Welcome To The Bitch Bubble

Before I get into the business of telling you why you should buy and read Lauren Dixon’s story collection, Welcome to the Bitch Bubble (and oh, how I love that title), there’s a certain elephant in the room to be addressed: namely that Lauren Dixon is my sweet Dr Bae, the love of my life, and my romantic and domestic cohabitee. How can I not but be biased?

And of course I am. But what you may not realize is that we knew each other for years before we ever kissed or even thought about it. We were in a critique group together, a sort of vicious writers’ circle where drafts are submitted and then vivisected in front of their proud, anxious parent, in the hopes of the next draft coming out better.

What I mean to say is: I’ve known and respected Lauren’s work a long time. If I didn’t, we would never have gotten to the aforementioned romantic and domestic bliss.

Now, let me tell you why you should read her book.

***

What’s the flipside of body horror? Vagical surrealism. What’s that? Well, like surrealism, it delves into the messy unconscious, the blood and guts and organs and bile beneath the clean white surface. What distinguishes vagical surrealism is its generative force: inside this womb are monsters born, fever-dream chimeras that howl and shriek and whisper secret truths none dare speak by light of day. Wild joy, profoundest despair, love and need and desire given flesh made of words and set free in a world seen anew through their eyes. They know things, these chimeras, these creatures of word-flesh conceived and born in Dixon’s mind. If you listen, they will tell you. They’ll cut you open in all the right places and plant seeds there, seeds that’ll grow into something unknown.

Whether it’s a girl sent back in time to the Catholic laundries, a yeti passing through portals in space and time, a woman trying to hold on to her adopted, eight-legged child or connected all her life to her mother through a never-cut umbilical or exiled happily to live among pigs, the strange landscapes Dixon carries us through feel real as pain, thanks to core emotional throughlines, visceral imageries, and a fearlessness matched by very few writers of this or any era. Laid bare in her wake? The pale pillars of patriarchy, crumbled and empty, revealed as more surface than substance, mostly layer upon layer of whitewash over a shrivel-dicked core of fear at the wild possibilities of the unchecked generative power of woman and womb. And there, among the wreckage and ruin and wrack, there you’ll find Lauren Dixon, playing unashamed as an unchaperoned child, gluing ragged-edge pieces together into new shapes with her own bodily humours, shapes that seem somehow both brand new and inevitable.

I’m telling you. You gotta check this shit out. It’ll do things to you, things you won’t even realize until later, or maybe you won’t. You’ll just be changed into something different, altered by your passage through vagical surrealism’s birth canal. As someone who’s already passed through to the other side, I’m here to tell you it’s worth it.

81yPaB-IDGL

The Sanders Ceiling and the Dirtbag Left: Why Democratic Socialism Fails Without Social Justice

Friends, humans, socialists! Lend me your eyes. For I come to bury Bernie, and to praise him.

When the histories are written – if histories are written, and more on that later – I think Bernie Sanders, though he will almost surely not be President, will rank as a transformative figure in American politics. How can he not? Things that are mainstream now, things like Medicare For All, a $15 minimum wage, a Green New Deal, were politically unthinkable four and five years ago, and it is, for the most part, entirely thanks to Bernie Sanders.

Turns out that progressive policies are actually pretty popular. As many of us suspected they would be, if the media could be convinced to take them seriously (more on that, too). Bernie’s run in 2016, and the energy that manifested behind it, put those issues into both the Democratic Party platform and, more important, the marketplace of ideas, where they sell like hotcakes at a lumberjack convention. Because why wouldn’t they? They’re great fucking ideas that would make almost everyone’s life better.

So why can’t Bernie, and Democratic Socialism, seem to break through electorally? Or at least get past the dedicated core of supporters who have already joined his Political Revolution?

***

The answer is complicated. But it can be broken down into elements, some of which can be controlled, some of which can’t. For instance, one element that can’t be controlled is the cultural and historical weight of the word socialism, whether you modify it with the word democratic or not. Especially among Americans over the age of, say, forty. You know, the people who actually vote in meaningful numbers. I’m pushing fifty, myself, and remember the Cold War pall that hung over my childhood, where at any moment the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics might erupt into nuclear holocaust. That’s some heavy shit to lay on a kid. But more important, that early training (friend/enemy, good/bad) is hard to transcend even if you’re consciously trying.

And yeah, socialism is much more agreeable to Millennials and Gen-Z and whatever we end up calling the ones who’ll come after them. We could have had it already, too, if they’d fucking turn out to vote in bigger numbers. Not that any generation ever has any moral high ground on that. So file that under ‘we’ll work on it, but don’t hold your breath.’

Also in that file is what I’ll call the Resistance of the Punditariat, who perform our national political discourse on TV and podcasts and radio, and from the pages of newspapers and magazines and political websites, and who are, for the most part, handsomely compensated for doing so. Their salary depends on their not understanding certain things, especially those that might upset the status quo. Not only are they invested in that status quo – as the successful will be in any situation or system – they have also been worked like sports refs for decades now by the folks on the right, who never miss an opportunity to accuse them of liberal bias. It’s to the point where a fair observer has to say they’ve overcompensated. Why else was every third question Elizabeth Warren was asked – back when she was the front-runner in national polling – whether or not she would raise taxes on the middle class? The question’s as loaded as an AR-15. Like in middle school when that kid thought the funniest thing in the world was to ask ‘Does your mom know you’re gay?’

So figure the punditariat – who are mostly fairly liberal in their personal attitudes; I do believe that – will continue to skew anti-liberal/progressive/socialist for the foreseeable future. You can’t control it, but you can take it into account and start working them yourself, calling out bias in framing and the focus on horse-race ephemera when lives and livelihoods are on the line. Like anything, if enough people do it for long enough, that tide can be turned, too. Evolution has a thousand mothers.

***

So what factors can we control? And what does this have to do with Bernie Sanders and his Political Revolution? I’m glad I asked, cuz I got a theory.

My theory is we have two problems, which are inter-related. The first is simply this: socialists, especially the core of Bernie Sanders’ Political Revolution, are really shitty at being allies, and, as such, are even shittier at building coalitions. If you think I’m wrong, I’ll point you to all the people demanding Elizabeth Warren endorse Bernie Sanders because of their friendship and ideological similarities. People who, some of them, got in a flame war with Warren’s supporters back in January when her so-called friend and ally called her a liar on national TV, and who called the person who built the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (and was forced out of running it) a corporate stooge. Shit, Warren’s people reached out to Sanders weeks before Super Tuesday and her dropping out of the race, and were rebuffed.

Some of this is the Dirtbag Left, who not unlike the above-mentioned punditariat, have found a profitable sort of noise to make, and whose new salaries depend on their not understanding things like how being an exclusivist jerkwad pretty much guarantees nobody wants to join or even work with you. It’s somewhere between a faith tradition and a cool kidz club from what I can tell: you’re in or you’re out, and fuck you if you’re out, even a little. It works as entertainment, but it’s no way to build a governing coalition. Which is what you need if you want to enact policy to, like, change people’s lives and shit.

But there’s a whopping dollop of blame to put on Bernie Sanders’ fudge sundae, too. For some of his hires, definitely. But the man made some seriously flawed choices. For one thing, his insistence on running as much against the Democratic Party as the Republicans and the billionaire corporate oligarchy is just a really not good way to get Democrats to support you. It riles up the kids, but til they show up to vote that’s a human interest story at best.

But it was Bernie’s choice to dismiss social justice issues as ‘Identity Politics’ for so long that really doomed him.

Put it this way: the backbone of the Democratic party is not, as many white college-educated progressives believe, white college-educated progressives. The ‘Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party’ as folks used to put it. We think we are, and there’s a certain logic to it. But we aren’t the party’s backbone, nor its heart and soul, either.

Women of color are the backbone of the Democratic Party, its heart and soul and animating force. People of color generally, but women of color particularly, and African-American women particularly-particularly. They’re the ones who show up, no matter what. The ones who do the actual work that makes the party go.

Women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants. You can win without them. But only if you’re a Republican.

So, if you want to, say, get the Democratic Party nomination for President, you’d best have a plan to win those voters over. Give them a reason to take a chance on you, Because as previously detailed, anything that can be labeled ‘socialism’ has a hard row to hoe in the US, and since those folks are the ones who catch the worst when Republicans and their coalition of White Christian Nationalists and the Actual Oligarchy are in charge, yeah, they tend not to want to take chances. I mean, put yourself in their shoes for a minute. If the house is on fire, you want to hear from the guy talking about how to put the fire out, not the guy talking about what kind of house you might build later.

And that brings me to the second prong of my theory, which has to do with the limits of a purely materialist critique of the status quo’s utility, not only as rhetorical but an analytical tool.

Like any reductive analysis, a purely materialist (the corporations and the 1% have captured the state and unofficially enslaved us all to an unsustainable economic system with disastrous and unjust real-world consequences) critique flattens the object of its critique, examines it through a lens that shrinks the spectrum in order to highlight certain wavelengths over others. All too often, issues of social justice are among those excluded wavelengths.

Those for whom social justice issues are of more than academic or conscientious interest aren’t thrilled to have their concerns so cavalierly excluded, it turns out. Nor are they thrilled when, as I’ve seen so often, they are blithely told how their issues will be magically solved through solely economic justice, and called names when they fail to achieve the expected moment of epiphany and join the faith tradition.

Remember, these are the natural, obvious allies any effective democratic socialist movement needs to achieve even a fraction of its goals. It’s time to stop asking why they aren’t joining us, and start asking how we can grow not only our tent but our worldview to include them.

***

I have a deep and abiding respect for Bernie Sanders and the movement he’s built. I think we all owe him a debt of gratitude for bringing the issues – and policy solutions – of economic justice and class war and democratic socialism into the American mainstream, where even a resistant punditariat has to take them seriously. But I think it’s safe to say we’ve reached the limits of not only a Sanders-style Political Revolution that demands adherence instead of building alliances and coalitions, but of a purely materialist socialist critique of late capitalism that filters out issues of social justice and asks those for whom social justice is lived reality to take it on faith that they’ll be included.

For what it’s worth, on a personal level, I still think that more actively fighting the class war and striving to establish economic justice will go a long way to righting social and historical injustice. Like the cereal commercials from when I was a kid used to say: it’s an important part of this nutritious breakfast.

We just have to remember there are other things on the table, which are just as important, some even more so.

***

If you want to change hearts and minds, you have to meet people where they are. You have to find out where they’re coming from, what they need, what they want. And you have to, you know, help them get it. Do the work for them. Don’t tell them how being your ally will benefit them. Show them how it does. It means reaching out, but it means stretching out, too. Becoming bigger yourself.

The most basic tenet of democratic socialism is that we’re all in it together. So let’s start acting like it. Let’s start acting like we understand the only socialism worth having is one that begins with social justice. Maybe then we can get some shit done.

Susan Matthews on Elizabeth Warren and the Elephant in the Room

The woman thing:

“But as I watched her campaign, I saw something else, too. She wasn’t just running as a teacher or a wonk. Elizabeth Warren was running as a woman. She was unapologetic about it. It went beyond embracing her identity as a teacher, though an identity as a teacher is surely gendered itself. Her stump speech included her own personal story of being alone with her children in Texas, with no idea how she was going to take care of them and also have a career. (She only managed to have one because her aunt came to watch the kids while Warren went to law school.) Later on in the campaign, she expanded her story further backward, to include her experience being let go from her first teaching job—a job she loved—because she was visibly pregnant. It wasn’t necessarily a winning narrative for her—the press jumped all over it, suggesting she was lying about the discrimination and picking her story apart for discrepancies. But it did resonate with one group of voters—women who in turn shared their own stories of discrimination in their pregnancies.

Warren was teaching here too. She was trying to explain to people what, exactly, it is like to be a woman in America, still, today. Her lessons were not just drawn from her own life, either. Warren launched her campaign in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the site of 1912’s Bread and Roses strike, led by seamstresses. She told those seamstresses’ stories, and she told other stories of other working-class women, black women, who led labor movements decades ago. In Atlanta, she spoke of the washerwomen who went on strike in 1881; in New York she spoke of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory tragedy. At one of her last appearances before Super Tuesday in L.A., she told the story of 1990’s Justice for Janitors strike, an effort led by immigrant women.* I was not surprised to see attendees describe it as a “lecture” on Twitter afterward—Warren’s events were closer to lectures than rallies. She was trying to teach people their own history, a project she understood as essential for building a better future.”

https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/03/elizabeth-warren-ran-as-a-woman.html

Megan Garber on Elizabeth Warren and the Dangers of Competence

Still, apparently, unacceptable in women seeking power:

“The campaigns of those who deviate from the traditional model of the American president—the campaign of anyone who is not white and Christian and male—will always carry more than their share of weight. But Warren had something about her, apparently: something that galled the pundits and the public in a way that led to assessments of her not just as “strident” and “shrill,” but also as “condescending.” The matter is not merely that the candidate is unlikable, these deployments of condescending imply. The matter is instead that her unlikability has a specific source, beyond bias and internalized misogyny. Warren knows a lot, and has accomplished a lot, and is extremely competent, condescending acknowledges, before twisting the knife: It is precisely because of those achievements that she represents a threat. Condescending attempts to rationalize an irrational prejudice. It suggests the lurchings of a zero-sum world—a physics in which the achievements of one person are insulting to everyone else. When I hear her talk, I want to slap her, even when I agree with her.

To run for president is to endure a series of controlled humiliations. It is to gnaw on bulky pork products, before an audience at the Iowa State Fair. It is to be asked about one’s skin-care routine, and to be prepared to defend the answer. The accusation of condescension, however, is less about enforced humiliation than it is about enforced humility. It cannot be disentangled from Warren’s gender. The paradox is subtle, but punishing all the same: The harder she works to prove to the public that she is worthy of power—the more evidence she offers of her competence—the more “condescending,” allegedly, she becomes.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2020/03/america-punished-elizabeth-warren-her-competence/607531/

Charlie Pierce is Right: Warren was More of a Threat to the Oligarchy Than Sanders

That’s why they took her down:

“Instead, and accepting that sexism and misogyny were marbled throughout everything about the campaign, I think what did her in was her ideas. She committed herself to a campaign specifically to fight political corruption, both the legal and illegal kind. As an adjunct to that, she marshaled her long fight against the power of money in our politics and monopoly in our economy. And, opposed to Bernie Sanders, whose answer to how to wage the fight is always the power of his “movement,” which so far hasn’t been able to break through against Joe Biden, she put out detailed plans on how to do it. That made her much more of a threat to the money power than Sanders, who is easily dismissed as a fringe socialist by the people who buy elections and own the country.”

https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/a31250037/elizabeth-warren-drops-out-2020-race/