Charles Brown CharlesB at CNCL.ci.detroit.mi.us
Wed Nov 17 08:02:51 PST 1999

>>> Maureen Therese Anderson <manders at midway.uchicago.edu> 11/17/99 02:41AM >>>

Last week Katha observed:

>I've been following the discussion flowing from alex's column with some
>bemusement. How quickly the talk moved away from issues of women,
>feminism, sexism, Satanic panic -- the things alex and I were both
>supposedly writing about -- and moved into the usual androcentric
>grooves: militias, Doug versus Alex, etc.

And in those grooves they stayed, even though the original issues are every bit as complicated as the ones debated in the militia postings. And actually the guy-topics and those long-forgotten daycare ones are linked. Which is why, to get back to Alex C.'s original tirade, the contrast between Alex C.'s treatment of the daycare scares (mindless hysteria) and of the militias (resistance) ought to be unpacked more.


Charles: Following Maureen's charge that we ought to unpack this, let me see. If I understand Maureen's analogies here she is saying that Alex C. treats those who were scared about satanic cult conspiracies among daycare operators as mindless hysterics , but does not treat the militia who are scared about big government conspiracies among federal government officials as mindless hysterics. Is that it ?

The reason I ask is that I think Alex C. and Jim H. and the LM folks might say that their consistency is in treating us militia critics as analogously hysterical to those who are fearful of satanism in daycare. They see themselves as calming down hysteria or panics all around. To them the militias are not hysterical or panicking but basically sensible. It is us anti-militia folks who are panicking.

Of course, Alex C. and LM are out-to-lunch, but I think this is the warped form of consistency in their minds.


On Alex C.'s pronouncements: though his buddying up to militias is alarming, he's certainly right to emphasize the baseline alienation that animates militia members and their conspiracy notions, and he's right to draw attention to their intuitive rejection of the potted explanations from their social betters about what's happening in their lives and why. It's good they know they're being fucked over.

The question though is why, when AC looks into the more domestic domains (of victim abuse, children, families, daycare), all that discernment evaporates. Why are the child-abuse "conspiracies-theories" nothing but "hysterical...demented, mindless craze," and why's he so sure of this that he trashes K. merely for *pausing* in the face of the complex events? A reverse scenario would be--what?--Katha taking out a column castigating Alex for never denouncing militias--especially after the _literal_ "shattered lives" in Oklahoma City--as pure fascism and their members as nothing but nutcases? (his omission even more inexcusable because he has such clout with those populists...)


Charles: Yes, it seems to me the analogous column from Katha would be to take Alex C. to task for listening to these hysterical/panicking, fantastic militia theories about conspiracies in the United Nations running the United States, federal conspiracies to put rugged, individualist, conservative white people in concentration camps or whatever.


>From post-browsing, it seems Alex C's attack was colorfully dismissed and
Katha defended, but all in ways that accepted AC's terms of debate. Either a bunch of real satanists controlled hundreds of daycare centers or the whole thing reflected nothing but mindless group hysteria and manipulative therapists: all true or all lunacy. In its search for simple certainties, this either/or interpretation has a lot in common with both the conspiracy-fearing militias and the satan-fearing communities.

Not only is the world not-simple, it's the world of advanced-capitalism, that phenomeonon listers spend lots of time thinking about in the abstract. Abstraction's exactly the point here because global cap's power and value are integrated at such invisible levels of abstration that no one--even with the help of David Harvey!--can really be aware of all its diffuse but visceral effects in their immediate lives.


Charles: Yes, perhaps the kernel of truth in the fears of both the daycare parents and the militia is that transnational capital IS the Devil today. The operation of a daycare center by a lean and mean corporations ( if this were the case ?) which always puts people before profits is worse than one operated by satanists in many ways. Perhaps the daycare critics' fantasies were reflecting this reality, in the way that religion is a reflex of the real world otherwise.


If advanced-cap redraws contours of communities by processes too translocal and abstract to grasp, it's reasonable to assume that this is accompanied by lots of vulnerability. Also logical that with this vulnerability is an urge to demystify. And one way people tend to do this is by collapsing diverse or amorphous forces into more concrete and certain imagery. So the not very daring suggestion here is that these "conspiracies" and "crazes" are related to changing dynamics of very basic things like social reproduction and as such we don't get far by dismissing them as the fantasies of nutcases or manipulated dupes.


Charles: I don't think the basic operation of advanced-cap is too abstract for the average, working class person , daycare parent or militia , to grasp. It is that advanced cap has enormous brainwashing and propaganda mechanisms to lie, coverup, mystify etc. about the exploitation, dominance, profiteering against peoples' interest that is what capitalist corporations are all about; and which are at the root of the alienation and fears of daycare parents and militia. What is happening in advanced-cap is basically the same thing that has happened in cap all along: the profit making of private business ultimately dominates and controls all aspects of society. But the easily graspable statements describing this have been demonized as communist propaganda.

In other words, one of the current bourgeoisie's main operations today is to prevent the masses of people from understanding that the capitalist system operates exactly as Marxists and communists have been saying all along. All the popular and easily graspable ways explaining this developed by communists and Marxists over the years are completely cogent today, but the bourgeoisie have succeeded in turning Communists into the Cassandras of the advanced-cap era.


On the child-abuse side, it seems reasonable to assume that large-scale phenomena such as shifts in the gendered division of labor, the increasing instability of one of capitalist society's basic units of social reproduction (the conjugal family), the increasing commercialization of bodies and of childcare, etc., have overdetermined the "vulnerability of the child" phenomenon.


Charles: I agree with Maureen. And even though this aspect of the analysis requires some extension of the classical critiques of capitalism, it is easily understanable if most people understand the basic critique of capitalism -commodity fetishism, commoditiization of everything including human bodies and children, etc.

Marx and Engels' were very clear about the capitalist processes that by their own logic shifted to exploitation of women's labor ( in production not just in reproduction) and children's labor in the 1800's. Lenin extended that analysis such that the average person could understand capitalism's development into state-monopoly and modern imperialism. An extension of basic Marxist-Leninist analysis is critical for an easily graspable explanation of how advanced-cap has unique ways of ripping off and oppressing women and children today. But the eschewing of classical Marxist-Leninist analysis, concepts and terminology undermines making the extension before it is even done.

In other words, to understand state-monopoly and imperialist commoditization of bodies and children, one must use state-monopoly and imperialist analysis. And to understand the further developments in imperialism and its commoditization of bodies and children today, one must build on the Marxist and Leninist basics. Advanced cap is not at all , all new.


In fact a number of works seem to have come out in recent years examining how "the child" has become a charged site, a space of pristine innocence, upon which adults concretize their amorphous vulnerabilities. (can't think of authors off-hand, though in a somewhat different vein and soemwhat earlier Ian Hacking wrote a very balanced article on the constitution of "child abuse" as a category in _Critical Inquiry_.) And the vulnerable-child image has corollaries: the aborting mother, diabolical child-minder (hands that rock the cradle eeither by invading the nuclear sanctum or in daycare center), incestuous father: all individuals with selfish desires, salacious appetities,etc., all images animated in part by attempts to put a face to large-scale processes.


Charles: To the extent that these are fantastic processes, they also are reflections of the underlying reality that advanced capitalism has unique and perverse ways of oppressing , exploiting and fucking up children.

For example, there has been a major shift in the law to permit the trying of children as adults in criminal cases. Just yesterday a child was convicted as an adult here in Michigan. This is a shocking barbarism and indication of the advanced decay of "advanced" cap. It is a true demonization of children. Now there's a "hysteria" , "panic" and insane demonization in 40 or so U.S. state legislatures that those concerned about panic mongering should expose.

One of the unique characteristics of the human species is the long period of childhood. ( See Stephen Jay Gould' essay "The Child as Man's(sic) Real Father(sic)" in _Ever Since Darwin_). This shift to shorten legal childhood is truly and profoundly anti-human.

(((((((((((( And of course, to the extent that "the child" has been fetishized, this doesn't stay in a bounded symbolic realm but has effects as material as the prison-cells of the wrongly accused. But there's another material effect as well. To the extent that kids are, in fact, charged objects of fantasy, there's probably an increased likelihood of actual child-abuse being committed by the more disturbed members of families and communities. Which feeds back into the larger fears and panics, which further charges the site of the child, and so on. In short there's lots going on between "where there's smoke there's fire" and mere "smoke and mirrors."


Charles: Yes. children are being "charged" as adults, probably in some religious fanatics' minds based on theologies that children can be possessed by demons or being the products of "bad seeds" (sic). The fundamentalist religious trends allow for the insane fantasies pictured in the movie _The Exorcist_ as motivation for conservative legislators. The logical extension of this, as Maureen's comment implies, is that having sex with children is ok, the overthrow of the theory of statutory rape based on the notion that children are not competent to consent to sex with adults. For if "children" can be adult enough to be tried as adults for crimes, what is the barrier to their being adult enough to consent to having sex with adults ? Especially if they are possessed by demons.


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