broken walls and narratives

A not so revolutionary blog about feminism, socialism, activism, travel, nature, life, etc.

Archive for the tag “black lives matter”

The March for Science Under the Anti-Capitalist Microscope

 

The March for Science Under the Anti-Capitalist Microscope

The title of this blog post, unlike the signs at the March for Science, is a little uninspired.  To tell you the truth, I regret that did not attend the March for Science this past Saturday.  This is not because I am against science, but because I had worked the night shift the night before and didn’t want to short change my sleep.  I support the march and was glad to see that Duluth had a great turnout.  It was wonderful that individuals who do not normally attend marches went to the science march. I was also glad to see that there was a great turnout across the country.  Science is important for society and should be defended.  The fact that it was defended with a march is important, since it normalizes protest which is an essential organizing tool as it is the public, mass, visible sharing of ideas and demands.  Thus, I am elated that another protest has happened and that it was attended by hundreds of thousands of people.  However, I couldn’t help but notice that the media treated the science march very differently than the women’s march.  I think that this is because science is less of a threat to the functioning of capitalism than the liberation of women.



To be fair, I am very biased.  And, to be fair, this isn’t a very scientific analysis of the issue.  Nevertheless, I noted very positive media coverage of the science march.  For instance, an article in Forbes described the march as happy, delightful, and funny.  Various articles highlighted fun costumes and signs.  Fortune also called it fun and a “celeprotest” with signs that were more clever than other protests.  Many articles pointed out that it was non-partisan, though certainly a reaction to the Trump administration.  The coverage discussed the large crowds and hearty, fun protesters who braved the rain.  Now, there was certainly positive coverage of the Women’s March, but there was also negative coverage about the signs left behind, the lack of diversity, problematic pussy hats, partisanship, etc.  There was some critique from fellow scientists regarding the march, but this seemed centered upon the idea that science should be neutral and apolitical.  There was a lot less criticism about the lack of diversity or that the science march was a display of white privilege.  The science march was not called out in the same way for not supporting Black Lives Matter.  The lack of scrutiny worries me, as certainly the March for Science could have been more diverse and certainly science has played a role in the oppression of various groups in society.  This is not to let white feminism off the hook, but to note that many social movements struggle with their role in oppression.  To me, the glowing media coverage represents the fact that science does not represent a real threat to capitalism or the status quo.  At the same time, the Women’s March was covered more positively than Black Lives Matter and the Occupy Movement.  Black Lives Matter calls into question police authority, the entire criminal justice system, the state’s right to kill, and racism.  In reaction, politicians have scrambled to limit the right to protests that block traffic and have sought to impose fees on protesters.  The Occupy Movement called into question banking, finance, social inequality, the right to occupy public space.  The media portrayed protesters as frivolous, unruly, and even dirty.  While the BDS movement does not receive as much media coverage, Democratic and Republican senators in Minnesota worked together to pass restrictions against offering contracts to vendors who boycott Israel.  These movements are/were denigrated because they are very direct in their threat to the existing order.

Image result for science march sign

 

The reason why I don’t think that science is a direct threat to capitalism is that, on some level, capitalism needs science to operate.  While the capitalist economy is irrational in its destruction of the planet, focus on profits over human needs, and tendency towards crisis, it is very rational in other aspects.  The process of extracting profit from labor is pretty rational.  It is no wonder that the art of extracting more profit from labor was called “scientific management.”   Frederick Taylor realized that labor output could be treated scientifically.  Capitalism also seeks to generate more profits by increasing production.  Increasing production often requires the use of technology, again, a very rational aspect of capitalism.  Capitalism also requires wars, as this destroys competition, opens up new markets, and defends a country’s access to raw materials and cheap labor abroad.  Science is necessary for the creation of more powerful machines and weapons.  Research and development was actually been an all time high last November, as $499 billion was spent on R&D in the U.S. in 20015 (numbers released 2016).  Over half of that money went to defense alone.  Finally, where would capitalism be without science?  There would have been no industrial revolution and no subsequent imperialist conquest of the globe.  This does not make science bad, but, it should illustrate that science is actually pretty useful to capitalism.

Image result for atomic bombing

Despite the many ways that science serves capitalism, it remains controversial in society.  It seems odd that religiosity, irrationality, alternative facts, spirituality, etc. have any appeal in this system.  Why does this conflict arise?  Why are things like evolution and climate change at all controversial?  There are many reasons for this.  For one, Karl Marx observed that nothing is sacred in capitalism.  For instance, children are nothing more than future workers and soldiers.  If not for the efforts of the labor movement, the childhood enjoyed by many American children today would not exist at all.  A woman’s womb is a machine to produce more workers and soldiers.  A family is useful inasmuch as it reproduces labor and controls women’s sexuality and unpaid labor, but there is nothing good or virtuous about the family itself in the context of capitalism.  Capitalism actually stole holidays or holy days from the masses in the interest of creating a disciplined workforce with a reliable, year round, schedule.  I am sure many readers who have worked on Christmas or Thanksgiving can understand how nothing is sacred in the economy.  Time off is treated as a privilege.  Work divides families.  It keeps people away from their children and makes them decide whether to take an unpaid day off work to see a school concert or attend to a child’s illness or face the economic consequence.  In many ways, it would serve capitalism better if workers were nihilists with no love of their family, no joy in friendship and romance, no faith in religion, and no belief in any liberating ideology.  Yet, no only does religion persist, it often exists at odds with science.  Why?


Both science and religion play important roles in society.  Karl Marx famously called religion the opiate of the masses.  In Marx’s time, opium caused two wars between Western countries and China, meaning that like opium, religion is used by those with power to cause division and conflict in society.  At the same time, opium was used to soothe pain.  Religion therefore soothes the pains wrought by capitalist society by creating community and offering hope of a better world.  The first function of religion is particularly important in capitalism.  While science is generally pretty useful to capitalism, it can sometimes be pesky.  Environmental science is pretty irksome.  Climate change is very nettlesome.  Rabid religiosity that is anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-environment, anti-trans, etc. is wonderfully divisive.  It allows capitalism to chug along without unified opposition to the pillage of the planet.  It allows capitalism to chug along as workers do not recognize their common oppressions and blame social problems on liberal teachers, feminists, gays and lesbians, atheists, or other religions.  Religion is a useful tool in capitalism’s toolbox.  And, since most religious folks focus their dismay about science to decry climate science or evolution rather than say, nuclear physics or science used in the interest of the U.S. war machine, capitalism can allow some degree of anti-science sentiments.

Image result for anti science

(I am not sure if this is a photo of a real event or fake, mockery of an anti-science protest)

Besides the fact that anti-science is helpful in dividing people and thwarting environmentalism, because of its role in capitalism, science has been used to oppress people.  Social Darwinism and scientific racism were used to justify the exploitation and colonization of people of color.  Eugenics used notions about genetics to justify segregation, forced sterilization, forced abortions, institutionalization, and euthanasia.   The knowledge and experiences of women, Native Americans, African Americans, poor people, immigrants, and other oppressed groups is routinely ignored as emotional, irrational, backwards, or foolish.  Science hasn’t been used in kind ways.  Psychologists have classified some groups as deviant or sick.  Until 2012, being transgender was considered a mental illness.  Today, only gender dysphoria is listed as an illness.  Homosexuality was viewed as a mental illness until 1973.  Members of those groups may feel a certain antagonism to the science that has classified them as sick.  African American men were lied to and denied treatment for syphilis so that the progression of the disease could be understood in the famous Tuskegee syphilis experiment.  Many marginalized groups such as racial minorities, prisoners, and the mentally ill, have been experimented upon.  In the 1800s, medical institutions arose and monopolized professions and knowledge that was once more democratically available.   If there is some hostility towards science, it is quite understandable considering this history.


To return to the March for Science, these sentiments should in no way diminish the importance of this march.  Scientists need to march.  They need to stand up for science that promotes social justice.  Science is not neutral.  It is very political.  Neutrality is political.  A better world is possible and science can help us achieve a better world.  Just as science has been a tool of capitalists, it can be a tool of the masses.  The sentiment of the march was that science should be used for creating a greener, safer, healthier, easier life for everyone.  To this end, I hope that scientists and supporters of science acknowledge the dark aspects of science’s role in capitalism.  I hope that oppressed groups can feel welcomed by future events and that their experiences and knowledge contribute to a full understanding of our world.  If “scienceism” emerges as a social movement, I hope that it is called to task in the same way that the Women’s March and feminist movement has.  I also hope that protest continues to be viewed as a legitimate response to social problems.  At the same time, I do not think that science itself will liberate us.  It would be helpful if everyone believed in climate change, as this would shift the discourse from “is it real” to “what can be done?”  However, the “what can be done” that is promoted by mainstream institutions will always serve capitalism.  It will never take us beyond market and individual solutions.  We could collectively buy electric cars or green lightbulbs.  We can compost and recycle as the world continues on its path towards the next mass extinction.  The warm response to the protest indicates to me that the powers that be are not particularly afraid of science.  They are mildly afraid of millions of women in pussy hats and extremely afraid of militant Black people.  Protests should be fun.  There should be snappy slogans.  I am up for whatever it takes to make it appealing and normal to the broadest and most diverse segments of society.  This should be done with the hope of pushing for bigger, better, more intersectional, more revolutionary actions.  In the end, the goal of any social movement should be to create fear of the unyielding power of the masses.   This may or may not involve hats.

Image result for pussy hat at science march

photo taken from: https://longreads.com/2017/04/25/pussy-hats-and-brain-hats-the-revolution-will-be-handmade/

 

https://www.forbes.com/sites/haroldstark/2017/04/23/the-march-for-science-in-dc-and-around-the-world/#32eed3395d65http://fortune.com/2017/04/24/science-march-worked/http://reason.com/blog/2017/04/24/march-for-science-rd-funding-is-not-fall

White Lies: Another Poem

white-christmas-white-lies-300x195

I wrote this poem when I was trying to catch some sleep in Charles de Gaulle Airport.  I had just experienced an 11 hour flight from Johannesburg and everything around me was becoming whiter and whiter as I returned to Minnesota.  I closed my eyes and could hear the conversations around me.  It was the banal banter you’d expect in an airport.  The interactions between white middle class parents and their children played as a chorus around me.  A few lines popped into my head as I dozed off.  I jotted it down into a poem.

White Lies

White shirts

White sheets

White shoes that don’t leave scuff marks on the gym floor.

When did everything get so white?

When you became a mother?  When you became a wife?

White schools,

ones without crime, with good teachers and extra curriculars

White parents

with organic snacks and time to volunteer on field trips

and field days.

White Christmas,

with snow and gifts,

once a year in church,

and resolutions for more moderation.

White power,

with friendly police,

responsible choices,

long, healthy lives,

fortified isolation,

feigned ignorance,

polite conversations,

sterile politics,

two child fertility,

and all the other

white lies.

 

A Communist’s Impressions of Captain America: Civil War

I make it no secret that I am a communist.  But, I am also a dork.  I like comic book movies. With age, I have given up a lot of the dorky pursuits such as collecting action figures, my obsessive love of Dragon Ball Z, and creating comic books for my friends.  Still, I am glad that I can find joy in going to a Marvel movie…alone….for a 11 pm showing.  There is a certain satisfaction that the only solo movie goer in the theater was a female bodied person in her mid thirties.

With that said, I have never been a fan of Captain America.  Obviously, he wears patriotic colors, fought in WWII, has this “Greatest Generation” shtick, and well…represents U.S. interests.   I hated the first Captain America movie as it played up good old patriotic Captain America…fightin’ Nazis…the most.  Not that I am against fighting Nazis.  But, the United States did not play a wholesome good guy role in WWII or any war…nor can it.  While Captain America fought Nazis, or secretly Hydra (groan), with his multiracial Howling Commandos, the U.S. was detaining Japanese citizens and socialists at home.  We were alright with dropping atomic bombs on the Japanese, but not okay bombing infrastructure that supported concentration camps.  Corporations like Coca-Cola, General Electric, GM, and Ford were content to continue reap enormous profits from Nazi Germany through the 1930s and into the 40s through subsidiaries.  I won’t belabor this point as it is not central to the review.  The basic idea is that there was no “good war.”   While I have certainly benefited from being an American, one of the first terrible realizations that I had when I was in college was…well, we are a really awful country in how we relate to the rest of the world.  We have supported dictators and overthrown democratically elected leaders.  Our relative often comfort comes at the expense of others.  Yada, yada, not patriotic…not into Captain America.

At the same time, through the Marvel movies I have come to like Captain America.  As a character, he is pretty nice.  He is polite, square, loyal, honest, and consistent.  The movies have also raised interesting questions.  They make me think more than say Antman and Deadpool did (except maybe think that I was not going to see those movies a second time).  I appreciated that Captain America: Civil War gave me things to think about.  I wouldn’t have anything to post about if it hadn’t!

Thought One-The UN Myth:

Back in my early college days, I had to face the fact that the U.S. was involved in some bad things in the world.  That stinks!  What should I do?  I know, turn to the UN.  The United Nations sounds benign.  It’s pale blue, olive branch framed globe flag looks so peaceful.  It is made up of all the countries of the world…working together for peace and human rights.  My political evolution in support of the UN evolved again when I thought… “Wait, the security council has five permanent members who were the “victors” of WWII and this body can determine peacekeeping/military activities and sanctions.”  That stinks.  And while it seems alright to send internationalist soldiers into situations, these soldiers do many of the same things as soldiers who do not wear pastel blue hats: engage in rape, prostitution (even of children), torture, and other war crimes.   And while the UN may seem like a counter balance against the United States, it has been pretty toothless in standing against any of the United States’ military/foreign policy actions in the world.  Sometimes it is nice to say things like…wow, almost every country in the world has voted on like 20 resolutions about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians or almost every country in the world was against the United States when we did “fill in the blank”, at the end of the day the UN consistently serves the interests of imperialist powers OR, can do nothing to stop these interests.

Anyway, in the movie, in order to make superheroes accountable, the Avengers must sign that they agree to follow the Sokovia Accords.  Basically, about 112 countries have signed an accord that states that the Avengers will be overseen by the UN.  In an interesting twist, the UN will oversee the Avengers directly.  So, decisions will not go through the Security Council.  Rather, the entire General Assembly will vote on every single issue that they decide to send the Avengers to do.  Tony Stark is for this.  Captain America is not.  Thus, the catalyst for the civil war between the Avengers.  Captain America’s critique seems based upon a distrust of large organizations (from his Hydra and Shield experiences) and the fact that organizations or countries can change their minds.  It isn’t a critique of multilateralism or the UN.

If I was an Avenger, I would side with Captain America, though it is because I do not buy into the myth of the UN or multilateralism.  This same theme came up in the Batman v. Superman film.  Again, it seems that people often believe that it is better for a coalition to promote “justice” in the world than an individual or an individual nation state.  However, coalitions of nations can do the same injustices if they are guided by the interests of imperialism.  Hence, the invasion of Iraq would have been no more just had it been approved by the United Nations.  While this would have had a veneer of internationalism and neutrality, but would have been the profit motivated invasion of a sovereign country all the same.  In this same way, the actions of NATO are no better than those of the U.S., even if allies are involved.  In short, the Avengers should have indeed been skeptical about being overseen by the UN.

Though I am pretty curious, who were the 80-85 countries who did not support the Sokovia accords and why?!  Who doesn’t want to oversee the Avengers or superheroes in general?  Did Latveria vote against it for fear Dr. Doom would have to answer to the UN?  Did Genosha vote against it?  Is Genosha a country in the Avengers?   How about real countries?  The Avengers seem to serve U.S. interests, so it seems anti-American countries would want the Avengers to be overseen by an international body.  Maybe those who did not support the accords were countries such as the Maldives and Kiribati, who were upset that time was being wasted on the stupid accords rather than coming up with a solution to climate change.  “You built an underwater prison to house super heroes.  Super.  Underwater is where we will be if we can’t stop climate change” says the delegate from Kiribati.

Thought Two: Black Lives Matter

I appreciated that a black woman confronted Ironman about her dead son.  Her son died because the Avengers could not keep Sokovia safe.  Of course, to make the death more tragic, the son must be the son of a middle class black woman who works for the State Department.  The son was in Sokovia to do volunteer work.  Had the son been a criminal or from a lower class, his story would not have been as tragic to white viewers.  The message here is that black lives matter so long as the black people talk and act like middle class white people.  Still, I liked that Tony Stark thought that the woman was reaching for a gun rather than for a photograph.  I think this represented the fact that because of her skin color, he thought she might be dangerous.  It was only when she identified herself as a member of the upper middle class, she assured him that she could be trusted.  It is possible that the movie wanted to show African Americans in a positive light by highlighting the fact that the son was a volunteer rather than giving him a less favorable story.

At the same time, I was also glad that the movie decided not to follow the trope that black characters must die.  I thought that Iron Patriot was going to die.  I felt pretty bad as the death was horrific.  He fell from the sky when Vision accidentally destroyed his suit’s functionality.  I thought he would be a splatter spot on the ground.  Instead, he was disabled by the fall.  His life mattered to Tony Stark and I felt that there was a genuine message that he wasn’t an expendable character (even if he is a pretty marginal character).

Generally, the black characters acted like white characters.  The Marvel movies approach race with color blindness.  Racism is never depicted, which perpetuates racism by sending a message that everyone is the same, race doesn’t matter, and everyone can be friends and equals.  Everyone can be friends and equals, but to do this…people need to be allies and collaborators in ending racism.

I do appreciate that the movie featured three black characters.  Black Panther was given a larger role than I expected.   Wakanda is an idealized African nation full of jungles, minerals, and lacking poverty.  It is quaint.  It never had to fight a bloody war of independence against Portugal or France.  It has a monarchy.  Color blind Africa is just like us!    No pesky AIDs or legacies of colonialism.  Well, it has survived by extreme isolationism to protect its secrets and avoid the plunder of its valuable vibranium.  So, if you read between the lines perhaps it is not untouched by European power.

Thought Three: Cold War Cool

I liked the stronger Cold War themes in the film. To clarify, I am a Trotskyist, which means I am a critic of the Soviet Union. It is considered a degenerated worker state. Still, I have a soft spot for the USSR. The movie has a scene that takes place in December, 1991. My attention was glued to the screen and I was flooded with bittersweet feelings about the end of the USSR. It is Winter Soldiers final mission for the USSR/Hydra. The movie is ambiguous about the relationship between the USSR and Hydra. In this mission, Winter Soldier kills Tony Stark’s parents! He steals a serum from them so that more super soldiers can be made. The soldiers remain in a frozen state in Siberia. It is assumed that with the collapse of the Soviet Union the program was forgotten. Still, it is a nice story line and one that I have used in my own books (that I have not released to the public). It captures my imagination. It is eerie when Winter Soldier falls under the control of some handler when a sequence of Russian words are spoken. Plus, he is a cool character. A metal arm with a red star on it! Awesome!


Winter Soldier is so interesting. Although this is not part of his Marvel cinematic universe identity, he represents Stalinism to me. So, this Stalinist super soldier killed the billionaire parents of Tony Stark. That is a pretty big blow to capitalism, at least on the level of individuals. Like the degenerated worker state, he is brain damaged. To subdue his free will, he must undergo terrible mental control and torture. This is all in the interest of fighting for the USSR and fighting Captain America. The bureaucratic and nightmarish state was an outcome of war and survival. Trotsky predicted that the USSR would either have a political revolution to overthrow the bureaucratic caste or that the USSR would return to capitalism. Winter Soldier in the film is a Cold War relic that can’t shake off the past. He can’t return to being Bucky Barnes, an American and patriot. Instead, he chooses to freeze his body in the end, so that he can avoid harming others. Perhaps legacies of the Cold War are not easily overcome. At the very least, the United States continues to have an adversarial relationship with Russia. Russia has a weak capitalist economy, but punches above its weight when it comes to foreign policy. So, it remains a villain as it refuses to be relegated to the periphery of nations.


I also like the relationship between Captain America and Winter Soldier. Captain America is a dedicated friend. The movie is not really about holding super heroes accountable, but about friendship. Captain America almost kills Iron Man over Winter Soldier. So, in this way there is real love conveyed in the relationship. Captain America knew all the bad things that Winter Soldier had done, but forgave him and risked his life to protect him. The love between men in the Marvel movies is always more compelling than the love between men and women. I felt that the love was sort of like Thor and Loki’s brotherly love. They are two men who are on opposite sides of a fight, or at least should be. I also think because the characters are portrayed as equals or near equals, it is easier to be moved by their friendship. I don’t feel touched by the relationships between Thor and Jane or Captain America and Agent Carter. These relationships are boring and expected. Of course, despite the closeness, heteronormativity is protected through banter wherein Captain America remembers a time wherein Winter Soldier spent all their money on a red headed woman at the fair. Winter Soldier also nods in support of Captain America’s kiss with Agent Carter. Nope, nothing queer here. Just a lot of attractive guys hanging out, being fit, having close friendships, and keeping female characters busy doing other things. Granted, I don’t really want to “ship” any characters. I wouldn’t mind more variety in sexualities and genders. I would also like it if women could have such compelling relationships with men or with each other.


Conclusions:

Really, I liked the movie.

It gave me plenty to think about and it was entertaining. I would say that it was the best Captain America movie and one of the best in the franchise. The stakes felt higher. The villain was not an overpowered robot or god, but a frustrated human being. There were several times wherein I was surprised by a turn of events. Instead of good versus evil, the boundaries were blurry. Because of the large cast of heroes, it certainly felt like an Avengers movie. The movie was much more emotional. For me, in a way it felt more like the Illiad than Antman. There are deep friendships and possible deaths. Like the Greek tale, it really was about the relationships between men, with little attention to female characters. In a way, to me this shows me how hard it is to imagine deep relationships between men and women. Women aren’t comrades to men. Black Widow is a friend, but a femme fetale who can’t be trusted. Scarlet Witch is a girlfriend to Vision. Agent Carter is a cheerleader.

Thankfully, I am a communist…so I get to be a comrade by default.

 

DSCF2463

Post Navigation