Jeffery L Nicholas
Philosophy and social theory
to building a society of flourishing people
united in common goods.
to building a society of flourishing people
united in common goods.
Fridays typically mean lots of time in the car driving to appointments, which also means lots of times listening to the news. On Friday 13 September, over the course of several hours, with stops and starts, I heard two news stories repeated over and over: Felicity Huffman's sentencing for the college application scandal and "analysis" of the third Democratic Primary debate the night before. Of these two stories, one is meaningful for everyone, and the other is not, and yet they shared almost equal air-time for regular new stories though, thankfully, not in terms of analysis on NPR. I do not deny that the college scandal--rich parents rigging the system so that their already advantaged children gain even more advantage in their applications for college--should be news or that Felicity Huffman should have been sentenced. Did Huffman's sentencing need to be repeated several times throughout the day? Note that the news of her sentencing did nothing to expand upon the wrongness of this "scandal." It was more about Huffman being sentenced than about the wrongness of her actions.
In contrast, Greta Thunberg, a sixteen year-old woman from Sweden, spoke at a protest on the steps of the White House demanding action from our climate-change-denying president. Whether you think, as I do, that climate change is the greatest threat to the future of humanity or not, surely you must agree that climate change is more news worthy than the sentencing of a Hollywood star.
We should not be surprised. For just as the news prioritized Huffman, who has already had her 15-minutes in the spotlight, Thunberg, who doesn't want 15-minutes, the Democratic Primary debate and its analysis emphasized the race to the democratic nomination over the threat of climate change. Only 7% of the 85 questions asked Thursday night dealt with climate change, while a significant portion of the debate focused on the minutia of difference of health care between the leading candidates. Health care is obviously important--more important than the college scandal, yet is it more important than the threat of climate change?
Contemporary news is meant to distract us from the real news. It is a fear-monger that blows up threats that hardly exist, while ignoring the real threats brought on by the "system" we choose to live under. Because, if it can distract us, it protects the system. The rich continue to get richer, and the poor poorer, and the Amazon burns.
My heart clenches and tears threaten to spill from my eyes as I look at pictures and videos of the Amazon on fire. I have always believed in the importance of the Amazon as a source of renewal for the global earth. But why? Many of us can point to movies about the Amazon, or stories of its importance.
But Bolsonaro's words push back against those stories calling them propaganda. For Bolsonaro, the issue of the rainforest, so he says, is about sovereignty.
“Our sovereignty is nonnegotiable.”
Sovereignty! What an interesting word! A powerful word!
As someone with Native American heritage, the idea of sovereignty is vital to me and to my thoughts of the indigenous people--the indigenous people of the Americas, North and South, and across the world.
But whose sovereignty is at issue in the Amazon?
To ask that question is to ask a slew of other questions about the nature of a nation, the idea of nationality and national independence, and about imperialism.
It is ironic for a person of primarily Italian and German descent to claim sovereignty for a nation created for Portuguese imperialism, while ignoring the sovereignty of the indigenous people of the Amazon. This irony becomes farce when we listen to the legitimate claims of those Indigenous people concerning the ways that Bolsonaro's government is trying to destroy them, to commit genocide.
But genocide is nothing new to the peoples native to the Americas.
Yet, what does it mean for people to have sovereignty over something like the Amazon?
What is it to own nature?
These are the questions that many native peoples have asked Europeans and European-origin peoples for hundreds of years.
Questions of sovereignty are important. But in the mouths of those in power, they are a red herring at best, meant to distract from the destruction of those not in power, meant to serve the destruction of the earth for the growth of profit.
Questions about nature, about the human relationship to nature, are the vital questions lost in these debates.
Yet, till we answer those questions, our lives are in jeopardy.
Until we remove those who threaten nature and who threaten the indigenous, we re only counting down the clock till we can no longer support human life in a changed climate.
The unresolved questions concern the relationship between patriarchy and capitalism: in other words, the relationship between women's oppression and exploitation and the paradigm of never-ending accumulation and 'growth,' between capitalist patriarchy and the exploitation and subordination of colonies.
Maria Mies' Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale is a foundational text for understanding the relationship between patriarchy and capitalism. Her task, as noted above, is to uncover the relationship between the exploitation of women, capitalist accumulation, and subordination of colonies. In my thoughts, these are perhaps three forms of exploitation, for accumulation is accumulation of something--the earth--and the subordination of colonies is itself exploitative.
At the heart of this discussion is the idea that capitalism rests on a division of labor--that between paid labor and unpaid labor, and that unpaid labor is often performed by women. Thus, the labor of caring for men and children and the labor of caring for the house--usually unpaid or always underpaid--is work done by women. A feminist, then, is one "who dare[s] to break the conspiracy about the oppressive, unequal man-woman relationship and who wants to change it" (6). Yet, as Mies notes, calling out exploitation of women for what it is--sexism or patriarchy--has only intensified the oppression. The rape culture in the US, especially on campuses, is one sign of such intensification. Another is the rise of Donald Trump, the pussy-grabber and, for many, a sign of the accumulator, the symbol of wealth.
Capitalism rests on violence, and violence takes many forms. The international division of labor is the division between the global north and the global south--something Pope Francis has called attention to in his tenure as pope. This division exploits the labor of the south, just as it has and continues to exploit the resources of the south. And violence characterizes it. We do not need to look simply at the wars in the middle east--we can also see wars in African countries where colonial states set up faux democracies only to watch them crumble and allow further exploitation, the violence of blood diamonds to feed the greed of the north. And we can still witness the violence of the south in the north, for example, at Pine Ridge reservation, where residents suffer throat cancer at 3000-times the national rate because the US government refused to close the plutonium mines so necessary for its aggressive posturing.
All such violence comes back on to women. Though women in the south are raped as much as women in the north, the structures that support this rape are different. Yet, one thing Mies carefully does is to acknowledge differences among women and their experiences while calling for a unity to end patriarchy-capitalism.
"Come to a materialist understanding of the interplay of the sexual, the social, and the international divisions of labor. For these are the objective divisions, created by capitalist patriarchy in its conquest of the world, which are the base of our divisions although they do not determine everything" (p. 11).
Patriarchy is not inherent in social life, and not new. It is a historical manifestation of the relationship between men and women in which men dominate women in various forms. Mies contends that capitalism is a particular historical form of patriarchy--that capitalism cannot exist without patriarchy--endless growth cannot be maintained without a sexual division of labor, a division of paid and unpaid--mostly women's--labor.
One of the interesting points that Mies makes in her argument is that about gender and sex. One analysis contends that sex is a biological category and gender a social one. Women are oppressed as a social category, not a biological category. This analysis nicely undercuts the cause of oppression as a woman's anatomy. Yet, as Mies notes, the analysis does not hold because it rests on a manicheanism--a dichotomy between the material and mental. Manicheanism sees the body as evil and the mind/spirit as good. Thus, it denies the goodness of the body which can only justify an oppression of the body.
What I find surprising is that Mies does not, as far as I read her, carry this analysis through to its terminus. To me, the analysis points to the underlying dualism of all oppression. In short, that often if not always oppression rests on a domination of nature. Thus I would change this claim:
Feminism has to struggle against all capitalist-patriarchal relations, beginning with the man-woman relation, to the relation of human beings to nature, to the relation between metropoles and colonies.
One feminist argument against Marxism is that, if we rid ourselves of capitalism, we will still have patriarchy--women will still be oppressed. Mies transcends that complaint by showing how capitalism rests on patriarchy, is a particular historical form of patriarchy.
But I wonder if patriarchy is itself a particular form of the domination of nature. In short, I wonder if we can begin to heal the relation between man and woman if we have not already begun healing the relation between human and nature.
Jeffery L. Nicholas (Ph.D philosophy, University of Kentucky) is an associate professor at Providence College and an international scholar on ethics and politics. He serves as research associate for the Center for Aristotelian Studies in Ethics and Politics at London Metropolitan University and a foreign research associate at Universidad Sergio Arboleda in Bogotá Colombia. Dr. Nicholas is co-founder of and executive secretary for the International Society for MacIntyrean Enquiry. He is the author of Reason, Tradition, and the Good: MacIntyre's Tradition Constituted Reason and Frankfurt School Critical Theory (UNDP 2012), as well as numerous articles. Dr. Nicholas writes on midwifery and birth, the common good, friendship and community, practical reason, and Native American philosophy. He aims to develop a philosophy of integral humanism that synthesizes the philosophical traditions of Alasdair MacIntyre, Frankfurt School Critical Theory, and Feminist Care Ethics.