"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

May 20, 2012

Musings, after ocean's edge...

Went to Hampton Beach with the family today. People watched with the wife. Some (probably commonplace) observations:

1. Beach wear for women differs fundamentally from that for men; it is even opposed. Male beach clothing emphasizes by what it does not cover, signaling the male as natural. Female beach wear draws attention to what is covered, forming the female figure as that which can only be revealed by hiding it. The conventions of dress carry a heavy load: the female is created by artifice, the man by revelation. This is what, I think, feminists mean by patriarchy. It's no wonder that, pervasive as this underlying etymology of self is, societies continuously reproduce the idea of woman as a vessel of sin. Since correct womanhood is fabricated and manufactured, within these cultures, any woman who cannot abide by the norms (and this is nearly all of them) must not only be lacking, compared to men, but morally and spiritual deficient. She is, according to the rules of behavior, formed wrong; it is her native state: consequently, she must be governed and corrected, lest she produce more sin, and perhaps even more egregiously, sinful children.

2. Small children do not understand states, as ways of relating, until they are taught to internalize rules and rule structures. The state is not simply or automatically native to human existence. It is a replicator. A small child will play with what's at hand: stones, waves, dogs running and frolicking. She will dig holes or kick sand or give chase. A child is a war machine before he is acculturated to the community in force.  Small children play games by revision. They adapt to environment, even in conflict. Rules are not vital because play is immediate. It may have outcomes, but it does not have objectives. It is only when the child is taught to play within the field, to build walls for the sand castle, and to respect the property and victories of other players (especially adults) that the child begins to understand the self as a state of existence, as a pattern which must be repeated in order to be experienced. This is, I believe, the fundamental vector by which the state is replicated: the self gains an interior which is governed by repetition. It becomes a kind of disorder.

3. Marxists will never let the state wither away, because they are statists. Like Christians, they can only conceive of the conclusion of the revolution (an attainment of heaven) as achievement of a fixed end which must then immediately be shielded from the consequences of an absence of fixity inherent in material existence. Despite rhetoric and theory to the contrary, every Marxist attempt to produce communism has resulted in a state in which every subject must subsume itself or be rendered into enemies. The Marxist answer to the problems presented by entropy, contingency, friction, uneven distribution and conflict is spiritual. It is, in contravention of every claim to historical materialism, the distribution of obedience by way of force, according to rules which would be supernatural in the hands of an imam, rabbi, cleric, monk or priest. The Marxist, as a rule, demands a set of behaviors, hoping to reconstitute society according to a plan which must result in a single possible future, or else be betrayed. It is not surprising that Marxists, taken generally, lack the vitality and adaptive capacities of their capitalist opponents and masters. Capitalist relations form a sense of self which assesses its relations to others and its environments according to costs and labor, reshaping the sand kicking child into a buyer-seller through the disciplining rules and enforcements of family, education and workplace discipline. This means that the capitalist formed self is an operating platform which allows for an interior. The self so shaped must have a fixed fictional center, or it cannot trade its labor, expect reward or calculate costs. It needs this imaginary independent agent which can manage the limits imposed by matter without believing itself subject to them. To relate to others as commodities, a portion of self must be secure enough to resist economization and subsumption. It must shield the single personality* as a compartment which can not only buy and sell, but see others as consumable units of labor without collapsing inward under the weight of its own contradictions. Unlike the child who has not yet calibrated its memory to reproduce the relations of the state, first in the family and later in school, the capitalized self demands a protected inner life. In response, and by way of development in the standing pools of oblivion and despair in which it evolved, the Marxist and Leninist conception of self attempts to abolish this interiority by making it utterly subject to the revolution and the state it subsequently produces. The Marxist body has no imagined interior because it demands the creation and recreation of the state in all interactions, totalizing the self as the subject of each and all. Despite Marxist theory to the contrary, the interiorized capitalist self, with its private memories and trade-able experiences and labor, will not arrive at the Marxist self by way of some spiritual synthesis.This capitalist self, the Marxist rightly understands, is an abomination: it no longer remembers how to run into the waves without producing first a reason to do so, with objectives defined, and benefit to be taken. Sadly, the general Marxist solution is even more monstrous: it is a self which has the state as both its interior and its exterior, replicating obligation into every interaction, until the human world is only chains.

4. The anarchist, as a type, presents any number of problems, not the least of which is a studied refusal to believe that men will do their worst, despite crafting a worldview which rejects the concentration of power, and hierarchy, because men are always doing their worst. All the same, the anarchist can offer an alternative to the capitalist and Marxist states, and the selves they reproduce over and over again. The anarchist is kinetic, potential. The anarchist cannot produce a program of action, a plan for the future, or a schema for correct human behavior; instead, the anarchist can play a way towards a number of possible futures, by acting as a corrosive. The anarchist can simply refuse to obey. This takes the anarchist closer to the nihilist than is comfortable for most workers in light and doers of good (be they liberal, conservative, Marxist or libertarian**). The anarchist can remind those trapped in the memory-shaped selves of our society that the state dissolves at contact with with the waves at ocean's edge. That it can be dismembered by remembering to forget it.

* - we should say, single personality disorder...

** - the libertarian is silliest of all; he thinks the ruling factions who manage the appearance of states will remain contained within those advertised limits, will obey their own marketing campaigns and propaganda, so long as men do good and speak honestly one to the other...


High Arka said...

A man on the beach sees attractive women in their bathing costumes, and is inspired to write essays about how patriarchy is repressing those women.

Maybe some women enjoy looking appealing, and don't need to be shielded by chivalrous men who are just protecting them from "patriarchy."

Did you consider that some women might be wearing those suits not for the men who look at them, but for the women? Or does that not enter into the equation? Maybe it's really all not just about the onlooking men, however much they'd like it to be.

Will Shetterly said...

1. I've been thinking that the mark of a great costume is that it looks good on anyone. This doesn't mean all sex-specific clothing is bad, though. Different anatomies call for different considerations.

2. I think there's some truth to that, but doesn't it suggest states are the inevitable consequence of recognizing the need to play well with others? (Not saying you think that, and I don't, but as I read it, the implication seemed to be there.)

3. Uh, that's like saying capitalists will never end slavery because they are slavers. Humans and societies evolve, which Marx anticipated. I'm reading a book now about moral revolutions which covers the ends of legal dueling, foot binding, and slavery. Saying Marxists are statists is like saying someone's a pedestrian or a driver--it's only a path toward a goal.

4. Many Marxists--and saying all Marxists are alike is like saying Unitarians and Catholics are alike--are as flexible as you say anarchists are. Marx never spelled out what communism would look like or how it would be accomplished. Sure, horrible things have been done by people who claimed to be communists, but no group is exempt from that, anarchists included.

Jack Crow said...

Will, I have to abridge this, because I leave for work soon, but:

1. Context matters. Perhaps it's worth experimenting with a comparison between running clothes and beach ware. Both cover persons who are habitually outside, and therefore exposed to others. But, even though some very ineffective and counter-productive runwear has been produced for a kind of show, it is mostly functional. It holds in, wicks away and if properly made, reduces friction at nexus points. Male and female run clothing does not as strongly differentiate, and in the manner described in the OP. It serves a very different function, because it does not operate upon the principle, if you will, of an assumed role.

2. I don't think states are the consequence of rules for play, or the need to play. I think states are replicated by a certain kind of interaction, first perhaps seen in a type of play: that which demands the subordination of the experience of self to a role. Compare association football and American football, maybe. Soccer graphs out locations and has positions, but these are not highly formalized roles (excepting only the goalie). By comparison, American football (or helmetball, to quote BDR) is all about roles. A play becomes the role, and there is a narrative associated.

3. I would exactly say that capitalists cannot help but be capitalists, which implies a necessary slavery within their relations. That's my point about Marxism. It demands a state. And states do not wither away because they are replicating behaviors. A state is behaviors and roles (beliefs within an environment) funded by a captured resource base of material and labor. A state's factions invariably end up vying for control of that captive base, and dedicate more and more of their effort into securing the ability of their hierarchies to seize and hold the area constituted as a state. If the state does not reproduce itself, in the memories of the replacing generations, it ceases to be a state.

4. I am typing to the type of Marxist which defines the norm, Will. The ones who seized states, and their inheritors among the internet, academic and protest milieus. I hope it would follow that autonomists and council communists are generally excluded from that umbrella - and a point which should be noted, there are largely excluded by the Leninists and Maoists, who treat them as class enemies and splitters.

Rob Payne said...

Regarding libertarians I maintain that they believe in government albeit more limited than that which we know and love so dearly. The ideal libertarian does not believe in empire, that empire is bad for the population in general. I think we can agree with them on that point. Of course where libertarians go wrong is their misinterpretation of American history or to be more specific their misinterpretation of what the hallowed Constitution was intended as. The Constitution negated the American Revolution enslaving the population to a new state that replaced that of the British Crown. When one considers that the Constitution was written by and for the wealthiest of the Colonists it should be no surprise that it ensured that the wealthy would retain their money and power while the rest of the rabble were left to swing in the wind. Thus the libertarian belief in returning to the Constitution as a guarantee in the protection of civil liberty is seriously flawed. Libertarians would be much wiser to eschew the Constitution entirely and dismiss it for what it is which is merely a tool to prevent the even distribution of wealth.

It seems to me that libertarians and Anarchists actually have a lot in common especially when it comes to being against empire and war. Where Libertarians and Anarchists part ways of course is Libertarians still believe in government and the rule of law as per their mistaken and ill advised allegiance to the Constitution and the state while Anarchists believe that the entire idea of state is a bad one. What exists today is a confluence of capitalism (which encourages selfishness and competition which are really one and the same thing if you think about it and which enshrines violence as a laudable behavior) and a very sick society which celebrates the self above all else which engenders a need for recognition and the acquisition of status symbolized by owning more and better stuff than others have and when all this is combined with an authoritarian state makes for a very strange brew which we call reality. People, especially Americans believe this to be the natural order of things yet it is only one weird possibility out of a multitude of other possibilities. The West after all is not the only culture nor is it inherently superior to other cultures no matter how much our conceit would have us believe that this was true. In fact Western culture is quite disgusting on many levels. If I were to describe Western culture with one word that word would be masturbatory which is perhaps not so much disgusting as it is humorous.

The West conceives of itself as scientific which is perhaps the main cause of our thinking of ourselves as superior to all other peoples. This is quite laughable as the average Westerner is a superstitious person at heart. Many Westerners believe in a mythical being we call God and even have bestowed this mythical being with a son called Jesus who was raised from the dead which is absurd on the face of it. Many Americans believe in the existence of the devil as well as angels who for some strange reason feel the need to congregate in large numbers on the head of a pin. Why they would do this remains a mystery. I can see no benefit from many angels roosting on the head of a pin. Perhaps they are crazy like the people that believe in them and other such claptrap. Christianity is nothing but a myth origin among many other myth origins that different cultures have. It isn’t even very original being a hodgepodge conglomerated and cobbled together from other religions mostly originating in the Middle East. And on top of all this we consider ourselves to be scientific in nature. We really are just too ridiculous for words. There is no hope for Americans. We should scrap it all and start from a fresh slate.

Will Shetterly said...

1. I am on the side of "form follows function." But that's why there are exceptions: it's valid to have clothing that acknowledges sexual differences. Men look silly in corsets because they serve no function, but for women, they can be support or protection as well as fashion.

Swim wear is tricky, because it's actually at least four things:

a. Clothing to wear when swimming. Function says wet suits or nudity are the best choices.

b. Clothing to wear when sunning. Function suggests nudity.

c. Clothing to protect from the sun. Function suggests full coverage.

There's no obvious sex difference in those three. But then there's one more:

d. Clothing to make you look sexually attractive at the beach. Function suggests clothing that emphasizes sexuality.

2. I think we agree.

3. Capitalism required slavery at one point in time. It required racism at one point in time. But really, it only requires the pyramid of capital.

4. As soon as you point at the ones who seized states, you're speaking of the exceptions to Marx's observation: "Democracy is the road to socialism." Stalin wasn't Debs, and how the USSR would've evolved if Lenin hadn't died or Stalin hadn't ousted Trotsky, we'll never know.

yonders said...

Jack, I find #3 interesting: the notion of roles and identities and the creation of a kind of discrete, calculating interiority as necessary for capitalism. It summons up a vision of a person stamped with their role, their job, their identity, their debts, the monetary value of their assets, their SSN, their address--the sort of people we all become in federal & corporate databases. And of course this person is pressured into mistaking these stamps for a self, is forced to perform the role. He is defined by it, must trade in it, is hard pressed not to become attached to it, and sometimes believes in it completely. And naturally he ends up being traded by others--employers, banks, governments, etc.
A very small example: I just learned that my student debt is now being "serviced" by a new entity--the feds unilaterally moved my debt to some other department, to which I am now beholden and which automatically deducts payment from my bank account (which itself contributes to that banks assets, which are in turn loaned at interest...) All of it is fake! But they can make my real, physical life difficult if computer digits don't disappear in one server and reappear in another, and for this to happen I have to work so many hours a week at such a dollar rate. A farce, but the director has all the guns, and so we all mouth his doggerel. Some of us with more resentment than others.

Also, and I apologize if you're already familiar with this: Graeber's book Debt touches on the way credit systems can end up placing a price on human life. If I remember right, debt systems in Mesopotamia eventually lead to children & wives being used as collateral. If the man can't make payments, these "collateral" people become slaves to the creditor, working off the debt. Graeber titles this section "The Origins of Patriarchy". To preserve the status quo from destruction by a rebellion of debtors, kings occasionally declare debt jubilees, in which the slate is wiped clean, and all debt slaves freed.

d.mantis said...

1. I think if you simply follow the form you can surmize that subitems 'b' and 'd' are intertwined and its not very tricky at all. For example, swimming is of little concern considering bikinis tend to travel in ocean waves or simply jumping in a pool.

Athletic competition as it pertains to equipment is a whole other interesting topic.

3. Capitalism requires slavery now. It is not only in the slavery in relations but actual debt slavery. This has always been the case.

4. I know you are NOT making the "no true scotsman" argument, but the anarchist would say it doesn't matter. The state is a thing for which there is no justification except that which it creates for itself.

Re: your second to last paragraph. Wouldn't you say the "a need for recognition and the acquisition of status symbolized by owning more and better stuff than others" is the device by which the oligarchs maintain their power structure. The entire concept of credit was like having cake and eating it too; declining real income coupled with increased productivity is win/win. Lets extend easy credit to make it appear everyone is doing great!

Richard said...

Clearly, clothing for women is usually characterized by either the concealment or manipulation of their sexuality.

But there are quirks here. For example, consider the possibility of a patriarchy severed from many men, used primarily for the benefit of state and capital elite purposes. I wonder about this, because, I recall many years ago when my wife complained about women's fashion magazines, and I told her, quite accurately, I think, that many men could care less about the expectations purveyed there (something perversely confirmed, I think, by the fetishistic variety of pornography in recent decades), and that women were more interested in them than men (after women buy them, not men).

Hence, the question, who does this patriarchy serve? And, who promotes it? Answers to these questions might prove surprising, as they may subvert more simple binary male/female oppositions.

Will Shetterly said...

d., not meaning to diminish the horrors of debt slavery at all, I gotta note that slavery and debt slavery are very different things. For blacks who had been freed, Jim Crow was better than slavery.

PR said...

Please post some pictures of some HOT BABES in BIKINIS!!1!!11!!

Anonymous said...


i think you'd agree that the jim crow laws, while granting "equality" to some, was superseded by drug laws that specifically target african-americans.

so the question would be: is jim crow better than prison?

Will Shetterly said...

Anonymous, actually, I wouldn't grant that. For a specific example, see:


Ain't no white privilege in that case, or in any case involving a poor white person sentenced for drugs. It's true that drug laws disproportionately affect black folks, but it seems to be because they have a disproportionate effect on rural drug users of all hues, and the urban poor have a higher percentage of black folks among 'em.

Mind you, I'm not defending any drug laws. They're an abomination. But they're an abomination for everyone.

Well, for everyone who's poor. Rich folks rarely do time for anything.

Jim Crow fascinates me as I think about it. It was a purely racial code: it didn't matter what class you were. Life for free black and mixed folks was arguably better during the time of slavery than during Jim Crow.

But our prisons are all about the lower class of all hues--you'll have to look hard to find any bourgeois folks of color there.

Anonymous said...

well, that's why i said that equality was granted for some -- those blacks that appropriate white middle-class behaviors and dress and class.

The Red Queen said...

Hmm, the beachwear thing intrigues me. But I see it from a slightly different perspective. It seems to me that masculinity is less about what to be than it is about what not to be. Don't be weak. Don't be soft. Don't show emotion. Don't care too much, or care only in ways that show you to be not weak or soft. Don't wear pink (or 75 years ago, don't wear blue). Don't cry. Don't show fear, or pain, or worry or sadness.

Masculinity is the longest list of don'ts ever. Except for showing skin. Most men could walk around starkers and be perfectly justified in expecting not to be harmed. That's not true for any woman. But women are expected to show self control in the presence of men. Men, we are told, are not supposed to have that kind of self-control. So one more for the don'ts. Don't have self-control.

(yes us ladies get our don'ts too, but they are always tempered. Don't dress too sexy, don't be a prude. Don't be too pretty, don't be plain. Don't show too much or too little. Don't be fat but don't be skinny. Don't be a tease, don't be a slut. Don't be too smart, don't be a bimbo. But we're never supposed to win so our requirements are kept fluid so we are always trying to catch up.)

Anonymous said...

Heaven's Below

'Heaven's below
whilst Hell's up above,'
said a stranded fish
to a passing dove.

'No! Hell's in the water
and Heaven's out of reach,'
said the peaceful bird
to the fish on the beach.

A poetic cat
smiled in bliss,
believing the bird
was wooing the fish.

Said the bird to the fish
'There's our devil.'
The fish went white
and the bird went yellow.

The fish in a panic,
with one leap
reached the sea.
The dove cooed goodbye
and flew up to a tree.

Said the cat to himself,
'what heaven it would be,
to fly like a bird
and swim in the sea.'

(Neil Oram)

High Arka said...

Something got deleted--this one's e-mail box showed a new comment, but upon visiting the page, the comment was nowhere to be found.

...but yeah, there really are women who wear clothes in hopes of catching female eyes. And that just destroys the selfishly protective illusions of male feminists.

Jack Crow said...


For whatever reason your comment hung in limbo forever. Sorry I missed it.