Monday, 9 November 2015

An Alternative to Cultural Relativism - Part 2

This post will focus on applying the principles discussed in the last post to real world issues, so check it out first. This second part will be somewhat focussed on Australia, but feel free to apply my approach to other countries.

In recent decades, immigration, fuelled by the global expansion of technology, labour markets and media, has caused previously white dominated countries, including Australia, the United States, Canada and some Western European nations, to become more ethnically diverse. This has increased the potential for cultural conflict. Liberals respond to this problem by insisting on cultural relativism, the belief that no cultural idea or practice should ever be criticised (see my previous post and this earlier one for more information). This viewpoint is often used to justify misogynistic practices, which originated outside of the West, including female genital mutilation and foot binding (see my previous post for more information about cultural relativism).

Meanwhile, reactionaries endorse the maintenance (or rather creation) of a homogenous culture within the West. Some are outright racists who despise immigrants (those who are not white, that is). Others, such as Rise up Australia, claim to not be racist and to only oppose "multiculturalism". Nowadays the word "multiculturalism" seems to be used only by the right. Liberals have abandoned it in favour of "cultural diversity" (a term I find far more irritating, for reasons I will discuss later). This post will put forward a radical leftist vision of multiculturalism, as an alternative to both relativism and racist repression.

The Radical Approach to Culture

Cultural relativists believe that world is full of societies and cultures which are all drastically different from each and demand that they all be “respected” (which really means, blindly praised). Thus liberals exaggerate the amount of “cultural diversity” in the world (while implying that “diversity” is inherently good regardless of its consequences). However, the main problem with this demand is that it is not possible to respect all elements of a foreign culture or society, for no society has a single culture.

Contrary to liberal belief, all hierarchical societies are similar in certain ways. They all have a dominant culture (often expressed through schools, religious institutions, media and literature) which is created by the ruling class and is aimed at reinforcing its rule. Different ruling classes may employ different tactics (traditional ruling classes often claim that their power was granted to them by God, while more modern ones claim that they earned it by being smarter than everyone else), but they all have the same general aim of protecting the hierarchical systems which favour them.

Most societies also have rebels, people who actively oppose the dominant culture, often with the aim of ending oppressive or unjust policies (though unfortunately, some groups who see themselves as rebellious are either extremely reactionary or have no conscious cause). More radical rebels aim to change the entire social order. They form movements and create cultural products (such as videos and writings) which challenge the dominant ideology. Therefore we must all choose which sections of foreign cultures (and of our own) we will endorse, those that defend oppressive orders or those that resist them.

Since the mainstream culture usually reinforces views which help to keep the ruling class in power it should be subjected to a ruthless critique. Cultural relativism discourages such critiques. As Francois Tremblay pointed out (in a comment he left on my previous post), the cultural relativist viewpoint implies that resisting oppressive institutions is wrong. Proponents of cultural relativism would have to label all such rebellion as “disrespectful” towards the people whom the institutions (and the culture they create) rule over. This accusation assumes that all people support the dominant institutions within their culture.

Cultural relativists may argue that they allow those who are part of a culture to criticise it (though whenever someone does, they are usually accused of betraying their culture or “internalising” oppression). However, forbidding foreigners from criticising cultural institutions still deprives local movements of much needed solidarity from Western radicals.

All cultural products and practices should be open to criticism, no matter who creates them or for what purpose. Slavery and racist segregation were criticised with the intention of inspiring active opposition, which lead to their formal abolition (within the West). Political radicals should direct the same type of criticism towards cultural products that are created by the ruling class to reinforce capitalist values and have little to no intellectual merit, such as pornography or advertising.

Criticism can also be constructive, meaning that it aims to improve the thing being criticised. This type of criticism will be discussed in the following sections. Such criticism is necessary because even less oppressive cultures have flaws. However, these cultures need not be destroyed by such critiques. They can be transformed into more egalitarian forms while their positive aspects are preserved.

Breaking Down Barriers

Since it is easier to form friendships (and romantic relationships) with those you perceive as similar to you, the liberal approach to cultural issues creates barriers between people of different ethnic backgrounds, by exaggerating the differences between such people (such exaggeration was discussed in the first section of this post and in my original discussion of cultural relativism). There are also a number of other liberal ideas which form such barriers.

For example, liberals assume that only those who belong to a culture can understand it. While an insider perspective is useful for understanding the emotions associated with belonging to a particular culture and the mistreatment which people may experience on the basis of their culture or race, sometimes an outsider perspective is needed. Outsiders are typically more capable of spotting problems with a culture. Therefore liberal condemnation of the outsider perspective is yet another way to prevent valid criticisms of culture practices.

Then there is the concept of “cultural appropriation”. It is indeed objectionable to take the symbols or language of a particular culture and use them as decoration without regard for their original meaning or worse to promote the opposite of what they originally meant. An example of this would be companies using Soviet or radical leftist imagery (including images of Che Guevara) to sell products. However, cultures have been borrowing from one another for thousands of years (“Western science” owes a great deal to the Arabic world, as does any Westerner who uses sugar). I see nothing wrong with this, so long as due credit is given and nothing is distorted or misused.

Those who practice these alternative cultures have many valid critiques of the West, in the same way that Westerners can have valid critiques of less powerful cultures. Thus borrowing from other cultures should not be universally condemned. Of course, those who borrow from other cultures of racial groups should not claim misleadingly claim to be members of them. That said, different of different backgrounds can learn a great deal from each other without making such claims.

For example, some Australian Aboriginals criticise Western culture for promoting the belief that it is acceptable to treat the environment as if it were disposable (since we supposedly have souls which will leave this world upon death). You can watch the documentary “Utopia” by John Pilger, which focuses on the conditions of Aboriginals in Australia, to hear this claim presented in their own words (though the documentary does contain some mild sexism). Those who wish to be consistent in their relativism would have to dismiss this criticism and argue that environmental destruction is fine (since it is part of Western culture) or that no Westerner could ever understand or apply an Aboriginal principle.

When we are exposed to other cultures it should make us question (though not necessarily denounce altogether) the one we have been raised with. Relativism encourages Westerners to believe that (while their culture may not be superior to others and should not be "forced" onto others) it is nonetheless "true" and acceptable to them. The view that your beliefs are subjective "to you", rather than objective, is not the same as honest self criticism and ideological questioning. While labelling ideas as "my (or their) truth" may seem respectful to liberals, it prevents genuine intellectual engagement with other ways of thinking.

  A Radical Approach to Culture

Modern day reactionaries argue that Western nations, like Australia, should have a homogenous “Australian” culture (which would, if it existed, look nothing like that envisioned by the highly authoritarian and definitely not relaxed or “chill”, Rise up Australia Party). I, however, would argue that a functioning society does not need a single culture, but rather, a unifying set of aims. These aims can be based on the almost universally accepted human values (discussed in the previous post). People may aspire towards such aims while adhering to whatever culture they wish, so long as they are willing to accept criticism and alter their cultural practices in accordance with such aims.

At the core of both cultural relativism and the belief in the need for a single culture is a desire to maintain social harmony. I think harmony is over rated and a threat to intellectual liberty. If a society appears to be harmonious, there are probably people in that society who are keeping controversial opinions to themselves. 

While I do not favour violent conflicts among the masses, the multicultural society which I want to see emerge (after a socialist revolution, yes I am a revolutionary socialist, deal with it), will not be a harmonious one, but one filled with open disagreement and debate. Contrary to liberal belief, passionate debate is not only a necessary part of living in a free society, it is a good thing. Debates are a valuable means of determining the correct path forward and discouraging blind belief in authorities. They also teach people how to defend their claims with rational arguments and enables them to understand that “you are wrong and here is why” are not the most horrible words on the planet.

At the same time, the masses (in my ideal, multicultural society) will be united in the broader aim of creating an egalitarian society, just as scientists are united in their search for an accurate understanding of reality (or, to use a term which horrifies relativists, the truth), even while they disagree about the exact nature of reality. 

The positive aspects and ideas of the various cultures that are practiced in Australia and similar nations (which will be identified through vigorous debate) will be preserved. These include the scientific knowledge that comes from Western, Arabic and Chinese cultures, as well as the importance of respecting the natural environment, which comes from Aboriginal and other indigenous cultures. Meanwhile the negative aspects of these cultures, including authoritarianism (promoted through mainstream religions and in milder form through some Aboriginal narratives) will be challenged. This does not mean that stories with objectionable elements will be erased from living memory, but rather they will subjected to scrutiny (in the same way that ideological texts from the past are), instead of being taught to children with the intention that they be believed and their moral commands blindly obeyed.

To put it simply, I believe that Australia (and all other nations for that matter for I believe in moral universalism) should allow the practice of a variety of cultures, while encouraging those who practice those cultures to transform them in accordance with broad, egalitarian objectives. I consider this form of multiculturalism to be far more liberating than the relativistic, mental segregation advocated by liberals.


In summary, people of all cultures (including Western culture) should accept criticisms of their culture while also trying to learn from other cultures (this is different from blindly “accepting” other cultures in a relativistic manner). Ideas and practices from various cultures which are true or beneficial will be preserved, while those which are harmful are will be abolished (preferably by reasoning with those who believe in or practice them rather than by force).

It is possible that this alternative form of multiculturalism will lead to society abandoning the whole notion of separate cultures. Instead people would enjoy whatever food, music, celebrations, rituals and stories they preferred (so long as they are consistent with egalitarian ideals) regardless of what skin colour they were born with. For this to occur, it is necessary that racial inequality be abolished, so that the reality of how people are targeted for oppression because of their physical traits is not muddled or concealed. Overall however, I think the creation of a general human culture (which will lead to more individuality, not less, as liberals may insist) would be a very positive development.
I would have mentioned the recent anniversary of the Russian Revolution were I not concerned about scaring off liberals before they got to the actual content of my post. Since you have already read this far I guess I can now. Oops, I already did. All I will say is that I hope that the history of socialist revolutions has not yet ended.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

An Alternative to Cultural Relativism - Part 1

Happy Halloween everyone! Last year I scared some liberals by expressing my opposition to cultural relativism in this controversial post. It became my most popular post, until another (widely re-blogged) article, which liberals would also consider racist, surpassed it. 

This (somewhat abstract) post is the first in a two part discussion of cultural relativism. It will put forward philosophical views which will then by applied in the second post, which will deal more closely with real life issues. I hope this series will cause just as much controversy as the last did.

The term “cultural relativism” refers to the belief that whether an action is right or wrong depends on what a particular culture says about it. Cultural relativists believe that otherwise objectionable practices can be excused if they are part of the "culture" (whatever that means, liberals often make it mean whatever they want) of those performing them. Cultural relativism is a type of moral relativism, the belief that there is no such as a “universal” morality and that the moral acceptability of an action is determined by whether those performing it believe that is it morally acceptable. Everything is permitted by moral relativism, except confidently asserting a moral viewpoint, which is seen as an oppressive attempt to “force your morality” onto other people.

Cultural relativists try to give moral relativism a progressive veneer. They assume that the cultural or ethnic background of a person completely determines their moral viewpoints and since they believe that viewing an action as acceptable makes it acceptable, they oppose all criticisms of cultural practices. They label such criticisms as racist or “Western centric”. In this post, I will propose a philosophical alternative to cultural relativism, one which is consistent with fighting against racism. Those who feel it is not are free to tell me why, though past experience leads me to think that they would rather stay on their own sites and complain about me instead.

In Defence of Moral Universalism

According to this philosophy website, there are two alternatives to moral relativism (and, by extension, cultural relativism), moral absolutism, the view that no aspects of the situation (or "context", as the site puts it) are relevant when determining the morality of an action, and moral universalism. I adhere to the second. In fact, hardly anyone is a consistent moral absolutist, except perhaps liberals, who believe that all consensual acts are good and all actions which are not consensual are bad, regardless of the context, consequences or specific nature of the acts. 

Most people agree that the scenario in which an action takes place influences whether the action is right or wrong. For example, killing someone is wrong is almost all cases, but many would agree that it is okay to kill someone who is suffering from a painful, terminal illness and thus wishes to die. Consent alone does not make killing acceptable (most people would object to assisting the suicide of a healthy person who had no good reason to end their life), but a drastic situation can. This is called "situational ethics" and is consistent with universalism (see the next section for more information about situational ethics).

What is not consistent with moral universalism is the belief that right and wrong vary arbitrary depending on what time and place you are in, or rather, whose rule you are under. While proponents of moral universalism take the situation into account when deciding what is right or wrong, they also think for themselves (by applying reason and a concern for ethical values) and do not rely on the dominant ideology of their society (or its "culture") to make such determinations for them. 

Supporters of moral universalism recognise, for example, that neither crossing a border into a state which permits slavery (and justifies it on the grounds of "culture" or "tradition") nor travelling back in time to a period where slavery was common throughout the Western world, magically makes slavery morally acceptable. In such cases, we would simply be living in a society where many people had the wrong stance regarding slavery, one which reinforced a brutal, and probably racist, hierarchy.

If a person is born into such a society, that also does not make it acceptable for them to practice slavery. It may make them believe that slavery is acceptable (though many who lived in societies which practiced slavery, including slaves themselves, recognised that it was wrong and fought to abolish it), but rejecting moral relativism leads one to recognise that beliefs about morality are not always correct. A person who has a wrong stance with regard to a certain moral issue is not necessarily evil overall, but a wrong viewpoint is a wrong viewpoint, regardless of the characteristics of the person proposing it.

I take the stance that we should oppose systems in which some exercise power over others and fight for their abolition, regardless of when, where or how such systems came about. This radical approach fall within the category of moral universalism. Such reasoning would enable one to show solidarity with (and perhaps even take part in) struggles which challenge the dominant cultures of their times, including movements against slavery, genocide and male dominance. However, taking such stances requires critical thinking, as well as a willingness to come into conflict with those in power. 

Unfortunately, modern day liberals, including cultural relativists, have neither. Their belief that “culture” must be respected at all costs and that society decides what is morally acceptable would have encouraged them to take the side of the reactionaries (who fought to maintain their “cultural traditions”) during these historical struggles, though what they would have actually done cannot be known.

Moral Universalism and Situational Ethics

Sometimes it can be tricky to distinguish situational ethics from cultural relativism, since cultural norms may be part of a situation. For example, suppose a couple lives in a society where the only way for to ensure that their daughter has enough food, water and other essential resources is to compel her to marry a rich man. Suppose also that men in this society refuse to marry any female who has not undergone a particular body modification (such as female genital mutilation). It is understandable that the couple would encourage their daughter to undergo harmful procedures, if the only alternative was allowing her to starve to death. In this situation, the couple would be applying situational ethics, not cultural relativism (though whether or not they were doing the right thing would still be debatable). 

On the other hand, there are some who justify dangerous and unnecessary surgeries through blind appeals to culture, tradition or religion without any rational arguments or regard for the effects of their practices on women and girls. This sort of thinking is an example of not only cultural relativism, but authoritarianism, but is nonetheless defended by liberals who claim to oppose authoritarianism. In any case, if one does not defend their actions through rational arguments (which usually address the consequences of possible actions) but instead appeals to their “culture” as an infallible, moral authority, they cannot claim to be applying situation ethics. They are practising either authoritarianism or relativism, not that there is much difference between the two (see this earlier post for more information about their similarities).

While I would not heap condemnation upon those who perform oppressive practices on their daughters in response to challenging situations, it is important to struggle against the economic and cultural conditions which create such scenarios in the first place. There should be (and are) movements which fight for females to have access to education and jobs, such that they can receive an income without marrying. The idea that a female must modify her body in medically unnecessary ways in order to be a worthy sexual partner must also be resisted. Those in the West who believe in the rights of females should show solidarity towards local movements which strive to combat such practices in these ways, instead of the cultural institutions or social norms which necessitate them.

Are There Universal Values?

Throughout history there have been movements that have upheld egalitarian values in opposition to the hierarchical values which characterised the cultures they lived under. These daring movements (which include the movements against slavery discussed above, as well as movements fighting for the liberation of women, national independence or democracy) were motivated by common human values. Such values include equality, liberty, courage and benevolence (particularly towards the vulnerable). Some movements have even gone beyond promoting particular causes based on these values and developed broader political ideologies, (such as socialism, communism, anarchism and radical feminism) devoted to fighting for them on multiple fronts.

In spite of liberal instance that there are no universal human values or rights, these radical viewpoints are not confined to one culture, country, continent or race. The global spread of such movements (along with more moderate ones fighting against extreme human rights violations) is evidence against the cultural relativist assumption that cultural background completely dictates ethical and political thinking. 

There are things which the vast majority of human beings desire, including physical survival, positive interactions with other humans and freedom from tyranny, abuse or exploitation. According to liberals and relativists, pointing out such similarities is a "totalising" attempt to ignore or destroy human difference. Somehow recognising that people of other racial and cultural groups have things in common with you has come to be perceived as racist, while the belief that such people have little in common with you (apart from "diversity") is supposedly progressive. 

In reality, recognising the near universality of some traits does not mean believing that there is no variation among human beings at all or that all differences must be abolished. Only traits which pose a clear threat to human values, such as the desire to dominate and abuse others, should be combated. Morally neutral variations in personality do not need to be.

While it is true that not every human being on the planet values the same things, the similarities between modern societies, with regard to values like freedom and equality, stand out more than their differences. Even some of the most oppressive regimes have claimed to stand for these values. Dictators claim that they protect their people from (real or imagined) threats to their liberty (including communism, fascism and more recently, Islamic terrorism). Capitalists and conservative Christians insist that they treat those they dominate (workers and women, respectively) as equals by giving them "equal opportunity" to rise to power or "equal value" (so long as they conform to their subordinate role). Who are the ones that truly uphold such values? That is the part where critical thinking and rational debate are needed, or to put it another way, the part where relativists give up.


In summary, the best philosophical alternative to cultural relativism is moral universalism, which can be applied by putting forward a set of general moral values (such as liberty, equality and benevolence) and basing moral decisions on these values, while employing critical thinking. It is possible to oppose cultural relativism and adhere to universal ethical principles, while taking into account the specific situations that members of oppressed racial and economic groups face.

There is no need for anyone to blindly believe what their culture (which was probably created by a ruling class seeking to maintain its rule) tells them about what is right and wrong. The same basic values, employed in response to different conditions, can motivate people all over the world to fight for human liberation and against unnecessary hierarchies.
Thank you for reading my second attempt to address cultural relativism. Are you terrified by my dismissal of liberal, “diversity” worship? If so, let me know in the comments and if not, check out the rest of my blog for more ruthless rebuttals of liberalism. Either way I hope you all have had (or are having) an enjoyable (or at least, tolerable) Halloween.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

The Problems with Identity Politics

I discussed identity politics a while back in a comment on this Feminist Current article. This blog post elaborate on some of the issues brought up in the comment.

In high school, I took philosophy as an elective. I only studied it for a semester (that was about as much idealist, navel-gazing as my rationalist, materialist brain could take), but it helped me work out my political and philosophical views. It thus contributed to me becoming the snarky, revolutionary leftist, radical feminism supporter that I am today, though I do not think anyone in the class (including myself) intended for things to turn out that way.
One day, the topic for the lesson was self reflection (or if you want to use the somewhat pretentious terminology employed by the teacher, “know thyself”). A student, when asked to describe himself, stated that he was a fifteen year old, Caucasian male. From the perspective of those who promote identity politics, this was a fine answer. In fact, all he would have to do to be labelled a brilliant, progressive thinker by identity obsessed liberals is toss in a few references to privilege, along with more information than any us need to know about his sexual preferences or activities.

The teacher on the other hand was not impressed. If you understand why, you probably know what some of the problems with identity politics are. If not, well that is what this post is for, though be warned that this blog is not the place for philosophical navel-gazing.
What is Identity Politics?

For a long time I had an instinctive dislike of something called “identity politics”. I heard the term being used derogatorily by radical leftists (including some radical feminists), though to my confusion some liberals proudly identified with it. It was not easy to pin down exactly what the term meant, but here is the answer I came up with.

Identity politics consists of turning either superficial traits (such as sexual preferences and unhealthy lifestyle choices) or hierarchical social categories (especially race, sex and class) into “identities”, which are then meant to form a basis for political movements. Some say that identity politics began with Karl Marx, who claimed that capitalism divided people into economic classes and that the exploited working class needed to overthrow the ruling class. However, not all political discussions of race, sex and class promote identity politics. 

What distinguishes Marx from identity politics proponents is that he envisioned the abolition of class divisions. To endorse identity politics is to claim that the class, sex and race of a person (along with similar categories) combine to create their “identity”. Thus those who adhere to identity politics either cannot imagine the end of such categories or view efforts to eliminate them as oppressive.

For example, revolutionary socialism (especially Marxism) is condemned, by liberals and conservative alike, for supposedly seeking to destroy human individuality. Similar arguments are made against radical feminists (who aim to abolish masculinity and femininity, just as radical leftists seek to abolish economic class), though with more modern buzzwords, like “diversity”. In both cases, oppressive social orders are reinforced. If someone believes that their identity is dependent on being assigned positions within hierarchies (which is what the various class and gender categories really are) they will support such systems and harshly denounce those opposed to them, while claiming to be the true defenders of equality.

However, not all identity politics proponents view themselves as progressive or feminist. White supremacy and male supremacy can also be expressions of identity politics. Such thinking is often based on stereotypes regarding the supposed intelligence, productivity, ambition and “bravery” (or rather brutal aggression towards designated enemies) of white males. It stands to reason that the more a person thinks of himself as a “white male” rather than a human being, the more likely he is to be offended by criticisms of white people or males as a whole (or the roles pushed onto them), causing him to accept reactionary viewpoints.

However, identity politics is not a genuinely progressive force, regardless of which group adheres to it. Whenever we encourage someone to feel attached to either a dominant or a subordinate role within an oppressive order, we reinforce that order. Thus those who favour an egalitarian society should oppose identity politics in all its forms. 

Identity Politics and Liberalism

As I stated above, reactionaries do sometimes promote identity politics (while hypocritically accusing their opponents of doing so). However it makes sense that identity politics is usually associated with liberalism (the belief that all actions are morally permissible if there is consent), since the former is often used to justify controversial behaviours. Those who practice a harmful behaviour can protect it from criticism by implying that the behaviour is “who they are”. Any opposition to it is then perceived as a personal attack.

Liberals typically use identity politics to defend sexual practices (both benign ones, like gay relationships, and harmful ones, like sadomasochism), but recently I have seen it used in reference to other activities. The label “gamers” (a category which seems to only include obsessive video game players who favour violent games and enjoy, or at least tolerate, the misogyny in them) is a convenient excuse to silence critics of the industry who are accused of not being “real gamers”. Then there is the argument that “gamers” are being persecuted, because some people disapprove of certain games. I do not know of anyone who argues that video games are inherently evil and should be abolished, but the “gamer” label sure is an effective means of suppressing political disagreements.

The term “smokers” is used in a similar way to defend tobacco consumption. Those who create policies aimed at discouraging smoking may be denounced for discriminating against “smokers”. By replacing the verb, “smoking”, with the noun “smoker”, one can obscure the fact that a bad habit is being targeted rather than a set of people. Nobody is inherently a “smoker” (or a “gamer” for that matter, let alone a player of violent games), nor is anyone destined to remain one (however difficult quitting may be). Those who smoke are not in the same position as those born with female genitalia or dark skin. The former have the option of giving up their dangerous habit (which is, after all, the objective of the policies) and escaping any perceived discrimination. The latter do not.

However, as harmful as smoking is, it is not directly contrary to the aim of creating an egalitarian world. The behaviours I am most concerned about are those which strengthen hierarchies, in addition to harming physical health. Liberal feminists promote such behaviours through the belief that to be a woman is to adhere to some form of femininity (this can mean anything from using lipstick to getting cosmetic surgery to behaving in an overly sweet and gentle way, which makes one vulnerable to abuse). Combine this with identity politics (specifically, the claim that womanhood is an aspect of identity) and you arrive at the conclusion that feminine behaviours make women “who they are” and thus are only opposed by those with a personal hatred for women. 

Similar reasoning is employed by anti-feminists to defend behaviours that society associates with men, including sexual aggression, along with the consumption of pornography and other violent media (including violent video games). Thus identity politics is used to excuse harmful behaviours on both sides of the gender hierarchy. 

An Alternative to Identity Politics

It is possible to recognise that one has particular attributes or behaviours while rejecting the view that such traits constitute your “identity”. This can be an important step towards self improvement, since it is psychologically easier to give up a harmful habit than it is to give up a behaviour which is supposedly part of “who you are”. However, people would generally prefer to have some sense of identity. Those who dismiss identity politics should therefore propose an alternative way to respond to the “describe yourself” prompt discussed earlier.

Humans have the ability to think rationally, experience emotions, express opinions, tell stories, develop ambitions and imagine other worlds. These characteristics are specific to humans (and perhaps some mammals), yet identity politics barely acknowledges them. Sex obsessed liberals should note that brief bursts of sexual arousal (and other forms of temporary, mostly physical pleasure) do not fall within my definition of “emotions”, only deeper, lasting feelings, like sadness, fear, anger, happiness and genuine love do (though it is possible to express deep, positive feelings through sex). Asking someone what would make them angry or bring them permanent happiness is a far more effective means of getting to know them then asking for a list of things which cause pleasurable physical responses from their genitals.

The traits liberals obsess over, such as appearances, habits, social roles and sexual preferences are superficial. They may enable survival and reproduction (though some habits, like smoking, impair survival) but being human means doing more than that. If the traits you list when describing yourself are not specific to intelligent life or are external, physical traits which society uses to assign roles to you (such as your race and sex), you might want to rethink your notion of identity.

However, even a sense of identity based on deeper traits should not command blind respect. My political and philosophical views are an important part of my identity and they do not usually receive such respect, nor do I think they should. Disagreements and debates, including fierce ones, can be an important source of growth. The thoughts, feelings, ambitions and stories of humans should all be open to critique. These characteristics differ from the superficial ones liberals focus on in that they can be used to determine the true nature of a person, good or bad.

That said, traits like race, sex and economic class should not be completely ignored, for doing so leads to the reactionary delusion that such categories no longer have political importance. Instead we should be conscious of the roles that society pushes onto us (whether they involve dominance or submission) without accepting the claim that these roles are our “identities”.

For example, biological males who wish to be decent human beings (while rejecting identity politics) must recognise that social forces (like the pornography, mainstream media and gendered toys) are encouraging them into behaving in aggressive, dominating ways. They must then consciously fight that indoctrination, every step of the way, instead of incorporating such behaviours into their sense of self. It is not acceptable to simply assert that society does not influence you. You must acknowledge that a problem exists in order to fight it. Otherwise you leave your mind vulnerable to influence. It is also important to learn to think critically, for acknowledging the existence of indoctrination without knowing how to combat it, leads right back to relativism and identity politics.

In past decades, revolutionary leftists and radical feminism often spoke of “raising consciousness” with regard to class and gender. Nowadays liberals think they can substitute the term “identity” in place of “consciousness”. In reality, the two are not interchangeable, for “consciousness” (when used in both political and apolitical contexts) refers to an awareness of the real world and the place one occupies within it, while “identity” refers to the beliefs people have about themselves (which can still be wrong). While we need identities (preferably ones that are not based on hierarchical roles), the term “consciousness” needs to be brought back into political discourse. This would enable radicals to reintroduce materialist thinking in opposition to the idealism of identity politics.


Opponents of social hierarchies, like capitalism and male dominance, must recognise that we are more than the roles society shoves down our throats. We must encourage consciousness with regard to class, race and gender, in place of the belief that such categories are our “identities”. Radicals seek an awareness of reality so that we can change it. We should avoid getting so caught up in hierarchical roles that we lose the ability to see beyond them. The term “identity” should be reserved for characteristics that truly capture our unique selves. While nobody can hope to fully fulfil the “describe yourself” instruction in few words, here is how I would respond to it.

I am an intelligent, creative, stubborn, critical, often angry human being, who values equality, liberty, reason and collective resistance to domination. I envision a socialist revolution, which enables the working masses to do away with class, gender, religion, consumerism and other institutions or practices which reinforce hierarchies. Notice how my response did not include references to the social categories I belong to?
I hope that those of you in the Northern Hemisphere enjoyed your summers and that this post has given readers from all over the world something to think about (and comment on).

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Are Some Sex Acts "More Equal" Than Others?

A previous post of mine titled “How Pornographic is too Pornographic” was added to a feminism-related page on the website, Reddit. One version of it received ten comments. Unfortunately I cannot find that version now, but in this post I will respond to the arguments put forward in the comments, as best as I can.

As always, I invite my readers, including those opposed to my views, to comment on my blog directly so that I can respond more easily. Do try to respond with actual arguments rather than just dismissals.

Liberals often say that they view all consensual sex acts as equal. However, in this post I stated that liberals view aggressive, degrading or otherwise anti-egalitarian sexual activities, such as sadomasochism (or BDSM as it is often labelled), as more subversive, liberating and praiseworthy than so-called “vanilla” sex. These two viewpoints contradict each other, yet they are clearly both held by liberals.

Conflicts within the ideology of liberal feminists are their problem, not mine. This post will instead focus on the claim that anti-egalitarian sexuality is superior to egalitarian sexuality and attempt to demonstrate that liberals, on some level, adhere to this claim (or at least talk and act as though they do), regardless of whatever else they say or believe.

Insulting Language

I am generally not that picky with regard to language use. I despise the way liberals use perceived errors in speech or writing (e.g. stating that Christopher Columbus discovered Latin America or listing multiple categories without listing every combination of those categories, as Patricia Arquette did) as an excuse to vilify their political opponents.

However, in this situation, I am not referring to the spontaneous word choices of an individual, but to terms regularly used by movements. I also will not be referring to instances when someone failed to mention a particular group. Is literally denying the existence of Native Americans or non-white women a common position among activists that we should be worried about? I will let my readers decide. Personally, I am more concerned with what people do say than what they do not say, particularly when their words convey value judgements.

Firstly, there is the term “vanilla”, which is used by practitioners of sadomasochist sex to describe those who do not practice it. Liberals in general are also expected to employ this term (e.g. by acknowledging their “vanilla-privilege”). They may argue that the term means “conventional” sex, but in practice it is used to refer to practices which do not involve any anti-egalitarian (or otherwise pornographic, according to the criteria I lay out in the first section of this post) elements.

According to Google, “vanilla” (when not used to describe food) means “having no special or extra features; ordinary or standard”.  By using the word, liberals imply that people who do not practice sadomasochism have boring, conformist sexualities. It is thus logically inconsistent for liberals to state that there is “nothing wrong with vanilla sex”, unless they believe that dullness and ordinariness are positive or neutral traits. They recognise that egalitarian sex is not immoral (a position which means little, coming from liberals), but they do imply that it is the inferior sexuality.

Not everyone who has “vanilla” sex views it as conventional and uninteresting. Thus it is insulting for liberals to insinuate that it is. In fact, domination and submission is the sexual convention within our highly hierarchical society. Radical feminists (particularly lesbian feminists) often reject such practices out of a desire to defy sexual norms. 

However, I have seen people use the term vanilla to proudly express their preference for egalitarian sex. I am not sure how I feel about such uses of the term, but I do acknowledge that it did not start out as an insult. Originally it described tasty desserts, which are favoured by a somewhat select group of people (chocolate was the favourite when I was a kid, not vanilla). Nonetheless, the condescending intentions of the term “vanilla”, as used by sadomasochists, are clear.

Meanwhile, liberals use terms like “subversive” and “liberating”, along with gushing euphemisms like “spice-up your sex life” to refer to sadomasochistic sex acts. To “subvert” is to “undermine the power and authority” of a social system. Thus those who label sadomasochism as “subversive” are claiming that it will contribute to the destruction of patriarchy (or some other oppressive system). This is grand praise indeed.

While liberals do not explicitly condemn egalitarian sex, complimenting one behaviour and not another is also discriminatory. Until liberals start saying that loving, egalitarian sex liberates women and subverts patriarchy, with the same frequency that they heaps such praise upon sadomasochism, pornography, casual sex, etc., I think it is reasonable to claim that they view the former as inferior, yet acceptable for those weak, boring people who cannot handle “spiced-up” sex. 

Sadomasochist, “Feminist” Pornography

Pornography that features sadomasochism is more likely to win an award for its supposed “feminism”. In case you think I am speculating, based on the contents of previous recipients of the “feminist” pornography award, I am not. I neither know, nor care, which videos got the “award”. This information comes from the website of the award. Its creators say they “like to include films that contain kink, BDSM, and consensual non-consent” when choosing films for the award. It seems they favour pornographic videos (which are not “films”, in my view) that feature (outright) sadomasochism over those that do not.

By pointing out that the sex industry and its liberal allies reward sadomasochistic pornography over “vanilla” pornography, I am not suggesting that non-sadomasochist pornography should be given awards or endorsements, nor am I suggesting that such videos feature genuinely loving, egalitarian sex. If I had my way, there would be no pornography awards to begin with. However, by excluding a video from receiving a “feminist” pornography award (or at least lowering the probability that it will receive it), due to its lack of sadomasochism, they are implying that some sexual activities (“vanilla” ones) are less feminist or less worthy of celebration, thus contradicting their belief that all consensual sex acts are equal.

An even more frightening aspect of the aforementioned site is its claim that the pornography selected for the award is “for everyone”. You read that right, everyone. They do not even have the decency to limit it to adults. They do however admit that “not all films are for all audiences” and that no one film can “include everyone”. I find the latter phrase disturbing. I do not know what the intended meaning is, but the phrasing makes it sound like they want audiences to be directly involved in pornography. Whether they do or not, their position seems to be that while it is okay to dislike some pornography, everyone will like at least one kind.

If someone claimed that romantic comedies or egalitarian, loving relationships were for everybody, liberals would be outraged. They think it is perfectly fine to completely reject non-pornographic depictions of sex (I myself take issue with some of the messages promoted by romance films, but I do not believe that they are inherently a bad thing), but cannot conceive of somebody rejecting pornography in all its forms. This is further evidence of a double standard within liberalism, one which favours pornography and the kind of loveless, aggressive sex that it features over alternatives.

So What If All Sex Acts Are Equal?

While I have provided evidence that liberals perceive sadomasochism as more subversive, rebellious, exciting and “spiced up” than the egalitarian alternatives, the “all (consensual) sex acts are equal” idea is nonetheless part of official liberal dogma. The view is one I am familiar with, but not one which I think can be rationally defended. I addressed it briefly in this post (leave a comment or send a message if you want to know where) and in an often re-blogged section of this one, dealing with the liberal understanding of equality.

Simply put, I do not believe that all consensual sex acts are equal and I do not equate human equality with granting equal approval to all behaviours. I think there are many standards, besides consent and pleasure, by which sex acts can be evaluated. These include egalitarianism, gentleness, respect and genuine, personality-based love (all of which have been discussed countless times on this blog). Then there is my oh-so-oppressive belief that sex acts should not cause death (discussed here) and that those which do are inferior, what a crazy thing to think, right?

As for the Black Jack analogy (put forward in this post), I think it still stands, whether liberals think sadomasochism is better than egalitarian sex or not. If instead of being told to aim for a score of twenty-one, Black Jack players were instead allowed to pick their own target score and players chose twenty-one as their score (because they personally liked it) many of those players would likely end up going over twenty-one. If you aim to make your sex acts more rape-like (i.e. more violent, dominating and degrading) without actually committing rape, you might just end up crossing the line. You are far less likely to cross the line if you stay far away from it by aiming for gentleness, equality, respect and love instead.

One premise that is essential to my Black Jack analogy is the claim that “sadomasochism is rape-like”. This statement is difficult to refute (though I nonetheless challenge my readers to try), given the existence of consensual non-consent (mentioned in the “feminist” pornography award quote above), which sounds a lot like “consensual rape” to me (Orwell must be rolling over in his grave). From what I understand, consensual non-consent involves a submissive agreeing to be forced into a sex act at some future point (and not being allowed to withdraw from it). The practice is a subject for another post. All I will say for now is that those who reward pornographers who practice and promote such acts (instead of distancing themselves from them) have little regard for logic and even less regard for human rights.

Another possible weakness in the analogy is that Black Jacks involves an element of chance, while committing rape is a decision (made mostly by males). With enough willpower, a man can always decide not to commit rape, but increasing the incentive to commit rape and decreasing the internal incentive against it, will make the decision harder. Sadomasochist simulations of rape result in both of these things. They convince the pretend rapists (that is, after all, what the dominants in such situations are) that committing rape would be a pleasurable experience for both them and their victim (masochistic pretend victims often do end up enjoying it). Few men make it their life ambition to become rapists. It is something they move towards over time. While they always have the option of refusing to rape, they would be wise not to give themselves sexual incentives in favour of it. Why would any decent person want to encourage oneself to commit rape? 


So how do liberal feminists explain the fact that they constantly make the “all sex acts are equal” claim, while also saying and doing things (such as giving out awards) which suggest that violent, degrading (or as they put it “subversive”) sex is the best kind?  I do not like to accuse people of lying, unless I have strong evidence that they are, but I do not understand how liberals can simultaneously adhere to these two views, nor am I, as an opponent of liberal feminism, required to understand this contradiction. Perhaps these claims are preached by different sections of the movement.

It is also possible that the “all sex acts are equal” position is their conscious view, which they defend with (attempts at) rational arguments, while the view that sadomasochism is superior is more subconscious. They have even made non-sadomasochists feel that their image as a "modern" (and presumably "feminist") woman may be compromised by their “failure” to participate in such practices (as evidenced by this entertaining article). The fact that the author felt the need to reclaim "vanilla sex" suggests that the dominant belief in our culture is that all “empowered”, “sexually liberated” women should be able to enjoy sadomasochism. It seems that while liberals have, on an intellectual level, accepted the view that all sex acts are equal, they cannot help but make value judgements, as all humans do. The problem is that they favour dangerous and hierarchical forms of sex, over those which are more consistant with egalitarian ideals.
Yes, the title is a reference to the famous Animal Farm quote. I would not dare suggest that I came up with something so brilliant on my own.