Periodically, I suffer from the delusion that culture and society can actually be understood, and that I can speak with some knowledge towards that understanding. This fabrication in my mind, fortunately, passes with time, saving poor innocent bystanders the terror of witnessing the inner workings of my mind. Alas, this is not one of those times.
Reader beware! These may be nothing more than the ramblings of a madman.
I am recovering from my former life – being a recovering addict, recovering economic exploiter, recovering sexist, recovering racist and recovering homophobe. In my newer life, I am a combatant in a war against all manner of exploitation, oppression, manipulation and dehumanization of any and all people. There is, as you know, no worse critic that someone recovering from a particular expression of a disorder. Since I lived the first 40 years of my life with virtually no scruples, I feel eminently qualified to proclaim a new order of ethical behavior. This is the root of my madness. And so, I feel free to wax on dramatically in response to a post on an other website. In some way I’d like to think that this rant makes sense.
In FirstLight@yahoogroups.com, “Lawrence A. Reh” <reh1st@…> wrote:
We celebrate the vision and the philosophy of equality that has been wrought in the new South Africa, but as in most systems based on ideals (emphatically including the U.S.), reality often challenges intention. In South Africa, if you’re white, LGBT, and economically advantaged, you get all the benefits of the nation’s LGBT-affirming constitution — even if you sometimes have to go to court to obtain them. But if you’re black, LGBT, and economically disadvantaged, you face the prospect of ‘corrective rape’ (a danger for both men and women), brutal beatings, and murder — and the perpetrators are most often your own race and economic class.
Africa is a continent of contrasts and extremes; sometimes they appear in the same country, in the same neighborhood, in the same streets.
HOMOPHOBIA AND HETEROSEXISM – SYMPTOMS OF CULTURAL PSYCHOSES.
Much time and effort has been spent, and continues to be invested, to “prove” that homosexuality is a disorder – a mental illness, a spiritual deformity, an aberration of the laws of nature, a social disfigurement, and on and on and on – that requires some curative or expurgatory action on the part of “mainstream” society. Lest GLBT folks should feel lonely and specially selected for such attention, one need look no further than history to find that they are simply one more group in a long line of scapegoats with which society strives to cleanse themselves of their collective cultural sins.
Please don’t be offended when I say that collectively you are nothing special – a group who deserves no more attention, nor any less, than any other. While you are, and have done, nothing noteworthy to warrant the derisive attention of the ignorant cultural masses, you do keep company with many other inherently noble peoples who have suffered “the slings and arrows” of communal guilt, simply because you possess some characteristic(s) that enables the gormless populace to concentrate on the splinter in your eyes, and effectively peek around and ignore the deforming log in their own.
In 1867, in these great United States, a Presbyterian minister, R.L. Dabney, coined the phrase “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” in his A Defense of Virginia and the South. He used it to defend slavery and indentured servanthood as “the useful and righteous remedy for the ignorance and vice in the laboring classes” as he argued that ending these “noble” institutions would create hardships for the “righteous people of the South”. “Righteous”, obviously, referred to the wealthy landowners – the elite of Southern culture at the time. The “righteous”, you see, deserve to be wealthy and powerful, and deserve to be able to fling their load of collective sins on the backs of other people, smack their behinds, and send them off to their appointed tasks of enabling the elite to continue their accumulative, oppressive, dehumanizing ways unobstructed by guilt or feelings of remorse.
You, my friends, have simply become another pack mule for the elite to gain and retain power, profit, property and prestige. Doesn’t it make you feel somehow special for being singled out for this particularly important task?
Now, don’t let your egos get too inflated. You are, after all, in a long line of people that have included females, blacks, socialists, European immigrants from the “wrong” European country or wrong European faith tradition, and any number of others who have happened to be convenient for labeling as the “enemy within”. It also helps to have external enemies, as well – you know, the existence of an evil empire that seeks to take away your standard of living and the freedoms you enjoy.
You see, it has been long understood that the accumulation of power for a small, elite, collection of people requires the dissemination of fear. Irrational fear has to become ingrained into “dominant” culture as a collective psychosis. The odd thing is that the members of dominant culture are not individually cognizant of their dominance, and can only be prodded into dominant behavior by the dissemination of cultural myths and propaganda that provokes mob behavior.
Now, with the decreased effectiveness of race and gender as “internal threats” and communists and liberal revolutionary juntas as “external threats”, new groups had to be enlisted for the cultural fear-mongering of the elite. “Family values” and “Christian values” became the rallying cries that mobilized the vacuous, fearful, majorities into mob action. You, my LGBT friends, along with southern immigrants, abortionists and women having abortions, have become domestic scapegoats to hide the accumulative, consumerist, advantage-seeking, economically oppressive sins of U.S. culture from the members of culture itself. You serve as a tool in the battle to keep U.S. culture mentally ill in a way that enables the powerful and wealthy to continue to exploit the population as a whole for their own self-gratification and enrichment.
This is, however, not simply a U.S. phenomenon, but one that is almost universal and timeless. The article Lawrence posted shows the effect of this communal psychosis at work in South Africa.
After the end of apartheid, with power apparently reverting to black South Africans, things haven’t changed much for the poor and oppressed. The experiment of “truth commissions” and reparative justice has been acclaimed in some respects for its successes. But the treatment has generally failed to help the patient – the poor are poorer, the oppressed are more oppressed, the at-risk are more at-risk. The black South Africans are governing themselves, and are generally suffering more than before. This, of course, brings about a sense of collective failure, and a search for those people who may be causing this failure. The search for scapegoats began almost as soon as apartheid ended and the failings started to become apparent.
In continuing the imagery of cultural illness, it could be argued that the primary benefactors of the treatment have been not the patients, nor even the doctors, but the pharmaceutical companies.
What didn’t occur in South Africa was any significant redistribution of wealth or property ownership. Europeans, or African born descendents of Europeans, controlled the collective wealth of South Africa before the end of apartheid. After the monumental change in government, there was a relatively small change in economic hegemony. U.S. and European interests were greatly intertwined with the success of the new South African political scheme. These countries were integral to helping facilitate the process of peaceful change. As a result, however, the shift in economic hegemony has been from Euro-African ownership to trans-national ownership, with the vast majority of trans-nationals being based in the U.S. or Europe.
The result is that even less of the wealth is flowing to black South Africans, and even higher amounts of unemployment and underemployment are occurring. The patients are dying. The doctors, the black South African leaders, are powerless to change the situation because the pharmaceutical companies, the foreign owned trans-nationals, are controlling the flow of treatment. “Economic efficiencies” have been required that alleviate the dependence on local labor and skills and generate spiraling increases in poverty and economic exploitation. Meanwhile, the patients have become little more than pawns in a game they do not even begin to understand.
For the black population as a whole there has to be some plausible explanation for the economic circumstances in the face of self-rule. Generations of exploitation, abuse and dehumanization have left significant emotional impact on the populace – things are lined up perfectly for a cultural psychosis to exist. And exist it does.
The African equivalent of the U.S.’s “family values” and “Christian values” has become “African values”. Just as some in the U.S. believe reports that 9/11 and natural disasters are occurring because of the internal enemies of “our values”, some South Africans believe the same has happened for them. The scapegoats are many – black on black violence has become epidemic – but the pattern is based to some extent on cleansing the country of those who exhibit behavior that goes against the somewhat nebulous “African values”.
In some sense, just like some in the U.S. seek to appease God, blacks are appeasing some kind of retributive “god” that requires revenge against those who do not act like dominant culture. Again, the members of dominant culture are far from being dominant until they act as mobs or vigilantes. There is something psychotic and, yet, historically predictable in the situation in South Africa. The same applies to the U.S.
Of course, we continue to look at the victims of these acts as less than human, as aberrant and in need of treatment or euthanasia (for our benefit, of course), rather than considering the culture as a whole as systemically ill. In particular, homosexuality is not something needing curative attention – homophobia and heterosexism are the sick expressions of a psychotic culture. These are the situations that need significant research and treatment – these are the attitudes that should be pitied, rejected and denied legitimacy in our society. But that would, of course, mean we’d have to have that massive piece of wood extracted from our own eyes. Hmmm – sounds painful, doesn’t it?
The really difficult part, when we consider that we are part and parcel of the acquisitive culture that preys on the “Third World” in the first place, is facing our own complicity in the oppression of those whom we would otherwise embrace as sisters and brothers. In order to maintain our higher “standard” of living, in which getting more for less is vital, we precipitate the poverty which, in the case of South Africa, precipitates violence against many, LGBT folks included. “More for less” requires someone else gets less for more.
P.S. Sorry for the rant.