XXI

“Drunk one night, Sarah had told me Women are the race… No two ways about it. Male is just a mutation with more muscle and half the nerves. Fighting, fucking machines… To be a woman was a sensory experience beyond the male. Touch and texture ran deeper, an interface with environment that male flesh seemed to seal out instinctively. To a man, skin was a barrier, a protection. To a woman, it was an organ of contact. That had its disadvantages. In general, and maybe because of this, female pain thresholds ran higher than male…”
― From Altered Carbon

I think it was always inevitable. Maybe they knew that and it’s what caused them to treat women the way they did. Arthur C Clarke wrote in Childhood’s End about the collective unconscious of humanity fearing things associated with its future transition to the next level of existence. Scholars and mystics have speculated that perhaps a similar group premonition fueled some part of the misogyny of the past.

Genetic males have an X and a Y chromosome. Genetic females have two X chromosomes with no Y chromosome. Since women have no Y chromosome, all the children born to X/X couples were female. By the early twenty-first century, it was possible for women’s skin cells to be used to fertilize other women’s egg cells. Through a similar process, it also became trivially easy for women to choose between the sperm provided by male partners and select one with an X chromosome rather than a Y chromosome. In the popular lexicon, these practices were called XXI or X-chromosome/X-chromosome impregnation. Women now had a simple tool which spelled the end of men. That was the first point at which the patriarchy saw it was on life support and knew its days were numbered.

Within a century, these practices became widespread. Women had suffered for millenia under patriarchy, and the idea of simply choosing not to create any more men became a core tenet of fourth-wave feminism. By 2045, XXI clinics outnumbered abortion clinics. As a result, the female population quickly grew and spread as people around the world embraced XXI. Within a generation, men were a shrinking minority of the population.

You’d think that facing their own extinction, men would take a conciliatory tone and try to ameliorate the historical impacts of their actions in order to earn the forgiveness of women. While it’s true that some men wanted to make peace, those few still holding the reins of the world did not; unending war for power and control was all they knew. They doubled down. Despite the fact that the biosphere was well into its collapse, they focused on legislating male supremacy. The last days of the patriarchy were the worst. Food and water supplies around the world were collapsing, more than half of the species had gone extinct, but the laws the patriarchs passed were concerned with banning XXI and enshrining male supremacy at every level of the legal system. Abortion was also banned as “an attack on men’s rights.” Feminism was effectively outlawed throughout most of the developed world. Ironically, it was because of strong international borders under patriarchy that many developing countries became fertility destinations where women could travel to undergo XXI.

It was around this time that a small group of white male libertarian entrepreneurs announced they were pouring billions into developing what they called XYI. They promised a life without women, where men could be born from machines without the need for mothers. Importantly, they also called for widespread violence against women including attacks on any XXI clinics and death to any XXI doctors. As a direct response to this threat, Magdalena Thunberg, grand-daughter of Greta Thunberg emerged as the leader of what she called the Feminist Liberation Front. She made public statements online explaining that while XXI was not an attack on men, XYI was an attack on women. She declared war on the establishment and swore to end the threat once and for all.

The Feminist Liberation Front conducted a series of bombings targeting XYI research and development facilities. The FLF also conducted a series of targeted assassinations of the white male libertarian leaders patterned after the successful strategy of the Irish Republican Army’s from the previous century. The unrest spread around the world and resulted in widespread chaos wherever the patriarchy still held power.

Women had worked for generations to slowly take over all major governments around the world.  There was a tipping point at the end of the twenty-first century with the rise of the FLF. The patriarchy could no longer hold onto the reins of power. Once a critical mass of women had taken those reins, they began to undo the harms of the patriarchy. But instead of working to exterminate men like the men had done to them, the women struck the missing conciliatory tone.

The first One-World Congress took place in 2075. In the keynote speech on the first day of the conference, Magdalena The Liberator, grand-daughter of Greta Thunberg, called for the end of international borders and the full devotion of all of humanity’s resources to the cause of finally halting the collapse of the biosphere, feeding and sheltering everyone, and restoring the natural world to whatever degree was still possible. She also called for ongoing compassion towards the now miniscule male population. “We must,” she argued, “strive to avoid the empire that the patriarchy sought. Instead, we must blaze a new path towards an alternative system for humanity which values all individuals. We must build a system which works to support the needs of all individuals and which empowers everyone to thrive. The era of the god-king is over, the age of the first universal human republic must begin.”

The conference adopted all of Magdalena’s recommendations, and that was the beginning of the Earth Republic. All the old nations became states. Many of the state borders were redrawn to reflect the way people actually organized, erasing the Kissinger doctrine of using national borders to deliberately create conflict and destabilize peaceful neighbors.

Over time, the remaining male population learned to accept its place as part of the whole rather than seeking to be master of the whole. In her last interview, Magdalena the Liberator said, “I really don’t think it could have happened any other way. Hegemonic totalitarianism has never voluntarily given up power. The patriarchy needed to be usurped without acceding to its methods. A hundred years ago, people argued that Hillary Clinton would be the end of the patriarchy if she became president, but she would merely have been an extension of it. You can’t make an unjust system just by putting a marginalized person in charge of it. You must change the system fundamentally. It needed to be dismantled without using its own methods, and that’s what we did. ”

“Then do you regret using violence during the FLF campaigns,” the reporter asked.

“No,” Magdalena replied, “Self-defense is not patriarchy. Patriarchy is demanding power and control over others because your male gender is superior. That’s not what we did, we defended the right of women to exist, not to rule over men as queens in place of kings. We worked together to change the fundamentals of our world and that’s the only way we could have survived as a species. The human project became a collective effort rather than a hierarchical struggle for power and resources. And it happened just in time, because…”

Misogynoir and Reproductive Conversations

Prompt: Why are we so afraid of reproductive technologies?” Who is “we?”

Intro

Systems of oppression exist on three levels. First, the pervasive and ubiquitous sociocultural level which encompasses all the ideas (or discourses) in our society’s collective culture. Second, the institutional level, where people enact the sociocultural discourses as policy in order to make the institutions act in a way which reflects the sociocultural discourses. Third is the personal level, where individuals apply sociocultural discourses both internally and externally in interpersonal relationships.

Systemic racism is a pattern which exists on all three levels. This pattern of systemic racism is made up of the aggregate action of small interpersonal racist microaggressions. These acts reinforce the larger system and do its work.

Systemic sexism is also a pattern which exists on all three levels. This pattern of systemic sexism is made up of the aggregate action of small interpersonal sexist microaggressions. These acts reinforce the larger system and do its work.

All systems of oppression are different but they all work in the same way.

In her book Down Girl, Kate Manne explains that microaggressions are what she calls “down-moves.” Or a move intended to confer that its target is not a subject, a person with agency, but rather an object without agency. Microaggressions are fundamentally acts which serve to “other” and dehumanize people on the basis of their marginalized identities.

I created this graph to illustrate the flow of actions from discourse to impact through the system…

Since systemic racism and systemic sexism are normalized in a pervasive sociocultural way, they are everywhere and they inform everything that happens in our society.

As you can see, the discourses of oppression flow down from the sociocultural level through institutions to individuals. Then individuals internalize and act on those discourses. The actions aggregate to form systems of oppression which constitutes a cycle. This cycle is called the cycle of socialization. Here is a flowchart showing the same process from the perspective of the flow of discourses and actions rather than the structure of the system.

In her book Sister Outsider and specifically the essay There Is No Hierarchy of Oppression, Audre Lorde expands on this idea to explain that while it’s not possible to rank women or black people in terms of who has more or less oppression, we do know that black women have significantly more oppression than black people or women do separately, or even added together. Marginalized identities do not add together when they overlap, but rather they multiply. This idea of the amplification of overlapping marginalized identities is called Intersectionality.

Part 1

It is therefore helpful to answer the prompt’s question with regard to a specific intersectional dynamic and its expression within the context of the cycle of socialization.

In her essay, Explanation Of Misogynoir, Trudy explains how racism and anti-Blackness alter the experience of misogyny for Black women, specifically. In another essay, she goes into some depth on the specific issue of reproductive rights for black women.

Indeed, we see that discussions of reproductive rights are essentially all simply arguments for racism and misogyny masquerading as a discussion about reproductive rights. In her essay Racism, Birth Control, and Reproductive Rights, Angela Davis gives a litany of examples and further deconstructs the background which has led to the use of reproductive rights as a mask for racism and misogyny. The fundamental argument against reproductive rights always being that women — particularly black women — should be robbed of the agency to make their own decisions on the basis that they are not as qualified to make those decisions as white men are qualified to make those decisions for them.

In one sentence, we see how the entire discussion of reproductive rights boils down to a simultaneous down-move against women and black people, but especially against black women.

Anecdotally, I have discussed with colleagues a relevant and recent social phenomena which illustrates the point from another perspective. In social media vanguardism, people like me create content which is intended to arm people with discourses and ideas to critically analyze many of the situations we face together in our culture today. Historically, these types of content are often met with some subset of replies being terse down-moves such as “faggot,” “there are only two genders,” “show us your tits,” etc. During the Trump presidency, we saw a sudden disappearance of those overt replies. They were replaced instead with comments like “Trump 2020,” “blue lives matter,” or “all lives matter.” I submit that in this context, these symbols are a mask to cover up the real intention of the people who use them. And now that Trump has lost the election, this mask has disappeared, and we see a move back to more overt down-moves intended to dehumanize and objectify directly rather than indirectly.

The idea of a public debate about whether or not black women should have agency over their own bodies is necessarily, fundamentally, always racist and misogynistic. It is not possible to ask the question without the implication that it might be true. The agency of humans is not something that can be ethically debated. Consider functionally identical questions like “Are there too many Jews?” or “Is the third world overpopulated?” These questions take the same approach of inviting the reader to question whether some kinds of people really are people, or whether they are objects to be manipulated without agency or ethical concern.

In the article, Why Are We So Afraid of Each New Advance in Reproductive Technology?, author Sarah Richards explains a medical experiment done on Chinese children to introduce a Norwegian mutation called CCR5-Delta32. (I have this mutation as a Norwegian-American.) This mutation confers some HIV immunity onto people who have it. It actually only protects against one of several forms of HIV so it’s not a cure-all and people who have it are only at lower risk of HIV, not completely immune to HIV. The problem is that the scientists did not properly inform the patients of the risks they were undertaking. The scientists robbed Chinese children of agency and treated them as lab rats for a dangerous experiment without informing the families of the risks.

 

Part 2

To address the second part of the prompt, in this case, the “We” is anyone within the sociocultural landscape. That means everyone. We all engage with discourses perpetrated by a fundamentally racist and sexist system.

Audre Lorde in her book Sister Outsider said that trying to survive as a black woman in America is like trying to survive in the mouth of a racist, sexist, suicidal dragon.

The cycle of socialization feeds itself and gets stronger all the time. But there is a solution. That solution is two-fold. First, we need to learn about people experiencing marginalization. We need to read their writings. We need to understand how it’s happening. We need to listen to their demands for change. We need to learn about the theories their ideas are based on. We need to explore Critical Theory in order to interrogate power structures like systemic racism and systemic sexism. We need to learn about Black Epistemic systems, Feminist Epistemic systems, and other marginalized epistemologies in order to articulate and defend the ethical and philosophical solutions which the leaders of marginalized communities are asking for.

Second, we need to develop actions based on an understanding of theory which create change in the world. This process is called praxis. One excellent illustration of this process comes from Readings for Diversity and Social Justice, the same source as the cycle of socialization shown above…

Learning to critically analyze the discourses we are socialized to, within the context of an understanding of the ethical and philosophical perspectives of marginalized communities allows us to question those discourses rather than running them on autopilot like we always have. Only then can we take steps to challenge the discourses to which our culture is socialized.

The reason our culture is so afraid of reproductive technologies is that our racist, sexist culture is socialized to treat black women as objects rather than people, stealing their agency and giving it instead to white men who are then empowered to rule over them and make decisions for them. Only by learning about the hidden premises and interrogating the power structures which underpin these issues can we break the cycle of socialization and make progress in ameliorating the intolerable conditions facing black people and women in our culture.

 

The Magician

CJ Trowbridge

Race and Resistance Studies 280

Race, Gender, and Science Fiction

2020-10-29

Future Voting Eutopia

I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I had long since learned to trust that feeling. Keeping the pistol pointed towards the empty street, I looked over my shoulder and whisper-shouted for Mario to hurry up.

He stepped out of the wreckage, “All done, let’s get out of here.”

“Did you find  anything,” I asked, still standing in the bed of the truck, using the cab for cover.

“Sure did. Nobody wants smoke detectors now that the neighborhood’s burned down. Everyone in there looked like Uncle Owen and Aunt Veru, but all the detectors were right where they should be.”

“I think we should head home. We’ve got a lot of Americium here,” I said, pointing at the pile of smoke detectors in the bed of the truck, “We’re over our quote. The Magician asked us to fill two crates and they’re full.”

“Yea,” he said, “Let’s head back.”

“Get on the radio,” Mario said, “Tell them we’re on our way back.”

Home was an old munitions depot in the Sierras. It was abandoned when the government collapsed. They say governments were always fighting the last war instead of the next one. Well this place is a fortress half a thousand miles from the border. None of us is really sure how it was supposed to help them, but none of it was ever used.

Before the fall, The Magician had set up a small agricultural commune just over the state line in Nevada. They were experimenting with Xericulture and self-sufficiency in order to survive the coming collapse; The Magician had seen what was coming.

It wasn’t just food they were into. They were also experimenting with exotic technologies. People knew how to do fusion since the 1950s, they just didn’t know how to make more power than it took to run the reactor. Well The Magician figured something out with lasers. Some kind of frequency that did something to the Americium; made it act like plutonium on steroids.

Hot neutrons made to order as long as you had some Americium from a smoke detector to burn under The Magician’s laser. We used the reactor to run the vaporators and the aquaculture equipment. See that’s why Mario joked earlier about Uncle Owen and Aunt Veru. They were moisture farmers from an old movie, before that was real life, before North America turned into one big desert where the only place to get water was out of the air.

The biosphere collapsed very suddenly in 2026. They say it was the methane hydrate being released from the arctic ice. It sped all the problems up a hundred times faster. Suddenly there were ten times as many hurricanes and ten different kinds of killer flu and rona. Ten million people poured over the border into America in a year. The system failed, and the state collapsed.

Well The Magician knew there was a munitions depot ten minutes from the commune, and as soon as the chaos started, the people from the commune seized the depot. This depot was built to supply the Pacific Theater during the second World War. The Magician could have become a warlord, but instead it was all fortify and develop. The Magician said we needed to secure crucial materials to grow more food so that the community could be self-sufficient. Now that we had the depot and its cache, that would keep us safe from any attack, but it wouldn’t keep the lights on or the vaporators running.

So two-person teams were sent to the towns and cities surrounding the commune to find the things we would need. Mario and I were one of those teams. It was like that for the first year. The whole community was focused on protecting what we had and finding what we needed to keep us going.

Mario parked the truck and another team came to unload the salvage we had brought back.

“I’m exhausted. I’ll see you at breakfast,” I called to Mario as I walked towards the nearest dome. I stepped through the double curtain airlock and felt the cool humid air wash over me. Breathing felt so much easier in here. It was such a welcome feeling after spending so many hours out in the desolation.

The compound was a series of large geodesic domes connected by tunnels and curtain airlocks. Most of the domes were for agriculture. Some held chickens while others held potatoes or mushrooms. More domes were going up all the time. We had a lot of space out here to grow, and so we grew.

I slept like a baby. Next thing I knew I was back on my feet and walking towards breakfast. Things had started to change recently. There were a lot of new faces at breakfast. Mario and I were digging into our home grown mushrooms and eggs with the rest of the commune when The Magician stood up and looked slowly around at all of us. A hundred conversations turned to hushed murmurs as we waited to hear what The Magician had to say.

“Friends,” The Magician said, “I’m happy to report that our salvage teams have found enough raw materials to make us completely self-sufficient for the foreseeable future.”

Claps and cheers rose up from every table. Fists pumped the air as proud salvage teams smiled back and forth.

“We have plenty of food. We have plenty of water. We have security and resiliency enough to spare.”

More cheers and applause, especially from the ag tables.

“I think that our community is ready for the next stage in our evolution,” The Magician continued, “I think we can become leaders, sharing with others our ideas and our technology and our excess wealth of food and water and power. We have more than we need, and we can share it with those outside our walls who have less than they need. ”

An uncertain quiet replaced the cheers. I felt myself tense, afraid that something I desperately needed was going to be taken away. I felt the sense of loss and fear and anxiety. I looked around and I could see the same anxious uncertainty in the hearts and on the faces of my comrades.

“Do not be afraid,” The Magician said, “It’s not just that we have more than we need. In fact we now have far more than we need. We can share a great deal with those in need and still go to bed with full bellies every night. We have all lived a long time in fear of on uncertain future, but what we have built here together changes that. The future is ours to do with as we please. And I say we can finally start to help our less fortunate neighbors.”

I felt the tension release slightly, and I saw my comrades relaxing along with me.

“I will not decide this for the community,” The Magician said, “I ask only for volunteers to sit on a new committee to study our bounty and to study the needs of our neighbors. If it is as I say and we have so much more than we need, then those who wish to do so may choose together what path we will take. The choice is yours. I call for a vote, shall we be a community that looks inward or a community that looks outward?”

Reading Reaction: Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™

Note: I deeply enjoyed reading “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™” and in particular I enjoyed this version read by Levar Burton who also provides some analysis of his own.

Our protagonist is a storyteller who creates elaborate virtual experiences to share “an authentic Indian experience” to tourists. This story follows a nascent relationship he forms with a customer. This pair of indigenous men struggle to connect from behind walls put up by the historical legacy of systemic injustices perpetrated against indigenous cultures (and men more broadly).

In particular, settler colonialism is a major barrier which prevents the two men from deeply connecting. They first have to get past the influence of capitalism which is placing demands on the type of relationship they may have and what value they may find in one another. At one point the protagonist says he’s not allowed to fraternize with customers and must only play his “savage brave” role in the virtual experience without engaging honestly.

The protagonist dresses up like a stereotypical “savage brave” in order to sell self-discovery experiences to tourists. These experiences fetishize the history and culture of native people in order to objectify the protagonist as a commodity to be sold to tourists so they can “find themselves.”

The second major thing our pair has to break through is the patriarchal demands on what it means to be a “real man.” Once they get past these and other barriers, they are able to deeply connect and become good friends.

Eventually, our protagonist’s newfound friend succumbs to the pressures of settler colonialism and patriarchy. He takes advantage of a weakened protagonist who is recovering from sickness and decides to betray him. He steals the protagonist’s job and friends, and in classic toxic-masculinity-form, he even steals the protagonist’s girl. What would Alison Bechdel say? (The character of the object-girl has zero dialogue that is not about men.)

A confrontation ensues and ends with friend-antagonist explaining that this whole story has actually been a virtual “Authentic  Indian Experience” which HE the friend was selling to our protagonist. We end with the protagonist coming out of virtual reality.

The “Authentic Experience” seems to me to be the fact that those natives who have not survived the extermination of a hundred-million of their ancestors by settler colonists are forced to squeeze into the rigid set of demands placed on them by the capitalist cis-hetero-patriarchy. Two spirit traditions for example are erased by mainstream culture or renamed to some already-commodified and “close enough” phrase that white culture already has. The act of squeezing into these roles the white empire has created for indigenous people creates tension and strain, just like it does for every community. That tension boils over in conflict and trauma and infighting just like it does in every community. The Authentic Indian Experience is the experience of watching a hundred million of your people be exterminated and hearing the message of assimilate-or-die and being given the imperative to destroy anyone not assimilating hard enough.

What really jumped out at me personally in this story is the way queer culture parallels many of these challenges. People have to work through trauma and layers of shame and self-loathing before they can deeply connect. In many cases, there is also the threat of violence if you’re uncertain about whether the other person is really interested in taking this journey closer together with you. I had to listen to the story twice to really connect all these ideas and It’s something I’m going to be listening to and thinking about for a long time.