October is Masculinity Awareness Month

October 6, 2015

Not really, but it might as well be.  Domestic Violence Awareness Month in Oregon roars in with yet another public shooting, in Roseburg this time:

“The elephant in the room with … mass shootings is that almost all of them are being done by men,” Professor Kilmartin says. Male shooters often “project their difficulties onto other people…”

A friend of mine just covered the shooting in Roseburg for the AP. She said there was once this one public shooting like 10 yrs ago done by a woman:

In the majority of cases, the catalyst for the shooting was something that threatened the man’s identity as a man. The main statistic is inarguable—69 [ed: now 71] males to one lone female. Being a man is the single most common characteristic of every mass shooting in the last 32 years. – See more at: http://goodmenproject.com/ethics-values/patterns-mass-shootings-conversation-men/#sthash.TiX1QKYN.dpuf

I would go further to surmise that the vast supermajority of these men are cisgendered, meaning they fit the gender assigned to them at birth, e.g., as opposed to gay, transgendered or other queer identities, because queerness as a political identity often requires owning up to and exploring ourselves, which means shedding vs embracing patriarchal impositions of identity.  Men who do not identify as “queer” must find a similarly-effective way to accomplish this same task of owning and exploring themselves, and ultimately shedding and embracing any patriarchal impositions of identity inasmuch as they do not accurately reflect or represent their (constantly changing and evolving) person.

Banning guns to prevent male-pattern violence is like trying to prevent food poisoning by removing the food — it’s just the vector.  Guns don’t kill people. Patriarchal masculinity kills people. It terrorizes us all in both public and private ways. And it happens through a lot more means than guns.

Patriarchal masculinity represents a social embodiment of coercive control (e.g., alongside white racial and upper socioeconomic class identities) to maintain a rigid social hierarchy.  Domestic violence is a kind of private terrorism that results from patriarchal masculinity.  Please note that I’m not saying that coercive and controlling women don’t exist — they do inasmuch as they internalize and enact patriarchal behaviors (which is relatively rare though certainly not unheard of).  But the first victim in every case is the person who becomes the violent vector for social reproduction of coercive control.  It creates an internal, ongoing crisis within the person.  Like a communicable parasite, it changes the person’s attitude, behavior, their perception of themselves vis-a-vis the world.  Then, ironically, in an effort to escape the crisis, they start doing the social bidding of the controlling identity, and become agents of coercive control, first in their intimate lives…

…and later, in more public forms:

Men who commit violence rehearse and perfect it against their families first. Women and children are target practice, and the home is the training ground for these men’s later actions.

A recent study found that more than half of the 110 mass shootings in the United States between January 2009 and July 2014 included the murder of a current or former spouse, an intimate partner or a family member. Everytown for Gun Safety, the group that released the study, found a “noteworthy connection between mass-shooting incidents and domestic or family violence.”

This connection is not limited to mass shootings. An analysis of the criminal justice history of hundreds of thousands of offenders in Washington State suggests that a felony domestic violence conviction is the single greatest predictor of future violent crime among men.  (from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/03/opinion/to-stop-violence-start-at-home.html?_r=0)

Male-pattern violence forms a type of “aggrieved entitlement,” where masculine-type people have become “pissed off about an inability to cash in on privileges previous generations of men received without question.”   In other words, as the gender hierarchy collapses, the racial and class hierarchies intensify the pressure they exert on masculine-type people to reclaim some modicum of social privilege and repair and stabilize the hierarchy.  Men who don’t deal with their toxic masculinity will find themselves immersed in a sort of private hell (a la Eliot Rodgers) that infects their person, their relationships and ultimately their public expression of self.  The low-hanging fruit for men who walk this path involves directly imposing themselves on others.  For men who don’t have access to racial or especially class privileges (wealthy men can impose themselves using money and the economy), this often becomes a very physical imposition.  The most empowered forms of this imposition are often the least visible.   Wealthy masculine-type people like Donald Trump can stand in front of a camera while their economic clout works its magic behind the scenes, put to tasks of buying and even killing people.  My partner reminds me that the CEO of Hershey’s chocolate can live completely isolated from the slavery that supports his wealth.

I think some masculine-type people fear that the destruction of masculinity will result in a bunch of “spineless pussies unable to stand up for themselves.”  Based on my personal experience, nothing seems further from the truth.  The more I reject and abolish masculinity within and around myself, the more I feel I can act with clarity and courage to help protect and liberate myself alongside those whom I love.  For example, when I intervene in a situation, I no longer feel constrained to act within a narrow range of what masculinity accepts as legitimate, and I have access to an entire range of tactics and strategies to bring effective resolution.  When a dude is maneuvering someone who is way too drunk into a sexual encounter, I don’t need to fight as a “good guy” against “bad guys” and I don’t worry about being seen as a “pussy” or “cockblock.”   I can focus on survivor safety and empowerment and de-escalation and anything else that seems effective at maximizing the success of the intervention without worrying about whether my “manhood” is at stake.  Others in my life who have rejected masculinity in their own ways (queer people, feminists, even and especially other cisgendered men, etc) also represent some of the most courageous and effective people I have ever met.  Without masculinity, our struggles become more effective.  What does it mean (for me) to “reject” and “abolish” masculinity?  That’s something for another essay.

So to stop the terrorism, we need to target it at its root:  the toxic, patriarchal masculinity that exists in a larger, rigid social hierarchy among interlocking race and class hierarchies.  Masculinity is so fundamental to our social structure that it forms a sort of lynch-in that either enables or undermines progress toward liberation.  All people can choose to become either agents of social control or agents of liberation, and for men in a patriarchal culture, this means confronting and ultimately rejecting the masculine ego.  More and more I come to believe that people who happen to have external genitalia don’t need masculinity — rather, masculinity needs us, the people, and all forms of intersecting oppressions need patriarchy.  It represents a fundamental social unit of oppression and a primary enforcement mechanism for rigid social structures.  I do not argue that oppressions still exist, but by rejecting and sabotaging masculinity, we both greatly weaken the kyriarchy of intersecting oppressions and we vastly increase our capacity and potential for liberatory practice.

So starting this year, I will begin to think of October as Masculinity Awareness Month, or Coercive Control Awareness Month.  Domestic violence awareness suffices as a means to the same end.  However, I think it focuses on a symptom of the underlying problem, and we ultimately need to start looking seriously at the inherent pathology of masculinity alongside our efforts to render domestic violence increasingly visible and support and celebrate those who continue to survive in its midst.

Elimination Diets and Food Testing Tool

September 3, 2015


I’ve had some chronic health issues for most of my life.  I won’t get into them.  Recently, in the past few years, they had gotten much worse, and, upon the complete failure of the medical establishment to provide any answers, I started looking into the massive impact that diet and (by association) lifestyle has on our health.  This line of inquiry led me, through grace and by grit, to Sarah Ballantyne’s exceptional (well-written, rigorously researched) labor of love on diet and lifestyle factors impacting optimal human health.

The major process of resolving chronic health issues (whether physical, physiological, neurological, emotional, digestive, etc) involves making health-supporting lifestyle and dietary changes.  Most of the dietary work comes in the form of an elimination diet, which means getting rid of (potentially or confirmed) problematic foods responsible for creating or exacerbating health issues, to cause a permanent remission in chronic health symptoms.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that you “cure” your condition, but it gives you the capacity to live without the negative symptoms (such as allergies, frequent illness, digestive upset, migraines, brain fog, anxiety, depression, fatigue, pain, etc) which is pretty darn cool.  Sarah Ballantyne’s book is by far (note the triple emphasis: bold, underline and italic) the best guide to this process I have found.  I’m not getting paid to write this by anyone (unfortunately).  I just can’t recommend it highly enough.  Ballantyne writes with a rare combination of ethical sensitivity, intellectual rigor, passion and competency.  In my opinion, a rare kind of genius.

By eliminating problematic foods, supporting our health with optimal nutrition and lifestyle factors, we heal the damage done to our bodies over the years, and allow it to recover.  The length of the healing process depends on how effectively we eliminate problematic foods (typically grains, legumes and other seed-based foods [aka, “pseudo-grains” like quinoa and buckwheat], allergens, dairy, alcohol and nightshades) and how much damage our bodies have already sustained.  A consistent remission of symptoms indicates that healing is occurring (for people who got it real bad, a consistent cessation of symptom worsening may be all they can hope for).

Toward the end of the elimination diet and healing process, people who feel better have the option of undergoing a food testing process to determine their food sensitivities.  It’s not nutritionally-necessary, but it can make life in society that dumps problematic foods all over the place a lot easier when we know what we absolutely need to avoid under any circumstance, and stuff we can cheat on every now and then for the sake of social flexibility without too serious of consequences.

When I first started on this journey, the very concept of an “elimination diet” confused me immensely.  What to eliminate?  How?  When?  For how long?  What’s this “testing process?”  Sarah’s book explained all this finally in such a fantastic way, I feel like it’s my turn to contribute some resources to this growing (and I think, very positive) trend of people treating chronic health issues via diet and lifestyle changes instead of through drugs.

Food Testing Tool

After searching and searching, I could not find a tool that

So I created this tool for two reasons:

  1. Because I feel, for the first time in my life, optimistic about my long-term health prospects.  I will get to the “testing stage” and when I do, I want to be ready for it, to set myself up for success.
  2. I have yet to find a decent, practical resource for oral food challenge tests.  Sarah Ballantyne’s book explains the process well enough (many other books try and fail).

My Creative Commons contribution is a distillation of the practical considerations for the testing process:

  1. challenge_chart_instructions:  A short set of instructions written as a 10-step process
  2. challenge_chart:  A printable chart to help people track and organize important information through the testing process
  3. The Paleo Approach_Reintroducing_Foods:  A short excerpt of the testing process from Ballantyne’s book as an additional reference material, under fair use consideration for educational purposes.  I strongly recommend you just get the whole book, because it provides a lot of very useful additional information.  It’s been worth more than its weight in gold for me, including the emotional support that it has provided through this difficult process.

Solidarity Amidst Microaggression

July 27, 2015

For any movement, group or organization, learning to fight well across the privilege gap means everything about its capacity to develop, as one activist put it, “non-oppressive solidarity.”  That is, solidarity that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone falling in line with or giving into the white dude, and, here’s the kicker, even when the ideas he presents have substantive merit.  Say what?  Sometimes it’s less about what a white dude says, and more about where, how, why, when, in what context and to whom he says it.  You know, the structural stuff.

To be clear:  I write this as a white dude, pulling from my experience as a white dude who interacts frequently with well-educated white dudes.  It also includes experiences of friends and others of the non-dude or non-white variety.

When two white dudes fight, it might seem like this to them:

[for the sake of it, let’s give them British accents, top hats and monocles]
“Objectively speaking, your opinion of Truth lacks basis in rational fact.”
“Indubitably, your divergence from scientific inquiry is highly problematic.”

and to others it might look like this:

[two giant monsters yelling and fighting]

Discursive power dynamics manifest in subtle ways.  They have a way of insidiously infiltrating and co-opting interactions, and often leaving people at the shit-end of the stick wondering why they feel so exhausted, belittled, unheard, illigitimate.  The dyanmics can appear so subtle that perpretrators often dismiss them as “semantics” (a defensive focus on content to ignore the structural fact that they are semantically defending their frame of reference over and against yours…their definitions are “true” and “correct,” yours are “semantic quibbling”).

Compare the following phrases:

  •  “The problem with microsensitivity is nothing ever gets done” vs “I think microsensitivity is a problem”
    Notice the difference?  Let’s look at another…
  • “You’re right” vs “I agree with you”

Not, “I think you’re right.”  But simply, “You are right.”  Of course, sometimes it means, “I agree.”  But sometimes it really means, “I have access to Absolute Truth, and I hereby declare you correct.”  A complete act of hubris, yet so deeply entrenched into our psyches that we take it for granted.  Some douchebags (and their mimics) try to come across as authority figures (cue the irony violin!) and ‘educate’ everyone else around them.  And sometimes it happens without us trying, and has everything to do with who is talking (down?) to whom, rather than what’s being said.  When white men behave like white men while they interact with others, it often feels like this:

[normal sized person]
“I think there’s a racial and patriarchal power dynamic in this space”

[large monster with erect penis pointing menacingly at first speaker]

Even when they try to act as allies, and focus subtantively on the ideas and not on the power dynamic, their response can feel like this:


Which is enough to send anyone running confusedly for cover with a big, WTF? smeared across their face.  Because it’s a mind-twisting experience:  a substantive agreement (he thinks I’m correct!) and a shallow display of “agreement” structurally wrapped up inside the white dude declaring himself the humble arbitrator of Truth and Legitimacy, which then leads everyone else to either accept or reject his “gift” of legitimacy.  Sometimes white dudes go further and use this power dynamic to frame and co-opt follow-up work:



So, for this reason, people of color and women and queer folk often seek or carve out “women-only” or “queer-only” or “queer womyn of color-only” spaces as a refuge.  Not to say that they don’t fight…they still fight.  And substantively it can sometimes look a lot like white manfighting:

[two normal-sized people]
“You’re wrong in that, sis!”
“Oh, yeah, prove it!”

But structurally, it’s often not nearly as traumatic or triggering.  Micro-aggressions can wear us down, so that when that well-meaning white dude says to us at the end of a shitty day,

[big dude talking to normal-sized person]
“IT’S JUST SMALL STUFF.”  (not to me…and there’s a lot of it)
“YOU JUST HAVE TO BE LESS SENSITIVE.” (so my feelings aren’t legitimate?)
“DON’T LET IT BOTHER YOU.”  (why are you telling me what to do?)

it’s no wonder that people who ordinarily exercise extraordinary grace and patience and resilience finally snap and say stuff like,


Especially if this is the first time in a while they feel safe expressing themselves, or things have just gotten so bad, they’ve stoicly endured so many degrading provocations, that their suppressed need to defend and express themselves finally outweighs their need to survive in a hostile world.

[big man above turns pouty]
“…how am i narcissistic for offering her solutions?”
Because, good sir, you assume your “solutions” are based in a Legitimate Reality that maps directly onto her life experience as helpful and useful, because You Say So.  And it often doesn’t map, and they often aren’t helpful.  And even when it does map and they are helpful, stop fucking assuming so.  Because it means you aren’t shutting up and you aren’t listening, and if you aren’t listening, you aren’t learning and relating.  You’re just projecting and imposing shit on others.

Sometimes solidarity looks more like:

“Hey, how was your day?” (genuine curiosity)
“That sucks, what happened?” (genuine empathy with genuine curiosity)
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Ok, well, I’m hear to listen if you want to vent.”
[and sometimes]
“let me know how I can help.  what do you want to do now?”  (sometimes, no one knows)

You know, listening and accepting and offering support on *their* terms, not *yours.*

White men and people of privilege generally have extra work to do to put themselves on an equal level with others.  We have trust and respect to earn.  And that’s the way it should  be — because that’s the way it works with everyone else who doesn’t have access to our privilege.  And it can take a long time to acheive that trust and respect.  Sometimes it never happens.  Sorry, dudes — blame the racial patriarchy, not the people struggling through it.

On the flip side of that extra effort, white men are also often not used to being held to account for our microaggressive trespasses.  To us, someone holding us to account for something feels like an “attack,” which means we get defensive, we shut down, go on autopilot, puff out our chests, bully our way through the conversation and don’t hear important feedback about the feelings and concerns or constructive suggestions of others:

[normal-sized person]
“i need you to be more collaborative and less condescending if you want to be my ally”

[crying giant]
“WHY DO YOU HATE ME?”  (translation:  “why do i feel so horrible?”  Because this stupid patriarchal society coddled and emotionally babied you up to this point, and you’re not used to a real interaction)

or one of my personal favorites:

“i need you to take responsibility for hurting others”

and just like that, it’s all about him.  All about how *he* feels hurt as a result of someone expressing how something he did hurt them, a result of asking him to behave differently in the future.  All because we’ve been trained and socialized from birth to confuse difficult conversations with personal and even physical attacks.  It’s an accountability shield, and when we follow him down that path, it makes his feelings more important to deal with than everyone else’s, which means others have no “legitimate” feelings about their experience with interpersonal power dynamics, let alone the space to air them.  Hence the creation of spaces free of white men.  We all bring enough internalized crap into the room with us — sometimes it’s just too much to have to deal with the external onslaught at the same time.  So it’s nice to have spaces where people don’t have to put up with at least some of that external privileged hostility for some of the time.

[large spectacled white man]
[translation:  just accept what i have to say, how i say it and never try to hold me accountable when i talk down to you]


It’s hard to get into this stuff, because it means questioning whether so many of the people we want to consider “allies” really have the capacity to build solidarity.  This disruptive behavior does not result from innocent ignorance.  When women or people of color offer their precious time and energy and vulnerability to give us an insider perspective into their experience, do we listen, accept, learn, probe, identify, develop, relate, transform?  Or do we dispute, dismiss, correct, command, reject, belittle, delegitimize, reframe?  Ultimately, it’s not about the the topic or even individual incidents of trespass, but about someone’s ability to demonstrate courageous vulnerability and abandon their implicit allegiance to white male supremacy.  Someone’s ability to trust another, especially when it’s uncomfortable to do so and a slap in the face of their fragile ego.  And until someone can demonstrate that acceptance, then it’s hard to imagine them doing anything other than undermining a liberation movement from without or within.

“There’s this post-modern obsession with this notion of ‘allies’ — ‘how do i be a good ally?’  The great Ruby Sales says, “We don’t need allies…allies, y’all can check in and out.  ‘It’s not my struggle, i need to wait for my leadership…’  We need freedom fighters.  The difference between ‘ally’ and ‘freedom fighter’ is you’re willing to put your body on the line.  You’ve got blood in the game.  Are you willing to put your body on the line, because you understand that you have something spiritually at stake — that your soul is in jeopardy because of racism, that it does something to your humanity, that you are less human…the white folks I trust are the ones I’ve been to jail with…”  — Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou

When someone who wants to be an “ally” puts their body on the line, then they move past shallow “allyship” into the realm of developing solidarity.  When we’re willing to put ourselves on the line, little (but important) constructive critiques of oppressive interactional dynamics don’t alienate or drive us away.  Instead, they challenge us, exercise us, build us up, make us stronger in the same way we exercise our bodies to become better, stronger people.  Ever been a bit sore after a good workout?  No pain, no gain — and after the soreness subsides, you’re stronger, faster.  The same workout gets easier.

White men who want “solidarity” without pain and mutual struggle do not want solidarity — they want appeasement.  And they’re not only fragile, they’re lazy.  Let’s face it:  Closeted white male supremacy hasn’t infiltrated liberalism and progressivism.  It IS liberalism and progressivism.  A left-leaning articulate, well-educated white male can rationalize his way into a paper sack and call it Kingdom Come, with almost limitless capacity for self-delusion.  Perhaps this explains why I most often see microaggressions coming from the well-to-do…

the folks that can actually speak to the white working class (namely radical white working class people) are few and far between, and that many are actively silenced and ridiculed for their backgrounds by affluent white organizers. While much has been done to point out the inherently racist issues that plague many progressive and radical organizations, almost nothing has been done to point out the inherent classism that runs rampant on the left.  — Dave Strano, http://libcom.org/library/rednecks-guns-other-anti-racist-stories-strategies

I did not write this post to tiptoe around while looking for “potential allies.”  I did not write this post to appease fragile, well-educated white male egoes.  I realize it will offend some — perhaps many — white people (men, especially).  I look for people who can read my use of “douchebag” as both self-critical and light-hearted.  I look for people who can do more than agree with me — people who can also see how this essay might apply to them.  I have yet to see any amount of education instill this ethic in someone.  I’ve only seen the opposite:  in the absence of this ethic, “education” only serves to further undermine our capacity to connect and build solidarity while enhancing our capacity for socially (self)destructive behavior.  On the other hand, I have also seen education amplify and empower the ethic in many people who take it with them into the education process.

This essay serves for me as a reminder of the need to set firm boundaries wherever possible and shit-can (compost) people from my life who continuously manifest and do the work of the very systems and institutions I seek to destroy.  It’s not anyone’s responsibility to educate anyone on this stuff, either.  Even when it’s one white dude talking (down?) to another white dude…sometimes the dude-in-question just doesn’t want to listen, no matter how knowledgable, experienced and articulate and sensitive and careful the other person might be.  No matter the presence of penis and absence of melanin.  And if someone doesn’t want to listen and learn, then they need to go away and do some more fundamental work.  We can (and probably should) tell him that, and he (probably) won’t listen.  We can, however, set the boundary, and expect him to call us all sorts of “feminazi reverse-racist discriminator killjoys” for not allowing his subtle (sometimes whiny) rampage to go unchecked.  Often times, a white dude would rather be a white dude than a traitor to his white male supremacist identities.   In such cases, the boundary we set, as our last desperate act of tough love, is the only thing that will get them to seriously consider the previous feedback we’ve given them.  And if not…then it’s even more evidence in support of setting the boundary in the first place.

Setting such boundaries has offensive as well as defensive potential:

“The task is not to win over more whites to oppose ‘racism;’ there are ‘anti-racists’ enough already to do the job. The task is to gather together a minority determined to make it impossible for anyone to be white. It is a strategy of creative provocation” (Noel Ignatiev, http://racetraitor.org/abolishthepoint.html)

White men who openly refuse to identify with and support whiteness and masculinity as others publicly manifest it start to chip away at the social constructs of white male supremacies.  It confuses and complicates the process of social control, makes collusion with oppression more difficult, because members of the establishment can no longer assume “ally” or “enemy” of us based on physical appearance.  This does not, however, mean adopting a form of neo-blackface privileged mockery of black identity.  When we abandon white masculinity, the allegiances and identities we embrace will constitute and carve out new, alien spaces replacing traditional and false “male v female” and “black v white” dichotomies.  And the establishment will do everything it can to suck us back into those dichotomies.

How do we tell people who have capacity to build solidarity apart from the others?  Growth is often tedious and painful for everyone involved, but we should see initiative, sensitivity, and clear progress over time in developing solidarity.  So when we point out that someone is talking an awful lot, interrupting or talking over or down to others, do we see them becoming increasingly sensitive to this, and do we see behavioral change over time?  Or does the person deny, justify and argue, ad nauseum, over and over again, treating each moment in the pattern of abuse like an isolated incident?  Do we feel increasingly energized and hopeful around him, or do we feel (more, or less) drained, exhausted, depressed, fearful, fight-or-flighty?

A collaborative behavioral framework has begun to emerge from my positive and negative experiences — a list of interlocking behaviors that I think help make solidarity easier (though not necessarily easy) for everyone:

  • Check your assumptions before acting on them
  • Listen actively and seek to understand
  • WAIT: Why Am I Talking? (how frequently/much do you talk?  this is a big one for me, in case you couldn’t tell…i’m a talker!) Better yet, leave empty space for others to walk into and fill.  And if someone doesn’t every time, that’s OK.  Just keep leaving it empty.
  • HAIT: How Am I Talking?  Do i frame my opinions and perspectives and experiences as Truth and Reality?  Or do I take a humble stance and admit these are my experiences, observations, agreements/disagreements, etc?
  • Ask how others feel about something, and give ample space to see where they stand.  In other words, ask with genuine curiosity, not intent to dispute or argue.  And just let it sit.
  • It’s not all about you: when someone says something you don’t want to hear, swallow your pride and question your feelings of defensiveness first, THEN seek clarity, THEN give yourself time to mull it over, THEN re-engage as necessary.
  • Take initiative to educate yourself on the things that others find important.  Don’t make them do your research for you, don’t make them recite articles to you or “prove” anything to you.  That’s exhausting and fucked up.  And if they do such a thing, acknowledge it and express genuine appreciation.
  • Get right with yourself, so you don’t use activist spaces as stages to prove how cool and together and badass you are and how much you know and how “good an ally” you are.  Otherwise you are co-opting space for something that’s bigger than you simply to massage your fragile ego.  Learn to love yourself and interact with the world from the basis of that love.  People who genuinely love themselves can hear difficult feedback and consider it and integrate it without arguing.  They can learn and grow.  They can tell the difference between uncomfortable accountability and assault.  And I’m tired of explaining the difference to douchebags who conflate the two (which, apart from being an accountability shield, also belittles the actual, much more egregious assaults that women and people of color and others face on a daily basis…do you really want to equate your feeling hurt with the rape and murder of others?):

“Someone assaulted me today…I feel unclean…”

These collaborative behaviors do not represent a solution to the question of solidarity amidst microaggression.  “Haters gonna hate.”  But they do help us identify behavioral patterns conducive to solidarity as well as more problematic behaviors.  So where do I draw the line?  This part seems the trickiest for me.  I don’t know.  My default behavior tends toward assuming good intentions and then holding on through discussion as long as possible until I feel completely worn and beaten down, or that continued interaction with someone seems both harmful and a waste of my energy.  Sometimes I see results.  Sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes I stay patient.  Sometimes I “other” the dude, even as I recognize behaviors that remind me of ways I used to behave (and sometimes still do).  Often times I feel my assumption of good intentions as a form of vulnerability that leads toward disappointment and pain.  And sometimes it leads to uplifting experiences and new relationships.

Some people tell me not to draw a line.  They say, “always practice compassion and patience and love toward everyone.”  Strong people do not need lines, they tell me.  But I think boundaries serve as an example of “tough love,” a reminder to me that love comes in many forms, and whether or not a behavior actually represents “love” depends entirely on context.  For example, does a tender hug demonstrate love?  What if I tenderly hug someone who wants space from me?  Is criticism love?  What if all I ever do is support that person, and the one time I finally speak out critically it’s from a place of genuine concern because I see them acting in ways that threaten themselves and sabotage their relationships?  Where, when and how do you draw the line?

A patriarchal society often considers a lot of collaborative attitudes and behaviors as “feminine,” and for a lot of men, the road to anti-oppressive solidarity lies in personal work to stop performing an internalized patriarchal masculinity identity that prevents us from behaving in courageously vulnerable and collaborative ways.  We gain access to more when we publicly and privately abandon and oppose whiteness.  But the hard work opens up infinite possibilities for relationships and learning and life experiences.  In other words, there’s a huge personal (let alone social) payoff for the white men who want to do it.  And for the rest…meh, maybe movements are better off without them until they decide to change their tune?

“Alternative” White Supremacy

July 24, 2015

Building an inclusive food movement

Below are notes summarizing and discussing food geographer Julie Guthman’s presentation, “The Unbearable Whiteness of Alternative Food” at the Havens Center for Social Justice.  This is a continuation of my looking into how white supremacy manifests within — and thrives from the support of — the liberal left through structural and micro-aggressive means as well as individual prejudicial attitudes among so-called “progressives,” and what to do about it.

This analysis focuses on the “left coast” alternative food movement spearheaded by the likes of Alice Waters and Michael Pollan from its epicenter in wealthy / white Berkeley, CA (Pollan apparently gets to eat for free at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse all the time) which they export and promote nation-wide.

  • All language and spaces are racially-coded, but white people in the alternative food movement tend to assume that the spaces they create are somehow “color-blind” or “neutral”
    • This has led, for example, to contradictions in marketing.  On one hand, white people assume they are “universal” in outreach, but on the other hand explicitly state that they will not reach out to black people or other minorities because it will “scare away” or exclude them from their current wealthy, white customer demographic!
    • CSA’s and farmer’s markets deliberately target white areas and high income areas for their customer base
    • This exemplifies how the alternative food movement prefers and reproduces race and class privilege
    • Even the type of food promoted can be racially and class-coded, e.g., “They’re trying to get me to eat birdseed
  • The alternative food movement situates itself within the existing classist and white supremacist market context
    • Activists often focus on “trickle-down” strategies for social change, shaping their spaces and language to accommodate racial and class privilege first and foremost over minorities and working class people, who get consideration as an afterthought if at all
  • White food activists tend to focus on “education” and “lifestyle” and other individual factors such as “values” and “priorities” — even racial stereotypes — and actively exclude structural and political factors
    • An oft-repeated phrase, “if they only knew…” representing white-upper class efforts to prosyletize, “educate” and convert minorities and working class people into the “alternative food movement”
    • “Experiential (e.g,. garden-based) education” (for minority adults and children) has intense racial and class baggage attached to it, e.g., “You want me to work for free for a white farmer/landowner?”  as a form of labor exploitation or conditioning
  • The alternative food movement comes out of white romantic notions of an “agrarian past” (e.g,. Wendell Berry) where white people want to “reconnect to the land” and “get their hands dirty”
    • White alternative food activists tend to impose that romanticism on working class and racial minorities as a defining narrative of the local/small farms and farm-direct movements
    • This ignores the legacy of racist and classist agrarian history, e.g., slaves and modern-day farm workers, racist land redistribution (land given away to whites and barred or even taken from indigenous and minorities)
    • the romantic “back to the kitchen” “food from scratch” narrative has implications in relation to feminism and women’s empowerment (ie, do women have free choice in this?)
    • Champions the white land-owning farmer as the hero, a focus that renders farmworkers and other exploited laborers in the food system invisible (e.g,. more like Walmart vs Winco models:
What form of ownership do we want our food economy to take to embody economic and social justice along the entire supply chain?

What form of ownership do we want our food economy to take to embody economic and social justice along the entire supply chain?

  • Interesting indicator that “organic” has stopped being “alternative”
    • now standard in most grocery stores, e.g., Walmart, Safeway, etc
    • More black people and other minorities buy “organic” than white people in proportion to their population size
    • when comparing apples to apples (e.g,. correcting for differences in income, education level, etc) minorities and working class seek out and try to participate in alternatives in greater rates than do whites and wealthy people (whom the “status quo” serves), but feel alienated by white-dominated spaces and narratives
  • Depoliticization of Food and White Liberal Moral Superiority (from http://www.utne.com/politics/the-food-police.aspx; emphasis mine):

is Pollan’s way the way out? At the end of a book whose biggest strength is a section that lays out the environmental history and political economy of corn, his answer, albeit oblique, is to eat like he does. The meal that he helped forage and hunt and cooked all by himself, as he puts it, “gave me the opportunity, so rare in modern life, to eat in full consciousness of everything involved in feeding myself: For once, I was able to pay the full karmic price of a meal.” To what kind of politics does this lead? Despite his early focus on corn subsidies, Pollan does not urge his readers to write to their congressional representatives about the folly of such subsidies, to comment to the Food and Drug Administration about food additives, or, for that matter, to sabotage fields where genetically engineered corn is grown…

this antiregulatory approach to food politics has taken hold…

I worry that Michael Pollan reinforces this privileged and apolitical idea and reinforces the belief that some people—thin people—clearly must have seen the light that the rest are blind to.

Moving forward

  • Can “alternative food businesses” embody class, racial and social justice work and principles along the entirety of the supply chain (farm to fork)?  How?  Under what conditions?
  • Challenge white-dominated spaces:  Move beyond “trying to bring black people to the table” to questioning, “Who is setting the table, where is the table being set, and how are they setting it?”
    • solicit, explore and pursue different priorities than de-politicized white romantic notions of “alternative food”
  • Re-politicize alternative food:  shift focus away from the “food police” education model to focus on structural issues:
    • Public health and environmental justice (i.e., the ecology of risk)
    • Land ownership reform and redistribution
    • Labor reform, living wages, safe workplaces
    • Shift subsidies from big corn and corporate farming to support both supply (small, women- and minority-owned farms) and demand (give working class and minorities greater purchasing power)
    • Challenge and sabotage corporate ownership and exploitation of land and labor on every front

Ship gets new captain, still sinks

July 16, 2015

I have studied the presidency carefully; I have seen that our best presidents were the do-nothing presidents: Millard Fillmore, Warren G. Harding. When you have a president who does things, we are all in serious trouble. If he does anything at all — if he gets up at night to go to the bathroom — somehow, mystically, trouble will ensue. I guarantee that if I am elected, I will take over the White House, hang out, shoot pool, scratch my ass, and not do a damn thing. Which is to say, if you want something done, don’t come to me to do it for you; you got to get together and figure out how to do it yourselves. Is that a deal? — Utah Phillips

I see and hear lots of liberals touting Bernie Sanders’ platform:

Bernie Sanders' platform

…and mine the fuck out of the arctic and continue breakign native treaties and killing unarmed black people and generally keep the destructive super-trawler that is US Society afloat a bit longer, delaying the inevitable and prolonging the damage, making it a bit better for a few others while we oppress the shit out of even more people and dismantle even more life support systems. We need to stop trying to save the ship. It belongs at the bottom of the ocean.

I agree, it’s better than Hillary Clinton’s.  Actually, I find it impressive.  And that concerns me.   I like Bernie Sanders.  I think he’s a nice guy and he’s make a great president of the US.  And that scares me.  Liberalism in general scares me, because it’s fundamentally dishonest.  <rant>Liberalism is really just conservative in disguise.  Liberals don’t want change.  They want things like stability (like conservatives), but they want everyone else to just be numb and happy and in denial (cue the Brave New World reference to soma), because that’s what they want, and that’s the only way they can get it (besides just killing themselves).  They want to keep Today’s Society pretty-much the way it is, with a few tweaks here and there.  Maybe add a bit more padding on those infamously hard, uncomfortable seats.  “Numb brains, not butts!” may be their rallying cry.  The most irritating thing I find while searching the sea of clenched boomer-age liberal assholes is the an entrenched, itchy and borderline-hemerrhoidal belief that, “Everything will be alright if just…”  The bitter red pill (of uncomfortable truths) may be nourishing but proves too tough to swallow, so they opt over and over again for the smooth blue pill (of convenient bullshit), even though it only comes in the form of a suppository.   No wonder why they want more padding on those seats…</rant>

what asshole thought a rowboat would accurately represent industrial commodity culture?

Notice the liberals at the Far Right.  What asshole thought a rowboat would accurately represent industrial commodity culture?

Now, I like that picture above.  I think it provides a useful analogy for thinking about social privilege and hierarchy.  And it’s sinking.  But a rowboat?  C’mon, cartoonists!  We live in a civilization.  Civilization does not pride itself on its rowboats!   Consider an even more accurate picture of Today’s Society, where the cute and innocent rowboat depicted above looks more like a hybrid of a USS Super Tanker carrying an ocean full of crude oil, or a USS Super Trawler picking and scraping the ocean clean of every last bit of life, all with the inevitable fate of the USS Titanic (The “USS” really stands for United Society of Sociopaths).  No matter who helms it, a Super Trawler will still dredge the ocean floor.  No matter who helms the Titanic, it will stay its charted course…and sink.  And liberals don’t want the ship to sink.  They think it’s a pretty OK ship.  Maybe it has a few holes to patch, or some seats to pad.

Regardless of what liberals think, even as the ship sinks, as long as it operates it will continue to subjugate and destroy its crew and its environment.  Given that, I can think of four questions more relevant for us to ask and discuss than “So, who’dja vote for?” (kang or kodos?  coke or pepsi?):

  • How soon will the ship sink?
  • How much damage will its sinking cause?
  • How much more damage will the ship do as long as it continues to operate?
  • What do you want to do about it?

Electing Sanders doesn’t help.  He doesn’t sink the ship or lessen its destruction.  He hires and fires a few people, polishes the brass, and adds some padding to those infamously uncomfortable seats (cue cheers from hemerrhoidal liberals everywhere).  And the ship continues to operate, business as usual, maybe even better than ever! (ref. Utah Phillips quote, above)

We’re asking Sanders to become captain of the societal equivalent of a sociopathic Super Trawler.  Then we’re asking him to save us from that sociopath in two conflicting ways:  to keep from it sinking on one hand, and keep it from operating as normal on the other.  Neither do liberals want to abandon ship, nor do they want to sink with it.  So they resort to magical thinking, supported by their steady diet of bullshit blue-pill suppositories…Bernie will save us.  He’ll make things right.  He’ll… I don’t expect any miracles from Bernie. I do expect things to continue getting worse regardless of who gets elected. (ref. Utah Phillips quote, above)

You can dress a sociopath up in a smart new suit and expect him to behave less sociopathic, but all you will do is help him hide in plain sight.   You can give a sociopath a tool like a hammer, and he will find a way to use it as a weapon of control and misery.  You can educate him, and he will use his knowledge to manipulate others and consolidate his power.  We live in a society that behaves like a rampaging sociopath.  There exists no magical “tweak” or “reform” or “policy” or “political platform” that will make it less destructive, let alone turn it into an emotionally healthy being capable of relating in deep and meaningful ways with others.  When we try to reform, we settle for symbolic change, empower the destruction and blind ourselves to its continuation.

Is it actually any better that Sanders gets elected instead of Clinton or their Republican counterpart?  In other words, what impact does who gets elected president have on the four questions I ask above?  I repeat those questions here for your convenience (you’re welcome), along with some thoughts on them from me (I’m sorry):

  • How soon will the ship sink?  Will it sink sooner or later?  I tend to think later.  Electing a liberal is really electing an expert conservative who stabilizes society without fixing any of its fundamental ills.  We delay the inevitable.  We prolong the misery.
  • How much damage will its sinking cause?  The society keeps growing, so I tend to think that the longer we wait, the bigger the crash.  The higher the fall.  The less prepared we are, the more harm the crash and fall will do to its peoples and environments.   So how does electing Bernie slow the destruction and growth and empower the people?
  • How much more damage will the ship do as long as it continues to operate?  Will electing someone like Bernie Sanders actually reign in the destruction, somehow?  How will Bernie change the classism, racism, sexism embedded into the fabric of our society?  Will Bernie slow down deforestation, help dismantle dams, protect our rivers from poisoning?  Will his policies thwart our industrial, commodity-based economy?   Or will his policies simply make a few people more comfortable existing within such a terrifying, destructive system…for a time?
  • What do you want to do about it?  Do you think voting is enough?

So go ahead and vote for Bernie.  Just go ahead and vote.  Or not.  I really don’t care who you vote for, or whether you vote.  Donald Rumsfeld, Donald Trump, or that other unsung ‘murrican fascist, Mickey Mouse.  But I do care about what you do with the rest of the hours in your day:  How are you helping to stop the destruction?   Study and practice permaculture? Join and support Black Lives Matter!?  Or do you want to do something more explicitly political?  Organize your community to adopt a Community Bill of Rights as we work to change the legal foundations of this country to something more fundamentally just. And men in particular, please, please join or support your local feminist organization, because the revolution really does start at home (but doesn’t end there).  And any number of other radical, transformative things, including those less constructive (rivers must flow free to support terrestrial ecosystems, super trawlers must sink to have sustainable fisheries, and those pretentious colonial marbled houses and engraved enscriptions of empire need to come down sometime…the sooner, the better!).

Monetizing Justice Work

July 12, 2015

I try to assume best intentions when I hear people say they want to “make a living” doing social justice work. I think, “Oh, they want to meet their basic needs (food, clothing, shelter) while doing liberation work. Cool!” But when I inquire further, they often correct me: they want to make money doing social justice or liberation work.

I think it’s perfectly reasonable to seek to meet our basic needs doing justice work. I wouldn’t call it easy, by any means, or without risk, but certainly possible, even probable. For example, squatting in any of the huge number of empty houses amidst the artificial scarcity of this ruinous economy is a perfectly acceptable way to obtain shelter and isn’t really more difficult or risky than renting or buying.  It just entails different difficulties and risks — ones that many of don’t have much experience or familiarity with.  Doing so also doesn’t endear us to dominate culture.

However, when people say that they want to make money doing social justice work, I hear them saying that they want to monetize social justice as a commodity for economic trade. Social justice to me means the destruction of all social hierarchies so that we can acheive a fair distribution of accountability and responsibility in society. Social justice requires, in part, the destruction and disappearance of our current, commodity-based for-profit economy because the economy requires social hierarchy to function. So I hear those people saying, in other words, “I want the systems whose destruction I ostensibly seek to provide for me while I work to destroy those systems.”

If I identified with or as the system, I would consider this to be a completely unreasonable request and enticing. “You want me to help support you as you work to destroy me? Fat chance!”

Yet, even though the request makes no sense on your part, I would gladly accept the offer. Here’s why: If I provide for you, you become dependent on me. If you become dependent on me, it means, rhetoric aside, at the end of the day, you affirm your allegiance to me. When talk becomes walk, you walk with me, not against me. Your revolutionary rhetoric starts looking a bit more reformist in practice. You file down your fangs (or they fall out from malnutrition). I have pacified and provided for you; you pose no threat to me. Plus, I provide just enough (artificial scarcity) to help keep you competing and fighting amongst would-be allies for my handouts and breadcrumbs. Your work for me becomes all-consuming, because I control when, where, how much. And if you complain, or organize against me, I simply replace you with any number of other people willing to work harder and longer than you for less. While you preoccupy yourself with horizontal aggression against would-be allies, I continue strengthening and expanding the base of my pyramid scheme to further ensure your obedience and entrapment.

In other words, people who want to “make a living” in this way have already internalized an allegiance to the very systems of oppression they say they want to challenge. All the system has to do is say, “yeah, sure.”  And then it will provide for you, on its terms. And you will work for it, on its terms. You may not know it or feel it, but the sociopaths in charge do.

I see this sentiment often come from well-meaning people raised in the system and dependent on it, who refuse to question or break their dependency on the economic privilege it affords them. But such a sentiment leads to a life of misery, alienation, self-destruction.

So, what’s the alternative?   When we identify and connect more directly with our basic needs, we increase our likelihood of satisfying them in two ways:

  • First, it opens up a greater range of possibilities. For example, I can attain food through the vernacular economies of mutualism, reciprocity and barter, or I can beg/borrow/steal. Or I can forage, or produce. Or I can purchase. Just off the top of my head, a nine times increase in ways and means. Developing those skills leads toward personal growth and greater perspective and ultimately, a richer and more resilient life. However, if I am dependent on money, then purchasing remains my only option. The other options listed above require skills we must develop.
  • Second, money will never satisfy many of our basic needs, and only partially satisfies others (e.g., most of the “food” for sale is complete crap in terms of quality, taste and nutrition). Money can’t buy us love and connection. It can’t buy us a sense of meaning and purpose. Increasingly, it can’t even buy us shelter. When we funnel our life’s pursuits through the pursuit of money, we buy into the myth that money provides, and it monopolizes our time. Without time, we cannot develop the skills necessary to break our dependence on the commodity economy. In fact, over generations, we have lost and continue to lose those skills. When we come home from our soul-sucking (social justice?) jobs and turn on the TV or video games or break open the bottles to cope, compensate, and numb ourselves to the existential agony we feel, we lose more time and opportunity to break the cycle.

So, to meet our needs and achieve self-actualization, we must break our dependence on the commodity system. Breaking our dependence on the commodity economy doesn’t mean complete disengagement from it. It means engaging on our terms — a complete reversal of the current power dynamic.

The commodity system and the sociopathic elite whom it serves will fight against this power reversal, even violently so, to retain or regain control. Here we see the battle lines with the system: squatting is illegal not because it can harm (yes, it can cause harm, but so can any number of legal things, like guns and hammers), but because it is an affront to the system’s ability to maintain dependency and control. And that’s what turns us into activists: because we love ourselves, we love one-another, we love the land, we seek to live fully-realized lives. And our attempts to live threaten the current system, which responds with coercive control. And, so, we, out of necessity, become activists. Not because we want to blow shit up or seek the destruction of things, but because the system threatens our liberation and prevents us from living fully-realized lives as long as it exists intact.  As Jennai Bundock says, “We didn’t pick the fight.  The fight picked us.”

And it all begins when we see money as simply one of many means to a greater end of meeting our basic needs.

When non-violence is NOT OK

July 11, 2015

Non-violence is OK when it is

  • a personal ethical decision
  • a tactical decision (e.g., to invoke moral outrage)

Non-violence is NOT OK when it is used as a tool of micro-aggression providing

  • an excuse to compare and equate lost lives to broken windows and other destruction of property or capital
  • a way to police others’ behavior to criticize, undermine or prevent them from exercising their right to physical self-defense against white supremacist terrorists

The second point above, when I reread it, actually seems quite violent even though it is couched in non-violent language.  “Put down your guns or you’re no better than them,” said the white liberal to the blacks facing a lynch mob.

Remember, some of us may break windows simply to expose you critical fakers for who you really are: liberal tools of the system, you slip in the back door and try to disarm us and break our fighting spirit to disable our capacity for self-defense when oppression becomes acutely physical.  You call yourselves allies and then stab us in the back right when we need you most, and we are better off without you.  So you can shape up or ship out.

Further reading, courtesy of Peter Gelderloos:

  1. How Nonviolence Protects The State
  2. Learning from Ferguson


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