(This is a preface to a forthcoming Swedish edition of our For a World Without Moral Order, an 1983 article available on this site. This preface has been published in English in the 10th issue of Communicating Vessels, 2003, PO Box 1124, Madison, WI 53701-1124,USA. We have deleted some passages borrowed from the 1998 postcript that can be read on this site.)
So far, this text and a couple of others on similar issues (1) have only managed to arouse the interest of a handful. If we'd explained man-woman or child-adult relationships only through the class struggle framework, and interpreted them as products of capitalist evolution, and if we'd related paedophilia, for instance, to capital's real (as opposed to formal) domination, no doubt we'd have reached a world readership of, say, 500...
Part of the difficulty is that we deliver no message or guidelines regarding affective or sexual relations. We say the only "revolutionary" attitude is not to suggest a solution, but to put forward a critique of the question. In the same way, if we wrote on urban planning, no-one would expect our essay to describe what sort of dwellings people would live in after a communist revolution. We can only explain the causes of present habitats, and their inadequacy for human needs. What we don't know is how these needs would change through a revolutionary process, let alone what they'd be in a future world.
What we're targeting is "morality" as a set of rules made common wisdom, close to science in a way, defined in absolute terms and imposed by society upon each and every member. What we hope for is a world where one could and would still be moral but no single morality would be the imposed social norm, just as no particular activity, providing it that does not harm anyone, would be regarded intrinsically "wrong".
COMMUNISM KNOWS NO MONSTER
This sentence was printed on the back cover of the 1998 British edition. Many radicals have trouble understanding this. Some do believe in the existence of monsters, in the forms of capitalist bloodsuckers or sadistic fascists, or even of decadent bourgeois perverts. Most radicals, however, will rather interpret our sentence in the sense that revolution would eliminate nearly all possibility of social ( mainly sexual and criminal) agressiveness and destruction, and would probably rule out the possibility of self-destruction as well: who would wish to commit suicide in a free happy world ?.. In plain words, people would surely be so in harmony with themselves that they'd never feel the need to dominate or abuse or inflict pain upon themselves or upon others.
We'd rather argue that, should abuse occur, the perpetrator would not be ostracized by his fellow human beings. They would not reject the social violator in order to reassure themselves of their humanity by comparing themselves to a non-human human, to a monster. They would be able to recognize what they have in common with him, and to realize that they could have done what he did. And this, we believe, is a much better way of reducing abuse to its lowest possible minimum than any search for normality.
Let's take the case of the infamous Gilles de Rais (1404-1440), a Marshal of France and once a brother in arms of Joan of Arc. He had dozens (some say, hundreds) of kids brought to his castle, and sexually abused and murdered them, until he was finally arrested, tried and sentenced to death. On the day of the public execution, he repented, showed every sign of contrition, and moved the crowd to tears. According to historians, both sides (the assassin and the audience) shared truly genuine emotions. The murderer was thus reintegrated into society. In the Middle Ages, a common devotion and vision of the world held people together and made it near impossible for anyone present to think that Gilles de Rais was faking. There was a tiny minority of non-believers in Europe, but "atheism" did not exist socially. A common belief in a transcendent being (God) was the condition for the social reintegration of the deviant (who still had to be put to death for society to find peace with itself again). Also, at the time, such acts could only be committed by a man who stood by birth above others: Gilles de Rais was one of Brittany's largest landowners, not a XXIst century serial killer. Now the days of mass religious communion are gone. A future human society would unify people from the inside reality of their lives, thanks to something experienced between themselves in this world and recognized as such, without the need for an outside unifier.
P.C. AND ALL THE REST OF IT
When we wrote this text, we'd never heard the phrase Political Correctness. In 1983, to us, the initials "P.C." only meant "Parti Communiste" (the official Stalinist party in France) and possibly "Personal Computer". Today's Political Correctness is more than yet another odd variety of American fads like organic food, surgical strikes and outdoor air-conditioning. It is one of the forms taken by the management of the current moral disorder (reactionary politics is another form). The boundaries between Law and transgression are now blurred. Social mediation ( patriarchy, sex roles, school, union, party, old style work discipline and top-down values in general) came under attack in the 60s and 70s. They have gone under, without being replaced by any stable alternative standards, let alone by relationships we'd regard as human. Present society holds together as much through anomy and moral crossdressing as it previously did through rigidly set behaviour patterns.
Let's just take a look at family values. In the past, smacking kids was OK. Sometimes (as in England) school was granted some parental power, and the teacher was legally allowed to perform corporal punishment within certain limits. Now fixed roles have been shattered, not so much by our liberation endeavours as by the capitalist recuperation of our failure to liberate ourselves, and there's nothing left but individuals unsure of their part. "Discipline" is not natural any more. So parental attitudes have to be defined and ruled by law, and smacking is banned. Social workers, lawyers and experts walk in. Today's Gilles de Rais are not assisted by priests but by an array of psychologists.
Political Correctness and the current reactionary backlash (the Moral Majority lobby that is supposed to be pulling the strings in the Bush administration) are US born twins.(2) The country that goes to the extreme commodifying of everything, be it man, woman, child, pet, nature, etc. is also the country that cares the most about safeguarding what it consumes. Those that created the huge Chicago slaughterhouses that so impressed European visitors in the 1930s, are the keenest animal rights' defenders. National parks are what's left of the wild West after it's been emptied of the Indians, plundered and tamed.
We'll limit ourselves to human beings here. Women and children are subjected to an odd mixture of promotion and protection. Our society is tough, but it praises the weak, or those it calls weak, or those it creates as weak, because it is able to prey and grow on them while pretending to help. The modern State is a benevolent dictator. It would love to treat us all like children. Being treated like a kid through protective-repressive laws is what lies ahead of every citizen, for his own good, needless to say.
We need hardly emphasize that our opposition to both "rightwing" patriarcal and "leftwing" soft moralizing has nothing to do with opting for Political Incorrectness. The current righteous drive breeds its opposite: conservative politicians (and some artists) proclaim themselves Politically Incorrect. Just because multiethnic multiculturalism is trendy, it does not make monoethnic culture any more palatable than it used to be in 1950. It is pointless to take the exact opposite of what society offers or imposes as a role model or a desirable lifestyle at any given time. Provocation is not another word for subversion. Conformism is never a critique of marketable anti-conformism.
As early as 1835, the French historian and acute observer Tocqueville, who'd travelled in America, wrote that in the United States, as long as individuals act as responsible citizens (i.e., as long as they obey the State laws), they're free to differ culturally and act accordingly in public. For instance, the expression of various religious mutually tolerating rites is accepted. So is atheism, as long as it just stands like another creed among many. Instead of building itself against particular identities, as it did in France, American citizenship grew with them. We are now witnessing the Americanization of the capitalist developed world, that is, at least in Western Europe and Japan.
What is now known as the gay community is the result of a social movement that was forced backwards. To just take the example of New York, an open and active male homosexual culture existed around 1900, with a strong working class element, and mixed with "hetero" and Black areas, bars and music. It was repressed in the 1920s and 30s. The well-known "Stonewall riot" (June 27, 1969) against police harassment and beating-up was not a purely homosexual event. True, the cops' conscious hatred was directed against homosexuals, but the cause of the event and the people's response went beyond the sex issue or boundary. "Irrational, spontaneous, hectic, born out of lumpenproletarian rage" (B.Benderson), the riot joined transvestites, prostitutes and homeless teenagers in a revolt that was more social than sexually-oriented, at a time of deep unrest across the US and in the world. It's the failure of those social forces to fuse into revolutionary action that brought back separation between categories, and gave birth to the "Gay Power" slogan, alongside with "Black Power" and a host of others. Logically, the gays later turned into an inward-looking community of their own, defining themselves by what supposedly differentiates them from other people, not by what they have in common with others. The vast crowds that now march and have fun in the totally innocuous and highly commercial Gay Pride on June 27 do not realize they are dancing on past social defeats.
What is gay ? A man who only goes out with men, convinced he will never feel the attraction of the opposite sex ? How should he know ? How can he exclude the possibility of being overwhelmed by the desire for and of a woman ? Isn't it part of the essence of desire to come without warning ? (Faced with a declared definitive heterosexual male, the gay will always suspect, and not without reason, that this too-sure-of-himself person is shielding himself from the possibility of his being attracted to another man...)
Granted, thanks to this gay-ity, the gay man feels safe from discrimination. (As long as he stays within his own quarters, that is: even in San Francisco, a man-man couple can walk hand in hand in Castro, but risks being jeered at one mile away.) Different clubs, different neighbourhoods, different literature, and last but not least a different vocabulary. Indeed, quite a few gay writers would classify this text as "homophobic", since we refuse the notion of a gay identity. (3)
How sad that, in order to escape age-old repression, and in the hope of going beyond patriarchy, millions could imagine nothing better than making up a category even narrower than the family, and founded only on the choice of sexual object: penis v. vagina. Act is made into identity, definition into destiny, and sexual preference into a world vision (gay culture (4) ).