Friday, December 05, 2008


Over at I blame the patriarchy, Twisty and her friends are discussing the future post-patriarchal society.

What they want is complete individual autonomy, with no-one having any power over anyone else.

It's not surprising that they should choose this goal. It's what liberal moderns generally claim to be aiming at - it's what they understand freedom to mean.

Twisty states ultimate goals more openly than most, and she is a lot more concerned to be politically correct than to be practical. So she writes as a kind of utopian intellectual - and is often "ahead" of her own readers.

It's fascinating to observe. Where exactly does liberal modernism lead to for someone as exacting as Twisty? Is her utopia somewhere that we'd really want to live?

It gets interesting straight away: Twisty begins by telling us that in her post-patriarchal society there would be no culture, including no art:

Lots of the ideas put forth by Shulamith Firestone in The Dialectic of Sex intrigue ... spinster aunts, but none intrigues ... them like this one: that in a post-patriarchal society, culture (inclusive, I am happy to say, of art) will become irrelevant and extrinsic and die a long-overdue death, whereupon humans, freed from the prison of domination, will transmogrify into giant intellects pretty much throbbing with contentment.

So we will be freed from art and culture. Is this a good thing? Only if you share some of the same intellectual starting points as Twisty.

Twisty is assuming that there is nothing of inherent worth that artists might communicate to others; nothing that is objectively beautiful or uplifting or profound. There is just one will (the artist) forcing itself on other wills (the audience), thereby infringing the rules of autonomy. For Twisty, art is a,

ponderous, self-absorbed, interpretation, or anti-interpretation (whatever!), of reality, with an audience manipulated by a creator

For Twisty, art only exists because the patriarchal system encourages power differentials. When patriarchy is brought down, art will lose its place and purpose in society.

How far out of kilter is Twisty in stating such a view? She's not as far distant from mainstream modernism as you might think. Modern art is based partly on the idea that anything can be art - even a big pile of junk. But if everything is art, then art loses significant meaning - it effectively ceases to exist as a distinct entity.

The idea seems to be: there is no art, only things. (Though there is still a preference for things that shock or confront or disconcert.)

But art and culture are not the only oppressions Twisty wants to liberate us from. She reminds us that in Firestone's "golden age" of self-determination there would be:

the “disappearance of cultural sex, age, and race distinction and of the psychology of power.”

So no age distinctions. This means abolishing childhood:

Certainly we couldn’t, at this point in human evolution, just start turning the kids loose in the world. It is unthinkable that they should not spend their idyllic first years in thrall to one or two adults who will educate (socialize) them according to the adults’ personal “values,” meaning, of course, the DNA necessary to replicate patriarchy. This indoctrination period is known as “raising” children, and differs from raising tomatoes chiefly in that tomatoes are given quite a bit more freedom to be themselves.

The problem with being a child, reasons Twisty, is that you are not completely autonomous - and therefore not free. Your parents have power over you and influence you and therefore you don't have complete freedom to be yourself. Childhood too must be considered a patriarchal construct designed to uphold power differentials.

So youngsters should just be left free to do as they like:

Say, for example, that because of changes engendered by the feminist revolution, kids wouldn’t need to be raised at all. They could flit about the countryside according to whim, just like anybody else. Why not?

They wouldn’t be kidnaped or raped or sold into sex slavery because, remember? dominance and submission is a thing of the past. They wouldn’t be run over by cars, because future-topia vehicles are accident-proof. They won’t skip school because there isn’t any school to skip. They won’t join roving gangs of thugs because crime doesn’t exist, either.

The kids would choose the people they wish to hang out with, which people may or may not include their biological parents. The parents would be relieved of their neurotic, self-absorbed obsession with their own offspring, the kids would be free from enslavement as low-status sub-beings in a nuclear family to which they belong only as an accident of birth.

Here, clearly, a dash of utopianism is required to make the theory work.

And how do Twisty's readers respond? Kate tries to rescue art as follows:

Everyone would be an artist and everyone a musician. If something needs fixing, everyone would try and if one excelled ... they wouldn’t carry it around on their chest like a badge to market and to demand “respect” because respect would not be something to be demanded, everyone would have it, everyone would get it because they exist and that’s all there is; existence, the beauty of existence in all things as they are.

No one would give a damn about what one person said over another about what was ‘good’ or ‘great’ because well, no one’s opinion or version of events is any more important than the others.

Of course with this kind of fluidity with reality, I’d imagine there wouldn’t be a lot of “progress” as we know it, but then who cares? What’s the rush? Does a dog or a cat rush to find the answer to why they can’t sit at a table and eat with fork and spoon? No, they accept what is and are happy ...

In fact, I’ll bet people wouldn’t really have names beyond whatever one determined they might want to be called, but certainly there wouldn’t be “Mary’s child” anymore as each child has an identity of their own that they decide. If said child decides to be called “stick of wood” and then changes later to be called “George” who cares? Its what they want and that’s that.

Everyone would have respect because they exist; nobody's version of events is more important than another's; we determine our own identity according to what we want.

Which is to say: there are no objective standards, just my own will to do what I want. This is where liberal modernism has brought Kate.

Rob in Madison seems to have signed onto the wrong program:

I don’t want to manipulate anything. I take pictures of trees, mostly, because I love them. Then, occasionally, I send prints of them to friends. Is this an exercise of power?

I grant that, steeped as everything is in patriarchy, art will serve as one of its conduits; but, jeez: can’t we still make things of beauty without exercising dominance/submission? I don’t even want to dominate myself. I just love my lens.

Rob hasn't grasped yet that for his modernist friends it makes little sense to talk about making "things of beauty". There's just what I happen to like. Everything has much the same status.

Yttik, too, may find herself changing camps one day:

But I think of mothers nurturing children as an example of a potential positive example of a hierarchy.

So do I. But liberal moderns take autonomy to be the overriding good. How then can a liberal modern accept, in principle, the idea of a positive hierarchy? This would mean accepting that there are other positive goods to be held in balance with that of autonomy.

Lexie explains Firestone's position on babies and childhood as follows,

As for babies, I think the idea here is not that a woman gives birth (or in Firestone’s world, a child is born through technological invention that circumvents the need for a female gestator) and the infant is left lying on the ground to fend for itself. The idea is more that no one “owns” the baby. There is no official parent or guardian. The idea being that the baby is cared for by the community, to which time when its not. The child, who of course, needs less and less care as they get older, would decide for themselves when to move on, who to get guidance from, what they need most. The child would have full rights of self-determination.

Women are no longer to be "female gestators" as there will be artificial wombs. There is to be no official parent, but instead communal care. The child would decide who to live with, in order to guarantee its full rights to self-determination - its freedom - or what a modern like Lexie understands to be freedom.

Sean pipes in with this view of the post-patriarchy:

Making something, whether utilitarian or not, would not be called “art.” It would just be something. Doing something would not be called a “crime.” It would just be an action. Children wouldn’t be forced into the role of submission, and if they needed help with something, they could seek it out of their own free-will, like everyone else does. And remember, “age” is gone, too, so it’s not as if the children are being separated into some vacuum. The distinction between parent and child, adult and child, wouldn’t exist, so neither would the anxieties related to it.

There is no art, there are just things. Everything just is. There is no crime, there are just people doing things. There are just our subjective preferences, which we follow as we will. This, for Sean, is what freedom means.

Twisty then pops up again with this view of motherhood:

Women, however, particularly women with children, don’t have access to the full menu of choices. In our culture “motherhood” is a kind of prison ...

As for freedom from biology ... there can be little argument against the notion that females bear a disproportionate burden, biology-wise ... That women have to do the pregnancy is not a “cultural construct.” What Firestone and others have postulated is that until women are liberated from this burden, their personal autonomy will always be compromised, not just by the state or some dude laying claim to their uteruses, but by the actual physiological process of hosting a parasite for nine months.

Well, she doesn't beat around the bush. For Twisty, motherhood is a prison depriving women of full autonomy, and women need to be liberated from pregnancy, which is simply the hosting of a parasite for nine months.

Conclusions? Utopian thoughts about maximising autonomy only serve to prove how inadequate the whole project is. It is not a true freedom to be liberated from art and culture, or from childhood and motherhood - even if this does, logically, increase our individual autonomy.


  1. I think there comes a point when people's thinking becomes so removed from reality and so self masturbatory, that they really are disabled.

    I think Twisty and her ilk should be considered to have a mental illness.

  2. I agree wpc

    This represents utopia to her? More like Dystopia. How could someone spend their life living among human beings and think this social order is possible? No dominance or submission? Good luck with that one.

    Unintended consequences do not factor in anywhere. Does she really believe human can drive the train of evolution to a particular destination and everything will be peaceful and prosperous forever with no more challenges forever more?

    The whole point of evolution theory is that these processes occur without an intelligent, guiding hand. There is no benevolent, purpose driven plan being followed according to Darwinists. Organisms just fight for survival and whichever one dominates, survives. The opposite of her vision plays out in the jungle. I'm not saying I agree with evolution, just pointing out the inherent contradictions in her thinking.

    "The kids would choose the people they wish to hang out with, "
    Wouldn't this lead to discrimination and favoritism which would make some people feel left out? Also it would necessarily involve a hierarchy of who is more or less pleasant to be around. Isn't that the "psychological power" she wants to abolish - that some people are better than others? Wouldn't the popular people begin to dominate the others? They could dole out time spent with them as they see fit and use it for leverage.

  3. There is no benevolent, purpose driven plan being followed according to Darwinists.

    Liesel, well done for calling out Twisty and friends on this point.

    They have slipped in a kind of teleology - a belief in a final end-point to which humans are made to advance - when their larger, naturalistic world view doesn't support this.

  4. Wpc, Twisty's thinking strikes me in that way too.

    The problem is, though, that her site is popular. She often gets hundreds of comments, and she's considered one of the more influential of the feminist sites.

    Other, less radical feminist sites, link to her approvingly.

    And what if other leftists held the same basic assumptions, but were better at prettying them up so that they sounded more reasonable - saner - to a general audience? In other words, they were better at pitching the mindset to where people were at?

    The other leftists might be more skilled at practical politics, but they would still be travelling along the same road that "visionaries" like Twisty were mapping out and "daring to dream".

    Twisty is useful for us because she doesn't make the unprincipled exceptions to her politics that allow other leftists to live in the real world.

  5. Wpc, to put my point differently, in what way are Twisty's political principles different from those of other modernist liberals?

  6. "The whole point of evolution theory is that these processes occur without an intelligent, guiding hand."

    True. Chesterton had it right when he pointed out that "the survival of the fittest" means nothing more impressive than "the survival of the survivors."

  7. "in what way are Twisty's political principles different from those of other modernist liberals?"

    Probably just the degree of craziness. Like most of their thoughts hers are self absorbed pretentiousness masquerading as intellectualism.

  8. Is this the same R J Stove that has been published in Quadrant?

  9. Kilroy asks: "Is this the same R J Stove that has been published in Quadrant?"

    Yes, I've appeared there sometimes over the years.

  10. Can these silly creatures hear themselves? My God!

    Yes, as liesel point out there's a ridiculous sentimentality about such utopianism, which one could summarise as the untested and basically mindless assumption that liberty and equality are compatible. They're not; they lead in competely opposite directions. In the Darwinian state of nature, to which liberals, feminists and co. unconsciously seek a return,
    Selection occurs at the level of inter-species competition. Right liberals advocate untrammelled freedom, a return to the jungle, in the economic sphere, while left-liberals and loopy anarchists like T. do the same in the cultural sphere.

    Interesting that she attacks art, too, since the basic high-cutlural view of art (deriving from Kant) is that to appreciate it requires a disinterested attitude, the ability to put one's ego on hold and thus to view something as valuable in itself. the pleasure we derive from aesthetic contemplation is at least in part due to the respite it gives us from the struggle for existence--which explains why power-mad autonomists have no use for it.

  11. Regarding the comments about children being self-determining, I suspect that Twisty hasn't read The Lord of the flies recently.

    As a mother and a parent, well, women do carry the burden of pregnancy, but so what? It's all part of the deal when it comes to procreation. If a woman doesn't want to go through all the changes and discomfort, she's not forced to.

    And back to children... if you don't discipline your child at least some of the tme, they turn out to be feral animals and unbearable to be around.

    I hope Twisty enjoys her life in the zoo.