Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Revolution will not be Teleologised

This isn't the post I meant to write tonight (that was going to be about me and my relationship to class prejudice and class privilege), but it's a kind of a spin off from it, as part of that post was going to be about the ways I disagree with Marxism...

While I do think Marx's analysis of capitalism was incredibly important, and introduced the world to loads of incredibly useful concepts, I do have several major problems with it. Marx's rigid classification of the class system is one of them (while a lot of present day Marxists accept that Marx's class system was a description of how things were in the 19th century, and thus needs some modifications to be applicable to the 21st, my opinion of it is that it was flawed even as a description of the 19th), but the biggest one is his teleological assumptions...

Teleology is the belief that history has an inevitable conclusion, and must inevitably pass through certain stages to reach that conclusion. It's an extremely common part of Western ideologies, probably coming mostly from Christianity (with the idea of the inevitable final judgement, the work of an omnipotent God existing beyond or outside time itself, and thus having both knowledge of and control over the whole timeline of the cosmos), but in secular form it has bedevilled understanding of evolution all the way from Darwin on down (the false, but excruciatingly almost-universally believed idea that evolution has an "end point", and/or that organisms somehow "consciously" evolve towards inevitable final forms - will try to edit in some links to science blogs critiquing this), is a major part of both the political philosophies that dominated the 20th century world (liberal-capitalist "development theory", as exemplified by Francis Fukuyama's The End of History, and the Marxist teleology I'm deconstructing here), and crops up in a bunch of other places, for example in psychology (developmental models of child psychology, which totally fail to take into account neurodiversity, and therapeutic paradigms such as 12-step programs or grief counselling, with their assumptions that everyone goes through (or needs to go through) exactly the same stages of overcoming addiction or of dealing with grief, in exactly the same order, and anyone who thinks their own personal progression might be different is somehow in denial).

This last example very clearly shows how nearly all teleological belief systems commit the is-ought fallacy - conflating, or switching between without explicitly stating that they are switching between, descriptive and normative statements. Is the "inevitable" progression from feudalism to capitalism to socialism in Marxist dogma a descriptive theory of how history will unfold, or a prescriptive theory of how things should go in order to reach the Marxist utopia? Are the "5 stages of grief" a description of how human beings actually do deal with loss, or are they a prescription of what one needs to go through in order to "recover" from their experience of loss? (I have major problems with the concept of "recovery" in itself, but for this post that would be too much of a digression.)

The aspect of specifically Marxist teleology that I find most disgusting is the idea that capitalism (and specifically industrial capitalism) is a necessary stage that a nation or society "must" pass through in order to reach socialism, and that no society can reach socialism without having passed through capitalism first. This ties in with the idea that the industrial proletariat (wage-workers in large-scale, highly organised workplaces) is the only class capable of bringing about a socialist revolution.

Quite apart from how monstrously exclusionary this is towards huge numbers of people (most women in most present-day developed countries, nearly all disabled people everywhere, and practically everyone in any part of the world not sufficiently "developed" to be industrialised), this bears no relationship to reality! There is not a single country which has had an even vaguely Marxist-inspired revolution which was fully industrialised or proletarianised at the time that that revolution occurred - all of them were carried out by primarily agricultural "peasantry", whose economic situations Marx would have categorised not as capitalism, but as forms of feudalism. (Of course, this leads some Marxists to try to deny that, for example, Lenin's Russia, Mao's China or Castro's Cuba were Marxist revolutions, and to make up some other category to put them in, but all of them considered themselves Marxists...)

The really, obscenely horrific thing about this form of Marxist teleology is that it considers the process of proletarianisation - which happened in Europe between the 16th and 19th centuries, in the US in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and has been happening in many parts of Africa, Asia and South America from the 1970s to now - to be a good thing. For orthodox Marxists, The Grapes of Wrath (which is a fucking magnificent novel - seriously, if you read one chapter of one novel in your life, make it chapter 5 of The Grapes of Wrath - about the most powerful and moving - and unbelievably radical for its place and time - political manifesto ever written) is not a tragedy, but a comedy (in that word's original sense of "story with a happy ending", as opposed to "something primarily intended to make people laugh"), and the Structural Adjustment Programs which replicated that story over most of the Majority World, in what I frankly consider to be one of the most evil episodes in the whole of human history - and one which is still ongoing - are just as much a positive example of "progress" as they are to the "neoliberal" capitalists who orchestrated them.

The whole "only the industrial proletariat can be the true revolutionary class" thing is also a breathtaking denial of agency to... well, people of all classes, really. So, no matter what someone believes, what someone wants, or what someone chooses to do, they have no hope of being an agent of revolution if they don't belong to a particular economic grouping? I guess all those Russian, Chinese, Cuban [...etc] peasants were doomed to fail from the beginning, then... and I find it sickeningly disingenuous (is that a real word?) when Marxists of various types try to argue that I am a member of that proletariat, when by just about any plausible interpretation I am a combination of all the classes that were most despised and regarded as counter-revolutionary by Marx himself (intellectual, peasant and lumpen)...

In fact, any kind of teleology applied to human history is, by definition, a denial of human agency. If our ultimate fate is predestined by an omnipotent God, then nothing we do in this life can make any difference. If a patriarchal society is the inevitable product of the evolution of the human brain, then any kind of feminist activism is a fruitless endeavour against nature (I'll leave the criticism of the concepts of "natural" and "unnatural" for another post...). If the inevitable end of history is all societies becoming representative democracies and members of a global free market, then no one is responsible for that state of affairs except some abstract force of historical inevitability, and any attempt to make the course of history run otherwise is hopeless. If the inevitable course of any political society is from feudalism through industrial capitalism and a proletarian revolution to socialism, then likewise. Teleology is the enemy of liberty.

If we want radical social change, then we cannot sit around waiting for "The Revolution" to come as some sort of historical inevitability, any more than we can sit around waiting for "the Messiah" or "the Rapture". Revolution is not a single, historical event, after which all contradictions will be resolved and everyone will live happily ever after; it is something continually happening, all the time and everywhere, wherever people struggle against oppression and injustice and, while recognising achieving Utopia to be impossible, try to make their worlds as close to it as they can. There is no universal law of nature that says either that we will always be oppressed or that we will all eventually be liberated; that is, and always has been, up to the actions of individual human beings, whether acting alone or communally and collaboratively (although i'd argue that generally the latter is more effective).

To quote Seize The Day, "we weave our destiny with our own hands"...

(note: just because i have major problems with Marxism doesn't mean that i'm not still a socialist, just as my major problems with pro-corporate "vulgar libertarianism" don't mean that i'm not still a libertarian. I am quite amused by the anonymous comment on this post calling me "a socialist trying to pass as a libertarian", considering that i believe that to truly be either one of those things, you also have to be the other...)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Consenting Adult Action Network action, London, Tues 21st Oct 2008

Consenting Adult Action Network



21st October 2008

Meeting at 12:00 - leaving this meeting point at 12.30 to go and fetch the press from Westminster Tube Station.

Location: St Steven's Tavern, Bridge Street, Westminster, London, SW1A 2JR .

It is wheelchair accessible and it sells hot food!

Tel: 020 7925 2286

Nearest parking: Great College Street underground car park.

Nearest Tube: Westminster.

CAAN are back in London again on 21st October, supporting Ben Westwood to do a little stunt, to protest and raise awareness about the kinky porn ban and campaign for the freedom of consenting adults to express their sexualities.

We've tried being reasonable and now it's time to be a little bit more interesting..

If you can attend the action to leaflet and so on, or are able to assist with things behind the scenes like transporting equipment, people, or donating resources during the time surrounding the action, please get in touch with us ASAP at c-a-a-n@live.co.uk or memo me your email address.

If anyone feels generous cash wise and is able to donate towards either materials for the action or getting people there who would come if they could afford it, please contact us at the address above.

** addition** we've been asked to confirm this is a non violent action - yes it is non violent and violence will not be tolerated. There is a coach from manchester - memo me if you are interested or see separate post about it further into this thread - we still have some spaces left.

We are likely to be meeting for a drink afterwards at 5pm at the same venue, with anyone who wishes to come and celebrate a successful action with us

For CAAN, Consenting Adult Action Network See action notice on our website here: http://www.caan.org.uk/updates/Action21Oct.html

Friday, October 17, 2008

Warning: changes anticipated

This is just a warning for people who don't like sudden changes to the appearance of blogs they read (which includes me): During the next few days, i will be testing different colours, fonts and layouts on this blog. Not yet sure what i will settle on (although i have some ideas - i'm vaguely thinking black text on a light-but-not-white background, and a layout with a greater width of text than the current one), but i might change it a few times before i find a look i am satisfied with.

I will post to let people know when i have settled on a "final" (or at least reasonably long-term) colour/font/layout combination for the blog. (And i will probably be more upset and disoriented than anyone else by the change... however, i will get used to it...)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Yes, i have a twisted sense of humour

Funniest. News item. Ever.

What on earth are they? Well. Crips are the new - half chip, half crisp - hot potato snack which have been patented by Carl Larden, a chef from Radcliffe on Trent.

There is also an official website for the Crips crisps: Crip Snacks...

(hmmm... was Dr Moreau involved in this? And, Kay, maybe these are the mysterious disabled badger holders? And that fox-man at the upper right kind of looks like he has little arms like Mat Fraser...)

Some of the quotes from the BBC article are just utterly hilarious:

I have had to work with some very clever engineers to perfect the machinery needed to produce crips. Out of 500 varieties of potatoes there are only four or five that will give you the perfect crips.

a portion of crips takes just 30 seconds to cook

and, best of all, the question:

How long has it taken to get crips up and running?

And then there's this image from the contact page of their website:

Seriously... i can't believe that they are totally unaware of the meaning of the word - it does actually raise issues about reclaimed language, if a term that has been reclaimed as an identity gets "invented" entirely independently for something completely unrelated, with the "inventor" of the "new" term not even knowing about its existing meaning.

Maybe Crip Chick or Wheelchair Dancer (cripwheels.blogspot.com) need to get in touch with them...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Blog love... computer hate

Tera at Sweet Perdition gave me a blog award over a month ago and i basically... forgot about it [insert embarrassed smiley]

(I think part of the reason is that i always thing my writing is cringeworthily awful, and certainly not deserving of any sort of award... and, combined with things getting a bit dark in my head generally, as tends to happen at this time of year, i think i sort of "block out" any positive attention i get...)

Anyway, this is one that is supposed to be passed on to 7 blogs... and i'm going to try to avoid passing it on to the ones who i've passed previous blog awards on to - so apologies Amanda, Elizabeth, Stacey, Dave, etc... you are all awesome, but lots of people know about you already ;) - i'm purposely choosing blogs that not many people (so far) comment on...

First up is Lindsay of Autist's Corner - i was going to say "my favourite new blog of 2008", but looking at her archives i see she started blogging in 2007, not long after i did in fact. I only discovered her blog a few months ago tho. She writes about autism, feminism, science fiction, critiques of psychiatry, and a lot of other stuff... and is a shitload better at brevity than i am ;)

And, a deity has to reward his follower ;)

Cedar of Taking Up Too Much Space came onto the scene fairly recently, saying awesome and thought-provoking stuff about gender identity, trans activism, feminisms, privilege and intersectionality, and has a very, very enviable gift for writing about these sorts of topics at the highest intellectual level while still being clear, powerful, relevant and accessible. Ze rocks.

Hexpletive is an awesomely ass-kicking Indigenous Australian disabled feminist sex worker, blogger and sci-fi/comics fan. Her posts range from deconstructing media racism and sexism, postcolonial history and the psychiatric system to keeping rabbits and vegetarian cooking... and she's bloody good at tearing trans/BDSM/sexworker-phobic "feminists" to shreds.

Lyn Levett is a fairly new blogger, a physically impaired, communication-aid-using trans woman, performance artist, maker of very sexy electronic music and longtime supporter of the UK disability arts scene.

Anne C of Existence Is Wonderful describes hirself as "a small piece of the universe observing itself", and blogs about autism, neurodiversity and disability rights as well as transhumanism, the science of ageing and environmental science, as well as being a fellow sci-fi and zoology geek. I think she was also one of the first bloggers to link to me :)

Mik Danger of Coffee and Gender, another kick-ass performance artist, is also another of the bloggers who always inspire me massively by creating radical crossover between queer, trans and disability identities and politics. Go intersectionality :)

Finally, lilwatchergirl of Through Myself And Back Again has just started doing the course that i have been wanting to do for at least 3 years, and (hopefully) has plenty of meaty posts about the social theory of disability coming up as a result of it (not to put the pressure on too much... ;) ) - also, she's one of the very few other disability rights bloggers who i have actually met in real life...

So, here's a cute image for you all:

In other news, my computer seems to be fucking up again. It seemingly died this morning, and from the kind of noises it was making it seemed like the hard drive had died... which makes it the THIRD hard drive to fuck up in this computer... however, some fairly random and not very hopeful swapping of cables and ports around enabled it to start up again, but i'm not confident that this wasn't a fluke and/or that it will turn on again after i turn it off again... so, the several other "proper" posts that i've got in the works at the moment may have to wait for a while, if this thing doesn't turn on tomorrow...

(I can in fact now afford to buy another computer, but would very much prefer not to have to, especially as this one was built for me for free... still, it might be the wiser option...)

Anyway. I will try to get back to comments i still haven't responded to on previous posts soon...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A couple of recent news stories about autism

I had intended to post about gender and privilege today (mainly in response to recent posts at Taking Up Too Much Space and Questioning Transphobia), but i'm having a bit too much trouble getting my head round the concepts and then turning my thoughts into words to write coherently about the topics, so i'm going to post on some recent autism-related media stories instead...

There are 2 in particular i want to deal with in this post - there's another one that needs a pretty hardcore fisking and therefore a post to itself - and i think they're interestingly related...

The first is this story from Medical News Today (actually found via the Fortean Times breaking news page, which shows that things turn up in odd and unexpected places), "Unlocking The Inner-Savant In All Of Us"...

I'm going to leave aside the many things i find deeply problematic about the article (particularly some of the language used), and concentrate on the actual science. The idea that "savant skills" (which, although it's been said many times, it's still worth pointing out, not all autistic people have, and the stereotype that all autistic people have them can be extremely damaging to those autistic people, like myself, who don't have them, leading to doubts that we are "autistic enough" and/or self-hatred and feelings of "I'm so useless, i don't even have savant skills") are not necessarily exclusive to autistics isn't new - in fact, IIRC, several of the people historically documented as "idiot savants", from whom the concept originated, were probably not autistic (altho probably non-neurotypical in other ways). The idea that neurotypical people could be "given" savant skills is one i haven't encountered before tho (and has kind of scary implications for "enhancement" purposes, if it could be used by governmental or military forces - in fact, it reminds me an awful lot of River Tam in Firefly)...

It also reminds me of a conversation i had about savants long before i identified as autistic, while i was volunteering on a holiday camp for young adults with learning disabilities (which was something of a formative experience for me, as i was there ostensibly as a "non-disabled" "carer", but found myself identifying with the learning-disabled people there - and in particular seeing some of them as probably more mentally and socially functional than me in many situations - in ways that were part of my gradual self-realisation process that led to my self-diagnosis a couple of years later), where someone else was saying that savant abilities were far beyond what "normal" people were capable of, and i replied, using the small knowledge of autism i had at the time, that i didn't think "normal" people were necessarily incapable of doing the things that savants did, but merely incapable of wanting to.

Of course, there were several revelations i had subsequent to that conversation about just how much difference there actually was between me and "normal people", but for some reason that conversation stuck in my mind... i think it may have been my first realisation of how much i was bothered by some of the "othering" language used to talk about savants (and other impaired/disabled people who were celebrated for their achievements).

The second, via Autism Vox, is this Daily Telegraph story that autism is "caused by a supercharged brain":

"Our hypothesis is that autistic people perceive, feel and remember too much," Kamila Markram told the New Scientist.

Faced with this "intense world" , autistic infants withdraw, with serious consequences for their social and linguistic development, she added.

Repetitive behaviours such as rocking and head-banging, meanwhile, can be seen as an attempt to bring order and predictability to a "blaring world".

This feels incredibly familiar to me - all my life i always felt that i felt all emotions, both positive and negative, much more strongly than other people, and in the absence of knowledge about autism came up with words like "hypersensitive" to describe myself. (It's also probably part of why, before i discovered the much more fully satisfactory explanation offered by Asperger's, i tentatively self-diagnosed as bipolar for a while - my main reason for that being the extreme strength of both my depression and elation, and the way that i could very easily rollercoaster from despair to ecstasy and back again within a single day (i still do, but probably deal with it a bit better/use it a bit more fruitfully than i did in my undiagnosed days) - i have, however, never had the days- or weeks-long periods of mania that are generally considered diagnostic for bipolar...) Linking this to the sensory-overload aspects of autism makes perfect sense in context.

In particular, with regard to empathy, and the assertion that autistic people supposedly lack it, i have always felt that my major problem in dealing with other people's suffering is not a lack of empathy, but an overload of it - when people i care about tell me about any sort of bad things in their lives, i tend to jump straight to total identification with them - not just feeling for them but feeling like them, or perhaps more accurately feeling like how i would feel if the same thing happened to me - which can leave me in a less "together" state than them, and thus not much use to them (or even lead to a really fucked up situation of them "helping" me rather than vice versa). I would often actually be a more effective support to my friends if i had less empathy...

The "hypermemory" and compulsive routines (getting "stuck on a track") aspect is also extremely familiar to me - and sounds like a probable link to the phenomenon of autistic "inertia". What i'm not sure about is whether this implies an actual greater input from the senses into the autistic brain, or merely a greater input relative to the brain's processing power (which could merely imply a deficit in processing power relative to the same amount of information input)...

The only thing in this article that really doesn't fit me is the bit about abnormally fast/large brain growth - i have, if anything, an unusually small head/skull for an adult of my size (in particular a very narrow head from side to side - which is something i've noticed in quite a few autistic or suspected-of-being-autistic people). However, this could be to do with my general build - strongly ectomorphic, with very long limbs compared to the size of my head and torso, or to do with my forceps birth (which has been documented to influence adult skull shape).

One commenter at Autism Vox also mentioned "the theory that the brain is not integrated well across various areas of the brain" as possibly linked to all this, which brings me back to the following quote from the first article:

"Normally we are aware of the whole and not the parts that make it up. These attributes of objects are inhibited in normal brains" says Snyder.

"Savants have access to the less processed information, before it is packaged into holistic concepts and labels. Autistic savants tend to see a more literal, less filtered view of the world."

- so these 2 articles, despite both arguably containing stereotypes and pseudoscience, do both seem to provide useful pieces of a general theory for how autistic brain function differs from neurotypical brain function...

There is good reason for autistic people to be inherently suspicious of any such "scientific" research into autism, as all science - and, IMO, particularly science relating to human physical and mental functioning - is biased according to the politics and economics of the society it is carried out in, and any research into autism from the scientific establishment is likely to be used by the disablist political establishment in its quest to "cure" or eliminate autistic people.

However, i do think that some of this research can be useful from a neurodiversity/autistic liberation perspective, for better understanding ourselves and better explaining our differences from the "norm" - as not better, not worse, but simply different - and in promoting better understanding - and thus better accommodation - of our differences across wider society. I think that the sensory/informational/emotional overload aspect of autism is one aspect which neurotypical people very often are either ignorant of or even actively hostile towards accommodating, and that stereotypes of autistic people as "unfeeling", "lacking in empathy" or "emotionless" can combine with observations of autistic people experiencing overload to produce a perception of autistic people as selfish and/or as burdens on others who "take" but never "give" in social interaction, causing resentment, anger, jealousy and hatred towards autistic people (something i have experienced myself both in situations where i was known to be autistic and, actually more often and more damagingly, in situations where i was not "out" as autistic, but where the same perceptions were applied to me and the "selfishness" attributed to class privilege and/or contempt for others).

This is why, unlike some people i have encountered in the autistic self-advocacy/autistic liberation movement, i am not necessarily opposed to research into the biology of autism - while such research certainly can be used for negative purposes in analysing difference in order to eliminate difference, the same understanding can also be used to celebrate that difference with pride.

What we need, ultimately, is research on autism (and the same applies IMO to any other impairment/disability) done not by establishment scientists with links to those with curebie or otherwise anti-diversity agendas, but by autistic (or insert other impairment here) people ourselves, and placed within a social rather than medical model of disability. However, in the meantime, there is still some worth to be gained from existing autism research, despite the need to critically sift through the bullshit surrounding it first...