Monday, December 27, 2010

a new year, a new practice and questions

2010 is approaching an end. It's time for those cliche reflections:) It's time to look back at formerly mundane or overly-dramatic moments and try to understand something deeper in them, being honest about my failings, trying to make more sense in those past daily encounters as if, as if they point me to something closer to truth. Not a distant objective truth, but the truth of my life as it emerges from my past, toward a path of freedom-embracing-contradictions.

I, like all of us, was not free when I was born, and in fact, was not born to be free. Year by year I want to inch away at those material, spiritual and egoistic burdens that try to keep me imprisoned, to have a shot at being free, to become lighter emotionally, to have less baggage, to emancipate myself from the daily sufferings of institutionalized class race and gender oppressions including the negative personality deformations they create in me. I know I cant do that alone and so the dramas of interpersonal relationships that arise as a by-product of this joint effort, is part of this freedom path. This is hard, but we do not choose our conditions.

There are some pieces in my mind that I hope to explore in this next year:

1) A piece I hope to collaborate with some comrades on, about women leadership* and good practice around that. There is so little written on the attempts and lessons of developing female leadership that feels real and honest.

Recognizing this is a work in progress and primarily through personal experiences, and drawing from our experiences of initially being politicized through non-profit domestic violence work and then breaking with that to join revolutionary left organizations yet feeling the dichotomy between the two to be lacking in good gender practice.

Some thoughts:
- Competition b/w women leaders is partly a product of patriarchy and the tokenization of women leadership in left organizations

Perhaps this applies also to male leadership, but what is so suffocating about the way the left talks about women leadership is that there is a prototype for THE woman leader. Whereas male leadership styles are acknowledged in different ways, women's leadership are often acknowledged only when they are upfront and out loud, not the "invisible" "natural" aspects of community building and caring work which has been typically gendered female.

- Be strong when we need you to, and stop being a bitch at other times
Also takes the form of: Be strong when we need you to fight the power, but don't be strong when you advocate for yourself.

No, I come in a whole piece and the strength I have gathered from surviving through DV and gendered violence is what makes me both the person that is acceptable AND non-acceptable at various times. It is hard to pick and choose when to be strong and when not to be when my survival has socialized me a certain way.

This is not to say I dont want to take responsibility for being a better person. It is hard to put down my ego and acknowledge my failures but it is something I have to push myself to do. That said though,I seek empathy from comrades to understand that times when I am fierce are not attempts at being authoritarian but rather are ways that I have learned to fight, to have my voice heard amid the cacophony. It has been my survival mechanism.

At other times, I hear the message to be strong and fierce when encountering our common enemies, but when I advocate for myself, it would be much more palatable if I was a meek woman, who cries, not shouts, who fights back and not just take it. There have been instances when I have stood up for myself and gotten backlash for being too aggressive, too strong, and my point of self-advocacy was lost. People would have much rather me go to them in tears and would have listened to my gendered concerns more readily then. That's messed up.

- To prevent the emergence of authoritarianism as a way of dealing with oppression, we all need to exercise self awareness. Oppressed people have a responsibility to do that.

I am not excusing authoritarianism at all. But I know from my own experience and others, that the strength and fierceness we exude sometimes becomes perceived as authoritarianism, though it is not what is intended. Oppressed people don't realize sometimes, the power we have once we become leaders. We continue to operate on the mode that we are used to --- to have to keep fighting to be heard. It takes a lot of self awareness and humility to understand the different ways we need to relate to people around us because of the power we have that is different from what we are used to.

Oppressed people, because we will be the ones on the frontline of struggle, because we are the ones who NEED to rise to leadership, have a particular responsibility to make sure that we KNOW our power, USE it but also be AWARE of how it can cut those around us and ourselves.

- Personal drama needs organizational space to process and decision-making. Code of conduct, not personalized interventions

- defining leadership as mentorship AND personal growth

This is to avoid the star leader/token leader approach to oppressed peoples' leadership. We need to train one another to build a community of leaders. Leadership is not a zero sum game, ie if someone is a leader it means you arent. We need many many a gazillion leaders. This is a conscious, intentional direction we need to work toward because the constant tokenization of oppressed peoples' leadership means we are often unknowingly and defacto being channeled into the star leader/token leader position. We have to fight this current.

That said!! We cannot let ourselves DEPRIORITIZE our own growth at the expense of others and repeat once again the invisible caring labor that naturalizes the skills we have been trained from young to do.

We need to get rid of the "invisible caring worker" vs. the token star leader dichotomy and develop a perspective of female leadership that doesnt react to patriarchal norms but sets as its goals, the expansion of women leaderships in all its varieties, as norm.

Is there a Marxist Humanist method of leadership development? Can we put the Marxist method into practice when we talk about women leadership, group culture and such?

2) Congealed labor power: emotions and alienation at work as sources of value

Off the top of my head, if value comes from congealed labor power and labor power comes from the myriad of contradictions, sufferings, tensions of life, then what is the value of these emotions? Are our emotions made material through the labor process?

If fundamental to Marxism is the overcoming of the exchange value, and recognizing that workers ownership of our labor power, production and its products, is a key way to overcome that, can we also apply this form of ownership to our emotions and see this ownership (or self awareness, self-overcoming) as part of the struggle against the domination of exchange value in our everyday lives?

My point is, how can we apply Theses on Feuerbach, ie overcoming the dichotomy between a dogmatic materialism and idealism, in our conception of "being a better person," which to me relates to the socialist values such as love and care, non-commodified redux.

Can emotions also have a materialist role to play in our struggle toward liberation?

3) My aging parents want me to go home, to a tiny peninsula and island in Southeast Asia. I dont want to. Yet, can I live down not being home with family for a shot at revolution?
This gives a different edge to the work I am doing here, away from home. I feel like I need to be clear on where my time and energies are going. At the same time I dont want to project my need for fulfillment/justification to be away from home, unto our political project which is something which cannot be forced out of my own will, but is the collective action of multitudes. My work is to facilitate it and embrace its ruptures, as a hardworking and patient revolutionary.

Or, I could take a year or two out of what I hope to be a long revolutionary life, to be with family.

4) A new understanding of
"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

I am not a Christian by any means, but this resonates with me a lot these days. I have a lot of anger against the system but in my everyday living, this anger does not serve me well and it brings me more suffering. How can I make sense of this continual sense of anger, need for justice, need to understand the root cause of my suffering, while at the same time, knowing that everyday interactions, everyday life necessarily, doesnt make absolute sense. That there will be those who trespass us because, simply because they are dickheads, or that those who trespass us sometimes do that also as their own survival mechanisms that is outside of themselves.

As the immediate struggle at my job begins to die down and I enter into a period of consolidation as opposed to agitation with the militant coworkers I have organized with, I have more awareness of how the actions of some of my coworkers are really just a direct result of the fear and stress they feel from the job.

A. (he is not a militant guy by any means but has often followed along in our actions) and I argued a few days ago cos A. was fuckin stressed out and dumped it on me. I was pissed and told him he needed to chill out and defended myself though at the same time, I knew A. would not have been so much of a dickhead if we werent short staffed, if the bosses werent breathing down on him, if he didnt have 7 kids he had to feed back home in Ethiopia, if he wasnt working 60 hours a week barely making minimum wage while being away from all family.

In another scenario at work, a resident, who is fucking racist and annoying keeps trying to get me pissed off with him. I can't stand him, truly and it takes me a lot not to react. I need to let it go. I need to let his trespasses slide. I can't fight him because I will lose my job. He is also close to his deathbed and it doesnt really matter to me if he stops being a racist right before his death. He is not crucial in my own struggle for liberation. The smartest thing for me to do is to chill, and let it go, and not let this person's words get under my skin, not let it be yet another burden I carry into the limited free waking life I have available after I clock out.

In these scenarios, anger doesnt serve me. Anger traps me. I just need to let go. Understand, recognize, and then let go.

Sometimes dramas in life dont need to make sense. This is a different way of thinking for me because I, like many leftists and revolutionaries, is constantly inquiring, trying to understand, trying to investigate truth, the root cause etc etc.

But sometimes these dramas of everyday life DONT have a root cause. You just need to forgive, and forget, and let the damn trespass slide.

How to have this daily attitude, that emerges from the sense that my emotional well being is what is precious to me, that capitalism wants to INVADE my mental space and I need to resist that invasion so I can have a shot at having a good life. And the best way of having a shot at a good life under this system is to let these fucking unexplainable trespasses slide.

Yet, retaining a constant hatred and impatience to ABOLISH and DESTROY this awful awful system.

This is some form of double consciousness. I dont quite know how to handle it.

For now though, I try to turn the other cheek when the nasty racist elderly try to get under my skin. I turn the other cheek when snitchbitch at work pretends she doesnt hear me. It doesnt mean I stop sticking up for myself, but that I know that they too are products of this awful awful system and they too are not immediately directly responsible for my suffering. That they too, need liberation.

You can love your enemies and not forget that they need to be overthrown.

5) Recognizing and loving femininity as strength, not weakness

As I embrace more and more of my genderqueer identity, I start to ask myself more questions about why I have never fully resonated with femme, particularly Asian femme identity, even as I find it attractive.

Patriarchal society has designated femme as weak, conquerable, a target of heteropatriarchal sexuality; Asian femme as I experienced in my high school consisted of too many horny European boys looking for female bodies to conquer (literally with world map and stickers to indicate where they have "conquered"), seeking in Asian women a stereotypical demure femme appearance with a wild-in-bed, tight vagina fantasy. The European boys used to speculate about this, naming off Asian women they had slept with who satisfied these fantasies, and left me, utterly disgusted, and utterly repulsed of heterosexuality, and perhaps somewhat fearful of Asian femmeness because it was this target of this disgusting, colonial, patriarchal fantasy....

As I embrace more and more being boi, of genderqueer, loving the androgyny, loving the embracement of a masculinity that doesnt try too hard, I am asking myself if this slight leaning toward masculine of center, has anything to do with my fears of heteropatriarchy, of wanting NEVER to be the target of such personally repulsive fantasies or possible violence that comes along with it. Even against my best political instincts, sometimes I get shocked and even angry at times when I get hit on by hetero men. I dont want to criminalize sexuality, and peoples' fetishes and desires, and believe that we can have sexual desires that CAN be dissociated somewhat from the patriarchal and racist norms of our society. That said, a sex positive world requires an anti-patriarchal, anti-violence setting where our gender and sexual expressions and experimentations are safe and not perceived as invitations to unwanted violence.

I have hella love and respect for the strong femme women in my life, straight and queer, who are sleek and confident in the various expressions of femininity, being able to express the totality of who they are amid a world that only wants to sexualize them. Being femme is hard, is rough, in a world that objectifies everything about the female body, and that has effects on the relationships between women and their bodies.

* I am not quite sure how to describe my gendered experiences. I defacto identify my struggles around leadership as something that is gendered female. I dislike the gender neutral pronouns (zir, hir) so defacto I use female pronouns even when I dont exactly feel very physically connected to being a woman.


  1. Wow there is so much good stuff here, I can't take it all in let alone reply. For now, for some reason the easy bit is the more abstract stuff on marxist theory... on emotions and caring labor, I think one of the best tricks the capitalists ever pulled, and they didn't do it alone, was in the definitions of "economic." A lot of caring work is coded as outside the economy, even though it creates the conditions of possibility for the economy. In terms of value/surplus value production, a lot of unwaged caring work play a role in lowering the costs of labor power and/or stretching how far wages go. In general I think this is part of what a lot of care work is about, regardless of whether it's waged or not, it's about stretching how much people can live on while keeping the monetary costs and other measured costs (the ones recognized as economic, which excludes the labors mostly done by women, which are real and hard but overlooked and rarely treated as work let alone understood). I think this makes waged caring work especially hard to grasp and especially contradictory, in terms of the value of emotion and so on.

    I thought that was going to come out clearer than it did...! My bad. More later, and I look forward to reading more of the unfolding of the lines of thought and writing projects you mentioned here.

    Happy new year!


  2. These lines of thought are exciting. I'll try to take up the question of forgiveness by reposting on my Spiritual Desert blog if I have time. On the question of emotions and value, I think emotion is central to our concrete labor. Especially with caring labor, the specific emotions you put into it matter becuase it shapes the relationship expressed in that care with the person you're caring for. But under capitalism, value comes from abstract labor not concrete labor. The Market doesn't care whether you care for your elderly residents mindfully, with love, with anger, or with any other state of mind. It doesn't care whether you find the work fulfilling or not, or even if you do an exceptional job or not (unless it can raise that exceptional individual job to the level of a new standard that's required of all workers). As Marx lays out in Ch. 1 of Capital, capitalism bases value on the ABSTRACT labor, on the average of the labor of all of the workers out there in the industry. Your emotions, your cowrokers emotions, the emotions of CNAs in Connecticut and Chicago are all averaged out and flattened into a congealed mass of abstract labor, a basic industry standard. This is an example of alientated labor. As Raya Dunayevska puts it, the young Marx's focus on trying to overcome alienated labor, his focus on workers freeing ourselves from oppressive work we don't control, continues when he writes Capital later in his life. It continues when he lays out this contradiction between concrete labor (in which your specific emotions, your specific relationship with the work matters) and abstract labor (where it doesn't as long as you produce value like a machine).