Lynching By Any Other Name


Whites who kill blacks in Stand Your Ground states are far more likely to be found justified in their killings. In non-Stand Your Ground states, whites are 250 percent more likely to be found justified in killing a black person than a white person who kills another white person; in Stand Your Ground states, that number jumps to 354 percent.

“Disturbing chart shows rise in “justified killings” of blacks in U.S.”

Today, I am grieved that yet another attack on the basic humanity of African-Americans has been visited upon my friends and fellow citizens. The Supreme Court decision to strike down a section of the Voting Rights Act a few weeks ago has been followed by a Florida criminal court verdict that George Zimmerman was not guilty of even manslaughter (let alone second-degree murder) when he gunned down Trayvon Martin on a sidewalk.

At the root of this verdict is a new category of laws called “stand your ground’ which have been enacted in several states, often with the backing of ALEC, a right-wing organization dedicated to rewriting legislation across the nation that weakens civil rights for all citizens, not just Blacks. We now know enough about the SYG laws to condemn their result as giving rise to a new wave of lynchings in the name of protecting white privilege. A state with SYG laws in place will have over 100% more not guilty verdicts for white murders of black men than other states without comparable laws. That, my friends, is nothing less than lynching by another name. And, it smells fouler than death itself.

I walked through my racially mixed suburban neighborhood on the border of Chicago last night after the verdict was all over the news. There were groups of blacks on several street corners talking heatedly about the verdict. I walked several blocks and eventually crossed into Chicago to an all-night drugstore to buy a fan for my overheated apartment. At no point did anyone ask where I was going. I passed two police cars with white cops (I saw no black cops this night) and they never stopped me to ask what I was doing out so close to midnight. As I walked home with my fan, no one attempted to rob me. I never felt in danger. Sirens rang out twice as I walked, and my heart sank as I figured that the police were doubtless pursuing young black men, likely without justifiable cause.

Many whites and even some few Blacks who embrace our legal system justified the Zimmerman verdict. I personally have little faith in the objectivity of mostly white juries. Can anyone seriously believe that Zimmerman had any reason to pursue Trayvon? There was zero evidence of a crime by him, though the mere act of leaving his vehicle is evidence enough for me that Zimmerman is a dangerous racist vigilante. I don’t need to know if Trayvon used a chunk of concrete to fight back, that would have been justifiable self-defense against a loaded gun. But, no, Trayvon was black and therefore had no civil rights. This verdict sends a deadly warning to all young black men, “stay off white folks’ sidewalks.” The dream is deferred, justice is denied.

Love’s Rebellion




At the risk of being Freudian, I suspect my radical ideas stem from early childhood experiences of growing up in a dysfunctional family that relied on religious shaming, arbitrary punishment, and abuse both physical and emotional to keep us kids in line. It’s a mystery to me that my younger brother has chosen to quite enthusiastically embrace the Pentecostal subculture that I find so often toxic. My little sister has also embraced the religion, but as we are 12 years apart I can understand that her experience of parenting was quite different from mine. The phrase, “daddy’s little girl” may capture a significant part of the reason for her differing perception of my father and the family religion.

One crucial element of my childhood was that early on I drew a sharp line between my father and Jesus. Dad preached Jesus as the divine savior of humanity from its sinful destiny in an eternal hell. My angle on Jesus perceived him as a healer and rebel who sought to upend the oppressive social (and familial) order. I took activists like Dr. King and even Gandhi as modern reflections of Jesus’ care for suffering humanity.

This divide between my father’s religion and my view of Jesus crystallized into an adult identification with far left visions of a world revolution against racism, capitalism, sexism, and authoritarianism. No matter how far I’ve traveled from supernatural savior theology, my fundamental gestalt is still premised on those early projections of Jesus as the incarnation of perfect eternal love. While I can accept that much of that idealization of Jesus is flawed, I’d rather discard Jesus himself than give up on the fundamental importance of love. I’ve tried unsuccessfully to de-center the place love has in my politics. I no longer believe that “God is Love” as John’s first epistle declares. I’ve ceased to understand love as the personal character of an omnipotent God who loves me more perfectly than I or anyone else could ever love me. Yet, such a grand cosmic theology still tugs at my wounded soul.

I know that love didn’t exist as an element of the Big Bang. The universe was once full of cosmic fire that only cooled slowly to precipitate galaxies and solar systems. One star among trillions may give birth to a living planet, and maybe only very few living planets give birth to creatures capable of love. However, that potential for love, for reciprocal nurture and empowerment, seems to me to be the grandest of all evolutionary accomplishments.

And so, my rejection of capitalism, conservatism, racism, sexism, and the whole panoply of suffering that I call the “death-systems” is based on what seems to be a bottomless yearning within myself for love to become omnipotent, to radically transform our oppression into soaring emancipation. What I once viewed as cosmology – “God is Love” – has been turned into futurology – “Love must become the Divine Reality.”

The Revolution Will Not Be Secularized: Love’s Communism & Religion

I tend to encounter two general views of religion in my life. Most people consider religion an important – if not ultimately important – part of their lives and/or the world. In fact, one philosopher has suggested that we should define religion as the quest for ultimacy or ultimate values. This first group contains many of the people with whom I am most directly connected, such as my wife and most of my extended family.

The other less common view is that religion is an outdated legacy of our irrational past. In our scientific era it is claimed that we can do without grand mythologies and deities. Everything is reducible to natural causes and processes. While I have deep sympathies and respect for this viewpoint, my extensive intimate connections with people devoted to religion rules out any sort of complete rejection of the importance of religion.

Perhaps I’m just a contrary old man, but I feel that I can embrace both the most reductionistic physical science, yet also remain devoted to the living heart of religious aspirations. Long after the Age of Faith and the Age of Reason are gone, I believe humanity will live in an Age of Love, Love’s Communism, which will be built upon the fulfillment not only of science and technology, but the maturation and judicious distillation of the world’s cultural legacies, including religion. The Age of Love’s Communism will embrace all the authentic passions of Jesus, Marxism, Anarchism, Buddhism, Allah, and the Goddess. “Do I contradict myself? I contain multitudes.”

A Marxist friend of mine posted the following pointed comment (directed no doubt in part at me) on his Facebook wall:

“….something that bothers me about two friends I know who call for liberation theology: both of them admit that they think that a non-natural vision of G-d is incoherent or at least has no evidence for it. Yet they think we should encourage a socialism based on religious convictions. This seems problematic to me because I think people should be told the truth as we know it, and if there is no supernatural anymore, then the entire framework of liberation theology must be different. Otherwise this seems much more cynical than they see it. I for one am not necessarily interested in the masses raising up for something untrue-so if there is a theological turn necessary, it’s got to be justified in more than pragmatism or the failure of prior social forms. Both notions of “progress”–the technocrat one and the religious one seem just as based in a notion of teleos of which we have little evidence and of which we must exclude opportunity costs.”

For Communists to redefine our movement as the fulfillment of humanity’s authentic aspirations we need to change how we understand religion and include religious persons within our movement and organizations. Religions are the product of centuries of the evolving articulation of ultimate values and Communists have no choice but to work with religious people in creating the revolution. The old Leninist strategy (which owes something also to Marx himself) of making Atheism the de facto ideology of the movement has decisively failed. Communism cannot be reborn without religious expressions of its goals and values.

This doesn’t mean that we all have to become Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or Pagan Communists. The model for the way forward has been demonstrated by the many interreligious dialogues held over the past two centuries. A signal event in world dialogue was the first “Parliament of the World’s Religions” held at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition. The PWR event set off a sequence of dialogues between scholars and religious leaders around the world to work on mutual understanding and conflict resolution. As global communications in the 21st century bring ever more interaction across the boundaries of religion, opportunities for fruitful collaboration and risks for deepening hostility must be faced with a higher consciousness of the ultimate unity of humanity in view, transcending historical boundaries of exclusion, whether religious or secular.

A flat-footed atheism is profoundly out of place in our post-secular world. While science has succeeded in demonstrating that the natural world operates according to regular laws of cause and effect, the hardest problem remaining is the very nature of human consciousness. If evolution has given us superior brains for problem-solving, why did it take millenia for a purely naturalistic worldview to emerge? It would seem that the emergence of religion served some sort of functional cultural adaptation in human history. Religion, regardless of the specific mythology deployed is principally aimed at creating a cultural and social unity that binds together men, women, and children in communities that can survive external threats and internal strife.

Atheists tend to focus on the “supernatural” claims of miracles, invisible conscious beings (deities), and view of the afterlife. In pre-modern times, these mythological features were not considered “super” to nature, but to be part of the world as experienced by everyone. When a calamity befell a community, an evil spirit was at work, since natural explanations were often impossible to obtain. By the same token, when forture blessed a community, a beneficent deity was at work. These spirits and deities weren’t in some non-physical dimension orthogonal to the world of ordinary experience, but rather the Greek gods lived on Olympus, a mountain visible throughout Greece. The Greek gods were also directly assigned characteristics that represented the values of the Greek culture, such as power, beauty, and wisdom. It was only as Greek philosophy under Plato began to confront the problems of mythological incoherences – which is what one expects from a tradition that was constructed over generations of storytelling – that the gods began to be consigned to a non-physical realm of ideas and virtues.

Religion therefore wasn’t the guardian of the supernatural world separable from the natural world, but rather the integrative cultural deposit of all the truths a society depended on for its operation from art to agriculture. The naturalistic aspects of theism were included indivisibly within the supernatural conceptions of theistic religion. Such aspects included the psychological benefits of an ultimate ethical commitment, humility towards the non-human forces of nature, the transcendent importance of human emotional values (most supremely that of love), the ultimate incomprehensibility of existence (including epistemic modesty), a trans-historic sense of human oneness via cultural legacies, and the sense that at bottom the universe isn’t malicious.

Classical religions also include non-natural aspects that were the organic result of pre-scientific understanding of the world. The progress of science at experimentally revising humanity’s world-picture under conditions of capitalism, androcracy, white supremacy, and authoritarianism mean that most human beings are denied the education and emotional health to perceive the world in naturalistic terms, so the emotional appeal of supernaturalism wins popular assent.

Overturning the conditions of oppression, repression, domination, and exploitation requires mass struggle and so the natural religious inclination of humanity must be transformed by struggles on multiple fronts. This means enlisting the narratives of Jesus, Buddha, goddesses, and Allah for the global project of human emancipation by means of pan-religious alliances. Social struggle will transform incrementally and sometimes rapidly the gestalt of the masses as they struggle towards more worldly goals. The disappearance of supernaturalism will happen as a by-product of cultural revolution.

Such cultural transformation will come from within the same social struggles for more freedom as all other emancipatory gains. Under the present social systems the gains are always tenuous and incomplete. As humanity unites to fight for freedom from oppressive authority, literalistic religion will be challenged for its own arbitrary authority. As human beings are complex, emotional creatures the transition from supernatural to natural thought will be uneven and occasionally regressive. The literalism that treats sacred texts as perfect truths will over time be replaced by more critical and revolutionary approaches to religious tradition.

In many ways this is already happening even in societies like the US where religious identification is strongly prevalent. Surveys that go beyond simply asking if one believes in God to asking people to choose from multiple definitions of God find that many people understand theism in ways that are not considered orthodox. 26% of Americans consider God to be an impersonal force rather than a personal being. Roman Catholics have an even higher percentage of impersonal theists, 29%. In a denomination that prides itself on its long history of theological orthodoxy, this finding is quite significant. Religion does not have a fixed for all time meaning, but is evolving with the rest of human civilization. The religion of the future will likely still have Jesus and Buddha as characters within its dramatic narrative, but they won’t be the same Jesus and Buddha as our ancestors.

A Protest Against Real Distress: Religion and Revolutionary Struggle

In response to Dario Cankovic’s Socialism and Religion, Redux:

“Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and also the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions.”

— Karl Marx, Contribution To The Critique Of Hegel’s Philosophy Of Right

I have a love/hate relationship with religion and layers upon layers of both antipathy and affection for this complex reality. The same thing could be said for the revolutionary struggle. The revolutionary struggle is my primary allegiance; my personal happiness means very little while millions languish under the yokes of the death-systems of capitalism, sexism, racism, authoritarianism, and ecocide (to name only five of the central enemies of all beings on earth.) It seems most urgent to me today that we build alliances with all who are committed to the revolutionary struggle and that emphasizing our common ground is critical. I’m very aware that most people on the far left will disagree with my approach to religion, but it seems to me that the left really has no choice but to rethink how it will work with all potential revolutionaries, the majority of whom are religious — because the majority of humanity is religious.

The Egalitarian Principle


I’ve begun blogging at (dis)Loyal Opposition to Modernity. I may make a habit of it.

Originally posted on The (Dis)Loyal Opposition to Modernity::

Recently, SkePoet posted a critique of Bhaskar Sunkara’s “Beyond Warm and Fuzzy Socialism.” He quotes from Marx’s “Critique of the Gotha Program,” a text that is often quoted these days as objecting to equality as a socialist value. SkePoet specifically takes aim at Sunkara’s invocation of the French Revolutionary slogan, “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.” He chides Sunkara for using the term “equal respect,” which he charges is “fundamentally liberal” not socialist.

So, on the point that “equal respect” or its cousin, “equal opportunity” are not in any sense socialist values, I concur. However, I have found myself increasingly uncomfortable with a sort of Marxist distancing itself from what I would call “substantive equality.” While making sure that people aren’t discriminated against when seeking employment is a fundamentally good thing, and a part of a socialist reform agenda that overlaps with liberalism, I can’t escape my conviction that when we propose a…

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Breaking the “Fifth Party System” Duopoly: The Minor Party Democracy Offensive

Political theorists call the present two-party system in the USA, the “Fifth Party System.” In this view, since the time our first federal government was formed in 1792 until today, this country has had 5 different configurations of political parties. Today’s “Fifth Party System” is dated from the New Deal in 1933. Prior to the New Deal during the “Fourth Party System” era we had a significant number of minor parties that challenged the Democrats and Republicans, such as the Socialist Party of America, Bull Moose Party, Progressive Party, and so on, who all were decisively marginalized by the multi-term presidency of Franklin Roosevelt.

The Fifth Party System of today needs to be replaced with a new configuration. The current system has given us political regression since the 70s. The “Citizens United” decision of 2010 opened the door to total corruption of the democratic process by enabling unrestricted political contributions by private corporations. This means that alternative viewpoints that include the interests of less economically wealthy have less power than ever before. This is a new level of danger for US politics and its influence on world affairs. As the major parties are now so wholly owned by wealthy corporations, social movements for change have little alternative but to either try to raise huge amounts of money and therefore buy into the problematic system itself, or begin organizing new “third parties” that resist corporate influence. The Green Party US is the most substantial of these efforts in US politics today. A close second place is held by the Libertarian Party, which seeks to end the dependence of corporations on government largesse and eliminate many onerous prohibitions on private moral decisions, like abortion, cannabis use, and same-sex marriage.

Two lesser-known but rising parties are the Constitution and Socialist Parties. The first of these is largely composed of radicals from the Christian Right. The latter is the heir to the Socialist Party of America, formed in 1973 after a split occurred. Most of the SPA leadership of 1973 decided against running electoral campaigns in favor of working within the Democratic Party. It’s no accident that this schism occurred just as the conservative counter-offensive to the 1960s was gaining momentum. Without a substantive third-party challenge from the left, the Democrats have moved consistently to the center, abandoning organized labor, blacks, and women to ever more impotent efforts at legislative reform, most notably in recent times, the Republican-inspired “Affordable Care Act” of 2010, that pales in comparison to the robust national healthcare systems of other industrialized countries.

My bold suggestion is that this configuration of political parties forms the seeds of a“Sixth Party System” of US politics, which will hopefully be a true multi-party system. If these minor parties continue to grow in political strength, as the Greens and Libertarians have done to date, then a showdown is in the making against the existing stalemate between government and corporate influence. Imagine that several key elections, even perhaps the 2016 presidential election, were to result in the following voting results:

Democrats – 49%
Republicans – 47%
Greens – 2%
Socialists – 0.5%
Libertarians – 1%
Constitution – 0.5%

By this count, the “left and center” wins 51.5% of the vote total, the “right and center” wins 48.5%, which isn’t too far off from where the numbers fall today. If this were to happen in any election that had national impact, such as Congress or State Governor, the failure of either major parties to earn a majority would force the existing powers to consider some changes, such as “instant run-off” voting systems, or perhaps even proportional representation.

It should be no surprise to regular readers that I am a member of the SPUSA and offer this analysis as minimal targets that we should strive to achieve. Socialism has risen in popularity as the economic crisis of 2008 continues to wreak havoc upon working people. In Europe, the left is regrouping in movements like Syriza in Greece, and here in the Occupy Wall Street mobilizations. However, OWS in particular fell prey to the main weakness of the US left, no political vehicle to absorb and organize all that insurgent energy. The Greens and the Socialists might have capitalized on OWS, but they failed to do so.

From a socialist perspective, mobilizing an anti-capitalist movement requires a political party or organization. Many socialists operate within the Democratic Party in the hopes of pulling it to the left. However, there has been no leftward movement except in various social movement concerns, such as same-sex marriage. On the two leading crisis points of our time, the destructive character of capitalism and the ecological destruction being advanced by industrial production and fossil-fuel consumption, the Democrats have given the left almost nothing for decades. After all, the left cannot contribute millions of dollars to political candidates.

There was a time when the unions were reliable allies in pulling the Democrats to the left on economic matters. However, the anti-union demobilization since the 70s has shrunk the actual power of organized labor to a shell of its former strength. In order to reverse this direction, a party committed to a progressive labor agenda is necessary. The Labor Party formed by Tony Mazzochi in the 90s was meant to be such an effort, however, his untimely death among other factors doomed that effort to failure. A socialist party could be a critical vehicle for revitalizing labor politics. Instead of simply trying to influence Democratic Party candidates in the direction of labor movement interests in competition with the wealthy corporate donors, a party of the left can create an oppositional pole outside the Democrats. Here, the experience of the Green Party is instructive.

When I presented a thumbnail of my “minor party offensive” strategy in a socialist forum on Facebook it was immediately objected that this concept depended on a strategic alliance with the far right Constitution Party. Such an objection is worth considering. From my perspective we don’t really need the Constitution Party in a multi-party strategy, since the Libertarians have already proven that they can divide the pro-capitalist bloc with some success. However, the Constitution Party does fill a real niche on the far right. Some on the left will object to forming any kind of strategic alliance with even the Libertarians, but the truth is that on some key points, such as same-sex marriage, drug decriminalization, anti-intervention, and other civil liberties, the Libertarians are a useful wedge inside the right.

I offer this proposal as very rough first pass at a new way to conceive third-party strategy. Instead of always worrying about the “spoiler effect” we can lock arms with Greens and Libertarians to fight the right for a real place in the political future of our nation and world.

What is “Good” For Africa, Theoretically Speaking?

The whole world is my province until Africa is free.  - Marcus Garvey

(This essay originated as a class assignment in comparative politics. It is a polemical response to a 1990 article by Jeffrey Herbst. The class was asked to answer the question, “Is this a good theory?”)

If one adopts a simple distinction between the states of the African and European continents and asks what are the differences between these two regions in political terms, one theory offered has observed that in Europe there are a large number of “strong states” that are effective in taxation, governance, and military readiness. By contrast, in Africa there are a relatively large number of states that are “weak, failing, failed, or collapsed.” With this basic construct in place, Jeffrey Herbst’s 1990 article “War & the State in Africa” offers the following hypothesis:


“War in Europe played an important role in the consolidation many now-developed states: war caused the state to become more efficient in revenue collection; it forced leaders to dramatically improve administrative capabilities; it created a climate and important symbols around which a disparate population could unify. While there is little reason to believe that war would have exactly same domestic effects in Africa today as it did in Europe several centuries ago, it is important ask if developing countries can accomplish in times of peace what war enabled European countries to do. I conclude that they probably cannot because fundamental changes in economic structures and societal beliefs are difficult, if not impossible, to bring about when countries are not being disrupted or under severe external threat.


“I conclude that some [African] states will probably be unsuccessful in finding ways of building the state in times of peace and will therefore remain permanently weak. Accordingly, the international community will have to develop non-traditional policies for helping a new brand of states: those that will continue to exist but that will not develop. Other states, perceiving that peace locks them into a permanently weak position, may be tempted to use war as a means of resolving their otherwise intractable problems of state consolidation.”

In sum, a lack of inter-state warfare in Africa has led to weakened development of the political states on that continent. Political science as a discipline is somewhat problematic in this respect, as it attempts to create parsimonious, satisfying, falsifiable, and rich theories of human politics. Human politics is not easily reduced to cause and effect explanations due to the sheer number of causes, that is, human behaviors, and their complexity, such as intention, social conditions, collective agency, etc. that would lead a serious theorist aiming at causal reduction into statistical tesseracts of astronomical proportions, perhaps beyond the complexity of mapping the smallest galaxy. By this token, political science has to content itself usually with approximations, rather than rigorously lawlike theories.

That said, other considerations impact the theory at hand, suggested by a common knowledge of the shared history of Europe and Africa, that of colonial exploitation of Africa by European states. That Herbst does not seem to consider this history strongly (though he acknowledges it) relevant is startling, given the centuries of political struggle within his homeland of the United States against the racial oppression of formerly enslaved persons of African descent. The U.S. economic and political system from well before its founding in 1776 up to the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 was profoundly enmeshed in a racist system of slavery. Similarly, the growth of European political states was enmeshed in the slave trade and an even more direct colonial domination of the continent’s people groups. To put the alternative premise bluntly, perhaps the “strength” of European versus African states was deliberately intended by those European states?

Herbst intends his theory to suggest possible directions that African nations might pursue towards creating stronger states, such as pursuing wars. On the alternative premise, if the formation of strong states in Europe was bound up with the domination of Africa, does this suggest that Africa should now turn north and seek to dominate Europe? Recent clashes within Europe between populations of African immigrants and authorities of those exemplary “strong states” of Europe suggest that warfare is being carried on by other more social means, perhaps? Various radical movements and uprisings in Africa over the centuries suggest that Africans haven’t been as passive in state-building as Herbst implicitly projects, but that they have been outgunned by forces that intentionally prevented their success?

To attempt to remain properly – for a political scientist – theoretical and objective, this domination counter-theory also is subject to the canons of good theory: clarity of concepts, rich explanation, and verifiability. Of course, it is also subject to the persistent problematics of political science earlier mentioned. After all, the scientist is still a human being and treating humanity as a scientific object ultimately turns the clinical eye of science onto the scientist himself. Can such a science be entirely objective, when the very object of study is also in some sense intimately bound up with the observer? As much as a theorist might wish that the histories of Europe and Africa were separable like so many petri dishes in which bacteria grow, cross-contamination is systemic and ineradicable when pursuing the messy business of human politics. Political science is ultimately, also politics by other means.

That said, humans do have the potential to step outside their own embedded social position, and aim at sympathetic and truthful understanding of other societies. Clinical distance from the object of study is not an end in itself, but rather a limited – though necessary and helpful – tool, a step in a much larger process towards concrete truth and potentially effective action. Acting as a scientist is but one aspect of being a full human being. It may be obvious that this short essay is bound up with a moral outrage, a grief and sadness at the conditions of human suffering – in Africa and elsewhere – and the political forces that perpetuate them. Like a medical doctor who has dedicated her life to curing cancer, exploring the ravages of disease with clinical rigor isn’t the endpoint, but rather one necessary moment of a larger battle to gain a strategic clarity in order to achieve a greater good.

The Communism of Universal Love: Core Principles

Communism is defined as “to each according to need; from each according to ability.” The traditional wording is reversed with the “ability clause” placed first. However, the suffering of our times presses the question of need, desire, and fulfillment on us urgently. There are four clauses of the Communist principle: 1) To each – regarding every being as a deserving recipient of generosity, 2) According to need – seeing each being as in need of basic sustenance and more, 3) From each – regarding every being as capable and full of generous potential, 4) According to ability – seeing each being as potential contributors to the satisfaction of a sustainable, generous way of life.

Love is defined as a passion for the well-being of others, as transformative generosity. Our very existence is an outcome of complex generous processes stretching back to the dawn of time; explosive cosmic energies, stardust chemistry, planetary formation of oceans and landmasses, warming and cooling climates, molecular miracles of biogenesis, natural selection for environmental viability, and sensory awareness evolving into complex relational agency.

Each of us are conceived in moments of passion, for better or worse. The best passions can form and nurture us into agents and persons who love fiercely. Negative passions also arise as undesirable outcomes of processes obstructed from optimal fulfillment. Evolution contains creation, destruction, abundance, and suffering. The struggle between fulfilling the generous cosmic potential that is known as love and the negative obstructions generated by hate, frames our very existence over eons of time down to our present moment.

The Communism of Love integrates the classic principle of creating an order of mutual interdependence with the passion of love that runs through all life. Transformative generosity fulfills each being’s complex relational, biological, and physical needs. Transformative generosity contributes to this fulfillment as a communal interdependent abundance. Love’s communism embraces all beings from weakest to strongest and nurtures their optimal fulfillment.

Love’s Communism understands all beings as ecologically interdependent. Each living being deserves greater health and well-being, each physical system deserves freedom from degradation and pollution. Each being contributes with creative generosity to the overall qualitative flourishing of the global ecosystem. Love as a transformative generosity embraces the well-being of all species.

Communism has always seen economic poverty and class domination as inherently opposed to the well-being of humankind. Love’s Communism affirms this classic principle and sides with a revolutionary engagement in class struggle to win a classless society. Love has often been lacking in the history of the Communist movement and where it has been absent, the struggle against class domination has faltered and taken sometimes horrendous detours. Revitalizing a radical commitment to communism as a love of the entire planet and all beings, can guide a new revolutionary movement towards greater constructive achievements.

Love’s Communism transforms erotic love and gender identity. The imposed dualism of male aggressiveness and female passivity are rejected as constructs of social domination. Each person is invited to be transformed into empowered agents of freedom, generosity, and love and to fight against domination, deprivation, and hatred. Love will be freed from the limits of genital fixation. Children will be nurtured with male, female, and transgender co-parents.

The division of humanity into dominant and subordinate racial groups is understand as a global crime against love and the cosmic potential of all beings. Instead of racially alienated cultures of power and slavery, Love’s Communism will reconcile all humanity into a united generous rainbow communion. All the treasures of every culture will be shared as generous gifts from our common history.

Marx held that Communism would lead to the “withering away of the State.” Love’s Communism aspires to the highest fulfillment of participatory democracy and a mutual process of collaborative decision-making. All beings have a vote, every species a voice in the order of global harmony. Warfare will be ended, swords and plowshares will be obsolete, the liberation of all from the domination of any.

Religion and irreligion will be reconciled by the Communism of Love. Atheism, monotheism, polytheism, and pantheism will all be harmonized into a tapestry of cultural and spiritual richness. Jesus, Buddha, the Goddess, Marx, and Allah all stand as inspirational figures who have motivated both great and terrible actions. Love’s Communism fulfills all the highest aspirations of humanity to be freed from ideological slavery and domination and to be empowered for creative mutual flourishing.

Why the US Left Needs an Anti-Capitalist Party

Bill Fletcher and Carl Davidson this week published a lengthy defense of voting for Barack Obama as a bulwark against the rising tide of racist reactionary politics that will surely guarantee that a Mitt Romney presidency will sink to even greater depths of social regression.

“The central lesson we draw from the last four years has less to do with the Obama administration and more to do with the degree of effective organization of social movements and their relationship to the White House, Congress and other centers of power.  The failure to put significant pressure on the Obama administration — combined with the lack of attention to the development of an independent progressive strategy, program and organizational base–has created a situation whereby frustration with a neo-liberal Democratic president could lead to a major demobilization. At bottom this means further rightward drift and the entry into power of the forces of irrationalism.”


One of the thrusts of the article, though not its central point, is that voting for a third party candidate in November is a waste of time. This is the same old song we’ve heard from the near left for decades, to wit, there’s nothing to be gained by organizing a political party outside the two-party bloc. Will there ever be a moment when such a formation should be created? I suspect not for Fletcher & Davidson.

I entirely agree with the general analysis of the problems of the far right-wing’s horrendous designs as laid out by Fletcher & Davidson, as a near-left Communist myself. However, their contention that nothing can be gained by organizing a third party is simply ridiculous. The last time our nation really made a leap forward, the Civil War and abolition of slavery, it was the success of a third party, the Republicans, that made all the difference.

The leading third party on the near left today is the Green Party. Jill Stein is running a surprisingly militant campaign, even getting herself arrested for a sit-down protest inside a major bank. While I would wish that the GP were more solidly anti-capitalist – which seems to me a logical conclusion for a progressive Green philosophy to reach – I couldn’t be more pleased that Stein will be the leading voice for political independence on the left today.

However, I will not personally be voting for Stein, if I have my druthers. In July I joined the venerable if quite tiny Socialist Party USA as a calculated wager that over the next decade the anti-capitalist sentiments in the US will reach a critical point and they’ll need an electorally-oriented vehicle to represent that upsurge. I invite every Socialist or Communist in the US to consider joining SPUSA today and leave behind sectarian and compromise politics forever.

Socialists like Fletcher & Davidson today participate in member organizations that do good work supporting social movements across the nation. I am not calling for dissolving such organizations, but all but a very few tiny Socialist organizations attempt to even enter the electoral arena. At the moment, only the SPUSA has the potential to reach a mass audience as they are explicitly organized as an open, multi-tendency political party that rejects rigid ideologies and incorporates the best of modern social movements such as feminism, ecology, and radical democracy. There is a lot of work to be done, most obviously on organizing among Black, Latino, and working-class voters. This is why we need all hands on deck for a full-court press to ensure that there is a healthy Socialist Party in 2016 and beyond.

Go ahead and vote for Obama, the SPUSA probably won’t have a ballot line in your state this year. If you are so fortunate, write-in Stewart Alexander and Alex Mendoza. Or Roseanne Barr, Jill Stein, or Rocky Anderson, if they are more your cup of tea. Building a healthy anti-capitalist third party will take continued advances on the terrain that the Green Party is clearing to the left of the Democrats. I look forward to the day that the Green and Socialist Party are the major parties and the Democrats and Republicans are reduced to holding bake sales for fundraisers.

What about a “safe states” strategy as proposed by Noam Chomsky and others, where the left is encouraged to vote third party, if and only if there’s little chance that Obama would lose your state? As a Chicago resident, I definitely qualify under that strategy. However, in four more years, the choices may not be so clear-cut. At some point, a moment where push comes to shove will happen for the left and we may have to risk losing some ground from the Democratic to the Republican Party in order to maintain our forward momentum as Socialists and Communists. Election spoilage isn’t our biggest worry, however. The 2000 election wasn’t about how many ballots were cast for Al Gore or George Bush, but who was in control of the Supreme Court and what a fair election system actually would look like.

The Socialist Party of tomorrow will need to work on a complex agenda of calling for weighted or instant run-off voting, proportional representation, as well as abolishing the Electoral College and reforming the Supreme Court so that it isn’t held hostage to the Party that has held the most power the longest. Democracy is about government that acts in the best interests of the entire population and especially protecting vulnerable minorities. As the US becomes more multicultural in the next decades, the empowerment of those interests will call for something other than simple ballot counting as our core form of democratic participation. For radical democracy to have a future, it must have a present, and a political party independent of the capitalist class is an urgent necessity.

Feminist Pornography?: Towards a Socialist-Feminist Approach

On July 8 self-described feminist pornographer Tristan Taormino was a panel member on the Melissa Harris-Perry talk show discussing “Porn in America” with others such as Michael Eric Dyson and Zephyr Teachout. Self-described anti-pornography feminist Gail Dines created something of a buzz as she objected that her viewpoint – which she takes to speak for all women’s real interests – wasn’t represented on this program. Betty Dodson responded in Taormino’s defense against Dines’ brand of feminism, thus re-opening the question of how can feminists be so polarized on this point? Even more broadly, what is the status of feminism and sexual emancipation in our time?

Pornography is a product, a commodity that is bought and sold on the market. Its production shares common features with other media productions, most notably that of the glamor magazine and the live-action video/film industry. Gail Dines’ view that pornography requires a sustained protest by feminists and their allies against its creation begs the question of whether such action might be called for against glamor magazines and other media productions that employ people in displays of their bodies with or without clothing. Does Dines consider Playboy magazine – the largest selling porn magazine, even in this era of ready availability of much more explicit kinds – more of a threat to women’s freedom and equality than Cosmopolitan, which outsells Playboy by nearly double? If Playboy sells women’s nude bodies to men, Cosmopolitan sells women an ideal of sexuality and womanhood that is not that much different.

Perhaps Dines does care about opposing Playboy and even Cosmo, but in her public lectures her most intense animus is directed against video and film pornography that directly pays women to engage in sexual acts for the camera with other actors who are also paid. For Dines, the fact that a visual recording is being made of a sexual act for a profit elevates the risk of harm that all women face as they daily defend themselves against a male-dominated sexually aggressive culture. One might ask whether there are other live-action visual media that also contribute to this culture in Dines’s view? Did the Oscar-winning film The Accused in which Jodie Foster’s character is gang-raped in the final scene in a bar elevate the risks of male aggression against women? Did it perhaps contribute a critique of male aggression? Might feminist pornography create such a contrast to male-dominated sexuality?

Addressing that male-dominated sexuality brings one to the question of male aggression and violence, specifically the sexualized violence of rape. Tristan Taormino’s most popular porn videos are her Rough Sex series which features couples engaging in various mildly sado-masochistic scenarios. What sets this series apart from most in the genre is that each scene is created by the lead actress, who is filmed in an interview with Taormino beforehand. All the hair-pulling, verbal sparring, sexual coercion, and other aspects of the scenes are planned by women and directed by a woman. Not all scenes are of men as aggressors, since a significant number feature men or women being dominated by their female partners. While not all feminist pornography is quite so fixated on sexual aggressiveness, Taormino’s approach offers a window into the questions that feminists ask about rape as a social force, but does it really answer the questions? If some or even many women find male sexual aggression erotically desirable, does that place the desire itself above criticism? Do some women’s fantasies of being forced into sex against their will truly reflect an innate aspect of sexual desire, or rather of the fact that men already are in power, so sexually egalitarian and consensual relationships are impossible or perhaps too bland to be deeply enjoyable?

If Gail Dines overestimates the centrality of pornography in the structure of male domination, Tristan Taormino underestimates the pervasive power of male dominance and how it obstructs the struggle of women for genuine social equality. The problem with censoring pornography is the problem of censorship in general, it gives those who already have power a warrant to apply that power to further restrict critical discourse about the structure of our society, including its sexual dynamics. The limitation of feminist pornography in furthering women’s emancipation is that the power men exercise over women isn’t primarily located in the bedroom. Male domination is structured throughout our economic, political, cultural, and social institutions. Men possess more wealth, hold more political offices, control the production of culture, and maintain social influence that outweighs women in nearly all arenas.

Furthermore, this male dominance is not equally distributed. Men are not all elite masters of their own fate. Most men share with most women in a variety of conditions of exploitation, disempowerment, and repression, albeit in significantly distinctive ways. The systemic structure of sexuality in our society is intertwined with a broader complex of social power systems. Dines’ radical feminist viewpoint eliminates this complexity so that the very fact of pornography is reductively seen as a creation of men purely for the purpose of maintaining sexual control over women. However, which men are doing this creation? If women create their own feminist pornography are they incapable of shaping an alternative viewpoint to male domination? Dines would deny this, since in her view, all men seemingly collaborate to repress all women, and her central emancipatory project is to stop men from creating any pornography at all.

One of the unusual features of the modern history of sexual power is that the rise of pornography has coincided with relative increases in the social power of women. If one compares the status of women at the beginning of the feminist movement at the 1839 Seneca Falls Convention to today’s situation, only someone with ideological blinders would say that women now have less power than in 1839. This suggests that male domination isn’t tied mechanically to the creation of pornography. In fact, most women tolerate pornography, even if they don’t view it themselves or even personally find all of it offensive. Especially more younger women have come to consider it part of their sexual development.

The relative gains in women’s power over the past 119 years are not because men have decreased their view of women as sexual objects, but because they have decreased their view of women as slaves to motherhood. The justification by the Right throughout the past century for confining women to subservient roles has been carried out as a defense of the sacredness of the family and a central division of labor within it. Christian ideology about the male as God’s chosen leader in the home serves to enforce a life of cultural and social deprivation upon women. This is justified because children seemingly deserve a full-time caregiver who must be a woman divinely outfitted for this task. This logic has been shaken, especially for women of the middle and upper classes who now expect to become college educated and enter the workforce. Poorer women have always been denied the full-time mothering role. Concomitantly, these newly privileged women have themselves begun to rethink the question of their sexual fulfillment and to divorce sexuality from this nostalgic notion of romance and domestic bliss.

Of course, this de-romanticizing of motherhood has actually not been carried out in such a way as to equalize male and female participation in child-rearing, but rather by the creation of a laboring class of women to carry out this function, daycare workers and in-home babysitters. It would seem that yet more radical changes need to be made in the gender dynamics of society before we can truly emancipate all women. Battling against all pornography, feminist or not, seems a distraction from this larger project.

In fact, if one returns to the question of pornography as a product that requires labor to create, the disparity between male and female contribution to this product seems to harbor similar imbalances as childrearing. Men are the main consumers, the overwhelming majority of porn directors, of screenwriters, keep the lion’s share of profits, and are the primary driving force behind the industry on nearly all levels. Feminist pornography tries to redress at least some of these imbalances, and feminists could do more by advocating for sex worker rights, supporting legislated labor standards, encouraging women to exercise their civil rights in cases of job discrimination, elevate healthcare standards, greater unionization, and other forms of activism that not surprisingly parallel the general needs of all workers in our late capitalist economy.

Replacing the cultural regime of compulsory motherhood with either the reclamation of “slut” as a badge of honor or by empowering middle class women to rise into positions of power within capitalism seems to leave the majority of women still trapped in the lower tiers of a wildly stratified social order with the majority of men who also reside there. Social inequalities of class, race, and political power frame, structure, and frustrate the quest for human fulfillment, sexual and otherwise, for most of the world’s men and women. Feminism definitely has a central role in this task, if it can break out of its middle-class captivity and achieve radical solidarity with its sisters and brothers below.

Communism as an Integrative Revolutionary Ecology

For many, Communism is a scary, dangerous, violent word. The collapse of the Sovient Union in 1989 is viewed by many as a good thing. I have sympathies with this viewpoint, though many of my revolutionary friends were more troubled by that event. I tend to side with the viewpoint that the Sovient Union at some point in its history – earlier rather than later – betrayed the Communist goals that it claimed to be pursuing. It is tempting to rehearse the various points each of the different schools of thought, but nearly all of us today who identify with Communism have rejected significant parts of the Russian, Chinese, Cuban, and most of the several other Communist regimes as unrepresentative of the fundamental goals of Communism.

However, if we are going to renew and revive the Communist vision for our era, how do we go about such a project? We have a substantive history to draw upon, from Karl Marx, Peter Kropotkin, Emma Goldman, Rosa Luxemburg, and thousands of others. The central core of Communism is its one fundamental principle and defining goal, creating a society in which power, wealth, pleasure, and other aspects of life are shared equally, democratically, and freely. If that sounds like a utopia, I have no problem with that. If Christians can absolutely reject adultery, theft, murder, and so on, but humanity still regularly engages in these acts, why can Communists not in some sense embrace their ideals as in some sense absolutes that nevertheless make demands on us in the present? Utopianism has been bashed by the Marxist left for over a century, but the real truth is that Marx was a utopian, however much he tried to claim his system was a science.

The core principle of Communism has never been more succinctly stated than in this sentence from Louis Blanc, “from each according to ability, to each according to need.” I would extend this principle in directions that are developed in my integrative revolutionary ecology framework, first of all ecology, “To each being according to need, from each being according to ability.” I propose that communism for the 21st century needs to be an ecological communism. The planet itself is under daily siege by industrial capitalism and nothing short of a revolutionary change in economic priorities can save the planet from severe and deadly consequences.

The ecological approach I recommend is in part an attempt to go beyond Marxism as a dialectical or historical materialism. In Marxism, humans tend to be viewed as “homo economicus” an economic agent. In integrative ecology, humans are viewed as ecological beings, and our economic activity is included within that framework. Embracing Communism as an integrative revolutionary ecology is still developed in terms of my larger framework that integrates gender, race, class, sexuality, religion, politics, and martial systems into the dynamic ecological whole.

Syria: The Case for Western Intervention Considered

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” Won’t Get Fooled Again. Pete Townsend.

Pham Binh, a critical thoughtful activist that I’ve respected for a few years for his involvement in Occupy Wall Street and his challenges to ossified Marxist thought, has come out with an uncompromising defense of Western intervention against the Syrian government. The reports of massacres coming from that nation are indeed horrific and would make anyone with a conscience demand immediate action. This is certainly true of a pacifist radical such as myself. While I do not condone Western intervention, I also do not condone any atrocities by any government.

Binh states his view most sharply with rhetorical questions: “If Syrian revolutionaries ask for Western airstrikes because they lack an air force to counter the Assad regime militarily, who are we to oppose those airstrikes? Who are we to tell them that all-out defeat is better than the triumph of a revolution “tainted” by an unavoidable compromise with imperialists powers? Who are we to tell them they must face Russian helicopter gunships without imperialist aid because “the revolution will be won by Syrians themselves or it won’t be won at all”? Do we really want our Syrian brothers and sisters to confront tanks with rocks and slingshots as so many Palestinians have?”

While I will criticize Binh’s views here, I wish to underline first of all that I entirely reject the current Syrian government’s actions. However, I cannot accept support of “Syrian revolutionaries” or Western intervention. Radicals, pacifist or not, are committed to ending dictatorial regimes worldwide, including putatively democratic ones. Binh links to an article on the rising calls among Syrian activists for intervention. I was shocked to read one of the posters in a photo on the page that states in English, for the benefit of the Westerners no doubt.


Once again it seems we don’t learn from the past and so are condemned to repeat it. Iraq and Afghanistan have certainly done much better since U.S. intervention, have they not? To answer my own rhetorical question directly, NO!

Now, Binh tries to make the case that Libya is much better off today after NATO’s intervention. He accuses those who now reject the “Syrian revolutionaries” as betraying the entire “Arab Spring” uprisings. Let’s take that apart a little bit. In Egypt, we just witnessed the election of an outright Islamist president. Granted, Mosri is one of the more moderate voices within the Muslim Brotherhood, and I certainly believe moderate and progressive Muslims do exist. However, the MB is to the right of the Republican Party by any objective criteria, never mind its anti-imperialism.

What about Libya? I wrote a blog post quite critical of NATO intervention there at the time it began, though I knew it was a futile complaint. I hoped more democratic and progressive forces could do better in Libya with Qaddafi gone, but the bald truth is that the world situation is not favorable to a genuinely revolutionary transition. This is even more true in Syria. Opposition to Qaddafi was massive and widespread spanning all classes and regions. In Syria, the wealthy ruling class and its middle class allies are more deeply entrenched than nearly any other regime in the region except perhaps Saudi Arabia. As in Egypt, a regime change will doubtless be co-opted by regressive social forces. Would it be more democratic than al-Assad? There seems to me to be scant reason for optimism on that score.

Those who argue for Western intervention in nations like Syria and Libya seem to think that somehow these nations can be lifted into some semblance of modernization by overthrowing the regimes that oppress them with Western complicity. While I don’t believe that today’s Syrian or yesterday’s Libyan regimes were purely the puppets of Washington DC, winning democratic freedom is simply not possible in the world constructed by American global hegemony. Democracy is under direct attack in the US as the ruling class prepares to buy yet again the best government money can this November. The racist, capitalist, authoritarian ruling class that holds the entire planet hostage are not going to give up a shred of their power without massive popular resistance. A few isolated “revolutionaries” smuggling weapons into their countries and forming guerrilla armies do not have any chance of changing this situation.

Even as I write the above words, my eyes well up with grief. If I had any hope that NATO bombing the Syrian government would free the people in any real way, I’d support it. I can’t shake the terrible feeling that this planet is headed straight into World War Three, but this time it will be the top against the bottom, as the ruling classes unite to crush even the minimal freedoms that we Westerners now enjoy.

Marginalia on Radical Thinking: A Second Dialogue with Charley Earp, part 2


The conclusion to my interview with Derick Varn on religion and the left.

Originally posted on The (Dis)Loyal Opposition to Modernity::

Continued from here. This turns from an interview to a pressing and respectful debate towards the end about the nature of secularism and on absolute ontological claims.

Skepoet: Are these emergent church types actually popular as most of the dominations in Protestant Christianity to show growth are fairly conservative theologically and politically?

Charley Earp: I don’t think it’s their popularity that makes them important. It’s their role as “in-house” critics of Evangelicalism. They are lightning rods for issues often considered closed topics. For example, ex-Pentecostal Emergent theologian Tony Jones was invited to give a plenary address to the Society for Pentecostal Studies annual conference in 2010. SPS is an association of confessional Pentecostals who hold academic positions. It tends to be conservative, but it does have a left-wing element, which is represented via the “Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace and Justice” organization. Arlene Sanchez-Walsh, an assistant professor at Azusa…

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Marginalia on Radical Thinking: A Second Dialogue with Charley Earp, part 1


The first part of an interview on religion and left politics with C. Derick Varn of the SkePoet blog.

Originally posted on The (Dis)Loyal Opposition to Modernity::

Charley Earp is the blogger behind Radical Progress and new co-host of the Radical Righteous Love. Charley describes himself as a Pentecostal preacher’s kid who lived with a commune for 9 years, which led to his political radicalization. A 3-time college drop-out with a day job in the travel biz, he is currently completing a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. No longer a Christian, but still actively involved with the progressive wing of Quakerism both locally, with the national Conference, and ecumenical and interfaith work. Born in 1963, married for 29 years, with two adult children. I have interviewed him before here.

Skepoet: What do you see as the Quaker relationship to the Left? And what do you see as secular Marxism and anarchism relations to the the radical reformation such as the Puritans, Levelers, Anabaptists, etc.?

Charley Earp: Just to note that I surprise myself at the directions…

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The Reproduction of Domesticity: Gender Construction in the New Economy

“Because of the seemingly natural connection between women’s childbearing and lactation capacities and their responsibility for child care, and because humans need extended care in childhood, women’s mothering has been taken for granted. It has been assumed as inevitable by social scientists, by many feminists, and certainly by those opposed to feminism. As a result, although women’s mothering is of profound importance for family structure, for relations between the sexes, for ideology about women, and for the sexual division of labor and sexual inequality both inside and outside the family and in the nonfamilial world, it is rarely analyzed.” Nancy Chodorow. The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender. Berkeley, CA: University of California Pr., 1978.

Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo’s 1999 book, Domestica,[1] documents and explores the lives and work conditions of the rapidly expanding sector of immigrant domestic workers. A vast migration of women from poorer nations in regions such as Latin America, the Pacific Islands, and Africa into industrialized nations in North America, Western Europe, and Asia is taking place with a push-pull dynamic of lowered employment prospects in the exporting nations and an expanding market of homes with a full-time employed adult woman (single adult men do hire such domestic help, but usually not for childcare) in the importing regions seeking relief from a hectic “double-shift” that layers domestic responsibilities for women atop of their growing presence in the non-domestic job market. As of 2009, women are 51% of the U.S. workforce.[2] Similar trends are occurring in other industrial nations.

Even when working women with children don’t hire in-home help, it is nearly always women who provide basic childcare, whether in free-standing or home-based daycare. This historic nearly global practice of saddling women with care for children and housework constitutes a, perhaps the, primary nexus for reproducing the inequality of women over time. As nearly all children are first exposed to human relationships, language, and life-supporting care from a woman, children of all sexes are conditioned to reflexively see this caregiving work as “women’s work” and typically carry such attitudes into adulthood. In the case of males, this means full-time childcare and housework is something they will rarely if ever show interest in doing. In the case of most females, childcare and housework comes to bear the weight of destiny that even years of adulthood without children cannot entirely erase. This division of labor perpetuates in significant ways the construction of male privilege and female exploitation and repression. This gender privilege does not exist in a vacuum, as theorists of intersectionality such as Patricia Hill Collins[3], emphasize. Gender, race, class, and other social stratification and segmentation systems impact these dynamics. In the case of immigrant domestic workers, economic class and cultural ethnicity are directly relevant, as are the political questions of citizenship and immigration.

Chodorow’s thesis that female-centric mothering structures the human psyche to deeply imprint sexist attitudes upon children offers a starting-point for analyzing the impacts of this division of labor on the wider society. While statistical measurement of these impacts are likely incomplete, some hypothetical consequences can be surmised. The key proposed hypothesis is that the current trend towards immigrant women taking over substantial portions of childcare from middle and upper class women will reconfigure this sexist imprinting in significant ways, yet not fundamentally alter gender, class, nor racial attitudes in children cared for by immigrant domestic workers. As middle and upper class children are likely to enter positions of social influence in their adult years, these gender, racial, and class role expectations will likely have social impacts on how society’s dominant sectors structure social policy and institutions.

Hondagneu-Sotelo’s work focuses her primary attention on the relations of immigrant domestic workers with their employers and the wider society. The relation between these workers and the children many of them care for are nearly invisible in her text, though where they do appear is significant. In a section titled, “Nanny/Housekeepers Versus Housecleaners” she states nanny/housekeepers “are paid for activities — nurturing, singing songs and reciting nursery rhymes, coaxing children to bathe, nap, or eat — that are emotional, intimate, and particularly tailored to each child. They become genuinely attached to the children as they perform these tasks day in and out.”[4] From the perspective of a feminist analysis of childcare as formative of gendered social attitudes, this description begs the question, “what sort of attachment to the nanny are the children developing, and what are its consequences?”

A humorous treatment of this attachment is found in the comedy film, Malibu’s Most Wanted, in which the main character, Brad Gluckman, is a privileged white son of a politician living in Malibu, CA. His black nanny/housekeeper singing rap songs to him all day is recalled fondly as an adult and credited with imprinting him with a passion for that genre and inspiring his adoption of hip-hop slang and dress styles. The possibility that an upper class child could be imprinted by a nanny to adopt the culture of a racially disadvantaged group is suggestive, though obviously exaggerated for comedic license. However, in a significant number of households in industrial nations, children are subjected to an intensely personal relationship with a nanny who is not from their own cultural background. A feminist perspective would highlight the fact that these relationships will still be marked as gendered with the consequences of reproducing many of familiar entrenched attitudes towards women and men’s differentiated positions in social and cultural orders. An intersectionality perspective will develop other lines of analysis bearing upon race, class, and political categories.

Employment of nannies by privileged households has a long pedigree. In colonial eras, the families of administrative officials from the colonizing nations employed nannies hired from the native population or they often used slave labor. Raising children in privileged homes with nannies from another culture or racial group isn’t novel. What may be a new development is the rise of a larger number of families that can employ such services on a broader scale than ever before. The spread of modern industrial capitalism over much of the world with its power to manipulate both poorer and wealthier nations down to such intimate activities as the raising of children should alert analysts and critics of social inequality of the relevance of the personality formation of new generations of social and economic leadership.

In families where the biological or step-mother of the children is employed outside the home while a nanny of a subordinate cultural group cares for the children, the development of gender attitudes can be expected to be somewhat diversified as compared to a family where the mother does the majority of the child-raising. This has the possible desirable consequence of the child developing a sense that women of its own cultural group are not limited to domestic roles. However, the positive aspect of this possibility is minimized by the continuing identification of nurturing and intimacy with a female. When men and women begin to seek out an intimate partner to begin their own families, these intimate feelings may be triggered more strongly than the opposing openness to outside employment for women. The persistence of the “double burden” in wealthier families, even if supplemented by a domestic employee, suggests this to be the case.

Another predictable outcome would be a racialized projection of subordinate social value to the ethnic group to which the nanny belongs. Since intimate care for children, especially during infancy and toddler stages, sets up powerful feelings of love, longing, neglect, and resentment, a predisposition that draws upon these ambivalences might be expected to persist into adulthood. A child who feels persistently neglected or mistreated by a nanny may be more likely to grow up projecting such negative attitudes on to the entire culture of origin of the nanny. A moment’s self-examination of one’s attitudes towards our parents and other early caregivers will likely reveal intensely conflicted feelings of gratitude, affection, anger, and disappointment. In many cases, it will reveal even more intense emotional layers. A basic assumption of psychoanalytic social theories such as The Authoritarian Personality[5] is that

“the process of individuation is one of growing strength and integration of [a child’s] individual personality, but it is at the same time a process in which the original identity with others is lost and in which the child becomes more separate from them. This growing separation may result in an isolation that has the quality of desolation and creates intense anxiety and insecurity; it may result in a new kind of closeness and a solidarity with others if the child has been able to develop the inner strength and productivity which are the premise of this new kind of relatedness with the world.”[6]

The “original identity with others” refers to the primal bonds of an infant with its earliest caregivers, which feminists emphasize are almost exclusively connected to female adults. A child’s earliest self-perception is fused with its experiences of its female caregiver. An involved male caregiver can also be fused with this self-perception, but economic roles alone tend to remove fathers from early infancy for at least 40 crucial hours every week of the new child’s short lifespan. Add to this economic factor typical masculine behavior – likely induced by the absence of intimate fathering during infancy in the first place – that inhibits affection and nurturant behavior, especially towards male infants, and the wall between the genders in matters of childcare and domestic intimacy are solidly constructed and reproduced.

Feminist advocates have long upheld the ideal of involved early childhood equal-time fathering, or “feminist co-parenting” for short, as a key component to larger goals of dismantling gendered inequalities in our society.[7] Such ideals are severely undermined if both parents work outside the home and necessary childcare is hired out to female caregivers, whether immigrant or citizen. A consistent feminism would seek out male caregivers to share an equal amount of this important life-shaping nurturance. However, a limited availability of male babysitters and nannies is virtually guaranteed by the overwhelming weight of economic sanctions that reinforce the common male aversion to such tasks. The continuing persistence of economic and psychological barriers to gender equality in this intimate sphere of life may seem insurmountable, and barely on the radar of many activists and critics of male domination.

However, some possible “affirmative action” remedies seems quite simple, if some social momentum supporting them can be marshalled. Babysitting classes today are almost exclusively given to young girls, but extending this education to young boys on a large scale might be quite powerful in its effects. Beyond this, early childcare education programs could be encouraged and incentivized to recruit men into the ranks of childcare providers. In fact, if men become a growing proportion of childcare providers and babysitters, the valuation of these occupations may substantially increase, bringing their market value into closer line with their actual worth. The widespread sexist devaluation of childcare (and other domestic labor) as “natural” “women’s work” requiring no learned skills will then be revealed as gross falsehoods in the strong light of real experience.

[1] Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo. Domestica: Immigrant Workers Caring and Cleaning in the Shadows of Affluence. Berkeley: Univ. of Calif. Pr., 2001.

[2] “Female Power.”  Editorial. The Economist. Dec. 30, 2009.

[3] Margaret L. Andersen, and Patricia Hill Collins. “Systems of Power and Inequality.” Race, Class, and Gender: An Anthology, 6th ed. Wadsworth, 2007.

[4] Hondagneu-Sotelo. Op. cit. p. 194.

[5] Theodor W. Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel Levinson and Nevitt Sanford. The Authoritarian Personality, Studies in Prejudice Series, Volume 1. New York: Harper & Row, 1950.

[6] Erich Fromm. Escape From Freedom. New York: Rinehart & Co., 1941.

[7] Isaac Balbus. Emotional Rescue: The Theory and Practice of a Feminist Father. New York: Routledge, 1998. This book offers both an engaging intellectual memoir and a touching account of the author’s own personal struggle to live out his ideals with his daughter.