Friday, 29 November 2013

On the twaddle of personal liberation

"Liberation is not an insular experience; it occurs in conjunction with other human beings" - Peggy Kornegger - Anarchism: The Feminist Connection

I hear the concept of "personal liberation" being bandied around all the time in radical circles. This is expressed in several different, but equally vague ways. Sometimes the term "shifting consciousness" will be used. A friend's zine once put it this way: "the revolution won't happen in the streets, but in our hearts". It's never really made clear constitutes "consciousness" or "hearts", because they are nebulous phrases intended to have emotional, rather than rational impact.

But regardless of muddy lexicons, what is it supposed to mean? In anarchist terms, it seems prioritise a change in individual perspective over structural changes. Indeed, individual perspectives and structural changes are sometimes conflated - as if the State and capitalism only exist in our minds, and changing our minds will make it disappear. It seems to require either a disengagement from these systems, ridding of your systemic conditioning, or both.

We need to be perfectly clear: no one can fully liberate themselves, as an individual, from capitalism or the State, or its conditioning. You will still be dependent on those systems in some form, even if it just living off the waste of that system. Besides, even if you did have the choice, what kind of an ethical decision would that be? Leaving everyone else in the shit whilst you and your mates frollick around getting your food out of bins? I am certainly not opposed to the freegan lifestyle, but it has its limits - it is not a sustainable way of liberating everyone. Many people are more embedded in these systems, having families to support and so forth. Liberation is pretty meaningless if everyone's not invited to the party. It is the inescapable totality of capitalism that is so horrendous. The fight is against that totality - not our own little escape route.

Besides, an emphasis on personal liberation has an underlying implication that other, unluckier, less well educated people aren't aware of their oppression. It implies that others need to be "awakened" in some sense from those who are already "enlightened". This is arrogant, and obviously bollocks. Not every worker (or every activist, for that matter) is aware of the finer points of capitalist theory, or their "consciousness". But every worker knows that their boss will cut their job in favour of profits. Every worker is fully aware of how their circumstances work against them. No worker can personally liberate themselves out of this situation. They have to organise collectively, based on their shared experience, and attack the material conditions that operate against them. Everyone victimised by oppression, and excluded from the wealth that is obviously abundant in the world, knows they are victimised by a system that survives on inequality. Individuals may have differing perspectives on how this should be corrected, but they are aware that they are being fucked over.

And this is where anarchists come in. We need to spread propaganda, not because it enlightens anyone, but because it helps contextualise an oppression that people are already aware of. While an overview of anarchist theory is probably necessary, it doesn't have to be academic. I love reading up on history and politics, but a nerdfest circle jerk over an A3 blow up of Kropotkin's face isn't going to change the world. Simply expressed ideas at the right time just might.

"Personal liberation" means nothing. It means nothing because the individual is nothing without communities around to nourish it. It is brought up in the environments of the world. They are completely intertwined. And, likewise, total freedom depends on our focus on our shared enemies, rather than billions of individual struggles.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Utopias? I shit 'em...

"We don't have to worry about the boredom of utopia - we shan't get there." - Colin Ward, Anarchy In Action

We ramble rhapsodies for a future world. We explain, as thinkers did over a hundred years ago, how we do not need governments. We explain that our communities would be better off looking after their own affairs. We explain that a world based on free association and mutual aid is more desirable than one where we compete and conflict. The listener, who may be sympathetic, still smiles ruefully and shakes their head. They say that it's all well and good, but it's our ideas are too far fetched. They say we demand a perfect world. They say we demand utopia.

Anarchism, for me, does not reach for a utopia. An anarchist society simply lays down social and economic conditions in which individuals and communities will be happiest, most productive and most creative. These fundamental ideas (as covered comprehensively in Colin Ward's above quoted book) are naturally apparent in society. When relieved of their compulsory functions as workers, consumers and/or subjects of government, people practice anarchistic ideas without realising it. We all know people who garden, write, sew, mend, paint for hours outside of their jobs or studies. And they are willing to share these skills without expecting anything in return. They do this because it is a good within itself - it is emotionally healthy, and strengthens communities. Our social groupings are based on non-compulsory free association, as are clubs centred on special interests. They don't threaten arrest or the sack if you don't turn up. They presume, correctly, that individuals are happier making free choices.

And then there's the letter of the law, the government's imposed boundaries and limitations on our behaviour. I do not know a single person who is fully devoted to obeying the law. This isn't just anarchist circles, it's everyone. Everyone breaks laws, usually if a) it doesn't hurt anyone and b) they can get away with it. We do not feel naturally attached to the State's law, but we do feel naturally attached to unwritten social laws. It isn't because of law that we don't indiscriminately stab people, it's because we know, deep down, it's really unpleasant 1. Essentially, when possible, we will disregard the idea that a government can order us about.

These are not images from a utopia. This is how we behave when we are free from hierarchy and coercion, even if it's only for a short time. The egalitarian mindset necessary to work within an anarchist society is already within us.

But why would we even want to aim for a utopia? Why would want a world where everyone agrees and lives in perfect balance? It sounds so boring. No differences, no discussion, no changes... utopia is the death knell to our development. Fortunately, nothing is developing exponentially to perfection, and nor should it. The world is constantly changing, tumbling through social and natural evolution. We, similarly, are in a constant state of change. We are inspired by new ideas and new environments. The more we experience, the more our perspectives shift and broaden. This inevitably creates tensions, but these tensions are not to be avoided as aberrations. They are to be confronted in order to produce meaningful change, whether that be personal, social or global.

You may be thinking that this is hippy bullshit. You may be right. But the point stands: a utopia is a pointless thing to strive for. I reject the notion that I am searching for one. I want to see a society where people and communities are unfettered in their free development, and only bound by natural laws and communality. It is the current system of governments and capitalism that is annihilating this process of free change. It is destroying and demeaning us all. Anarchists want to release the world from these shackles and see where we end up. If we don't focus on spreading discontent with our horrendous situation, then we are going to end up in a very unpleasant place indeed.

1. This is, of course, when individuals do not reproduce their conditioning from an inherently violent society, which is all too inevitable. When this occurs, terrible things can happen - everything from prejudice to murder. I do not mean to disregard the awful things that happen in the world, I am merely demonstrating that when relieved of this, people are generally caring and interested in helping themselves and others.

Monday, 4 November 2013

What can men do to combat rape culture?

TRIGGER WARNING: This article talks about issues which may be triggering to those who have been affected by rape.

Some disclaimers before we begin:
  • I use the term "man" as perpetrator and "woman" for convenience as these are the most common forms of rape. I certainly do not mean to say the gender roles cannot be reversed, nor do I wish to exclude trans, gender queer or queer people from the topic as either perpetrators or survivors.
  • I write from the perspective as a straight, cis-gendered man as this is the only perspective I can give clarity to. I do not wish to attempt to account for other perspectives This article is mainly aimed at other cis-gendered men as we are the the most likely to rape. But if the advice is considered useful, I fully encourage those who are not cis-gendered men to take the advice.
  • I'm not claiming to be an authority on rape or rape culture. These are just thoughts I've had over the past few months whilst considering the topic. I hope in some way they will inspire thought, debate and action, and contribute to the struggle against power structures exist everywhere. Corrections, thoughts and comments are welcomed!

Rape culture is a perspective I've only recently been exposed to. Previously, I was aware that rape is treated insincerely by police and courts. I was aware that it was treated unrealistically by mainstream media. And I was aware that it was more frighteningly domestic and normalised than most people would believe. Considering rape culture, though? I didn't fully understand. What does it mean to have a culture centred on rape? Further reading and discussion has shed some light, but I'm still far from having a full grasp.1

Rape culture is the term used to define a society which not only misunderstands and misrepresents rape, but also encourages it and excuses it. Rape culture is the product of a society that harbours an irrational hatred of women, a hatred which has threaded itself throughout history in infinite forms. A binary is established and exploited: if women are perceived as lesser than men, then society must assure that lesser place for them. If this is achieved by the twisting and denigration of female sexuality, then they will become sex objects. To concrete this oppression, men are required to become active participants in this process. Women become viewed as something men are sexually entitled to. They become rape objects. And this, by my understanding, is rape culture: the disempowerment, oppression and silencing of women through sexual coercive and violence.

When we use the word "rape", there's a ready-made image that prickles our consciousness: the stranger in the shadows of the grimy nightclub with his bottle of Rohypnol, the knife-wielding creep waiting for his prey in the alleyway. Doubtless, these people exist in some form or other. But an awareness of rape culture obliterates these images. Rape is more than random sexual attacks, and rapists are more than strangers. Rape can, and does, occur in any situation it can, slithering its ugly way into the very fabric of our every day relations. It is in the long-term partner assuming silence is consent. It is in the seemingly gentle luring of a drunk friend into bed. Submission has many faces.

This makes all men potential rapists. If you are a man and have a sexual history, the chances are high you have raped. I do not exclude myself from this. Every time coercion is used, every time refusal is ignored or manipulated, rape has occurred. Whether through purposefully intoxicating someone, whether through verbal persuasion or physical dominance, or the millions of other forms we manifest rape as, it is something men are conditioned to do. Our natural sexual urges have been fucked with. They have been warped by a societal structure that defines itself by competition for power and dominance. In this combative landscape, rape becomes a weapon.2

Distressingly, it is so embedded in our minds, so normalised, that tackling it becomes a huge problem. But tackle it we must. But how do we do this? 

The first thing to do would be to increase our awareness. Whilst I personally loathe "raising awareness" as an end result, it is a necessary first step to tackling a problem. Read up on rape culture, its manifestations, its power and its workings. Talk to female friends, colleagues, relations about how are they are treated by a male-dominated society. A comment by a friend years ago first got me thinking of the topic. She was describing her constant harassment by men. This occurred whenever she went anywhere. In exasperation, she said: “It's all the time”. This is a key point: women are in the constant shadow of sexual objectification and rape, and, because of this, will have the most insightful comments and observations. Take their comments and recommendations about male behaviour very seriously, even if you do not immediately agree with them.

To struggle against rape (and any) conditioning requires intensive self-reflection. We must critically examine our sexual histories, whether in a relationship or not. We must reflect on our sexual behaviour, in and out of relationships. We must reflect on our thought processes, words and actions. How much do we take comfort from the image of the monster rapist, whilst secretly knowing that "monster" is inside all of us?

I must emphasise that this is not a lone struggle. We all suffer from rape culture conditioning. Organise group discussions regarding rape culture. Have cis-gendered male-only discussions as well.3 Help create independent systems where rape survivors and perpetrators can seek support, help and healing. Systems of oppression rely on us being fragmented and atomised. To combat this, it is essential to communicate with each other, to discuss, to analyse, to share. To know - not to feel, to know - you're not alone in your isolation is a truly liberating experience.

I've used the word struggle throughout for good reason, because it is exactly that. No meaningful change will occur without a struggle, and while there is plenty to struggle against in the outside world, we often neglect our internal conflicts. We must struggle against rape culture at the risk of discomfort and upset, and at the risk of admitting that we may be guilty of atrocious, grotesque behaviour.

To combat rape culture effectively, we need to be emotionally strong and brutally honest with ourselves. And we can only achieve that if we work together.

1. maybe, as a straight, white cis-gendered male, I will never be able to have a full grasp, as my life will never be lived with the constant threat of rape in the background.

2. A weapon against women and men. Whilst rape of men is in the minority, it is, like rape against women, underreported.  In both cases, while a rape is committed by a male against another, it is still the product of misogyny - the aim is to denigrate the survivor through feminising them. There are also reports of women taking advantage of men, which I would still consider it a reproduction of behaviour patterns created by patriarchy.

3. I feel this is necessary. Given the binaries we have been born and forced into, I personally would not feel comfortable discussing many aspects of how rape culture affects me in front of women. Male-only groups are necessary for the same reason female-only groups are: so there can be an open and frank discussion about one's experience within that enforced gender.