Wednesday, July 14, 2010

White Dudes NOT in Denial: John Madziarczyk and Julian Real on Dr. Vandana Shiva, Respect, Listening, and the Arrogance of White Men


RESPECT.jpg Respect image by crazydiamond928[image is from here]



Although some long-time readers of this blog may find this hard to believe, I really do prefer it when conversations, with anyone, go well, rather than deteriorate into name-calling or a circus of mutual projections and accusations. Well, at least today. ;)

So, it is with hope, in some sense, that I copy and paste more of what is turning out to be a productive, intensive discussion between John Madziarczyk--whose blog post title along with some of its content, I identified as sexist and racist, in a recent blog post at A.R.P., *here*.

The focus is the work of Dr. Vandana Shiva, the renowned Indian scientist, philosopher, ecofeminist, and author.

What exists below flows from that first post, but also, more or less, stands on its own if you only feel like reading one of my blog posts today. Or, well, if you only have TIME to read one!

Julian Real said [to John]...

[As usual, I wrote him a lengthy critique of his blog's post on Dr. Shiva's appearance on Democracy Now, with a Western white guy named Gwynne Dyer, an advocate of something rather bizarre called geoengineering appearing on Dem. Now, in his own segment, uninterrupted, the host welcomed Dr. Shiva to come on and not have her own chance to speak without him butting in. I'll call that tactic "Democracy Now and Then", and I've seen it before with that show, when it comes to centralising the voices of Indigenous women and women of color from the Global South. Come to think of it, I haven't heard much feminist analysis on that show's war and peace report, AS IF all war isn't war against women.]

"Vandana Shiva is fucking insane" was part of how John M. decided to articulate part of his chosen title. Imagine me taking issue with THAT! Yeah, well. I did. My calling him out ended with this:

She deserves more respect from you that what you initially showed her in your blog post. I am asking you to show her that regard and respect, in part by reading her book, Soil Not Oil.

From Amazon.com [for my readers who don't refer back to "part one", I'll familiarise you a bit with Dr. Shiva's work]:
With Soil Not Oil, Vandana Shiva connects the dots between industrial agriculture and climate change. Shiva shows that a world beyond dependence on fossil fuels and globalization is both possible and necessary. Condemning industrial agriculture as a recipe for ecological and economic disaster, Shiva’s champion is the small, independent farm: their greater productivity, their greater potential for social justice as they put more resources into the hands of the poor, and the biodiversity that is inherent to the traditional farming practiced in small-scale agriculture.
What we need most in a time of changing climates and millions hungry, she argues, is sustainable, biologically diverse farms that are more resistant to disease, drought, and flood.
In her trademark style, she draws solutions to our world’s most pressing problems on the head of a pin: “The solution to climate change,” she observes, “and the solution to poverty are the same.” Using Shiva’s organization Navdanya—praised by Barbara Kingsolver as “a small, green Eden framed against the startling blue backdrop of the Himalayas”—as a model, Soil Not Oil lays out principles for feeding the planet that are socially just and environmentally sound.
Shiva then expands her analysis to broader issues of globalization and climate change, arguing that a healthy environment and a just world go hand in hand. Unwavering and truly visionary, Soil Not Oil proposes a solution based on self-organization, sustainability, and community rather than corporate power and profits.
A world-renowned environmental leader and thinker, Vandana Shiva is the author of many books, including Earth Democracy, Water Wars, and Staying Alive.
She is the editor of Manifestos on the Future of Food and Seed. About the Author A world-renowned environmental leader and recipient of the 1993 Alternative Nobel Peace Prize (the Right Livelihood Award), Shiva has authored several bestselling books, most recently Earth Democracy. Activist and scientist, Shiva leads, with Ralph Nader and Jeremy Rifkin, the International Forum on Globalization. Before becoming an activist, Shiva was one of India's leading physicists.

So following my avalanche of comments and critiques, John responded.

John Madziarczyk said...

You realize that it's going to take some time to respond to your posts, right? There's a lot in there.

Yes, we live in a patriarchal society that has expressed itself in the domination of women, which has in turn expressed itself in various ways through personal violence and domination. I would ask you to look a little bit deeper about the connection between the West and the domination of nature and the third world, though, because lots of societies out there have been patriarchal, violently so, and lots of societies out there have been expansionist and willing to dominate other societies, but as you have said they haven't had the same sort of relationship with the rest of the world that totally dehumanizes it and the people in it that the West seems to have had. But possibly some of them have had it, at least partially, like the Mongols, but this is something I don't know enough about to really comment on.

By the way, I never said "unraced". Ever.

About the White Male Skygod idea, Christianity shares the same perspective with Judaism and Islam, yet in my mind neither society has taken the idea to the extreme that Western society has, which suggests to me that there's an additional thing going on, which might have to do with how the idea of 'race' itself was formed in the West or might have to do with other factors in the development of Western culture.

When I said that domination is neutral I didn't mean to imply that whenever domination happens it's not colored on all levels by the structure of the society in which it exists, and who is in charge. What I meant was that it seems that domination in and of itself, people exploiting other people in general, isn't necessarily only bound up with patriarchy. Or matriarchy, for that matter.

I would challenge the idea that domination is something that's necessarily male by suggesting that notions that a woman centered economy or society would not necessarily have domination are based on essentialist readings of what male and female are.

Before I go on, and this will take up several posts (there's a limit to what blogger lets on in a single post) I will acknowledge that yes, I didn't give Shiva the respect that someone who has contributed to social change is due, and that yes, I see how my response was somewhat sexist. I reject the idea, however, that I responded in this way because she is Indian.
9:56 AM

John Madziarczyk said...

Yes, Gwynne Dyer is arrogant, and doesn't realize the context in which he's speaking. I'm assuming that you read the comment I posted before the comment that said that I agreed with part of what Shiva was saying, where I talked about how, in my opinion, Shiva's critique was so general that it denied both the positive aspects of a science that could be effectual in helping people and those that are negative and come from a standpoint of ignorance. I think that without some nuance the critique becomes formalistic.

"It is not an unreasonable position to note that those who don't know what philosophies, ideologies, worldviews, paradigms, and political frameworks they are operating out of--that govern some, if not all, of their actions--ought not be in charge of creating solutions to world problems, especially if done undemocratically."

Yes, I agree, but would you also say that there are some scientists out there, from the West, who have some awareness of these issues and are in fact trying to find solutions from a less arrogant standpoint? Part of the problem I had was that it appeared that Shiva's standpoint was that you either agreed with all of her ideas or you were in the same camp as Dyer, when there are a spectrum of possibilities out there. I realize that she's speaking as herself, advocating her own ideas and not someone elses, but it seemed like contrasted with Dyer's that all of the suggestions, taken together, at the same time, were too much of a challenge to the dominant paradigm. I realize that there's bias in this, and I'm not necessarily accepting the dominant paradigm, but in an argument or a debate it's useful to meet the other party halfway.

I'm not aware of what traditional views on agriculture are in India, I'm not Indian. I am aware of the western science based paradigm. Although I sympathize, it's hard for me, in a situation where no more information is given, to automatically give credence to something that's radically different that I don't have knowledge about. How do I, or anyone listening to the interview without much of an idea about who Shiva is, know that she's for real if she just presents all this stuff in a take it or leave it format?
10:20 AM

Julian Real said...

I would ask you to look a little bit deeper about the connection between the West and the domination of nature and the third world, though, because lots of societies out there have been patriarchal, violently so, and lots of societies out there have been expansionist and willing to dominate other societies, but as you have said they haven't had the same sort of relationship with the rest of the world that totally dehumanizes it and the people in it that the West seems to have had. But possibly some of them have had it, at least partially, like the Mongols, but this is something I don't know enough about to really comment on.

I'll address this later, further down the comments queue. ;)

By the way, I never said "unraced". Ever.

I know that. But you used natural in a way as to make it unclear what you meant. John, what I'm expressing to you is the fact of what's been done, not to offer up a debate about it. It's factually true that Western white men have committed more atrocity than any other demographic, regionally or otherise, among "civilising forces" on Earth.

No other group has fused genocide to woman-hating and heterosexism and destruction of animals, plants--to the biosphere, as have Western white men. I just don't even think that's debatable, honestly. Yes, there have been more people to kill in the last few decades, especially in the last few centuries, but surely that doesn't explain why the White Man manages to do it wherever he goes.  

Yurugu explains it well enough. It's complex, but the fact of it isn't that complex. The fact of it is rather atrociously obvious, if one doesn't want to be in denial and pretend the oppressed have more political power than the privileged and unjustly entitled.
7:12 PM

Julian Real said...

About the White Male Skygod idea, Christianity shares the same perspective with Judaism and Islam,

Please be careful here, John. Because while they are all Ibrahimic/Abrahamic religions, with some sense of a monotheistic god, they do not share the same perspective at all, and I recommend you read the work of Karen Armstrong before you make claims like that.

See, for example, this: A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, by her. For one thing, Islam is not primarily a white religion, nor a Western one, predominantly. And Judaism isn't exactly a white religion either, in the sense in which the history of whiteness has developed over time.

Only Christianity rises up as a white and Western religion. It is other things too, like Black, Brown and Asian.

But it has been used by whites in a way that Judaism has not been used, and Israel can only function as the pro-Apartheid racist, increasingly white supremacist state it is because of U.S. support--financial, political, and military--from, what is, politically speaking, a very Christian dominated society.

Btw, if you check the stats on the number of Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs, you'll find that globally there are about half as many Jews on Earth as their are Sikhs. I note this only to say that there's no massive human base from which to dominate vast portions of the world, by Jews, much as anti-Semitic Christians love to claim otherwise. And only white Christian men have positioned themselves militarily and culturally, and in every other conceivable way, to dominate the Earth, and to utterly destroy it.

As a white Western Jew, I'll note one more thing, just for the hell of it. HaShem is one word, among several, for G-d. And it is not gendered as a man.

To be clear: I'm not saying you said anything that warrants all of what I'm noting. I'm following up on your point that those three somewhat monotheistic faith traditions are not the same, even fundamentally, when it comes to matters of race, gender, sexuality, or ideas "dominion" and what behaviors are defended by religious text to constitute a civilisation. You know the expression about the White Man coming into Africa with a sword in one hand and a Bible in the other.

What is less reported is that European white men fuel the conflicts in many countries in Africa, across many regions, by supplying the munitions necessary to do that amount of killing. Western white male-controlled media would have us believe "those Africans just don't know how to get along", when, in fact, white Christian het men are the savage, barbaric dominators of the world and the genocidal mass murderers, of people based on race, gender, sexuality, religion, ethnicity, and region, with no one even running close for second place.
7:13 PM

Julian Real said...

yet in my mind neither society has taken the idea to the extreme that Western society has, which suggests to me that there's an additional thing going on, which might have to do with how the idea of 'race' itself was formed in the West or might have to do with other factors in the development of Western culture. 

These matters have already been written about, John. The political history of whiteness is well-documented from a variety of disciplines, and testimonies. Some seek to make "capitalism" the central force. Others seek to male white supremacy the central force. I seek to note that it is a combination of things, not just one, that makes for the kinds and degrees of atrocity known to humankind in the last 500 to 2000 years.

What white men doing the analysis often leave out of the equation, curiously, is the role of patriarchy, and specifically Western patriarchy. Marxists are notorious for minimising gendered and sexual oppression over "economic" forces, broadly termed. For an excellent discussion of this please read the first few chapters--the whole of the first section--of the book Toward A Feminist Theory of the State, by Catharine A. MacKinnon.
8:16 PM

Julian Real said...

When I said that domination is neutral I didn't mean to imply that whenever domination happens it's not colored on all levels by the structure of the society in which it exists, and who is in charge. What I meant was that it seems that domination in and of itself, people exploiting other people in general, isn't necessarily only bound up with patriarchy. Or matriarchy, for that matter. I would challenge the idea that domination is something that's necessarily male by suggesting that notions that a woman centered economy or society would not necessarily have domination are based on essentialist readings of what male and female are.

I've never said domination is only male. Or only white. Or only Western. I think particular historical expressions of gross and genocidal, gynocidal, or ecocidal domination are a function of many things, none of them "biological" or genetic or in any way a function of the bogus sciences of "sociobiology" and "evolutionary psychology"--and we may well agree on that. I'm speaking about whole societies, their philosophies, their political viewpoints as they relate to their own ideas of what is and is not "natural" or "god-ordained", not just individual acts. Of course any person, with physical power and will and agency, can be domineering. For me, that goes without say.

The issue is: which societies have made it their god-ordained WILL and/or (so they tell themselves) natural purpose, such as through ideas like "Manifest Destiny" and "Aryan Supremacy", to dominate enormous populations, of people, and to kill them and animals and the Earth, because they see it as their right or obligation to do so?

That's a very historical/sociological/political question, not at all one about "nature vs. nurture". That it is "not nature" is a given, as far as I'm concerned. If it were natural, why would only white men in the last 500 years be doing it to those degrees? Surely not because there was some genetic mutation that occurred on the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria.

Before I go on, and this will take up several posts (there's a limit to what blogger lets on in a single post) I have a blogger blog, A Radical Profeminst, so I know well the limitations.
8:18 PM

Julian Real said...

I will acknowledge that yes, I didn't give Shiva the respect that someone who has contributed to social change is due, and that yes, I see how my response was somewhat sexist.

Thank you. In terms of "acts of language" it was very misogynistic, actually, not just sexist, and because you were speaking about a woman of color from the Global South, and because you are a white man from the Global North, it functions to be oppressive, as a speech act, in many ways. I reject the idea, however, that I responded in this way because she is Indian. I don't believe you said it because she was Indian, John. I note that you saying it--well, writing it--plays out in ways that reinforce Western, Northern, white, and male supremacist ideology.

That tells me nothing about what your intentions were in generating the speech act. Your lack of care, regard, and respect, in this instance, and your lack of ownership, until now, of how any Western, Global Northern white man's actions impact the larger social-political world in which they exist as "acts of language" once they are print in cyber-space, is what I was concerned about. I think we have much more overlap in perspective than not, and am glad to see you taking this to heart.

That's all I'd ask of anyone, and that's all that anyone who I oppress, structurally or interpersonally, who calls me out on stuff asks of me; well, also to change and stop doing it. ;)
8:19 PM

Julian Real said...

Yes, Gwynne Dyer is arrogant, and doesn't realize the context in which he's speaking.

He is, in fact, far more arrogant and presumptuous and ignorant than is Dr. Shiva. To me and many of my colleagues, that was glaringly evident. That's why it was shocking to see you so disregard and disrespect her.

I'm assuming that you read the comment I posted before the comment that said that I agreed with part of what Shiva was saying, where I talked about how, in my opinion, Shiva's critique was so general that it denied both the positive aspects of a science that could be effectual in helping people and those that are negative and come from a standpoint of ignorance. I think that without some nuance the critique becomes formalistic.

John, you can't have it both ways. You want to argue that if she comes off a certain way, what is someone to think?! And, if you blog titling a post "Vandana Shiva is fucking insane" (and ranting, raving, and sputtering) please just do as you did, admit it, and move on. There's no ego to protect here. The world cannot afford the cost of us white men defending our egos/societies/practices/philosophies/worldviews/values.
8:20 PM

Julian Real said...

would you also say that there are some scientists out there, from the West, who have some awareness of these issues and are in fact trying to find solutions from a less arrogant standpoint?


I would ask why we would look to them FIRST. Why not look to the people who LIVE the effects of the white male supremacist West's practices and worldviews, and speak with, and listen to them, not to more white Western male "experts" about what the problems are and the solutions might be. We live in a society that has as an overarching mythos this idea of the Great White Man. Only "he" is a genius, is brilliant, is the expert, is heroic, in this mythology we live in.

You're asking me if it is possible that some white male Western scientist is someone worth listening to? I'll let you know when I'm done listening to the heroes, the experts, the brilliant people who ought to be considered geniuses, and would, if they were white and male. To answer your question more directly, I don't know of anyone more qualified to speak on this issue than Indigenous activists, globally, and other experts from the Global South specifically.

And here I am saying something very specific: I have been reading and listening to what Indigenous people and oppressed people from the Global South have been saying for years, and I hear no one who is a white man saying what they are saying. John Perkins' work is useful to me, as a white man who fesses up about what globalisation is and does, from the perspective of one of the men who did it, professionally.

And the work of Derrick Jensen is useful to me, as someone who has made it his practice to listen to women of all colors, and to hold himself accountable to them, to be careful and responsible and respectful with his "acts of language".

So those are two white Western men I admire, but they don't hold a candle to Dr. Shiva on the matters we're discussing here most centrally.
8:21 PM

Julian Real said...

Part of the problem I had was that it appeared that Shiva's standpoint was that you either agreed with all of her ideas or you were in the same camp as Dyer, when there are a spectrum of possibilities out there. I realize that she's speaking as herself, advocating her own ideas and not someone elses, but it seemed like contrasted with Dyer's that all of the suggestions, taken together, at the same time, were too much of a challenge to the dominant paradigm. I realize that there's bias in this, and I'm not necessarily accepting the dominant paradigm, but in an argument or a debate it's useful to meet the other party halfway. 

I'd love to discuss this one portion with you more, John, on your blog or mine, as I think it's a fascinating point and I'm really glad you articulated it so succinctly. I'd argue, for now, that the ways that people who are dying because of our actions--white Western men's actions--ought not be in a position to dictate to those who are dying "how to deliver the message". We ought to be, as writer Pearl Cleage says, "in a posture of listening" not "in a posture of defence."

And what I hear you noting, very effectively, is what happens in the white man's mind and to his ego, when the fundaments of his worldview are called into question as "not good" and "not helpful". Again, this warrants a much longer conversation, and I'd welcome having it with you.
8:22 PM

Julian Real said...

I'm not aware of what traditional views on agriculture are in India, I'm not Indian.

But Dr. Shiva has to know both what our traditional views are, as well as her own. She speaks more than one language. She has expertise in more areas than Dyer, you, or me, combined. So why would it even occur to us to write her off as "fucking insane"? I think that's a central issue and warrants more attention. Not apologies from you--you've owned that what you did was sexist and perhaps unintentionally racist? I'll let you phrase that however you'd like to. This is beyond you and me. The issues are too great, the consequences too dire for you and I to take up too much time debating. That's why my blog is an activist blog, not a discussion blog. Because, quite literally, while you and I debate, many societies are facing genocide, and many species are disappearing off the Earth, and many women are being raped and battered, and millions of children are being sexually trafficked, right now.

So, I'm willing to steer you towards some writings I've found helpful, and am willing to discuss matters that, once discussed, can be posted and read by others so that not every two white men have to have the discussion over and over and over again, hopefully. I am aware of the western science based paradigm. Although I sympathize, it's hard for me, in a situation where no more information is given, to automatically give credence to something that's radically different that I don't have knowledge about. I find that to be a very honest and brave thing to say, John. I know of VERY few white men who would state this publicly, and I knew I was drawn to your post, and to reply at length, for a reason. I encounter many white men daily online, and most aren't worth typing one word to. Clearly, I'm typing more than one word to you!!! lol


8:22 PM

Julian Real said...

How do I, or anyone listening to the interview without much of an idea about who Shiva is, know that she's for real if she just presents all this stuff in a take it or leave it format?

I think that's a practice of decentering our own worldviews and egos. A political practice, as in "daily" and on-going. And, again, I think it's an excellent question you raise. Yurugu lays out a comprehensive critique of exactly what was different in the developments, post-Plato, particularly, of Western Civilisation that dovetailed in horrendous ways with patriarchal, and later, Christian, philosophies and ways of being and behaving, to cause such enormous devastation. It is written outside of a dominant paradigm or ethos of centering the religions of the West, of being deferential to white men, also to whites generally, and to men in some ways, and she has been rejected by most white men as being [fill in the racist-misogynistic expletives]. She is a Western woman, however. And she is well-versed in Western philosophy and politics. Her book is among my top five favorite books of all time. And, because some white men who are not willing to relax their egos or put down their domineering defences (read: offences), know that about me, they refuse to engage with me in conversation. "Stigma" by association, I suppose.

So why do white men tune her out so quickly? 

Again, this gets to the heart of where you go in your own thinking. I applaud you. But I can tell you this: I think you and I heard quite different things when listening to that interview. I heard one hell of an arrogant white man being condescendingly "respectful"--except when calling her ridiculous--of someone he ought to have just shut up and listened to, given that he'd just had his own segment on the damn program. I heard her being appropriately irritated with his arrogance and lack of willingness to engage with her from "a posture of listening". And, he's got a book or articles to sell, and so if someone notes how his work is basically a load of shite, he's likely to be protective and defensive.

But, as someone who is allegedly "caring about the Third World", as he stated, Western scientist and author Gwynne Dyer would do well to shut up and listen far more carefully, and to adjust his own beliefs and practices and scientific propositions according to what he learns from her. I'd like to cross post any future discussions to both our blogs, if you wish to have them here, that is!! Thanks for being willing to engage in a thorough manner, John. I deeply and sincerely appreciate it.
8:23 PM

3 comments:

Heather Aurelia said...

Are familiar with Starhawk's works? She is an ecofeminist and Pagan. I practicallly base my whole withcraft practice from her!
In her book Earth Path she mentions Dr. Vandana Shiva. I suspect that Dr. Shiva and Starhawk (Miriam Simos) have the same views. You should check it out.

Julian Real said...

Hi Heather,

I read "Dreaming the Dark" 25 years ago. lol

And, I'd never privilege the work of a white writer from the Global North over the work of a woman of color from the Global South. Not that you were asking me to, but...

Whites need to be reading more work by women of color, imo. And Dr. Shiva is a physicist, philosopher, ecofeminist, author, with expertise in the applied science of biofriendly living and community activism.

Her credentials place her atop my list of ecofeminists I'd want to have rule the world.

I have respect and admiration for Starhawk, don't get me wrong.

But again, someone with the background and experience of Vandana Shiva is the "go to" person, in my book.

(I guess I say that because I've realised the huge limitation of writers from the Global North who are white or non-Indigenous. As I'm sure you know Starhawk, despite her name, is a white Jew. "My people", and any white people, are not experts, or even especially practiced--across generations, across centuries, in how to live sustainably with the Earth in ways that empower women in the Global South and Indigenous women globally.

I'm looking South and to the East for my guidance and counsel.

Julian Real said...

Hi again, Heather,

I'm curious to know what you've found especially valuable in Starhawk's work. How has it informed and impacted your life and work?

Cheers.

Julian