It didn’t initially seem fair to me that I should get laid off the week after Thanksgiving, three weeks before Christmas. Although I neither celebrate nor enjoy the latter holiday, it seemed like the scene out of The Christmas Carol that Dickens couldn’t stand to write. But I guess that the culturally mediated significance the greater United States places on these few weeks are no match for capitalism–and what is Christmas anyway but a holiday whose cultural meaning has long been surpassed in the minds of most Americans by its attached capitalistic values. In other words, as Marx would say, capital really does drive change, and no one, not even a corporation that makes a pretense of having “values” and caring for their employees, is going to let some religious nonsense stop them from doing what’s good for the bottom line, especially as Christmas is religious nonsense pasted on top of previous levels of religious nonsense (or, if you prefer, folkloric nonsense), itself probably resting on previous levels of superstition, all of it drummed up to assuage the old monkey brain fear that the sun is going to go out and the cold winter is going to last forever.
In other words, to quote Ford Prefect, “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”
In other words, bah humbug.
I was carrying out my main Christmas tradition this evening, which is making fudge for my husband’s relatives while sulking, and I decided to listen to This American Life’s episode “Christmas and Commerce” (no. 47). It has the long version of David Sedaris’s “The Santaland Diaries,” which if you’ve never heard it, do yourself a favor and listen. I am going to listen to it every year from now on. Anyway, the third act is David Rakoff talking about playing Freud in the window of Barney’s department store in NYC, and he says, “If psychoanalysis was late 19th century secular Judaism’s way of finding spiritual meaning in a post-religious world…retail is the late 20th century’s way of finding spiritual meaning in a post-religious world.” I think that sort of sums up what I’m thinking about.
The decision that I (and several of my coworkers) was laid off came down nearly three weeks ago, and I suppose I should be done with my sulking and on to the next step of the process, finding a new job. But I’m lingering. I don’t know why, exactly–probably the stress from thesis and other things. And, well, “as happy as a Jew on Christmas” is not an expression for a number of very good reasons–this is a difficult time of year, in short. And I’ve been reading Žižek, that doesn’t help.
Filing this under HD5708.5 L86 2013 for Industries. Land use. Labor–Labor. Work. Working class–Labor market. Labor supply. Labor demand–Unemployment. Unemployed–Layoffs. Plant shutdowns. Redundancy–General works.
Here’s a picture of my cat Kali and Edgar the dog chilling out together. Gaze upon it and repeat to yourselves, as I do: It’s only a job. Life goes on.
I thought, when I was younger, that we lived in a pluralistic country founded on the principles of freedom of religion and separation of church and state. Increasingly, however, that seems to not be the case. But passing laws based on evangelical Christianity to govern a diverse country just isn’t cricket.
That isn’t to say that I feel like abortion is a straightforward question. There are certainly arguments to be made that there is a point in a fetus’s development where the ethicalness of an abortion (in most situations, but not all) tips to the “don’t do it” side. But I want this debate to be played out by bioethicists.
After all, there are things that doctors can legally do but they don’t, because it would be unethical (like the kinds of experiments Andrew Wakefield did). And there are other things that actually are unethical (like promising someone that they can be cured by homeopathic treatments) that are also legal. So why should abortion be singled out as the medical treatment that the government decides to legislate on? And why should legislators, who are not by and large doctors, nor are known for the depth of their scientific knowledge, be allowed to pass judgment on this?
I do understand why they’re doing it, sort of. In theory, evangelical Christians believe that abortion is murder (which I think is mostly wrong, but I’ll let the point stand for the sake of argument). If I thought that people were being routinely murdered in the US, I would be against it (and I am–against the death penalty, and against uncontrolled, unregulated gun ownership). But laws like this ultrasound law don’t actually speak to the sense that murder may be going on–it just says, “There are reasons for getting an abortion, some of which are OK and some of which are not, and we want to police women’s sexual and reproductive agency by being the ones who get to decide what constitutes a reason.” It turns out that I have a problem with old white men telling me what I should do. In reproduction. In art. In life.
The problem is that the governor has repeatedly showed that he is motivated only by money, and is unwilling to listen to dissent or debate. There were protests about these laws, but–no one cared. Somehow during the 1960s and early 70s, there were enough people protesting the Vietnam War that the government had to take them seriously. But protesters in the US have not held that kind of sway since. In addition, Walker has been so outrageous on so many topics–busting collective bargaining, trying to disenfranchise huge numbers of voters, opening Wisconsin to environmental piracy and more–that most people are pretty tired of being angry. We’re just resigned. So I decided to write a letter to him to vent spleen.
I hope you don’t like me calling you Scott. I know it is not the preferred address for someone in your position, but I assume that because you feel it is acceptable to legislate about my internal organs, we must be on a first name basis. I also hope to come across as mildly condescending, because I believe that the recent bill requiring women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound prior to receiving an abortion is predicated on the assumption that women are stupid, an assumption with which I take issue.
The bill, nicknamed the “Woman’s Right to Know Her Unborn Child Act,” seems to rest on the belief that women who go for abortions don’t really know that they have a fetus in their uterus. “So let’s show them the fetus!” the reasoning goes. But in fact, women who seek abortions are quite aware that there is a fetus in their uterus—that is why they are seeking an abortion. If there was ever a chance of there being something different in there—a new car perhaps?—I would not be as opposed to this procedure as I am.[i]
But in fact, the truth is that this bill is not designed to induce women to have fewer abortions. If you wanted to make it easier for women to raise children, you would consider projects that could reduce poverty such as making sure women get paid the same as men,[ii] increasing funding for daycare, or improving welfare payments for women with children. You could even offer a guaranteed paid leave for women and their partners.[iii] If you wanted to decrease abortions on the other side, you could increase funding for comprehensive sex education, make birth control more readily available, and offer family planning clinics to help women make informed decisions about when to have children.
I don’t believe the rhetoric about “every fetus is a gift” either. If you really believed that, why not move condoms behind the counter in the drug store or institute mandatory waiting periods for men seeking vasectomies? You could even require they undergo a trans-anal ultrasound to check the health of their prostates.
This bill is designed to shame women; that is its sole purpose. That is made clear in the exceptions allowed for cases of rape and incest. The truth is, they only make sense when you consider the bill in this manner. Perhaps a case study will further prove my point. Consider: Two women require abortions. Sally was raped. Molly had sex with her husband, but his vasectomy failed, and they have determined they cannot afford to raise another child (they already have two). Sally filed a police report and is as such exempt from the ultrasound. Molly is not—but isn’t she equally blameless for her situation?
Scott, I am tired of the rhetoric in the Republican Party that suggests that women are second class citizens who deserve to be treated as little better than gestational carriers who are capable of making sandwiches. I will not stand for such a message, and I hope that I am not the only woman who is hearing it. The next election is coming, and we will remember what you have done. 2014 is coming, and the people of Wisconsin will no longer tolerate your placing the “needs” of your rich donors above the well-being of our state’s people and economy. So enjoy your political career now. It is my dearest hope that it will not continue much longer.
[i] That’s a joke. I would still be opposed.
[ii] You don’t care about this, either—remember when you repealed the equal pay act? I do.
[iii] Did you know that the US is one of the only countries worldwide that doesn’t require some amount of paid parental leave?
Walker is, for some reason, occasionally referred to as an up-and-coming republican wunderkind of some sort, possibly because he is good at 1) taking money and 2) kissing asses. I don’t really get it–he’s not presidential material (he didn’t finish college; even George W. Bush had a graduate degree), and he looks like a version of Paul Ryan where he slept on his face and it stuck that way, so he doesn’t have Dan Quayle’s reported appeal to FEMALES either. (Although, I just looked up a picture of Dan Quayle and all I can think is, maybe he looked better standing next to George H.W. Bush? Eech.)
Personally, I’m hopeful that someone even a little bit charismatic will come out of the woodwork for the 2014 elections and beat SW. In fact, I’m hoping to volunteer for whoever’s campaign that winds up being.
My letter was cosigned by nine people. I was very grateful for the support. The letter is even now winging its way to the capital (well, it’s in the mailbox). I don’t expect a response, but writing it made me feel better.
Now to make everyone happier, here’s a picture of my dog being cute. Next time I’ll write about kittens.
 The article only talks about the ultrasound law. There was also one allowing religious organizations to opt out of covering birth control on their health insurance.
 I won’t list their names here, because I make it a rule to not mention people in Google-able ways unless they give explicit permission.
Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, I think we can all agree that last night’s gubernatorial recall here in Wisconsin was a total travesty and a terrible insult to all women, LGBT persons, union workers, and all thinking persons more generally.
Have I missed anyone?
B and I have long joked, with minimal seriousness, that if candidate x (initially John McCain, but Walker in the most recent election and Romney in the upcoming presidential one) were to win, we would head for country n (Canada, Sweden, or France, take your pick). When hearing of this plan, a relative quipped, “You’d leave us all to suffer, and not try to help defeat candidate x?” To which we’d replay, “Well, no,” because typically in the US these candidates have a lot of money and power, while we have (comparatively) little, so what the hell can we do, anyway?
But that got me thinking–what is the obligation of a citizen when her government has ceased to represent her interests? (And I do feel, for a variety of reasons, that the government of Wisconsin and the Republican party more generally are not governing with my best interests–which are to say the interests of a woman academic–in mind, and that given the opportunity they would prefer for me to drop out of the workforce entirely and stay home and have babies.)
John Locke says that if you don’t like it, you can lump it: “But since the government has a direct jurisdiction only over the land, and reaches the possessor of it, (before he has actually incorporated himself in the society) only as he dwells upon, and enjoys that; the obligation any one is under, by virtue of such enjoyment, to submit to the government, begins and ends with the enjoyment; so that whenever the owner, who has given nothing but such a tacit consent to the government, will, by donation, sale, or otherwise, quit the said possession, he is at liberty to go and incorporate himself into any other commonwealth; or to agree with others to begin a new one, in vacuis locis, in any part of the world, they can find free and unpossessed: whereas he, that has once, by actual agreement, and any express declaration, given his consent to be of any commonwealth, is perpetually and indispensably obliged to be, and remain unalterably a subject to it, and can never be again in the liberty of the state of nature; unless, by any calamity, the government he was under comes to be dissolved; or else by some public act cuts him off from being any longer a member of it” (Locke, section 121, italics in original, bolding mine).
Of course, Locke also says later that if legislators act “against the trust reposed in them,” then the people living in that society are within their rights to change the government: “[R]evolutions happen not upon every little mismanagement in public affairs. Great mistakes in the ruling part, many wrong and inconvenient laws, and all the slips of human frailty, will be born by the people without mutiny or murmur. But if a long train of abuses, prevarications and artifices, all tending the same way, make the design visible to the people, and they cannot but feel what they lie under, and see whither they are going; it is not to be wondered, that they should then rouze [i.e., rouse] themselves, and endeavour to put the rule into such hands which may secure to them the ends for which government was at first errected…” (Locke, sections 222-225, italics in original, bolding mine).
To what issue will this come? It seems inconclusive. The addition in the first quote of the parenthetical notation “before he has actually incorporated himself in the society” and the phrase “tacit consent to the government” make me worry that Locke was in fact referring to a situation such as: You are living in the middle of an ungoverned place (i.e. in the state of nature). Suddenly some people come along and start up a government. You didn’t ask for the government, therefore you’re allowed to leave. Which seems okay in theory, but go tell that to the American Indians and see how hard they laugh.
The first quote, even taken at face value, raises a larger problem of privilege. We could probably afford to sell our house and move to Canada. I think we have a sufficient amount in savings to get green cards and B has a job that he can do in Canada, which would also be a big plus for immigration officials. Also, I speak French, the result of a long and expensive education that allowed me time to focus on relatively useless things (like learning multiple foreign languages) instead of getting a job. There are a lot of Americans who don’t meet any of these qualifications; in fact, a lot of people have underwater mortgages and can’t afford to sell their houses at all, let alone have the necessary savings to immigrate to a different country. If all liberal, upper middle class Americans start migrating to other countries, America is left with the poor (both Dems and Repubs) and the Wealthy Republicans who, let’s face it, don’t really have economic incentive to make the country a great place for the working class. So in the same way that we have a responsibility to fight for rights because we might need them “someday” (e.g., healthcare, abortions) or because people we know might need them (e.g., gay marriage and associated rights), we could say that there is a responsibility among those who otherwise might leave to stay and provide a balance to those who would choose to exploit those who cannot leave.
I’m uneasy with this responsibility idea. It smacks of “white man’s burden”-type bullshit–surely the people who remain in the US after this purported exodus can look after themselves! And yet citizens have a responsibility to vote, don’t they? To voice their opinions at least when society requires the selection of a new government. So perhaps I’d restate this a different way: to abandon the US would require not just becoming an expat but a naturalized citizen of another country, since to retain the advantages of US citizenship while living abroad would enable one to shirk the responsibility one has of being an active participant in society, essentially the responsibility (at minimum) to vote and protect both one’s own rights and the rights one believes others deserve.
The second quote is suggestive of the conclusion that one should not quit the country; since rebellion (or call it simply changing the status quo) is permissible when one feels the government is no longer working, and there is some inherent responsibility citizens have to take part in society, it is better to stay and fight than to flee.
[I wish to add belatedly, footnotedly, that Locke’s use of terms like “the people” suggests that he sees all individuals in a society as agreeing on what the correct course of action is, in opposition to their government. In the absence of unison, which is certainly the case in WI presently, I suspect he would accede to the majority’s opinion and tell me, as a member of the minority, that I cannot go about instituting rebellions just because I feel slighted. However there is always something to be said for being the loyal opposition, because when the majority is making choices that are (morally, ethically) incorrect or unsound (as arguably they are), someone needs to speak up for the oppressed–see, for example, the abolition movement before the Civil War.]
My other favorite political theorist, the late, great Robert Nozick, does say, when speaking about a replacement for society that would be, essentially, small communities of individuals under minimal government, that, “After a person has spent much of his life in a community, sent down roots, made friends, and contributed to the community, the choice to pick up and leave is a difficult one. Such a community’s…seriously changing its character, will affect its individual members in something like the way in which a nation’s changing its laws will affect its citizens” (Nozick, 324, italics his) and that “Anyone may start any sort of new community…they wish. For no one need enter it. Modifying an already existing community is held to be a different matter” (ibid.). His suggestions–that people who disagree with a proposed change should be compensated in some way, e.g. (this is very particular to the libertarian project he is working on)–are impracticable in US society as it stands, but he does seem to argue strongly for the “if you don’t like it, you can lump it” point of view.
Nozick’s work on communities does suggest one other solution: flight need not be international. If one’s state has changed politically, one is welcome to move to a state more in line with one’s views. There are fifty of them, plus several protectorates/colonies; surely one will match one’s views. This is a slightly less privileged action (though it still requires some liquidity of funds that not everyone has at hand) and allows residents of a divided country to assort themselves in ways that please them.
But after all of this reasoning, I still feel conflicted. There are reasons beyond the political to stay in Wisconsin, and reasons beyond the political to go. Ultimately, I think Nozick is right when he writes that the goal of a society is to allow its members to “individually or with whom we choose, to choose our life and to realize our ends and our conception of ourselves, insofar as we can, aided by the voluntary cooperation of other individuals possessing the same dignity” (334). Wherever I go, or if I remain, if I can do that, I’ll be satisfied.
Locke, John. Second Treatise of Government. Edited by C. B. Macpherson. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Co., 1980. (The unedited text is online here.)
Nozick, Robert. Anarchy, State, and Utopia. [United States]: Basic Books, 1974. (A previewable version is available at Google Books here.)