Socialism, Rising Tides, and Identity Politics

Cait is one of the people who donated to help get me to Women in Secularism 3. In return, she asked me to address an argument.

I know a fair number of socialists whom I usually like but who have presented me with one version or another of this argument too many times over the years. Various versions of this argument were made as General Assemblies sorted themselves out in the Occupy movement. I’m sure it predates me as well. It goes something like this.

We need to address class issues. Women are severely affected by poverty. Racial minorities are severely affected by poverty. We must put aside these issues of identity politics to focus on what we all have in common, which is our relationship to capital. If you play identity politics, you’re serving the interests of the current owners of capital.

Here is one particularly lofty and recommended form of this argument, lest I be accused of strawmanning it.

Where identitarianism seeks to somehow unify the world’s often highly contradictory personal narratives of oppression into a coherent idea of social justice, Marxism looks at what makes the system itself tick, and finds that the vast majority of people have something very real in common: their position within the economy, i.e. their relationship to capital and the means of production. It’s around this that it seeks to rally people – not around moral or personal judgement, but around their objective common interests. Ideologies of social division, in the socialist view, mainly exist to keep people from realizing precisely those interests. Divide and conquer, as they say.

Socialism does not seek to unify people on the level of social, national or cultural identity; it is inherently internationalist and transcultural, because it operates on a completely different level. But that’s precisely why socialism is emancipatory by necessity: because to unite the working class means to unite people across the barriers of identity. The concept itself is inclusive, and cannot be realized without the inclusion of the majority of people, including people of all social identities. Nor does it exclude those who wish to see systemic change but belong to the upper classes; after all, it’s about reorienting the goals and methods of the system, not about personal moral judgement or the condemnation of people because of an accident of birth. Socialism does not posit some sort of economic equivalent of Original Sin that makes people unable to see beyond their own lives.

It’s got all the hallmarks: reduction of things like sexism and racism into mere personal interactions, implying that identities other than class identities are made up, the idea that critiquing socialists is playing into the hands of capitalists, calls for the vague ideal of “unity”, equation of privilege with sin. But boy, the words are big and the horse is high. More importantly, it has the same failure that all arguments of this stripe exhibit. The author of this piece is unwilling or unable to address the fact that not all power comes from capital. [Read more…]

The Day I Decided to Have an Abortion

Migraines were the reason I was at the doctor’s office.

She was a wonderful doctor. It was the first time I’d had an internist as my primary care physician. She had a Palm Pilot with a good medical database on it so she didn’t have to work on anything by memory or leave me sitting to get more information.

A lot of what she had to say wasn’t new to me. I’d figured out that the frequent headaches and other weirdness were migraines through internet research. But she had access to more and better information. When I said I had these three to four days a week, she looked at me funny and said, “Three to four times a month is the point where we want to consider prophylactic treatment.”

I was all for treatment. She looked at my chart, particularly at my (low) blood pressure, consulted the Palm Pilot again, and said, “You’re having stress headaches with the migraines. I want to put you on propranolol.”

I was fine with that too. Then she said, “But if I give you a prescription for this drug, I need to know that you’ll be okay with having an abortion if you get pregnant.”* [Read more…]

How to Suppress Writing Women

Last night I saw the most recent anonymized culling of quotes from a science fiction and fantasy forum populated by some of the genre’s malcontents. The occasion of this particular outbreak is (long story short) a petition by a non-member of SFWA on the topic of the potential future actions of a non-existent review board with which the yet-to-be-hired editor of the SFWA Bulletin might some day have to work. I would tell you what the petitioners were asking for if I knew, but the petition itself is a bit of a “First Amendment”, “bikinis”, “tyranny” mess. The people who signed the petition don’t seem to agree what the point of it was in their statements elsewhere, merely that it’s very important and there are some bad people around. Also, as it protested something that wasn’t happening, it’s moot.

I will note, however, that as the associate president of a non-profit organization, I have a tiny bit of experience on this. We’re currently working to hire a new volunteer editor for our monthly newsletter. Not only will this person work closely with an editorial board, but for the first couple of months of their tenure, they’ll be sharing content-acquisition duties with the board so they can get a feel for the priorities of the organization. We’re currently deciding between two very good candidates, neither of whom has expressed anything other than eagerness over the arrangement.

But this isn’t about the petition. This is about the responses to the petition and to the news that the petition wasn’t met with joy and gratitude. You see, when I looked at those quotes last night, I noticed that many of them centered around one woman, Mary Robinette Kowal. (Full disclosure: Mary is a good friend of good friends of mine. I’ve met her in passing at a couple of cons and been part of a couple of email chains she was also part of. I also happen to like her style.)

Following Mary and the petition kerfuffle both on Twitter, I knew Mary hadn’t gotten that involved in it. Some work to get all the facts. A certain amount of time spent reminding people that this petition was something launched against SFWA, not by it. She retweeted some snark, but she added next to none of her own. She also retweeted people linking to non-hyperbolic, if implacable, posts like this one. Over on Facebook, she shared what is easily the most sympathetic post about the whole thing. But on the forum, Mary was the face of evil and the orchestrator of all the…oh.

That was when it clicked. Somebody had a case of Watson Derangement Syndrome, except that Rebecca Watson wasn’t the center of the delusion. Mary was. And everything they were saying sounded so damned familiar.

Yesterday, I saw a link to the actual forum thread. The similarities continued to mount. So, with apologies to Joanna Russ over the fact that I’m doing far less work than she did, here’s how you go about suppressing the women who are doing that terribly inconvenient writing. [Read more…]

The Good News and Bad News About Paul Graham

A couple of days ago, someone on Facebook asked me what I thought of this post by Paul Graham. My first thought was, “Who is Paul Graham, and why should I have an opinion on the piece?” Part of the answer presented itself as I read his post. Graham is one of the founders and the head of Y Combinator, the largest seed money firm for tech company start-ups, and his post was answering some unspecified charges about sexism. That’s worth paying attention to.

So I did that. Moreover, I did that without looking for the original charges of sexism. The vast majority of this was written without that knowledge, and once I did know what the to do was about, it added to my analysis, but it didn’t invalidate anything I’d already written. I’d recommend saving that link for last as you read as well. [Read more…]

Um, About Those “Male”- and “Female”-Wired Brains

A few days ago, an article came out that excited some people who identify as skeptics. Brain scans had finally revealed what these people had always known: Men’s brains and women’s brains were fundamentally different! As one tweeter put it, “Damned science and facts, always getting in the way of SOCIAL JUSTICE!”

Were gender-essentialist skeptical types the only people to jump on this reporting? No, of course not. However, they are the people who should know that situations like these are exactly the ones in which to exercise a bit of skeptical caution. After all, there are two stances here in which they have a serious emotional investment–that gender roles are dictated by fundamental differences between the (two, discrete, dichotomous) sexes and that we social-justicey, feminist types are completely divorced from science and skepticism. That’s a rather large source of potential bias to be confirmed, so care should be taken.

What kind of care? [Read more…]

When Does Politics Become “Personal”?

Typically when those politics affect women, people of color, and other disadvantaged groups.

But let me back up a moment. Scientific American‘s actions in deleting Danielle Lee’s post on being called a whore for turning down an offer to work for “exposure” rather than pay has blown up to the point where it’s hit Buzzfeed, Metafilter., and The Raw Story. It’s escaped the community in which it started, which is a bad sign for SciAm. (Additionally, all the major science writers I follow on Twitter have told SciAm that their behavior is unacceptable. As well as most of their bloggers. And many, many readers.)

SciAm’s editor-in-chief, Mariette DiChristina, appears to have recognized that she has a problem on her hands with the broader public, even if she hasn’t figured out what’s going on in her own community. (I expect that she has, but hasn’t decided how to respond.) She released an explanatory statement to Buzzfeed. [Read more…]