There was a review that appeared on a Cambridge, England feminist blog system July 3, (I was just pointed to it by a friend) that was very strongly critical of the two Occupy books that are so far available, for reasons which, if they were actually true of those books would cause me to be very strongly critical of the books as well. So I think a reply is perhaps in order. I would have replied as a comment directly under the post – indeed, I went to do so, but – though comments do appear, I just couldn't figure out how to place one. The author of the post seems to be named KM, and perhaps on the site it is clearer who that is, I don't know. Below I not only respond to her, but put all of her own language so that what I am responding to will be her views as stated, and not her views as I (perhaps wrongly) interpret them. I do this because I suspect KM would not be alone in having an adverse reaction to the parts that troubled her.
KM starts by saying: "This post is a review of two free ebooks: “Occupy Theory” by Michael Albert and Mandisi Majavu (PDF), and “Occupy Vision” by Michael Albert and Mark Evans (PDF). As the names suggest, these books are being put forward as a potential unifying ideology for the Occupy movement, and for the anti-capitalist movement more generally. The ideas in these books also form an ideological basis for the International Organisation for a Participatory Society (IOPS)."
This is just a bit off – the books are offered as a set of ideas the authors hope will prove useful, and that they will thus find many advocates – as all political books' authors hope. The ideas do not form the basis for IOPS, however, but, rather, take the basis of IOPS well beyond what it itself includes – which are the IOPS commitments – in directions that the authors favor. The name of the books is clearly and very explicitly explained as meaning we should occupy theory, vision, and strategy – and not as meaning, theory vision and strategy for or of the occupy movement.
KM next says "a key figure in all this is Michael Albert, an academic and lifelong activist who co-authored both books."
Academic? I was last in the academy decades ago, as a student, and was never an academic – meaning, I think – someone who works professionally in some academic discipline. Actually, I couldn't even keep a job teaching economics while I was a graduate student faculty person – since my views and practices were so utterly contrary to the academy. I did teach economics, however, in prisons for a couple of years – but I doubt KM would think that makes me an academic.
KM writes: "In the dedication to “Occupy Theory”, it’s made clear that the ideas in this book are being put forward as a potential unifying ideology for both the IOPS, and for the Occupy movement itself." As the basis for that assertion she quotes the dedication in the books: "Dedicated to the idea that `another world is possible' and even more so, to the practice to `make another world real' and to all those who wish for, believe in, and try to advance related endeavors. And to enlarging the Occupy Movement. And to founding an International Organization for Participatory Society."
I don't know how KM went from what she quotes, that the book is dedicated to certain pursuits and hopes, to what she asserts, but as to the books being for IOPS, yes, the authors hope the ideas will prove very useful and even unifying to the members of the organization. But as to being for Occupy, Occupy is much too large, much too broad, to see anything like the content of these books as unifying for all those in it. We would hope many in Occupy would find the ideas useful, though, of course.
KM then notes, by way of overview, that she likes the book's ideas regarding economics but indicates her disgust with one aspect of what the books: "Michael Albert’s ideas about feminism are like a dragon I need to slay."
I should perhaps note that my ideas about feminism, and about related issues, are overwhelmingly a product of and refer to the ideas of others, pretty much all of whom are women. But, still, are the ideas abysmal? Let's see.
KM writes: "Albert assumes that his readers are Marxists, or are at least familiar with Marxist ideas."
The other authors of the books have seemingly disappeared for KM, I don't know why. I won't say she is racist for leaving out Mandisi Majavu and is classist for leaving out Mark Evans. Nor will I say she is sexist because I can predict that when she gets to addressing the gender related views in the books she will take for granted they came from some inner recess of a man's mind, rather than that they came overwhelmingly from women. But if I did do that, I have to say that I think it would be exactly the type of spinning of a snippet of words that I expect to find as the basis for her rejection of these books.
Okay, what about substance. No, I do not assume the books' readers are marxists – though I do think it is very likely that most of its readers will be familiar with some marxist ideas, as well as some anarchist, some feminist, some anti racist – and so on.
KM writes: "He starts from the Marxist idea that class oppression is the fundamental form of oppression in society, and that once class is abolished, all other forms of inequality (including sexism) will disappear as well. However Albert rejects the Marxist view, and recognizes that no one kind of oppression is more fundamental than all the others."
I don't know why she says we/I start with an idea that we/I reject – but, in any case, that we reject it, that I reject it, is quite true.
KM quotes: "In essence, we must say goodbye to prioritizing one sphere before analyzing all spheres – an approach called monism. We must say goodbye to taking one aspect of society as a priori preponderant in importance. We must say hello to a more balanced and comprehensive stance, called holism, which sees the mutual interconnectivity and entwined influence of all four spheres."
While the quote was summarizing some results, yes, that is part of the message of the book Occupy Theory.
KM writes: "As an alternative to Marxism, Albert puts forward a theory called Complementary Holism, which divides society into four spheres: the economic sphere, the political sphere, the family/kinship sphere, and the community/culture sphere. While Albert emphasises that problems such as sexism, racism, and class inequality are interconnected, he nevertheless claims that each of these problems has its root in just one sphere. Therefore Albert advocates working on each sphere separately. In his view, anti-racists should work in the community and culture sphere, while feminists should work in the kinship sphere, and union organisers should work in the economics sphere."
This is, I am sorry but I don't know what other word to use, incredible – and I have to wonder whether it is the fault of the writing, or of KM's perception of the writing.
Does the approach identify four spheres? Yes.
Is it argued that each sphere is essential in any society and that each can generate social hierarchies of immense importance to how people can life? Yes.
Does it say the relations and results of each sphere are interconnected with those of the others? Yes. And it goes into this further, however, than it being some sidebar comment.
Do I believe that there are core relations in the polity critical to the political hierarchies in society, that there are core relations in culture/community critical to the racial and other cultural hierarchies in society, that there are core relations in economies critical to the class hierarchies in society, and that there are core relations in kinship critical to the gender and sexual and also age hierarchies in society? Yes, I do. And yes, this is part of the perspective offered in the books.
Does this imply that anti racists, feminists, anti-capitalists, or anti authoritarians should each work in only one sphere of social life, and address only the core relations in that sphere? No, not even remotely. And, in fact, the book and approach actually exists in large part to claim almost exactly the opposite. It is very hard for me to understand, I have to admit, how KM could see the opposite of what is there, in what she read.
The approach in the books says, even just summarizing very briefly, that there is a kind of influence emanating from each sphere of social life – or from its core features and their implications – out into all of society. More, this influence guarantees that when society is calm and stable, each sphere's operations will not violate the core needs and implications of the others. So, in a sexist and patriarchial society, the influence will ensure that the economy, polity, and culture, and not just kinship – accommodate to sexist hierarchies. But, more, the books argue that the field of influence can be so strong that over time each sphere comes to not only accommodate the implications of the others, but to embody their features so fully as to reproduce the ills of the others. (I should perhaps note, that arguably the very main example of this in the books comes from a feminist economist.) So, the influence of sexist family and socialization structures, etc., can permeate into all aspects of society even to the point that, for example, the economy (as per the most developed example that is offered) in turn becomes such a powerful seat of sexism, that it too reproduces sexist hierarchy. In such cases, the book argues, it is necessary even if we want to just address, say, sexism, or homophobia, (or, in reverse, to just address class) to transform not only the core sphere of the feature (kinship) but also the other spheres, now complicit in maintaining and continually reproducing the problem, (sexism).
The books argue, in other words, almost exactly the opposite of what KM says they argue. In a society like the U.S., say, to fight against patriarchy in a way that can literally win a society free of patriarchy, means one has to not only fight against the core institutional relations in kinship that generate patriarchal hierarchies, but also the features of other spheres that have long since come to also reproduce those hierarchies. More generally, anti racists, anti sexists, anti authoritarians, anti capitalists, were there is such a strong dynamic among spheres, even if they were only concerned with the feature they mainly focus on, would need to address all spheres of life. Again, this is the opposite of what KM read. And this isn't some add on implication that was somehow not very evident – it is a central, indeed one of most central points of the works.
KM writes: "Here’s how Albert attempts to justify confining feminism to the kinship sphere:
If we want to find the source of gender injustice it stands to reason that we need to determine which social institutions – and which roles within those institutions – give men and women responsibilities, conditions, and circumstances, that engender motivations, consciousness, and preferences that elevate men above women."
First, how does this observation from the books confine feminism to the kinship sphere? It doesn't. This, I suspect, is something KM expected to find, and expecting it, she does indeed see it – yet, it isn't there.
By way of briefly explaining, suppose we decide that, as a possibility, there are some core institutional features in kinship that tend to generate and continually regenerate gender hierarchies – perhaps, for example, that there are roles called mothering and fathering which are markedly different, and in which women overwhelmingly do one – nurturant, caring, very time consuming, etc. – and men the other – assertive and even domineering, not too time consuming, etc., in turn establishing in young people's minds views about what it is to be a woman or a man that are socially constructed (by the institutions and our behavior in them) and that ensure gender hierarchy. This (which is in the book and emerges, of course, from feminist studies and activism) would imply that to have a society without gender hierarchy, we would need to replace the offending institution – in this case women mothering and men fathering – with something different, presumably people parenting without a gender differentiation of responsibilities and tasks. Would thinking that or doing that confine feminism to one sphere? No. Not at all. And if thinking that or doing that was coupled with a view saying that gender hierarchy permeates all society to the point that other institutions also reproduce its basis, then to have such views would imply the opposite of what KM claims, not that we should alone address the offending institutions inside kinship, whatever they may be agreed to be, but that we should address those and others outside, as well.
Just for completeness, the books argue the same for other spheres. So, suppose we decide that there are some core institutional features in economy that tend to generate and continually regenerate class hierarchies – perhaps, for example, as the books strongly argue, private ownership of the means of production and remuneration for property, power, or output, corporate divisions of labor, and market allocation. This would imply that to have a society without class hierarchy, we would need to replace the offending economic institutions with something different, in the view of the books workers and consumers self managing councils, balanced job complexes, remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor, and participatory planning. Would having that viewpoint, and doing it, confine anti capitalist activism to one sphere? No. Not at all. And if the observation about the importance of some economic institutions to the generation of class relations was coupled with saying that class hierarchy permeates all society to the point that other institutions also reproduce its basis, then the observations would imply that we need to address the offending institutions inside economics, whatever they may be agreed to be, and those outside, as well.
Okay, so what is it in the books that caused KM to come away with a perception opposite to what the books argue?
KM writes: "Hang on, what’s all this about `the source of gender injustice'? Who said it has a source? This is like talking about `the source of water': let’s see, water comes from my tap, but also from the toilet and the shower, and also from the sky when it rains. It also comes from glaciers and from rivers and from the ocean… but wait, does water come from the ocean or does it go to the ocean? Shit, I guess water doesn’t really have a single source after all. And neither does Patriarchy."
History is long. There was a time when there were no taps or toilets. Later there were. The core source of class division, I suspect KM would agree, is in economic institutions such as private property, markets, etc. This doesn't mean household conditions and upbringing, schools, government structures, cultural structures, and so on – don't also now produce and reproduce class relations. They do, typically, in most societies. And, indeed, a central part of the agenda of the books was to provide tools for discerning that, and addressing it (and not just for class, but the other hierarchies as well). Still, if we were to say we were for classlessness, and we were to rail at laws, or textbooks, or neighborhood designs, or all kinds of other things, but not at property, divisions of labor, remuneration, etc., then we would be horribly remiss. Of course we should do the former, but we should do it in light of also doing the latter. The same holds for gender. We should address countless dimensions of gender definition and imposition of sexist hierarchy all over society – for example, in workplaces, laws, sports, art, religion, etc. – but, if there are key institutions in kinship that continually produce and reproduce gender hierarchies, those ought to be not just addressed, but regarding patriarchy, very clearly focussed.
KM quotes from another place in the book: "This new movement structure would take its leadership regarding aspects of its focus from those of its members most directly dealing in the focused areas. Thus, in our countries, the U.S. and UK, we would get leadership from the women’s movement about gender issues; from black and Latino movements about race; from the anti war movement about peace issues; and from labor and consumer movements about economic matters."
She writes: "Funny how feminists and anti-racists aren’t invited to `give leadership' in the economics and politics spheres, which (let’s face it) many activists would consider to be the most important ones."
This is called cherry picking quotes. It is about, I suspect from memory, a very particular type of movement structure. But, in any event, many activists would consider economy or economy and state most important, yes, but not the authors. And the authors, no less, are trying to do something about it.
But at this point, I have to admit, it is hard not to feel that KM is manufacturing things to reject, though I am not sure why. The quote says leadership around some area – class, gender, race, power, etc. – will come from people who are engaging most directly in that area, and thus from the movements most directly engaging in the area. Somehow for KM this means feminists aren't invited to give leadership in economics and politics? Why? (a) the gender advisories, so to speak, bear on activity in all spheres, as noted earlier, repeatedly. So leadership around what to demand and how to structure to address sexism, etc. of course affects all sides of movement activity. And (b) why can't feminists or anti racists be deeply embedded in movements in the economy, or culture, and thus providing leadership regarding those more specifically and directly, too?
I have to say, it is as if KM has an expectation about what she will find in this work, and then spins whatever paragraphs she can find that she might be able to spin convincingly if they are taken out of context, to imply what she expects even though it is the opposite of what the paragraphs actually mean.
KM next quotes us, "If there is homophobia or other sexual hierarchies in a society, and if the economy is capitalist, then the economy will – to the extent owners are able to do so – exploit whatever differentials in bargaining power they are handed. A typically top-down polity will also, at least, reflect and often exacerbate those differentials. Beyond this, however, the capitalist economy and any authoritarian polity may also incorporate gay and straight behavior patterns into economic roles, consumption patterns, etc. With parecon and parpolity, however, no exploitation of sexual difference is even possible – much less enacted in the economy – because there is one norm of remuneration and one logic of labor definition that applies to everyone and which, by their very definition, foreclose options of hierarchy, while the polity derives from and thus reflects and protects the will of men and women schooled by feminist relations."
She then writes: "I agree with Albert (again, why just me?) that political and economic competition exacerbate and reproduce sexism and homophobia. However he is saying that economic and political systems based on co-operation rather than on competition (parecon and parpolity) `foreclose options of hierarchy', which pretty much means `sexism and homophobia will magically disappear'. This idea is just… bizarre."
I am sorry, but once again, what is bizarre is the cherry picking of words to suggest that I, and more important, the books, say virtually the opposite of what is there. Yes, parecon's economic features are such as to prevent, literally prevent, the economy – note, the economy – from reproducing or even for he most part accommodating even residual sexism, much less new sexism generated by other institutions in society. BUT – the books make perfectly clear that far from that meaning there is no sexism in society as a whole, it rather means there could be a serious contradiction between a transformed economy, and old and still sexist polity, culture, and or kinship, which could in turn lead to positive changes in the latter, but also could, instead, cause the newly altered economy to adversely change. Thus, even someone who cares only about class, needs to address all of society, most typically. And certainly someone who cares about gender needs to address kinship, but also, again, the rest of society. These points are not just made in the books, repeatedly, but emphasized. I have to say, I think KM would not misread as she does, if there weren't prior expectations causing her to do so.
KM writes: "Albert seems to think his ideas are feminist, but calling them that doesn’t make it so."
Once again, the ideas of these books are not Albert's ideas – a formulation that really is harmful to others, and me, for that matter – and which could be spun, were I wont to do so, in very nasty ways. In particular, the ideas regarding gender and kinship are instead overwhelmingly from the work of various feminists, often quoted in the works.
KM writes: "Complementary Holism says that feminist ideas are only needed in the kinship sphere, and are not needed when the subject at hand is politics, economics, or culture."
These books, and complementary holism, not only say no such thing, they say the exact opposite, and don't just say it, but provide what we hope are strong arguments for it.
KM writes: "Even the briefest glance at the history of feminist ideas shows that it’s ridiculous to suggest that feminist ideas could ever be confined to the kinship sphere."
Indeed it does. So one wonders why KM would think that any serious book would say that, much less books that say the opposite, over and over. It ought to take quite a leap to not just worry that others may be ridiculous, but to assert they are. To do that when the words are so patently opposite in meaning to what is claimed, requires some agenda or bias curtailing perception, I would have to say.
KM says: "Complementary Holism says that sexism only needs to be addressed in the kinship sphere, which pretty much gives a free pass for sexist behaviour everywhere else. Complementary Holism tells people that they don’t need to take either individual or collective responsibility for making our communities into harassment-free zones. The equation goes: harassment = gender inequality = kinship sphere = Not My Problem."
This is just incredible. I don't know how else to put it. No where here, or ever in any other work, or in my life, have I ever said anything remotely like what is attributed – and I don't know anyone who advocates these views who has done so, either. And notice, there is not a single quote of us doing so. The only thing I can think is KM expecting to find the type views she attributes, she read quickly, she figured, okay, since it must say what I expected, it does say what I expected, and so then pulled some quotes which certainly don't say anything like what is attributed, but which, taken out of context, might at least be spun to seem to say it, at least to some readers.
KM continues, "Here are a few experiences of this mentality within the Occupy movement:"
This, presumably, will provide some reason why she expected to find certain views…though it won't be about the books, or me, etc.
KM: "The organizers of the original camp, Occupy Wall Street, responded to the issue of violence against women by setting up a guarded sleep area. That’s nice, but it doesn’t address the issue itself. In fact, it’s a recreation of the same old problem. It doesn’t address the fact that, when women live with the threat of rape as part of their daily existence, they aren’t free. It doesn’t say that the actions of the rapist are simply not acceptable.
Of course, that I wrote about such matters, and also urged all those I knew, very early on, to stop hiding the reality but to deal with it, goes unstated. The reason I did that was not only simply humanity, but also, that the concepts and views KM has so misdescribed propelled me to.
KM writes: "The acceptance of violence against women is a de facto decision by a bunch of men, and sadly many women followers, that women aren’t really part of the 99%—that they don’t truly have a right to be free in society."
Okay, but I don't see the relevance to the views of the books under question, since they of course are more in accord with KM's views.
KM goes on: Here’s another, similar experience of the idea that violence against women and children is not treated as an important issue: it isn’t everyone’s problem, it’s just a women’s problem. In other words, it belongs in the kinship sphere"
This is apparently the source of KM's review. She seems to have decided that these two books must, I don't know why, be part of this problem.
First off, instead, these books make clear, over and over, that the kinship sphere affects everybody and all things in society. Second, that they argue that particular types of hierarchy may be rooted there doesn't suggest in any way that those types of hierarchy shouldn't be addressed throughout society. Consider that class is rooted in certain economic institutions. I am pretty confident that in many, perhaps most, and perhaps nearly all Occupy efforts, there was a relative under representation of working people at all, and especially taking leading roles. There was also, I would wager, a terrible absence of concern with many working people's issues (not least those having to do with the constant denigration of their intelligence, motives, and even very existence not by the top 1% (which was often addressed) but by the next 20% or so…doctors, lawyers, engineers, managers – and frequently by movement leaders. Okay, so would thinking that class has its origins and most profound causes in property, work, and allocation relations imply that all these other matters should be addressed only in the factory? Of course not. And if a framework said the exact opposite, that it needs to be addressed everywhere, would KM or anyone misread that?
KM writes: "Before men (she is still talking about Occupy) started becoming defensive, nearly every casual conversation I had with men regarding gender issues resulted in them telling me about the women’s area and the women’s daily meetings, as if that addressed any grievance the `feminists' might have and absolved them from any concern or need to educate themselves about `women’s issues.'”
And that is horrible, not just socially and morally, but as I am sure KM would add, also strategically. But what caused KM to pick up a couple of books, one of whose primary intents is to provide an array of concepts that will tend to diminish or even eliminate that kind of horrible viewpoint, to see in them, instead, just one more manifestation of that kind of horrible viewpoint?
KM notes: "Report after report started surfacing about sexist power dynamics, of women being harassed, shouted down, sexually assaulted and raped. The sheer number of reports made it all too clear that these weren’t isolated incidents but rather something that was happening systemically throughout the Occupy movement."
This is true, and so some of us wrote about it, spoke about it, etc. And, seeing this kind of dynamic, and others, over decades, some of us have tried to generate a conceptual toolbox that would itself militate against this type problem, and not just this type dynamic about gender, but also about class, power, and race – where it also occurs.
KM goes on… “Occupy Vision” contains a few paragraphs in which Albert and Evans share their ideas about unpaid work in the home. And it’s bad. Really bad. As a public service I’m going to add a postscript to debunk this."
I am writing this blog replying to each KM comment from her essay, in turn. I am doing that because (a) I don't want to misrepresent anything KM had in mind by putting it in my words, or quoting snippets, etc., as what I reply to, and (b) I do want to try to understand how she came up with her interpretations of what is in the books, so contrary to what I believe is really in them. Having addressed a lot already, I will admit that I come to this final part fully anticipating that she will shoehorn the views here into a posture they reject, rather than see what was literally in the words before her.
KM writes: "In the UK 50 minutes of unpaid work are done for every hour of paid work while in 2007 the value of women’s unpaid work worldwide was estimated at USD 11 trillion, or almost 50 percent of world GDP. A 2002 UK study estimated that: `if unpaid household chores were treated like other work, it would be valued at more than three-quarters of the paid economy.'”
Okay, no argument.
KM then quotes: "… we tend to think household labor shouldn’t be considered part of the economy subject to the norms of productive labor. First, nurturing and raising the next generation is not like producing a shirt, stereo, scalpel, or spyglass. There is something fundamentally distorting, to our thinking, about conceptualizing child care and workplace production as being the same type of social activity."
The original makes clear that what we are saying is that raising the next generation is demeaned by speaking of it as if it is like producing a stereo – precisely because it is so much more… One would think KM would agree.
KM then quotes: "The second reason we think household labor should not be counted as part of economic production is that the fruits of household labor are largely enjoyed by the producer him/herself. Should I be able to spend more time on household design and maintenance and receive more remuneration as a result? If so, I get the output of the work and I get more income, too. This is different than other work and it seems to us that changing the design of my living room or keeping up my garden is more like consumption rather than production. Suppose I like to play the piano, or build model airplanes, or whatever. The activity I engage in for my hobby has much in common with work, but we call it consumption because I do it under my own auspices and for myself."
KM writes: "Um… what!? There is so much wrong here, where to even begin?"
I would bet a fortune that what she is about to say is wrong about what is above, even just the one paragraph, much less the whole discussion, isn't even there, and that despite thinking she sees so much in what she is looking at, she is going to leave out what is there.
KM: "First: Albert and Evans seem to be under the impression that child-care is not a form of paid work. The reality is that there millions of women working as nannies worldwide. Live-in domestic workers and nannies are among the most oppressed of all workers: they are often in the country on a work visa and would have to leave if they lost their job, which puts them in a highly vulnerable position. The work is done in the employer’s home so there are no opportunities to talk with other workers or unionise. Abuses such as withholding wages and taking the worker’s passport in order to control them are rife, as is sexual assault of workers by their employers."
Of course, such paid work is not caring for one's own kids, or one's own home, which is what the paragraph was about. What KM is referring to, instead, is work undertaken for others to benefit from. In a parecon, by the way, it would of course be remunerated, etc. How could we be under an impression no such work exists? It is a good question because someone would have to be demented or incredibly isolated from reality to not know there is all kinds of work associated with child care, schooling, doctoring, etc. etc. that is in the economy. So, my confusion, as compared to KM's, is, why does KM continually assume we are dolts, contrary to everything written in front of her, rather than reading more closely on the assumption that we are not dolts?
KM says, next: "Second: Many parents leave their kids at daycare during the day, and everyone understands that the daycare workers are doing work for which they rightly receive a wage. It makes no sense to say that a parent who does exactly the same work in their own home is doing a fundamentally different activity."
Actually, it does make sense. What may not be so wise is for KM to assume because she feels something it must be so true that any contrary view is senseless. If one doesn't want to pay attention to the case offered for the view, okay, but that doesn't mean it wasn't offered, and that doesn't mean it was senseless.
If I work at an auto plant, in a good economy such as a participatory economy life the books describe, making vehicles for others, the labor is part of the economy and it is done by way of a workers councils, in an industry federation of councils and in light of participation planning, etc. It is remunerated. But if I work on my own vehicle in my driveway, even if I do the exact same types of activity, then, even in a good society, it doesn't occur to KM to complain that it is not paid work, not part of a workers council and an industry, not undertaken in context of participatory planning, and not remunerated. But that doesn't mean it is unimportant. And it doesn't mean it isn't producing. But working on one's vehicle in one's driveway is fundamentally different than doing similar tasks for vehicles in a workplace because the consumers and beneficiaries of my work in my driveway are overwhelmingly myself and my family, not people other than myself. And so the work in my driveway is not done subject to the workplace norms of the boarder economy, though it interfaces with it. If it was deemed to be like the work in the auto plant, then it would become subject to workers councils, and it would be remunerated – and, I could work only in my driveway… for my income.
KM says: "Feminists have long been saying that people who work in the home should be treated as, well, workers, and should receive everything that goes with that: safe working conditions, breaks, not too long working hours, and, oh yeah, wages."
KM is, as expected, simply ignoring what is written in the books, as with other parts of this review.
KM writes: "Third: The examples of `workplace production' that Albert and Evans give are all about making something in a factory: a shirt, stereo, scalpel, or spyglass(!?). Which… just… what planet do these people even live on? What about cleaners, mechanics, train conductors, teachers, nurses, physiotherapists, people who do admin work in an office, people who give tech support?"
This is a fair criticism. I think we made a mistake here. We should have listed service industries, too. But nothing changes about the discussion. If I am a public school teacher, say, in a good economy, I will work (at a balanced job complex) teaching and as part of a workers council of teachers, and in the education industry, interfacing with the allocation system to see how much of what I produce is desired by others, and so on. And I will get remunerated for that. But when I go home and help with my children's education, say, I will not do it in context of a workers council, or in light of participatory planning, nor will I get remunerated for that activity. This not only doesn't demand my activity, or exploit me, it elevates my activity and, assuming other structural changes in society, also guarantees that it will occur in liberated ways.
KM simply ignores another central part of this whole discussion that appears in the books. Women urged wages for housework decades back, the first time, because they felt the activity was undervalued in the large, because it took much time from women, etc. And, the mostly marxist women who urged it and who came up with the slogan and campaign, felt the only way to undo the very real grievances and problems, would be economic. If there is going to be fairness and equity in the home, they apparently thought, we must require that the home become part of the economy which is the area we are clear about transforming. A different view is that there should be fairness and equity in the home, because there is a revolution in all kinship structures and relations, everywhere, but without degrading the human activity in homes by seeing it as like economic activity more generally, when it is in fact, so much more and so much more important, and without, as well, introducing some very dangerous dimensions of institutional influence inside homes, and without, finally, also introducing a harmful economic dynamic – remuneration for production not for society, but overwhelmingly for self. None of the logic, or even motives, spelled out more in the books, of course, is addressed by KM at all. No need, apparently, she must be right apriori.
KM writes: "Fifth: Raising children is productive work. It’s the most fundamentally productive kind of work there is. After all, if society doesn’t have a new generation, in a few years there won’t be anyone left to work in the spyglass factory."
I am sorry, but KM over and over is just spinning words. Nowhere does anyone suggest that raising the next generation isn't productive – quite the opposite. No where does anyone suggest it is anything other than supremely important – again, quite the opposite.
KM writes: "Sixth: Albert and Evans compare childcare to a hobby, like building a model airplane, which implies they think people choose to do it. In reality doing child-care work instead of waged work is sometimes a choice, and sometimes isn’t. Indeed, these are part and parcel of why the book suggests what it does.
This whole discussion in the books that she is referring to, also, is about a transformed society, not the one KM or I live in. In a worthy society, in my view and the book's formulation, a participatory society, none of the issues KM is concerned about exist. There is daycare, there is income for children, there is income to all parents and all citizens suitable to life needs, and so on and so forth.
KM writes: "Seventh: Albert and Evans seem to think that work in the home consists of interior decorating and working in the yard, which is beyond stupid."
And so, one wonders – does KM think it is likely that I and Mark are beyond stupid? Could it be that jumping to conclusions about others that entails that they are beyond stupid is the problem here? The point wasn't complicated. If work under my own auspices, where I or people close to me get the benefits of the work, overwhelmingly, is remunerated, then I have a tremendous incentive to do that work as my job, for my income because in that case I get the income and I get the product too. But, more, in a particular social system, treating such activity as work in the economy and thus by all the norms and procedures of the economy, also makes it subject to the structures and dynamics of the economy – and that might not be appropriate for lots of activity…such as child rearing.
KM writes: "Interior decorating is something you do maybe once a year, and many people don’t have a yard at all."
What is happening, I think, is that KM is seeing words on a page, and spinning them to be able to dismiss, in a familiar manner, the whole books, and their authors. The irony is that the books, of course, are so much different than what KM indicates…
KM: "I am going to take a wild leap here and guess that neither of the authors of “Occupy Vision” has ever, in his life, spent an hour alone with a three-year-old."
Aside from being not just limb sitting – but incredibly arrogant – the above is also false.
KM writes: "If he had, he would know something about the never-ending tasks that child-care work involves: planning meals and keeping track of nutrition, researching after-school activities, daycare, and summer camps, planning and coordinating carpools, finding babysitters, researching how to deal with sleep or potty-training issues, or whether or not that rash is something to worry about. Washing hands, wiping mouths, changing diapers, expressing milk or sterilizing baby bottles. Making sure baths happen and hair is shampooed. Making sure the floor is very clean (since small children will crawl on it then put their hands in their mouths) making sure nothing poisonous or small enough to choke on is within the child’s reach. Clipping nails, brushing kids’ hair and teeth. Dropping them off and picking them up. Scheduling doctors’ appointments, communicating with the school, making sure they have whatever school supplies they need. Organizing birthday parties, playdates, and sleepovers. Making sure there is enough laundry powder. Getting up in the middle of the night to feed a baby or to comfort a child after a nightmare."
All true. And, I have to say, even a person with no kids, no grandkids, who has never even visited a house with kids, could very easily understand the above – if not perfectly, pretty well. But, that aside, that these tasks exist doesn't mean they should be organized under the rubric of the larger economy and thus subject to participatory planning, participation in workers councils, etc. etc. Nor does it mean they should be remunerated like other types of economic activity so that the more time I give them, the more income I get. One could decide to do so, or not. We offered reasons why we thought it would be a bad idea, though all children receiving an income, despite no work, was a good idea. KM was so affronted by our views, that she was unable to see what it was actually saying, so that she felt we must be beyond stupid, devoid of experience, etc. etc. I think, instead, it might be worth trying to understand why someone would read something and jump to such degrading perceptions…
KM writes: "The cluelessness that Albert and Evans display about what child-care work entails is not random, it’s a particular cluelessness that arises from society’s endemic sexism."
Actually, what I think does apply here would be something like this – My (KM's) assumption that Albert and Evans are clueless about child-care, and lots else, comes from my experience that many men are, and my tendency to assume all men will be. As a result, I did not bother to think twice about what I read, assuming that perhaps it had some serious substance, even feminist substance. I didn't bother to think about how many women, for that matter, have gone over these ideas and contributed to them. I just decided since there are some things I am reading that strike me as different from my views (because I take for granted that they must be) it must be the cluelessness, or sexism, of the authors, producing the deviations.
I suspect that the above is more the case, than that Mark and I are clueless. Sadly, in this instance, if so, it prevented KM from seeing what was actually on the pages she read.
KM continues: "Patriarchy systematically marginalises and minimizes women’s work, valuing work done by men while de-valuing work done by women, and allowing men the privilege of never having to think about problems that don’t directly affect them."
True enough. But not relevant to this book, or, broadly, to the authors.
"All of us grow up in a sexist society and absorb sexist ideas, but I feel embarrassed for Michael Albert and Mark Evans that their sexism is so painfully obvious and so painfully unexamined, and that it has left them with such a profoundly distorted view of the world."
Okay, you can be embarrassed for us. I guess I would say back that I am troubled that your expectations and commitments to those expectations being born out always and everywhere, precluded your seeing what was actually written in the pages you read, and also ruled out your even entertaining that any view you came to those pages with might have been contrary to the views you found, not because you were right and what you found was wrong, but vice versa. I would also have to say, your thinking your dismissiveness is dismissing one or two guys is pretty incredible, not least since the ideas in the kinship and gender sections are so overwhelmingly, and much more so than most other sections, attributed to feminist activists and writers.
KM, you say of us, that we "claim that feminism is only needed in the kinship sphere," but of course we don't. Not even remotely, anywhere. Rather, some things we say, taken out of context, seem to you to say that, even as they in fact say essentially the opposite.
You say of us "our own lack of even the most basic knowledge of feminist ideas has led them to make statements about economics that make no sense whatsoever."
Well, maybe, but I have to say I doubt it. I tend to think it is quite possible, I will speak for myself, that my familiarity with feminist ideas is pretty extensive. More, in this book, most of the ideas bearing on feminism come from, women feminists, whose familiarity with feminists ideas, and authorship of them, is incredibly extensive.
KM you write: "When we approach the task of imagining an alternative economic system, women’s unpaid work is not a minor detail; roughly half of all work is unpaid, and any economic theory is going to have to include this from the get-go."
Any vision of society will have to include such activity. And any theory of what goes on know will have to address it, as well. And of course, participatory economics and participatory society pays very close attention to all dimensions of human life, not least in arguing not just for transforming the economy, but other spheres too. That you think the only way to think something is important is to address it precisely as you currently feel it ought to be addressed, however, is the contrary of the open and creative stance I think you believe you have.
KM you say: "The suggestion that there can be a Participatory Economy which does not include caring and work in the home is ludicrous, and it is also a perfect example of the fact that when you set out to imagine a better world, one of the first tools you are going to need in your toolbox, is feminism."
Actually, I think your comment is what is off base… not least because, of course, feminism is front and center, explicitly, in the toolbox these books offer – but ironically I do think your review is a good example of much of what these books are trying to address and provide tools to deal with. You read, in this case, two books that are in fact about all sides of life – but you commented only on those parts bearing on, I guess, your greatest priorities, gender. About those matters, you were unable to see what the books actually were saying. I think the reason may well have to do with underlying concepts you have, and commitments to them. It is seeking to broaden the concepts people on the left use, and the visionary structures we aim for, that are at the heart of what you read. Yet, it was you, not us, who broke away one part from all the rest…and didn't even see what that part was actually saying. The nastiness with which you did it, I suspect owes to the same factors that caused you to not be able to see what the books were actually saying – but that is just, as you would say, a guess.