Humans Without Borders: A Paradox

  • Posted on: 15 October 2013
  • By: benfell

Note: This essay is has been revised based on feedback from my professor.


I find myself confronting a paradox. This is, in some respects, a good paradox, one that compels me to think more carefully about what I am doing. I am writing this essay for a class in the final coursework of my Ph.D. program. My dissertation will, almost certainly, use critical discourse analysis to develop a taxonomy of conservatism. That is, I will be analyzing and categorizing conservatives according to their ideologies.

Categories are fraught things. In saying this, I do not only mean that there will be edge cases of conservatives who do not fit neatly into any particular category, or that some conservatives will fall into multiple categories because, perhaps—only perhaps—they seek to appeal to multiple right wing constituencies.

What I mean, mainly, is that categorization is a means of control. In a previous essay, I accepted more or less at face value that elites employ—consciously or not—divisions among those they rule as a means of deterring alliances that might gain sufficient leverage to displace them (Benfell, March 15, 2012). I have also concluded that if there is a common thread to conservatism—the topic of my future dissertation—it is that conservatives are authoritarian (Benfell, April 12, 2013), so it is possible to argue that turnabout is fair play, that I propose to do unto conservatives what they have done to the rest of us.

The paradox arises, as this essay will show, because such categorization, a drawing of boundaries between people, should not be undertaken lightly, that it is this drawing of boundaries that is responsible for many of the difficulties we face as a species. Of course, conservatives insist that this is a right and proper thing to do, that at minimum, a distinction between those who rule—economically, politically, or otherwise—and those who are ruled is essential to an orderly society (Benfell, April 12, 2013). And a more reputable authority—Simone de Beauvoir (1953/2010)—has suggested that it is intrinsic to what humans do. “Otherness,” she writes, “is a fundamental category of human thought” (p. 346). And I will be “othering” conservatives.

Violence as standard operating procedure

Fundamental or not, we as a species have paid a terrible price for ‘othering.’ If there are two recurrent themes to Charles Lemert’s (2010) edited volume, Social theory: The multicultural and classic readings, they are that there is 1) a dominating hierarchy in human societies that produces social injustice, and 2) a division of the species against itself that helps to preserve the position of the elites, who, though heavily outnumbered by the populations they rule, position themselves as ruling states, which are defined by coercion, and whose sovereignty is expressed in the form of a monopoly on purportedly “legitimate” violence (Weber, 1946/2010). It is apparent that a principal preoccupation of these elites is a continuing competition, too often manifest as war, for territories, both geographic and economic, and peoples resident within those territories to exploit (Benfell, March 15, 2012).

People will suffer from the effects of violence whether anyone regards it as “legitimate” or not. Some of that violence occurs within states and not always explicitly to enforce the “laws” or the edicts of the ruling classes. Barash and Webel (2002) describe “structural violence,” that is, violence which is not physical, and therefore falls outside Weber’s (1946/2010) definition, but which deprives humans not just of the essentials of life, but those things which enable humans to be human (Nussbaum, 2011):

Structural violence usually has the effect of denying people important rights, such as economic well-being; social, political, and sexual equality; a sense of personal fulfillment and self-worth; and so on. When people starve to death, or even go hungry, a kind of violence is taking place. Similarly, when humans suffer from diseases that are preventable, when they are denied decent education, affordable housing, opportunities to work, play, raise a family, and freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, a kind of violence is occurring, even if no bullets are shot or clubs wielded. A society commits violence against its members when it forcibly stunts their development and undermines their well-being, whether because of religion, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual preference, or some other social reason. Structural violence is a serious form of social oppression. And it is regrettably widespread and often unacknowledged. (Barash & Weber, 2002, p. 7)

Social inequality as ideology

The excuses for structural violence are myriad. Denying the legitimacy of human rights, traditionalist conservatives resort to “God’s will” and insist that the well off in our society deserve to be so. They even construct “diversity” within society in vertical linear terms, ranked in political and economic power (Kirk, 1985/2001; Weaver, 1964/1995). Capitalists insist that social inequality is a necessary “incentive” for people to take risks and innovate (Bernanke, February 6, 2007; Kasser, Cohn, Kanner, & Ryan, 2007). Some even insist that social inequality is a necessary incentive for people to work hard. “A core element of the American credo,” Thomas M. Shapiro (2005) explains, “is that talent, skill, hard work, and achievement largely determine life chances. We believe that everyone has a fair shot at whatever is valued or prized and that no individual or group is unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged.”

Implicit in this is a notion of competition, that is, that there must be “winners” and “losers” among humans, that the condition of “winning” and the condition of “losing” are legitimate, and that the contest in which this “winning” and “losing” occurs is a fair one. Because they are legitimate, it is appropriate to judge people by their success or failure. Further, as Jonathan Haidt explained to Bill Moyers (February 3, 2012), to redistribute wealth or goods from the successful to the unsuccessful is to “reward” failure and to “punish” success.

“God’s will” appears in this as well. The Protestant Reformation introduced the notion of an individual relationship—in contrast to one mediated by Roman Catholic Church hierarchy—with the god of Abraham, and that a sign of the latter’s favor could be found in the success or failure of the individual (Tarnas, 1991). From this it follows that those who fail do not enjoy this god’s favor and may be presumed not to be among the “select,” that is, those who are bound for Heaven. If they are indeed condemned (bound for Hell), then it follows that those who are “select” owe nothing to them, that is, quite apart from any pious notions of charity, “winners” owe nothing to “losers” (Benfell, April 26, 2013).

Thus, social inequality is conceived as being ratified both by the Judeo-Christian god and by notions of “progress” dating at least to what Lemert (2010a) calls “Modernity’s Classic Age,” in years (1848-1919) encompassing the U.S. Industrial Revolution, and paralleling his observation that social progress came with a high cost, “always it seemed, the destruction or loss of something familiar and dear.” And, as Lemert also notes, “Modernity could be defined as that culture in which people are promised a better life—one day,” and the paradox of the era was that that “one day” never seemed to arrive, that “[n]o future payoff was ever quite assured for the vast majority of people” (p. 25).

Capitalist libertarianism

Indeed, it seems modernity’s promised payoff, a century or more later, has yet to arrive and there is ample reason for skepticism that it ever will arrive. The remainder of Lemert’s (2010) introductory chapters—one for each section of a 691-page volume (the fourth edition; I assume the fifth is longer)—tell a story of progressive disenchantment with the notion of “progress.” Already the second section, covering the years 1919-1945, includes the Depression (Lemert, 2010b) which should, conclusively, have demonstrated the futility of unfettered free market capitalism (Krugman, September 2, 2009). Instead, capitalist libertarianism—difficult to distinguish from the reactionary opposition to the New Deal (Seldes, 1948/2009)—enjoyed a surge an interest following World War II, when the U.S. was, in some sense, the only world power left standing, and a new prosperity meant that previous suffering, horrible as it was, could be accepted as “the price of progress” (Lemert, 2010c). Capitalist libertarianism’s proponents—neoliberals—have enjoyed political policymaking hegemony since the Carter presidency (Clune, February 26, 2013; Hacker & Pierson, 2010; Nash, 2006; Quiggin, May 20, 2013). Lemert (2010b) points to a dissonance: Rationality had been thought to lead to progress. “The world wars, the Holocaust, failure in the capitalist world-system, fascism, Hitler, Stalin—these were not supposed to be.” This expectation that a simplistic theory should be sufficient to solve many of the world’s problems is something Paul Krugman (September 2, 2009) points to as well, criticizing more recent performance of the economics profession:

As I see it, the economics profession went astray because economists, as a group, mistook beauty, clad in impressive-looking mathematics, for truth. Until the Great Depression, most economists clung to a vision of capitalism as a perfect or nearly perfect system. That vision wasn’t sustainable in the face of mass unemployment, but as memories of the Depression faded, economists fell back in love with the old, idealized vision of an economy in which rational individuals interact in perfect markets, this time gussied up with fancy equations. The renewed romance with the idealized market was, to be sure, partly a response to shifting political winds, partly a response to financial incentives. But while sabbaticals at the Hoover Institution and job opportunities on Wall Street are nothing to sneeze at, the central cause of the profession’s failure was the desire for an all-encompassing, intellectually elegant approach that also gave economists a chance to show off their mathematical prowess. (Krugman, September 2, 2009)

It would seem that those in power have learned nothing, as austerity, even after an academic debunking, continues to guide policy (Krugman, April 18, 2013, June 6, 2013, September 24, 2013; O’Brien, April 22, 2013). This claim, however, rests on an assumption: that those in power view a strong U.S. economy as important. Charles Reich (1970) wrote that “the New Deal intruded irrevocably upon their make-believe, problem-free world in which the pursuit of business gain and self-interest was imagined to be automatically beneficial to all of mankind, requiring of them no additional responsibility whatever” (Reich, 1970, p. 56), suggesting that the point here is profit, not jobs. Krugman (May 31, 2012) suggests, as well, that “economic recovery was never the point; the drive for austerity was about using the crisis [to dismantle social programs and punish the poor], not solving it.” This last should not be dismissed lightly: Herbert Gans (1995/2005) has shown how stigmatizing the poor sets them up not so much as a scapegoat but rather as a diversion and an example. It is as if the rich are saying, fear the poor not us, and do not be like the poor, or you will suffer greatly. That price includes prison: Jeffrey Reiman (2004) shows how a two-tiered system of injustice, that largely excuses the rich, whose crimes are, in a utilitarian perspective, greater than those of the poor, who are persecuted mercilessly, at every step in the criminal “justice” system—from who passes which laws against whom, to who is suspected, to who is investigated, to who is charged, to who is tried, to who is sentenced how severely, all against the backdrop of a social system that often leaves the poor little alternative but to commit crime (see also Barkan, 2006).


It is easy—too easy—for me to focus on class discrepancies. I am white and male. I am not wealthy. I do not personally experience physical violence—any more. This is its own hazard. “Although most individuals,” Patricia Hill Collins (1990/2010) writes, “have little difficulty identifying their own victimization within some major system of oppression—whether it by race, social class, religion, physical ability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, age or gender—they typically fail to see how their thoughts and actions uphold someone else's subordination” (p. 546). Having followed my own direction in my studies in the ten years since I returned to college, I am aware—well aware—of the multiplicities of domination. I am less well aware of what Collins points to so well, how these oppressions combine in what Collins calls “one overarching structure of domination” and “a system of interlocking race, class, and gender oppression” (p. 542).

Obamacare and the government shutdown

Collins has put her finger on one side of my paradox. As I write this essay, tensions that came to the fore in the 1960s (Lemert, 2010c; Nash, 2006; Zinn, 2005), leading to “culture wars” in the U.S. that began in the 1970s (Lemert, 2010e) and have extended into the first decades of the 21st century, have culminated in 1) the election of Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president; 2) a vicious white backlash that seems to be motivated in large part by the President’s race (Pugh, January 12, 2012), but which the President has often failed to adequately respond to (Associated Press, July 24, 2009; Democracy Now!, July 22, 2013); 3) a partial government shutdown brought about by politically dubious right wing demands to repeal or drastically amend the Affordable Care Act—Obama’s signature achievement, now usually called “Obamacare”—which increases health insurance availability in the U.S.; and 4) the threat of a default on U.S. debt as the Right also threatens to refuse to raise the debt limit, which enables the U.S. to continue to finance its budget deficit (Ball, October 9, 2013; Becker, Parnes, & Hooper, October 8, 2013; Calmes & Peters, October 6, 2013; Chait, October 2, 2013; Clement, September 30, 2013; Clement & Craighill, October 7, 2013; Fuller, October 8, 2013; Goldfarb, September 29, 2013; Green, October 3, 2013; Isquith, September 30, 2013a, September 30, 2013b; Judis, October 2, 2013; Lipton, Confessore, & Schwartz, October 9, 2013; Parker, September 30, 2013; Pleat, September 30, 2013; Pollak, September 29, 2013; Steinhauser, September 30, 2013; Thiessen, September 30, 2013; Weisman, October 8, 2013).

In part, this high political drama is about race—the color both of Obama’s skin and that of those who, disproportionately in the eyes of some, benefit from “entitlements” (Beauchamp, October 9, 2013; Walsh, October 1, 2013) that is, the social safety net that should exist to prevent anyone from becoming so desperate that their only alternative to obtain the necessities of life is crime. In part, it is about an expressed capitalist libertarian view that government activities should be narrowly limited in scope (Busler, October 11, 2013), that has too much of an antecedent in a traditionalist conservative fear of government as “leviathan” (Kirk, 1985/2001) to reduce to race. In part, it is about a conservative acceptance of social inequality not only as essential to social order but as advancing a meritocracy, paired with a conservative rejection of “redistribution” as infringing “property rights” (Eliot, 1948/1962; Feldmann, October 7, 2013; Kirk, 1985/2001, Weaver, 1964/1995). But also, it is, in part, about a mandate for employer-provided insurance plans to cover contraception—seen by many women as being a women’s issue (Baker, August 22, 2013; Fuller & Dumain, September 29, 2013; Haberkorn & Smith, July 27, 2012).

The Unimaginable becomes thinkable: Secession

The political left has, I think, tended to underestimate the seriousness with which the political right holds these views. Stephan Richter (October 7, 2013) takes them rather more seriously, suggesting that they show the schism of the Civil War was not resolved by the military defeat of the Confederacy. “[W]e are largely dealing with a battle over redistributing shares of economic power, covered up in the clothing of cultural values,” Richter (October 7, 2013) writes. “That is why it is so bitterly fought. To either side, the entire future of the country is at stake.” Though W. E. B. Du Bois (1935/2010) recounts how wealthy whites agreed to divide working class whites from working class Blacks to keep both subjugated, and I agree that Robert E. Lee’s surrender seems, in retrospect, to have settled entirely too little (O’Hehir, January 5, 2013), I disagree that this is purely about economics. And though it is clear that Democrats and Republicans have to some degree aligned racially (Martin, August 2, 2012), I also disagree that this is solely or “really” about race. To reduce this dispute to any one of these terms is the mistake Collins (1990/2010) referred to in criticizing a tendency to see the social problems afflicting the U.S. through only one lens on a “matrix of domination.” Class, race, and gender all appear in the drama of the government shutdown, and it is reasonable to expect that these forms of bigotry will each weigh differently for different people.

What should not be denied is the depth of feeling that underlies this dispute (Yglesias, October 2, 2013). It is hard to imagine that any of the secession movements that have appeared, largely due to a feeling—which I share—that the differences of opinion are irreconcilable, will succeed. What should not be overlooked is that there are so many of them, at both the state and national level. The Middlebury Institute (n.d.) lists over 30 groups dedicated to secession in addition to Parti Quebecois, a Quebec political party, in Canada. This list makes no pretense of being complete, advising a Facebook search for California and other locations. Talk of secession could be heard when the political left became frustrated with the presidency of George W. Bush (Ketcham, January 26, 2005), but it has grown by leaps and bounds on the right, particularly since Obama was elected in 2008, and even more so after his reelection in 2012 (CBS, July 1, 2011; Hecht, October 10, 2013; LaFantasie, December 19, 2010; McMurry, October 12, 2013; Medina, July 12, 2011; Millhiser, September 4, 2013; Potok, November 14, 2012; Ryan, November 14, 2012; Thompson, November 14, 2012; Zachary, G. P., December 17, 2012). By contrast, David Sirota (October 9, 2013) puzzles over why the right wing would want to secede when they have already accomplished so much of their agenda nationally. Henry Grabar (2013, October 12), noting how cities are keeping services running despite the government shutdown, suggests that largely left-leaning “blue” cities should secede.

Given a history of U.S. empire, and the polarization of U.S. politics, I have a great deal of sympathy for the idea that indeed, the U.S. should break up. This is, of course, unimaginable. We in the U.S. are thoroughly inculcated with a myth, casting genocidal westward expansion, Abraham Lincoln, and the “Founding Fathers” in heroic terms, reinforced with the Pledge of Allegiance, recited every morning in our primary and secondary schools, that we are “one nation, under God, indivisible” This, Stuart Hall (1996/2010) might suggest—he wrote of Britain—is the imposed unity of the United States. Even in this colonial and highly mobile country, as Hall (1996/2010) might observe, there are vast regional, ethnic, and cultural differences subsumed under a myth of a “melting pot.” In the contest between Democrats and Republicans, much has been made of an apparent alignment between Republicans and the old Confederacy—the militarily defeated side in the Civil War (Messick, October 12, 2013; Lind, October 10, 2012; Rosenbaum, October 8, 2012; P. West, January 5, 2013). As things stand, widening economic inequality has left many workers in a condition that I see as little improved from slavery (Associated Press, July 28, 2013; Bernanke, February 6, 2007; DeParle, January 4, 2012; Hatton, January 26, 2013; Krugman, September 12, 2013; Lennard, September 19, 2012; Peters, May 13, 2012)—it is difficult to argue that a profound coercion is not at work when, for example, paramedics must be stationed outside an Amazon warehouse in anticipation that some will need treatment for dehydration or heat stress as temperatures inside soar to over 100 degrees and are “pushed to work at a pace many could not sustain.” “Only one [out of twenty] of the employees interviewed described it as a good place to work” (Soper, September 11, 2011).

In a better economy, not as many people would line up for jobs that pay $11 or $12 an hour moving inventory through a hot warehouse. But with job openings scarce, Amazon and Integrity Staffing Solutions, the temporary employment firm that is hiring workers for Amazon, have found eager applicants in the swollen ranks of the unemployed. (Soper, September 11, 2011)

It is clear to me that conservatives, with their preference for hierarchy, would act to further that widening, and, in Robert Merton’s (1968/2010) phrasing, act to further limit the availability of socially approved means to achieve socially approved ends, that is, in essence, to force people to commit crimes in order to survive, let alone thrive. As George Kent (2011) explains, capitalists are willing to starve potential workers in order to assure that they will have desperate workers. Yet it is apparent to me that some people fervently believe that such a course of action is the correct one. I only foresee disaster; I do not wish to live in such a society, such as Sirota (October 9, 2013) posits we already have.

But I also know that such a break-up would not be nearly so simple as a divide between “red” states and “blue” states. I live in a relatively liberal coastal California county. But less than three hours away from me, in California’s Central Valley, many people are much more conservative. Fresno County, where I have lived in the past, and which I would not even consider to be in Southern California, was among the “southern California” counties suggested for the secession move that attracted headlines in 2011 (CBS, July 1, 2011). If I want to know what a partition might be like, I can look to the horror that accompanied the creation of India and Pakistan: Arundhati Roy (2009) writes that “more than one million Hindus and Muslims killed each other, and eight million became refugees” (p. 12). Secession means more borders, more displacements, more people caught on the wrong side of the line.

Borders are not just geopolitical

Gloria Anzaldúa (1987/2010) is scathing in her description of borders between states:

Borders are set up to define the places that are safe and unsafe, to distinguish us from them. A border is a dividing line, a narrow strip along a steep edge. A borderland is a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary. It is in a constant state of transition. The prohibited and forbidden are its inhabitants. Los atravesados live here: the squint-eyed, the perverse, the queer, the troublesome, the mongrel, the mulato, the half-breed, the half dead; in short, those who cross over, pass over, or go through the confines of the "normal." Gringos in the U.S. southwest consider the inhabitants of the borderlands transgressors, aliens—whether they possess documents or not, whether they're Chicanos, Indians or Blacks. Do not enter, trespassers will be raped, maimed, strangled, gassed, shot. The only "legitimate" inhabitants are those in power, the whites and those who align themselves with whites. (p. 554)

Borders surround countries—nation-states—and enclose human beings, labeled “citizens,” within those countries, who are accorded certain rights and privileges. Borders correspondingly exclude nationals from other countries, who are apparently unworthy of those same rights and privileges. It is unclear to me that there is any way this cannot be interpreted in terms of superiority and inferiority: People allowed to be within a country are considered superior and those who are not are considered inferior.

Something similar appears in the Trayvon Martin case. While some argue that George Zimmerman must be presumed to have been within his rights, as defined under Florida law, to shoot Martin (Turley, July 12, 2013), Melissa Harris-Perry explains:

Trayvon Martin was not innocent. He was guilty of being black in presumably restricted public space. For decades, Jim Crow laws made this crime statutory. They codified the spaces into which black bodies could not pass without encountering legal punishment. They made public blackness a punishable offense. The 1964 Civil Rights Act removed the legal barriers but not the social sanctions and potentially violent consequences of this “crime.” George Zimmerman’s slaying of Trayvon Martin—and the subsequent campaign to smear Martin—is the latest and most jarring reminder that it is often impossible for a black body to be innocent. (Harris-Perry, March 28, 2012)

There is much more to be said about this case, and I have written about it elsewhere (Benfell, July 16, 2013), but what matters here is Harris-Perry’s (March 28, 2012) reference to “presumably restricted public space,” a geographic area, presumably surrounded by some sort of boundary, even if only the walls surrounding the gated community in which the altercation between Zimmerman and Martin occurred (Kovaleski, May 18, 2013). Alternatively, if we consider, as Harris-Perry (March 28, 2012) suggests, “public blackness” to be at issue, the line is drawn between private and public space. Geopolitical borders are thus symptomatic of something much more problematic.

The othering of others

It does not follow from de Beauvoir’s (1953/2010) observation that “Otherness is a fundamental category of human thought” (p. 346), that there must be competition between peoples. We could instead regard “others” as beings unto themselves with no more than incidental impact upon ourselves, as may well have been the case in the Paleolithic era, prior to evidence of systematic violence—war (Bodley, 2008; Burroughs, 2008; Oelschlaeger, 1991). But a good portion of de Beauvoir’s (1953/2010) thesis is that “othering” occurs within societies and produces social injustice. This idea is developed at length in application to a variety of groups, which are often played off against each other, as with Southern U.S. working class whites and Blacks (Du Bois, 1935/2010). These groups’ quest for recognition as being fully human blossomed in “the sixties”—a period that might be seen as beginning with the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and extending into the 1970s, and during which the elites sometimes seemed to have lost control, terrifying conservatives and driving “right wing liberals” into the conservative camp (Lemert, 2010d; Nash, 2006; Zinn, 2005), leading to a period of what I experienced as a backlash to the 1960s, but to which Lemert (2010e) traces the beginning of the “culture wars.” Nancy Hartsock (1987/2010) connects the binaries of colonizer/colonized, and male/female, with good/evil. She begins from Albert Memmi:

Memmi described the bond that creates both the colonizer and the colonized as one which destroys both parties, although in different ways. As he draws a portrait of the Other as described by the colonizer, the colonized emerges as the image of everything the colonizer is not. Every negative quality is projected onto her/him. The colonized is said to be lazy, and the colonizer becomes practically lyrical about it. Moreover, the colonized is both wicked and backward, a being who is in some important ways not fully human. As he describes the image of the colonized, feminist readers of de Beauvoir's Second Sex cannot avoid a sense of familiarity. We recognize a great deal of this description.

Memmi points to several conclusions drawn about this artificially created Other. First, the Other is always seen as "not," as a lack, a void, as lacking in the valued qualities of the society, whatever those qualities may be. Second, the humanity of the Other becomes "opaque." Colonizers can frequently be heard making statements such as "you never know what they think. Do they think? Or do they instead operate according to intuition?" (Feminist readers may be reminded of some of the arguments about whether women had souls, or whether they were capable of reason or of learning Latin.) Memmi remarks ironically that the colonized must indeed be very strange, if he remains so mysterious and opaque after years of living with the colonizer. Third, the Others are not seen as fellow individual members of the human community, but rather as part of a chaotic, disorganized, and anonymous collectivity. They carry, Memmi states, "the mark of the plural." In more colloquial terms, they all look alike. (Hartsock, 1987/2010, p. 497)

Cornel West (1990/2010) lists “issues like exterminism, empire, class, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, nation, nature, and region” and “escalating xenophobias against people of color, Jews, women, gays, lesbians and the elderly” (p. 512). Trinh Minh-ha (1989/2010) crosses national borders in discussing the “Third World.” She is joined by Edward Said (1994) and Chandra Mohanty (2003), and of these two, Mohanty considers those in power as “colonizers” and everyone else as the “colonized,” a theme that recurs throughout Norman Denzin, Yvonna Lincoln, and Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s (2008) Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies. Patricia Collins (1990/2010) sounds a similar theme in discussing a “matrix of domination” from a Black feminist perspective.

But however we acknowledge various subaltern groups, it is the concept of borders—understood broadly, not just as those between states, but between genders, races, ethnicities, and all the myriad ways we have of describing ourselves demographically—that enables our oppression.

Conclusion: My Paradox

Thus my paradox: On the one hand, I see the United States as in dire need of dissolution. On the other, borders are intrinsic to jurisdiction, that is, the question of who controls who; in Weber’s (1946/2010) phrasing, which state—and by implication, which ruling class—will be entitled to deploy physical violence against which inhabitants; in Barash and Webel’s (2002) phrasing, who will be subject—for any social reason—to structural violence; in Martha Nussbaum’s (2011) phrasing, who will be guaranteed—by whom—the opportunity to develop to the limits of their capacities; in George Kent’s (2011) phrasing, which elites are to be encouraged and trusted to guarantee human rights for their subjects. How many more wars, one might ask, will result from having many more ruling elites?

Audre Lorde (2007/2010), too, touches upon my paradox. Confronting the evident failure of white feminists at a conference, evidently in the late 1970s, to adequately address difference—it appears that the organizers lumped lesbian and Black feminists together in a panel that assumed that the problems of lesbian and Black feminists were their only concern, “that lesbian and Black women have nothing to say about existentialism, the erotic, women's culture and silence, developing feminist theory, or heterosexuality and power”—she argues that difference is a source of strength, that “[d]ifference must be not merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic.” This, it would seem, is not to advocate separation. But that difference, it seems, must also be “nondominant” (p. 450; my emphasis—she encloses the word in parentheses) and she ends her speech by observing this paradox:

Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our needs. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master's concerns. Now we hear that it is the task of women of color to educate white women—in the face of tremendous resistance—as to our existence, our differences, our relative roles in our joint survival. This is a diversion of energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought. (Lorde, 2007/2010, p. 451)

Lorde (2007/2010) critiques white feminists as beneficiaries of white privilege, who fail to acknowledge that privilege. For her, they are complicit in the oppression she faces. Much as I would consider secession as a possible path to the reduction of the oppression I experience, she has, in this speech, stated both that we need our opposites and that we must not fall prey to their techniques of domination. Yet in various ways, domination is precisely what makes a conservative a conservative (Benfell, April 12, 2013). In seeking to partner with a conservative on an egalitarian basis, I, in effect, deny who that conservative is.

But to say this is to essentialize conservatives, is to categorize them. Moreover, it unsettles the Democrat-Republican binary prevalent in U.S. politics because most mainstream Democrats are nearly as authoritarian (and nearly as right wing) as mainstream Republicans (Chomsky, 1990/2005; Political Compass, October 11, 2013; Vidal, quoted in Barsamian, August 2006; Zinn, 2005). It is to say that the U.S. has a conservative government and that the squabbles over the shutdown, the debt limit, and Obamacare make for far more theater than any substantial diversity of views.

Lorde (2007/2010) makes a point, however, that such a partnership needs to be nondominant, which in this context, also contrasts with a paradigmatic assumption that someone must be in charge, that we rely on a dominating hierarchy for social order. As previously noted in this essay, this is a conservative assumption, and the quest for a better society, as Lorde observes, will not be attained with “the master’s tools.” A nondominant partnership is necessarily a voluntary partnership. If conservatives cannot agree to such a partnership, then they must be free not to accept it. But the rest of us must also be free to refuse their domination.

Finally, taking on board Anzaldúa’s (1987/2010) and my own views on borders, articulated earlier in this essay, and Lorde’s (2007/2010) point about diversity and opposites as a source of creativity, my preference has to be for the abolition of borders entirely. First, any notion that human beings on one side of an artificial line should be entitled to things that human beings on the other side of that line should not is abhorrent. Second, the state, as Weber (1946/2010) defines it, is about violence, not only the physical violence of war and law enforcement, but as well that of coercion and the deprivation of important rights. Reading further in Barash and Webel (2002), it seems again and again that it is the state that is so often the source of conflict, even as they seem unable to imagine a world without the state. Third, if there is a solution to political polarization, and if conservatives could—I doubt that this is possible for them—bring themselves to abandon, or at least set aside, a Manichean polarization between two conflations, the first being of “us,” wealth, strength, authority, sameness, rightness, and goodness, among other things; and the second being of “them,” poverty, weakness, “leveling,” “heresy,” difference, wrongness, and evil, among other things (Code, 1991; Collins, 1990/2010; Kirk, 1985/2001; Lakoff, 2002; Moyers, February 3, 2012; Weaver, 1964/1995; C. West, 1990/2010), then such creativity might be realized.

But to the extent that it is conservatives who are unable to countenance such a move, as I understand them to be, because all that I want them to be is in contradiction to their essence, in some sense surely, it is they who “other” themselves.


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