LECTURE ON THE ENVIRONMENT AND CARSON
Reading: Silent Spring and Selections on Environmental concepts
In the earliest cultures, humans and animals were understood to share a world together as very much equals. As humanity began domesticating livestock, humans are increasingly understood to be above all animals, the god-like animal. Adam in the Bible is namer and master of all.
At same time, world as balance with humans (like Leviathan and Behemoth). We have done so well as a species that we have become quite unbalanced with nature. While many cultures have spoken of being in balance (Egyptian Wisdom for instance), it was only with the growth of mechanization and technology that Islamic scholars first wrote consciously of the impact that humans had systematically on the environment. This makes sense, as Europe got its machines and chemistry from Islamic civilization.
As we see in The Corporation, in the 1940s and 1950s, just as US became the wealthiest nation, petroleum products were used to make huge varieties of products. Wood and metal gave way to plastic. Remember that it is not ‘the oil stupid’ as far as just gasoline. All our life is permeated with petroleum products and synthetic chemicals. Monsanto and DuPont are the big giants.
What has happened: we are in a culture that can give us immediate things according to our intentions, but such that we ignore the long and complicated process of nature. Nature can sift things out, but not as fast as we can synthesize just what we want while externalizing the unneeded and then ignoring it until it snowballs up into our face. Cancer rates, birth defect rates, and other problems are evidence of the environmental impact.
Add on top of externalization the competition between corporations in a culture that ignores the consequences and people are racing to screw things up and put money in their own pocket before someone else does. This imbalance creates further imbalances. Modern plantations and corporate farms have created surges in pests, and then we spray tons of pesticide to kill the swarms of pests, and then the pests resurge because all of the other pests were killed, and the cycle grows steadily out of control. As silent spring suggests, we need human rights to not be poisoned. While many thought DDT ban was point of book, actually Carson calls for rights. Consider differences in infant mortality rates and who lives in the inner city.
Environmental Issues (from the Blackwell Environmental Reader):
Wilderness: We have seen that this is an interesting issue for utilitarianism. Does one consider best use in the long term to be using everything, or do we leave things unused for long term?
Sustainability: Nature and economy must both be preserved, or both will collapse.
Environmental Justice: Who gets benefits and who gets harm of processes in the culture? One fifth of world consumes four fifths of resources. Some, like Rev. Chaviz Jr., argue for the concept of Environmental racism, that pollution and cleaning products affect those who are ostracized in the worst areas of town far more than others. The horrifying infant mortality rate among American black people, twice that of white Americans, is evidence of this.
LECTURE ON SOCIAL CLASS AND KARP
Power dynamics exist in earliest societies between the ruler(s) and the common people. Hierarchies exist in ape societies and the earliest human societies. We saw the divide in Grossman of the officers from the soldiers, of those who make the call and those who carry out the orders. We have seen how in the Egyptian wisdom the earliest societies created systems of class and ability as they gathered cultures and technologies and developed them.
Class is a very important issue for Americans today. From propaganda week, we know that A, we are systematically taught that ‘there is no class in America because it is a freedom place’, and B, ‘class is something that OTHER cultures are brutal with, but we are free of that problem’. This was what we said about the Soviets, and they said about us. We amplified our accusation of them in our media (including both news and fiction), and muffled anything that could help their accusation of us. The same messages go on today with Islam and China. In truth, class and power have been a very familiar problem since we were apes. Power and authority are a two edged sword. On the one hand, one wants leaders and followers to organize and coordinate human society. On the other hand, one also wants equality and sympathy which power tends to distort and ignore.
America is caught in this bind still today (as is all of humanity). According to some statistics, the powerful today own more than ever before in history, both in amount and in percentage, in spite of the equal and opposite truth that the middle class and class mobility are also larger today than ever before. With modernity and life saturated with devices, humans are more enabled than ever before. This means that the common people are more enabled than ever before AND the gap between common people and the powerful is greater than ever before, which is counter-intuitive. Consider that in the year 1000 in Europe, the average nobleman owned one horse, one sword and shield, and often could not write their own name. The gap today between rich and poor is far greater than the gap between the toiling serf and the noble lord of the middle ages. This is very similar to Grossman remarking that Alexander only lost 700 soldiers in his entire quest for empire in 300 BCE, an absurdly low body count for a modern conflict.
What is Class?
Class is any division of people into recognizable groups. If any group is recognizable to themselves and other groups, this is enough to claim the group is a self-conscious social class. When talking about social class, we often concentrate on the differences of power and ability that people have in a society. There are two types of class status, ascribed (born with it) and achieved (gained in time). The common indicators of ascribed class status are ethnicity (race and tribe), family (royal lineage), gender (male, female or other), and culture (religion, language). The common indicators of achieved class status are position (job or role in society), wealth (property which includes money), ability (skills, education and experience), and fame (honor, success, celebrity).
There is plenty of evidence that apes know the difference between a privileged position on top and a marginalized position on the bottom. In Metaphors We Live By and Philosophy In the Flesh, Lakoff (a Berkeley professor of ability and fame) says that the human mind is ‘hardwired’ to think up as powerful and down and weakness. Thus we can draw a simple chart of upper and lower class. While the extremes have always been there, as society has developed we have developed and complexified the arrangement. The growth of the middle class is an age old process, but with modernity and devices the middle classes have become quite complicated.
On top in society are those who have enough that if they hold on to it they do not need to work. On the bottom are those who have so little that if they do not work then they have nothing at all. In the middle are those who are using all sorts of strategies to get employed and gain property.
The middle thus includes everyone from field workers and janitors to doctors and attorneys.
In ancient societies, often the leaders were from privileged families that had it made in the shade owning everything, and beneath them would be warriors, merchants, artists, farmers and workers. What we have seen over time through the common history of cultures is that as the devices increased different groups gained power and could raise their status. This leads all the way to the complex middle class of today. We saw in ancient Egypt how the classes of scribes flourished, and specialized classes of scribes leads us to academia today. Both Mahavira of Jainism and the Buddha both came from the warrior 2nd caste in India between 800 and 500, which scholars have said indicates that the second class was making power grabs from the highest priest Brahman class at this time. Consider that artists were not rich or famous among the population until modern art made the painter a celebrity.
The complex of the middle class today shows us many types of people who have condensed cultures and strategies for maintaining their position and authority. Consider that a doctor’s opinion is worth something to the patient or the toothpaste company advertising agent, but the doctor has to be backed by the state. Doctors have great power, and thus the ability to acquire greater status individually through money, ability, fame, marrying into the right family, but the doctor who has to earn money is still not upper class. A true upper class member does either management or no work at all and simply owns property. A doctor who sees patients is thus upper middle class, or professional class.
The one to bring all of this out into public discussion was Karl Marx, who we already heard from in objection to utilitarianism (though Marx could be called a utilitarian himself). Marx was disillusioned by the German failed revolutions of 1849. Moving to England, Marx saw the growing classes of factory workers and others in harsh conditions, and began writing books. The French Revolution had shown everyone that the leaders can be removed (the French noble families). Marx was convinced that just as the French had removed the noble families, there was a new upper class that was settling into modernity that would have to be removed. The old upper class in all societies were the noble families. Now, just as warriors had risen up against the Brahmins in the time of Buddha, the merchants and traders had come in modernity to raise themselves with wealth to be equal to or even above the nobles. This means that modernity has seen wealth rise to trump family as the biggest class indicator. This is not to say that family or ethnicity no longer matter (consider the Walton family who founded Wal-Mart, three of whom are in the top 10 wealthiest individuals in the world), but now an owner of a wealthy company is as upper class as one can get in America. This is in part due to American culture which ditched the British nobility system in its breaking off from the Empire.
In America today, in spite of ditching the British noble heraldry, the top 1% are ‘super-rich’ upper class (who earn over $350,000 a year or get that in returns on investments), the next 5% are ‘rich’ upper class (over $100,000 a year), the 44% are middle class (over $40,000), and the remaining 50% are ‘working-class’ and lower class (under $40,000). This means that the lowest upper class members earn just under 9 times what the lowest middle class members earn.
How in America is such power and privilege maintained? Don’t we have a democracy in which everyone can be heard? Didn’t we ditch the British nobility? How is it that the rich and powerful seem to be able to do whatever they want without much attention, but when the common people need schools or medical coverage there is always too much resistance?
In the first short article I gave you from the Race, Class & Gender reader, Class & Inequality, Sklar puts together interesting statistics on wealth and poverty in America. All gains in household income since 1975 essentially went to the top 20%. Since 2000, the US has gained 76 billionaires (putting the number at 374) and 5 million additional people below the poverty line (to make 37 million, the population of the East Coast). Our infant mortality rates, especially for inner city impoverished people, rival rates in Malaysia and India.
In the second article, Media Magic, Mantsios argues that the media (TV and movies in particular) make class disappear from America. In propaganda week, we talked about the messages that the Soviets and US sent back and forth. In American media, not only are black people as tokens doing just great (often as cops and soldiers), but no one is starving or living in their car with their family, picket fenced houses have plenty to eat and a large shopping budget, and class difference rarely makes a difference. In the 80s there were many evil rich guy villains, but the fantastic plot always thwarts the evil guy with too much money and a moustache (great example is Goonies, where the families were going to loose their houses to a golf course run by evil rich father and son, up to the father’s final line ‘No one will ever loose their house again!’ while throwing pirate treasure up into the air).
Poverty is increasing at twice the population growth rate, yet less than 1 in 500 articles in the NY Times is on poverty (and ask Chomsky, they set the nations news). Welfare cheats and aggressive pan handlers take up a sizable portion of the space given to the impoverished in print. Visually, they are never given a face with photographs or clips (a particularly important factor – tell people to go look up the whistle tips clip, compare the tipsters to the middle class white woman complaining ‘I have to get up for work’). Whenever the poor are covered, it is ALWAYS from a middle class white perspective, never from the perspective of the poor. This is lined up next to Democrats unabashedly supporting the middle class but never the poor with words and programs. Obama as other Democrats support “middle class families”, and no one mentions needed programs to help the impoverished get out of poverty. They have to speak as if there IS no poverty, that America’s way of life does not have harmful and increasing side effects.
It is estimated that 2/3rds of the Senate is composed of millionaires. This is quite disproportionate to the population. The media never point this out or indicate it is a problem.
Walter Karp’s Indispensable Enemies
Walter Karp (1934-1989) was a writer and journalist largely for Harper’s magazine. His favorite subjects are the crooked nature of America getting into wars, which he argues are power grabs for the upper class, and the shallow and deceptive two party system of American politics, the subject of Indispensable Enemies, which he argued is a device to keep power in the hands of the upper class and out of the hands of the common people.
Some great Karp quotes:
“The left and right wings of the party establishment- two claws of an ancient bird of prey.”
“The public school system…a 12 year sentence of mind control…destroying the exerxise of intellectual inquiry, twisting it instead into meek subservience to authority.”
“The most esteemed journalists are the most servile. For it is by making themselves useful to the powerful that they gain access to the ‘best’ sources.”
And, my favorite: America has one party with two wings.
(Note similarity to spectrum within one communist party system, left and right leaning)
In Indispensable Enemies Karp starts by noting that in American politics there is always a powerful ‘other’ to blame for not getting what one’s group wants, but no group seems to be able to get what it wants for itself. Karp gives as example country and city folk (farms vs. roads and schools), where both seem to stop the other from getting what they want but neither can get what they want. Karp will spend much of the book examining the two party system in this light.
Karp argues that we are being given the run-around. We are being told that this is the unfortunate bi-product of living in a diverse land of freedom, but the powerful get what they want and the powerless are being told that they get nothing because they and the other groups of powerless are free and opposed to each other. We live in the most powerful nation thus far in history, but we can’t get anything done for the common people and are told this is BECAUSE of the common people and how free they are to oppose one another in their opinions. Karp says: this does nothing to explain how the things that get done do get done, and how they do benefit particular (and powerful) interests.
Karp argues that the basic assumption that parties are trying to win elections needs to be questioned. We need to rather ask what the two parties have done in the last 150 years (the time in which America has risen to be the wealthiest nation). When you look at it this way, we see that the two parties have controlled 50% of the country split down the middle since the civil war polarized the country. A landslide in American elections is 60-40, and neither party seems to push lasting popular legislation. Most states stay blue or red for decades, if they ever change at all. This means that, through all of the changes that Zinn, Grossman, Chomsky, Carson and the Corporation have been talking about, the two political parties have remained exactly the same.
Karp argues that, when we realize that the two parties are trying to maintain control over their 50%, we can see many things. This is the thesis of the book. We can see that anyone too left or right of center is sabotaged by the party. A party would rather see the other side win a district for a while then see someone who is intent on pushing forward real change. You must prove your loyalty and centrality to be big and get elected. If you show any independence or disloyalty the party will kill your campaign with the help of the other party and wait for the next election, concentrating on keeping a tight and simple lock on the 50%, not on pushing forward a program. Thus Karp charges that we have one party, with two wings, not two parties at all.
Remember that Karp started writing as a college student during the Vietnam War. He saw how the Democrats weakly criticized the way the war was run but helped kill the peace movement by “keeping the war out of politics”. This is what we have seen since Karp’s death in the middle east conflicts. We can say in light of the Corporation that both parties also keep corporations and their ability to pay both sides to play ‘out of politics’.
In addition, both parties collude to keep third parties out. If either gets significantly over 60% of the vote, one party could break into two. It serves the simple interests of both to keep just about 50%. That way, both can bank half the population without fear of a third party taking part, and the two can drive the people against each other with empty ideology and there is no competition either for the liberal or conservative establishment such that they would have to do something.
In political science classes, you can learn that most Americans do not vote because they do not believe that they can get anything done. Karp is arguing that the parties are in fact trying for this, to involve one with a polarized party such that one votes merely for right or left and nothing else concrete. You also learn that most powerful corporations and figures straddle both sides of American politics, contributing to both Democrat and Republican campaigns. This is the way that the device works. The upper class pay and play for both sides and further the interests of American power (which is held in particular American hands). The common people are set against each other and told that because the other side is as free as they are nothing can get done.
The parties are not in fact trying to please the public at all, but merely polarize liberals against conservatives while getting next to nothing done any direction for the common people. The parties want your allegiance but no enthusiasm or interest. The decisions that are real, that affect power dynamics and class relations, are to be made by the powerful and not put into the awareness of the people at large. This is how the powerful maintain their ability and the common people are kept from doing anything meaningful or lasting. For example, if a war is on the table, all of congress votes for it and then the Democrats start hemming and hawing to the public about how this war could be better managed. What Karp describes of the Vietnam war, we see again post September 11th. Obama shifts the war back to Afghanistan, yet does not say the war should never have happened. BUT: conservatives can’t lobby congress to get complete freedom for gun ownership for the common people.
Karp argues that the real issues that deal with power in America are never put on the ballot. Consider gun ownership and gay marriage. These two issues will likely be kicked back and forth between liberals and conservatives without much concession. No matter which way either goes, opposite pressure can be mounted easily, and the upper class is not affected in the slightest. However, whether medical coverage should be free rather than owned by powerful people is an issue that changes class relations, and thus it is not a decision that should be given to the common people. It is clear that both liberals and conservatives would vote for free medical coverage even with conservative spin against government spending. Karp argues this is the reason you do not see anything like this on the ballot. In other words, it is all a game of good cop, bad cop, similar also to Operation Margarine.
SEXISM, FEMINISM AND DE BEAUVOIR
Introducing Prejudice (Sexism & Racism)
A friend of mine had a horrible experience when I was preparing this lecture on sexism and the next on racism for the first time. He was playing video games online, and one of the players asked if anybody was black in the most offensive way possible. My friend, who is black, said he did not know how to respond and simply said nothing in return. He said he was still not sure if he should have said something or not, and that this was the first OVERT racism he had experienced in the new millennium. He made a further observation that I have found quite valuable in describing racism and sexism in America today: While OVERT prejudice is often and in most places rare today, COVERT prejudice is constant and continuous. While slurs, mob violence and other open acts of racism are rare, we still live in a culture that is racially divided with institutions plagued by institutional racism. While women wear pants and are not openly called “doll” or “baby” so much anymore, the glass ceiling remains alive and well.
Just a little while ago, overt prejudice was the law of the land. Women were told openly, by teachers and scientists, that they were intellectually and socially inferior to men. I have an older co-worker who told me that when he was in elementary school in San Diego in the early 1950s, his class put on a production of Little Black Sambo, a British children’s story about a boy in India. He got the main part of Sambo which he performed in blackface, applied by his teacher. Because the British called Indians and Africans “blacks”, but this term is not applied to Indians in America, the children in the chorus were dressed up in overalls and mammy dresses and the teacher had them sing ‘Camp Town Races’ and other traditional black songs from the days of slavery even though Sambo is Indian and not ‘black’ or from the South.
It is a sign of progress that overt racism and sexism has become covert. This change has happened almost entirely in the last 50 years, since the 60s and the triumphs made by the civil rights and feminist movements. Unfortunately this change has convinced many, both right and left wing, that racism and sexism no longer exist in America. The media, which downplays America’s social problems (as we looked at with propaganda), ignores racism and sexism for the most part. Worst of all, the few times it pays attention to these problems is when they serve the interests of the dominant majority or powers that be. As my friend noted, if you point at covert racism as a marginalized person, YOU are called racist. We hear about white people losing opportunities to affirmative action policies, but not about racism against minority groups that cost them the same sorts of opportunities. Just after 9/11, feminists made brief appearances on news programs to tell us of the evils that traditional Islamic culture inflicts upon women, and then feminism disappeared again from our televisions.
I enjoy looking at the animal kingdom to see the root behaviors of our human problems. While the apes are our most direct ancestors, the octopus is studied by researchers as one of our most important and ancient ancestors because it has a brain very much like our brain stem, the most basic and early part of our brains. Thus, studying octopi allows us to study the most basic behaviors of animals and ourselves. In one study, researchers took an octopus and shocked it whenever they showed it a teddy bear. Quite understandably, the octopus soon became very scared of the bear, but the experiment did not stop there. They took a second octopus, put it in a separate tank next to the other traumatized octopus so the two could not communicate other than by sight. They then showed the teddy bear to the first octopus, and let the second octopus watch the first be frightened. They then took away the first octopus and showed the second the teddy bear. Surprisingly, the second octopus was even more frightened of the teddy bear than the first. The researchers concluded that octopi can watch each other, as all animals with brains can, and learn about what they should like or fear from the behaviors of others. They also concluded, important for considering prejudice, that the second octopus was more scared than the first because it knew it should be scared of the teddy bear but did not know why it should be scared.
Consider that covert and institutional prejudice are learned reactions and fears, and they need never be consciously or overtly expressed or explained by those who teach or learn these reactions. In this sense, covert prejudice can be more severe and harder to unlearn because it is never consciously or overtly expressed and so there is no opportunity for direct criticism.
A good (or rather horrible) example of covert racism is covered in a famous article The Myth of Model Minority. The article was written in the 90s by Rosalind Chou, then an Asian-American college student who was upset by many articles in Time and Newsweek that warned of rising Asian-American voices as a new “special-interest” group. These articles seemed to speak with the voice of the “average” American, in the name of “the common interest”, a voice that feared Asian voices becoming like African and Latino voices of dissent. Apparently, the “common interest” is threatened by minority groups who have “special interests” that can pull in the opposite direction, and warns that while Asians have been quiet and supportive of the common interest in the past there are signs that they are becoming dissenting opinions like the voices of Africans and Latinos. Chou notes that Time, Newsweek and the mainstream media often speak with such a voice, a voice which does not identify itself as particular or white at all but is speaking in opposition to all other interests. Why are Asian and African and Latino American interests not “our” common interests? This is one of the dominant ways that covert racism remains a constant and very real experience for many Americans.
Today, we cover sexism and the reactions of feminists to the oppression of women. Just like for Asian Americans, feminists are not “us” in the media but a special interest group that opposes the common interest.
Myths and Realities of Gender Differences
The myth is that women are docile, non-violent, unconfident, incompetent, and emotional. Grossman already has told us that there is no difference between men and women in combat physically or psychologically. Women are capable of violence and even rape, though our society does not recognize this yet (Melody’s lesbian serial rapist story, female gang members story, female serial murderers as poisoning, girls style of picking on people vs. boys). Women are not unconfident or emotional compared to men. Consider that it has been said women have a emotional-sexual cycle that lasts 28 days, men’s lasts 6 minutes.
What, then, are the differences between men and women?
Most obviously, there are physiological differences that relate to sex and procreation. In addition, there are two dynamics of psychology in which women differ from men.
First, men tend to seek power through NOT being social, isolating themselves and their opinions, whereas women tend to seek power through BEING social, interacting with others. The two best examples are 1) classic women ‘let’s talk’ vs. men ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ that becomes strained in many heterosexual relationships (choosing a restaurant, where women wants to discuss and man wants her to just pick), and 2) male boss ‘don’t bring it to me until it’s done and done right’ vs. female boss ‘let’s go over the details so we are on the same page’ difference of support offered.
Second, women want to be desired, whereas men want to get what they desire. BOTH OF THESE differences are relative and to a degree, a leaning apart as I like to say. Thus, men like being watched and desired, and women don’t want to talk about everything.
Other than these RELATIVE oppositions, there is no good evidence to suggest that men and women are very much different at all. The work of Piaget suggests that men and women undergo the same mental development in the same set of stages at roughly the same ages.
History of Sexism and Feminism
In apes and the most ancient nomadic and tribal societies, there is evidence that women often had status and leadership positions. Women were shamans, leaders, and there were often central female mother gods. As people began to collect into city states, we can see patriarchy increase.
Why did this happen? The best explanation so far, one that does not rely on any inability of women, is the increased size of the community. When people lived in small communities, women could raise children at the center of the village, as the political center. As city states increased in size, it made it increasingly difficult to raise one’s children at the public center. Thus, women retreated into the home, and men, who had to be the go-for before now were the ones who could venture out of the home and into the centers of political activity. Today, devices allow women to raise children while fully participating in public life, but women are still confined in a way to the home in balancing life between home and career.
When we look at the cultures of the world and their historical development, we can see that all cultures have taken part in a similar oppression of women, but at the same time women have had increasing power in society and new movements have to appeal to women to take off. Consider that Buddhism, Christianity and Islam (the three largest cultures yet) all had to offer women better status and rights than they had previously (Naga princess story of Buddhism, stories of Jesus involving women and men cheating equally bad, Islamic law and divorce and consensual sex), but all three oppressed women (nuns can only teach kids).
Modern society has continued the trend, such that today women have equal legal status in many nations but covert sexism and a lack of women owning property persists. A united Nations 2004 report claims that women work 20% more a day on job and home together than men do (10 ½ hours to men 8 ¾ hours). Women are 51% of the population (technically the MAJORITY of the population), do 66% of the work, get 10% of the income, and worldwide own 1% of the property. Thus, sexism (overt AND covert) is quite alive, in spite of counter claims.
(Performance art piece with empty area of museum with card that says women who clean are the artists who have performed in this space).
Feminism is the movement in reaction to sexism and prejudice against women. The basic idea is that women should have the same status as men in society, or “women are people too” (Kate Weber from high school assembly asks crowd ‘Who thinks women are equal to men?’ most everyone raised hands, ‘Then you are all feminists!’, impressed me much). It is a shame that people, men but ALSO women, are afraid of calling themselves feminists, largely from the backlash of the 80s between the second wave and third wave of feminism which said that “militant feminists” “hate men”.
There are three waves, each building on the last and addressing new issues from the last wave.
The first wave was the women’s suffrage movement of the 1920s in America and Britain. The most famous figure is Susan B. Anthony. She argued that the abortion issue should be set aside to concentrate on women’s right to vote as an adult citizen and women’s right to refuse sex to their husbands (note Mohammed in the Ahadith says this in 600 CE, with problems today). The first wave, not of course known as that till the second wave, ended in 1919 with 19th amendment to the constitution.
The second wave was the civil rights movement, the late 60s and early 70s which is also called the women’s liberation movement or ‘women’s lib’. Defined by Carol Hanisch’s phrase “The personal is political”, took off in early 60s and culminated in the civil rights act of 1966 (backed by both NOW and NAACP, the biggest US anti-sexism and racism groups together). While the first wave said ‘this is America so we deserve to vote’, the second wave was part of anti-establishment left movement that said that America was a corrupt institution that needed to be changed.
Simone De Beauvoir wrote The Second Sex in France in 1953, arguing that women had been marginalized as ‘The OTHER’ by men using Hegel’s idea of the master-slave dialectic (my German Hegel professor ‘a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle’ speaking of feminists using Hegel).
The Feminine Mystique (1963) by Betty Friedan was another big book of the time (much more published in America than Marxist De Beauvoir’s), arguing that women were not feeling fulfilled as homemakers and mothers, and they needed an identity for themselves as individuals beyond the identity of the family (valium in the 50s, TV’s Madmen).
The major criticism of the movement, which only fully rose in the third wave: Gloria Jean Watkins, known as ‘bell hooks’, early critic of 2nd wave as white middle class women empowerment that ignores all else in the name of ‘feminism’, thus hooks’ ‘womanism’.
The third wave was after the 80s backlash against the 60s progressive movements that began in the early 90s and continues today. The third wave tried to not only pay attention to black women, Latina women, third world women, but also to break down the idea of women as essentially different from men but equal.
The two big issues, which are still being fought out today, are 1) Is gender a subjective construct (in the mind) or social reality (in the world)? And 2) Did feminism accomplish what it set out to achieve, or did it in part hurt its own efforts in telling women that sex makes them oppressed? I was talking with a co-worker the other day, and she said her son and his friends in high school think that feminists are hippie women who don’t shave their arm pits, hate men and think that the oppression of women is a thing of the past. Notice that this deals with these two issues: the kids misunderstand feminists as both anti-sex and not recognizing the battle is over.
First Issue: Structuralism of 50s & 60s vs. Post-Structuralism after 60s. De Beauvoir says that ‘one is not born a woman, one becomes a woman’. Judith Butler (I saw speak on Wed) says that gender identity is performative. Both of these figures thus back the poststructuralist conception, that identity is created and performed.
Second Issue: If a woman puts on makeup and wears a short skirt, is she being oppressed or is she actively expressing her individual sexuality? Second wave came under fire from the third wave because feminists often told women that if they tried to be sexy they were being deceived and made into property (vs. my friend from Berkeley at the Lusty Lady, working for prostitute’s rights here and in the third world). This drew a fight between anti-pornography and prostitution feminists and younger pro-sex feminism. Pro-sex feminists ask, even if we are talking of abusive male style porn (vs. porn FOR lesbians), do you want to make porn illegal? Should we try to deny men watching women and lust, or should we empower the individual woman to live as freely and equally as men in a complex and messy world?
This is still a big issue, as many feminist authors have argued that TV and movies today SEEM to be pro-feminist (Sex and the City, Ali McBeal, Brigit Jones’ Diary) but in fact they are stories where a working white woman (and her friends) try to find the perfect man to find happiness. Grrrl punk movement of the 90s, lead group Bikini Kill as third wave branch.
LECTURE ON RACISM AND EUROCENTRISM
As we discussed last time, after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 there was a shift in American culture powered by movements against sexism and racism. Today there remains much prejudice but it is covert, not overt. This means that the majority of prejudice is invisible to the privileged while a constant uphill battle to the marginalized. If you are marginalized and you point out covert racism, you are often accused of overt racism by privileged people.
The best evidence against both sexism and racism is the French psychologist Piaget’s studies of Child developmental stages. Children of both genders and all ethnicities go through the same four stages of development at the same ages (1, 3, 7 and 11). Another great piece of evidence against racism in particular is an experiment where they gave urban American and rural African kids laptops and found that there was no difference in the learning times for basic games.
One of my favorite subjects is teaching against eurocentrism in academics. While the laptop experiment suggests that we all learn and think similarly regardless of culture, one of the central messages in education in America and Europe is that we belong to a special culture called “the West” which is superior to other civilizations, particularly in regards to reason and freedom. Often examples from ancient Greece are used to illustrate this superiority, and then the focus becomes modern Europe (ignoring all other cultures and the thousands of years in between the cultures of ancient Greece and modern Europe). This situation, which many like myself call eurocentric (and thus ignorant), is very recent. It came about in the last three hundred years in the wake of European success and dominance of the world. Before that time, Greeks, Romans and Europeans did not describe themselves as “the West”, nor did they claim to be superior in terms of reason or freedom relative to all other civilizations.
Greek civilization is indebted to Egyptian, Persian, Mesopotamian and Indian thought. Rome has been the ‘father’ of Christian Europe since the Roman Empire conquered much of Western Europe and converted them to Roman Catholic Christianity. How did the Greeks come to be the Grandfathers of civilization? How did the myth of “the West” happen?
The Italians, though lighter than the Romans from constant invasions from the north (the Fall of Rome and afterward), were convinced in each city state that they were the Romans, and so they depicted the Romans like themselves. They also read Greek to read the Christian bible (written in Latin and Greek) and so they depicted the Greeks as looking like the Romans. However, it was not until the late 1700s early 1800s that the Greeks were conceived as the origin of European civilization and the birthplace of rationality and modern politics. This coincides with what Hannaford tells us about the formation of racism.
This is the theory that we can disprove but we still believe, and enshrine in museums, textbooks and most importantly, fictional and nonfictional TV and movies. The last has the greatest effect. What you see your culture present is much more important than an academic argument. The eyes are much harder to doubt than the ears or the structure of an argument. (Consider: Mel Gibson having an all white cast speak Aramaic for “historical accuracy” in The Passion).
It surprises many to learn that the term “the West” came largely into use in the years following WWII, after the Holocaust showed terrible anti-Semitism. Before WWII, academics freely used the term ‘European Race’ to describe the ancient Greeks, ancient Romans, and modern Europeans equally. After the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement, the term became an eyesore. Academics began increasingly referring to this “race” as “The West.
All sorts of ridiculous statements in the first paragraphs of philosophy and history books show us this, where the Greeks are ‘the birthplace of reason’ without context. One of my favorite examples is the British historian who stated in the 50s that the most important event in British history was the battle at Marathon (holding out the Persian ‘Orientals’, who as Wolf points out were paying Greeks to fight the Athenians and Spartans, as they had done with the Athenians and Spartans in the past). Marathon is often cast as the birth of “the West”, even though no one, including the ancient Greeks, used the term until after WWII.
Hannaford’s Race: The History of an Idea in the West
Race seems obvious today, a fact of biology. There seem to be distinct ethnic groups that are easily divisible into recognizable races. Hannaford argues that in fact racism rose with science and modernity in the rise of Europe since the 1600s. There was, of course, always ethnocentrism (my tribe is familiar, your tribe over the hill is scary) that correspond to self-centered thinking on an individual level, but ‘black’ and ‘white’ people did not always exist. In English, ‘ras’ meant a course or current (show branching tree form, trace one branching as a ‘race’). The word did not mean a fully separate category of people until after 1700, as Europeans got wealthy beyond everyone and very successful with sciences. Today research on genetics shows that there is no definable or divisible races that can be fully separated. Rather, there is a tangle of genetic material that is mostly common to a people.
The Greeks hated Barbarians (like the Slavs, Germans and even the Romans at first) but considered the Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians to be civilized and were trying to imitate them and consider themselves thus civilized. Plato and Herodotus loved Egypt and considered it the root of all civilization (Timaeus) and Aristotle thought Mesopotamia was the first civilization and the birthplace of science and philosophy. Greece, like ancient Israel, was caught between these two great empires. Plato argued against ethnocentrism to give the Greeks credit as a civilized people. Aristotle argued that the Germans could never be civilized because they were an inferior race.
There is evidence that the Chinese may have been the first to consider certain women ‘white people’ (think Geishas of Japan). Soon after this the Persians were the first to consider themselves ‘white people’ in these words (‘Whites vs. the Blacks’ play by Persian playwright). Just as European civilization got most everything from Islamic civilization, including most of the texts of Plato and Aristotle, Europe could have easily gotten it’s ‘white race’ from Islam (many of whom, like top-caste Indians, still call themselves ‘white’).
Ethnic conflict was originally between Religions, not races. Thus, Europeans were not white, but ‘Christians’, and they were prejudiced and afraid of Jews and Muslims (1492, the re-conquest of Spain, the Inquisition, and Columbus, and BLUE BLOOD). As Europe developed, race came to be a solidified concept, backed by Science & History (as Barthes calls them, the two great myths). This is when historians made the Greeks and Romans part of ‘the European Race’, as opposed to the Jewish race, the Mohamedian race, the African race, and others. Often, these were paired with colors in common speak but not always. Eventually, German historians and anthropologists centered their study on Nordic and Aryan race as origin of Greek civilization, ancient Israel, and thus the civilizing force of mankind. Kant’s On the Different Races of Men (1775, one year before the Declaration of Independence), says that there are fully separable races and mixing is bad as it degrades the quality of a race.
This thinking has dominated European thought until only recently, and it remains covert within academic understandings today. After the Holocaust, white Christians and Ashkenaz Jews could no longer speak of ‘European Race’ comfortably, so Europe became ‘The West’ over a period of time. We still speak this way today, thought we all know ‘West’ means ‘white’.
Famous joke about European nations’ strengths and faults:
In Heaven, the police are British, the chefs are Italian, the mechanics are German, the lovers are French and everything is organized by the Swiss.
In Hell, the police are German, the chefs are British, the mechanics are French, the lovers are Swiss, and everything is organized by the Italians.
This old joke shows us that Europeans did not consider themselves to be a single race with a single character until very recently. In America, where European peoples blended together to make “white” people, these differences disappeared while color based racism remains today.
Great Moments in American Racism:
The Jews and Muslims are best shown in the 1492 example (killing Jews upside-down, lending).
The Treatment of the Native Americans (reservations today).
The African Slave trade, jim crow and black marginalized communities today.
The taking of Latin America by America, Zoot Suit Riots of 1943, and domination today.
The Chinese exclusion act and post WWII ‘Asian Problem’ (dragon lady syndrome).
Bill O’Reilly went to a restraint with Al Sharpton, and said on the radio that black people have gotten very civilized in the last year or so. Roland Marin, correspondent for CNN says: obviously (bill O’Reilly) doesn’t hang out with many black people.
Racism in America Today:
Black and Latino people are 3 times likelier to be poor, on average earn 40% less that the average white person and have ONE TENTH the net worth.
Racial profiling by police criminalizes the marginalized, keeping them marginal (DWB).
Redlining is the practice of not lending to particular people or selling new homes to let people get out of certain areas based on the area from which they apply.
In the 1940s most white people supported segregation. In 1970, one fourth did. Now, it is estimated that 20-50% of white people agree with racist stereotypes openly, and often do not think of this as racist but rather simple observation of culture and reality (like O’Reilly).
Racism has real costs: study in the American Journal of Health estimated that “over 886,00 deaths could have been prevented from 1991 to 2000 if African Americans had the same health care as white Americans”, stemming from lack of sufficient insurance, poor services, and reluctance to seek care (that is almost a million man march in itself).
In the last article in your reader, called White Privilege, there is a great list that spells out what privileged vs. marginalized means in terms of racism in America today. White people can be in the company of other white people in most environments, can move and travel without fear, can shop without being harassed, can hear about their people’s achievements and how it makes the world a better place while being educated and entertained, can swear and dress in old clothes without people thinking white people are stupid or evil, do not have to speak for their race in particular (remember the Myth of the Model Minority article), can criticize the government and our way of life without fear of becoming an alien, can get pulled over or audited without fear of discrimination, and can get medical and legal help without fear of discrimination.
The media does not cover racism or talk about it as a problem at all, just like the Democratic party (including Obama if you listen to his campaign speeches). Just days ago, there was a study published by Brandeis University in Boston that got coverage by the British newspaper the Guardian and many left leaning websites (many who quoted the Guardian article) but got NO COVERAGE by CNN, the Chronicle, The LA Times, or the Chicago Tribune. The NY Times mentioned the study in the economics blog, which is in the opinion section and not considered an official article. The study shows that even as class differences have widened, white people have made five times the economic gains that black people have made across all economic groups. The study shows that not only have the economic policies of the last 25 years favored the rich and privileged, but that racism is a real economic barrier to black and latino people.
On a final note, we must consider the legislation in Arizona right now. Many are now aware of the “breathing while latino” law that would require police to question latino people they suspect of being illegal immigrants. There is another law, however, that was signed by the Arizona governor making it illegal for any course in a public school to “advocate ethnic solidarity”. The law is aimed at teachers who teach their students about latino cultural heritage and the brutality that latinos endure in America. The governor says that these teachers are racist and are telling their latino students, falsely, that latinos are an oppressed minority. The bill starts off saying it is illegal for teachers to “promote the overthrow of the United States government”, and then shifts to saying that it is equally illegal to teach classes that “promote resentment toward a race or class of people”.
Here is the Daily Show’s coverage of the Arizona ban on Ethnic Studies: