Wednesday, May 11, 2016

You Think You're So Radical. I Think You Oughta Stop

Jessa Crispin:

Traister’s book has been praised for promoting a kind of revolutionary politics on the basis of single women’s power. Yet her goals are sometimes quite conservative. Singlehood is presented as merely an interlude before marriage. One of the great successes of the single women “movement,” according to Traister, is that eventual marriage is more satisfying and less likely to end in divorce. No radical societal reorganization is required if the assumption is that entry into a nuclear family will in time bring these women the stability and security they need.

If it's "conservative" to choose tangible improvement of what already exists over a Jacobin fantasy of "radical societal reorganization", then pass the Burke Fan Club registration paperwork over here, I guess. Crispin takes pains, however, to stress that she's not necessarily calling for massive state intervention to save people from the vicissitudes of bad luck and bad decisions, however much her logic might seem to inevitably point in that direction — she's inspired by having "toured" an experimental micro-housing commune in Berlin, run by architects, community organizers and artists, which seems to provide a "nurturing and secure" environment. I suppose it would likewise be conservative to suggest that we could maybe check back in a few years and see if the commune even still exists before we sit down and start redesigning American society along similar lines. Or perhaps we could simply note that history provides plenty of examples of similar visionary communities, from Robert Owen's New Harmony to the Charles Fourier-inspired Brook Farm, that failed to prosper, let alone inspire mass movements. After a couple hundred years of such attempts, no one is obliged to take this idea seriously anymore, no matter how resilient the progressive faith that this time will be the charm, surely.

She complains about the "maldistribution of care" which requires such creative experiments as the Berlin commune, since, as far as she's concerned, there's no going back to extended families and durable marriages. It's a telling image — as if "care" is a product which can be quantified and allocated by a central authority (not necessarily the state, though!), when in actuality, any "care" worthy of the name is organically grown and cultivated. Whatever facsimile of familial bonds you produce on demand will never have the roots to provide your new arrangements with longevity, no matter how many books of radical feminist theory you've read that insist otherwise.

We end with the reminder that the state can only do so much to replace family ties broken by neoliberalism, which leads to the exhortation to create a "cultural shift" by "redirecting this conversation from the individual to society." "Society", not the state, will apparently "reimagine traditional forms of care", which reminds me that the only people who make socialist utopians seem intellectually rigorous are anarchist utopians, who expect the same result to spontaneously flower from the soil of pure human nature. The Invisible Hand is real after all, and in a radically reimagined, reorganized society, it will cup us all lovingly in its generous palm.