Thursday, August 31, 2006

Litmus tests

I post pretty often at Huckleberries Online, a blog connected with a local paper. In case you didn't know, "local" for me is North Idaho, smack-dab in the middle of Jesusland. As such, most of the other commenters are quite conservative, and I like to play the token liberal when things get to be a little too echoey. Today, on the subject of Larry Grant's positioning of himself as a moderate, and the idea of the "moderate Democrat" in general, a commenter had this to say:

I find the left-right argument bemusing. Most folks I consider hard left proclaim that they are in the middle. Yet when you ask them to find someone hard left, they can't seem to pinpoint anyone, or find a single extremist. E.g., most of Hollywood is far left, but when you ask them they claim to be moderates "right in the middle." Whereas on the right, most folks admit to being hard right or "right of Atilla the Hun."

Folks, if there is no one to the left of you, then you are on the far left.

Posted by dang 31 Aug 10:32 AM
dang even provided us with a helpful diagram:As the wacko liberal (I'm not the only one, but we are few and far between) who runs into blogospherians much more liberal than her on a daily - who am I kidding; hourly - basis, I had an objection to this. I gave this response:

...I'm a leftist, but I'm in no way the leftiest lefty that ever lefted a left. If you want some names, I would consider Dennis Kucinich, Jello Biafra, and Ralph Nader as to the left of me. I would put Joe Lieberman, Bill Clinton, John Tester, Harry Reid, and even Larry Grant on the right of me.

Of course, we all have different signifiers for left and right that can be totally off-base - think of christian reconstructionists who are also huge into environmentalism in service to their devotion to all that God has created. So, I am pro-choice, am not a big fan of Wal-Mart, but love shopping at Winco. I am completely unmoved by either side of the (admittedly, dead and buried) gun control debate. I eat meat, and think hunting is a cool hobby. I support nationalized health care but totally don't get farm subsidies. So where does that put me, exactly? The thing that puts me on one side or the other, I believe, is my belief that everyone deserves equality of opportunity, and not just a superficial one but one that can be emperically shown to be the case.

From this information, dang concluded that I was one of the good ones - someone who isn't bound by one party's ideology. I think he's (or she?) wrong, but mostly because he doesn't have a very reality-based idea of what makes a Democrat tick. As a middle-class, college-educated, straight married woman of a liberal bent, I'm pretty much the bread and butter of the Democratic party. Give me a national Democratic platform, and I will align with it pretty faithfully.

So I have to wonder what it was that discombobulated dang's ability to stick me in the category R or D. Maybe it was the combination of pro-hunting pro-choicer? A supporter of nationalized health care who proudly shops in big box stores? I'm not sure, but what I gave dang came back as DOES NOT COMPUTE.

Deciding which party (if either) a person would be happiest as a member in is one thing, but it's even harder to draw the boundaries of what actions put you on the good side of an issue, and what actions put you on the bad side.

A long while back at I Blame the Patriarchy, the infamous patriarchy-blamer Twisty Faster got her blame on in regard to a Mexican ad campaign that featured scantily-clad women telling men that they don't need to follow custom and eat sea turtle eggs to ensure upstanding performance in bed. Andy (aka ACS, aka my husband) got into a lot of interesting concepts in the comment thread, but after he passingly called those who would eat endangered sea turtle eggs for the sake of a frigging boner "monsters," he recieved this response:

In any event, calling turtle-eaters "monsters" is ridiculous. Borderline racist, in fact- and that "borderline" is giving you the benefit of the doubt, because I'm a hell of a nice guy that way.

Most of us do things that are far worse for the world than eating a sea turtle egg. What kind of mileage does your vehicle get, ACS? You know that sea turtles are at huge risk from oil drilling in the gulf of Mexico, right? You have a cell phone? Cell phones are the primary use of an ore called coltan, the market for which drives deforestation - and nasty, horrible genocidal wars - in the Congo basin.

You have any kids? Are you prepared to call people who bring more larval North Americans into an already overpopulated, overconsumed world "monsters"? Because on the scales of Enviro Justice, one fully-loaded double-barreled stroller full of Brio-chewing, Thomas-the-Tank-Engine-watching future GOP voters counts for far more damage than some schlemiel in Quintana Roo worried about his floppy dick. Do you know how many species native to the Pacific Northwest are in big fucking trouble just so that you can turn on your porch light or have potatoes barged to you from Twin Falls?

For all of the ridiculous hyperbole displayed in that thread, I was taken aback to see something so insightful. The cultural importance of an environmental sin can have a huge effect on how forgivable it seems. As someone who's not about to believe that eating sea turtle eggs is at all an important part of a man's love life, I have a perspective that makes doing something so ridiculous seem recklessly unethical. Then again, I throw away huge amounts of plastic every day (pipette tips, microtubes, plastic-wrapped everything so it stays sterile and RNase-free) in service of diagnosing the diseases of animals - thereby contributing to the feasibility of big agriculture, no doubt. Is that okay? I think it is, obviously, but I'm sure that someone living next to a planned manure lagoon or landfill expansion wouldn't be so impressed.

If that doesn't make you reevaluate what sends up an ethical red flag to you, let's look at what's been going on around Pandagon. It's generated a lot of discussion, so I'll do my best to summarize what's going on. It all starts here with a post by a woman called Random Bird discussing her ambivalence about what seems required of her sex life for her to be a feminist. The piece involves very personal and very traumatic events from her past, and goes on to reject what she sees as a feminist mandate to abandon her preferences. Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon picks up on a lot of RB's weird, male-centric and female-disempowering language and goes to town slamming Random Bird in typical fashion. Marcotte repeats many times in the ensuing comment thread that she feels obligated to be just as ruthless to anyone who in any way is buttressing cultural norms that hurt women. RB's defenders are ready to give someone who is obviously the victim of something traumatic (Abuse? Assault? No one seems interested in pinning it down, which I think is for the best.) the benefit of the doubt.

Personally, I found Marcotte's piece - and disinterest in taking responsibility for really raking Random Bird over the coals - to be very off-putting. There are a lot of very questionable things that RB says (the characterization of the vagina as a penis-or-tampon-requiring maw, for example), but Marcotte's takedown had more than a whiff of blame-the-victim to it, and not one iota of respect for Random Bird as a thinking and feeling human being.

And while I'm not really impressed that Marcotte hit "publish," I can understand how this happened. Pandagon - and more specifically Marcotte's - m. o. depends on picking apart loonies and offering them up to an angry audience. I can see the fun in picking the low-hanging fruit at WorldNetDaily, though it does wear thin eventually. I mean, how many funny ways are there of saying that Kathleen Parker is a rape apologist? I've seen less glaring instances of Marcotte's merciless attacks on people before - no links, but I've seen Marcotte treat her understanding of the submissive wife's sex life as one of rape as though it's something the rapee is doing to hurt Marcotte - but never have I seen it directed at someone who is so obviously interested in furthering the goals of feminism.

What I saw here was a case of friendly fire. Marcotte took some of the cues that indicated Random Bird to be a defender of sexbotism, and was ready to treat Random Bird like she would any anti-feminist. That is, cruelly. It's enough to make you think about the tactics you use to expose the nastiness of your opposition, and even more importantly, how you decide who your opposition is to begin with.

I get the impression that I'm arriving at a concept that I would have learned in a 101 class if I'd majored in something more touchy-feely. I didn't, though, so this is all new stuff to me. It's definitely given me a better perspective of just how challenging and delicate making progress can really be.

Lots of interesting reading has been generated by this dustup, so be sure to check out Bitch|Lab's much more informed view of just what has taken place. As a bonus, check it out for B|L's unified theory of what I can only call Twistyism. Also, see Random Bird's explanation of herself, and antiprincess' hard-won insight into what feminism hasn't achieved the ability to do.
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