24 March 2010

Pointing the Finger

I was reading the book Cunt (Inga Muscio) again last night and had a thought. If you aren’t familiar with the book, it is a feminist book that attempts to reclaim the term “cunt” as a woman-positive word. I was reading the chapter on rape and abuse, and she finished it by suggesting that if women loved their vaginas, really loved them, they would not be so inclined to allow the silence and shame in regards to rape and abuse continue. The thought is, that if you really love something, you will stand up for it. What allows women who suffered rape or abuse to remain silent, and not to run out trying to find their attacker and kick his butt to kingdom come, is often a feeling that somehow they are at fault, or that they deserved it, or some kind of convoluted psychological analysis that leaves them feeling helpless and victimized but blaming themselves, not the perpetrator.

We have this problem in general, in our culture. We blame the victim. An author whose book I am in the middle of reading was attacked last week while in the middle of giving a talk- attacked by people who were supposed to be on her side. On the radio and online, people blamed her for the attack. Oh, she deserved it. Oh, she brought it on herself. She is a slight, middle aged woman with a spinal disease that renders her body very fragile. She was talking about the harm that agriculture does the environment. And for that, she deserves to be attacked? Really? She brought it on herself?

The point I am aiming for is that this happens in the environmental field, too. Environmentalists very often blame themselves for allowing the environment to be destroyed, or something. Like somehow they are personally responsible for deforestation, because they use toilet paper. They may be against deforestation, they may dedicate their entire lives to eradicating deforestation, but somehow it must be their fault that it continues. I myself am often guilty of this supposition. I have dedicated my entire life to trying to stop the destruction of the environment, but it hasn’t stopped, and there are many times when I despair and blame myself.

There are two reasons, I think, for this tendency. First, we are taught to take it personally. Recall the ending to An Inconvenient Truth. If you haven’t seen it, basically you are given a list of things you personally can supposedly do to stop climate change. They include things like changing light bulbs. I have spoken before on this blog on why I don’t believe for a minute that changing light bulbs will stop climate change. But this is common: most environmental books, most documentaries, most news reports, all end with what YOU are supposed to do to end climate change. Not once (at least in conventional circles) does someone say, you know what, I bet there are some things major industrial polluters could do to stop climate change. Not once does someone say, wow, I bet if those big polluting factories shut down, that would really help at least slow down climate change. Because it is clearly our fault. It’s because of what we’ve done, not because of what the big polluting factories have done.

The second reason is related. I’m reminded of the scene in Grapes of Wrath where a neighbor comes along and tells the family they have to leave their farm (and I am majorly paraphrasing here, because I don’t have a copy), because the land has been foreclosed or something. A company owns it now. The family asks, well, who is this company? Who are they, so we can go shoot them? And the neighbor answers, they are no one, they are just a company. There is no one to shoot.

We have this idea that companies, or corporations, or the government, or NGOs for that matter, are these entities that have no faces. How can we hold them accountable, if we can’t find someone to shoot (metaphorically)? When people first become conscious of environmental devastation (for many of us, this happens when we are children), they want to lash out at someone, anyone. And they realize that major corporations are a pretty big source of the problems. But how do you stop a corporation? Who are they? And so we blame ourselves, because the prospect of attempting to defeat a corporation is just too much to handle.

But it is not your fault. It is not my fault. It is THEIR fault. And a corporation is nothing but a group of people acting together. They have faces. They have names. They have no more power than they are allowed- and by hiding behind an “entity”, as they call themselves, they have an awful lot of power right now. But we have NO reason to remain silent and shameful, about rape or about the rape of the environment. If we love our environment, truly love our environment, and stop beating ourselves up because we sometimes have kind of a shaky relationship with it, we will do anything in our power to stop the abuse. Won’t we? Or are we too afraid of a bunch of random people who are too afraid to make their individual identities publicly known?

Rapists get off because they are sure the women they rape will not speak out against them, and that even if they do, they will not take matters into their own hands to make sure that rapist can never rape another woman again. Corporations get off because they are sure people will not actually speak out against them, and that even if they do, they will not take matters into their own hands to make sure that corporation can never rape another woman, I mean the environment, again. They are so certain of their power that they count on our fear and our own sense of powerlessness to keep us from acting.

But we are not powerless. If we really love our land, if we can love ourselves enough to stop blaming the victims and start blaming the perpetrators, it’s just a matter of finding the right person to shoot.

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