What’s Wrong with Power (a few preliminary thoughts)

The thing about power (power over others, that is, not power over oneself) is that it can interfere with the other’s freedom of choice.  But it does so only if they use that power, you may wish to clarify.  So people should simply not use their power over others; they should not even show they have it.

Well no, the thief doesn’t have to use the gun in order to interfere with my choice of giving or not giving her my money.  Simply having the power to shoot me affects my decision.  But, you’ll counter, other people always have some sort of power over you – the thief may not even have the gun with him.  (Yeah, it’s usually a him.)

Correct.  In fact, he may not even own a gun.  He need only have the power to buy (and then use) the gun.  In fact, a gun need not even be involved.  He could run into me with her car.  The bottom line is that everyone has the power to do something harmful, something hurtful, to everyone else.  Therefore, everyone’s freedom of choice is limited in some way.  And that’s all there is to this point: there is no such thing as complete freedom of choice – all of our decisions are made in a context of possible, or probable, consequences.

But there’s something here of importance: the difference between possible and probable.  Surely we give more weight to the latter.  Harm is more probable if the thief has a gun pointed to my head than if he has yet to even buy one.

And there’s another point of importance: there is a difference between constraint and coercion.  Constraint becomes coercion only when the person would’ve chosen otherwise had the constraints not been there.  That is to say, if I would’ve given my money to you anyway, your power over me is not coercion, it is not controlling me.

And interestingly enough, control is not dependent on the intentional use of power by the other.  Just as often it is one’s own judgement, which may well be incorrect, of the probability of harm that controls one’s behaviour.

Having power over others, others having power over us – these are facts of life.  The easy part is distinguishing constraint from coercion; the tricky part distinguishing possible from probable.  But our freedom of choice depends on these distinctions.

The Mr. America Pageant – a short film script

The Mr. America Pageant, Peg Tittle

(hoping there are some people out there looking for short feminist scripts!)

This is a parody of the Miss America Beauty Pageants.  Basically, it’s a freeform collage of scenes (of indeterminate length – five minutes might suffice) similar to those one would see during the pageant, but all featuring male contestants instead of female contestants.  Seeing men say and do such things is hilarious; why isn’t seeing women equally laughable?

Suggested scenes…

  1. Backstage before the opening parade of contestants, showing shots of individual men in close-up, wearing their crowns, gushing about how excited they are to be here, to have won in their home state – and to be HERE!! – oh my, this is what they have dreamed about since they were a little boy…
  1. Opening parade of contestants: each man in a tuxedo, wearing his home state banner and crown, walks (in that rehearsed way) from offstage to front and center, poses in profile to left and right, smiling throughout, then walks to the back to stand in chorus line, while the MC introduces each one by state, the contestants adding “I’m X, and my home state is Y!”
  1. Swimsuit competition: a parade of the men, most in a bikini, some in a larger suit, again with their banners on
  1. Talent competition: men doing the things the women tend to do…twirling a baton (and smiling at the same time), playing the piano, playing the flute (and smiling at the same time), singing a (sappy, insipid) song, dancing on pointe and singing at the same time (and smiling at the same time)
  1. Interview section: the individual men are asked questions, and they give the answers the women so often give – What are your life plans? I want to help people, I would like to work with children, I want to become the best person I can be, I like reaching out to young people, changing their lives…What is the most important thing to you? world peace…What do you cherish the most? children, life…What would you tell young people today? I would tell them to look inside their hearts…
  1. Mr. Congeniality Award: presented with lots of hugs and tears
  1. Mr. America crowning: the finalists are called and assemble at front and center, then the runners-up are eliminated one by one, and finally the winner is declared, crowned, and presented with flowers and a sceptre; again tears and hugs; he stands in glory, then does the victory walk out toward the audience and back, then stands again, tears streaming down his face.

“It’s a Boy”

It was understandable, really.  By far, most of the crime— 97% in fact—was committed by men.  Prisons are expensive to build and maintain.  Prisoners are also expensive—they don’t work while they’re in prison, so we have to support them.  Then there’s the expense of the police forces and courts that get them there.  And the emergency services that take care of all the gunshot wounds, the knife slashes, the broken jaws…

She pushed.  And pushed.  The hospital room was white and sterile.  The attending doctor said something to the assisting nurse from time to time, but things seemed to be progressing normally.  But that didn’t mean it wasn’t excruciatingly painful.

Her husband mopped the sweat off her brow, and encouraged, and reassured.

“And push again,” the doctor said.

“It better be a girl,” she grunted as she pushed again when the wave of pain struck her.

“Don’t worry about that now, honey” her husband said.  “Just focus, you’re doing good…”

            Then there’s  all the environmental stuff.  All those beer cans, empty cigarette packs, fast food cartons—most of the litter along the highways was put there by men.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  What are they driving on those highways?  Big cars and pick-up trucks.  Gas-guzzlers with high emissions.  And the companies that dump toxic waste, and clear cut forests, and dam river systems…?  All run by men.

“I want a girl,” she cried.  With exhaustion.  With worry.

“Oh come now,” the nurse said.  “Boys are harder, I know, had two of ‘em myself.  Holy terrors half the time, but you love ‘em just the same.”

“Another push— ”

            The insurance companies opened the door when they implemented higher premiums for men between the ages of sixteen and twenty-six.  They were the ones more likely to cause an accident.  Can’t argue with the facts and figures.

“No, it’s not that,” she gasped, “It’s the money.

“Shh, honey, we’ll find a way, it’ll be all right,” he wiped her brow again.

“One more, I think—”

She gave one final push then fell back against the pillows, drenched, exhausted.  She waited anxiously for the announcement.

“It’s a boy!”

            They called it the Gender Responsibility Tax— a $5,000 surtax was levied on each and every male.  Payable annually, from birth to death.  By the parents, of course, until the boy reached manhood.  


(Thanks to June Stephenson.  It was her idea.)

 

“I am Eve” by chris wind

the first piece in Thus Saith Eve...

I am Eve

 

the bad girl, the evil woman.

I stand accused, and sentenced. Without a trial. For life.

Because of my single action, millions of individuals have been born with ‘original sin’, have been guilty even before they acted, doomed before they started. I alone have been held responsible for this sad and pathetic fallen race. Therefore, let me begin by correcting this: if I were free not to fall in the first place, they were free not to fall after me; and if I were not free, then I can’t be held responsible—for my fall or theirs.

Now, let us further examine the charges, let us correctly define that action.

I have been condemned for choosing knowledge over ignorance: the fruit I ate came from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In a society that praises pursuit of knowledge and honours men of wisdom, why have I been viewed with disfavour? Had Adam reached out first, would he have been so rebuked? Or is the state of ignorance requisite for women only? (Histories pass on Socrates, they pass over Aspasia.)

In the same vein, I chose experience over innocence. In a context of attitudes that value experience, the disapproval of my action can only imply the desire that women, like children, live in a state of innocence.

I have also been condemned for disobedience. If that were the issue, then why wasn’t the tree so named—‘the tree of obedience and disobedience’ or ‘the tree of temptation’. By naming it what it was not, God either deliberately tempted me or deliberately deceived me. And he should be judged, not I.

Perhaps though, the tree really was a tree of knowledge. In that case, one should wonder what insecurities led God to prefer obedience over knowledge. Indeed, one should wonder why he went so far as to forbid knowledge. The reason is evident in Genesis (3:22-23): he didn’t want us to equal him. He sent us out of Eden to prevent our eating from the tree of life, because already we were as wise for having eaten from the tree of knowledge, and if we had made it to the tree of life before he found us, we would’ve been immortal as well—we would’ve been as godly.

And that takes me onward, for counted among my sins is that of pride. Considering that later, through his son, God commands us to ‘follow in his footsteps’, I find the label of pride odd for the action that would do just that—make me like God. Furthermore, I find it odd to be condemned for being like God when, after all, he created us in his image (Gen 1:26-27). And God certainly is proud: to create us in his image can be called narcissistic, and to prefer us to spend our time admiring him rather than learning about him is equally evidence of pride. (As an aside, I would think that my knowledge would increase my admiration; that wasn’t why I ate the fruit, but if it was, would it have mattered? Did God ever ask my intent?)

I have also been charged with a lack of faith. Yet I took it on faith in the first place that God told us not to eat from the tree: remember, he gave the command to Adam before I even existed (Gen 2:16-17).  (I don’t rule out the possibility that the command therefore was meant only for Adam—God knew that knowledge in the hands of men is a dangerous thing.)  Further, I had faith in the serpent, I trusted the serpent to be telling the truth. Is it dishonourable to trust?

And is it reprehensible to act on that trust, as I did then in offering the fruit to another, to Adam? God commanded innocence, then held me responsible for an act of innocent intent. For how could I know my faith was misplaced? How could I know the serpent was evil until I had knowledge of good and evil? By telling us not to eat of the tree, he insisted on ignorance—but then held us responsible, for an act of ignorance.

Lastly, I have been condemned for using my reason, for it is through the exercise of reason that I decided to eat the fruit. The serpent’s explanation of God’s motives, that the knowledge of good and evil would make us godly and he didn’t want us to equal him (Gen 3:5), seemed very reasonable to me. God’s command on the other hand, not even to touch the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil because then I’d die, seemed so very unreasonable. Where is the fault in using that faculty given to me by God? The fault is not mine, but God’s: he made reason guide our will and left our reason prey to deceit.

Or did he? History has it that the serpent’s words were false, that I was deceived. But God’s words after the fact (Gen 3:22 “Behold, the man is become as one of us”) verify the serpent’s prediction (Gen 3:5 “Ye shall be as gods”): the serpent was telling the truth.  (And in fact God lied: he said we would die (Gen 3:3) if we touched the fruit of that tree, and we didn’t—at least not for several hundred years.) And so I stand condemned, for listening to truth. And for offering that truth to others.

 

a couple excerpts from UnMythed, by chris wind

and now for something a little different, a couple excerpts from UnMythed, by chris wind

 

Macha

 

this one I’ll tell straight:

 

you were forced to race against a team of horses

you were pregnant at the time

you won

then you died, giving birth.

 

but with that last great exhalation

you cast a curse

upon the warriors of Ulster:

for nine generations

whenever they attempted to fight

they were incapacitated

with childbirth pains.

 

***

 

Amphion

 

perhaps you’re right about my beard–

it’s funny, I guess facial hair

well, hair of almost any kind

is a measure of masculinity

and academics and artists

have always felt a little like eunuchs

(real men use their bodies)

 

it’s an interesting insight

(and surprising from you)

but it falls a little short–

what I wonder is this:

do I have a beard

to look more like a man

or less like a woman?

The Sci Phi Journal!

Check out the Sci Phi Journal: a journal about science fiction and philosophy!

Not just about though, there are many cool stories to read and think about…

Planning is Sinister?

In This Changes Everything,* Naomi Klein makes an interesting observation, intended to explain why we aren’t building the kind of economy we need: “… there is something sinister, indeed vaguely communist, about having a plan to build the kind of economy we need, even in the face of existential crisis” (125, my emphasis).

Is that why we don’t plan?

At the individual level.  People are so que sera even about creating other human beings.  ‘You’re pregnant?  I didn’t know you wanted to spend twenty years of your life looking after someone.’  ‘Oh, it just happened ….’

And at the community level.  If lakes were zoned, for example, everyone—jetskiers, and people-with-screeching-kids, and canoeists —could be happy.  But as it is, the first group is angry with the third, the second group is angry with the first, the third group is angry with both the first and the second.

This lack of planning—it’s all because it’s communistBecause a pre-determined society is somehow against individual freedom?  

Not planning is against individual freedom.  Not planning is allowing yourself to be tossed about at random, by chance—and that’s not being free.

I wonder if there’s also a religious element involved.  To plan, to choose your future, is to reject, or at least challenge, God’s plan.  For you, your future.

Also, planning requires foresight, and foresight requires imagination.  Which, I’m realizing, most people don’t have.

Planning also requires strong desires, for X over Y.  Again, I’m realizing that most people—don’t really care.  (Which means they get in the way of those of us who do.)

 

*very highly recommended, by the way

Calm down. Don’t think about— Don’t think.

One day when I was talking to a neighbour about something that I wished we could do something about—someone tossing their garbage out of their car onto the road where we walk every day, someone letting their kid drive a dirt bike with no muffler throughout the neighbourhood, someone burning leaves and sending toxic smoke everywhere—and she said something like ‘Calm down, your blood pressure’s going up!’

Well, it wasn’t (my blood pressure has finally creeped up into the normal range, ten years after I stopped running forty miles a week), but I realized then that she wasn’t distinguishing between my cognitive anger, my critical thinking—I was making a point about civility, and respect for others, and the difference between public and private space—and some emotional rant that might end in screaming and slamming doors.  I suppose the latter can elevate one’s blood pressure, and if it’s high to begin with, if you’re on blood pressure medication, like so many people are these days, then yeah—calm down.  So no wonder people develop a sort of blind and deaf veneer.  No wonder they just ‘go with the flow’ and never object.  No wonder they avoid thinking about—  Well, thinking.  It’s literally bad for their health.

But what this means—this inability to distinguish argument from rage, along with the increasing number of people with high blood pressure—is that the more we eat at McDonald’s, the less we’ll get angry about McDonald’s.  The more zombied out people are, sprawled on the couch in front of the tv, the more zombied out people will strive to remain.  Sprawled on the couch in front of the tv.

Not thinking.

 

 

chris wind’s “Portia”

Remember The Merchant of Venice? This is “Portia”, from Soliloquies: The Lady Doth Indeed Protest by chris wind, another one of my favourite authors. (posted with permission)

If I’m the one with the property
You’d think I’d be the buyer
Not the bought;
A lot of faith my father has in me:
He distrusts my ability to judge, to discriminate—
A decision made by chance,
A decision inevitably and ultimately irrational,
Is preferable to a decision made by me.
But no, you say,
The decision was not to be by chance
But choice, and thus reveal the suitor’s character—
That is, he who chose lead would be wise,
To forsake appearance, and realize its irrelevance;
True, but you forget the inscription:
To choose lead, to choose ‘to give and hazard all’
Is to my mind not wise,
For its foolish risk (all!);
Is it not better to choose silver,
And ‘get what one deserves’?
It seems to me a mature perspective;
So, to judge by appearance
(And thus forsake appearance)
Or to judge by words
—That is the choice.
Words have meaning,
And unless the words be false or deceiving,
Is it not better to judge according to content,
Than to judge according to form
To substance, rather than pretence?
So if it was to be a test of character,
’twas thus a poor test,
For who was to guess what my father intended:
The form did contradict the content;
And so choice becomes chance, after all.

That I am not allowed to choose
Is in principle, intolerable,
But in practice, just as well—
For there is really not a one worth choosing:
A prince who boasts of his precious Porsche
And can fix it himself;
The County Palatine, who believes
A real man never smiles;
Falconbridge, a pin-up boy
With a mind as two-dimensional;
A Scottish Lord interested in nothing
But a good fight;
An alcoholic (the duke’s nephew, yes);
The Prince of Morocco, a blood-thirsty Rambo;
And Bassanio, attracted by wealth and beauty,
Willing in a moment to sacrifice his wife for his friend.
There is not one.

If I so despise men,
Why did I disguise as one?
’twas not my choice:
Shakespeare (a man) created my costume
(And that of Viola and Rosalind),
And in his cowardice, he refused to challenge the reality
That to be able to interact
Without having to defend against
Sexual or romantic intentions,
One must be male;
That to be taken seriously,
And to be exempt from compliments that essentially trivialize
One must be male;
That to be effective at an endeavour
Of the intellectual arts,
One must be male;
That to be dominant, influential, powerful,
One must be male
In patterns of appearance, behaviour, speech, and thought
—Patterns of thought?
But didn’t I put forward
The feminine concept of mercy over justice?
Didn’t care and compassion win over fairness?
No, look again:
The Duke first pleaded for mercy, not I;
My case was won on a technicality,
On the letter of the law.
(Though it is worth mention
That recourse to such a legal loophole
Was my last resort.)
The masculist mode won out;
But this is not surprising in a masculist court.

Where there is no challenge,
There can be no change.
For when the disguise is finally revealed
It is not recognized
That to be what I was (what I am)
One can be female—
It is recognized only that I am female.
And their response concerns only themselves—
Relief, that they won’t be cuckolds.

excerpt from Jass Richards’ “The Road Trip Dialogues”

So a couple hours later, they pulled into the main entrance of the university campus. There was no sign of the demonstration. There were no signs to the demonstration.

“Gee, this is a really good way to get the media’s attention,” Rev said. “Don’t tell them where you are.”

“Well, let’s just drive around. The campus can’t be that big. Or the demonstration that small.”

So they drove around and eventually saw something going on at the end of the sports field. They drove toward it and parked in a spot not far away. Dylan grabbed his camera and a notebook from out of his knapsack.

As they approached, they heard music blaring out over a sound system. Several tables were set up with what Rev assumed was literature, petitions, and so forth, and there were a couple large striped circus tents. More tables inside? Rainy day back-up? About a hundred students seemed to be in attendance. Most were standing around in clusters, some were throwing a football back and forth, and a few were rather despondently walking in a circle, carrying signs that said simply ‘NO MORE DEBT!!’

“Well, that’ll make the world a better place,” Rev said dryly.

Dylan took a few pictures, then they walked up to one of the tables.

“Hi there. I’m doing a piece for That Magazine. Can you tell me—” he had his pen poised, “what debt you’re protesting?”

She just looked at him.

“The national debt?” He tried again. “Corporate debt?”

“Student debt.”

Rev was stunned. “Student debt? You’re protesting your own debt?”

“Yeah.”

“But—why?”

“We have a right to be debt-free!” One of them said with gusto.

“On what basis?”

That stopped them.

“What?”

“On what grounds do you claim the right to be debt-free?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, did you inherit the debt—is it a debt you bear through no fault of your own?”

“It’s our student debt,” she said, as if talking to a child.

“I understand that,” Rev replied. As if talking to a child. “But debt is typically incurred when you buy something and choose to defer payment. That deferred payment is your debt. So when you say you have the right to be debt-free, are you suggesting you have a right to get things without paying for them?”

“What?”

“This is hopeless,” Rev said to Dylan. “Let’s go before I shoot her.”

“University should be free!” the other student called out as they turned away. Rev turned back.

“Okay, well that’s something else altogether. Some countries do have state-paid university. Much like we have state-paid elementary and high school. But in those countries,” she couldn’t help adding, “I think you have to have a certain grade point average to get in. Or stay in.” She paused. And saw she needed to say it. “Do you have a—grade point average?”

“What?”

“Let’s mingle,” Dylan suggested. “Maybe—”

A burst of chanting suddenly came from one of the tents. They looked at each other in confusion. Shouldn’t the chanting come from those carrying the signs? As they approached the tent, they heard it more clearly.

“Chugga hugga chugga hugga…”

“I thought that sounded like ‘Hell no, we won’t go,’” Rev said. “It’s a beer tent. They’ve got a beer tent. At a demonstration. This is like a fucking picnic,” she said as they walked toward the tent.

“Do you think they’ve got food?” Dylan asked hopefully. Rev glared at him.

“What? I’m hungry. We buy food and it goes to the cause. Of no more debt,” he added lamely. “That’s what the Americans do, isn’t it?” he resumed cheerfully. “In the middle of every recession, or depression—you know I’ve never really understood the difference—whenever they don’t have any money, they go shopping. The President urges them to do just that. You’ve lost your job? You can’t pay your rent? Go buy stuff. It’s the American way.”

They’d arrived at the tent, and once inside, they saw that yes indeed, there was food. One table was full of extra large pizza boxes, most already opened, and another was full of beverages. They went up to buy a slice of pizza.

“How much is the pizza,” Dylan asked. To no one in particular, since there wasn’t anyone standing behind the table.

A student walked up to the table at that moment, helped himself to a couple slices, then walked away.

“It’s free?” Rev asked. Of no one in particular. “How can they provide free pizza if they’re all in so much debt they’re protesting about it?”

“Maybe it’s coming out of their student union fees or something?”

“I’d be pissed about that. I think.”

“Ah.” Dylan pointed then to the bright banner hanging across the table. “Courtesy of their sponsors.” He took a few steps back to take a picture.

“What? Sponsors? Demonstrations have sponsors now?”

He shrugged. They each grabbed a slice, and a bottle of beer, what the hell, and sat down at one of the tables.

“Chugga hugga chugga hugga!” came from the boisterous table in the corner. Dylan put his slice down for a moment and took another picture.

“No one’s here because they care about changing the world, making it a better place,” Rev complained. “Half the guys are here to pick up some chick and the other half are here just for the party.”

“What, you don’t think that was true during the 60s too?”

Rev’s pizza stopped half way to her mouth. Which was left hanging open. Oh my god, she thought. He was right. All those sit-ins were just parties. Music, drugs, sex. The issues were just an excuse, a cover.

“They didn’t change,” she murmured.

“What?”

“I’ve always wondered what made all those radical idealists change when they got into positions of power twenty years later,” she said. “That they did is what—I mean, if they couldn’t change the world—But they didn’t. Change. They weren’t idealists in the first place. They were just opportunists. All of them. Oh god,” she moaned. It was worse than she’d thought.

“All those ‘Make Love Not War’ signs,” she carried on, into hell. “It was personal. The political is always fucking personal! No one cares about anything beyond themselves!”

“I’ve got to sit down,” she said.

“You are sitting down,” Dylan pointed out.

“Did I just blow your mind?” Dylan asked then, as her pizza lay limp in her hand, forgotten. “You really hadn’t considered that possibility before?”

“‘Course not. I’m not a guy.”

“Oh are we back to that then?” He could get really angry about this, he thought. “You think women are so much better? They weren’t there to get laid too?”

 

excerpted with permission

The Road Trip Dialogues