GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

March 28, 2013

The Loves that will Dare not Speak Their Names

Filed under: GA — adam @ 10:54 am

The United States is a pathetic joke of a country. Our political class (but who put them in office?) is paralyzed when it comes to crafting budgets, controlling debt, defending borders, developing coherent relations with friends and enemies abroad-but, for a non-issue like same-sex marriage, we are capable of moving rapidly toward self-righteous unanimity and policy clarity. Only those issues of concern to the victimocracy get addressed expeditiously, but the only issues of concern to the victimocracy are those pseudo-inequalities that allow them to conduct unending simulated Nuremberg-style show trials of stereotyped victimizers. It’s worth saying a few words about the same-sex marriage question, nevertheless—not because it is a serious human or political question, but because one of the desperate (but what kind of resistance to the left isn’t going to be a bit desperate these days) counter-proposals allows us to follow a thread through the unraveling. That counter-proposal comes from a strain of libertarianism, which says, just get the government out of marriage. Let individuals of any size, shape, number, dimension, mode or degree of intimacy create whatever contracts they like regarding the sharing and disposition of property, reciprocal obligations, the terms of contract termination and post-termination settlement, etc.; let the government remove all reference to marriage from tax codes or anything else; let churches, synagogues, mosques, etc., marry who they will, and, perhaps, agree to supplant the state as arbiters in cases of divorce (with the consent of the married parties, of course); and, let adoption agencies, schools, home sellers and renters, employers, etc., recognize whatever form of marriage suits their own interests and conscience.

This proposal should be put in play, because, obviously, once marriage can be same-sex, it can be anything—perhaps anything the government says but, ultimately, anything anyone says. But there are problems. Who, after all, enforces contracts? The government, which is to say the façade behind which the victimocracy conducts its crusades, would be far more involved than marriage then ever before, with the responsibility to sort out a whole array of confused, complex, and misconceived contractual arrangements, with, undoubtedly, extremely incompetent, unacceptable and easily evaded modes of enforcement, leaving tens of millions in legal limbo regarding crucial issues like child custody. Well, as someone has said, when you can’t solve a problem, enlarge it—that is, let’s radicalize further. Let’s shift over to private courts: we would have to get into the habit of signing our contracts before mutually agreed upon arbiters and, presumably, of conferring upon those arbiters agreed upon powers of enforcement. This new system would put an enormous social division in place: between those who would continue to rely upon state courts or simply exit any system and create informal, loose, polygamous family structures, as is already the case in many American inner cities and among the under classes generally, on the one hand, and those who would opt into the new system of private courts; and, two, within the new system of private courts, between those with discipline to work within a system relying heavily upon a willingness to abide by verdicts that will undoubtedly be difficult to enforce (will a private court really be able to impose a judgment on a husband to takes the kids, in opposition to prior agreements, from Tennessee to Oregon?) and to avoid recourse to the courts in the first place. The old system, especially once abandoned by the responsible and self-sufficient, will devolve into some combination of quasi-totalitarian nanny state rule, in which the state regularly steps in and regulates parents and cares for children, on the one hand, and renewed clan or gang systems, on the other, as women will have to rely on their male kin (or any other vehicles of male violence they could enlist, through whatever degradation to themselves) to avenge and rectify their violations and abandonment by promiscuous men.

Would 50% of the population be capable of migrating into the new system? 1%? How many would be necessary to make it sustainable? Whatever the answers to these questions, the point of this thought experiment (I don’t mean to suggest I think it couldn’t happen) is that if such a migration, or exodus, were not to be possible, then our current system isn’t possible either, because the ability to reciprocally promise and fulfill such promises necessary for such a system is exactly what we would need to hold on to what we have, because the government no longer supplements and shores up the values and commitments required for a nuclear-family centered society but actively undermines them.

One last question. When a woman has a baby, what makes that baby hers? (For clarity’s sake, let’s leave the father out of it.) Go ahead: justify her “right” to the child. I don’t think you can do it. Childbirth and parenthood are now state-sponsored and regulated activities like any other. Do you not need a birth certificate to authenticate the “provenance” of the child? Are there not myriad laws determining how you must treat and care for and educate the child, along with a full array of government agencies empowered to enforce those laws (would we have it any other way)? In other words, you didn’t birth that: just like the government built the roads and educated the workers and supplies the police and fire fighters that make it possible for you to do business, and so you didn’t build that, so the government (at least) funded the hospitals, gave loans to the doctors, had the FDA approve the pain killing drugs, vaccinations, etc. (and you usually need a road to get to the hospital as well) that made your giving birth and then raising your child possible. You will have no argument once some government bureaucracy, armed with a plenitude of studies regarding the needs of children, goes from house to house determining which children are better off where they are and which ones would be better removed to some more approved environment. One more term in office and Mayor Bloomberg will no doubt get to this. The difficulty you will have arguing against this without some presumption of the pre-state naturalness of the mother’s relation to her child is exactly the same difficulty we have arguing that marriage simply is a sanctified union between a man and a woman, the “joining of their flesh into one,” or whatever equivalent liturgical phrase it is sheltered under. The very fact of having to argue it makes us bereft.

In the privatized system I am imagining, what would make the baby the mother’s from another, equally disturbing standpoint—that is, what recourse would there be if mothers starting abandoning their children and taking off beyond the reach of whatever jurisdiction they inhabit? (We can no longer assume anything. Why, indeed, care for a child that just happened to pass through your birth canal?) A genuinely private system of civil law would only be possible among people who understood that such questions cannot be answered via an impeccable sequence of declarative sentences: marriage is marriage, children are children, parents are parents, and so on. People do terrible things, like abandoning babies, but only those who know, without necessarily being able to say how they know, what marriage is and what mothers and fathers are, are capable of knowing that such things are terrible and that we must step in to remedy them by taking in children, setting up orphanages and foster parenting institutions, restraining parents who become dangerous to their children, and so on.

Permanent damage to the language is probably harder to inflict than such damage on institutions. You can erase “husband” and “wife,” “mother” and “father,” even “son,” daughter,” “sister” and “brother” from official documents, but it will be more difficult to uproot them from people’s minds and our overlapping heritages. And the words themselves, which will exist not only in people’s conversations but in books written more than 10 minutes ago that some people will still read, will be found appropriate to experiences, and will serve as a rebuke to those see them as little more than slurs (if you think I am exaggerating, I don’t think you have worked through the logic of “same-sex marriage”—an examination of the implications for entire vocabularies of love, affection, intimacy, and so on would itself require a lengthy discussion, as would the inclusion of the totality of the effects of the therapeutic state). For quite a while, anyway, there will be ways out for people who want them.

March 8, 2013


Filed under: GA — adam @ 6:42 am

The almost unanimous conservative euphoria over Rand Paul’s filibuster the other day seems to me an odd thing. More precisely, it seems to me delusional, and therefore demanding understanding. Much of the excitement seems to result from the sheer novelty of a real filibuster, requiring the speaker to hold the floor (and hold it in) for hour upon hour; part of it is the hunger for someone with the “balls” to finally “stand up” to the Obama administration; part of it is the entrance into public life of the libertarianism that has been percolating for years around the margins of the conservative movement and Republican party, which takes its rhetorical power from a fetishization of the US constitution (by which I mean not adherence to its terms, but the belief that the defense of the constitution defines our political imperatives and priorities, and that the constitution contains the answers to political questions, even to questions regarding the best mode of public life); part of it is a sense of stealing the left’s issue and their thunder, and even gaining the grudging support of the more honest among them; and part of it is, I assume, genuine concern over the immediate issue at end—the question of whether the President is constitutionally empowered to assassinate (or is it only to assassinate using “drones”?) American citizens on American soil.

But if we start with that issue, without which the entire event is really nothing more than catharsis, it seems to me there is much less there than meets the eye. I have noticed that on conservative websites, discussions of the general principle get met with indictments of the Obama administration’s duplicity, opportunism, cynicism, and treachery, most of which indictment I share, but now tipping over into the further claim that if we can’t put it past them to demonize Tea Partiers, gun owners, Christians, veterans, etc., as potential terrorists, then we also can’t put it past them to start assassinating them. This slippage into left-wing style paranoia (the indulgence of which I would add to the above list as reasons for the euphoria) both misses the supposed “real” point and unwittingly demonstrates the emptiness of Paul’s entire exercise: such an administration would have no problem acknowledging they have no right to do something and then going ahead and doing it anyway; and whether the government might misuse the powers at its disposal tells us nothing about whether it legitimately possesses those powers. And on that question, the answer seems to me obvious: the President would have to have the power to put down a rebellion organized on American soil; such a rebellion, by definition, would exceed the powers of law enforcement and put us on a war footing; part of putting down a rebellion that, on this assumption, controls part of US territory, might very well involve assassinating its leaders, even those who are involved in political and propaganda rather than strictly military operations, something well within the laws of warfare; since it is conceivable, even likely, that, say, a portion of the Southwest in some combination socialist/Mexican nationalist Chiapas style revolt would include American citizens, those American citizens would be making themselves targets—so, yes, obviously, the President would have the right to kill them, using drones, poison, exploding cigars or any other available lethal technology. (I notice in rereading this that victimary thinking would exclude even the hypothetical construction of such a scenario, since one must in some way “stigmatize” some specific group in order to do so—I could have imagined an Islamist revolt in some part of Michigan, a white supremacist revolt in Idaho, etc.—in any case, names must be named—so, denying the very possibility of such an event feeds one’s self-congratulatory White Guilt or self-righteous victimary stance.)

Disposing of that question leads me to conclude that the roots of the euphoria lie even deeper than the causes I have given so far: the assertion that no American President could ever have the right to assassinate an American citizen on American soil silently assumes and therefore reassures us that it will never be necessary to do so—that we are as inviolate here, on our own land, as the 9/11 attacks may have led us to believe we no longer were. Any war on American territory would be for causes both left and right are well equipped to diagnose and combat, at least in their own imaginations: the home grown tyranny that our political doctrines have always warned us against. To put it bluntly: Paul’s filibuster allowed conservatives to join in the fantasy, which began 9/12/01 and has grown steadily in strength ever since—the fantasy that 9/11 didn’t really happen, and that there is no enemy out there that we don’t create by violating our own principles in some way, through some original sin of our own. On my reading of the evidence, those who enter this fantasy don’t leave it—indeed, why should they, as its terms are idyllic, combining in equal measure victimary resentments, an orientation towards one’s own, familiar, domestic political opponents, and an inexhaustible justification for romantic and populist posturing against the state. A state that they all, in the end, know will not really take them out with a drone as they sip their latte. This simply confirms what I concluded following the November elections: that Americans, having gotten on the victimocracy train, and will not get off until it has high sped to its destination, whatever that might be.

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