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Secondary school, history class.
You cover a small amount of information on the suffragettes, and your teacher shows you a video of Emily Wilding Davison getting struck down by Anmer, the King’s horse.
Your teacher asks the class, “we’ll never know why she did this”
But you know
All the girls in your class know, and are quiet, compared to the boys, who laugh, and jeer, and throw around words like “crazy”, because they simply don’t understand.
But you do.
The teacher asks, “who would have been a suffragette back then?” And you put your hand up.
He asks why.
‘Because,’ you think, ‘because I know how it is to live a life being told by everyone that you are inferior. Being told that you can’t play with us because you’re a girl, and girls are silly.
Being told that being pretty is all that matters, and being told that girls can’t do this, and girls can’t do that, and you still get told that it’s a lot better than it was.
You know that thirty years ago, women were laughed at for wanting to be independent, laughed at for wanting a job, and that was only thirty years ago.
Yet you can still imagine the desperation these women felt when they were doing all they could to be heard, and the whole world was deaf to their cries.
You can understand why Emily Wilding Davison ducked under that barrier to carry out her task, whatever that may have been, and stood in the path of a charging horse with determination and love for her cause.
You can still imagine a time where no woman would have ever dreamed of being independent.
When the idea of a single woman was scandalous and she was shunned.
You can imagine the feeling in the air when Emmeline Pankhurst spoke to thousands of women and declared “no more!”
“No more suffering in silence. No more playing to the whims of entitled men who have been served the earth on a silver platter with the words ‘for men’ carved across the globe,”
“No more being the plaything of man, it is our time. We are strong, and we will show the whole world what womankind can do”
You know how it feels to be female.’
But you can’t say that
You can’t say any of that, because he’s a man, and he could never understand.
So you shrug, and say something that feels wrong on your tongue.
It feels like a lie, because it’s not what you want to say
But you can’t say that
Because he wouldn’t understand
The excerpt is from a great piece by Christopher Lasch writing in the short lived journal “Democracy”. Written in the 80’s, details the systemic problems facing US democracy. The situation described shows the roots of where we are now, and how (unfortunately) we have arrived here.
“The centralization of power in the United States and the decline of popular participation in community life have become dramatically visible only in the
period since World War II. The roots of these conditions, however, go back to the formative period around the turn of the century. We have been living ever since then with the long-term consequences of the momentous changes inaugurated at that time.
The most important of these changes, of course, was the emergence of the corporation and the spread of the corporate form throughout
American industry. Often misunderstood as a shift from entrepreneurial to managerial control, the corporation emerged out of conflicts between capital
and labor for control of production. It institutionalized the basic division of labor that runs all through modern industrial society, the division between brainwork and handwork-between the design and the execution of production.
Under the banner of scientific management, capitalists expropriated the technical knowledge formerly exercised by workers and vested it in a new
managerial elite. The managers extended their power not at the expense of the owners of industry, who retained much of their influence and in any case tended to merge with the managerial group, but at the expense of the workers.
Nor did the eventual triumph of industrial unionism break this pattern of managerial control. By the 1930s, even the most militant unions had acquiesced in the division of labor between the planning and execution of work. Indeed the very success of the union movement was predicated on a strategic retreat from issues of worker control. Unionization, moreover, helped to stabilize and rationalize the labor market and to discipline the work force. It did not alter the arrangement whereby management controls the technology of production, the rhythm of work, and the location of plants (even when these decisions affect entire communities), leaving the worker with the task merely of carrying out orders.
Having ·organized mass production on the basis of the new division of labor-most fully realized in the assembly line-the leaders of American industry
next turned to the organization of a mass market. The mobilization of consumer demand, together with the recruitment of a labor force, required a far-reaching series of changes that amounted to a cultural revolution; The virtues of thrift, avoidance of debt, and postponement of gratification had to give way to new habits of installment buying and immediate gratification, new standards of comfort, a new sensitivity to changes in fashion. People had to be discouraged from providing for their own wants and resocialized as consumers. Industrialism by its very nature tends to discourage home production and to make people dependent on the market, but a vast effort of reeducation, starting in the 1920s, had to be undertaken before Americans accepted consumption as a way of life.
As Emma Rothschild has shown in her study of the automobile industry, Alfred Sloan’s innovations in marketing-the annual model change, constant upgrading of the product, efforts to associate it with social status, the deliberate inculcation of an insatiable appetite for change-constituted the necessary counterpart of Henry Ford’s innovations in production. Modern industry came to rest on the twin pillars of Fordism and Sloanism. Both tended to discourage initiative and self-reliance and to reduce work and consumption alike to an essentially passive activity. […]
When I read this section I was immediately drawn to the sections highlighted in purple. What I hear from conservative commentators and business commentators is that what it takes to succeed in society is to get out there and play the market, or innovate, or work hard and save money and improve yourself et cetera. Usually, along with their sprightly commentary on how bootstrapping oneself to greatness, is another piece on the evils of the nanny state and how those damn social programs (WELFARE *clutches chest* *dies*) are making people into lazy dependent sloths who do nothing but keep the productive people down.
Of course, like most capitalistic propaganda, it is utter shite. The message retains its ubiquity and longevity in our society only because of its constant repetition in the business press and media.
“The virtues of thrift, avoidance of debt, and postponement of gratification had to give way to new habits of installment buying and immediate gratification, new standards of comfort, a new sensitivity to changes in fashion.“
I quote this again because damn, if this isn’t an indictment of how capitalism has malformed our society, I’m not sure what is. This way of life we now live was a choice made by the elite classes, as to how society was to be run. Clearly, attributes like avoiding debt and postponement of gratification have no place in a modern civilized society (!).
Racking up debt, conspicuous consumption, becoming dependent on the market – didn’t just *happen* – they were orchestrated to feed the industrial elite’s needs and as always, at the expense of the working class.
So, the business class essentially builds/nurtures a culture of dependency – that is, actively discourages self production and self-reliance – and then has the temerity to bluster about Big Government creating a welfare state chock full of slothful, gormless, dependent people.
Create a society where dependency is rewarded, and then proceed to blame the people for becoming dependent. Fascinating stuff this capitalism is.
Yep, still waiting for the chorus of enraged ‘egalitarian’ voices to protest this (continuing) oversight.
Can we draw parallels between the political experience of Du Bois and our present time? The situation the Du Bois describes can easily be translated into a commentary of what is happening in 2016 – the message is clear – reputable people cannot abandon the political realm despite what the chattering classes say, as it each citizen’s duty to take part in the political process and attempt to make things better not only for themselves, but for the following generations.
Our democracy has been moving further and further away from the participatory citizen model that we like to claim we have. Interests that do not represent the common people strive to gerrymander our democracy to suit their narrow band of self-aggrandizing goals.
“Meantime, new thoughts came to the nation:the inevitable period of moral retrogression and political trickery that ever follows in the wake of war overtook us. So flagrant became the political scandals that reputable men began to leave politics alone, and politics consequently became disreputable. Men began to pride themselves on having nothing to do with their own government, and to agree tacitly with those who regarded public office as a private perquisite. In this state of mind it became easy to wink at the suppression of the Negro vote in the South, and to advise self-respecting Negroes to leave politics entirely alone. The decent and reputable citizens of the North who neglected their own civic duties grew hilarious over the exaggerated importance with which the Negro regarded the franchise.
Thus it easily happened that more and more the better class of Negroes followed the advice from abroad and the pressure from home, and took no further interest in politics, leaving to the careless and the venal of their race the exercise of their rights as voters. The black vote that still remained was not trained and educated, but further debauched by open and unblushing bribery, or force and fraud; until the Negro voter was thoroughly inoculated with the idea that politics was a method of private gain by disreputable means.
And finally, now, to-day, when we are awakening to the fact that the perpetuity of republican institutions on the continent depends on the purification of the ballot, the civic training of voters, and the raising of voting to the plane of solemn duty which a patriotic citizen neglects to his peril and to the peril of his children’s children, – in this day, when we are striving for a renaissance of civic virtue, what are we going to say to the black voter of the South? Are we gong to tell him still that politics is a disreputable and useless form of human activity? Are we going to induce the best class of Negroes to take less and less interest in government, and give up their right to take such an interest, without a protest? I am not saying a word against all legitimate efforts to purge the ballot of ignorance, pauperism, and crime. But few have pretended that the present movement for disfranchisement in the South is for such a purpose; it has been plainly and frankly declared in nearly every case that the object of the disfranchising laws is the elimination of the black man from politics.”
-W.E.B. Du Bois. The Souls of Black Folk p.105 – 106.
Du Bois has a talent for using his prose to sift directly to the root of the problem, and then offer an equally elegant solution. The problem of race in America continues to this day, but Du Bois has already blazed the trail toward a possible just solution – in one paragraph.
“Again we must decry the colour prejudice of the South, yet it remains a heavy fact. Such curious kinks of the human mind exist and must be reckoned with soberly. They cannot be laughed away, nor always successfully stormed at, nor easily abolished by act of legislature And yet they must not be encouraged by being let alone. They must be recognized as facts, but unpleasant facts; things that stand in the way of civilization and religion and common decency. They can be met in but one way, – by the breadth and broadening of human reason, by catholicity of taste and culture. And so, too, the native ambition and aspiration of men, even thought they be black, backward, and ungraceful, must not be lightly dealt with. To stimulate wildly weak and untrained minds is to play with mighty fires; to flout their striving idly is to welcome a harvest of brutish crime and shameless lethargy in our very laps. The guiding of thought and the deft coordination of deed is at once the path of honour and humanity. “
-W.E.B. Du Bois. The Souls of Black Folk. pp.56-57
The story from the other side, to feel what others feel and appreciate and understand what their experience is like is the first step in resolving the injustices that mar our history and continue to sicken our experiences as we move forward.
“I remember well when the shadow crept across me.
I was a little thing, away up in the hills of New England, where the dark Housatonic winds between Hoosac and Taghkanic to the sea. In a wee wooden schoolhouse, something put it into the boys’ and girls’ heads to buy gorgeous visiting-cards – ten cents a package – and exchange. The exchange was merry, till one girl, a tall newcomer, refused my card, – refused it peremptorily, with a glance.
Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil. I had thereafter no desire to tear down that veil, to creep through; I held all beyond it in common contempt, and live above it in a region of blue sky and great wandering shadows.
That sky was bluest when I could beat my mates at examination time, or beat them at a foot-race, or even beat their stingy heads. Alas, with years all this fine contempt began to fade; for the worlds I longed for, and all their dazzling opportunities, were theirs, not mine. But they should not keep these prizes, I said; some, all, I would wrest from them.
Just how I would do it I could never decide: by reading law, by healing the sick, by telling the wonderful tales that swam in my head, – someway. With other black boys the strife was not so fiercely sunny: their youth shrunk into tasteless sycophancy, or into silent hatred of the pale world about them and mocking distrust of everything white; or wasted itself in a bitter cry, Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house? The shades of the prison-house closed round about us all: walls strait and stubborn to the whitest, but relentlessly narrow, tall, and unscalable to sons of night who must plod darkly on in resignation, or beat unavailing palms against the stone, or steadily, half hopelessly watch the streak of blue above.
After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with a second-sight in this American world, – a world which yields him no true self consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this send of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of the world that looks on in contempt and pity.
One ever feels his two-ness, – an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; to warring ideals in one dark body, who dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”
– The Souls of Black Folk. W.E.B. Du Bois p.2
Women share this double-consciousness, with different actors, but the results are the same.