Sunday, January 30, 2011

The greatest secret of the West, of Civilized Men, of society with a Christian legacy, however hidden and denied, is that those with the most power are easily seduced, not only by people but by murderous ideas, by phantasms whose existence they deny.

This secret manifests itself in a particular binarism, a way of dividing the world into good and evil, each pole corresponding to a great variety of terms, with one side generally dominant and controlling: Active and Passive, West and East, Inside and Outside, Consent and Coercion, Justice and Tyranny, Health and Sickness, Authenticity and Fakeness, Nature and Corruption. They move into descriptions of people, Black and White, Male and Female, Straight and Queer, Rich and Poor. Rich Dad, Poor Dad is a very popular book's title, as is Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. Sometimes I want to write an inane book like that so that I can live on the proceeds for the rest of my life. Rich Dad, like most bestsellers, reinforces a dichotomy while appearing impartial. It argues, essentially, that the poor dad is poor because he has chosen to be poor by being profligate, and this supposed to be empowering: any dad can become a rich dad, if he just works hard enough! This leaves out the question, of course, of the multitude, the other millions of poor dads who will be left behind, the ones who actually influence the world the most and make everything run.

This type of individualistic and individualizing thinking is the means by which dichotomies are reinforced: the Good and the Healthy are nearly always the Few.

One who accepts this thinking, who finds no possibility but to accept this thinking, finds oneself at an utterly awful crossroads where it feels like a choice between becoming a rapist and castrating himself. This is the straight white male fear, which can occupy anyone: Either I fuck someone over, or I get fucked over. There can be no compassion, no generosity, no forgiveness, no trust. I am Tony Montana, or Dylan Klebold: you are all my enemies, so I win. If I lose, it is only in a bloody apotheosis.

This mindset is not “a part” of rape and murder; it is the foundation for rape and murder. This explains, on its own, why men commit the vast majority of violent crimes.

Case studies are needed at this point, but are difficult to provide, precisely because white middle-class men are the most unassailable group, and they are growing as Arabs and Latinos follow in the footsteps of the Jews, believing that they, too, are white. Tim Wise points out that we must begin to look at this problem of near-random shootings (Arizona, dozens, maybe hundreds, of American high schools)as a white, male problem, and that we have thus far failed to look at it, almost at all, because we are, as Americans, terrified of the notion that there could be anything wrong with this group.

And this will continue to be true as long as people believe that race equals skin color, and sexual orientation equals who you fuck, and gender equals your genitalia. These arguments are equivalent to saying that the iceberg is constituted by its tip. And if you believe that, your ship is going to sink.

Of course each of these factors play a part in the larger topics of race, sexual orientation, and gender. But to reduce them to these is disallow an understanding, on the one hand, of the way in which oppressions between these groups are interrelated, and, on the other hand, of the effects of these oppressions on the privileged groups. Because if the story of Columbine, Jim Jones, or Jared Lee Loughner teaches us anything, it is that there is a kind of suffering--not oppression, but suffering--visited upon those who are in positions of relative privilege.

This suffering has to do with the feeling and the belief that one's kingdom is crumbling, has crumbled, has been undone by hordes of filthy, corrupt, perverse devils. "A donkey, a donkey, my kingdom for a donkey!" This may as well be the battlecry of the Tea Party Movement, whose collusion with Loughner has been widely denied although everyone knows that the Tea Partiers are just as strong in the belief that one should take up arms, as a white American, to defend the interests of white Americans.

We must take as one of our starting points the understanding that this belief is genocidal. It relies on what James Baldwin called the "dream of safety" whose endpoint can only be "the nightmare orgasm of genocide."

Most people, Americans especially, will be shocked and disgusted by Baldwin's idea. We would have to recap in order to see where he was coming from.

More than almost any author, Baldwin looked directly at the experience of Black Americans since slavery. He was particularly attuned to the aspects of this experience which were overlooked for they were shameful, both to whites and to blacks: the way in which racism acted on a psychological register which overlapped with the material, the way in which racism function in terms of homophobic and sexist violence, the way in which racism was a crime against the dignity of both the oppressor and the oppressed.

His short story, "Going to Meet the Man." The story is about a Southern sheriff in a small rural town. More directly, it describes his thoughts as he lies in bed, next to his wife. His thoughts are obsessed with thoughts of "the niggers," how they disgust and shock him, how they occupy him with rage. Having engaged in behind-closed-doors conversations with white men, and having been one myself, I can tell you that this is completely normal. There is no word that better describes the attitude of the American white man for the black than envy (and I would say the same goes for straight men toward gays and men toward women). "There were niggers in the Army right now and God knows they wouldn't have had any trouble stealing this half-assed government blind--the whole world was doing it, look at the European countries and all those countries in Africa (209)." The blacks, with their scheming, albeit stupid, ethical laxity, are stealing this country from under our feet!

What, however, keeps a man in this stultifying position of loss and envy is his separation from the blacks, which, he believes, will temper his jealousy, his rage, his resentment. If only I can keep them out of my life, I will be able to focus on normal things. As long as he does not face them, Baldwin wrote, he will not have to face himself.

4 comments:

  1. "There is no word that better describes the attitude of the American white man for the black than envy (and I would say the same goes for straight men toward gays and men toward women)."

    Would you elaborate on this? I feel that this is a pretty bold claim to make (and I personally disagree) and I'd like to understand the thought behind it. I feel wont to dismiss the whole of this essay because of statements like this, and I'd rather not do so.

    Thanks,
    Tim

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  2. Whenever a group is marginalized, whenever there is systemic oppression, there's a cause for that oppression. One of these causes is envy. I'm not sure how to prove it, aside from looking at society. Why, for instance, did Elvis' hip-shaking shock the nation and generate millions of dollars of revenue? What was it about his gyrating hips that mobilizing all these suburban white children? Why is Eminem so enormously popular? It has to do with the trial by fire that society imposes on blacks, and people's subsequent amazement that anyone survives this trial at all with a modicum of joy or love.

    As for homosexuality and gender, there are many other examples one could give, but I would say just that it's significant that James Dean is at once the biggest sex symbol of American 20th century culture and a known homosexual at a time when it was almost impossible to be out of the closet.

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  3. I think I get where you're coming from. What I think you're saying is that when a person who has no impediments sees another overcome their obstacles, they resent the fact that they have no (apparent) obstacles. If this is what you're saying, I'm on board. I will still take issue with your indicting tone of voice, though. :)

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  4. well, that comes from baldwin...and my grandma i guess. Yes, white people, or men, or straight people, or any people that finds itself in a position of apparent 'success' begins to resent that, which is bizarre and flies in the face of behaviorism and liberalism. People want to have struggles, because we believe in overcoming them. And the people who are most resented, and whose lives are most dangerous, are sometimes those who have overcome the greatest obstacles, because everyone seems to resent them.

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