The State and Other Oppressors

I’ve said it before, and I doubt you’ll be spared me saying it many times again: for most people on this planet, the state isn’t the primary impediment to their freedom and happiness.

Not to downplay the millions of victims on the receiving end of US “foreign policy,” or caged in global or domestic gulags–the withering away of the state will mean life instead of death or imprisonment and that is, of course, a very good thing.

A component of that withering, both underestimated and inestimable, is the recognition and dismantling of systems of oppression besides those enshrined in state institutions.

While the parallels between the violent nature of the state and the violent nature of other power structures are striking, they’re hard to address because, like state violence, their pervasiveness makes them difficult to identify. Highlighting the true nature of these systems to someone who has grown up within them is nearly impossible. Enlightenment, if and when it happens, usually comes when the “violence inherent in the system” manifests itself on the soon-to-be-enlightened, or perhaps a loved one thereof.

The other path to seeing the previously unseen is repeated exposure to the idea that the system is based on violence, founded on inequality. This requires profound patience on the part of all involved and a waiting out of the bluster and bombast and whatever other defense mechanisms are in place to prevent one seeing what is in front of one’s nose.

Anarchists get that the state relationship is based on violence: not just the wars and the prisons, but every law. The proof of this is trivial and it’s an axiom, literally, of all post-highschool political science, yet most Americans refuse to see the violence in the system. They believe that they are voluntary participants in institutions necessary for civilization when the truth is actually the opposite.

Outside of the persistent targets of state violence: immigrants, the poor, and racial minorities, only the disobedient get a taste (or more, depending on how quickly they relent) of what stands behind every law, every ordinance, every statute.

I have some rudimentary insight into a particular non-state parallel that I’ve written about before. Prepare to detect in yourself the defense mechanisms that will attempt to force your mind away from a very clear and obvious truth: women are oppressed, not primarily by the state, but by men.

Yes, there are exceptions; yes, the state historically supported the dominance of me; no, not all men are violent oppressors; no, not all women are victims of physical violence. Neither are all citizens victims of state violence and neither are all state agents perpetrators of violence. As Charles Johnson and Roderick Long point out in their must-read paper, Libertarian Feminism: Can This Marriage Be Saved? regarding a common non-feminist reaction to the claim that we live in a rape culture:

Libertarians rightly recognize that legally enacted violence is the means by which all rulers keep all citizens in a state of fear, even though not all government functionaries personally beat, kill, or imprison anybody, and even though not all citizens are beaten, killed, or imprisoned; the same interpretive charity towards the radical feminist analysis of rape is not too much to ask.

The analogy I’ve used is the experience of being approached by a policeman. In a given encounter, it’s very unlikely that the cop will beat, cage or kill you. The anarchist analysis, felt in the gut of virtually everyone even if it can’t be put into words, is that the policemen could beat, cage or kill you and would almost certainly get away with it.

If he wants your name or ID or for you to disclose the contents of your pockets, it’s considered by most to be a normal social interaction. Your resistance to his desires is considered unnatural and potentially risky. Anything that happens to you if decide to break with the social norm is going to be seen by most people as your own fault, by one twisted rationale or another.

Women are in an analogous position vis-à-vis an encounter with a man. A woman is expected to make conversation and be cordial if approached and can reasonably be asked her name, phone number, and what she’s doing this weekend. None of this is considered socially invasive. It place in a context where violence could very well be the result of refusing to participate. In most cases, barring sufficiently enlightened witnesses, alot of people will bend over backwards to blame the woman for whatever ills visit her as a result of the encounter.

Denying that this is the case, especially denying it to people who have had that very subjective experience, is, well, fucked up.

I’ve got alot more to say about this, but in the interest of actually posting something, I’ll break it off here. This feels rambly anyway, so I’d be happy if somebody focused my thinking on some aspect of the above.

  1. “Women are oppressed by men” is so large and grandiose and vague as to be useless.

    Show indicia of THIS MAN oppressing THAT WOMAN and you begin to show clarity.

    I’m not shouldering blame for what some other man did to a woman I don’t know.

    That refusal doesn’t make me a co-oppressor.

    It merely makes me someone who will accept blame when it is accurately placed.

    “Feminism” as an outlook suffers this flaw every time it gets grandiose and focuses on systemic problems with no discernment whatever.

    Hopefully that focuses things a bit!

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