repeated burstings of the proverbial bubble

I have a utopian ideal. I am pretty certain I am not alone in this. Mine is couched, sometimes overridden, sometimes decimated, by my cynicism. I have been referred to as both cynical and jaded. I sometimes describe myself as an optimist with a health dose of cynicism. I wish there was reason to be otherwise — perhaps this is the basis for my utopianism. More times that I would like to recount in recent weeks, any utopian outlooks I have have been quashed.

The current politicking about refugees is beyond description. I literally fled from Australian in the wake of the Tampa situation in 2001. The wikipedia entry on the events surrounding the Tampa describe it as

a diplomatic dispute brewed between Australia, Norway, and Indonesia after Tampa had rescued 438 Afghans from a distressed fishing vessel in international waters.

The Conservative government successfully engaged in and mobilised wedge politics creating a divisive political social and political climate. Australia was a very different place following this issue — a place I no longer wanted to live.

Politicking about refugees has resurfaced and is again. Whilst the approach of the current government differs from that of the previous, it is still rather horrifying and based on many of the same ideological rationalisations (othering, exceptionlaism, racism, xenophobia). Australia (still or once again?) has an air about being somewhere I would rather not be.

Approaches to the climate change ‘debate’ is another issue that has countered my utopianism. Granted a equitable, socially just vegan society is not even close (or fathomable). Not to mention that scientific controversies like climate change often fail to come close to closure irrespective of the amount of evidence (including new evidence). For the second time in as many days (the first explicitly, the second not using these words) I have heard to climate change as being a left-wing conspiracy… Both times it was beyond hypocritical — the holes were large enough for a white elephant to walk through!

I am all for diverse opinions, lively discussion and debate. Is it possible to have some optimism where politicking is what it is? I guess it’s back to the small things, yet how much reflection on whether this is effective enough is too much? How much can the proverbial bubble take?

essentialisms and ideological naturalising of masculinity – reflections on Steve Best

I have recently read Lee Hall’s (2006) Capers in the churchyard: animal rights advocacy in the age of terror and revisited the edited volume Terrorist’s or freedom fighters? Reflections on the liberation of animals (2004). I found Lee Hall’s book to be one published at a very necessary time and it was quite scathing of welfarist and ‘militant’ approaches (albeit not un-problematically), the latter being promoted and supported in Terrorist’s or Freedom Fighters. I am working my way through producing a review of Capers in the churchyard, yet felt the need to comment following a recent interview with Steve Best on CUIT’s Animal Voices (Toronto). Steve Best is one of the editors of Terrorist’s or Freedom Fighters? and a vocal supporter of militancy. The sweeping generalisations, clear lack of knowledge, awareness and understandings of that which he authoritatively comments on, and the lack of critical reflexive awareness are very surprising – at least to me – from a tenured academic, especially one in the humanities. It is this interview that I reflect on…

The interview coincides with the release of Igniting a revolution: voices in defense of the earth (2006), which he is one of the editors of. I am yet to read this volume, yet the themes Steve Best raises in the interview are those he already holds and external to the content of the volume. He premises his comments with stating that actions labeled as militant now are moderate in comparison to what is needed. This is extended in that ‘any and all tactics are on the table, any and all tactics are necessary in these times of corporate facism’. What we should be focussing on, he argues, is what is effective. This is contextualised in the notion that we are apparently at war, and in conditions of war such tactics are appropriate. He does not address the very problematic pragmatisms underlying such notions. In conditions of war, non-violence, at least Steve Best’s bastardised and clearly misrepresentative populist version, are effectively tools for the state, if not of the state (i.e. ‘oppressors’). His generalised equating non-violence with legalist tactics is dumb-founding.

That he professes that violent tactics are the only possible means of ‘winning this war’ and many others, shows a complete lack of awareness of the history of non-violence. His rhetorical question asking someone to show him how non-violence has overcome oppression further exemplifies this. It also indicates, though he is clearly unaware of this, the ideologically naturalised tendency towards violence that is central to contemporary western society. As such, his labelling of non-violence as western centric (which I will come back to) is considerably ironic. For something one who is aware of institutionalised exploitation of people and animals as inherently linked, the links are clearly not made…

His misaligned engagement with violence was further exemplified in his response to descriptions of violence as hyper-masculine. In attempting to counter this, he outlines what is perhaps the most naïve notion I have seen espoused from a ‘progressive’ academic. Essentialism apparently rules the day: some women support violence, therefore violence cannot be masculine… Steve Best is surprisingly unaware of the implications and means of perpetuating itself that patriarchy imposes and draws from in western society? His attempt to draw from actions of (what he fails to see as patriarchal) feminists does little more than construct a circular reference. This further leaves him, albeit unknowingly, floundering in attempt to deny the patriarchal masculinity of violence.

It is refreshing, and I would consider essential for all of us, that Steve Best puts forward the notion that we need to have careful analysis and open debate about what tactics are help and necessary. In addressing the need for what he refers to as total liberation, Steve Best shows that he can be critical and aware of class issues. The question remains as to why he is not aware of anything more than a bastardised and essentialist understanding of both masculinity and nonviolence. To label nonviolence as western-centric represents, for me, his clear lack of historical analysis of resistance to patriarchy. It clear illustrates the impacts of patriarchal societal relations on his analysis in that he infers awareness of masculinity, yet does not attempt to move beyond its ideologically naturalised embodiment in socio-historical papers, published histories and live experiences.