculous identity politics, from which one can generate all sorts of absurd ad hominem arguments.

Second, it appears to me that Peter's argument is insufficient to make his conclusion stick. Lot's of vegans are conscientious consumers insofar as they purchase anything. When we are not eating out of dumpsters, we head out to local markets and eat in season. Some of us refuse GMO's and some of us even try to get involved in human-issue (social justice) based activism, although this often frustrates because of all the evident hierarchy present in these purported anarchists. Part of the problem here is that Gelderloos conflates lifestyle veganism with consumer veganism. But I think Gelderloos undermines his whole point when he says you cannot escape capitalism (1); it seems that no one can be an environmentalist. But surely there is a difference between being a hierarchical douche-bag anarchist and a lifestyle vegan.

Gelderloos' ethics....

Gelderloos admits that he cannot eat an animal that is part of his community but that he would have no problem with eating one that is not. The trouble here is that he is speaking from a position of ethics and yet he is not realizing the totalizing nature of ethics. What Gelderloos has to ask himself is whether the interests of an animal, and he admits that they have desires, are less important than his taste-interests; if the answer is yes! he has to answer why this is the case given the fact that eating animals and animal products is totally unnecessary in our consumerist culture. If he can steal meat, he can steal B-12 pills.