The Clare Spark Blog

May 8, 2010

The Free Will-Determinism Debate

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exhibition announcement, Cal State Dominguez Hills

My fight with a Reagan Republican Catholic who hates housework and feminism. 

Two days ago, a Facebook friend who describes herself as a Reagan conservative and as a Catholic, posted on her FB page a protest against housework, which she HATED (she did use caps).  I responded, unwarily, that “after the revolution, men would clean a new dirty house every day.” I was thinking of the day workers (often illegals) whose life did in fact consist of such dreary and repetitive tasks, not pacing their work as a stay-at-home middle-class housewife might (with the potential cooperation of a considerate family), but faced with the accumulation of many days of scum, grease, and other forms of dirt, and dependent on the savvy of the employer with respect to toxic chemicals and allergens. What followed next was a stressful interaction, for this person was in a rage against me, and my supposed cohort, 60s feminists such as Gloria Steinem, who were melded in her mind as disgruntled man-haters. If I had had any painful experiences, I had it coming to me.  Women in general had no grievances: she loved men, period. There was no way to pacify her, but it did give me an insight into how those second-wave feminists might be regarded by a conservative woman age 41. This happened the day of the stock market plunge, and to calm myself I wrote the recent blog on social cohesion and adjustment.

 Some personal history.   Oddly enough, during the late 1960s when I heard the first rumblings of the new feminism, I thought that these must be unnatural women who had abandoned their maternal responsibilities. (I was not that different from the conservative woman who freaked out on May 6.)  Not long afterwards, I began my radio programs on the art world and how artists were faring in powerful arts institutions. That activity took me away from the nest into a wider world of political and social controversy, and the spell of traditional marriage was broken and my political education finally began in fits and starts, but I remained relatively naïve, compared to what I might have been had I been raised in a feminist household. Meanwhile, I had used my Pacifica radio program to publicize the growing movement of feminist art and design, and collected slides of sex and violence in the images of women artists and photographers while I was teaching part-time at Calarts. At some point, during this period of personal transition, I must have read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (a book that was not only pro-woman, but anti-imperialist), for I used passages from that book to illustrate the slide show I presented during the 1970s at numerous public venues. After I had returned to graduate school, I saw that the 60s women’s movement had elevated some feminists to prestigious positions in the postmodern academy where they confined themselves to women’s issues, and with a few exceptions, did not embed the situation of women in a larger social context. And most disturbingly, some of the women I had assisted had bonded either with the Left (even when those Left factions were supporting Third World countries that were barbaric with respect to gender relations) or had gone entirely mystical.

 Am I socially irresponsible?   To return to the subject at hand: my Facebook adversary had resorted to “free will” as her explanation for my failed marriage. It later occurred to me that she, like many other religious conservatives, had rejected any kind of historical, materialist, and structural explanation for the condition of women, including her own: She was a good woman, had chosen a good man (who did the floors for her), and I was very bad and irresponsible, deserving my fate.  Oddly, she, the out-of-control happy/unhappy housewife, was in a fury, while I remained relatively placid (though inwardly churning) as I attempted to explain myself, finally ending the FB friendship as it was clear that our differences were too deep to negotiate.  

Return of the unrepressed.    As prior blogs here should have made clear, it is difficult, if not impossible, to reconstruct a personal history that cleanly separates structure from agency, or as Herman Melville constantly reminds us in his stories, to separate “fixed-fate” from “free will.” We are left with uncertainty and ambiguity–a no-no to classicizing politicos of either Left or Right who prefer clean boundaries to messy conjectures and possible contradictions. And here, perhaps, we come to the double-binds I have been relating on this website.

    The law holds us personally responsible for all infractions, and yet many of the television crime shows depend on “profiles” of the criminal to track him or her down. These profiles commonly relate parenting deficits and other family catastrophes that shaped , indeed sculpted the future murderer or rapist. In Richard Wright’s Native Son, Bigger Thomas’s lawyer, a Jew named Max, unsuccessfully uses Bigger’s childhood and adolescence of racial oppression and trauma to argue for Bigger’s acquittal in several murders, one accidental, the other deliberate. Nor could any other type of insanity defense been effective, for the McNaughton Rule (still holding in half the states of the U.S.?) states that the test for insanity is to be incapable of distinguishing right from wrong. And long before that, Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise for eating of the Apple of the Tree of Knowledge—the knowledge of good and evil that elevated them, hubristically, to equality with God. And Eve, distant mother of Pierrot and Lulu,  is the femme fatale in the story. (I am inviting my lawyer friends to explain to me how there is no double bind as described above.)

    Cherchez la femme as they say, but don’t look for me.  I’m still in hiding. And Happy Mother’s Day.

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October 26, 2009

“The Money Power” and other Ms.Conceptions

Image (76)The original comment to which this is a reply is found on About Clare Spark. Rereading my answer, I thought that this was a mercifully concise statement of my positions on numerous other blogs. I have added some sentences, here and there.
First, on “the money power.” It is not that the power of money itself that determines our prosperity or poverty, but monetary policy, as Niall Ferguson has shown in book after book, most recently The Ascent of Money, and in The War of the World and also his book on the Rothschilds. You might want to read Maynard Keynes book, The Economic Consequences of the Peace on this subject. Had different arrangements for German reparations been made during the settlement after the Great War all subsequent history would have been different, he argued, with sharp disagreement from Niall Ferguson. For those who think about mass death, this debate is crucial.

What I have said in my various blogs is that “the Jews” should be left out of it. Criticize capitalism to your heart’s content, but as long as the image of a fat Jewish plutocrat with his claws encircling the globe or, with his hypersexuality, polluting innocent Christian or Muslim womanhood inhabits the political imagination, there can be no progress, any more than a belief that this world is controlled by the Devil.

Second, the question of “material forces” as determinants of history, this could be standard Marxist boiler plate to me. To be sure, material conditions are very important, but so are the decisions made by individual leaders. Some historians argue that had Woodrow Wilson used his influence at the Versailles conference of 1919 to stop the excessively punitive ambitions of France and the U.K. [Keynes, see also Skidelsky vol.3], there might not have been a second world war with all its horrific suffering and lingering effects. In thinking about diversity in the multicultural university, administrators could have, but did not, integrate the history of women and minorities into the general curriculum. Because they chose segregated departments of Women’s Studies or Ethnic Studies, they relieved white male professors of the necessity of thinking about these movements in a rigorous way and then teaching their students appropriately. So instead of creating a new synthesis, historians could ignore the woman question or the history of various peoples if they chose, for some other course would make up for their deficiencies. The most we got was “whiteness studies” that were no more than covers for Leninist anti-imperialist orthodoxy and yet another capitulation to anti-Western cultural nationalism (see the lethal influence of black liberation theology, and its shameless annexation of Martin Luther King, Jr. I wrote about this on the History News Network www.hnn.us/articles/48809.html. My favorite novel on the subject of New Left personal politics is William Herrick’s Love and Terror.)

    As for the power of motherhood that I often mention, this is one of the great lacunae in the work of scholarship. The issue of separation from the omnipotent good/bad mother is one of the themes  urgently explored by too few theorists of the psyche, and I am going to post my talk on panic attacks today. [All the posts on sadomasochism deal with this problem.] I have thought a lot about this issue as Herman Melville is obsessed with it in his novel PIERRE, OR THE AMBIGUITIES. There is an obvious link between misogyny and antisemitism [see the two Murdered by the Mob essays]that has not gotten the attention it should. There should be a placard: Woman The Jew of the Home. I would add here that feminists do not always recognize that men feel women, especially modern women, have too much power over their lives. The skeptical male may then put cotton in his ears when feminists speak, then dream of a flight to the primitive (see Picasso image of Spanish peasants: Henry Murray had a print of this painting in his home). Meanwhile other ambitious women often use their sexual/maternal power to advance themselves at the expense of other women. It is a huge subject that I suppose a few others have explored at greater length than I can here.

Finally, it seems to me that the feminists of the 1960s and 1970s (initially mocked by many New Leftists and militant black nationalists) were acceptable to these bohemians, primitivists, and mini-sultans as long as they joined the “anti-imperialist” Left on male terms. Hence the new feminists did not generally defend “the West” but instead attacked it (along with Israel, often), notwithstanding the deplorable condition of women in non-Western societies. This gave some on the Christian Right an opportunity to attack feminism as an assault upon the family. [I understand that this latter claim about feminists and the Left is impressionistic and based upon personal experience with prominent women in the arts during the 1970s and afterwards, not comprehensive statistical research.]

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