Sunday, May 29, 2011

Coming soon! Can Enemies Become Allies?: a discussion between an MRA and Julian Real

image is from here
When you think "Star Trek" what's the first thing to come to your mind? For me it's Spock. After that, currently, it's the awareness that the television program was probably the first weekly series to feature people of many different ethnicities--women and men--working together on the same side. (Oh, and different sexualities too, what with "Sulu"--George Takei--coming out as gay!) I'm not sure there's been another show like it since. For other people it's just a "cool sci-fi show". What we think about--what we associate with anything--often depends on what we see, what we experience, and what elements of reality we most resonate with or otherwise experience.

When I was young, watching the series in reruns after it had gone off the air initially, I'm not sure I tracked the multi-ethnic/multi-racial significance, even while I was aware there'd been Civil Rights movement working to allow people of many races and ethnicities to work, socialise, and live in the same places, in peace. Liberation has yet to materialise. I'm not sure that time will come while I'm alive. But I hope so. At least we know it will happen in the future, when Star Trek happens. ;)

I'm not sure in what form I'll be reporting about this meeting. I've rarely to never had occasion to engage in meaningful, mutually respectful dialogue with someone who identifies himself as an MRA (men's rights activist). But a very respectful man has offered to do so, and I'm taking him up on the challenge. I hope it is beneficial for all who seek justice and liberation. For all who are oppressed. For all who endure terrorism and indignity as a systematic part of life.

I am waiting to hear back from him after the US holiday weekend. I've requested that we post our discussion online. He's wondering about having it happen at a neutral place. I've let him know I don't know of any such places and proposed putting the discussion on our respective blogs with notes about our mutual rules of engagement and comment policies. I'll see what he says in response. But I'm looking forward to the exchange.

This is what I believe: we all, in varying ways, to varying degrees, live in states of denial, dissociation, defensiveness, under or within forms of domination or destruction. Some of us do the destroying and dominating more than others. Some of us are in greater levels of denial, dissociation, and defence. I see this on micro and macro levels. As someone who is deeply concerned not only with the quality of interpersonal relationships but with the promise of on-going social justice movement, I look for patterns and commonalities among various forms of oppression and dehumanisation.

I see some patterns; people I know well point out others that escape me, or that I move into denial about. When in denial, I can become defensive about another's truths--particularly when their truths reveal something about me I am not comfortable looking at. When someone who I structurally oppress does this, my defensiveness and denial often become painfully or harmfully oppressive to the person I am engaging with.

As I see it, the human practices--of moving into or out of denial, of dissociating and reconnecting with forgotten or repressed material, of dominating and learning how to live mutually with others, and of destroying and learning how to live creatively, is possible for anyone with the ability to process emotions and experience, to communicate non-violently and to listen carefully and compassionately. I'm not saying everyone is capable of doing that. But if someone is capable of it, then I see constructive growth  as possible.

I have learned from my friend Avi to have faith in such things. I don't always. But with Avi's and other women's hope, I move forward into this conversation with someone many would assume is my "enemy".

I'd like to discuss enemyhood and then close out this post which I'm writing as an introduction to whatever follows with the self-labeled MRA.

I think people have very different understandings of enemyhood based on experience and due to political-social-economic location. While I've seen middle class white consider the police their friends, I've known poorer people of color who do not. Why? Because the white supremacist police don't make a daily practice of harassing and shooting middle class white people; police forces all across my country do make a practice of harassing, shooting, and otherwise seeking the destruction of poor people of color.

While I have sometimes viewed individual men as fun and enjoyable to be around, women who knew these same men more intimately have reported to me things that horrified or disgusting me about how they behave when only with women or when alone with one woman. I've had occasion to then ask some of these particular men about what I'd learned. What they tell me is that they didn't have the same experience she did. Or they deny what happened all together. Their reality is different, shaped by what is most meaningful to them and also what they're willing to know about reality, other people, and themselves.

Rarely and importantly, some men, the few, when they have perhaps unintentionally (or not) harmed someone, they do own up to their role in it; they don't deny it and are not evasive about it. They demonstrate regret and seek to repair damage done. Some forms of injury are not so easily repaired, and I encourage anyone who is approached for forgiveness by someone who once harmed them to be sure to take care of themselves first and foremost before deciding whether forgiveness of someone else's actions is wise.

For me, it is important to know at least two things: Does the person who did something harmful understand what they did and feel regretful or remorseful about it? Do they feel responsible for all their actions? Do they put ego aside to listen and learn about how their behavior effects other people? And, do they know how not to repeat the behavior? Have they demonstrated this knowledge in their actions? I don't tend to accept apologies for behavior that is performed with unconsciousness, that is later denied. I don't hold hope long when I speak sincerely with someone about harm done if that sharing is met with defensiveness, or dishonesty, or manipulation, or more aggression.

I suppose "enemies" are people with the power to harm others who systematically do harm others and who refuse to become humane when made aware of the damage and hurt. That's as good a definition as I can come up with right now. And this can be on an individual level or on a group level. So when rich people deny they are doing harm to poor people by supporting institutions and practices that rob the poor to assist the rich in getting richer, I don't  hold out hope for mending relationships or advancing the causes of social justice and liberation for oppressed people.

A feminist mentor once spoke with me about the importance of understanding how structures of enemyhood invade spaces where no structural enemies live. Many of us learn how to be abusive and practice being abusive when not needing to defend ourselves. Too often, we take our aggressions and frustrations out on the people who do not instigate or invite them.

I learned about the dangers of horizontal hostility from the woman whose writing on the subject named something that happens to oppressed people. It is one of the most important social-political dynamics for me to be aware of. I see it many places where no terrorists live. Where there is no enemy but where people find ways to turn each other into the enemy. With so many of us having varying levels of PTSD, it is easy to get triggered and mistake a friend or ally for an enemy. I've witnessed this happen more times than I can say. Sometimes there are structural differences between people who might be friends and allies, but the unwillingness of the person with structural advantages and social entitlements to be responsive to and responsible with those advantages and entitlements shuts down friendship and the possibility for considering them an ally.

I hope the oppressed people who do not dump their rage onto their structural political peers are seen as teachers for the rest of us, without us expecting them to teach us anything. I hope we can all learn how some oppressed people survive with dignity and decency. I don't see much of that online. I no longer socialise much because I stopped seeing it offline too. The lack of basic human decency is lacking now in many places because the dominant culture is one in which nastiness, dishonesty, and corruption reigns.

I hope this conversation--however long and involved it is--doesn't fall into patterns of acting with hostility that isn't required to survive. I'm saying this to myself, primarily.

The person I'll be engaging with has some structural advantages that I don't have, in part by not being gay. But he seems to seek honesty and authenticity, and genuine relationship rather than using relationship to win points for one's team.

I hope you stay tuned to see what happens.