Lots of the ideas put forth by Shulamith Firestone in The Dialectic of Sex intrigue the fuck out of spinster aunts, but none intrigues the fuck out of them like this one: that in a post-patriarchal society, culture (inclusive, I am happy to say, of art) will become irrelevant and extrinsic and die a long-overdue death, whereupon humans, freed from the prison of domination, will transmogrify into giant intellects pretty much throbbing with contentment.
I mention Firestone’s enchanting speculations for two reasons, both of which originate with blamer comments.
Blamer madeleine wonders how any revolution can be accomplished without violence, and how any society, including a post-patriarchal one, could “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?”
For an answer, the obstreperal lobe turns fondly to Firestone and her cultural revolution, which predicts, along with a golden age of “communistic anarchy” and self-determination, the “disappearance of cultural sex, age, and race distinction and of the psychology of power.”
We’ve progressed enough since Firestone’s book was published (1970) to grasp that bagging race distinction would be a good idea, but out with childhood? Out with age? Out with the psychology of power? Is she wack? Won’t human society implode without a hierarchy based on who knows and does stuff “better” than whoever else?
What about the children?
These are legitimate concerns for persons whose experience is confined to the intellectual suffocation demanded by life in a primitive, violent dystopia. Which is just about everybody.
Certainly we couldn’t, at this point in human evolution, just start turning the kids loose in the world. It is unthinkable that they should not spend their idyllic first years in thrall to one or two adults who will educate (socialize) them according to the adults’ personal “values,” meaning, of course, the DNA necessary to replicate patriarchy. This indoctrination period is known as “raising” children, and differs from raising tomatoes chiefly in that tomatoes are given quite a bit more freedom to be themselves.
Raising children is thought to be both a moral obligation and a deeply fulfilling endeavor. When people, especially women, reproduce and fail to take sufficient interest in the deeply fulfilling endeavor of hammering patriarchal ideology into their kids, they are described by people who do do this (i.e. “good” parents) as “bad” parents.
Naturally this is sour grapes on the part of the “good” parents, who, if they are women (and they probably are), have become footnotes to their children’s lives, subsumed by the great drudging melodrama of motherhood at the expense of their own identities. I’d be bitter, too.
But I digress.
The point I set out to make — and let’s face it, when do I ever get it in the first pass? I’m sure there’ll be a post tomorrow stating in clear, concise English whatever it is I’m so abstrusely trying to say today — is that it would be great if we could at least imagine a social order free of dominance and submission. Imagining it isn’t, contrary to what John Lennon asserted, easy, but for fuck’s sake, isn’t it necessary?
So I urge the reader to give it a whirl. I’ll start. Say, for example, that because of changes engendered by the feminist revolution, kids wouldn’t need to be raised at all. They could flit about the countryside according to whim, just like anybody else. Why not? They wouldn’t be kidnaped or raped or sold into sex slavery because, remember? dominance and submission is a thing of the past. They wouldn’t be run over by cars, because future-topia vehicles are accident-proof. They won’t skip school because there isn’t any school to skip. They won’t join roving gangs of thugs because crime doesn’t exist, either. The kids would choose the people they wish to hang out with, which people may or may not include their biological parents. The parents would be relieved of their neurotic, self-absorbed obsession with their own offspring, the kids would be free from enslavement as low-status sub-beings in a nuclear family to which they belong only as an accident of birth.
Firestone asserts that after the feminist/proletarian revolt, humans, unfettered by class and culture and power differentials, will be free to “realize the conceivable in the actual.” We’d become giant pulsating globs of happiness.
Thus would art take a powder! Hallelujah! At least, art as we know it — that ponderous, self-absorbed, interpretation, or anti-interpretation (whatever!), of reality, with an audience manipulated by a creator — would cease to be. Which brings me to my second thought.
This thought popped into my head when I began leafing through a copy of Slaughterhouse Five, through which seminal 20th-century anti-war novel I was leafing because several blamers had recently alluded to the phrase “poo-tee-weet.” I happened to read a passage that made me bust out weeping.
Here is the passage.
When he was gone, Lazzaro promised Billy and poor old Edgar Derby that he was going to have revenge, and that revenge was sweet.
“It’s the sweetest thing there is,” said Lazzaro. “People fuck with me,” he said, “and Jesus Christ are they ever fucking sorry. I laugh like hell. I don’t care if it’s a guy or a dame. If the President of the United States fucked around with me, I’d fix him good. You should have seen what I did to a dog one time.”
“A dog?” said Billy.
“Son of a bitch bit me. So I got me some steak, and I got me the spring out of a clock. I cut that spring up into little pieces. I put points on the ends of the pieces. They were sharp as razor blades. I stuck’em into the steak — way inside. And I went past where they had the dog tied up. He wanted to bite me again. I said to him, ‘Come on doggie — let’s be friends. Let’s not be enemies any more. I’m not mad.’ He believed me.”
“I threw him the steak. He swallowed it down in one big gulp. I waited around for ten minutes.” Now Lazzaro’s eyes twinkled. “Blood started coming out of his mouth. He started crying, and he rolled on the ground, as though the knives were on the outside of him instead of on the inside of him. Then he tried to bite out his own insides. I laughed, and I said to him, ‘You got the right idea now. Tear your own guts out, boy. That’s me in there will all those knives.'” So it goes.
“Anybody ever asks you what the sweetest thing in life is –” said Lazzaro, “it’s revenge.”
I thought about Firestone’s art-free utopia as soon as I finished bawling my eyes out. I had a sudden desperate yearning for an existence where such a passage could never have been conceived. Because that passage is pretty much the definition of patriarchy. So is the whole of Slaughterhouse Five, for that matter, down to Vonnegut’s lone, one-dimensional female character.
Imagine: oppression of children, gone! Imagine: war, gone! Imagine: art, gone! All made irrelevant by human evolution into pulsating, contented geniuses. Gone is the power differential between parent and offspring, homeland and enemy, audience and creator. Blamm! Revolution fixes everything.
Culture is nothing but the realization of patriarchal fantasy.