Thursday, December 20, 2007

Amanda Marcotte, This Christmas You Can Buy Her Affection

I've been happy this year to read a couple of blog posts written by men just slamming the ever-living shit out of the popular holiday commercial message, "All women are whores, just set the price." Otherwise known as ads pushing luxury goods like diamonds and cars with a fairly unmistakeable message.

These ads go far beyond just saying, "Hey, it's fun to spoil someone you love on occasion," and straight into making rather fucked up insinuations about how marriage and heterosexual relationships are transactional--her love and sex for your baubles. That women give love because they love and have sex because they desire doesn't enter the equation. There was one ad awhile back that was pretty close to explicit on this--a guy runs through the streets declaring he loves a woman. She's angry with him for his romantic and inexpensive gesture. He presents a diamond. Now she likes him again. Women's affections are a commodity, says the ad, not a normal human expression.

But I've seen a series of blog posts that take on these ads not just because they insult women, but because they insult men as well, another important point that needs to be made. Jamie at

Masculinity and Its Discontents: For some reason this one really gets to me. Scene: woman kicking back on the couch, watching the tube, as her young-architect/artist skinny, t-shirted, sandy-haired studmuffin puts the finishing touches on her pedicure, blowing gently on her toes.

He: How's it look, sweetie?
She: It looks great!
He: I dunno, I think maybe they could use one more coat.
Cut to smarmy announcer: because you're not that guy, go buy jewelry at Bob's.

You're not that guy, you're not caring, you're not patient, you're not creative, you're not gentle, y ou're not even good looking (to your woman). It makes me want to scream BE THAT GUY, MEN, once in a while, just be that guy. Stop buying the most overpriced, overvalued, falsely inflated, harvested-by-near-slave-labor stones in the history of humankind and DO something for your woman, talk to your woman, listen to your woman, pamper your woman as you'd like her to pamper her man. Don't buy her, do the damn labor! (and then maybe buy her something nice afterwards, sure. And ladies, it's your turn, buy your man some bling, show him you own him! Yes, I have a double standard, yes yes yes I do! I wanna be owned!)

Then MarkH blogs about this deeply fucked up diamond ad.

A special diamond to purchase sexual fidelity! Awesome. If any real demographic research went into this marketing, instead of just guesswork, then we have alarming evidence of the paranoid mindset of a lot of men. Between this and the ads that imply that you, the customer, are so hard up for sex from your own wife that you're desperate enough to pony up thousands of dollars, I'm forced to conclude that the marketers are just exploiting paranoia, because otherwise I'm forced to conclude that a far greater percentage of Americans live life on constant sexual intrigue than really seems possible.

Copyranter is also insulted:*
If my future wife bangs the entire roster of the Manchester United football squad a week after I give her a HOF diamond, do I get 100 times my money back?

You know, if you could sell it with a guarantee like that, there could be a lot of potential for non-monogamous couples to make some money for themselves.

Also, how many women out there are dumb enough to find it delightful to get a ring that says "Monogamy" on it? Like, is it fun to get a bauble that implies that you need to have your fidelity secured with expensive and glittery things?

Copyranter also found this one:

PZ derides these ads for making men look stupid.
I can tell you exactly what would happen if I spent a month's salary or more on jewelry (or worse, a year's income on a car). My wife would look aghast, and waver between calling the hospital for an immediate psychiatric consult and kicking me in the groin. I would spend that much on inessential frippery? Without consulting her? There sure wouldn't be any sexual arousal, unless these commercial makers easily confuse that sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach at the thought of budget-busting debt with "sexy."

I'm certainly not averse to the concept of getting enthusiastic about giving or receiving gifts. I'm a sucker for it. But when the main selling point of a gift is, "I am so expensive that it puts the recipient into an informal debt to you to be repaid with sex, monogamy, etc.", then it's not about the fun anymore and starts to get creepy.

*His entire blog is a hoot, by the way. There was exactly 0% chance that this ad could have gone the other way and shown the dolls doing it cowgirl style and then moving onto cunnilingus.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Announcement to Govt 180 Sections

There's been a slight change of plan. I will need to administer the assessment test during the exam period. The assessment test will be the same one you took at the beginning of the semester and will be 33 questions long. Students will receive extra credit for anything over a 70%.

Ric Caric

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Racism and the Right

White Backlash and the Right
Submitted by David Neiwert on December 4, 2007 - 7:08pm.

Recently the New York Times carried a report on the "noose incidents" that have been occurring with rising frequency around the country, inspired seemingly by the protests over the "Jena 6" case.

The report came complete with a graphic showing where the incidents have occurred. Remarkably, it isn't just happening in the South: the incidents are also being reported in places like Minneapolis; Cicero, Ill.; Pittsburgh; Philadelphia; Newark; Baltimore; and New London, Conn.

Equally striking was the analysis from Mark Potok, the SPLC's Intelligence Project director, who wrote:

These incidents are worrying, but even more so is the social reality they reflect. The level of hate crimes in the United States is astoundingly high — more than 190,000 incidents per year, according to a 2005 Department of Justice study.

And the number of hate groups, according to the annual count by the Southern Poverty Law Center, has shot up 40 percent in recent years, from 602 groups in 2000 to 844 in 2006.

It seems that the September rally in Jena — much as it was seen by many civil rights activists as the beginning of a new social movement — signaled not a renewed march toward racial and social justice, but a surprisingly broad and deep white backlash against the gains of black America.

Indeed, as Digby observes, "The racist beast is clamoring to be set free." The old once again is new: there's a "new racism" that pretends to be daring new thinking, dashing the molds of political correctness, but really is just the same old shit recycled. And it's not even relegated strictly to the right: Witness, for the most recent example, William Saletan's sally into the rancid fields of eugenics.

That this is happening is acutely clear for African Americans, historically the chief victims of racist hate in America, as the noose episodes suggest. But it's also becoming true on a broader scale as well, with a rising tide of openly espoused ethnic bigotry manifesting itself in myriad ways, particularly on the immigration front, where Latinos are increasingly targeted by rhetoric emanating from the very highest levels of Republican leadership that manifests itself in a tide of hate crimes; and in the "war on terror," which has provided for an opening for a variety of right-wing figures to spew hateful anti-Muslim rhetoric, with similarly predictable consequences.

One kind of hate feeds another; one open expression of bigotry without significant consequence only provides permission for many more to follow, and the inherent violence of such talk inevitably gives permission for people to act it out. Thus this shifting social tide has, just as predictably, brought the broader result of a significant increase in bias crimes of all kinds across the country.

And the breadth of the tide also tells us that this is not really about blacks or Latinos or Muslims specifically, but is about the people who fear and despise them: white people. It's about defending white privilege.

And there has been one primary driver for this gravitational shift: generically, the conservative movement, and specifically, its wholly owned subsidiary, the Republican Party.

You can hear the push to defend "white culture" from nearly every sector of the right, from Bill O'Reilly:

But do you understand what the New York Times wants, and the far-left want? They want to break down the white, Christian, male power structure, which you're a part, and so am I, and they want to bring in millions of foreign nationals to basically break down the structure that we have. In that regard, Pat Buchanan is right.

To Patrick Buchanan:

I think America may exist, but I'll tell you this: I do believe we're going to lose the American Southwest. I think it is almost inevitable. If we do not put a fence on that border ... you're going to have 100 million Hispanics in the country, most of them new immigrants from Mexico, which believes that belongs to them. What's going to happen to us, Sean, in my judgment, is what is happening right now: We are Balkanizing. We are dividing and separating from one another politically, morally -- on issues like abortion or Terri Schiavo -- racially and ethnically, when you get Jena and then you get Don Imus, and all of these things ripping us apart. All the things that used to pull us together and hold us together no longer do.

To Michael Savage:
But basically, if you're talking about a day like today, Martin Luther King Junior Day, and you're gonna understand what civil rights has become, the con it's become in this country. It's a whole industry; it's a racket. It's a racket that is used to exploit primarily heterosexual, Christian, white males' birthright and steal from them what is their birthright and give it to people who didn't qualify for it.

This is nothing new, of course. The defense of white privilege has been a cornerstone of the GOP's electoral appeal ever since the its ardent adoption of the Southern Strategy, dating back to Goldwater and Nixon and continiuing through the Reagan and Bush years. Even Republican strategists acknowledge this to be the case.

Joseph Aistrup, in his book The Southern Strategy Revisited: Republican Top-Down Advancement in the South -- a text written primarily to influence GOP politicos -- observes the following:

When a GOP presidential candidate’s campaign strategy emphasizes racially conservative appeals, he identifies not only himself but his party as the one that protects white interests. The identification of the GOP, instead of the Southern Democrats, as the protector of white interests, combined with the large infusion of blacks into the Southern Democratic parties, opens the door for Southern whites to abandon their historic ties to the Democrats.
It's critical to understand, however, that the Southern Strategy wasn't geared simply toward winning votes in the South -- it also is aimed at white suburbs and rural areas where the defense of white society remains a significant cultural issue. Its reach ran well beyond the South.

One way of seeing this clearly is by examining the history of "sundown towns". As James Loewen details (excruciatingly) in his study Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism, there are literally thousands of towns across America -- relatively few of them in the South -- who for much of the 20th century forbade minorities, blacks especially, from living within their communities. Many of them placed signs at the town limits warning "Whites Only After Dark" or "Nigger, Don't Let the Sun Set on You Here" -- that all nonwhites were to be out of town by sundown. In many cases, especially suburbs, no signs were visible, but all-white covenants provided the same effect.

Most of the "sundown towns" and "sundown suburbs" that Loewen documents were in the Northeast, the Midwest and West -- the same places where we're seeing "noose incidents," as well as attempts to pass laws aimed at driving out Latinos.

These same "sundown towns" have, unsurprisingly, a history of following racial election appeals, including broad support for George Wallace in 1968, and Republican presidential candidates in the ensuing years, all of whom made use of the Southern Strategy's core appeal to white racial interests. As Loewen notes:

As a result of such leadership, Republicans have carried most sundown towns since 1968, sometimes achieving startling unaninimity. ... So the "southern strategy" turned out to be a "southern and sundown town strategy," especially in sundown suburbs. Macomb County, for example, the next county north of Detroit, voted overwhelmingly for Wallace in the 1972 Democratic primary. Wooed by Nixon, many of these voters then became "Reagan Democrats" and now are plain Republicans. The biggest single reason, according to housing attorney Alexander Polikoff, was anxiety about "blacks trapped in ghettos trying to penetrate white neighborhoods." [pp.372-373]

Take a look at where the nooses are appearing, where the anti-Latino and anti-Muslim hate crimes are occurring. If you look through the incidents, it's clear that many of them are occurring in precincts that, historically, were all-white by design.

It's part of the continuing defense of that status quo in those communities that engenders so much of the nation's current racial divide -- with bias crimes, as always the on-the-ground manifestation.

I know that Democrats have been tempted to try to tap into this tide to their short-term electoral advantage; witness Rahm Emanuel and Co.'s attempts to advance an immigration plan that's absurdly enforcement-heavy and reform-light.Before they take that step, they need to stop and think about the consequences. Not just the electoral calculus, considering what it would cost Democrats in terms of the votes of blacks, Latinos, and Muslims who are flocking to them now because of the GOP's increasingly inchoate bigotry, but the real-life results. They need to think about those nooses, and where they come from, and simply do what is right.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Is Feminism Dead?

Is feminism dead?
Posted by Courtney E. Martin
27 November 2007

What picture pops into your mind when you read the word feminist? Is it a woman layered in petticoats with a big, swooping hat, picketing the white house for her right to vote? Is it Gloria Steinem in her aviator glasses, sleek, straight hair hanging down both sides of her pretty face?

These are the dominant images that so many people associate with feminist history, and for good reason. The first image—the suffragist—represents the so-called “first wave” of feminist history. These women, philosophizing and organizing, from the late 1800s through the 1930s, were primarily focused on legal and institutional changes that would allow women to gain more
power and autonomy.

The “second wave,” then, was most active in the 1960s and 1970s, and was concerned with social and psychological liberation (think dishes, contraception, and objectification). This era is best explained by its most effective slogan: the personal is the political. (Disclaimer: This, of course, is only a modern western history I’m referring to. Feminism has taken all kinds of triumphant and fascinating forms in other parts of the world, at other times.)

But what about now? Is feminism, as Time magazine and other short-sighted publications like to claim, dead?

Well of course not. My vibrant community of feminist friends and I are, last time I checked, breathing. Our hearts are pumping new feminist blood. Our minds—the most educated in history—are formulating visions of what feminism can and will be in the twenty-first century.
We are sometimes called “third wave,” though perhaps it could even be argued we are the fourth, after our Gen X older sisters and mentors (women like Deborah Siegel, Daisy Hernandez, Jennifer Baumgardner, Amy Richards, Sarah Jones, etc.).

My vision of feminism is defined by three major components: educated choice, genuine equality, and radical authenticity. Ask my friend Jessica or my pal Daniel and you will get slightly different answers, but you can bet that we’ll all be talking in the same general language and in the same philosophical country.

Educated choice: Both men and women need to have access to choices and, even more, they need to have the tools necessary to make good choices. It is not enough to just say that women should have access to abortions, for example. They also need to know all of their options and feel like they have a full understanding of the health risks and quality of life issues that each entails; they also need to have the economic provisions to make whichever choice fits their lives and values best.

Genuine Equality: We all deserve the same opportunities, the same access. This is a pretty straight forward concept in theory, but in practice, it is hellishly complicated. Take something like U.S. college admissions. Sure anyone can apply to Harvard, but not everyone comes from a family that can pay for an SAT tutor or has the cultural capital to encourage college. Until the U.S., and other western industrialized countries, recognize the way that networks and subtle class/race/gender dynamics influence supposedly non-discriminatory institutions, our work will not be done.

Radical authenticity: This facet of feminism gets talked about far too little in my opinion. A visionary twenty-first century feminism should aim to support both men and women to be their most authentic selves in the world, shedding prescribed gender roles and really getting in touch with their authentic desires, passions, and ethics. Feminist workplaces, for example, would nurture both men and women having present relationships with their children and fulfilling work lives. Men should be empowered to express a complex range of emotions, just as women must learn how to handle conflict healthily and assertively and take care of themselves, not just everyone else.

The most exciting thing about feminism, is that it is ultimately about leading more fulfilling, ethical, joyful lives, characterized by more healthy and genuine relationships. Who could argue with that?

What Feminism Isn't

Ugly, boring and angry?
Posted by Courtney E. Martin

As I travel across the country speaking about feminist issues I like to take a quick survey of the audiences. I ask them “What are the stereotypes you’ve heard about feminists?”After a few timid moments, folks start shouting a flood of unsavory characteristics: ugly, bitchy, man-hating, boring, angry, bra-burning.

The wild thing is that whether I am in a lecture hall in Jacksonville, Illinois, or a woman’s club in suburban New Jersey, or an immigration center in Queens, New York, whether I am among 15 year-olds, or 25 year-olds, or 60 year-olds, whether the crowd of faces that I see are mostly white, or mostly of color, or a welcome mix of all—this list tends to be almost identical.

I tell those in the audiences as much, and then I ask, “So how did all of you—from such vastly different backgrounds—get the exactly same stereotypes about feminism? Why would feminism be so vilified?”And to this they usually shrug their shoulders.

I believe that feminism has attracted so many unsavory stereotypes because of its profound power and potential. It has gained such a reputation, been so inaccurately demonized, because it promises to upset one of the foundations on which this world, its corporations, its families, and its religions are based—gender roles.

If you asked diverse audiences to give you stereotypes about Protestantism, for example, you would have some groups that starred at you blank-faced and some that might have a jab or two.

If you asked about the history of civil rights, even, you would get a fairly innocuous, probably even partly accurate sense of the progress afforded by sit-ins, freedom rides, and protests. But you ask about feminism and the whole room erupts with media-manufactured myths, passed down from generation to generation. Some of these stereotypes can be traced to events or controversial figures in the women’s movement, though they are still perversions. That whole bra-burning thing came out of the 1968 Miss America protests in which feminists paraded one another around like cattle to show the dehumanizing effects of beauty pageants, but they didn’t actually burn any bras.

There have surely been some feminists who despised men and advocated for female-only spaces; others have undoubtedly resorted to an angry m.o.; there were probably even a few shabby dressers (though, I have to tell you, us third-wave gals tend to be pretty snappy).
More recently one of the most pervasive misperceptions about what feminism purports to do is actually perpetuated by strong, intelligent women; I refer to the mistaken belief that feminism is solely about achievement, competition, and death-defying acrobatics (sometimes called multitasking). I like to think of this as “shoulder-pad feminism”—the do it all, all at once circus act that so many of my friends and I witnessed growing up in households headed by superwomen.

The ugly truth about superwomen, my generation has come to realize, is that they tend to be exhausted, self-sacrificing, unsatisfied, and sometimes even self-loathing and sick. Feminism—and the progress it envisions—was never supposed to compromise women’s health. It was supposed to lead to richer, more enlightened, authentic lives characterized by a deep sense of wellness.

Feminism in its most glorious, transformative, inclusive sense, is not about man-hating, nor is it about superwomen. For what it is, come back tomorrow…

Monday, November 26, 2007

Is Pornography Harmful

Is Pornography Really Harmful? By Michael Bader and Vivian Dent, AlterNet. Posted November 7, 2007. In response to Robert Jensen's controversial book, Getting Off, two clinical psychologists debate the intersection of violence and sexual fantasy.

Pornography is a mirror that shows us how men see women, writes Robert Jensen in his latest book, Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity. And with mainstream porn becoming increasingly degrading and violent toward women, looking into that mirror can be unsettling.

That's the theme running through Jensen's book, which AlterNet excerpted in late September. The excerpt, viewable here, stirred a fiery debate among readers, with dozens of commenters defending pornography as a healthy form of sexual expression and dozens more condemning it as dangerous. For all the discussion, a lot of questions remain: Can men who view violent pornography separate fantasy from reality? Do men who are aroused by this type of porn want to hurt women? What influence does porn have on the people who view it? Under what conditions can it be healthy? Harmful? In a quest to better understand these issues, AlterNet decided to ask some experts. Below, clinical psychologists Michael Bader and Vivian Dent go head-to-head on pornography and why people watch it. But first, a refresher from Jensen's book: Although few admit it, lots of people are afraid of pornography. The liberal/libertarian supporters who celebrate pornography are afraid to look honestly at what it says about our culture. The conservative opponents are afraid that pornography undermines their attempts to keep sex boxed into narrow categories. Feminist critics are afraid, too -- but for different reasons. Feminists are afraid because of what they see in the mirror, because of what pornography tells us about the world in which we live. That fear is justified. It's a sensible fear that leads many to want to change the culture. Pornography has become normalized, mainstreamed. ... As a New York Times story put it, "Pornography isn't just for dirty old men anymore." Well, it never really was just for dirty men, or old men, or dirty old men. But now that fact is out in the open. That same story quotes a magazine writer who also has written a pornography script: "People just take porn in stride these days. There's nothing dangerous about sex anymore." The editorial director of Playboy, who says that his company has "an emphasis on party," tells potential advertisers: "We're in the mainstream." There never was anything dangerous about sex, of course. The danger isn't in sex, but in a particular conception of sex in patriarchy. And the way sex is done in pornography is becoming more and more cruel and degrading, at the same time that pornography is becoming more normalized than ever. That's the paradox. The paradox of pornography First, imagine what we could call the cruelty line -- the measure of the level of overt cruelty toward, and degradation of, women in contemporary mass-marketed pornography. That line is heading up, sharply. Second, imagine the normalization line -- the measure of the acceptance of pornography in the mainstream of contemporary culture. That line also is on the way up, equally sharply. If pornography is increasingly cruel and degrading, why is it increasingly commonplace instead of more marginalized? In a society that purports to be civilized, wouldn't we expect most people to reject sexual material that becomes evermore dismissive of the humanity of women? How do we explain the simultaneous appearance of more, and increasingly more intense, ways to humiliate women sexually and the rising popularity of the films that present those activities? As is often the case, this paradox can be resolved by recognizing that one of the assumptions is wrong. Here, it's the assumption that U.S. society routinely rejects cruelty and degradation. In fact, the United States is a nation that has no serious objection to cruelty and degradation. Think of the way we accept the use of brutal weapons in war that kill civilians, or the way we accept the death penalty, or the way we accept crushing economic inequality. There is no paradox in the steady mainstreaming of an intensely cruel pornography. This is a culture with a well-developed legal regime that generally protects individuals' rights and freedoms, and yet it also is a strikingly cruel culture in the way it accepts brutality and inequality. The pornographers are not a deviation from the norm. Their presence in the mainstream shouldn't be surprising, because they represent mainstream values: The logic of domination and subordination that is central to patriarchy, hyperpatriotic nationalism, white supremacy and a predatory corporate capitalism. Standing Up for Sexual Fantasy By Michael Bader, DMH Porn is not harmless. But neither is it an important cause of sexual violence or misogyny. Partisans on both sides of this debate have littered their arguments with distortions, hyperbole and cheap rhetorical tricks. We have to wade through a lot of bullshit to get to the truth. When representatives of the media conglomerates that produce $10 billion of porn each year come out and talk about the "free choice" of the women starring in their videos and the harmless "entertainment value" provided to male consumers, they're making a silk purse out of a sow's ear. The actors in these films are degraded, underpaid and used up by an industry with the morals of a slaughterhouse, despite what Jenna Jameson and Nina Hartley say. The women come into the industry with the self-esteem of earthworms, histories of physical and sexual abuse, and are often plunged into alcohol and drug abuse as a way of coping with their jobs. When the apologists from the porn industry point to the "voluntary" nature of this work, they are using a legal technicality as a fig leaf to cover up the normative pathology and exploitation in this industry. Furthermore, with the near-universal availability of porn, there are now thousands -- perhaps tens of thousands -- of men who have become addicted to it. Spending between 10 and 50 hours/week glued to their computer or TV screens looking at porn, talking dirty in chat rooms, seeking out greater and greater taboos to violate, these particular men are being victimized, their relationships betrayed, and their families and friends cheated of their presence. Such men were likely never really connected to others in healthy ways before the advent of porn, of course, nor can it be convincingly argued that the absence of this outlet would make them so, but like any addict, their compulsion makes any other options impossible, including that of getting psychotherapeutic help. The presence of a casino doesn't cause the tragedies that sometime result, but neither are casino operators morally innocent. So much for harmless porn. On the other hand, it is amazing to me how literal and concrete is the thinking of anti-porn advocates like Jensen who watch a porno, note its sordid and dehumanizing story line, and then assume that the man masturbating to it must really hate women and secretly want to dominate and devalue them. The shock value of the story line (to the extent there is one) is intended to carry the weight of an argument that is basically superficial. After all, if some guy gets off on watching 10 men ejaculate on a woman's face -- while she begs for more -- he must be either a misogynist watching his wishes come true or one in the making. Except that he's not. I've treated dozens of guys who might get aroused by such scenarios who don't hate women at all. They have decent and loving relationships with women. And most important, they are able to distinguish between a fantasy and reality, something that Jensen seems both unwilling and unable to do. What turns them on in porn scenarios depends crucially on the fact that the woman is depicted as excited. If she were depicted as primarily hurt and humiliated, these men would instantly lose their interest and erections. If there is one nearly universal common denominator in heterosexual porn it is that the women in it are generally portrayed as easily, constantly and powerfully sexually aroused, driven wild by whatever men want to do with and to them. For most men, this fact is crucial to their arousal, not because they're looking for a rationalization for their violent impulses but because they are guilty about feeling strong, selfish and masculine; feel overly responsible for and worried about women; and secretly believe that women are unhappy and relentlessly dissatisfied with men and their own lives. In the service of masturbation, these portrayals of "women in heat" momentarily reassure men against their fears, relieve their burdens and offer them a freedom they find lacking in relationships with real women. The sexual fantasies expressed in pornography, as well as those of their own private invention, are arousing to men not because women are being hurt but because they're not. Pornography is the visual enactment of a sexual fantasy. That's fantasy -- to be distinguished from reality. That's fantasy -- to be distinguished from an intention, wish or even attitude. A fantasy occurs in the imagination. The imagination is creative, capable of all sorts of tricks and distortions. Recently, for example, I had a daydream -- a fantasy -- that my brother had suddenly died. In the daydream, lots of people came to console me in my grief. Now, in reality I love my brother and don't have a shred of resentment toward him. What I did have at the time was a need for a certain kind of love and attention. The meaning of my daydream was not "you wish your brother was dead." The real meaning of my daydream was, "You're so guilty about wanting attention that you think the only way you can get it is if you suffer a terrible tragedy." The meaning of a fantasy is often the opposite of its plot; whatever the meaning, it's subjective and can't easily be inferred from its story line. Over the last 10 years I've studied sexual fantasies. I've discovered that they have a fascinating but secret logic. Imagine this scenario: A guy grows up in a family in which he feels responsible for and guilty toward his mother, who he sees as unhappy and weak. He develops an implicit or default view of women as unhappy and weak like his mother. Unfortunately, it's difficult for him -- for anyone in this situation, for that matter -- to get really excited by a woman if he experiences her as unhappy and weak. That's just the way our minds work. We can't get maximally aroused if we're worried, guilty and responsible. Fortunately, our imaginations come to our rescue, and we construct some type of fantasy or preference in which this barrier is momentarily overcome. For example, this guy in question might be attracted to strong, dominant or tough women because their energy reassures him that he can't hurt them and doesn't have to feel responsible for them. Or he might like to be on the bottom during sex or even lightly restrained for the same reason. It's easy to see in these cases that if the scenario -- really, just another type of fantasy -- involves a strong and excited woman, his unconscious worries about women are temporarily negated and he can get aroused. Lots of porn features strong women -- picture the dominatrix -- and the male viewer gets aroused for precisely this reason. But many other types of porn address these same issues but in a different way. For example, often the woman is portrayed as dominated, hurt or even degraded, but in the porno she's excited and eager. Men are doing these bad-looking things, but the women are enjoying them. Our psyches are amazing things, really. They interpret the depiction of a woman's arousal as signifying her health and happiness! And thus you find in almost all porn that women appear aroused. Their arousal subliminally says to the male viewer, "I'm not hurt ... I'm even happy!" In fact, were these male viewers confronted with a woman's real pain and fear, they would immediately extinguish their excitement. In other words, they know the difference between fantasy and reality. They don't primarily want to hurt woman. What they really want is to be strong, selfish or masculine in ways that excite women, not degrade them. Porn provides them with imaginary scenarios in which this wish is safely gratified. This fact accounts for the absence of any reliable, repeatable studies that prove that exposure to pornography increases the likelihood that the men consuming it will act badly toward women. Among the reasons for this robust finding (or lack thereof) is that the men who were studied intuitively knew the difference between fantasy and reality, between the women on the screen and their girlfriends or wives. Add to this the fact that men, themselves, often don't understand what they're feeling or why, and you have a good understanding of why porn researchers who interview men to explore the effects of porn on male attitudes cannot come up with any convincing evidence that it poses a danger. Now, Jensen is correct when he points out that there is a growing species of porn that is explicitly violent and that appears more extreme in its treatment of the women appearing in it. Know as gonzo or extreme porn, it features such things as gagging, double anal penetration, gangbangs, bukkake (in which a group of men masturbate on a woman), and face slapping. Again, despite their irrationality, the scripts almost always call for the woman to get aroused by and seek out such abuse behavior. One might fairly say that it's a sad commentary on the state of our culture and that of the male psyche that such depictions sell so well. But the reason that the commentary is so sad isn't because it reflects what men want to do to women. It's sad because men in our culture are so disconnected from themselves and women, and often feel so helpless in their efforts to make women happy, that they require these kinds of fantasies to get aroused, to masturbate, fantasies that temporarily reassure them that they're connected to women in the most selfish and aggressive way possible and that, in the end, the women are turned on and not hurt. Now, there is a subtype of these pornos that feature -- that make explicit and central -- the woman's suffering, her fear, humiliation, helplessness or some combination thereof. Some men require the actual suffering of a woman to get turned on. Such men have almost always been victims themselves of frightening and traumatic abuse as children and develop such fear and hatred of women that the only safe way they can experience pleasure is through turning the tables on their "persecutors" and doing to women what they feel was once done to them. Out of this cauldron come rapists and other men who get sexually excited by the infliction of fear and pain on women. Were snuff films to actually exist, these would be their customers. Jensen would have us believe that this category of men is huge and that its numbers are maintained and replenished by porn. I see no evidence of either of these assumptions. My research, clinical and otherwise, suggests that this type of man is rare -- dangerous, but rare. Second, there is no basis for claims that porn causes this type of sexual violence. All kinds of porn, including the gonzo variety, are found in various European countries, which have extremely low rates of sexual violence. Sexual violence has been seen in recent years in countries like Bosnia and Rwanda, where there is almost no porn. The fact that men can become sexually violent under extreme conditions is a fascinating and troubling fact, but I see no evidence that porn has ever been causally linked to such transformations. Instead, I think that other factors are much more important, including various types of deprivation, the creation of paranoid identity myths, messianic leaders and propaganda, economic competition, cultural scapegoating and ignorance. In the absence of evidence, to argue that such sexual violence, much less male violence in general (as Jensen suggests), is caused or even exacerbated by porn is simply to substitute our own fantasies for reality. Since men who watch porn don't make such a mistake, we shouldn't either. Context, Please: Internet Porn and Sexual Degradation By Vivian Dent When I hear claims that "Porn's this" or "No, it's that," I often feel a similar incredulity as when Bush begins a sentence with, "The American people demand ..." Says who? When? Why? What does it mean -- what can it possibly mean -- to discuss "pornography" or "men" or "women" or "sexuality" outside the environments where they exist? Porn today usually involves a solitary, online interaction between a man and sexual images. In this encapsulated world, porn's intensity builds steadily. More and more is available; it's accessible at any time for any length of time; and it portrays a wider and wider range of subjects, activities, and fantasies. I believe all of these changes have transformed what porn "is" and how it affects both men and women. And I'm concerned that we know far too little about the implications of these changes. To introduce my ideas, I'll begin by listing some things about people, porn, sexuality, and the web that we might be able to agree on. People Men are very different one from another. So are women. People behave differently in different physical and emotional settings. When we feel secure, effective, loving, and lovable we have a different range than we do when we feel worthless, terrified, miserable, enraged, or hopeless. Men and Porn A lot of men use porn just to get off. It has a minimal, perhaps even beneficial, impact on the whole of their lives and relationships, including their sexual relationships. Some men get seriously addicted to porn, with all the damage and pain that severe addictions bring. Some men use porn as an inspiration for, or a weapon in, efforts to hurt or degrade real women, often enough their wives and girlfriends. [By the way, I know all this can apply to men with men, or to women with women for that matter, but I'll stick to heterosexual relationships for now and let others fill in the gaps.] Women and Porn Some women like porn. Some are indifferent to it. Some are disgusted, horrified, frightened, or humiliated by it. Some women really enjoy getting into the sexually edgy scenarios that porn can inspire. But some play along, wanting the relationship, or wanting to prove themselves strong enough, sexy enough, tough enough. A lot of these women end up feeling used, damaged, and degraded by their experiences. Relationships and Sexuality Under certain circumstances, which we think of as normal, men have sex with a willing partner. Sometimes both people come out of the encounter very, very satisfied. Sometimes one or both feel bad, even awful, before, during, or after -- even though the sex was consensual. Sometimes a man knows perfectly well that he's degrading or hurting his partner; and he gets off on that. Sometimes the damage is accidental, and he'd be horrified to know it happened. Sexuality without Relationship Under certain conditions, men have violent sex with unwilling partners. In wartime, men who would never have imagined themselves hurting a woman have become rapists. Sexuality Sex lives at the intersection of love and aggression. Aggression infused into love and desire makes sex exciting. But violence and sadism can take over. Then sex becomes an expression of power, and part of its excitement is its capacity to dominate, humiliate, even destroy the other. The cultural switch that tips sexuality into violence can get thrown suddenly. Witness Rwanda, where lunatic broadcasts and a history of injustice turned citizens into mass murderers and rapists. Witness Abu Ghraib, where war, contempt, and an inexcusable lack of structure and training allowed young soldiers to become gleefully perverse torturers. The Internet The Web does not breed civility. People write things in emails they would never consider saying directly. Worse, under cover of anonymity, people insult, threaten, and genuinely menace other people's reputations and lives. Consider the posting of addresses of doctors who perform abortions, or the viciousness shown toward the parents of a teenage girl who snuck out with the family's Porsche, crashed, and died. Not everyone loses social sensitivity in the anonymity of the web. But it's a lot easier to let fly with ugly emotions online than in voice-to-voice or face-to-face encounters. The Internet and Porn Porn is available every instant of every day. It's inexhaustible; people are constantly posting new samples. It's lost its public context -- the long-outdated context of a movie theater, the more recent context of a store where you have to go in, show your face, and rent your videos. No one knows; no one sees. The only interaction is you, your mind, your body, a screen, and whatever you watch there. And, as it becomes more private, more and more porn is apparently becoming more degrading to the women involved. So: increased degradation, decreased social influence, and increased amounts of time spent with only one's fantasies for company. I'm protesting any account of porn that refuses to take this context, very carefully, into account. In the accompanying article, Michael Bader talks about men in therapy who discover that their ostensible desire to see a woman in a gangbang has to do with their need to know that women can really enjoy men, masculinity, and sexuality. OK; I'll trust his clinical experience. But I think he's missing the point that these men aren't just watching pornography alone -- they're talking about it with their therapist, a man who sees them as good and loving and who's encouraging of their sexuality. That's a social context, and a strongly supportive one at that. But I don't see that what Bader is saying necessarily applies to the legions of men who believe that the women they desire could never love or desire them, who feel demeaned, disrespected, alienated, and lost. A lot of men get angry when they feel like that; no surprise there. Does porn ever encourage any of these men to take their anger out on women? When, why, under what conditions? Again, I don't want to imply that I think those men are on their way to producing snuff flicks, or something equally absurd. I do want to say that the questions deserve real attention. In the early 1970s, Zimbardo's famous prison experiment took a group of male undergraduates, screened them carefully for psychological stability, and then randomly assigned them the roles of prisoners or guards. The experiment was designed to last two weeks, but within six days, according to the Stanford Prison Experiment Web site, "The simulation became so real, and the guards became so abusive, that the experiment had to be shut down. ... Half the prisoners were released early due to severe emotional or cognitive reactions." None of the guards quit, however. And nothing in the extensive pre-experiment personality testing predicted which guards would become abusive. Zimbardo concluded, "Abusive guard behavior appears to have been triggered by features of the situation rather than by the personality of guards." Bader claims that men watching pornography can reliably and consistently understand the difference between fantasy and reality. I have some doubts: People are not at their most grounded and realistic when it comes to sex. And, again, I believe context matters a lot, especially when cruel or degrading scenarios provoke intense excitement, both sexual and violent. On a concrete level, a lot of kids and some isolated guys do use porn as a kind of "how-to" manual for sexuality. Porn's getting more extreme could lead them into some very unfortunate blunders. Plus, there's a long and sorry history of men rationalizing the sexual abuse of women with the words, "She really wanted it;" "She was asking for it." Is there a risk, even if just for some men, even if just at some times, in reinforcing a fantasy that women really want to receive the cruelties some men imagine inflicting on them? I also suspect there are psychological consequences to seeing repeated enactments of violent sexuality, of fantasies that until recently existed pretty much exclusively in our imaginations. Sex and violence share a slippery boundary. At Abu Ghraib, young soldiers' anger and fear became sexualized violence in very short order. How much do we really know about the tipping point where emotional pain turns to satisfy itself in sexual cruelty? Bader's right that "We can't get maximally aroused if we're worried, guilty and responsible," and that feeling confident of the other's pleasure offers one source of relief from these fears. But he neglects the fact that denying the humanity of the other can stifle guilt just as effectively -- at least for some people, at least in some circumstances, at least some of the time. We've created a brave new world where porn is constantly available in steadily more intense forms, with few or no social controls limiting access. Whatever the truth about pornography 20 years ago -- and we don't seem to know much for sure -- "the situation," as Zimbardo puts it, has changed. And I think we need to pay attention. Michael's Rebuttal to Vivian Vivian speculates that there are conditions under which porn might trigger an increase in male sexual violence. These conditions include the privacy of the Internet, the increased availability of extremely degrading porn, and social conditions like Abu Ghraib and Zimbardo's prison experiment. Porn is getting worse and more ubiquitous and this is apparently provoking or reinforcing harmful male sexual behavior. Unfortunately, there's simply no evidence for this claim. At the same time the availability and alleged misogyny of porn is increasing, the incidence of sexual violence is decreasing. Societies with more porn and Internet usage than ours have much lower rates of sexual violence. And, again, despite how extensively it has been studied, there is no research that shows that exposure to porn increases the aggressiveness or sexism of a man's interaction with women in his everyday life. Now, I would agree with Vivian that a fair number of men -- and women, for that matter -- feel hostility toward each other. And some of them -- both sexes -- act this out in the bedroom. They might criticize each other's performance or attractiveness. A man might unconsciously but intentionally refuse to "read" his partner's cues about what she wants or enjoys, or he might detach the moment after he is satisfied. A woman might be consistently critical of a man's ability to satisfy her, or make him feel bad for wanting sex too often. In these cases, the hostility of one partner hurts the other one. But the fact that people can hurt each other in their myriad transactions around sex, while tragic, doesn't bear on this debate at all. My primary point was not that men don't ever feel hostility toward women but that the fact that they get aroused by porn isn't evidence of it. Men don't have a primary wish to see or participate in a gangbang at all -- in fact, doing so would horrify them. They desire pleasure and connection, like all of us do, but the conditions under which they can safely experience this involve somehow counteracting their worry and guilt about women, a condition that is satisfied in these imaginary porn scenarios. My point was that you cannot infer, as Jensen does, that a porn script reflects what the male viewer actually wants to do to women. The unconscious mind makes use of the porn script in ways that an outside social observer can't possible divine. In a sense, this brings me to another point of agreement with Vivian. It isn't clear at all what the causes or effects are of the growing incidence of rougher and more extreme scenarios in porn today. Is the essential psychology of porn the same but merely taking more dramatic forms or is this trend something qualitatively new? There does seem to be a tendency in our sexual imaginations to seek out deeper and deeper taboos to challenge or violate, provided it's safe to do so. I see no evidence that such potential for escalation in a world of fantasy poses a threat to women in the real world, but I'd be foolish to deny that it could do so in the future in ways unknown to us now. And I have been impressed with the ways that the anonymity and ubiquity of Internet sex invites certain men to retreat from social and family life. The content of porn is less important here than the private ways that it is constantly available. Perhaps, in the end, the problem lies with a society in which men are disconnected and unable to find comfort in ways other than masturbation. Vivian's Rebuttal to Michael When Michael Bader describes sexual cruelties in his response to my article, he moves directly from criminal assaults to the petty cruelties of everyday life. He skips over the area where porn concerns me most deeply -- its potential to encourage the dehumanizing of women in consensual, or quasi-consensual, sexual encounters. We know that boyfriends, ex-boyfriends, and men that women had thought or wished were boyfriends are posting explicit content without the woman's consent. What else is going on in or because of our new online world that hurts women, diminishes their agency, transforms their sexual pleasure into fodder for their humiliation? Porn doesn't just provide relief from inhibiting fantasy; it serves up inspiration for sexual games. A lot of people, men and women, enact scenarios derived from porn. A lot of people also push the limits of their sexual experiences. Depictions of violence or degradation -- particularly when the woman seems to be loving it -- encourage the fantasy, in men and women so inclined, that the games can get meaner without damage being done. A "real" woman would feel excited, not humiliated, frightened or hurt. And having porn so constantly and immediately available makes the gap between wish and action that much narrower. I'm not talking mutually enjoyable kinkiness here; I'm talking about situations where porn can nudge a man toward taking his pleasure at a woman's expense, whether in ignorance or with full intent. Michael's argument rests heavily on a lack of conclusive evidence linking pornography with mistreatment of women. Yet in studies of groups, individual differences easily cancel each other out. According to a recent New York article, we can't even prove that exercise promotes weight loss. It seems that a fair number of people work out, get hungrier, and eat more, gaining weight in the process. This finding doesn't negate the experience of all those folks who got more active and dropped a few pounds, however. They're built differently -- or they're living in contexts that successfully encourage their efforts. Perversity -- by which I mean getting aroused by degrading or dehumanizing another person -- exists. Sadism -- sexual sadism -- exists. People make tragic and terrible sexual mistakes. (Read On Chesil Beach if you have any doubts.) Michael's experience, as a clinician and I assume as a man, has led him to appreciate how greatly a man's love and desire for a woman can be underappreciated. Mine, as a fellow clinician and as a woman, has led me to recognize how very badly things can go wrong, and how devastating it can be when they do. I'm sure that Michael and I agree that none of us is born taking pleasure in another's pain and degradation. Yet in certain contexts, people -- even people who under different circumstances are loving and concerned -- get very excited in just this way. I believe that the current solitary, nonstop, and increasingly vicious realm of pornography can foster just this kind of excitement. And so I believe we owe it to ourselves, as men, women and a society, to take it seriously. See more stories tagged with: pornography, gonzo porn, violent porn, violence against women, sexual expression, sexual fantasy, robert jensen, getting off Michael Bader is a psychologist and psychoanalyst in San Francisco. He is the author of Arousal: The Secret Logic of Sexual Fantasies, and a forthcoming book, Male Sexuality: Why Women Don't Understand It -- And Men Don't Either. He has also written extensively on psychology and politics for Tikkun Magazine and AlterNet. Dr. Vivian Dent is a psychologist in private practice in San Francisco.

Robert Jenson, Getting Off (an excerpt)

The following is an excerpt from Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity, by Robert Jensen. King of the Hill The object of the children's game King of the Hill is to be the one who remains on top of the hill (or, if not an actual hill, a large pile of anything or the center of any designated area). To do that, one has to repel those who challenge the king's supremacy. The king has to push away all the other kids who charge the hill. That can be done in a friendly spirit with an understanding that a minimal amount of force will be used by all, or it can be violent and vicious, with both the king and the challengers allowed to use any means necessary. Games that start with such a friendly understanding can often turn violent and vicious. This scenario is also used in some video games, in which a player tries to control a specific area for a predetermined amount of time.

In my experience, both male and female children can, and did, play King of the Hill, but it was overwhelmingly a game of male children. It's one of the games that train male children to be men. No matter who is playing, it is a game of masculinity. King of the Hill reveals one essential characteristic of the dominant conception of masculinity: No one is ever safe, and everyone loses something.

Most obviously, this King-of-the-Hill masculinity is dangerous for women. It leads men to seek to control "their" women and define their own pleasure in that control, which leads to epidemic levels of rape and battery. But this view of masculinity is toxic for men as well.

One thing is immediately obvious about King-of-the-Hill masculinity: Not everyone can win. In fact, by definition in this conception of masculinity, there's only one real man at any given moment. In a system based on hierarchy, by definition there can be only one person at the top of the hierarchy. There's only one King of the Hill.

In this conception of masculinity, men are in constant struggle with each other for dominance. Every other man must in some way be subordinated to the king, but even the king can't feel too comfortable -- he has to be nervous about who is coming up that hill to get him. This isn't just a game, of course. A friend who once worked on Wall Street, one of the preeminent sites of masculine competition in the business world, described coming to work as like "walking into a knife fight when all the good spots along the wall were taken." Every day you faced the possibility of getting killed -- figuratively, in business terms -- and there was no spot you could stand where your back was covered. This is masculinity lived as endless competition and threat. Whatever the benefits of it, whatever power it gives one over others, it's also exhausting and, in the end, unfulfilling.

No one man created this system. Perhaps no man, if given a real choice, would choose it. But we live our lives in that system, and it deforms men, narrowing our emotional range and depth, and limiting our capacity to experience the rich connections with others -- not just with women and children, but with other men -- which require vulnerability but make life meaningful. The Man Who Would Be King is the Man Who Is Broken and Alone.

That toxic masculinity hurts men doesn't mean it's equally dangerous for men and women. As feminists have long pointed out, there's a big difference between women dealing with the constant threat of being raped, beaten, and killed by the men in their lives, and men not being able to cry. But we can see that the short-term material gains that men get in patriarchy -- the name for this system of male dominance -- are not adequate compensation for what we men give up in the long haul, which is to surrender part of our humanity to the project of dominance

This doesn't mean, of course, that in this world all men have it easy. Other systems of dominance and oppression -- white supremacy, heterosexism, predatory corporate capitalism -- mean that non-white men, gay men, poor and working-class men suffer in various ways. A feminist analysis doesn't preclude us from understanding those problems but in fact helps us see them more clearly.

What feminism is and isn't to me.

Each fall in my seminar class for first-year students at the University of Texas, I lead a discussion about gender politics that will sound familiar to many teachers. I ask the students about their opinions about various gender issues, such as equal pay, sexual harassment, men's violence, and gender roles. Most of the women and some of the men express views that would be called feminist. But when I ask how many identify as feminists, out of the 15 students in any semester, no more than three (always women) have ever claimed the label. When I ask why, the typical answers are not about the political positions of feminism but the perception that feminism is weird and that weird people are feminists.

This pattern is no doubt connected to the assault on feminism in the mainstream culture, captured most succinctly in the phrase "femi-nazi" made popular by right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh. One response to this by some feminists has been to find a least-common-denominator definition of the term, to reassure both men and women that feminism doesn't really aim to undermine established gender norms and isn't threatening to men. I believe that to be the wrong strategy. If feminism is to make a meaningful difference in the sex/gender crisis we face, and contribute to a broader social change so desperately needed, I believe it must be clear in its challenge to the existing order -- and that inevitably will be threatening to many men, at least at first. Feminism, then, should get more radical than ever.

In general, the term "radical" conjures up images of extremes, of danger, of people eager to tear things down. But radical has another meaning -- from the Latin, for root. Radical solutions are the ones that get to the root of the problem. When the systems in which we live are in crisis, the most honest confrontations with those systems have to be radical. At first glance, that honesty will seem frightening. Looking deeper, it is the radical ideas that offer hope, a way out of the crisis.

Because these ideas are denigrated in the dominant culture, it's important to define them. By feminist, I mean an analysis of the ways in which women are oppressed as a class in this society -- the ways in which men as a class hold more power, and how those differences in power systematically disadvantage women in the public and private spheres. Gender oppression plays out in different ways depending on social location, which makes it crucial to understand men's oppression of women in connection with other systems of oppression -- heterosexism, racism, class privilege, and histories of colonial and postcolonial domination.

By radical feminist, I mean the analysis of the ways that in this patriarchal system in which we live, one of the key sites of this oppression -- one key method of domination -- is sexuality. Two of the most well-known women who articulated a radical feminist view have been central to the feminist critique of pornography -- the writer Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon, a lawyer and law professor. The feminist philosophy and politics that have shaped my thinking are most clearly articulated by those two and others with similar views.

What I also learned from this radical feminism is not just a way of critiquing men's domination of women but a broader approach to understanding systems of power and oppression. Feminism is not the only way into a broader critique of the many types of oppression, of course, but it is one important way, and was for me the first route into such a framework. My real political education started on the issue of gender and from there moved to issues of racial and economic injustice, the imperialist wars that flow out of that injustice, and the ecological crisis. Each system of power and oppression is unique in its own way, but there are certain features in common. Here's my summary:

How do we explain the fact that most people's stated philosophical and theological systems are rooted in concepts of justice, equality, and the inherent dignity of all people, yet we allow violence, exploitation, and oppression to flourish? Only a small percentage of people in any given society are truly sociopaths, engaging in cruel and oppressive behavior openly and with relish. Feminism helped me understand the complex process, which tends to work like this:

The systems and structures in which we live are hierarchical.

Hierarchical systems and structures deliver to those in the dominant class certain privileges, pleasures, and material benefits.

People are typically hesitant to give up such privileges, pleasures, and benefits. But, those benefits clearly come at the expense of those in the subordinated class.

Given the widespread acceptance of basic notions of equality and human rights, the existence of hierarchy has to be justified in some way other than crass self-interest.

One of the most persuasive arguments for systems of domination and subordination is that they are "natural."

So, oppressive systems work hard to make it appear that the hierarchy -- and the disparity in power and resources that flow from hierarchy -- is natural and, therefore, beyond modification.

If men are naturally smarter and stronger than women, then patriarchy is inevitable and justifiable. If white people are naturally smarter and more virtuous than people of color, then white supremacy is inevitable and justifiable. I

f rich people are naturally smarter and harder working than poor people, then economic injustice is inevitable and justifiable. And, if human beings have special status in the universe, justified either on theological or biological grounds, then humans' right to extract from the rest of Creation whatever they like is inevitable and justifiable.

For unjust hierarchies, and the illegitimate authority that is exercised in them, maintaining their own naturalness is essential. Not surprisingly, people in the dominant class exercising the power gravitate easily to such a view. And because of their power to control key story-telling institutions (especially education and mass communication), those in the dominant class can fashion a story about the world that leads some portion of the people in the subordinate class to internalize the ideology.

For me, feminism gave me a way to see through not only male dominance, but all the systems of illegitimate authority. I saw the fundamental strategy they held in common, and saw that if we could more into a space in which we were true to our stated ideals, we would reject those systems as anti-human. All these systems cause suffering beyond the telling. All of them must be resisted. The connections between them must be understood. Enforcing masculinity Systems of oppression are interlocked and enmeshed; perhaps the classic example is the way in which white men identify black men as a threat to the sexual purity of white women, requiring white men to maintain control of both black people and white women. While keeping in mind those connections, we can train our attention on how each individual power system operates.

This book attempts such a focus on masculinity. The King-of-the-Hill Masculinity I have described is articulated and enforced in a variety of places in contemporary culture, most notably athletics, the military, and business, with underpinnings in the dominant monotheistic religions. We can look at all those arenas and see how masculinity-as-dominance plays out. In all those endeavors, the quality of relationships and human values become secondary to control that leads to victory, conquest, and closing the deal.

We teach our boys that to be a man is to be tough, to be acquisitive, to be competitive, to be aggressive. We congratulate them when they make a tough hit on the football field that takes out an opponent. We honor them in parades when they return from slaughtering the enemy abroad. We put them on magazine covers when they destroy business competitors and make millions by putting people out of work. In short, we train boys to be cruel, to ignore the feelings of others, to be violent.

U.S. culture's most-admired male heroes reflect those characteristics: They most often are men who take charge rather than seek consensus, seize power rather than look for ways to share it, and are willing to be violent to achieve their goals. Victory is sweet. Conquest gives a sense of power. And after closing the deal, the sweet sense of power lingers.

Look around in the contemporary United States, and masculinity is paraded in front of us, sometimes in displays that border on self-parody

George W. Bush dons a flight suit and lands on an aircraft carrier; the self-proclaimed "war president" announces victory (albeit somewhat prematurely). John Kerry, fearing a masculinity gap, serves up a hunting photo-op in the 2004 campaign to show that not only does he have combat experience that Bush lacks but still likes to fire a weapon.

Arnold Schwarzenegger moves from action-movie hero to governor of California, denigrating opponents he deems insufficiently tough as "girly men."

Donald Trump, a businessman famous mostly for being famous and attracting conventionally attractive female partners, boosts a sagging public image with "The Apprentice" television show that pits young wannabe executives against each other in cutthroat competition.

And then there is sex, where victory, conquest, and dealing come together, typically out of public view. Masculinity played out in sexual relationships, straight or gay, brings King of the Hill into our most intimate spaces. Again, this doesn't mean that every man in every sexual situation plays out this dominance, but simply that there exists a pattern. When I speak to mixed groups about these subjects, I often describe the sex-as-dominance paradigm, and then I ask the women in the room if they have any experience with men behaving in such fashion.

There is considerable rolling of the eyes and many exasperated sighs at that point. I present it in light-hearted fashion because to put it too harshly makes most mixed audiences very nervous.

And then there is pornography, where brings the private imposition of masculinity into public, putting King-of-the-Hill sex onto the screen.

Pornography's whisper to men.

We think of the call of pornography as crass, like a carnival barker's. Like the neon lights of Times Square in its pornographic heyday. Men go to buy pornography in the "red-light" district, the "combat zone." Pornography seems to shout out at us, crudely.

But in reality, pornography speaks to men in a whisper. We pretend to listen to the barker shouting about women, but that is not the draw. What brings us back, over and over, is the voice in our ears, the soft voice that says, "It's OK, you really are a man, you really can be a man, and if you come into my world, it will all be there, and it will all be easy."

Pornography knows men's weakness. It speaks to that weakness, softly. Pornography ends up being about men's domination of women and about the ugly ways that men will take pleasure. But for most men, it starts with the soft voice that speaks to our deepest fear:

That we aren't man enough.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Noose and Racial Terrorism

This is from The Curvature: A Feminist Perspective on Politics and Culture

On nooses and white reactions
I haven’t yet written about the recent string of noose incidents. I don’t have a good excuse for that.

Today, though, the Times has an article about those instances which have taken place in NY, and I’m using it as a reason to get up of my ass and open my mouth. Over the past few weeks, seven nooses have been found, left for blacks to find as obvious attempts at intimidation and threats of violence.

Three noose episodes took place on Long Island in three days. On Wednesday, two were found at a sanitation garage in the Town of Hempstead — one of them looped around the neck of a stuffed animal with its face blackened. On Thursday, a noose was discovered hanging in a Nassau County highway department yard in Baldwin. On Friday, a worker at the Green Acres shopping mall in Valley Stream found one slung over a door at a construction site.

Public officials said they were outraged, determined to catch the culprits — and stumped.

“It would diminish the seriousness of these events to call any of them copycat situations,” said Kate Murray, the supervisor of the Town of Hempstead, a sprawling township of 750,000 residents, about 15 percent of them black, where all of last week’s incidents occurred. “But I’m not a sociologist. I am surprised by it.”

. . . “I don’t know what the pattern is, if there is one,” said Thomas R. Suozzi, the county executive of Nassau County, which includes Hempstead. “Are people more hateful than they have been? I just don’t know.”

I think that the last question is a legitimate one worth considering. Are white people becoming more racist? You could be forgiven for thinking so, lately. Though institutional racism has always been there and supported by whites, it lately seems like loud, overt racism is somehow becoming more acceptable. There’s the recent string of celebrities (Paris Hilton, Michael Richards) using the N-word. There’s the overtly racist response to the Jena 6, and there are all of the blackface parties being held as a “joke” by young whites.

Though I don’t have an explanation for it, I don’t think that more white people are suddenly more racist. For the most part, I’m not really sure how unacceptable racism has been in America against groups other than African Americans. A look at our discussions over immigration tell us that prejudice against Latino/as is considered mostly okay, our discussions over terrorism tell us that prejudice against Muslims, and really people of any other ethnicity that might bear some faint resemblance in skin color to Arabs, is just fine, everyone likes to try to forget that Native Americans even exist, and when has prejudice against Asians really been taken seriously? Racism against blacks has been the main issue for whites. No, I don’t think that racism is getting worse. I think that racism has always been there, and yes, it has been this bad. I do think that somehow the white community has gotten a cue that this overt racism against blacks is acceptable again.

I can’t explain why. Yes, I do think that Jena has played a huge role. How could it not have? Nooses aren’t just suddenly popping up everywhere out of coincidence. Jena has forced many white people who try to never think about, let alone talk about, issues of race to actually do so. And in case you haven’t been paying attention, it hasn’t exactly gone well. I’m not sure that “copycat” is the right word to describe the instances, but they all seem to be committed by different individuals. And they certainly are all related. And while with each one the outrage grows, so does the level of desensitization and acceptance. It’s getting to the point where whites are saying “oh, gee, another noose?” Firstly, those words should never have to be spoken. Secondly, the apathy with which their spoken is telling.

“In the context of today, the noose means, ‘There is still a racial hierarchy in this country, and you better not overstep your bounds,’” said Carmen Van Kerckhove, the founder of a New York consulting firm, New Demographic, that specializes in workplace problems, including racial tension.

. . . Willie Warren, an equipment operator at the Nassau County Public Works yard here, was among three workers in the garage on Thursday when an employee ran in to tell them he had found a noose hanging from a fence outside. Mr. Warren, 41, who has been with the department for 20 years, filed a racial discrimination suit in 2004, producing tape recordings of a supervisor referring to him with racial epithets. He won the case, got a promotion, still works for one of the supervisors named in his suit, and considers himself unflappable on the job.

The noose shook him. “It’s hard to explain, but it made me upset the whole day,” Mr. Warren said. One white co-worker was as upset as he was, he said. Another said, “What’s the big deal? It’s only a noose.”

This attitude is not only frightening, it’s also frighteningly common. The fact is, most white people don’t get it. Many don’t even realize that hanging a noose is a concrete threat of violence. It’s extreme ignorance and extreme stupidity, it boggles the mind, but it’s true. There’s a “sticks and stones” mentality from all of those who have never had to think about race, or how they will be discriminated against today, or whether they face institutionalized violence because of their skin color.

Because as one professor points out, this is about institutions:

Rachel E. Sullivan, an assistant professor of sociology at Long Island University’s C. W. Post College, said most people do not understand what lynchings were. “They think it was a few guys coming in the night, in their hooded sheets, taking you away,” she said.

She teaches a course on African-American history, including the killings of thousands by lynching in the United States between the end of the Civil War and the end of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

“But in reality these were whole, big community events,” she said. “Children and families would come to watch. Hundreds of people attended. They would watch a man being burned and mutilated before he was hung. They would pose for pictures with the body.

“If people had a grasp of what really happened at these things,” Professor Sullivan continued, “they would understand the power of the symbol of a noose.”

I don’t know if it’s true that white people don’t know this. I mean, I was certainly taught this in schools. Maybe everyone else wasn’t. Or maybe they just never paid attention enough to remember. Maybe it’s easier to dismiss if you lie about it.

But the fact that this view is held so widely needs to be acknowledged. The most striking case of this that I’ve seen comes from a post by Magniloquence about an NPR segment that she caught on the radio:

I’ve started listening to NPR in the morning, in between songs and snippets of useful information (like, say, the traffic reports) on other stations. And lo and behold, one day I hear the following: “Ignore the Nooses.”

Yes, that’s right. From the little summary at their webpage:

All Things Considered, October 16, 2007 · In light of the resurgence of nooses appearing in places like Jena, La., and Columbia University’s Teacher’s College, here’s a modest proposal: The next time somebody plants a noose, let’s just ignore it. Perhaps paying less attention to these acts will take away their racist power.

I heard that, verbatim, and then several minutes of different people commending the logic and telling us to man up and stop being so sensitive. Stop giving the bullies what they want.
This kind of groupthink from white people, though I am white, never ceases to amaze me. I’m sure that it’s really easy to “ignore” violence when you are not the one facing the threat.
For those of you who still don’t get it, think about when men don’t “get” why women/feminists get so riled up about a little old rape threat. Because it’s not like they’re actually going to rape you. They’re just trying to get a rise! Whereas we know that there a chance of the threat actually being followed through on, and we also know that rape is not a game.

Lynching is not a game, either. Nooses aren’t funny or trivial. They’re not only as bad as racial slurs, but actually a lot worse. Ignoring threats of violence is never an appropriate response.
I will admit that I have been guilty of this “ignore it and it will go away” line of thinking. One example is my reaction to Ann Coulter. I think that we’ve given her far too much attention for far too many years. I think that not only are all of the media outlets who keep giving her a microphone responsible for the hatred that she spews and that they need to stop giving her the microphone, but that covering what she says has stopped serving a point. I think that continuing to talk about her gives her exactly what she wants and will only delay her crawling back into the dark hole from which she came.

Maybe I’m wrong about that. I don’t know. Since she talks an awful lot of shit about white women, too, I think that I have a bit more perspective on the issue. But I could still be wrong. I could also be right. Maybe there is in fact a difference. Coulter, though she can be perceived as encouraging violence, is not actually committing a crime. Hanging nooses, thankfully, is. We’ve also tried everything else we could with Coulter. We’ve denounced her and exposed her and she’s as popular as ever.

The problem is that we haven’t tried something different with racism. We’ve been going about this “let’s not talk about it and it will go away” mentality for a long time. We’ve been doing the “black people are making a big deal out of nothing” thing for a long time. When, exactly, have we tried talking about it honestly — not in a “is racism good or bad?” sort of way, but a “why are we racist and what can we do?” sort of way — on a wide-scale? I’m struggling to remember a time.

So maybe I’m wrong about Ann Coulter. Maybe I’m not. But I do know that NPR is wrong about the noose, as is everyone else who holds the “ho-hum” point of view. They’re more than just some kind of sick and twisted fad. They’re a part of a trend. And yeah, if we don’t deal with it and talk about it, I am quite terrified of where it’s going to take us next.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Michael Medved and Conservative View of Corporations

I thought students might be interested in this article in relation to the work of Karl Marx and John Locke. Students might ask themselves about the extent to which Marx would disagree or agree with Medved's views.

Corporate power blesses, not oppresses, the American people
By Michael MedvedWednesday, October 17, 2007

Why should so many Americans resent and distrust the very institutions that make possible our productivity, pleasure and opportunities? Given the fact that major corporations provide virtually every one of the commodities and comforts we consume, it makes no sense to feel hostile and contemptuous of the corporate organization of the contemporary economy.
As I write these words – and as you read them –we all rely on the products of major companies with increasingly far flung and international operations. Leave aside for a moment the obvious example of the complex combination of brilliantly designed computer hardware and software that allows me to transfer my thoughts to a word processor and broadcast them to the world. I’m also relying on a light fixture above my desk and the bulb to illuminate it and the electricity to drive it, on the books stacked on the filing cabinet behind me, printed and distributed and transported across the country, on the paper and the pens that allowed the scribbled notes and, very significantly, on the ceramic mug filled with steaming coffee based on beans brought from far corners of the globe, then roasted and packaged and finally brewed in the wonderfully efficient coffee maker beneath our kitchen sink. Though “corporation” has become a dirty word to many Americans, successful corporations made possible each of these wonders and blessings and amplifications of our personal power. Without those engines of economic energy, we’d retreat to darkness and frustration and the dead ends of poverty.

The late Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman used to hold up a common pencil and to ask his students at the University of Chicago to consider the labor and resources that made it possible. At one point, timber workers cut the trees sawmill workers shaped into usable milled wood, while miners drew the graphite from the earth, and others smelted and shaped it into the thin but durable pencil, then encased in the octagonal rod of wood, in turn painted and varnished and stamped, with a milled metal tip (also mined and processed and stamped) connecting it to a pink and functional eraser relying on gum from remote jungles. This miracle of technology and cooperation, in other words, relies on literally hundreds (if not thousands) of workers in different corners of the earth, but then, ultimately, makes its way into your hand at the shockingly, insanely, irrationally low price of --- about ten cents. Consider the amazing efficiency that brings you this versatile and remarkably efficient common writing implement that you take for granted every day. This deceptively simple pencil costs the typical American less than 20 seconds of his time at work. For higher income toilers, you can earn yourself a pencil for a mere second of your effort.

And yet we commonly curse the very rise of corporate power and productivity that puts such wonders into our hands. “Enlightened” commentators, politicians, academics, activists and malcontents of both left and right never tire of deriding for-profit companies as some parasitic alien life form that devours honest toil, crushes creativity, pollutes the environment, and steals power from ordinary Americans.

A few undeniable truths about corporate power in the United States can liberate every day citizens and the society at large from such sour and ungrateful folly.

1) FROM THE DAYS OF EARLIEST SETTLEMENT, AMERICA EMERGED FROM RISK-TAKING AND PROFIT-MAKING CORPORATIONS. The famous colonies at Jamestown, Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay (not to mention Walter Raleigh’s similarly celebrated and tragically unsuccessful settlement of Roanoke) depended on British investors who put up the considerable capital to fund the expensive business of sending “venturers” across the Ocean. Of course, some of these sponsors shared religious ideals with some of the settlers, but they all fervently cherished the (often frustrated) hope of earning a handsome return on their risky investments. Meanwhile, other corporations like the Hudson Bay Company and the British East India Company also played an outside (and sometimes heroic) role in exploring a wilderness continent and establishing a British presence in the New World.

2) THE REVOLUTION RESISTED GOVERNMENT INTERFERENCE WITH FREE MARKETS, NOT THE POWER OF BIG BUSINESS. The Stamp Act Protests, the Boston Tea Party and other Colonial challenges to British authority aimed their wrath (and occasional property destruction) not at the traders or merchants who brought their products to New England, but against the government officials who insisted on telling the colonists what they could buy and how much they must pay. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson specifically condemned the king for “imposing taxes on us without our consent” and for sending his tax collectors to interfere with commerce: “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our People, and eat out their substance.” Any contemporary American who’s faced an IRS audit can relate directly to Jefferson’s complaint. The Declaration also attacked King George for his protectionist export-import policy and “for cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world.” The Founding Fathers never embraced anti-business attitudes because most of them were themselves ambitious and successful entrepreneurs. George Washington and John Hancock may have been the two richest men in the colonies – with Washington one of the largest land-holders (who loved speculating on frontier real estate) and Hancock the owner of America’s most formidable fleet of merchant ships. At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, when the Founders laid out the powers of the new Congress and Government in Article 1, section 8, all of the first 8 provisions concern setting up an economic system (“power to lay and collect taxes,” “to establish…uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies,” “to coin money,” and so forth) before the document finally gets around to such relatively trivial matters as setting up courts and raising an army.

3) THE FAMOUS DEPRADATIONS OF THE SO-CALLED “ROBBER BARONS” INVOLVED GOVERNMENTAL, NOT BUSINESS, ABUSES. In his indispensable 1986 book “The Myth of the Robber Barons,” Burton W. Folsom of the University of Pittsburgh makes the important distinction between “political entrepreneurs” and “market entrepreneurs” who played very different roles in the development of the new nation and its economy. The political entrepreneurs WHO manipulated their insider influence relied upon sweetheart deals and special concessions and monopoly power granted by government, rather than their own efficiency and competitive advantages. At the same time, market entrepreneurs (like James J. Hill of the Great Northern Railroad) refused to entangle themselves with the political process and built their much more successful and durable corporations without favoritism from bureaucrats or officeholders. As Folsom writes of the emerging and crucial steamship industry: “Political entrepreneurship often led to price-fixing, technological stagnation, and the bribing of competitors and politicians. The market entrepreneurs were the innovators and rate-cutters. They had to be to survive against subsidized opponents.” Significantly, all of the most significant economic reform movements from the Jeffersonians at the turn of the nineteenth century up through the Progressives at the turn of twentieth, sought to disentangle government from its involvement in the free market, not to impose to new bureaucratic controls. As the great historian Forrest McDonald of the University of Alabama wrote: “The Jacksonian Democrats engaged in a great deal of anti-business rhetoric, but the results of their policies were to remove or reduce governmental interference into private economic activity, and thus to free market entrepreneurs to go about their creative work. The entire nation grew wealthy as a consequence.”

4) THE ERAS OF GREATEST CORPORATE INFLUENCE WEREN’T NIGHTMARISH PERIODS OF OPPRESSION AND RETREAT, BUT RATHER GOLDEN EPOCHS OF PROSPERITY, PROGRESS AND GROWING AMERICAN POWER. While historians and other intellectuals invariably deride the “Gilded Age” following the War Between the States, no generation in world history achieved comparable progress in rapidly raising standards of living, absorbing and assimilating unprecedented waves of immigration, settling the remotest frontier and building a dozen new states and scores of glittering new cities, while establishing the United States for the first time as a world power of the first rank. As the editors of American Heritage Magazine wrote in the introduction to their book, “The Confident Years,” about US life from 1865 to 1914: “It was a period of exuberant growth, in population, industry and world prestige. As the twentieth century opened, American political pundits were convinced that the nation was on an ascending spiral of progress that could end only in something approaching perfection. Even those who saw the inequity between the bright world of privilege and the gray fact of poverty were quite sure that a time was very near when no one would go cold or hungry of ill clothed. These were indeed the Confident Years.” An era of rampant capitalist power, in other words, that saw the emergence of giant corporations that touched the lives of every American, corresponded with the most dynamic and dazzling achievements in our history. Other eras associated with big business also brought unparalleled blessings of peace and prosperity to the nation at large and virtually all of its citizens – such as the 1920’s, where President Coolidge produced snickers from cognoscenti by saying “the business of America is business,” or the 1950’s, when Defense Secretary Charlie Wilson declared (not unreasonably) that “what’s good for General Motors is good for America."

5) THE RISE OF BIG BUSINESS NEVER IMPOVERISHED AND ALWAYS ENHANCED THE LIVING STANDARDS OF ORDINARY WORKING AMERICANS. In their 1998 book, “The History of the American Economy” Gary Walton and Hugh Rockoff summarize the progress of the working class. From 1820 to 1860, wages grew at a 1.6% annual rate, while the purchasing power of an average worker’s paycheck went up between 60 [SPACE] and 90 percent (depending on the region of the country). Between 1860 and 1890 (that genuinely gilded age) real wages (adjusted for inflation) increased by a staggering 50% in America. The average work week shortened at the same time, so that the real earnings of the Average American worker increased more like 60 percent in just thirty years. As Thomas J. DiLorenzo points out in his illuminating book “How Capitalism Saved America,”: “Capitalism improves the quality of life for the working class not just because it leads to improved wages but also because it produces new, better and cheaper goods…When Henry Ford first started selling automobiles only the relatively wealthy could afford them, but soon enough working-class families were buying his cars.” The efficiency and productivity made possible by corporate organization gave typical Americans a range of choices and an economic power unimaginable for prior generations. As Federal Reserve Board economists Michael Cox and Richard Allen made clear: “A nineteenth century millionaire couldn’t grab a cold drink from the refrigerator. He couldn’t hop into a smooth-riding automobile for a 70-mile-an-hour trip down an interstate highway to the mountains or seashore. He couldn’t call up news, movies, music and sporting events by simply touching the remote control’s buttons. He couldn’t jet north to Toronto, south to Cancun, east to Boston or west to San Francisco in just a few hours. He couldn’t transmit documents to Europe, Asia, or anyplace else in seconds.

He couldn’t run over to the mall to buy auto-focus cameras, computer games, mountain bikes, or movies on videotape. He couldn’t escape the summer heat in air conditioned comfort. He couldn’t check into a hospital for a coronary bypass to cure a failing heart, get a shot of penicillin to ward off infection, or even take aspirin to relieve a headache.” In this context, jeremiads about the “horrifying” gap between rich and poor miss the point that poor people in America’s 21st century enjoy options and privileges that the wealthy couldn’t claim a hundred years ago. Far from oppressing the working class, the corporate system brought about a vast improvement in purchasing power for all Americans. The 1999 book “Myths of Rich and Poor” by Michael Cox and Richard Alm indicates that a worker in 1900 worked two hours and forty minutes to earn the cost of a three point chicken; in 1999, a mere 24 minutes of toil could buy him the bird. If anything, the growth in rewards for working only accelerated in the last fifty years. In 1950, typical workers put in more than two hours to afford 100 kilowatts of electricity; by 1999, the cost had dropped to fourteen minutes. A three minute coast-to-coast phone call cost 104 minutes of labor in 1950, but by 1999 that was down to two minutes (and it’s no doubt even less today).

6) THE INDUSTRIALIZATION THAT DRIVES PROSPERITY RESCUES RATHER THAN ENSLAVES THE WORKERS IT EMPLOYS. Adam Smith, who defined capitalism more than 200 years ago in “The Wealth of Nations,” described the essence of the system as a series of mutually beneficial agreements: “Give me that which you want, and you shall have this which you want.” This captures the essential fairness and decency of the free-market system, which relies on voluntary associations that enrich both parties. Concerning the process of industrialization, which saw millions of workers engaged in powering the mighty, productive engines of major corporations, the great economic Ludwig van Mises (cited by DiLorenzo) trenchantly observed: “The factory owners did not have the power to compel anybody to take a factory job. They could only hire people who were ready to work for the wages offered to them. Low as these wage rates were, they were nonetheless much more than these paupers could earn in any other field open to them. It is a distortion of facts to say that the factories carried off the housewives from the nurseries and the kitchens and the children from their play. These women had nothing to cook with and to feed their children. These children were destitute and starving. Their only refuge was the factory. It saved them, in the strict sense of the term, from death by starvation.” The same process applies to newly opened factories throughout the developing world today, despite the efforts by “anti-globalist” and “anti-corporate” activists in the United States to obliterate the only jobs that keep suffering millions from a return to misery and destitution.

7) CORPORATIONS DON’T DESERVE BLAME FOR “PUTTING PROFITS OVER PEOPLE,” SINCE PROFITS INEVITABLY BENEFIT PEOPLE. Corporations don’t exist in order to provide welfare for workers, or cheap products for consumers, but rather to earn profits for investors and operators. If they succeed in earning such profits they can provide more jobs at higher pay, and better products at lower cost. If a company fails at bringing in those profits it will shed jobs and provide fewer products – ultimately going out of business altogether. The idea that laborers or customers somehow benefit if a corporation feels squeezed, or facing shrinking profits, remains one of the profoundly illogical legacies of discredited Marxism. In the free market system, the boss Peter can’t benefit long term at the expense of his employee, Paul. They either prosper together or fail together. Increased profitability brings increases in capital that allow increases in productivity – directly and simultaneously rewarding management and labor (not to mention the public at large). Political demagogues who rail against “immoral” or “obscene” profits need courses in remedial economics. For a corporation, only a lack of profitability counts as immoral and going out of business represents the ultimate obscenity.

8) THERE’S NO LOGICAL REASON TO FAVOR SMALL BUSINESSES OVER BIG BUSINESS. A recent Wall Street Journal poll showed that the public felt more approval of “small business” than of “big corporations” by a ratio of more than three to one. This makes little sense, since virtually every “big business” started out as a small operation before success brought growth, and virtually every small business dreams of getting bigger one day. Not far from my home stands the original Starbucks Coffee stand (still operating) at Seattle’s Pike Place Market: an unprepossessing shop that couldn’t accommodate more than twenty customers at a time. Did that quaint operation do a better job providing coffee to its patrons than today’s multi-billion dollar, globe-straddling colossus? Any coffee connoisseur can certify that one of the major improvements in American life over the past twenty years involves the now universal availability of strong, delicious, gourmet coffee (and innumerable exotic derivatives), as opposed to the watery, flavorless blandness of the old-fashioned “cup of Joe.” Could any sane observer honestly believe that a small business could do a better job than big international companies in providing us with the automobiles and computers and cell phones and medical supplies that do so much to enrich our lives?

9) CORRUPTION IS MORE OF A PROBLEM FOR BIG GOVERNMENT THAN BIG CORPORATIONS. Since the beginning of the 21st Century a series of tawdry and hugely destructive corporate scandals (Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, many more) led the commentariat to conclude that business ethics had been hopelessly compromised and we needed to turn to government for redemption and purification. This assumption ignores the long history of hideous corruption in every endeavor of flawed humanity – including religion, education, charities and, most spectacularly, government itself. Giving government greater power over corporations increases rather than reduces the likelihood of corruption, since so many of the prior business scandals involved existing entanglements of bureaucracy with the free market. When political office holders decide winners and losers in the business world, the temptations for bribery and favoritism become more acute, not less so. Moreover, the public enjoys greater and swifter recourse against an abusive or inefficient corporation than it does against an abusive or inefficient government. The customer can always decline to patronize a business, a product or a service he dislikes, but with a dysfunctional government you’re stuck till the next election – or long after that, in this era of entrenched and immovable bureaucratic power. A determined individual can escape the reach of even the most ubiquitous corporation (yes, even our Seattle neighbors at Microsoft) but the only way to choose for yourself a different national government is to flee the country. Yes, corporate power frequently corrupts government, and government power even more frequently corrupts and warps corporations, but the best way to avoid this mutually destructive influence is to bring about less bureaucratic involvement in the free market, not to insist on more.

Despite all the shortcomings and silliness, bureaucratic bungling and bankruptcies, foreclosures and failures, conniving and corruption, the big corporations that inevitably emerge in free and fair markets continue to perform remarkably well in terms of giving the public what it wants and needs. Our daily lives bear wondrous witness to the amazing achievements and efficiencies of the system. Any honest examination of the past and the present must lead to the conclusion that major corporations in their appropriate pursuit of profit will continue to bless, not oppress, the people of the United States.