Friday, December 19, 2008

Dismissing racial concerns on Feministing

Courtney Martin, one of Feministing's editors, recently posted this photo from a Feministing Happy Hour in NYC. The photo bears the caption: Don't worry. He knows them.

Reader hugh.c.mcbride responded:

WTF? Cuz if he didn't know them, the sight of a black guy walking past two white women at a party would be something to "worry" about?

Again -- WTF?

Courtney responded:
Wow, hugh.c.mcbride with the totally unwarranted attack. I wasn't commenting on his race. I was making fun of the teethy weird-ass look on his face. Jesus. And, while we're making racial claims, maybe you shouldn't assume the racial identity of the two women in the photo (one of whom is not white.)

Whiny defensive emphasis mine.

Okay, so I know feminist blogs deal with idiot readers all the time, and get pretty sick of treating people nicely when they ask an unpopular question. Maybe hugh.c.mcbride is a giant troll who has recently shit all over the site. And she's right, one of those women isn't white.

But anybody doing a drive-by of that photo, and its caption, could reasonably read it the way Hugh did. I know his comment is a little incendiary. But assuming he isn't a troll, doesn't he deserve a clarification instead of sarcasm?

Uh, in my experience, strong race/gender dynamics and fears are in play among black men and white women in public spaces. The black man lurking in the corner, waiting to prey on white women, is a very old trope. I certainly don't feel it's out of line to wonder whether this could be at play in her understanding of the photo. Sometimes even the quickest tossed-off caption, like Courtney's, can bear the mark of unexamined racial archetypes.

It's a small point, but small points matter. Of course Martin probably didn't intend to make any comment on this man's race and how scary it is. But how bloggers respond to challenging race questions from readers is important. You can convince readers that you are a committed anti-racist, or you can try to convince them that you aren't a racist! Not even one percent, you promise! You have lots of black friends and you were just commenting on his facial expression! Jesus!

Frankly, her sarcasm and defensiveness aren't promising. What I get from this very brief exchange is that she doesn't want her own racial views, conscious or unconscious, examined. I expect this kind of stuff from some of Feministing's "what's-so-racist-about-that?" readership, but would expect a bit more of the editors.


"I've abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system"

US President George W. Bush said in an interview Tuesday he was forced to sacrifice free market principles to save the economy from "collapse."

"I've abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system," Bush told CNN television, saying he had made the decision "to make sure the economy doesn't collapse."

Bush's comments reflect an extraordinary departure from his longtime advocacy for an unfettered free market, as his administration has orchestrated unprecedented government intervention in the face of a dire financial crisis.

Read the rest here.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Foucaultians could have a field day with this

A Crisis of Confidence for Masters of the Universe

See: Dana Becker's The Myth of Empowerment: Women and the Therapeutic Culture in America, Chapter 2, "The Empire of Self Esteem":

In America, individual fulfillment has come almost to represent a social responsibility. The discourse of self-esteem has been transformed into a way of governing or managing ourselves through expert knowledge. Michel Foucault in Discipline and Punish employed Bentham’s design of the Panopticon, a model prison, as a metaphor for the way in which power is exerted over individuals in modern society. In this prison, inmates, each in his own cell, would be rendered continually visible, via backlighting, from a central tower. The effect of constant scrutiny on the inmates would be to induce in them “ state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power.” This power, designated in Foucault’s writings as both “bio-power” and “disciplinary power,” is evidenced in the inmate’s ongoing self-observation. To Foucault the Panopticon is a metaphor for societal institutions, and self-scrutiny represents the manner in which institutions exert power over individuals through a sense of continual self-consciousness – what Foucault terms a “technology” of the self.
Sidenote re: the Times article--Why are contemporary psychiatrists so useless?


I wish I were more shocked about the Madoff scandal

But what's really all that shocking about the Ponzi scheme? Is it the greed? No, Madoff's greed isn't shocking. In fact, greed like his is what our economy needs to grow (I hate to be the one to say that, but I don't make the rules...). Is it the idea that he was paying investor A with the money of Investors B and C rather than through any real production? I can't see how that in itself is all that shocking. It's unsustainable, obviously. It only works if there's constant growth, and there's no such thing as constant growth. But unproductive tricks like this are not only common, they're the back bone of our economy. We spin gold from hay while 90% of the world starves. That's not a dirty secret. That's Wall Street. That's the financial sector.

The only thing I can even think should be deplorable in the Madoff scandal is the deceit involved...that the people who gave him the money didn't know what he was actually doing with it, and believed he was doing something else with it. It's fraud, sure. But done in more subtle ways, it's pretty common and pretty legal. Unsavvy consumers end up getting hosed all the time. And what's the free market's answer? Make it illegal? Give them their money back? No. It's 'buck up and make better decisions next time.' Free market for the poor, regulation and even subsidy for the rich.


Feministing readers can get so confused sometimes

Take this thread about a store that refused to write a 3 year old's name on a cake, because his name is Adolph Hitler (sisters JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell, and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell. I am not lying).

Commenters are filled with righteous indignation about how the PC police have really gone too far if a store refuses to do anything a customer wants. How is this okay but it's no okay for pharmacists to refuse to give birth control then?! (Because no one has the right to have their name written on a birthday cake, but in the context of liberal capitalism, we have to have the right to medication) Hypocrits! What would you be saying if the same store refused to write Hussein on a cake?! (I'd call it racist or islamophobic or just plain ignorant, and that would be the problem, not that a name didn't get written on a cake.)

Other commenters on the other side of the debate seem to be a little misguided as well. There are ways to defend the store's decision that have nothing to do with defending the imagined rights of a private company and everything to do with being a store that is able to discriminate between customers with ethics and customers without and the kind of money and business they want to take. Why do people think there's no place in politics (or life?) for talking about what's right and what's wrong and that we have to either condemn or defend every action (good or bad) because of some abstract belief in "rights."

p.s. If you're concerned about whether little Adolph got his cake, relax. Wal-Mart was up for the job.


Why cars suck.

The immediate impulse to write this post issues from the mind-numbing disturbance caused by some asshole's car alarm on my street, (its been going off steadily for 3 whole minutes now).

In no particular order, here is an elaboration of why cars suck:

1. Cars magnify the worst aspects of capitalist social relations and streamline the alienation of driver from actual, lived interaction with fellow human beings. Cut off from immediate contact and enclosed in a climate-controlled, steel/glass bubble... many drivers behave as though the world outside them is at best decoration, at worst a series of conspiring inconveniences plotting to sabotage their delusional mission to proceed unhampered by anything. Drivers treat other people in ways that they would never treat them were they walking next to them on the street.

2. In a closely related fashion: cars are selfish. It's all "me, me, me" with cars. Moving down a major thoroughfare in a massive city, a car with one passenger takes up roughly 1/4 of the space of a city bus, some disproportionate fraction of the fuel resources compared to their bus-riding counterparts, and on top of that adds to congestion which impedes the ability of buses to travel more smoothly and quickly. They also crowd streets that would otherwise be excellent bike routes. The reality is that city-life is a profound testament to the sense in which everyone is bound up in relations of dependency and made to cohabit a space on terms that no individual sets themselves. Yet, the logic of city-dwelling frequent car drivers seems to try to ignore (or even abjure) this reality in favor of a narrow individualism: I am free to the extent that I can drive my care where I want when I want however fast I want and not have to live by train schedules or interact with other city dwellers. This notion of heroic individualistic escape from social imperatives is a Romantic fantasy at best, pathological at worst.

3. Cars make cities less safe. Especially if you are biker or a pedestrian (god forbid). Some drivers get so caught up in their own quest to quickly make an unprotected left turn at an intersection, quickly sneak in front of pedestrians to make a right on red, etc. that they simply forget that they are inside a climate controlled, metal/glass bubble which moves at the touch of a button on the floor of the car cockpit. Meanwhile, the people they almost mow down or intimidate or whiz in front of are walking on their own two feet in conditions which are usually cold, icy, windy, etc. Or if you're biking hard, you're expending a great deal of energy. Nonetheless, the distorted relation that drivers stand with respect to the outside world enables them to take for granted all of these facts, thus they tend to focus intensely on whether they might have to wait 0.5 seconds or 7 seconds to turn left (as the case may be). The person trying to walk down the street is therefore the enemy. Must get home quickly, must get to Grocery Store, must get to TV, must get to work, must get... Its barbaric.

4. Cars are ugly. Sorry, but they are. Particularly in salty, snowy conditions where they are all covered with snowy/dirty crud. There are strong aesthetic grounds, it seems to me, to purge the heavy presence of cars from the urban landscape. At the very least, I think we can all agree that parking lots are the perfect exemplification of this thought, or at minimum, that parking lots are an atrocious eyesore in every instance. I advocate the immediate expropriation of all property holdings on which there are parking lots, in order that the public might re-develop the space for affordable housing, urban agricultural efforts and other activities that are the manifest opposite of parking lots.

5. Cars pollute city air and water. Set aside their role in climate change for the moment. From a more local perspective, the heavy use of cars by individuals in cities creates unnecessary smog and air pollution that is something you can smell, taste and sense on days when its particularly bad. Why should we put up with this when everything else about cars suck as well?

6. Cars are a misallocation of resources. This is true from the perspective of production as well as of consumption. In terms of consumption, cars are a terrible investment: they require maintence and upkeep costs, insurance costs, financing/payment costs, repair costs (when things inevitably break), parking costs, fuel costs, ticket-costs (for when you inevitably park in the wrong spot or get caught going 5 over). Moreover, cars do not hold their value. They are not necessary in the broad sense that there are tons of conveivable, more egalitarian, progressive, environmentally sustainable and practical ways for people to get around. Yet, it is a unfortunate fact of the infrastructural design of much of the USA that cars are in some sense all but required. But this is not so in a major city like Chicago. Cars are not necessary, anything but. So, this is a misallocation in the sense that consumer resources could be put into something more worthwhile. From the stand point of production, personal cars are a waste of labor power, capital and energy resources. They should never be built in the first place; there are, however, a lot of vehicles that society does need: A shit-ton more buses that we currently have, trucks and vans appropriate to certain tasks of building infrastructure, etc.

7. Car horns and alarms are noise pollution.

8. As a friend of mine points out in the comments, "cars make gyms make sense".

9. etc.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Failure to blog

Remember that book I was reviewing chapter by chapter? Yeah, I may have gotten slightly distracted and read a novel instead...
I blame graduate school applications for making me want to do anything but think about feminism and identity...and I think it may have something to do with my brain thinking mid-December means I go on vacation from trying to be an intellectual.
On the upside, it turns out the latest Rushdie novel was charming. Like any Rushdie book it's at once hilarious and captivating and yet really provocative in an unsettling way.
But I'll get back to being a disciplined blogger now...or I'll try anyway...


Sunday, December 14, 2008

American Pastoral

I've finished reading Philip Roth's novel American Pastoral (1998). I'm relieved in some ways that it's over. The novel is beautifully written, psychologically and emotionally complex, and filled with fascinating characters who are drawn with such sympathy that the reader cannot forget them. But the novel is also a dark, taxing trip through a family tragedy, at times plunging the reader into stream-of consciousness despair from which it seems we will never emerge.

The novel’s main event is a political one: the bombing of a small-town post office by a sixteen-year-old girl, in militant protest of the Vietnam war. One person is killed, and the young girl – who disappears into hiding - becomes known as the Rimrock Bomber.

American Pastoral is the story of her father. He is Swede Levov, the firstborn son of a Jewish glove-factory owner, whose athletic achievements, physical beauty, and austere personality made him a legend in his wartime high school days in Newark. Swede grows up to take over his father’s glove business, marry Dawn Dwyer (an Irish Catholic and a former Miss New Jersey), and move to a beautiful stone house in the New Jersey countryside. The birth and life of his daughter Merry is a source of idyllic joy for both Swede and Dawn.

But the Vietnam War seems to change everything, and Merry is quickly swept up in the radical anti-war, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist movement. As Swede listens to his daughter rip his bourgeois lifestyle to shreds, their conversations seem like a typical father-daughter clash of generational values. He believes she’s an unthinking participant in some kind of youth culture; he believes it’s a phase that she’ll pass through. She believes he’s the one who’s not thinking. But because of the fatal bombing that follows, these conversations become an epic struggle for Merry’s heart and sanity.

The bombing – which explodes not only the local post office, but also Swede’s understanding of himself, his family, and everyone around him – seems like the novel’s apocalypse. But others follow. The Newark race riots destroy the city; Dawn is institutionalized for the shock and grief of what happened to her daughter; and Swede is terrorized by a woman claiming to be living with Merry. The novel is a portrait of a chaotic era, seen through the eyes of a man whose entire previous existence never prepared him for anything like this. Swede’s stream-of-consciousness often surfaces and goes on for pages, full of tragic questions: Where did this daughter come from? How did they produce her? What happened to her? Where is she? Is anything what it seems?

Roth treats issues of religion, class, and gender with such sensitivity that it’s hard to capture the scope of his work here. He does a nuanced job discussing Dawn’s experiences as Miss New Jersey: the way she feels forced to hide it, the way she must do something – anything – so that people will understand she is more than an ex-beauty queen. His treatment of the Newark race riots is quick but vivid, and includes the voices of Swede’s father, who angrily refuses to sympathize with black Newark residents he employs. In particular, Swede and Dawn’s experience of moving to Old Rimrock – where, as a Jew and a Catholic from working-class backgrounds, they face some Wasp scrutiny – is a sharp and important aspect of the novel. After all, the membership status they’ve struggled for is the very status that their daughter violently, vehemently rejects.

What happens to Merry after her disappearance – grotesque, violent, incomprehensible – seems explicitly designed to show Swede the darkest, ugliest side of the human experience. For the reader, it’s not easy to watch, but Swede’s struggle to understand is worth participating in.


Tariq Ali in the Guardian

Tariq Ali on Anglo-American intervention in Middle East and the role it has played in exacerbating the problem of terrorism.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Zimbabwe: Mugabe in Context

I'm busy as hell right now, but when I get a free moment I'm going to take a better look at Mahmood Mamdani's recent piece on Zimbabwe in the London Review of Books. Lenin's Tomb has a long post on Zimbabwe that I've glanced over, and it looks interesting as well. More on this when time permits.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

PSUV leader Gonzalo Gomez on the elections and where Venezuela is heading

"To Stop the Advance of the Right, We Must Strengthen People’s Power”
Great interview at Venezuelanalysis here.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Venezuelan union organizers killed

Protests have shut down highways in Venezuela following the hired assassination of 3 labor leaders involved in a drive to organize workers owned by the Colombian milk company ALPINA. The protest is comprised of over 12 Venezuelan unions all of whom are demanding that an extensive investigation bring those behind the murder to justice.

Incidentally, its worth mentioning that Colombia is the most dangerous country in the entire world to be a trade unionist. ALPINA is probably just following company policy as its carried out in Colombia. The difference in Venezuela is that the leaders of its government will not let this stand, whereas in Bogota this sort of thing is probably applauded if not encouraged.

Hand's Off Venezuela has a statement here.

Statements of support and solidarity can be sent to and, and copy to


Tariq Ali's thoughts on Mumbai

"Indian intelligence outfits are well aware of all this and they should not encourage the fantasies of their political leaders. Its best to come out and accept that there are severe problems inside the country. A billion Indians: 80 percent Hindus and 14 percent Muslims. A very large minority that cannot be ethnically cleansed without provoking a wider conflict.

None of this justifies terrorism, but it should, at the very least, force India’s rulers to direct their gaze on their own country and the conditions that prevail. Economic disparities are profound. The absurd notion that the trickle-down effects of global capitalism would solve most problems can now be seen for what it always was: a fig leaf to conceal new modes of exploitation."

Full article here.


Evo Morales on Climate Change and Capitalism

Read it in English translation here.


Thai elite stage coup via High Court

The Thai royalists, elites and urban middle classes have ousted the democratically-elected government of Somchai Wongsawat, dissolving his party (The People's Power Party) and banning the PM from politics. This time, the military wasn't involved directly; a high court ruling decided the matter following large protests against the government by the oddly-named "People's Alliance for Democracy", which will move to limit the franchise and remove voting rights from the country's majority (rural poor) in an attempt to halt the reemergence of a populist government.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I finally decided how I feel about "Her Body, My Baby."

(That's the title of a jaw-dropping, must-read article in the New York Times Magazine.)

The article is written by Alex Kuczynski, an infertile socialite/writer married to a billionaire, who hires a middle-class woman to bear her biological child. Her story, and the way she tells it, is heartbreaking and excruciatingly honest. Her inner monologue ain't pretty. It contains moments of unvarnished classism, elitism, and rich white privilege. The author is, as my mother put it, "not someone I'd like to get to know better."

But the comments page is a sociological bloodbath, and it's what I'd like to focus on.

The sexist, misogynist demands that some commenters make on Ms. Kuczynski's reproductive choices are just as bad as the author's mind-boggling privilege. Some readers are only capable of responding to her story with proscriptive statements: Jeez, she should have just adopted already! Jeez, she should have just accepted that she was meant to be childless! Can't she help us control the population problem and just adopt a kid that's already been born?

It's particularly ridiculous to demand that infertile women help us solve our "population problem" and just adopt a child who already exists. If this is ethically sound, then rich Americans must immediately stop reproducing, and adopt until every third-world baby has been placed in a home. Does any reasonable person propose this "solution" for fertile couples? No.

The claim that Kuczynski "wasted" countless thousands of dollars in her selfish pursuit of a biological child is questionable. Adoptions, whether domestic or international, are no cheaper than hiring a surrogate (around $25,000). In fact, if you want to talk about costs, how about the fact that an acquaintance of mine paid $15,000 in 2003 to give birth to her own, naturally conceived daughter in a hospital? Kuczynski's identity as the wife of a billionaire has certainly raised some hackles, but it is unfair to claim that her use of resources was somehow morally unsound. She spent $100,000 on a baby. Most of her peers have spent that much on a car. Yet her decision to use that money to become a mother outrages us. Why?

Because our culture largely teaches us that we have the right to judge, even to control, women's reproductive decisions. Because women do crazy, world-destroying things like

- have abortions, thus killing babies and making God cry
- go through expensive fertility treatments, thus wasting money they should have given to charity
- hire proletarian wombs, thus exploiting each other
- adopt a brown baby from abroad, thus becoming arrogant colonialist bastards
- remain childless, thus destroying femininity and The Family
- give birth to 12 children, thus destroying the environment, straining the welfare system, and disrupting restaurant dinners across the country.

See? Women just can't get it right.

As Jezebel put it in a different context, we need to GIVE OTHER LADIES A DAMN BREAK.

It took me a long time to decide how I felt about this piece. I can't believe I'm defending a millionaire socialite Times reporter who is personally responsible for a substantial percentage of the fluff in the Style section. I don't care. She's a self-absorbed, spoiled brat. She's also a woman who wants a child, like millions of women before her. So give her a damn break.


Monday, December 1, 2008

A totally underrated Whitney Houston song

Just because. I'm in a loving mood lately and this song is sweet and I think you should like it too.


40 Years since Mexico City Massacre

If you get a chance, read or listen to NPR's report on the 1968 Mexico City student massacre, which had its 40 year anniversary this year. Terrifying...


States of Injury by Wendy Brown, Chapter 2 Synopsis: Postmodern Exposures and Feminist Hesitations

See the Chapter 1 synopsis here, and a general overview of the book here.

In this chapter, Brown makes these three basic arguments:
  1. Postmodernity is a condition and postmodernism an attempt at describing the current conditions of our time, and it does not necessarily entail any particular political prescriptions with it.
  2. Feminists who claim postmodernism (the pointing out of the postmodern conditions we live in) will kill their feminist politics, reveal gaps and hesitations in their own feminism.
  3. Feminists do not need Truth (aka Reason, Morality), the Subject, or Identity to be feminists, and postmodernity merely forces us to open new political spaces.
I think it suffices to do two things in this summary: a) Summarize what Brown sees as the problems caused by postmodernity, and how feminists can forge a politics amid these problems, and b) Summarize and engage with some of the problems Brown sees feminism as having, some of which are exposed by postmodernism. 
First, Brown wants to redirect our attention from "the academically crumbled foundations of Truth, facticity, or the modernist subject," or from postmodernism, to the greatest impediments to oppositional politics which come from postmodernity:
The first condition she thinks is important is that of "technical reason." Now, she never defines what this means exactly, and google brings up nothing relevant and I must admit I don't have a Marcuse reader standing by, so I had to rely on researching something she says is a similar phenomenon, Weber's "instrumental rationality." (If you actually know something about technical reason, or Habermas' "means-end rationality," please let me know if I'm way off the mark here.) So here's my understanding. Technical reason is a false consciousness in which finding the most efficient way of achieving an ends is favored instinctively and focused on socially, at the expense of any justification or reasoning for the value of the ends itself.
You can see how this would apply to her arguments in the first chapter about identity politics and the failures of the state to empower injured parties (although Brown never spells it out for us this way). The most effective way of disciplining the people and systems that injure might be to go through the state, but nobody stops to ask why discipline for injury should be the end-goal of a politics, and what the consequences of such an ends might be.
The subject-disintegrating powers of technical reason, Brown argues,  are far more powerful than those of postmodernism, but technical reason's hegemony becomes even more noticeable and pervasive when "other legitimating discourses of a culture--political, religious, or scientific--are fractured or discredited, a process that is a defining feature of postmodernity." Technical reason in a context of postmodern power, which flows without the boundaries and rigidities of institutions or discrete spheres of power, makes critical articulations of domination, or oppositional politics, incredibly difficult.
Next, Brown looks at disorientation as a supposed threat to feminism, and she defines the problem of disorientation or "being lost," through Frederic Jameson:
This is bewildering, and I use existential bewilderment in this new postmodern space to make a final diagnosis of the loss of our ability to position ourselves within this space and cognitively map it. This is then projected back on the emergence of a global, multinational culture that is decentered and cannot be visualized, a culture in which one cannot position oneself.
In short, Brown goes on to argue that the postmodern loss of collective identity, has caused the clinging to individual identity, even by people who are generally quite critical of liberalism's individualism. 
Lastly, Brown details the problem of "reactionary foundationalism," or clinging to one representative feature of a modern movement to the extent that it is a fundamentalism. This too is a coping method for a loss of collective identity and disorientation general. Just like the Right clings to "the traditional family," and "the American flag," academics on the Left claim to "feminism" in its modern constructs, as if it is one of the "indispensible threads preserving indisputable good."
There is a hard-hitting section on feminist failures that I think is worth going into in more detail. Brown takes on feminists who say their endeavors are crushed by postmodernism's crumbling of "truth" of "morality" and of "the self." She thinks this is silly, first of all, since feminists themselves have argued that the self is constructed socially, that truth and reason have been used to masculine ends, and aren't really all that objective, and that discourse about morality operates as a power mechanism. Not only that, but she thinks the idea that feminism can't exist outside these modernist idioms is problematic and untrue. She looks at quotes like this one from Nancy Harstock's "Foucault on Power: A Theory for Women?":
We need to constitute ourselves as subjects as well as objects of history...We need to be assured that some systematic knwoledge about our world and ourselves is possible...We need a theory of power that recognizes that our practical daily activity contains an understanding of the world.
To which Brown responds: "Harstock does not concern herself with the defensibility or persuasiveness of the narrative out of which these items are torn. She is concerned only with the dubious necessity of rescuing them from the discredited narratives, a rescue waged in order to "preserve" feminism from what she takes to be the disorienting, deblitating, and depoliticizing characteristics of post-modern intellectual maneuvers." Brown calls feminist arguments like that both foundationalist and reactionary. It's like Linda Hirshman's infamous WaPo article about how feminism has become so sidetracked by all these interesectional interests, that feminism (whatever the hell that might be in the absence of intersectional concerns) itself is being lost. If that isn't both foundationalist and reactionary I don't know what is...not to mention another instance of the hegemony of instrumental rationality. 
Here's Brown's best summary of her gripes with feminism in her own words, which sort of proceed out of this critique of Harstock:
I will suggest that feminist wariness about postmodernism may ultimately be coterminous with a wariness about politics, when politics is grasped as a terrain of struggle without fixed or metaphysical referents and a terrain of power's irreducible and pervasive presence in human affairs. Contrary to its insistence that it speaks in the name of the political, much feminist anti-postmodernism betrays a preference for extrapolitical terms and practices: for Truth (unchanging, incontestable) over politics (flux, constest, instability); for certainty and security (safety, immutability, privacy) over freedom (vulnerability, publicity); for discoveries (science) over decisions (judgments); for separable subjects armed with established rights and identities over unwieldy and shifting pluralities adjudicating for themselves and their future on the basis of nothing more than their own habits and arguments.
Among her more specific arguments in this section (there really are too many to summarize, but there are a lot, and I agree with most), Brown is critical of feminists' insistence on treating the production and recognition of individual women's narratives as purveyors of truth, as if discourse when it comes from injured parties has nothing to do with power, as if it isn't rhetoric, like it is when it comes from dominant social positions. It isn't that Brown doesn't think it's important that marginalized voices are heard and that narratives are used in politics, that is, that we actively demonstrate the personal is political. It's simply that she realizes this isn't enough to affect change in a postmodern context, as it clings to naive, modernist notions of truth and of the subject. Producing academia based on women's perspectives is important, but they can't be treated as individual's accounts of truth, any more than we would treat the narratives of wealthy white men as signs of what reality is. Instead they should be taken as collective accounts of the world used to make political arguments. And we need new political spaces to make our feminist arguments political.
Now, this postmodern political space for feminists is not something she focuses on defining too specifically in the chapter, but this is what she tells us she's getting at:
"Postmodernity's dismantling of metaphysical foundations for justice renders us quite vulnerable to domination by technical reason unless we seize the opportunity this erosion also creates to develop democratic processes for formulating collective postepistemological and postontological judgments. Such judgments require learning how to have public conversations with each other, arguing from a vision about the common ("what I want for us") rather than from identity ("who I am"), and from explicitly postulated norms and potential common values rather than from false essentialism or unreconstructed private interest...I am suggesting that political conversation oriented toward diversity and the common, toward world rather than self, and involving conversion of one's knowledge of the world from a situated (subject) position into a public idiom, offers us the greatest possibility of countering postmodern social fragmentations and political disintegrations.
My final point in this very long summary, is just that I like the idea, as a way of getting away from the trap of identity politics discussed in the first chapter, but I just don't know how it would work in such a cynical political society. Vision and ideas for the collective are openly mocked in our political culture. Remember how almost half of the United States thought it was ok to vote for a political party that openly mocked something as rudimentary as community organizers? I guess I just question how politically salient her approach could be. But then again, I guess we won't begin by reaching out to conservative republicans who don't think helping the collective is admirable...we'll have to start with parties who are a little more sympathetic.