Reproduction; social and sexual

Reproduction; social and sexual

This blog is partially the product of ongoing discussions within the Solidarity Federation over the relationship of 'Anarchy, Sex and Freedom,' but also the reliance among the wider left on dated theories from the 1960s whenever the question of sexuality is raised. The following is a speculative attempt to fill in some of the gaps.

The practical everyday activity of wage-workers reproduces wage labor and capital. Through their daily activities, "modern" men, like tribesmen and slaves, reproduce the inhabitants, the social relations and the ideas of their society; they reproduce the social form of daily life. Like the tribe and the slave system, the capitalist system is neither the natural nor the final form of human society; like the earlier social forms, capitalism is a specific response to material and historical conditions .
- Fredy Perlman

Workers are human beings, and human beings are sexual beings. Thus sexuality forms an aspect of social reproduction. Yet frequently when sexuality is discussed on the left, recourse is made to theories which date, at best, from the 1960s, as if there have been no historical developments in the intervening decades.

The repression thesis: Reich, and Brinton
Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957) was a psychoanalyst who fused Freud with Marx, before going a bit batshit and claiming to have discovered a 'primordial cosmic energy' called 'orgone' that caused weather events, the colour of the sky, gravity and the formation of galaxies. And orgasms. Reich's earlier work was repopularised during the 1960s, primarily by Solidarity member Maurice Brinton's pamphlet 'The Irrational in Politics' (I'm using '60s' figuratively here in the colloquial sense for the period 1968-72, rather than literally. This pamphlet was published in 1970). Solidarity's introduction to the pamphlet describes its central thesis as follows:

...an attempt to analyse the various mechanisms whereby modern society manipulates its slaves into accepting their slavery and - at least in the short term - seems to succeed. It does not deal with 'police' and 'jails' as ordinarily conceived but with those internalised patterns of repression and coercion, and with those intellectual prisons in which the 'mass individual' is today entrapped (...) It looks at the family as the locus of reproduction of the dominant ideology, and at sexual repression as an important determinant of social conditioning, resulting in the mass production of individuals perpetually craving authority and leadership and forever afraid of walking on their own or of thinking for themselves.

Consequently Reich linked the predominant sexuality with the predominant social relations, and saw the mechanism for this linkage as being sexual repression; the behaviours promoted by traditional Judeo-Christian morality - monogamous marriage, kids disciplined for wanking etc. The prevailing material relations of society - in particular the family - were seen to produce certain ideas - in particular craving authority - which in turn reproduced authoritarian society in a dialectical interaction. This idea had an obvious resonance with libertarians, who saw a clear political implication; the Man doesn't want you to have fun, so fun is subversive in itself and you can fuck your way out of capitalist society. The most hilarious contemporary example of this comes from the lifestyle anarchist group CrimethInc, who in their article "washing... and brainwashing" list the first of "eight reasons why capitalists want to sell you deoderant" as:

Body smells are erotic and sexual. Capitalists don't like that because they are impotent and opposed to all manifestations of sensuality and sexuality. Sexually awakened people are potentially dangerous to capitalists and their rigid, asexual system.

While this is only the most ridiculous example, these sentiments are not restricted to lifestylist muppets, and crop up during many discussions with class struggle anarchists too, attracted by the libertine slogan 'it is forbidden to forbid.' For example an article by the Anarchist Federation concludes that:

When people are really being sexually honest, some weird shit can start to happen. And that, in its own way, can be quite revolutionary.

There are two reasons this is problematic; the first is the speculative nature of Reich's theories in the first place, the second is the massive social changes that have taken place since 1960s which would render them of primarily historical interest even if the theories themselves were shown to be sound. However, for the purpose of this blog there is one thing we can take from Brinton; the thesis that prevailing sexuality and prevailing social relations are not independent phenomena. Before leaving the 60s, we should consider the theories of Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James, who addressed this question from the point of view of housewives.

The power of women... and the subversion of the community?
Dalla Costa and James adopted a similar framework to Brinton, writing that:

The women's movement has gone into greater detail about the capitalist family. After describing how women are conditioned to be subordinated to men, it has described the family as that institution where the young are repressed from birth to accept the discipline of capitalist relations-which in Marxist terms begins with the discipline of capitalist work.

For Dalla Costa and James, it is "worth pointing out that women for whom sexual exploitation is the basic social contradiction provide an extremely important index of the degree of our own frustration, experienced by millions of women." Unlike the prevailing (Althusserian) Marxist orthodoxy of the day, they did not set up an a priori privileging of the economic 'base' over the socio-cultural 'superstructure,' but instead set out to critically investigate the prevailing structures of gender and class from the starting point of the experience of proletarian women.

This led them to describe a growing rejection of sexual relations that were at once power relations - typified by the lesbian movement which rejected relations with men altogether as inherently hierarchical, at least under prevailing social relations. They continue that:

In order to understand the frustrations of women expressing themselves in ever-increasing forms, we must be clear what in the nature of the family under capitalism precipitates a crisis on this scale. The oppression of women, after all, did not begin with capitalism. What began with capitalism was the more intense exploitation of women as women and the possibility at last of their liberation.

Consequently, the experiences of women increasingly challenging the prevailing 'womans place' in society were situated historically within the framework of capitalist social relations. Overwhelmingly at the time, this was the experiences of housewives, long-ignored by Marxist theorists busy fetishising their blue-collar husbands in the vast car factories that formed the backbone of global value production for most of the 20th century (see Beverly Silver's 'Forces of Labour'). From this point of departure they go on to describe in much more detail the way in which the hidden reproductive labour of housewives (cooking, washing, childcare...) is indispensible to the reproduction of labour power, and thus capitalist production, since without it their husbands could not return refreshed and ready to work the next day and there wouldn't be a new generation of workers to replace them once capital had exhausted their productive capacities. They conclude that:

The housewife's situation as a pre-capitalist mode of labor and consequently this "femininity" imposed upon her (...) So when we say that women must overthrow the relation of domestic-work-time to non-domestic-time and must begin to move out of the home, we mean their point of departure must be precisely this willingness to destroy the role of housewife.

Leaving the 60s...
Reich/Brinton's thesis is not entirely historical, nor entirely speculative; one only need consider Iran where homosexuality is punishable by death and all sexual relations outside marriage are prohibited to see that sexual repression can be used as a form of social control. It's not just Iran either; abortion remains illegal in Northern Ireland. Similarly, Dalla Costa/James' exposition of the indispensibility of unwaged, domestic labour to the reproduction of industrial workers remains a compelling argument. But what stands out about Iran (and only slighly less so for Northern Ireland wink ) is precisely its status as a reactionary, religiously backwards anachronism in relation to the contemporary liberal west (which is my point of reference for this discussion). Similarly, the arguments about the housewife-factory worker dyad are a victim of their own insistence that the role of women can only be understood in its historical context; the very societies at which the critique was aimed have since moved from 70% male-dominated, primary and secondary industries to over 70% tertiary sector with an increasingly causalised, mixed-sex workforce.

To a certain extent, this shift can be seen as a success of the very rejection of the role of the housewife Dalla Costa and James called for. Women have struggled for legal equality and to a large extent this has been achieved de jure, although rarely yet de facto. On the other hand it can be seen as a reflection of the economic restructuring required to maintain capital accumlation in the face of militant workforces in the mines and factories of the first world; these industries were outsourced overseas (recreating the same contradicitons there - again Beverly Silver's book is instructive), and consequently the role of the housewife became expendable and womens demands to leave the home could be accomodated within the new 'post-industrial' mode of accumulation (the term 'post-industrial' is problematic because industry has only gone away in a geographic sense, but it's workable for dealing with societies such as our own as entities in their own right, although their global interconnection can't be forgotten). Thus the relation between family structures and class composition is a dialectical one - there's a feedback loop, but unpicking causality even retrospectively is a matter of chicken and egg.

The important thing for the discussion at hand however is that this shift has occured, both in the mode of accumulation and the prevailing family and sexual norms. Conservatives lament the decline of 'family values' by which they mean the marriage as a patriarchal, proprietory institution in much the same way as leftists lament the 'disappearance' of the blue collar working class to whom their affirmative fetishes of social change were so closely tied. Consequently, attacking conservative, repressed religious morality misses the boat - by several decades. After all I'd wager far more people queue for clubs on a Saturday night in the hope of a casual fuck with a stranger than roll into church the next day to be lectured about such behaviour. The lesson of the past decades is there's nothing subversive about who or how you fuck. In fact promiscuous sexuality provides the perfect foil to 'tolerant' post-industrial liberal multicultural consumer capitalism, in much the same way as conservative religious morality complimented a society of factory discipline and nuclear families with its roles of the breadwinner and the housewife.

...And arriving in the present
Just think of the proliferation of gay pride marches, the pink pound etc. Demographics. Target markets. Far from being a "rigid, asexual system", if going out on the weekend and engaging in whatever sexual activity floats our boat helps us distract/recharge ourselves ready to return to work on Monday morning, then capital's all for it. I think the most useful theorist for the post-60s context is Slavoj Žižek. Žižek argues that sexual repression has largely been replaced by 'jouissance' ('excess enjoyment') in consumer capitalism. Capital has fully endorsed the slogan 'it is forbidden to forbid', and the injunction is now to indulge to excess (for Žižek the commodity that epitomises this is chocolate laxatives).

Under the dictum 'sex sells' the universal commodification that characterises capitalist development is accompanied by a universal sexualisation. So we read articles perving about the 15 year-old Charlotte Church's tits opposite an article decrying satire of paedophile hysteria as 'sick'; jouissance overleaf from repression. In fact arguably anti-paedophile hysteria can only be understood as a product of a society that pervasively sexualises its pre-pubescents (Bratz etc); spectacle aghast at its own reflection?

Žižek would argue todays 'sexual revolutionaries' are the 'Silver Ring Thing' kids, since they defy todays injunction to 'be sexual' in much the same way as 60s sexual rebels defied prudish 'square' society. Of course such knee-jerk opposition to social norms is another example of the slave morality I like to bang on about on the pages of this blog. And here's the twist in Žižek. He argues that the permissiveness of modern society in many ways represents a more autocratic mode than good old fashioned prohibition, which was at least honest about it. He uses the example of US Amish communities, who raise their kids in rural isolation for 18 years then let them loose in the cities with the flurry of drugs, sex and rock'n'roll that entails. But the 'permissiveness' of the community towards its new adults represents a hidden autocracy; unprepared for urban society, after a few years of excess most kids return to the comfort of the rural community, to raise their kids the same way in turn. for Žižek this is an allegory of the empty freedom of consumer capitalism.

Does the allegory hold for contemporary 'liberated' sexuality? Certainly the patriarchal family seems to have declined in utility to capital, as mothers are coerced back into the labour market - where they have become an essential part of the waged labour force - as soon as possible. However, government plans to cement this tendency by extending school hours have so far come to nothing. It would appear capital cannot afford to supplant the family as the basic unit of child-raising, for the time being at least. Consequently, contemporary sexuality does bear some resemblance to Žižek's allegory; caught between sexual freedom and the necessities of child-raising, the nuclear, patriarchal family no longer occupies as central a role as it once did as a plethora of roles proliferate, but yet neither are gender roles abolished altogether in a movement to make all concrete labour abstract.

Some further speculations
In light of this discussion, certain theoretical speculations come to mind. The lesson seems to be that the prevailing sexualities of industrial and post-industrial capitalism - repressive and permissive respectively - are mirror images of one another. Both appear to be based on a separation of physical and emotional intimacy. Whilst the repressive/industrial mode, via religious morality frames sex as simply a procreative necessity, the permissive/post-industrial mode presents it as a pleasurable end in itself. Both separate sex from emotional content, but in different ways. Whilst under the repressive mode, sex becomes a proprietory right of the husband (marital rape in the UK was only criminalised in 1991), under the permissive mode casually fucking strangers is best practiced in the manner Žižek describes as "only masturbation with a real partner."

Of course it must be stressed that to reduce the breadth of contemporary sexuality to these two mirrored poles would be to gravely misrepresent reality. Pre-60s sexual life wasn't uniformly functional and monogamous, and post-1960s there hasn't been one long orgy of promiscuity (at least outside the deluded nightmares of social conservatives). It should also be stressed that none of these categories are making moral judgements, merely analytical ones. I don't particularly care who or how you like to fuck, I'm more concerned with how the construction of dominant sexualities reflects and is reflected in the social relations of which they form a part. Furthermore, the posited separation of emotional and physical intimacy on which I speculate these repressive/permissive modes are based is far more conceptual than actual, as anyone with a reasonably active sex life will tell you. More what I'm describing is two ideal types that exist as real tendencies and to some extent express the dialectical relationship between sexuality and social reproduction.

So to try and conclude things; this blog is necessarily speculative, But it does beg several questions theoretical and empirical. How does this cultural reproduction take place, if not by Reichian repression of childhood sexuality centred on the family? By what means are sexual norms reproduced, and by what means do they come to reflect - or indeed be reflected by - the prevailing regime of accumulation? Empirically, do attitudes to sex and sexual practices (which are not the same thing) actually reflect the prevailing mode of accumulation? If hegemonic sexuality does reflect the needs of the prevailing mode of accumulation, do sexual counter-cultures therefore have revolutionary potential after all? On this last point I feel confident enough to answer: No. Such counter-cultures simply signify the inadequacy of the prevailing mode of social reproduction to guarantee social stability; they'd need to be a reflection of class struggle to imply revolutionary potential. For example a massive growth of the 'Silver Ring Thing' would signify social production based on norms of sexual promiscuity is breaking down, but would pose no threat to capital per se unless the birth rate fell so low as to threaten the future reproduction of labour power. In any case abstinance-only programs don't tend to reduce the pregnancy rate, for example according to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ teen pregnancy policy:

Even though there is great enthusiasm in some circles for abstinence-only interventions, the evidence does not support abstinence-only interventions as the best way to keep young people from unintended pregnancy.

Consequently, the lesson of the past decades is that who or how you fuck is in the final analysis apolitical. While open homosexuality is a political (and perhaps suicidal) act in Iran, this is because it is in contradiction to a particular mode of accumulation, not capital accumulation per se. At most, changes in attitudes to sexuality will accompany upsurges in class struggle - indeed they must. But it's only in connection with class struggle that such struggles can take on a revolutionary aspect rather than altering the configuration of capitalist reproduction (not necessarily a bad thing as Iranian gays will be the first to tell you); you can't fuck - or abstain - your way out of social relation based on material dispossession. Equally, fun doesn't have to be revolutionary, and like most things sex is more fun when you leave the politics out of it.

Comments

Alderson Warm-Fork
Jan 13 2009 01:37

"At most, changes in attitudes to sexuality will accompany upsurges in class struggle"

You seem to write with the assumption that gender relations are in some loose sense 'superstructural' to economic relations - the economics drives the gender, not vice versa. I'm wondering how you would argue for that position against the position either that gender relations are 'substructural', and drive economics, or that both drive each other reciprocally. A generally materialist approach would suggest that technological change drives both, but doesn't directly imply which, if either, is more robust.

So while you say, correctly, that "you can't fuck your way out of social relations based on material dispossession", it might be equally significant to say that "you can't economically revolutionise your way out of social relations based on sexual dispossession".

Joseph Kay
Jan 13 2009 07:47
Alderson Warm-Fork wrote:
You seem to write with the assumption that gender relations are in some loose sense 'superstructural' to economic relations - the economics drives the gender, not vice versa.

i've gone to great lengths to reject this view, citing dalla costa/james' rejection of an althusserian model and stating explicitly that "the relation between family structures and class composition is a dialectical one - there's a feedback loop, but unpicking causality even retrospectively is a matter of chicken and egg." my point is that who or how you fuck is not essential to the capital relation, and capital has shown itself perfectly capable of accomodating plural sexualities ("If going out on the weekend and engaging in whatever sexual activity floats our boat helps us distract/recharge ourselves ready to return to work on Monday morning, then capital's all for it") and to a certain extent transforming gender roles (the waning of the figure of the housewife), that this isn't necessarily a bad thing ("as Iranian gays will be the first to tell you") but it does put the lie to the naive 60s sexual liberation politics that having good sex is somehow subversive.

Alderson Warm-Fork wrote:
A generally materialist approach would suggest that technological change drives both, but doesn't directly imply which, if either, is more robust.

i don't think so. technology is as much a product of social struggles as its own inexorable dynamic, "It would be possible to write a whole history of the inventions made since 1830 for the sole purpose of providing capital with weapons against working-class revolt" (Marx), and consequently the relation between technological developement and social relations is not unilinear cause-effect, but dialectical also.

Alderson Warm-Fork wrote:
So while you say, correctly, that "you can't fuck your way out of social relations based on material dispossession", it might be equally significant to say that "you can't economically revolutionise your way out of social relations based on sexual dispossession".

what is sexual dispossession? are capitalist social relations based on it? my whole argument is that who or how you fuck is largely non-essential to capital. this isn't a base-superstructure argument anymore than saying your blood type is largely non-essential to capital; capital makes use of sexualities and gender roles it inherits, transforms them in its interests, but is in no way threatened when people reject them, unless that rejection is part of a rejection of the proletarian condition per se.

in any case, i'm definitely not arguing that if we just forget about sexuality and gender roles and go on wildcat strike then everything will turn out for the best, simply that against the niave 60s sexual politics repeated by many (i cite crimethinc and the AF, but they're not alone) any politics of 'sexual liberation' that takes sex as a political act in itself is in no way revolutionary, and that trying to politicise sex in this way serves no purpose, apart from perhaps allowing lefties to act out fantasies of social change in the bedroom. consequently any revolutionary sexuality politics needs to be wedded (so to speak) to class struggle, not in a way which privileges economic relations but as a facet of that struggle (the mujueres libres being a clear example).

Django
Jan 13 2009 18:05

Though I think this is an important point:

Joseph K wrote:
Thus the relation between family structures and class composition is a dialectical one - there's a feedback loop, but unpicking causality even retrospectively is a matter of chicken and egg.

I think that this:

Joseph K wrote:
It would appear capital cannot afford to supplant the family as the basic unit of child-raising, for the time being at least.

May have something to do with the hegemonic role of the commodity-form and the inability to conceive of anything within capitalism outside of relationships of ownership. So the role of the legal guardian would be something of an extention of the general matrix of judicial-legal forms of relations which are both a product of commodity-fetishised society and absolutely necessary for its reproduction. The role Engels saw for the family in being the necessary means for the transmission of wealth within capitalist society isn't unrelated to this. This is pure hunch though, and not something I've thought about or read around at much length, but it certainly lets us think about the function of gay marriage within liberal politics for instance, and why marriage, despite its religious meaning being largely redundant, keeps being reborn in new forms for formerly "subversive" sexualites.

Really good post generally though, I've been thinking about writing something like this for a while.

OliverTwister
Jan 14 2009 02:18

Yeah this is very good. Is SolFed planning on producing a pamphlet summing up the discussion which is taking place? This blog post itself could make a very good basis for a pamphlet. (NB I'm not sure whether pamphlets or blogs are more effective these days, I think blogs can spread ideas much better but pamphlets have an inherent aspect of encouraging organization through the face-to-face contact of handing one to someone.)

Alderson Warm-Fork
Jan 14 2009 02:49

Ok, so what I'm still dubious over is something like this:

Yes, who and how you fuck isn't politically important according to any very crude formula like "have sex whenever you want to and it will revolutionise society", and yes, sexual relations and economic relations are connected and interact,

but I still think that who and how you fuck can be politically important. For example, many people respond to being raped by becoming very promiscuous, and a very high percentage of prostitute were sexually abused as children. This seems to me to be a political issue - not just the obviously political thing of child abuse, but the way it impacts on people's decisions about who and how to fuck. Similarly there's some evidence that depression makes women more likely to have sex, and women are currently more likely to be depressed than men are. This seems like a political issue.

You've said very forcefully that you're not dismissing all sexual politics, and I don't know if that means you don't see any political significance in who and how people fuck, but the impression I got was that these sorts of things weren't of political significance. I think that impression was probably mistaken but I'm just explaining.

Also, what I was saying about superstructures and so forth was that - you keep discussing things 'from the perspective of capital', saying things like "such-and-such is inessential to capital" or "capital makes use of sexualities" or "capital has shown itself perfectly capable of accomodating plural sexualities".

This makes it sound like at the end of the day capital is the most important structuring force, and different sorts of sexual system are evaluated in relation to capital. I was trying to suggest that capital might be evaluated in relation to sexual systems - that we might ask questions like "is class society essential to patriarchy?" or "can patriarchy accomodate different economic systems?"

"what is sexual dispossession? are capitalist social relations based on it?"

With 'sexual dispossession' I was just trying to mean the oppression of women as women, and of men and children as women, or 'patriarchy'. Is capitalism based on that? Quite possibly.

Joseph Kay
Jan 14 2009 10:21

i wrote a long response this morning and my browser crashed. i'll re-do later.

Joseph Kay
Jan 15 2009 22:18

ok, finally got round to re-writing this...

Alderson Warm-Fork wrote:
I still think that who and how you fuck can be politically important. For example, many people respond to being raped by becoming very promiscuous, and a very high percentage of prostitute were sexually abused as children. This seems to me to be a political issue - not just the obviously political thing of child abuse, but the way it impacts on people's decisions about who and how to fuck. Similarly there's some evidence that depression makes women more likely to have sex, and women are currently more likely to be depressed than men are. This seems like a political issue.

i'm not sure. i mean, surely it's the cause that's political, not the consequence? i mean people react to traumatic experiences in a myriad ways, but it's the trauma that is of political significance (or not, as the case maybe). i mean wage labour is a politcal issue, if i'm having a shit time at work i'm more likely to drink heavily. does that make drinking a poltical issue? i don't think so, i mean i also react to stress at work by going running, or beating the shit out of a punchbag. are half-marathons and martial arts therefore political? i'm not convinced. of course the main target of my argument is 60s 'free love' politics, but i think the assertion of the basic apolitical nature of sex generalises. perhaps apolitical isn't the best term though, i guess i'm saying sex is not subversive.

Alderson Warm-Fork wrote:
Also, what I was saying about superstructures and so forth was that - you keep discussing things 'from the perspective of capital', saying things like "such-and-such is inessential to capital" or "capital makes use of sexualities" or "capital has shown itself perfectly capable of accomodating plural sexualities".

This makes it sound like at the end of the day capital is the most important structuring force, and different sorts of sexual system are evaluated in relation to capital.

well i think capital is the most important force structuring social life, but capital is not an 'economic base', but a social relation, a relation of which sexuality and gender roles are an aspect. furthermore it's a relation reproduced by our daily activity (as argued in my opening line following the perlman quote).

Alderson Warm-Fork wrote:
I was trying to suggest that capital might be evaluated in relation to sexual systems - that we might ask questions like "is class society essential to patriarchy?" or "can patriarchy accomodate different economic systems?"

valid questions. but as i say capital isn't just an 'economic system' but a social relation and a mode of production - clearly there are pre-capitalist societies that were patriarchal though. however, i'm not convinced 'patriarchy' is a useful term to describe a society like the UK (i know this goes against lefty orthodoxy). i mean, i don't think there is systematic rule of women by men. usually at this point, the prevailance of rape and the low conviction rates are cited. i've left rape largely out of the blog for several reasons: the conventional view that rape isn't about sex but about power, so it doesn't come into what is essentially a critique of 'sexual liberation' politics; my relative ignorance of the topic; the complexity of the issue in what was already a blog that ran 1000 words over my intended length...

on conviction rates, while social attitudes play a part (the widespread view dressing sexy makes women partially to blame for rape), i think they're largely explicable within the framework of bourgeois law. proving beyond reasonable doubt that one persons word is true and the others false is really fucking difficult, especially as rape victims often know the rapist, there's often been some consensual activity before the unconsensual, there's often only those two parties present etc. but like i say i'm not too knowledgeable about this stuff, what i know is from studying a bit of law a few years back, not reading up on the topic per se.

Alderson Warm-Fork wrote:
With 'sexual dispossession' I was just trying to mean the oppression of women as women, and of men and children as women, or 'patriarchy'. Is capitalism based on that? Quite possibly.

i really don't think it is. i mean there are strong anti-sexist tendencies emanating from sections of the ruling class, and it's possible to imagine a labour market where de jure equality has become de facto. that isn't to say capital hasn't historically made use of gendered hierarchies; clearly it has, i'm just arguing these can potentially be overcome without necessarily threatening the capital relation as such.

Jason Cortez
Jan 15 2009 23:16
Quote:
that isn't to say capital hasn't historically made use of gendered hierarchies; clearly it has, i'm just arguing these can potentially be overcome without necessarily threatening the capital relation as such

. Whilst I agree to a large extent, I think that this can lead to over looking how capital structures and over determines these relationships. Sexualities and sex are still contested sites and moments, there just isn't a simple dominant discourse to react to and attack, as there once was. And this can sound like that we are completely subsumed in within capital's relation which is really just the mirror of the idea that 'sex' simply exists outside this relation and can therefore undermine it.

Joseph Kay
Jan 15 2009 23:28
Jason Cortez wrote:
Sexualities and sex are still contested sites and moments, there just isn't a simple dominant discourse to react to and attack, as there once was.

this is clearly true to an extent,* but i'm not sure this contestation has anything to do with challenging the capital relation as such - unless it's linked to a rejection of the proletarian condition per se (like how a rejection of the role of the housewife lead straight into casualised wage labour for many women, not liberation - although this is more a gendered role than a sexuality per se). my argument is that even when there was a single dominant discourse to attack, attacking it in itself wasn't anti-capitalist, and that in a way there is a single dominant discourse today, that of hedonistic enjoyment, and the same goes for that (although it's challenged by various others, like traditional repressive morality was) - nobody sees the silver ring thing as 'sexual revolutionaries'. of course this doesn't discredit such contestations at all, it just stresses there's nothing subversive about who or how you fuck, imho.

Jason Cortez wrote:
Whilst I agree to a large extent, I think that this can lead to over looking how capital structures and over determines these relationships.

something i barely touched on. care to elborate? haven't thought much about it.

* i mean i've had a load of homophobic abuse hurled at me after getting in a fight with some twats - because i was wearing a feather boa (which some hot brazillan girl had just given me grin)

Jason Cortez
Jan 16 2009 03:22

I will try and come back to this

Quote:
"how capital structures and over determines these relationships."

first a few comments, the limits of the 'sexual revolution'/ 'permissive society' are only recognizable in retrospect, the fact that capital managed to accommodate/recuperate doesn't invalidate the enormity of the changes it instituted. I also think this is still unfolding.

Quote:
this is clearly true to an extent,* but I'm not sure this contestation has anything to do with challenging the capital relation as such - unless it's linked to a rejection of the proletarian condition per se )

if this is correct them how can this be also

Quote:
well I think capital is the most important force structuring social life, but capital is not an 'economic base', but a social relation, a relation of which sexuality and gender roles are an aspect. furthermore it's a relation reproduced by our daily activity

I think that this what Alderson Warm-Fork is maybe reacting to, as it seems to be subsuming everything to the class struggle, but it is not that far from some of what I mean by the over determining of relationships.

Quote:
(like how a rejection of the role of the housewife lead straight into casualised wage labour for many women, not liberation - although this is more a gendered role than a sexuality per se

maybe something similar happened to sexual liberation?

Quote:
that rape isn't about sex but about power, so it doesn't come into what is essentially a critique of 'sexual liberation' politics

Actually I would say it does as it seriously undermines any simple pro-sex agenda. The fact that rape and paedophilia are about sex as power, suggests that power isn't simply absent if all parties are consenting.

Quote:
Žižek argues that sexual repression has largely been replaced by 'jouissance' ('excess enjoyment') in consumer capitalism. Capital has fully endorsed the slogan 'it is forbidden to forbid', and the injunction is now to indulge to excess

I simply don't buy this. boredom is as much a part of life as it was in the sixties. capital could accommodate paedophilia, but it is forbidden.

I am going to stop now as it very late and I can't sleep but I am very tired and I suspect, I am not being very coherent.

OliverTwister
Jan 16 2009 07:50
Quote:
capital could accommodate paedophilia, but it is forbidden.

Well it doesn't officially accomodate it but Joseph did give plenty of examples of hyper-sexualization of teens.

Joseph Kay
Jan 16 2009 09:42
Jason Cortez wrote:
first a few comments, the limits of the 'sexual revolution'/ 'permissive society' are only recognizable in retrospect, the fact that capital managed to accommodate/recuperate doesn't invalidate the enormity of the changes it instituted.

having not lived through them, it's hard to imagine. but i can accept this - i mean gays not being murdered by the state in iran would be a real material gain for the class, regardless of its inability to threaten capital per se (i don't think 'revolutionary' is the measure of meaningful action). however, my main argument is that with this retrospective knowledge we must now recognise the limits of 'sexual liberation' politics and their inaplicability to the UK today.

Jason Cortez wrote:
Quote:
this is clearly true to an extent,* but I'm not sure this contestation has anything to do with challenging the capital relation as such - unless it's linked to a rejection of the proletarian condition per se )

if this is correct them how can this be also

Quote:
well I think capital is the most important force structuring social life, but capital is not an 'economic base', but a social relation, a relation of which sexuality and gender roles are an aspect. furthermore it's a relation reproduced by our daily activity

I think that this what Alderson Warm-Fork is maybe reacting to, as it seems to be subsuming everything to the class struggle, but it is not that far from some of what I mean by the over determining of relationships.

i'm not subsuming everything into the class struggle, but emphasising that capital is a social relation, reproduced by our daily actions, not simply an economic relation reproduced by wage labour. just because certain gendered roles (housewife-breadwinner say) are structured according to the needs of capital doesn't mean that challenging them necessarily challenges capital per se. neither does this mean they should not be challenged. of course gendered roles are not the same thing as sex, which is what i'm arguing is basically apolitical - clearly gender roles and the struggles against them do have political significance, even if they don't threaten capital per se (much like struggles against piece-rates or for the 8 hour day don't, but are still worthwhile).

Jason Cortez wrote:
Quote:
that rape isn't about sex but about power, so it doesn't come into what is essentially a critique of 'sexual liberation' politics

Actually I would say it does as it seriously undermines any simple pro-sex agenda. The fact that rape and paedophilia are about sex as power, suggests that power isn't simply absent if all parties are consenting.

well, power is never absent from human interactions if we're adopting a foucauldian schema. but then we're really talking about 'micropolitics' not the 'macropolitics' of revolution. i mean it's true that power is immanent to human interactions, but why privilege sex? i mean, why not sports? would you accept that sports (playing and watching) are 'basically apolitical', even though they can be analysed in terms of informal hierarchies, reproduction of tribalist in-out group dynamics etc? of course at the other extreme the radical feminist 'no consent under patriarchy' is patronising false consciousness wank completely out of touch with everyday sexual experiences, but that's probably uncontroversial.

Jason Cortez wrote:
I simply don't buy this. boredom is as much a part of life as it was in the sixties. capital could accommodate paedophilia, but it is forbidden.

well like i say and OliverTwister notes, there is a tendency to pervasively sexualise pre-pubescents (which i speculate helps explain anti-paedo hysteria). but in any case i'm talking about a hegemonic mode, a dominant tendency, not an absolute. pre-68 sex wasn't uniformly monogamous, dull and functional and post-68 it isn't uniformly polysexual, promiscuous and hedonistic. that's not my argument. on the other hand, the stigma today you get for say, going home with a girl but not shagging her for whatever reason seems analogous to the stigma of sex out of wedlock under moderately judeo-christian morality (i.e. not where you'd be stoned to death).

of course an over-riding injunction to 'be sexual', to see sex as a pleasurable end-in-itself* doesn't mean it can't be boring either. in fact rather like consumerism, you could argue promiscuity rests on the fleetingness of satisfaction, constitutive lack or whatever.

* to re-iterate, i'm not passing moral judgement here, just making an observation. sex can be a pleasurable end-in-itself every bit as much as it can be a procreative necessity. the point is how sexual norms are constructed in accordance with - or construct - the prevailing mode of accumulation.

Jason Cortez
Jan 16 2009 09:49
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for Žižek the commodity that epitomises this is chocolate laxatives.

Has he never heard of Mary Poppins and chocolate does not cause constipation.

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Žižek would argue todays 'sexual revolutionaries' are the 'Silver Ring Thing' kids, since they defy todays injunction to 'be sexual' in much the same way as 60s sexual rebels defied prudish 'square' society

this is just facile

Quote:
US Amish communities, who raise their kids in rural isolation for 18 years then let them loose in the cities with the flurry of drugs, sex and rock'n'roll that entails. But the 'permissiveness' of the community towards its new adults represents a hidden autocracy; unprepared for urban society, after a few years of excess most kids return to the comfort of the rural community, to raise their kids the same way in turn. for Žižek this is an allegory of the empty freedom of consumer capitalism.

how is this an allegory as we are immersed in consumer capitalism from brith? I am not sure whether you are misrepresenting (unintentionally) or he is just this incoherent.

Zizek wrote:
This is a perfect case of the difficulties that invariably accompany ‘freedom of choice’: while Amish children are formally given a free choice, the conditions in which they must make it render the choice unfree.

He seems to be implying that if the Amish didn't allow the kids to piss off at seventeen them any decision they then madein thses conditions to leave or not would be free choice

Joseph Kay
Jan 16 2009 10:34
Jason Cortez wrote:
Has he never heard of Mary Poppins and chocolate does not cause constipation.

the point of the example is that the more you consume, the more you shit, the more you can continue to consume. thus there's an excessive pleasure-pain dynamic to the enjoyment.

Jason Cortez wrote:
this is just facile

no u. this is not an argument. why is it facile?

Jason Cortez wrote:
how is this an allegory as we are immersed in consumer capitalism from brith? I am not sure whether you are misrepresenting (unintentionally) or he is just this incoherent.

maybe i'm misrepresenting, i was paraphrasing from memory (there's a link there to one of his articles though). the point is is that notional freedom without limits is can be an authoritarian device if the subjects experiencing it are not socialised to cope with it. as i understand it his argument is that freedom in capitalism operates in a similar way, faced with a bewildering array of 'choice' we experience unbearble anxiety.

Jason Cortez wrote:
He seems to be implying that if the Amish didn't allow the kids to piss off at seventeen them any decision they then madein thses conditions to leave or not would be free choice

i think he's simply arguing that formal freedom is not the whole story. to apply this to 'free love', the implication would be that while sexual repression is far less a social force than 40 years ago, this doesn't mean the sexually liberal injunction to 'be sexual' is any more free in a real sense, only formally so. like i say, see the stigma of going home with a girl and not shagging her etc.

Joseph Kay
Jan 16 2009 13:29
Joseph K. wrote:
Jason Cortez wrote:
He seems to be implying that if the Amish didn't allow the kids to piss off at seventeen them any decision they then madein thses conditions to leave or not would be free choice

i think he's simply arguing that formal freedom is not the whole story. to apply this to 'free love', the implication would be that while sexual repression is far less a social force than 40 years ago, this doesn't mean the sexually liberal injunction to 'be sexual' is any more free in a real sense, only formally so. like i say, see the stigma of going home with a girl and not shagging her etc.

just to riff off this theme, 60s sexual liberation politics could be seen as basically sexual liberalism, demanding the formal freedom to fuck as you please. as zizek's argument goes - and you point out - this formal freedom masks a real unfreedom; the persistance of unequal power relations, sexual norms structured to mirror the prevailing mode of accumulation etc. consequently, a 'sexual anarchism' would aim not at mere formal sexual freedom, but real. of course this would mean an attack on capitalist social relations per se, since these power relations and norms are an aspect of them.

for example dalla costa/james argue the factory worker husband suffers subordinataion all day at work - enduring it for the wage, and consequently imposes subordination in the home - in no small part through their control of family income, 'the patriarchy of the wage.' likewise i'm arguing the norms of promiscuity can't be overcome without overcoming the mode of accumulation which they reflect and are reflected by, that is by being fought along with the class struggle. of course norms and stigmas don't dictate our behaviours in any totalitarian way, and so there's more scope for simply doing your own thing on an individual level than with say, opting out of wage labour. but a societal change requires a change in social relations; a sexual politics aiming to do this while decoupled from class struggle will always prove somewhat... impotent. that is not to say it isn't a necessary aspect of that struggle either.

Alderson Warm-Fork
Jan 16 2009 18:42

Ok, lots more posts, most of which make me want to respond in some way, but I will focus on the one directed at me.

Joseph K. wrote:
people react to traumatic experiences in a myriad ways, but it's the trauma that is of political significance

You mention drinking. I remember one 19th-century revolutionary directly comparing drinking and religion (or, indeed, in Marx's case, drugs and religion) and giving them the same basic significance: they stabilise society by providing a non-revolutionary response to trauma. So I don't think the line you're drawing between the personal and the political is necessarily that sharp.

Joseph K. wrote:
well i think capital is the most important force structuring social life, but capital is not an 'economic base', but a social relation, a relation of which sexuality and gender roles are an aspect. furthermore it's a relation reproduced by our daily activity...i'm not convinced 'patriarchy' is a useful term to describe a society like the UK (i know this goes against lefty orthodoxy). i mean, i don't think there is systematic rule of women by men.

Well, I disagree (this I suppose is why we're having this discussion). I think there is a patriarchy, not just because of rape, but because of the way that labour is divided, with un-empowering and unpaid work being largely done by women and almost all positions of power dominated by men. I also think there is patriarchy because of the way that women's psyches are screwed around with by the cult of beauty, dieting, 'romance', and all sorts of other things that function to divert energy away from activity and towards self-objectification.

Joseph K. wrote:
i think they're largely explicable within the framework of bourgeois law

See, I agree, but I think that amounts to saying they're largely explicable within the framework of patriarchal law, law developed to deal with crimes committed against bourgeois men, and consequently ill-equipped to handle domestic violence and rape. I have a blog post about it here if you're interested.

Joseph K. wrote:
i mean there are strong anti-sexist tendencies emanating from sections of the ruling class, and it's possible to imagine a labour market where de jure equality has become de facto

Well, a feminist like Shulamith firestone would argue that de facto equality in the labour market is impossible as long as the sexual division of labour remains, with women producing, raising, caring for children and also caring for, looking after, men. But if that was abolished the family as we know it would be abolished. Now, that would have two major consequences. One would be that inheritance would be put into question, which would be a huge blow against private property (which, who knows, it might be able to accomodate in time).

Secondly, and more debatably, without the psychological dynamics of the family, the principal method of sex role training would disappear. Unless some other method emerged, boys would no longer be forced to go through the 'Oedipal transition' and identify with the powerful in the hopes of sharing their power, simultaneously rejecting the weak and nurturing in order to differentiate themselves and avoid sharing their subjection. This would remove the tendency that most people have to attribute blame and hostility onto the weak and those who fight the system, the tendency to blame immigrants, protesters, those on welfare, third world nations, ethnic minorities, etc. If all that hostility were directed at where it naturally wants to go, namely at those who try to exert control, at capital, at governments and imperialists and police and businesses, then I think that would threaten the capital relation.

So, I guess what I'm saying is that I think patriarchy and capitalism are on a pretty equal footing - they maintain and support each other, but I think it would be a mistake to see one as either something that could be changed independently of the other, or something that only needs to be tacked on as an 'aspect' of the other.

Alderson Warm-Fork
Jan 16 2009 21:51

Also, regarding the 60s: I've just finished reading a second-wave radical feminist book that talks a lot about sexual repression, and the sort of thing the author means by that phrase hasn't disappeared at all. She talks about the splitting of physical intimacy off from other forms of pleasure and other forms of relatedness, and the restriction of that intimacy to genital sex.

Ending that sort of 'repression' certainly wouldn't mean having a greater number of casual sexual partners, because that still splits 'sexual partner' away from other forms of love and relationship, indeed does so arguably even more than sexual monogamy. And it equally doesn't mean amending the cultural idea of 'what sex is' to include oral and anal as standard. What Shulamith Firestone (the author in question) wants is for sexual expression to be 'diffused' across all of experience, so that every aspect of life, or at least more than one special section, can be made 'sensual', so that genital sex (and of course oral and anal sex still involve at least one person's genitals) becomes only one component of a far richer physical love, and physical love connects seamlessly with other forms of love to animate all of our relationships.

This would of course require a total change in the way we think about sex. Sex can't mingle freely with love and relationships in general because we still see it as a form of possession, a way of expressing power. We still feel that a man with many sexual partners is 'more powerful' and 'more accomplished', while a woman with many sexual partners is 'used' and less 'valuable'. The new forms of sex, like anal sex, have simply provided new ways to turn physical intimacy into a power struggle.

Obviously, there was a big 'free love' movement of the sort that Joseph K. criticises here, which identified liberation with having lots of sex. But there didn't seem to be much talk so far about what radical feminists really meant by 'sexual repression'.

Jason Cortez
Jan 16 2009 22:17
Quote:
i mean gays not being murdered by the state in iran would be a real material gain for the class, regardless of its inability to threaten capital per se (i don't think 'revolutionary' is the measure of meaningful action). however, my main argument is that with this retrospective knowledge we must now recognise the limits of 'sexual liberation' politics and their inaplicability to the UK today.

on this we are in agreement. I think the limits were inherent in the notion that all we had to do to undermine sexual repression, was to release our blocked libinal energies and play in the sexual pleasure ground, shattering our social conditioning, allowing us to see through our social institutions and eroding their very foundations. This sex positive position was seen as very challengeing at time by most folks on all sides. This help mask the problem of limits (peadophillia was being call the last sexual oppression by the early seventies) and that sexual behaviour isn't a static entity existing outside or under social relationships, even if it as you said

Quote:
the relation between family structures and class composition is a dialectical one - there's a feedback loop, but unpicking causality even retrospectively is a matter of chicken and egg.

Jason Cortez
Jan 20 2009 13:35

Jason Cortez wrote:

this is just facile

JK wrote:
no u. this is not an argument. why is it facile?

Well the kids who take this pledge are nearly all Christians, who live within families who have a great deal of control over their lives, letting them watch only xtian TV, listen to Xian rock, attend xian social functions etc. Their lives are represented as the other to the mainstream, but are well within the broad range of society norms (up at one end of the spectrum certainly). They also often have loving but authoritarian parents and it is to satisfy and honour these parents that the pledge is taken. I don't think this is in any where analogous to the sixties sexual liberationists. Also I think this 'injunction to be sexual' is seriously overplayed. Does anyone really think teenagers need to be encouraged to be sexual?

JK wrote:
the stigma today you get for say, going home with a girl but not shagging her for whatever

I guess this must be an affliction that only the young suffer smile

Jason Cortez
Jan 16 2009 22:58
JK wrote:
the point is is that notional freedom without limits is can be an authoritarian device if the subjects experiencing it are not socialised to cope with it. as i understand it his argument is that freedom in capitalism operates in a similar way, faced with a bewildering array of 'choice' we experience unbearble anxiety.

Whilst I can understand the argument, this certainly doesn't seem anything like my experience of 'freedom' in capitalism. Mmnn, maybe a should go and read some more Zizek, I have never found him very rewarding or that interesting, could you recommend a good place to start.

Jason Cortez
Jan 20 2009 13:14
Quote:
well, power is never absent from human interactions if we're adopting a foucauldian schema. but then we're really talking about 'micropolitics' not the 'macropolitics' of revolution. i mean it's true that power is immanent to human interactions, but why privilege sex? i mean, why not sports? would you accept that sports (playing and watching) are 'basically apolitical', even though they can be analysed in terms of informal hierarchies, reproduction of tribalist in-out group dynamics etc?

Sex and reproduction are slightly more central to life. This is a poor reading of Foucault. The power relationships I was talking about are in part over determined by capital, status, wealth, gendered roles, etc

Jason Cortez
Jan 20 2009 13:34
OliverTwister wrote:
Quote:
capital could accommodate paedophilia, but it is forbidden.

Well it doesn't officially accomodate it but Joseph did give plenty of examples of hyper-sexualization of teens.

Which reinforces my critic of the sex positive position which naturalises sex, seeing the only problem the repression of our free expression. It seems that repressing (some) of our sexual possibilities through cultural and legal prohibition serve a nessecary perpose, but that this does not make these desires disappear. Now they are much more open, pervasive and coded, whereas before they were largely closed, hidden and unspoken.

Joseph Kay
Jan 20 2009 14:51

btw i am planning on responding to this discussion but i probably won't get a chance until the weekend

madashell
Jan 21 2009 13:48

Bit late coming into this, but to be honest, JK, I think you miss the point somewhat.

It is possible to imagine a capitalism in which patriarchy is non-existent, just as it is possible to imagine a communism in which patriarchy is alive and well. Neither are desirable options, leaving aside the (highly debatable, IMO) question of their possibility.

petey
Mar 4 2009 23:25

it's not central to the discussion, and i don't know who originally posted/cited this, but:

Quote:
US Amish communities, who raise their kids in rural isolation for 18 years then let them loose in the cities with the flurry of drugs, sex and rock'n'roll that entails. But the 'permissiveness' of the community towards its new adults represents a hidden autocracy; unprepared for urban society, after a few years of excess most kids return to the comfort of the rural community, to raise their kids the same way in turn.

is very exaggerated.
1: those kids are far from isolated to begin with.
2: the rumspringa is not being 'let loose in cities', if for no other reason than philadelphia (e.g.) is kinda far away, and how are they going to get work, apart from construction? i know this because i spent some time in lancaster, and that's considered the big city by many PA amish. they come to town, they make fumbling passes, they go home (where it's relatively easy to get drugs). the number who participate in 'excess' is small.
3: the whopping majority of these boys (girls don't get a rumspringa) do decide to continue in the amish life, no doubt because they've been psychologically conditioned, but also because it provides absolute economic and social security, which will look all the better after seeing corporate capitalism.