BroadSnark

Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A
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Archive for the ‘Politics’

On the BRICS Bank and Missed Opportunities

August 04, 2014 By: Mel Category: Change, Politics

BRICS summit photo opYou have probably heard about the new BRICS bank. There were a lot of celebratory posts on my Facebook and Twitter feeds. I can’t say that really surprised me. But I am a little disappointed.

I can understand why people would be happy to have any challenge to the World Bank/IMF, US/European chokehold on the world economy. It is lovely that there isn’t only one game in town. But it isn’t as though the BRICS bank is based on better principles. It isn’t as though their development projects are going to be beacons to social justice.

But it isn’t actually the BRICS bank I want to talk about per se. I was listening to Patrick Bond in this interview about the bank and the “inter-imperial rivalries” that it is an outgrowth of. It got me thinking about missed opportunities.

Everybody knows about divide and conquer. I hear plenty of people talking about how we are divided. Just try googling “divided working class.” But rarely do I hear people talk seriously, and strategically, about divisions between elites.

And there are a lot of divisions between elites. Many revolutions are less insurrections by the oppressed than they are disputes between elites. Sometimes, like in Colombia, the people who were dragged into the disputes were screwed when the elites decided to ban together. But other times, like in Mexico, people were able to exploit the rifts between elites and make some changes. Not perfect changes, obviously, but they got something.

It isn’t just applicable to war. How do the old car companies feel about Google now that they are getting into the car game? Why do Google and Facebook care whether or not the cable companies win on net neutrality? How do you think former Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and AIG people feel about being losers in the game they were playing with Goldman Sachs?

I’m not suggesting we spend all our time trying to figure out what these people are doing. Our efforts need to be focused on building at the community level. But that doesn’t mean that we cannot keep our eyes peeled for opportunities that may come up because these greedy, ego-maniacal, sociopaths are constantly at each others throats too. And so are a lot of the local thugs – politicians, developers… – in our towns.

Looking to exploit those rifts would be a lot more productive than cheering when someone who is mildly less of a dick gets a little bit larger piece of the power cudgel with which to beat us.

Your Well-Intentioned Regulations Will Not Bring Justice

June 23, 2014 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Politics

Playa Chacala, MexicoYou have heard of “too big to fail.” Well, the World Bank recently posted a piece called Too Small to Regulate. It is an argument for big business. In fact, it is an argument for industries to be run by just a handful of big companies. It is easier, they say, for the government to keep up with a few behemoths than to try and monitor a whole bunch of independents. According to the authors,

The reason regulation is needed is that, as Nicholas Kristof argues in one of his recent columns, a firm’s “business case” does not always coincide with what is socially desirable. Many actions have harmful side-effects on bystanders who are not party to the decisions—“negative externalities” in the language of economics. It is not in the interest of the firm, on its own, to pay heed to the negative externalities it inflicts. Regulation, with carefully calibrated penalties, can help bring a firm’s profit-maximizing motive into alignment with society’s overall interests.  

There are so many people that I wish would read and think about that article. Because there are so many people I know who are both fervent supporters of increased regulation and fervent supporters of small businesses, buying local, co-ops, independents… Like them, I did not always see clearly that those things are very often (maybe mostly) in opposition to one another.

Laws and regulations are not magic. There are costs and consequences. The consequences will always be more severe for the marginalized and discriminated against. The benefits will always be enjoyed disproportionately by the most powerful and privileged. The US is, after all, an oligarchy. How could anyone expect regulations to benefit anyone but the current and aspiring oligarchs who pay for them?

Marijuana is being legalized all over. With legalization and regulation has come a devouring of small-scale growers and retailers. In Canada, growing for your own personal use has been nixed in favor of large-scale capitalist enterprise with prohibitive start-up costs. One Ottawa entrepreneur

underestimated the money they would need by a factor of three, largely because of the government’s regulatory demands. The application ran 300 pages, not including attachments. And before they could even submit applications, Tweed and other growers had to secure sites for their operations and obtain all local permissions. Applicants who passed the initial vetting then had to pass a final, two-day inspection.

California growers are experiencing similar changes as marijuana becomes taxed and regulated. Maybe you think that is a good thing. But one of the reasons for legalizing marijuana was to stop the arrest and incarceration of users and small-time dealers. If the barriers are too high for legal sales, then the same people will  continue to get arrested. If you don’t believe me, then you aren’t paying attention to the people of color who are getting arrested for cutting hair without a license.

A long time ago I read an interview with Michelle Alexander where people asked her about legalization of drugs as a response to The New Jim Crow. She wisely pointed out that the system will find another way to criminalize and caste poor people of color. She was right. And now she is pointing out that white men are now getting rich from selling pot while black men are still behind bars for doing the same thing.

I know what some of you are thinking. You are thinking that we need regulation to prevent discrimination, environmental damage, and other predatory behavior. But does regulation really work?

We had environmental regulation, but that didn’t stop BP from spilling millions of barrels of oil. Our government’s response was not to hold them fully accountable. It was to limit their liability and save the company. Which is what will always happen. Because incorporation is the government giving people permission to do things without personal consequences. Rarely will regulations actually take down a big company. Rarer still will they take down any of the individuals in it, no matter what they did. People died in that BP oil spill. Who at BP is answering for that? Nobody. Because while the feds will happily raid and shut down an Amish farm, you will not be seeing them in the BP executive offices.

I am not saying that no regulation has ever made a difference in anyone’s life. I’ve written before about the ambiguities and moral dilemmas that we face when dealing with the world as it is while still trying to move it towards what it should be. I am saying that we must take into consideration the costs. And we need to think bigger.

We need to be able to imagine a world where we don’t have a government-protected corporation killing people without consequences. We can do better than trying to force the Walmarts of the world to put in wheelchair ramps, hire minorities, and pay a living wage. We can do better than hoping that people get the kind of job that most of us have – one we hate where we can barely muster a fuck to give. We can do better than monstrous organizations run by sociopaths who are o.k. with poisoning people, because they know they will never be challenged professionally, much less held accountable personally.

Those of you who are fighting for regulation really need to think about the consequences of what you are fighting for. Towns all over this country have had their local businesses eaten up by Walmart. Our food system is controlled by a handful of companies. Unless you go live in a tree somewhere, you almost cannot avoid google. And soon even a remote forest probably won’t save you.

Do you want to be a society of wage-slaves for multinationals or a society of independent, democratic, creative, unique organizations where humans have agency? Because if it is the latter, you need to think a little more carefully about regulation as a solution to our problems.

 

Unincorporate the Worst Company in the World

June 02, 2014 By: Mel Category: Change, Politics

Adbusters has a new thing. They are asking us to vote on the worst company in the world. The idea is to have a campaign to revoke their corporate status. They are calling it the birth of the corporate charter movement.

I think this is a good idea.

People need reminding that corporations are created and sanctioned by the state. They need reminding that incorporation is, by definition, government protection. Why should anyone get limited liability? If there is any time when that is appropriate, when should it be?

I don’t have any hope that we will be able to take down Goldman Sachs. But I think this is a really important public conversation to have.

Total Information. Who Can You Trust?

April 16, 2014 By: Mel Category: Criminalization, Politics

Uncle Sam is Watching YouMy roommate texted me the other night that she needed my social security number. She was doing her taxes via TurboTax and they wouldn’t let her file without it. In DC, there is a housing credit for which it is obvious that neither me nor my roommate are eligible. But TurboTax made us go through a whole bunch of questions that were supposedly necessary to assess our eligibility. The program asked for all household members and their social security numbers. I ditched TurboTax and went with H&R Block who didn’t ask me to share my roommates personal information with them.  

Just as I’m thinking about how infuriatingly accustomed we all are to giving information to government and/or private companies,  I get an email from the DC government informing me that it is time to get my REAL ID. Apparently, back in 2005, a national ID was snuck onto a piece of military spending legislation. I’m told that there was a bit of a stink when it happened. Many states, in fact, said they would refuse to participate. But it is slowly rolling out anyway.

So what is this REAL ID?

The federal government no longer wants the states to be able to determine their own rules for issuing drivers licenses. And while the feds cannot exactly force the states, they can make certain state IDs not usable for federal identification purposes. That means, for example, that your state ID could not be used to board a flight within the U.S. They say these new regulations are about anti-terrorism. But they are more about anti-immigration and about cataloging all of us for ease of future harassment and control.

What I and every other license holding resident of DC will need to do is go down to our local DMV with at least four pieces of identification that meet their standards. In my case, for example, I’ll have to go down there with my passport, social security number, apartment lease, and a bank statement. All of these items will be scanned and held in their system. I will also have my picture retaken and added to their facial recognition database. The ID that I will be issued must have a machine readable zone. Here is what the NYCLU had to say about that in this report they issued (p. 14).

Similar to a bar code, the machine-readable zone must contain minimum information to allow any entity with a reader to capture the data on a driver’s license. The Real ID Act mandates the following minimum information be included in the machine-readable zone: license expiration date, issuance date, state or territory of issuance, holder’s legal name, date of birth, gender, address, unique identification number, and inventory control number for the physical documents maintained by the state.

DHS has granted states the authority to add information to be contained in the machine readable zone, including biometric information, such as iris scans or fingerprints. DHS has decided that the personal information contained in the machine readable zone will not be encrypted, which means that it will be easily accessible to government agents and the private sector. Moreover, there is no prohibition on third party access to information contained in the machine-readable zone.

So basically the states can include iris scans, fingerprints, or pretty much any creepy thing they want and they cannot encrypt the information. Even if you are one of those people who trusts the government to compile limitless data on you, are you really o.k. with anyone you need to show your ID to having that information? There are already bars that scan people when they walk through the door. Do you trust every bar and gym and restaurant with your iris scan?

I’m not even going to entertain the arguments about needing this for our security. Nothing the government does is for our security. It is for their security at the cost of ours. If you want to read some of the arguments, then feel free to click through to the congressional testimony or this article from Bruce Schneier.

What I will do is ask people to imagine the kinds of abuses that could occur with a system that collects that much data about all of us in one place. Think of the number of people who will have access to my name, face, gender, dob, social, passport number, bank account, and address. In Ohio, they freaked out because they found out that 30,000 cops plus had unfettered access to DMV info with facial recognition. Multiply that times the fifty states. Police routinely abuse their access to information to harass, stalk, or murder citizens. Now we are just making it easier.

Do we really need to write yet again about the kind of files that the federal government has been collecting on activists from the beginning of time? Here is a handy summary of some of the more well known acts against us by our government.

What is it going to take for people to stop rolling over and start asking why it is o.k. for us to be cataloged by a cooperating cabal of government and private agencies?

 

The Classism and Ignorance of Liberals

March 17, 2014 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Politics

This photo came from “Being Liberal” on Facebook. My friend posted it with some comments about how problematic it is for liberals to denigrate the rural poor who are then scooped up by the republican party. But I am going to be waaaay more harsh.

I am so tired of liberal/democratic/progressive classism.

What is your evidence that the democratic party is so great for poor people? You know who are in prison right now? Poor people. You know who put a whole lot of them there? Democrats like Bill Clinton, “the incarceration president.” When one of the political parties suggests dismantling the prison industrial complex and the military industrial complex, you let me know.

All this voting “against your economic interest” is a load of crap.

Poor people vote in far fewer numbers than rich people. And it so happens that Kentucky, the state being bashed here, has some of the lowest voter turnout in the nation. Sometimes people don’t vote because they have been permanently disenfranchised due to their incarceration. (Kentucky has the 6th highest rate of disenfranchisement in the country.) Sometimes they don’t vote because they cannot get to the poll. Sometimes they don’t vote because they don’t have ID. Sometimes they don’t vote because they know it won’t make a damn bit of difference in their everyday lives.

Anyone who wants to point out that the poorest states are republican should be slapped in the face with a list of the states that have the largest income inequality. My home, the resolutely democratic DC, is at the top of the inequality list. It is followed by New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. And the inequality is only getting worse. Where’s that voting against your economic interest nonsense now? Or are you proud that the rich people in your state/city earn so much that average income figures hide the hideous poverty of the people who clean the houses and mow the lawns of the elite?

If the only thing that you are considering when you vote is your own economic interest then you are a complete asshole. When I make decisions in my life, I make them based on my values and conscience. I don’t make them based on how much money will be in my bank account. (If you need proof, look no farther than my bank balance.) For a whole lot of you, voting your “economic interest” really means protecting your privilege.

In my experience, the people who post pictures like this have almost never been to the “fly over” states or bothered to speak to the people who live there. Their ideas of the rural, white poor come from media coverage – which is apparently oh so accurate when it comes to this one group of society. Or maybe they are just watching bad television that uses “hicks” as the villains because it is a socially acceptable meme.

If you haven’t seen or experienced something for yourself, you should really hold your judgement. Reading a study about a community does not make you knowledgeable. It is not o.k. to dismiss people as ignorant because they don’t have a degree or because they go to church. It is not o.k. if we are talking about poor, indigenous people in Bolivia. It is not o.k if we are talking about poor, white people in Kentucky.

The truth is that liberal, “educated” people need the low-class, ignorant hick meme. So long as they exist to denigrate, nobody has to acknowledge that racism, classism, and sexism are systemic and will require a complete upheaval of the systems that give so many liberals the privileges they currently enjoy. As was pointed out so well in the comments of this post, when a lot of white liberals say “racist,” what they usually mean is low-class.

Our problems are not going to be resolved through party politics. They sure as hell aren’t going to be resolved by shitting all over people you have never met. In fact, I would think a prerequisite to democracy would be actually speaking to the other people involved.

Perhaps, if people stopped being such ignorant snobs, they would find out that there is a whole lot of knowledge, mutual aid, and radical thinking that they are totally missing out on. Maybe the people who want to save themselves from mountaintop removal use Christian langauge in West Virginia. Maybe some of the biggest cooperatives serve the needs of (oh my gosh) republicans in the south. Does that make those efforts worthless?

Maybe we all have a lot to learn.

/end rant

Venezuela and Tensions of the Left

March 03, 2014 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Politics, Seeking

Half Marx Half Kropotkin A while back there was a Reddit argument between a Marxist and an anarchist. They were having the usual debate about what happens when a movement takes state power. The anarchist said something along the lines of, “When you take the state do you promise not to execute me by firing squad.” (There is something of a history here.) The Marxist’s reply was something along the lines of, “When we take state power do you promise not to start an insurrection?”

“Touché,” said the anarchist.

I’ve been trying to keep one eyeball on the happenings and debates in and about Venezuela right now. By that I do not mean the composition of the people in the streets. The evidence of that seems pretty clear. I’m paying attention to the disputes on “the left.” I’m thinking a lot about how those disputes could actually make movements towards justice stronger instead of being weaknesses that can be exploited by those who are clutching onto their power and privilege.

As anarchists, we will always be suspicious of and critical of power. I will never accept hierarchy or coercion, even from those who seem to share many of my other values. I’ll never support police power and its abuses, even if I am in moderate agreement with their bosses. I will never be comfortable with a top down model of change. However, I am also very practical. So while I cannot support a top down model of change, I can nominally support a power structure that provides more room to move toward the society I want to see.

I think us anarchists have to look at power structures and ask some practical questions. Do the people, especially the most oppressed, support the power structure? Are we less restricted and repressed under this power structure? Is there more room for our transformational projects to take hold? If I can answer yes to those questions then I can be, at least, less against that power structure than another.

But I will never stop being critical and bringing attention to the inconsistencies and hypocrisies. And when those criticisms are greeted with absolute hostility, as though any criticism means being  traitor to the revolution, or at least on the side of the oligarchs, that is infuriating. It is especially infuriating because paying attention to our criticisms could actually strengthen the very movements that get so pissed at us.

Take this piece by José Antonio Gutiérrez D. He is not vilifying the government as a whole, but he is saying that many have been sucked up into its power structure and have become corrupt. He isn’t asking to undo what has been done or denying the positive things that have happened, but he is pointing out that some of the most radical democratic projects – like worker managed factories or real land distribution – have fallen by the wayside with disastrous consequences. Most importantly, he is pointing out the danger of resolving this crisis through more state power instead of through more people power.

Apart from the immediate measures (such as harmonizing the price of petrol, curbing the flight of capital, speculation and hoarding), it is essential to understand the real nature of the social contradictions facing the “process”. It is not enough to recognize that it is not perfect or that it naturally has contradictions. These contradictions and limitations must be identified, discussed, critiqued and corrected. We cannot just close ranks around them, justify them, nor even less so make a virtue of them and close our eyes to the impeccable “leadership” of the leaders.

The people today cannot be a passive agent nor nothing more than government shock troops: they must take back their capacity for political action, for acting themselves, with their own agenda, because socialism will not be built by the State. Decentralization, the autonomous development of the organs of people’s power and social control is an essential task in the present moment. There must be a transfer of power from the State apparatus to the popular movements and their organization

If I were to sum up my line of thinking at the moment, I guess it would be something like this. Centralized and hierarchical left movements should listen carefully to the criticisms of even the most pain in the ass anarchists. We are showing you your weaknesses, weaknesses that could be your downfall. (By downfall, I mean both the chance of losing power and the chance of becoming totalitarian.) And anarchists should be clear in their constant barrage of criticism that we also acknowledge – in so far as it exists – the community support and changes brought about by hierarchical movements.

I realize that this will be an uneasy and somewhat temporary truce. But at this time, we need each other. The world is less and less willing to accept any of the isms. When an anarchist criticizes a movement or government for authoritarianism or when a woman criticizes it for sexism, they need to be taken seriously without people getting defensive or dismissive. Those criticisms show you the weaknesses that need to be addressed. There is, unfortunately, very little room for error when trying to make a massive social change. There is, fortunately, less and less room to placate people by saying that their concerns will be dealt with later. We’ve all heard that before and we know that moment never comes.

So lets keep having that dialogue and critique and use it to make us stronger. Because the powers that we are up against are immense and we don’t have a lot of room to fuck up.

Support the People Not the CML

February 25, 2014 By: Mel Category: Core, Politics, Seeking

Evo MoralesWhat is going on in Venezuela right now has brought to the surface a lot of tensions between different parts of what is usually referred to as the left. That’s a good thing. And I expect I may write a few things about those conversations in the coming weeks. But I want to start with this quote my friend Navid put up on his FB page.

As an anarchist I still support the governments of Venezuela & Bolivia. Why? Because they are building popular governments & are in the process of distributing power to the bases. Anarchists & Libertarians that are living under neo-liberal governments & have produced no structural change to the way they are governed want to criticize & dismiss the work that the governments of these revolutionary movements. It would be nice if Evo Morales didn’t have to be a president. But because we are still living in a world with nation states, most of them republican, social movements & the governments they put in place will continue to struggle with the contradictions of distributing power through the state. Anarchists & Libertarians that want to take what they think is the ‘principled high road’ of not supporting & in some cases dismissing the work of the governments of social movements, I don’t think have a vision of how we can actually achieve a world without borders or states. I would love to be able to wish & dream this into existence but the fact is, there are steps, and none of them lack contradictions. We have to acknowledge reality & collectively deal with it. — Cexilia Poncho Rojo

I don’t know any anarchists who don’t struggle with the fact that we sometimes support state programs or political changes as a practical matter in the here and now. We understand the contradictions. You will find plenty of anarchists who protest for state funded housing and education. You’ll find plenty of anarchists who vote.  We get that we live in a world where it is expected that we will all live in states or participate in groups led by a charismatic male leader (CML).

But

As someone whose beliefs are fundamentally a critique of power, I will always raise an eyebrow toward anyone who pursues power. I will always be skeptical about what will happen to even the best intentioned person who attains power. I will always be vigilant in watching how people use their power. Because I believe that power corrupts. Most importantly, I make a very large distinction between the people, the social movements that bring someone to power, and the CML that becomes the face of that movement.

Evo Morales has an inspiring personal narrative. But the movement that brought him to office is what really counts. And when those people turn around and protest President Morales in order to force him to cancel an amazon road project, I have no internal contradiction about whether I should support the president or the people who put him in power.

It is the same for other social movements as well. I have respect for MLK, but I believe that Ella Baker was right that the movement made Martin, not the other way around. Ultimately, it is the people who are important, not the power center or the anointed face – as inspiring as that person may be. As a bonus, when you keep your focus on the people instead of the CML, perhaps losing that leader doesn’t put the whole movement into disarray.

It is an exaggeration to say that all governments and leaders are exactly the same. Some are definitely more responsive or more repressive than others. In so far as there may be people out there who are summarily dismissing the beneficial things these governments have done, Rojo’s criticism is valid. But in so far as I am expected to confuse support for the people with uncritical support for the CML, which is often what people seem to want, that just isn’t going to fly.

 

 

Tobacco, Taxes, and Thuggery

August 21, 2013 By: Mel Category: Politics, Stratification

Back when I started smoking I could get a pack of cigarettes for around $1.35.  Ah, the good old days when I could kill my lungs on the cheap. When the mega taxing of cigs started, I could just hop over to the Seminole reservation and get a carton for $18 or so. No more it seems. Monumental, greedy douchebags like New York State Senator Carl Kruger (who should still be serving his sentence on corruption charges) couldn’t stand missing out on a little revenue from the reservations.

Reservations are supposed to be sovereign. “States have no authority over tribal governments unless expressly authorized by Congress.” Of course, nothing stops people like me from hopping over to a reservation and taking advantage of tax free cigs. State governments, especially New York, sent themselves into a tizzy about it. They argued that non-native people shouldn’t escape the tax. (Never mind that, if I go to another country and buy the shit out of some cheap cigarettes, I am totally allowed to bring them back.)

I’ve been following this story for a while, as I am

1. Addicted to cigarettes

2. Think it is about damn time we stop screwing with indigenous people

3. Like any story that makes unquestioning, liberal tax love inconvenient

4. Love the DIY FU response from the Oneida

5. Think the drug legalization movement needs to pay attention to people being prosecuted for smuggling legal things

Of course, people are getting around the taxes in all sorts of ways. And, of course, the government is getting thuggish about it – like confiscating truckloads of cigarettes made on one reservation and bound for another. In March, a few Indian smokeshops were ordered to pay more than $10 million for selling untaxed cigarettes.

Then today I come across this AP article that conveniently leaves out any context when telling about a couple from Independence, Kansas that is under a 43 count indictment for smuggling cigs to be sold on reservations. (Side note: I’ve been to Independence, Kansas. Not a lot going on there job wise.)

I haven’t seen a whole lot of people paying attention to this. And I’m wondering why. Is it because the normal small government and anti-tax crew don’t give a shit about what happens on reservations? Is it because the gooey liberals who claim to care about indigenous people love taxes and forcing “healthy behavior” on people? Is it because conservatives like state government and liberals like federal government and almost nobody really cares about preserving any kind of freedom from both? Or am I being to complicated. Is it just that most people don’t even know indigenous people exist anymore?

I’ll leave you to decide.  I’ll also leave you with this Dave Chappelle snippet. Enjoy.

 

 

Pregnancy, Coercion, and Responsibility

January 14, 2013 By: Mel Category: Core, Politics, Religion, Seeking, Sex, Stratification

I was reading about this abortion restricting bill in Michigan. While I realize that it is another attempt to regulate abortion out of existence under the guise of safety and regulations, something in that article struck me.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has approved a controversial package of abortion restrictions that will limit abortion access for women who live in rural areas, require doctors to prove that mentally competent women haven’t been “coerced” into their decision to have the procedure, and enact unnecessary, complicated rules for abortion clinics and providers.

Why those quotes around “coerced”? I know young women who were coerced into having abortions because their parents were embarrassed, because they said they would refuse to help take care of the child, because the father would not take any responsibility, because the community would not take any responsibility, because they had no other place to turn to.

I also know many women who were coerced into having children. Women have their contraception tampered with. They are pressured by their husbands and families to reproduce when they don’t want to, even though the primary responsibility for the kids will fall on them. They are pressured by their community and religious institutions not to abort. They are pressured by the social assumption that everybody “should” have kids.

If you read The Girls Who Went Away, you will read story after heartbreaking story of young women prior to Roe v. Wade who did not have the option to abort and who were coerced into giving their children up for adoption. When I say coerced, I don’t just mean the shame and social pressure. I mean that actual force was used to get them to sign adoption papers. Sometimes the papers were even forged.

And what about all those women around the world who have no access to birth control, much less abortion, and who are poor? Some wealthy couple from the U.S. or Europe sweeps in and pays an attorney tens of thousands of dollars to adopt the child. They take the child away from their mother and community and we are supposed to think that it is a happy ending. Meanwhile, if the mother received the money that went to the attorney, she might have been able to keep the child. Isn’t that a form of coercion?

Nobody should be coerced into having children and nobody should be coerced into not having children. But it is more complicated than not telling women what to do with their bodies. It is also about economics and social support.

And here is where it gets even more complicated. Whether or not other people have kids affects us. I sincerely wish that wasn’t true. I wish my decision not to have kids meant that I would never have to deal with the responsibility of children. But much as I hate to admit it, it just isn’t the case, not even in the best of circumstances. But it is especially true when really damaged people decide to bring kids into the world.

It may be tempting to say that some people should not be allowed to have children. But as much as I may cringe at the prospect of certain people being parents, even more cringe-worthy is the idea that there is anyone out there who has the right or the impeccable/superhuman/prejudice-free judgment to determine who is worthy to have children. We can’t have judges ordering women not to reproduce. We can’t let governments decide to sterilize people because they are trans or poor or disabled.

Other people’s lives and decisions affect us – even people we don’t know. Sometimes that really sucks. Sometimes people make horrible, irrational, and irresponsible decisions that we all have to live with – and that includes people who lived long before we were born. But sometimes people also do things that we all benefit from without having had to make any effort or sacrifice. While we are quick to condemn those whose bad decisions cause us inconvenience, nobody wakes up in the morning feeling guilty that they don’t have polio because some other person’s kid invented a vaccine.

I have written before about how I think the nuclear family is a failure, that it is really a mechanism for limiting our responsibility. It has also been used to control and shame women, especially poor women. Some of those Girls Who Went Away later found out that the only real difference between them and the adopted mother was a husband and a slightly larger bank account. But those two things are significant when we live in a society that likes the benefits without the responsibilities.

Conservatives want everyone to be in the supposedly perfect and stable nuclear family where the father and mother take care of everything and nobody else (supposedly) has to get involved. Maybe your church or neighborhood might pitch in. Liberals want to get involved (entirely too much) by legislating, taxing, or sending in some (hopefully) well-meaning civil servant who is getting paid to kinda care. Because paying a tax and sending in a social worker takes a lot less effort than actually getting involved in a kid’s life. Neither way is working very well.

All of which is to say that, when it comes to pregnancy and children, there are a lot of tensions that cannot be resolved. They can only be managed. The question is how to manage those tensions in a way that is not coercive or authoritarian. How to accept that we cannot seal ourselves off from others decisions, but also not leave us constantly cleaning up other people’s messes. How to get out of these intractable and unhelpful debates where we just grab onto a platitude and refuse to listen to anyone else.

Not easy.

Victor Jara, Solitude, Justice, and the USA

January 07, 2013 By: Mel Category: Politics

It looks like Victor Jara’s murderers have some small chance of being brought to justice. Jara, if you are unfamiliar, was a musician and activist in Chile during the dirty war. He was tortured and killed by Pinochet’s thugs. Now Chile is prosecuting his murderers and it turns out one of them is hiding out in the US. Jara’s widow is calling for his extradition.

Coincidentally, I’ve been thinking about a Jara quote I just read in 33 Revolutions Per Minute.

It seems nobody dares to be themselves. They are afraid of solitude and because of that, everyone is alone in a mass of lonely people

He was talking about us estadounidenses. I always assumed that fear of being yourself was a universal human trait, but maybe we in the U.S. have taken it to a whole new level.

It is ironic that people aren’t themselves because they fear others won’t like them. If people don’t really know us, how can they like us? Besides, isn’t it partly sharing faults, secrets, doubts, fears, and fuckedupedness that connects us. Makes sense that the less we are willing to do that, the more isolated we all feel.

So if Jara was right, what is it about our culture that walls us off so thoroughly? Are the boxes we put each other in even smaller than in other places? Is it connected to how punitive we are, how unforgiving? How do we break that? How can we change anything if we don’t break it?

Course, as punitive as we are when it comes to minor drug offenses, we have a history of refusing to extradite thugs like Luis Posada Carriles and Emmanuel Constant. Given that we supported the government that killed Jara, I won’t hold my breath.

Here you can listen to Jara’s singing one of his last songs. The words and an English translation are here. I kind of prefer Francesca Ancarola’s version on that site and below.