Friday, May 8, 2015

Ruth Frankenberg

wrote these words in the introduction (page 5) to her book titled: "White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness."
Socialist feminism had also given me an analytical commitment to three axioms: first, that in "societies structured in dominance" we, as feminists, must always remember that we act from within the social relations and subject positions we seek to change; second, that experience constructs identity; and, third; that there is a direct relationship between "experience" and "worldview" or "standpoint" such that any system of domination can be seen most clearly from the subject positions of those oppressed by it.
Axiom One: We're in the system we're trying to comprehend (there's no place to stand outside of it). Hence...everything you think you perceive will be influenced by your position.

Axiom Two: The place where you're standing is going to determine how you understand and perceive yourself (as well as influence what you're able to be aware of), i.e., your 'identity'.. Therefore, who you think you are is a function of the social system in which you exist and the experiences and perspectives associated with your position.

Axiom Three: Those who are being harmed and/or oppressed by a system of domination are going to have the best location for detecting, apprehending and comprehending those domination activities. In other words, those who are being hurt by domination/oppression are going have the most comprehensive viewpoint. If you want to know what is going on...listen to the victims of oppression...they know more than you.

Axioms one and two are fairly self-evident...obviously no one exists outside of a social system and obviously your position is going to determine that which you are aware of and experience. That's fairly apparent...what might be new to consider is that you will likely be oblivious to or only vaguely aware of things that someone positioned differently will know.

We tend to think our position offers us a perspective that allows us to know all that is going on...that's simply untrue...part of the seductive insidiousness of our identities is the fact that the more social power we have the less genuine awareness we have of the experiences and knowings of those with less power. It's sort of interesting actually, almost as if the universe says...ok, you get lots of power but you also get lots of obliviousness or...ok, you get lots of helplessness but you also get lots of awareness. Powerful but stupid, weak but perceptive.

Axiom three, however, seems to be the area that we often see dominators engaging in bamboozling and obfuscation...both of others and of themselves. Remember, we're talking about comprehending social systems and what goes on in social systems.

Think about it...if you wanted to know what went on in Auschwitz (for example)...would you pay more attention to what the official Nazi version or would you lend more credence to those who were incarcerated there? If you wanted to know what went on in domestic violence situations would you pay more attention to the perpetrators or to the victims? If you wanted to know what occurred when a bombing raid was carried out on a city...would you listen to the officials who planned it or would you listen to the survivors of the raid?

If you wanted to know what slavery was like, would you listen to the slave owners or the slaves? If you wanted to know what happened in a factory farm, would you listen to the factory farm owners or to those who were trapped there...if they could speak in a human language wouldn't you lend more credence to their experiences over those presented by the owners?

It is important to realize that, quite often, domination is carried out by those who are perceived as the "authorities". We here in U.S. America are strongly socialized to lend credence to "officials" and "authorities" and "corporate spokespersons". And yet, according to axiom three, the sources positioned to know the most about what is going on are not authorities or officials or those engaging in domination activities but rather those who are on the receiving end of those activities. Hmmm....

This is all associated with what Audre Lorde wrote and with invisibling. Notice that the title of Ms. Lorde's book is "Sister Outsider". She's referencing her position of being an outsider to those engaging in domination activities.

Struggling to break out of cycles of domination and oppression means struggling to find new ways of comprehending and wonderfully useful tool is to begin looking at events with the goal of determining oppressors and their victims and evaluating information from the perspective that those with the least power are likely to have the most accurate and/or comprehensive perceptions. This essay presents a variation of this way of thinking in the language of christianity

Here's a thought interview 50 men who raped women...then you interview the 50 women victims....and let's say you magically could absolutely "know" what happened. Then you compared the 50 versions of the perpetrators and the 50 versions of the victims to the "real and absolute truth". Which group of versions do you think would most closely correspond to what "really happened"? (I used all the quotation marks because no one can absolutely know real and absolute truth...that's not possible...we only get approximations of such fantasy constructs as real and absolute truth.)

Always always always remember that those who are doing harm (or oppression or domination or exploitation) have a greater motivation to obfuscate, distort, deceive, hide, euphemize or make invisible their activities than do their victims (or, usually, than do outsiders who aren't perpetrating the harm).

For example...we U.S. Americans often use the term "Conquistadors" for the Spanish people who came to the western hemisphere and plundered and destroyed societies
. That's a fairly straightforward term that indicates aggressiveness and dominance. Conquer...that's what they did to the humans who lived in this hemisphere. What do we call the English speaking people (our U.S. American "forefathers") who came to North America and did the same thing? See how we make ourselves sound much more innocent and innocuous by using euphemisms like 'settlers', 'explorers', 'refugees from oppression' or 'immigrants'. 

If you don't think that the victims, in the thought experiment of the rapists and victims, are most likely to present versions that are closest to "real and absolute truth" you probably don't want to read this blog because all of my life's experiences (including years of doing psychotherapy and listening to the stories of perpetrators and victims) have taught me that those who do harm are most often motivated to hide that harm and those who receive harm are primarily motivated to tell what happened to them.

These axioms present by Dr. Frankenberg are useful tools for comprehending (and possibly interrupting) systems of dominance and oppression...and that's the essence of what veganism is all about. Right?

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