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…]

Getting Drunk and Acting Like a Train Wreck

My friend Cait Quinn posted this last weekend. I’ve been friends with several Irish bands over the years, and as such, I really appreciated it. I asked her for permission to share it as a guest post. Keep this in mind as you plan your weekend festivities. I’ll just add that, not only are you not part of the Irish Republican Army, but (unless you’re part of a local indigenous group) the people around you aren’t the occupation either. If you’re feeling oppressed, go get involved in politics.

So I’m going to engage in my St. Patrick’s Day rant a little early. Sorry, I’ve just had it. Celebrating the Irish culture by drinking and acting like a total barbarian is choosing to behave in the exact manner of the Irish stereotype. It is a stereotype that is not all in good fun, it is not irreverent and harmless it is the caricature that was used for hundreds of years to justify occupation, forced labor, deportation and restrictions on the Irish people’s rights and autonomy. It fueled the hatred of the Irish in America, legalized and normalized the British government’s continued occupation of the Irish people both in Ireland and in other British colonies. It was even used to justify slaver and murder. Oliver Cromwell killed over 200,000 Irish civilians by painting them as a dangerous, barbarous people.

So getting drunk and acting like a train wreck on St. Patrick’s day helps to perpetuate that very harmful narrative that to be Irish means that you drink and act like an ignorant fool. That you damage property and cannot control your behavior because dooood I’m totally wasted and let’s break stuff, Yay Ireland. If you are Irish or of Irish descent, your ancestors are ashamed of you. They fought incredibly hard to dispel the misconceptions that held the Irish people down. So shame on you.

And before anyone gives me crap about promoting respectability politics around this issue I’m not. What I’m saying is that if you are going to celebrate a people and it’s heritage imitating the behavior attributed to a people by their oppressors isn’t really a great way to do it. And if you are looking for an excuse to cut loose and break some rules, by all means do it, just don’t do it in the name of a culture and a people. Own it and say you are doing it for you.

This rant brought to you by the riots on Umass campus in the name of getting drunk and celebrating St. Patty’s Day.

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…]

You Made Your Bed, Now Burn in It

Kameron Hurley wrote a great post recently that everyone in the atheist community ought to read right about now. It’s starts with an argument with a toddler.

I had the questionable delight of hanging out with a 3 year old for the last week, and at some point, when I hauled off his pants so he could go “Pee-pee in the potty” he proceeded to sit on said toilet for a solid five minutes having an argument with me because I’d said “Hey!” when he tried to hit his mother.

“You YELLED at me!” he yelled. “We don’t yell in this house.”

“We don’t hit our mom, either.”

“We don’t YELL. You HURT my FEELINGS.”

At some point, this child will understand the difference between a feeling of guilt for being called out when he does something bad and actual hurt feelings, but today is not that day.

“And you hurt your mom’s feelings,” I said. “You don’t hit your mom.”


The post then goes on to use this framework to explain why the idea that Jonathan Ross was abused by that portion of the F&SF community that objected to his hosting this year’s Hugo Awards at WorldCon is nonsense. [Read more…]

Why We Marry, Part 2: The State

A while ago, Tauriq asked why we should get married. In The Guardian, he argued that we shouldn’t, or at least that he shouldn’t.

I, on the other hand, have spent the last few months deep in Minnesota Atheists’ work on getting marriage law changed so that atheist and humanist celebrants don’t have to declare themselves religious or be recognized by organizations that identify as religious in order to have the state recognize the ceremonies they perform as legal marriages. This means I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people who perform nonreligious ceremonies and to people who have been married in nonreligious ceremonies about why these ceremonies are important to people. I’ve spent somewhat less time talking to legislators about the state’s concerns with the changes we’re asking for.

It also means I’ve spent a bunch of time answering questions about why we’re involved in the issue at all. There are two that are incredibly common in various forms. Why should we take an interest in marriage? Why are we supporting the idea that the state should take an interest in marriage? I’d like to address both of these questions. I’ll split them into separate posts, because they are very separate issues.

In Part 1 of this, I addressed marriage as a ceremony, a ritual that signals a commitment and a combining of families. Now it’s time to look at the state’s interest in marriage, because it does have a legitimate one.
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Reviewing Marriage Officiant Law

If you’ve been following along here or receive the Minnesota Atheists monthly newsletter, you know we’ve been working toward changing Minnesota marriage law so that religious clergy are not the only non-government-employees who can legally officiate a marriage in Minnesota. We’ve discussed the issue with members of both the state house and state senate. In December, we met with Senator John Marty, who asked us some very good questions about our options for changing the law and the support that these options have.

In response to those questions, we surveyed atheists and secular humanists across Minnesota to get their opinions on the options they would support. The results of that survey appear in this month’s newsletter and will be shared on the Minnesota Atheists website shortly. I’ll link to them when they’re posted.

In addition, Senator Marty also asked how non-government-official, non-religious officiants are handled in the law of other states. Having a research background and finding this sort of digging fun, I volunteered to pull together this information. Below is the information I pulled together, along with links to the relevant law. These are the states that extend the ability to officiate marriages to more than elected officials (mayors, county commissioners, legislators, lieutenant governors, and governors may all officiate in some states) and judges or clerks of the court. Emphasis is mine, to draw attention to the relevant part of the legal code.

Hopefully this will make things easier for any other group that wants to change the law in their state. Be aware, however, that what I quote is a snapshot. Laws change continually, and the information should be verified before being used for another purpose. [Read more…]

Toward an Independent Freethought Media

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know I’m a big fan of independent, non-profit news media. I contribute free arts coverage to the Twin Cities Daily Planet. I host Atheists Talk. I love MinnPost and The UpTake.

So why is independent news media so important? There are two big reasons in my book. The first is that there isn’t the same pressure to conform to the political agenda of corporate owners. In a de facto oligarchy like ours, this is critical. The other reason is that, without the pressure for profit, these organizations can focus on smaller audiences and stories. Rather than being all things to all people, they can cater to their niche…assuming that niche can support their work.

Jamila Bey is hoping her niche–us–can support her ambitious project. She also has the best project description I’ve seen. [Read more…]

Minnesota Nonbelievers, Your Opinions Please

Minnesota law, like most states’ laws, restrict who can “solemnize” a marriage–certify to the state that a legal marriage has occurred after whatever type of formalities are deemed appropriate. Here is Minnesota’s current list of people who can be authorized to solemnize marriages (section 517.04 of Minnesota law):

Civil marriages may be solemnized throughout the state by an individual who has attained the age of 21 years and is a judge of a court of record, a retired judge of a court of record, a court administrator, a retired court administrator with the approval of the chief judge of the judicial district, a former court commissioner who is employed by the court system or is acting pursuant to an order of the chief judge of the commissioner’s judicial district, the residential school administrators of the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf and the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind, a licensed or ordained minister of any religious denomination, or by any mode recognized in section 517.18. For purposes of this section, a court of record includes the Office of Administrative Hearings under section 14.48.

Section 517.18 is a list of special provisions for groups that don’t recognize their traditions (or may be at risk of the state not recognizing their traditions) under the description “a licensed or ordained minister of any religious denomination”:

Subdivision 1. Friends or Quakers. All civil marriages solemnized among the people called Friends or Quakers, in the form heretofore practiced and in use in their meetings, shall be valid and not affected by any of the foregoing provisions. The clerk of the meeting in which such civil marriage is solemnized, within one month after any such civil marriage, shall deliver a certificate of the same to the local registrar of the county where the civil marriage took place, under penalty of not more than $100. Such certificate shall be filed and recorded by the court administrator under a like penalty. If such civil marriage does not take place in such meeting, such certificate shall be signed by the parties and at least six witnesses present, and shall be filed and recorded as above provided under a like penalty.

Subd. 2. Baha’i. Civil marriages may be solemnized among members of the Baha’i faith by the chair of an incorporated local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is, according to the form and usage of such society.

Subd. 3. Hindus; Muslims. Civil marriages may be solemnized among Hindus or Muslims by the person chosen by a local Hindu or Muslim association, according to the form and usage of their respective religions.

Subd. 4. American Indians. Civil marriages may be solemnized among American Indians according to the form and usage of their religion by an Indian Mide’ or holy person chosen by the parties to the civil marriage.

Subd. 5. Construction of section. Nothing in subdivisions 2 to 4 shall be construed to alter the requirements of section 517.01, 517.09 or 517.10.

Based on this law and on discussions with lawmakers, we note that there is no way for a non-religious community to be treated equally on this matter. An atheist or secular humanist could become a celebrant by working with a branch of their community identified as religious. For example, humanists have been allowed to perform marriages working through the religious branch of humanism. Ethical Societies identify as religious groups. An atheist group could potentially choose to do the same if its membership were in favor. However, an atheist group that is clear that it is not a “religious denomination” with “licensed or ordained minister[s]” is excluded under the law as it now stands.

Some members of the Minnesota Atheists board (including me) have also talked to lawmakers about options for changing this. And we heard from members and others with very strong opinions about what should be done about the situation, including doing nothing at all.

In response, we’ve put together a very short survey to find out from nonbelievers in Minnesota where they stand on the question. If that description fits you, please, take a few minutes and let us know where you stand. We have an opportunity to represent you on this issue, and we want to know what that means.

Minneapolis 2013 Sample Ballot

This may be the most difficult election for which I create one of these sample ballots. Minneapolis has moved to ranked-choice voting, in which we can vote for up to three candidates and order them by our preference. That’s a different kind of decision-making than picking one person out of a field. It’s more decision-making than in a regular election and more weighing of non-ideal choices. I’ve ranked everyone I consider to be a serious candidate below, even where we can’t vote for that many candidates.

On top of that, this year, our popular, charismatic, and effective mayor, R. T. Rybak, has declined to run again. Into that gap rushed an enormous number of candidates. A caucus earlier this year did not result in an endorsement, so we have 10 Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidates. And 25 other candidates. I think. I lost count.

So this has required some serious work just to narrow the field to serious candidates, by which I mean candidates who have the bare minimum indication that their campaign extended beyond paying the filing fee and who have some elected experience. Luckily for me, my friend Naomi Kritzer did most of that work. I got to limit my attention to people who stood some chance of governing if they were elected.

To find out where you vote and what will be on your ballot, go to the Secretary of State’s elections website. Give them your address, and they’ll show you a sample ballot. The ballots look a lot longer this year because first, second, and third choices are all listed separately for the same race. At the bottom of the ballot will be a link for your polling place.

As always, I put my reasoning for my votes online for people who don’t have the resources or time to do their own. If my reasoning doesn’t match yours, at least you have some background. If you want to provide additional background in the comments, feel free.

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But There’s No Theocracy Here

Why did this go as far as a government shutdown? Why is our country once again the laughing stock of the world? As Senator Warren explains, it’s because some members of our House would prefer a theocracy to the democracy we have.

Yes, it’s about the Affordable Care Act, but the specific issue the House Republicans have been using is a religious one.