Friday, July 17, 2015

Uphill Both Ways: or, on the Privilege™ of having legs.

When two people cross paths on a hiking trail, the person going downhill should yield to the person coming uphill.

To those who haven't gone backpacking, this might be less intuitive. But when you've carried a lot of weight for miles, it begins to make sense.

Foremost, going uphill takes stamina and a certain amount of rhythm and focus take hold - anyone who has been in this zone will want that uphill hikers be allowed to keep that going.

Additionally, going downhill you have line of sight that you don't have going uphill (if you ride in a car notice that the passing zone of a double-lined rural highway is always when going downhill or flat. It's not only because your car has to work harder to accelerate uphill, the line of sight is better). Therefore hikers going downhill will usually see uphill hikers before uphill hikers see them. Yet another reason to initiate communication and to yield.

Now, I don't always follow that rule, and like many rules there are situations where this makes no sense. As the link above states, if an uphill hiker wishes to rest, it's perfectly acceptable for them to stand aside. The point is that it's their choice to do so. I also will yield going uphill to a downhill hiker who I can tell is an Appalachian Trail (AT) thru-hiker or any long-haul backpacker. I do this because while I may be hiking ten miles with all kinds of time, these folks have been on the trail conceivably for months. I stand aside when I'm able because I want to help their journey in that small way. Many times, I am thanked for this small gesture.

So what? I don't know. Let's take a right turn.

I've more or less abandoned notions of privilege as a vehicle for thinking about power. I may need to unpack it more but here's a brief mention. It's not just an argument against "privilege" because it's being used as a tool for silencing. It is an axis, and not the only one. If we focus on it, we risk quibbling about personal responsibility and systemic oppression. We risk missing coercion and injustice but it's not just a question of having bigger fish to fry. We risk alienating people who would otherwise be most likely to engage in demonstrably constructive conversation.

Maybe I'm becoming a pragmatist. I simply tire of attempts to tip scales by using privilege language as a corrective act. Of claims to being more (or less) deserving of a voice or authorship because of privilege axes. Ten years ago I might have bristled at a charge of lefties playing "Privilege Olympics" but now I bristle at providing a laundry list of my marginalized identities as license to be heard or taken seriously (or not dismissed). I value ideas -- including where they're coming from -- but I will not rate the value of a speaker's words by demerit points (the more privilege you score, the less you have any right to say anything at all).

Do oppressed people deserve more? Is it a Thing that some have to work harder than others?

Of course. But downhill hikers don't yield because uphill hikers deserve the right of way. Downhill hikers yield because of empathy. Downhill hikers yield because they've been there. Damn the metaphor -- yes, some folks are always hiking uphill and some folks are always, it seems, hiking downhill.

So what if I am always hiking uphill, and some downhill hikers just aren't yielding? And dammit, my load is pretty heavy. What then?

I'll leave you with this. I have choices:

  • Post signs everywhere to alert uphill hikers that I'm sick of yielding to them. (ineffective)
  • Keep hiking, forced to step aside and feel more anger every time I'm not yielded to. Complain when in friendly company. (passive)
  • Just don't ever complain. At least I have legs. (internalized oppression)
  • Ask them politely and explain why to those who listen -- ignore the ones who respond with expletives.(splaining)
  • Whack/stab them with my hiking pole. (violent)
  • Tell them they shouldn't hike. (coercive)
  • Keep trying to get them to understand what it's like to always hike uphill, but then resent any attempt to identify with me because how could they know what it's like to hike uphill? They can't. Never mind that carrying 30lbs downhill with bad knees has gotta hurt. (denial of empathy/projection of pity)
  • Why yield? Why should I *ever* yield? (...)
I'm not sure there is a good way. I'm sure I'm missing ways.

I guess to me it raises questions. What is the difference between being deserving of something and that something being just? I think that's up for discussion, and it has no one answer (especially regarding justice -- given that "social justice" brandishes a seemingly very different set of ethical assumptions than other notions of justice).

But that last stance of refusing to ever yield: beware a position of pride too great that you lose the very dignity you're fighting for.


Sunday, April 5, 2015

some osho

These were too long to tweet, so I'm putting them here.

I lovingly call OSHO a heretic. He is. Much of what he writes about is scathingly critical of monogamy, the church, state, and many of our ideas. But they are all meditations on attachment and ego. I love his heretical ideas. They make sense in my heart, even when I hate what he's saying.

Here is a passage I absolutely resonate with:

Remember, love is not an attachment. Love knows no attachment and that which knows attachment is not love. That is possessiveness, domination, clinging, fear, greed -- it may be a thousand and one things, but it is not love. In the name of love other things are parading, in the name of love other things are hiding behind but on the container the label LOVE is stuck. Inside you will find many sorts of things, but not love at all.

Watch. If you are attached to a person, are you in love? Or are you afraid of your aloneness, so you cling? Because you cannot be alone, you use this person so as not to be alone. Then you are afraid. If the person moves somewhere else or falls in love with someone else then you will kill this person and you will say, "I was so attached." Or you may kill yourself and you will say, "I was so attached that I could not live without her or without him."

It is sheer foolishness. It is not love, it is something else. You are afraid of your aloneness, you are not capable of being with yourself, you need somebody to distract you. And you want to possess the other person, you want to use the other person as a means for your own ends. To use another person as a means is violence. [161]

excerpt from Osho. Love, Freedom, Aloneness: The Koan of Relationships. Osho International Foundation St Martins Griffin, NY 2001.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Autism and The Erotic as Power

Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power by Audre Lorde has been a seminal essay in my growth. It struck a particular chord with me in my 20s and continues to inform some of the ways I think about the world.

In order to understand where I'm coming from with this, I think it's important to delve into what the word erotic means for Audre Lorde. The link above contains the full PDF and I strongly encourage reading the entire thing. However here are some quotes to begin:

The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling. [53]

But the erotic offers a well of replenishing and provocative force to the woman who does not fear its revelation, nor succumb to the belief that sensation is enough. [54]

The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognizing its power, in honor and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves. [54]

Another important way in which the erotic connection functions is the open and fearless underlining of my capacity for joy. In the way my body stretches to music and opens into response, hearkening to its deepest rhythms, so every level upon which I sense also opens to the erotically satisfying experience, whether it is dancing, building a bookcase, writing a poem, examining an idea.
That self-connection shared is a measure of the joy which I know myself to be capable of feeling, a reminder of my capacity for feeling. [56-57]

The quotes above do not capture what Lorde means in entirety. However it's a decent starting point. The erotic is not pornographic - Lorde writes of it as in the realm of women but also a dimension not explored enough in men (as it is in the realm of women); it is devalued, but kept around because it is powerful; its power is subdued by the contortions of a culture(s) that fear(s) this power. Do people fear the erotic because it is in the realm of women-power, or because as a kind of power it is one that women are particularly good at embodying (if they let it)? I hesitate myself to gender the erotic, however I understand the particular place Lorde was writing from here.

The reason this captured my attention so much and resonated with me was in the lines like, "..every level upon which I sense also opens to the erotically satisfying experience..."[56]

I can relate to the erotic connection with building a bookcase. The erotic is connection to self and others. So at a very surface level, if one does not attempt to really understand aut-istic - the connection is as simple as aut-o-erotic. But "autistic", despite the propaganda, is not "jailed inside ones own world and not really human", as much as eroticism isn't the one-dimensional masturbatory fantasy of much pornography. The erotic is life-force. This connection exists on every dimension of being. It is what artists tap into when they create, and also what mathematicians tap into when they work out a new equation.

It is, with respect, perhaps what some people only experience during sex, and why the erotic is often equated with sex and nothing more. Sex is great - and sex is so many things, and many of those things don't involve orgasm, or things we would think of as sex. There are no delineations -- as Foucault wrote, (roughly), before there was homosexuality (first) and then heterosexuality (second), there used to be bodies and pleasure. We've certainly categorized things in ways that divide up the erotic ever so much that it is not easy to grasp the entirety of what it means to live in the power of one's experience.

Back to those dimensions of being -- autistic spaces within me are dimensions of my being. The entirety of what it means to be autistic isn't exclusively the purview of the autistic. I could describe one aspect of my joyful experience with light and dust motes and this dimension is highly relatable to a cinematographer, even if he isn't autistic -- because his uses of the erotic, his power, includes this capacity.

If autistic capacity is undervalued, I believe it is for some of these same ways that the erotic spaces are undervalued -- however they have been around all the time, forever. Some writings on meditation and mindfulness touch on the kind of connective presence I'm talking about. However I don't mean to say autists are closer to enlightenment -- I mean that for each, our capacities are different. The capacity for kinetic resonance within space and light and sound is a particular capacity -- and less valued, in our world, than the capacity to understand office politics. But both are, I would argue, just as important to our humanity.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Voice of [Their] Anger

I grew up witnessing anger being silenced, including my own. I have also started to learn about my anger as a tool which can focus me toward what needs to change, and have the energy to change it. The silencing of anger, then, can be a particular kind of power against me.

Black people are angry. Disabled people are angry. Fuck your politics. Listen.

I have done a lot of privilege work since the 90s and while there is utility to that framework, I could not continue to look at the world through such a framework. In my experience it was used as a tool for silencing when it became the main framework for discourse. Power is complex and if we explore it along this one axis -- even through "intersectionality" (an attempt, perhaps, to introduce mathematics in an erroneous fashion as if we could ever quantify qualitative experience of oppression).

I cannot think about race without remembering how the legacy of Jews (exile, genocide, diaspora) permeated the everyday experience of my [family] culture. I cannot think of race without imagining similarly, a legacy of Black people (slavery, colonisation, scientific racism) permeates the experience of their cultures. No, we are not a monolith (And I blame American solipsism and exceptionalism for some of the odd political stances I see). We inherit the trauma we didn't ourselves experience -- a Republican from Wisconsin talked to me about his work around historical trauma and I admit to being surprised his politics allowed that. Shows what I know.

At the same time, it doesn't diminish that we haven't just experienced second- or third- or N-generation trauma, we can also experience it in the daily ways that still exist. People still throw pennies at jewish people, and target black people as thieves, and on and on. We can use the language of microaggressions as a way to capture the chipping away of trust and safety one can feel going around the in the world, and we diminish the right anger at the macro aggressions - the acts without plausible deniability. The egregious acts of coercion being done because of an unchecked and toxic and repugnant orthodoxy to beliefs that should have been obliterated by science and freedom-fighting.

There is power, there is resistance. There is privilege, there is coercion, there is hegemony. There are many lenses, and many filters to apply to those lenses. Often, it seems common to assert a view through a particular filtered lens, then argue with others who employ a different filtered lens about who has reached the wrong conclusion -- without ever working alongside one another to even reveal what lenses we are employing. This seems like a great waste of fine minds. For if we allowed those revelations perhaps we would have a language for philosophical argument of the deeper issues, rather than building our skills for internet trolling.

When I read the arguments between people that ultimately devolve into silencing, hate speech, because of unchecked racism or ableism or any other ism -- I don't see the value in undermining the "-ism" because it is a left-wing idea of oppression, and I don't see the value in shutting down the hate speech when it so very clearly comes from a place of misunderstanding. Hold up a mirror. Listen. Be willing to hold the anger of the other. But let me be clear -- it is not so much on the people who are angry -- legitimately angry from an unrelenting legacy of receiving hate -- to do this work. No, there is a difference between losing many peers to race- and poverty-related violence and being angry about that, and the anger of rich white people at "their" resources, earned on the backs of those very people, being used to address systemic problems. No, anger at being fucked over by a world you want to change is NOT the same as the hate borne of a perceived loss of privilege. I use privilege in that sense very earnestly.

In other words, patriarchal/misogynist butthurt is NOT equal to the rage at a system that murders women and trans people. Got butthurt? I have toys for that.

But to those who would turn away from us who are angry -- legitimately angry -- because race may have no scientific meaning but it is culturally salient and it MATTERS in the sense that it materially affects a person's experiences, opportunities, and safety in the world, and because of that, being colorblind is at best a copout -- then that angry must matter. Not only must it matter, it is the path to freedom. Not only must we listen to the anger of black people, woman people, disabled people, trans people, first nations people, those in poverty, those who witnessed genocide, those who are being enslaved, etc -- we must understand that anger is like an arrow at the heart of coercion and evil and we must amplify these voices and distill their meaning and behold their power with the tenderness it deserves; without ownership, destruction of authorship, or compromise of message.

The more uncomfortable we feel about those voices, the more it's on US to work that through and pay even closer attention. There is no solution until those voices aren't just a part of the conversation: they are the conversation.

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