Reactions to Nelson Mandela’s death

Nelson Mandela died yesterday. This prompted reactions pretty much everywhere, because if nothing else, the whole media-accessible world agrees that he’s a memorable and comment-worthy man. The most frequent reactions so far seem to fall roughly into three categories: right-wingers who hate his guts; right-wingers trying to appropriate him; and liberals trying to appropriate him.
This is where, usually, the “the liberal appropriation is worst” or”at least the right-wingers are honest” sort of stuff goes, but that’s crap. These are all crappy reactions to the death of Mandela. Yes, the right-wingers are the least wrong when they scream about what a communist and terrorist he was, since a)he worked closely with communists and believed freedom from poverty was a human right; and b)was the leader of a “terrorist”*/guerrilla organization before his arrest. But lauding them for that is a bit like lauding the fucker who smeared shit all over the bathroom for getting some of that shit into the toilet as well: the right-wing calls everyone they hate a terrorist and communist, sooner or later they were bound to hit someone who actually can be labeled like that with decent accuracy.
I’m not gonna bother saying much about right wing politicians appropriating Mandela. Because what exactly can I say about e.g. Santorum using his name in his battle against healthcare for poor people that doesn’t just speak for itself? I’ll just leave this handy list here, and also this UK-themed text-image**, and move on.
As for liberals appropriating Mandela? That has two parts. The first is people like Bill Clinton “remembering” Mandela as a friend, when he was still on the terrorist watchlist during Clinton’s presidency; when his administration did a lot to harm the new South Africa. I’m not saying Clinton didn’t think of himself as a friend, but you know… he was probably that kind of a friend; the kind that makes enemies superfluous; and now? Now he gets to bask in reflected glory. Swell.
In the long term, the second part is even worse. The second part is where the owners of history re-write Mandela’s biography as more palatable, squishy, cuddly, liberal-friendly. Now begins the same process that scrubbed all radicalism from the memory of MLK; the kind that takes the fact that after release from prison he chose not to be an agent of vengeance but of reconciliation and extends it beyond all reason to calling Mandela a symbol of “the power of peaceful resolution in even the most intractable conflicts” as a New York Times piece just did. No. As a note circulating the internet said:

Nelson Mandela used peaceful means when he could, and violent means when he couldn’t. For this, during his life they called him a terrorist, and after his death they’ll call him a pacifist — all to neutralize the revolutionary potential of his legacy, and the lessons to be drawn from it.

And his Unwillingness to reject the sometime need for violent resistance “when other forms of resistance were no longer open” is not the only part of his legacy that’s being erased. His left-wing politics, his anti-imperialism and anti-Americanism*** are all being erased (which gets us back to the part where a man like Bill Clinton gets to remember his version of Mandela; in public, for the public memory), smoothed out to make him more palatable as a hero for the still-existing kyriarchy.

There’s a 4th kind of common reaction to Mandela’s death: the people who are trying to set the record straight. Writers and commenters reminding people of the “radical histories of Mandela and MLK”, reminding them that “Mandela Was No Care Bear”, that he was an Unapologetic Radical, that he “will never, ever be your minstrel”, that “Conservatives Can Own Reagan, But You Don’t Get Mandela”, that “leadership knows how and when to follow and how and when to be unpopular; that resistance can not always be non-violent; and that perseverance is the cornerstone of revolution”. A few of the people doing these corrections do so because they think his radicalism and acceptance of sometime violence was a flaw that must be remembered; far more (I hope) will point out that sometimes oppression cannot be ended solely by non-violence, solely by clinging to civility and a moral high-ground built entirely to favor the status-quo in maintaining itself.

P.S.: A Mandela Reading List I didn’t manage to stuff anywhere into the body of this essay.

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*in the sense it’s often used, meaning private persons or organization using violence and/or property-destruction as methods to fight against established governments
**if you can’t see the UK-themed image, it says

Mandela will die soon. Today, tomorrow, this week, next week. It won’t be long. Remember this.
When Cameron latches on the Mandela bandwagon this week remember that in 1985 he was a top member of the Federation of Conservative Students, who produced the “Hang Mandela” posters.
In 1989 Cameron worked in the Tory Policy Unit at Central Office and went on an anti-sanctions fact finding mission to South Africa with pro-apartheid Lobby Firm that was sponsored by P.W Botha.
Remember this when he tells the world he was inspired by Mandela

***in the Cold War, the USA was on the side of the Apartheid regime; the USSR on the other hand sided with the ANC. Such are the vagaries of history.

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Think Progress gets something wrong

couple weeks ago, The article Idaho Lawmaker Compares Abortion To Prostitution* appeared on Think Progress. It’s in the style of their many other “Republicans say outrageously horrible things” articles, but I think they screwed it up this time.

Mind you, saying that “Prostitution is a choice “more so than an abortion would be […] Because (in an abortion) there’s two beating hearts. And then there’s one” is pure, unadulterated bullshit. Both are choices about one’s bodily autonomy, and consequently neither is more of a choice than another. Aside from that, these two issues have little to do with each other though, as one is a medical procedure, and another is a form of making money. So the Republican in question, State Rep. Ron Mendive from Idaho, was definitely being a fuckweasel and talking out of his ass. And being anti-choice, which one wouldn’t know from reading the Think Progress articl, because the article never mentions that rather salient point. And then, the article also buys into incredibly toxic narratives about sex work, to boot. The writer of the article, Annie-Rose Strasser, introduces Mendive’s comments as follows (emphasis mine):

Presenting abortion and prostitution as cavaler [sic] choices women make and ignoring the real danger of sex slavery, State Rep. Ron Mendive (R) elicited “audible gasps” on Wednesday during a meeting with representatives from the group, which later condemned his comparison

As far as I can tell, dude was talking about prostitution, not sex slavery. Those are two entirely different things, and conflating them like that is toxic bullshit. Besides, how does it help victims of actual sex slavery for prostitution to be illegal? How does it help to criminalize that which the enslaved folks are being forced to do against their will? doesn’t that merely criminalize the victims? Also, I don’t know about “cavalier choices”. I can’t find a good source for what the dude actually said, but he seems to have talked in general about a “double standard” where abortion is seen as a choice, but prostitution isn’t. That’s not saying they’re “cavalier choices”, it’s just saying they’re choices. And I’m afraid that he’s kind of right about this: there is a double standard. And since the Think Progress article doesn’t provide the context of this comment, it’s hard to tell whether what he said was outrageously shitty or not. If he argued for legalization of prostitution on the basis of bodily autonomy, then he’d be right. If he was trying to argue that both should be illegal, he’d be a toxic assface. But that isolated quote, by itself, is simply true.
And then there’s a quote by one of the ACLU folks about this comparison:

He was correlating a criminal action with something that is constitutionally protected. Those are two completely separate issues,

ok, they’re two completely different issues, but not because one is legal and one isn’t. Comparing legal and illegal things is how you figure out whether something should remain illegal or not (see for example alcohol vs weed comparisons). Now again, the article doesn’t provide the context of this speech**,focusing more on the outrage than on actually reporting details that would show why that comparison is supposed to be so outrageous. It simply assumes that the comparison is outrageous per se, not because it is being used in an outrageous argument that both should be illegal to undo the double standard. If he had instead argued that prostitution should be legal because it’s also about the freedom of choice about one’s body, he’d have a point***.

So my complaint about this article is twofold: for one, bringing sex slavery into this is irresponsible. It’s very similar to arguing against weed by arguing that it may lead to driving under the influence. For two, writing an article as if it should be obvious that a comparison like that would be a Todd Akin moment regardless of context is false and irresponsible. There are contexts in which arguing that there exists such a double standard is indeed perfectly valid. So the context should have been included, the context being that he’s an anti-choicer who was trying to argue that giving women choices leads to horrible things; like abortion, or prostitution.
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*the url ends with /idaho-sex-slavery/ which… um… no. O.o
**the RHealitycheck article it links to does though. Despite being much shorter, it actually bothers to show WHY his argument was outrageous, by including the context. THAT is how the article should have been written.
***granted, that would be an amazingly weird thing to argue for a Republican, but we’re supposed to be upset at what he said; and for that, you need to show why it’s supposed to be upsetting, ffs.

Feedback loops of erosion of privacy and civil rights

At the RNC las week, Nikki Haley said the following:

We said in South Carolina that if you have to show a picture ID to buy Sudafed, if you have to show picture ID to set foot on an airplane, then you should have to show picture ID to protect one of the most valuable, most central sacred rights we’re blessed with in America, the right to vote

The detail aside that there’s no constitutional right to pseudoephedrine and airtravel, this is actually an example of a pattern I’ve seen where erosion of privacy rights (both of customers and especially workers) in private business settings is then used to normalize this break of privacy to the point where it becomes acceptable for government to do the same, despite the fact that in many cases, the government would not really have a right to do so due to the restrictions the US constitution has placed on it. For example, a few months back when I was out protesting the installation of surveillance cameras by the Police throughout the downtown area, a common argument I heard (both before and during the protest) was that stores have surveillance cameras watching customers and workers, so why was it suddenly a problem when the city decided to also protect against criminals by watching people? Another example is the fact that a lot of Americans will argue for drug-testing of welfare recipients based on the fact that businesses like Walmart already demand drug-tests from prospective employees.

I think this normalization of invasion into customers’ and workers’ privacy is potentially dangerous and corrosive to a society, if it can really lead to this kind of acceptance of government invasion of privacy (as well as, of course, on its own terms. drug testing employees in jobs where it’s entirely fucking irrelevant is fucked up, and really just a manifestation of classism, a means of debasing poor people further). It’s another reason why pretending that government is the only power capable of limiting people’s freedom while completely ignoring the business sector is stupid and dangerous. Businesses, too, should have limits on just what they should be allowed to do to their customers; and especially their workers, since abuse of workers by businesses seems to be followed shortly by an expansion of that abuse to all poor people by the government.