Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"...give the Red States Blue Balls!" (21/??)

I was having a conversation with Daydream Believer, and she was telling me (after I complained of a sort of writer's block) that there was plenty to write about. And she mentioned the lack of support for safe abortions evident in Bill/Melinda Gates' charity efforts for Womens' health as one potential topic. I said that it was probably a political necessity when operating in the United States, and that a "different kind of soldier" was needed to fight for the acceptance of abortion in the US. And it strikes me now that this is perhaps not the best metaphor that I could have chosen for this, or any of a hundred thousand other ideological disputes. Analogy to warfare is not ineffective, not by a longshot; the wisdom of Sun-Tzu is valuable to many people whose job description is not "warrior prince" (gosh, would I ever love that on my résumé!), after all! But recourse to violence is often too real a response when no one is willing to give an inch. Should we dignify that by using the language of war? Should we cheapen the suffering of those who live in real wars by thinking and writing and speaking as though we are under siege, when in fact we live in peace? I am certainly leaning toward "no".

When the use of particular language is challenged on such grounds, the obvious counter-argument is that being proscriptive about language in this manner constrains the author. That to remove fiery language is to rob the verbal artist of the tools of his or her craft. And this is precisely the point. The intent of fiery rhetoric is to stir the blood, and not the brain. Thus, this is as much a gift to the health of a debate as it is a theft from the rabble-rousers who - it would seem - care little for solutions.

The metaphor of warfare and soldiering is especially damaging because inherent to these are formations, hierarchy, and battle lines. War is constructed such that there are generally two sides. The cohesiveness of a unit is tactical necessity, a union of purpose among allied forces a strategic imperative. But there are no such requirements in a debate, if one values truth over victory. There is a place for nuance and difference in debate; the only lines are the ones we choose to draw in the sand. An argument can look like a Venn diagram, where the sides may share common ground (like, say, Catholics and Protestants disagree about a lot of stuff, but they have God and Jesus sorta mostly in common?). The language of battle is clearly both innacurate and inappropriate.

It should go without saying that the logic, as well as the language, of war must also be expunged. An example from my conversation with Daydream Believer is that in attempting to figure out HOW to affect a policy change on abortion in the US, I quoted a line from a book I had leafed through many years ago. It said "Women: don't fuck Republicans". It was sound advice, but of course - as we both understood - there is not a homogenous battalion called "women" that can do (or, rather refuse to do) such a thing. And so while it can be expected that many different women may gather under the auspices of feminism when they can agree on certain minimum standards...it will work only as far as their disparate agendas permit. Unfortunately, when this happens it can give rise to the idea that there is only one feminism and, ergo, we can divide people along the lines of feminist/not feminist*. Another example would be the unnatural union of religious psychopathy and fiscal conservatism that produces the modern Republican party. It is a strategic alliance that produces victory, but also great internal tension because these are not always the most pleasant of bedfellows. And the focus on gaining power (victory) begins to outweigh the desire to use that power constructively. And if you think I'm down on American politics, the two main parties in Canada aren't even the result of fused ideologies, so much as they are strategic alliances of people with no positive beliefs beyond "I am entitled to Rule"!

*This realization has caused me to reverse my previous belief about something that EK has said, which is that one should necessarily self-identify as "feminist" if they believe in equality between Men and Women. Feminism is not only at this point a loaded term, but it can also describe easily dozens of distinct sub-ideologies. I do call myself a feminist, but I imagine there are those for whom I do not fit the definition. And, hence, I believe that no single ideological statement - no matter how noble - can really tell a person whether or not they should call themselves a feminist or not. It is far easier to state clearly what we believe than it is to spend our days clarifying labels.



Daydream Believer said...

Less "I am entitled to rule" and more, "I'm sure better than what you've got now", in regards to Canadian politics. And in reply to anybody but Harper who says that, I'd be frightfully inclined to agree.

Etarran said...

Be warned - the following comment is a pretty vicious criticism of this post.

"Should we cheapen the suffering of those who live in real wars by thinking and writing and speaking as though we are under siege, when in fact we live in peace?"

Should we cheapen the suffering of those who undergo systematic and careful persecution by refusing to acknowledge the terrible nature of the obstacles they are faced with?

To take your example of support for safe abortion:

Daily, innocent people are murdered as a result of the debate on a woman's right or lack thereof to choose (regardless, in fact, of what side you are on - whether a woman for whom abortion is a physical or psychological necessity is unable to recieve proper treatment, or whether an unborn child is slain at the hands of its uncaring parent; whichever way you look at it, there are deadly casualties in this struggle).

At what point does a conflict spanning many years and cultures, in the name of which there is death and murder, fanatic belief and widespread propaganda, ostracization and persecution and dehumanization, at what point does this become something other than a war? Is it a matter of body count? Because we have certainly fought what you have termed "real" wars with fewer deaths. Is it a matter of guns and steel? Because all wars are fought more with words and dollars than with the sword - though this war has its share of guns and steel as well. You wish, perhaps, to avoid glorifying those who struggle in this conflict - but in so doing, you are hiding from the realities of those who suffer in it.

You say that one uses the word war to stir the blood of their hearers, and you are correct. But since it's blood that's being spilled, perhaps that's just a little bit fitting.

It's okay, though: the next time I murder a doctor, I'll make sure to call it a "police action."

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