Dec 01 2008

Spinster aunt forgoes spider safari in selfless service of greater good

Of the Hill Country thrushes, the Eastern bluebird, a species commonly thought to exist exclusively in Disney cartoons, infests El Rancho Deluxe with the least compunction. You can scarcely poke your head out the door around here without about 137 of’em swarming in to perch on you, radiating happiness. In a tribute to Western godbagosity, the noise it makes has been interpreted by certain melodramatic English-speaking poets as “purity, purity.” S. sialis, Blanco County, TX, December 2008.

Dang it, I was going to stake out a funnel-web spider’s lair this morning, but early reports from commentary on yesterday’s post reveal that some clarification is in order. Blaming before spider lairs, that’s the Faster family motto. So you’ll have to put up with this photo of a bluebird I took ten minutes ago. It’s supercute and all, but it’s no spider.

Yes, I’m afraid this is going to be one of those posts where I try to explain what I meant by my last post, the thesis of which, I perceive upon reading comments which appear to respond to another post entirely, was put forth with more than my usual degree of ineptitude.

I have examined the essay in question with fresh, limpid eyes, and believe that I have detected the nub of the problem. It lies in my careless flinging about of the word “guilt.”

It is difficult to get away with this word in these troubled times. For one thing, it has been co-opted by psychology, rendering it destitute of useful qualities. But what’s worse, guilt as a concept has been steeping for centuries in moldy holy water. It’s a key element in the whole good vs evil, sin vs virtue, black vs white system of simpletonian godbagious mind control. Without guilt there can be no innocence. The importance of this dichotomy in the Biblical myths, and its repercussions in modern social policy, cannot be overestimated. From Adam’n’Eve directly proceeds today’s popular misogyny. From the virgin birth you get a whole plethora of vile conventions, such as 21st century fetus-worship. To take but two repellent examples.

In yesterday’s post I attempted, like I do in every post, to show, by describing its inexorability, how patriarchy has debased the entire species.

Unfortunately, I used the word “guilt” where I should have used “unavoidable complicity.” Unable to leave it at that, I then effected a clumsy tie-in with Thanksgiving, the holiday where everybody complains self-indulgently about excess in a manner consistent with “white guilt.” You know white guilt? The practice whereby honkys trumpet their repudiation of racism by purporting to assume responsibility for the wrongs of their entire race? When I used the word “guilt” in conjunction with “honky excess,” many blamers reacted to what was understandably perceived as another boring Thanksgiving allusion to this white guilt crap.

But, as I tried (and failed) to explain, I may be boring, but I’m not talking about white guilt. I’m talking about the inescapable intrusion of patriarchal horror into everybody’s lives. By “everybody” I mean the haves, the have-nots, the have-somes, the what-have-yous. What I mean is not that — as one blamer jested — you should eat your Brussel’s sprouts because of “starving Armenians.” What I mean is not that you should feel bad because you have enough food to stay alive another day. It’s not a matter of “feeling” anything. I mean merely that, the way the system is set up, no one can opt out of exercising privilege, no matter how pure their soul or how unproductive they deem the practice of pointing this out. That our complicity in global violence is unavoidable is one of the defining characteristics of the whole social order, and is why revolution is so urgently needed.

I try to make this point often, because one of the most common obstacles to grasping the concept of patriarchy in all its gruesome enormity is the mistaken idea that it is merely theory, or that women are mostly equal now, or that it only affects people in Saudi Arabia or Ohio. Women as a class are the most obvious casualties of patriarchal ideology, but in praxis we’re perps, too, just like everybody else. What we call “patriarchy” is a social order based not just on misogyny, but in a broader sense on dominance and submission. Because of this set-up, nobody can avoid membership in some group or class that dominates some and submits to some other. Thus is your existence predicated on some oppression which benefits you and harms someone else. I offer this as a statement of fact. You can feel guilty about it or not; that’s on you.

Oh, in case you were wondering, the funnel-web spider I’d intended to spy on today has now vanished. Please, don’t feel bad that my duty to the blametariat prevented me from realizing a cherished personal goal. I live to serve.


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  1. deja pseu

    Gorgeous little avian there. I always thought the call was something like “poo-tee-WEET.” Purity, my ass.

  2. Orange

    Well, some people can opt out of exercising privilege–the ones who truly have none. Say, acid-burned women in Pakistan.

    But I suppose anyone who has privilege can’t opt out, and the people who don’t have any also don’t have the choice to opt in or out–you either have it (to varying degrees) or you don’t.

  3. Kate Dino

    Damn. I fed the megacorporaphallotheowhatevercracy and all I got was a lousy meal at a hotel buffet in West Virginia. Crime does not pay.

  4. Twisty

    Quoth Orange: “Well, some people can opt out of exercising privilege–the ones who truly have none. Say, acid-burned women in Pakistan.”

    Fair enough. I hereby amend the line to read “no one who is reading this can opt out of exercising privilege.” Home viewers, please correct your copies of the text accordingly.

  5. Level Best

    Any Appalachian like me can tell you that the blue bird’s call distinctly says, “Purty! Purty!” I thought this translated easily to Texan. And blue birds ARE purty.

  6. Dawn Coyote

    I got it the first time, and while I, on behalf of others who didn’t get it, appreciate your effort to clarify, I would also have enjoyed the picture of the spider.

    I guess a categorical imperative would be too much to ask.

  7. octopod

    Is THAT the bird that says “Poo-tee-weet”? I’ve always wanted to know!

  8. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    I’m sorry you missed the spider. But the bird is lovely. I’ve never been the recipient of the happiness they’re purported to bestow, but seeing one or three of them still makes me grin. Poo-tee-weet, indeed.

  9. TP

    Great clarification. I’d call this strain of thought some ultra-advanced blaming. Privilege is almost universal, except among the acid-burned Pakistani women of the world.

    Among the more oppressed men of the world, I would note that the greater the weight of the oppression they feel, the greater the urge to oppress anyone below them. And in a world where whenever you find an oppressed man you will generally find an oppressed woman or three, it’s remarkable that no matter how far down the privilege tree you go, you seem to hit rock bottom with women, rather than men.

    The knot I’ve been chewing on is the highly-personal problem of what to do with a privilege you feel like you don’t want or need to exercise, as in the case of a man who has less desire than usual to spend his days embiggening his superiority over women. The only thing that has occurred to me yet is a general tendency to reduce artificial desires.

  10. cilla

    hey Twisty! thank fuck you are back!

  11. echino

    I used to think your focus was narrow (though still awesome). Now I see I just didn’t understand it all. Thanks! By the way, what do you think of anarcha-feminism as a philosophy for undermining the dominance-submission basis for patriarchy? If this is the basis, then eliminating illegitimate hierarchy would be the first step in destroying it, right?

  12. Twisty

    I have long been a proponent of the decentralization of power as a prerequisite to the destruction of patriarchy. Hence, for example, my quiet desperation over the fact that so many women choose to marry, thus replicating the little units of male domination that enslave them as chattel. Or why “putting more women” in charge of traditional patriarchally-constructed hierarchies (like priesthoods, governments, corporations) will have zero mitigating impact on women’s oppression. Unless, of course, those women are radical feminist moles who will kill the hierarchy from within. Ha!

  13. Catherine Martell

    I got it the first time, too. But I am glad there is no spider on that page.

    Orange, I fail to see how acid-burned women in Pakistan have “opted out” of exercising privilege. The point is that most or all of the privileges they may have had have been removed forcibly from them. Thus the point stands: no one can opt out of privilege that he or she has.

  14. PhysioProf

    It’s not a matter of “feeling” anything. I mean merely that, the way the system is set up, no one can opt out of exercising privilege, no matter how pure their soul or how unproductive they deem the practice of pointing this out.

    Another datapoint: I thought your previous post made this point very clearly, and that your use of the term “guilt” referred to complicity and not to an internal emotional state.

    And Comrade PhysioProf fucking demands that the next time you see the funnel-web spider, you take pictures and post them!

  15. caitlinate

    “What we call “patriarchy” is a social order based not just on misogyny, but in a broader sense on dominance and submission.”

    I heartily enjoyed this line. So often in fights/respectful disagreements with those that disagree I find myself getting dragged into why-don’t-you-toe-the-centre or but-i’m-oppressed-how-can-i-oppress-anyone conversations that make me scream – this is a fairly succinct line i can utilise in response.

    In Australia we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving (obviously) but we have ‘Australia Day’ better known amongst the more informed as ‘Invasion Day’. Thousands converge upon the capital decked out in nationalistic pride – with flags, temporary tattoos, t-shirts, shoes and more to match. It’s quite the revolting sight and so difficult to convince people who are ill informed out of. I point out the fact that the whole day is based on the continuing oppression, domination and the genocide of the indigenous population and am told that it is about moving past this and uniting as a nation – whether black or white. Vomit.

    Down with marriage, down with hierarchies, yay for collective living!

  16. Ron Sullivan

    Nice bird.

    Uh yeah, it’s not about feeeeeelings. To paraphrase my sweet old Grammy Adams: Feel in one hand and shit in the other and see which one fills up first.

    Then again, women get told how to feel all the time, so maybe it’s not so odd that we think of guilt in that fashion too. Yeah, inescapable complicity, better phrase.

  17. Inverarity

    I got the point of the first post very clearly.

    Everyone likes the Blamimg, until it’s their own privilege being gored.

    “I’m poor, I’ve got no Internet-using American privilege!” == “I’m poor and my ancestors never owned slaves, I’ve got no white privilege!” == “I’m a lonely dude who doesn’t harass or oppress women, I’ve got no male privilege!”

  18. AoT

    *That our complicity in global violence is unavoidable is one of the defining characteristics of the whole social order, and is why revolution is so urgently needed.*

    That is perhaps the best and most succinct explanation of the situation that I have ever had the pleasure to read. One can act to mitigate global violence, and less is definitely better, through what we choose to do and not do but to stop it we need a revolution.

    That’s going in my book of quotes.

  19. tinfoile hattie

    Unfortunately, I used the word “guilt” where I should have used “unavoidable complicity.”

    Dang. You got me.

    And, I only wrote what I did in the other post so you’d have to come back and write more. Ha-ha! Good trick, huh?

    I want to feed everyone. I want Slythwolf to come to my house and live with me, so we can reside happily together in ADD World, and she’ll have enough to eat, and so will everybody in the whole wide world. I want to fling open the supermarket doors and feed my entire county and STILL have food left over because, as my friend said yesterday, we DO have enough, dammit. And it’s a disgrace that anyone goes hungry. There are at least 15 grocery stores within a 5-mile radius of my house. SO WHY ARE PEOPLE GOING HUNGRY?

    And, hell YES, I blame the patriarchy.

  20. Twisty

    You don’t need me to tell you this, but it may as well go down on the record: the reason people are going hungry is a hideous combination of apathy and greed. i.e. the megatheocorporatocracy.

  21. speedbudget

    Slightly OT, but I thought you all might appreciate this.

    I had a Bluebird fambily living in a bluebird box outside of my house. They would flit around and sit on the bean poles and yell about how this was their pad, and go ahead and fuck off. Eventually, there were baybeeeeeez in ye ole box.

    Then one day I came home and the birds were all atwitter. And not just them, but the mocking birds and blue jays, too. All were atwittering. Something was “up.” I noticed something weird going on in the box. I went inside and got my binoculars and proceeded to sit on my ass. And wait.

    About an hour later, I saw what might have been a head of something in that box. Whatever it was would not or could not come out. I waited longer.

    Eventually, the biggest-ass black snake you have ever see in your life came out of that box. I’m talking, the box is up on a pole (which is listing to port horrendously) and the box is above my 5’5″ head. The snake came out of the box, and when her head was on the ground and she was slithering away, her tail was still coming out of that box. I realized what had taken her so long to get out of the box was the gargantuan task of turning around in there.

    She had eaten the babies. I was hoping to see little baby bulges on her sides when I realized it was a snake, but she was too big. I don’t know how she fit through the hole on the front of the box.

    I just thought I would relate this story to a bunch of nature-loving blamers to point out that purity gets your babies eaten by snakes.

  22. tinfoile hattie

    … a hideous combination of apathy and greed. i.e. the megatheocorporatocracy.

    By strange coincidence, brought to you by the big P.

  23. madeleine

    Yes, yes and yes, but how? How do you make a global revolution without global violence? And how can any society, even one consisting of two persons, function without (voluntary) dominance and submission, in view of the fact that some people know or do some things better than others? And how can you raise children for example, without same?
    I’m all for it, but I have no way to imagine how it would or could work.

  24. atheist woman

    Yes, Amartya Sen, known world wide for his possession of one x chromosome and one y chromosome, says famines are due to entitlement failures. In our current system there is no lack of food, but lack of political structure to deliver the food. Surprise surprise, during such famines the wealthy, the whitest, and the male all tend to do quite well food wise, demonstrating that it was never an issue of supply.

  25. citywood

    Appreciate your selflessness, Twisty.

    Oh my speedbudget, the poor babies! I’m shivering thinking of it.

  26. narya

    I got it the first time, too, but I still think “inescapable complicity” is a better and more accurate rendering.

    I had a longer point here, but I keep realizing that it’s not worthwhile to throw it in the comments section and that I’m better off moving to Texas and finding the Faster Ranch and arguing with you about these things in person. (Okay, as if, but a girl can dream.)

  27. zofia

    “Down with marriage, down with hierarchies, yay for collective living!”

    This made me think of Valerie Solanas and her wonderful critique of the commune, tribe, collective idea.

  28. Vinaigrette Girl

    I plead guilty sensu stricto as charged about the Brussels sprouts and the Armenians. That was my comment.

    I got the guilt vs complicity thing; but because I don’t buy purity as a concept anyway, I couldn’t see nothing-at-all as worthy of some form of thanksgiving, even if the things I’m thankful for aren’t purified of complicity. Nothing in this world of human construction *is*.

    Your funnel web spider is exempt, and so is the birdy. So I’m thankful for them, too.

    And for you.

  29. Shira

    There are at least 15 grocery stores within a 5-mile radius of my house. SO WHY ARE PEOPLE GOING HUNGRY?

    I blame the patriarchy for the fact that we subsidize agribusiness but not grocery stores, so that all of the tax-payer funded discount that supposedly exists so that farmers can afford to grow enough food for everyone, is eaten up somewhere between when the food gets picked and when it ends up flavoring your coke. Because heaven forbid we make it a priority to sell food cheaply enough that it all gets sold, and sold in every neighborhood (see: the grocery gap). As if farm subsidies exist to help farmers and not people who can’t afford to eat.

  30. Suzz

    To quote another wise blamer-at-large, Carol J. Adams, “privilege resists self-examination.” You’re doing a fine job of hurdling that blockade to blaming where it appears to be relevant (which is almost everywhere).

    And forget Tofurkeys – even our green beans are generally complicit in the world’s patriarchal schemes, unless we have purchased them locally from small growers or, even better, grown them ourselves. Yes, we may only be able to take the time to grow our own green beans because disadvantaged people supply the materials that allow us, the privileged green bean-growers, to maintain our lives in what we deem socially acceptable fashion at a monetary price low enough that we can sustain its purchase without working 12 hours a day, but it’s a step in the right direction.

    If you don’t wanna be complicit, though, really: go freegan.

  31. Suzz

    Also, while we’re discussing how fucked up the food paradigm is, may I suggest you all read “In Defense of Food,” by Michael Pollan? I certainly don’t agree with everything that he says, but he makes some very enlightening points about our culture’s ruined ideas regarding eating and food and our sad little ideas about “nutrition.” And if you’re already on board with that, borrow it from the library and make someone else read it.

  32. Cimorene

    I was with you on the first post (I associate living in the patriarchy with unintentional complicity). But can I just say that reading this blog for the past two years or so has seriously made my transition into a critical-theory-loving graduate program in English literature SO much easier? The ideas in my Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism have basically been taken out of the book, wrastled down into easier to understand language (without dumbing down the ideas, with is the real genius of this whole blog), and applied to the patriarchy? It makes life so much easier for me.

    So, thank you, Twisty, for not only introducing me to concepts which I would eventually have to write about, and also for giving me a template on how to make every response paper I write for my theory class about feminism and the patriarchy. And also almost everything I say in our seminar discussions. And also sort of my whole brain.

  33. Tigs

    “As if farm subsidies exist to help farmers and not people who can’t afford to eat.”

    Trickling down through megatheocorporatocracy, food is a security issue, not a human rights issue.

  34. Joolya

    Ummm, Twisty, maybe people would like you more if you didn’t go around harshing their tryptophan mellow all the dang time.

    God, why are Feminists so Angry?

  35. thebewilderness

    “God, why are Feminists so Angry?”
    I’m not God, but I can answer your question.
    Because we are paying attention.
    A very high price, indeed.

  36. speedbudget


    We are Angry because people use Random Capitalization when making Stupid Points.

    And speak for yourself. I love Twisty.

  37. Twisty

    Joolya was making a joke, yall.

    But thanks for the love.

  38. Mau de Katt

    Ah, to hell with blaming and megatheocorporatocracy, at least for a little while.



  39. slythwolf

    It is in fact the idea of complicity that I disagreed with. I don’t think American poor folks like myself are complicit in global poverty, the reason being, there ain’t a damn thing we can do about it one way or the other.

  40. jael

    i know, i shouldn’t bite but.. but…. i’m sorry. I lasted 5 days. I tried. Dog, I tried.

    Slyth, so that’d be just like men that think there ain’t one thing they can do about the patriarchy so they’re not complicit, or is it different somehow?

  41. Jezebella

    “poor in America” = rich as hell in the global south. Do you have internet access, a computer, electricity, and running water? Consider the millions – billions? – who don’t.

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