We are called to build a world where all people have the opportunity to choose security, safety and well-being over jobs that leave them traumatized, sick, maimed and even destroyed. I don't see the point of this fight if that is not our goal.
Sexual violence and sexual submission cannot be set apart from unfettered capitalism and the legacy of colonialism and imperialism, however much the traffickers, pimps, brothel and massage parlor owners, johns and their apologists might like for them to be. They are integral pieces of a world where wholesale industrial slaughter has killed hundreds of innocents in Gaza and more than a million innocents in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the mentally ill are thrown onto streets, where a country like the United States warehouses 2.3 million people, mostly poor people of color, 25 percent of the world's prison population, in cages for decades, where life for the working poor is one long emergency. It is all one world. It is all one system. And this system, in its entirety, must be overthrown and destroyed if we are to have any hope of enduring as a species.
It is not accidental that many of the Abu Ghraib images that were released resemble stills from porn films. There is a shot of a naked man kneeling in front of another man as if performing oral sex. There is a photo of a naked man on a leash held by a female American soldier. There are photos of naked men in chains. There are photos of naked men stacked one on top of the other in a pile on the floor as if in a prison gangbang. And there are hundreds more classified photos that purportedly show forced masturbation by Iraqi prisoners and the rape of prisoners, including young boys, by U.S. soldiers, many of whom were schooled in these torture techniques in our vast system of mass incarceration.
The sexualized images reflect the racism, callousness and perversion that run like a raging undercurrent through our predatory culture. It is the language of absolute control, total domination, racial hatred, slavery and humiliating submission. It is a world without pity. It is about reducing human beings to commodities, to objects. And it is part of a cultural malaise that will kill us as assuredly as the continued exploitation of the Alberta tar sands.
The object of corporate culture, neoliberal ideology, imperialism and colonialism is to strip people of their human attributes. Our identity as distinct human beings must be removed. Our history and our dignity must be obliterated. The goal is to turn every form of life into a commodity to exploit. And girls and women are high on the list. In my book "Empire of Illusion" I devote a chapter, the longest chapter in the book, to pornography, which is in essence filmed prostitution. In porn a woman is not a person but a toy, a pleasure doll. She exists to gratify whatever desire a male might have. She has no other purpose. Her real name vanishes. She adopts a cheap and vulgar stage name. She becomes a slave. She is filmed being degraded and physically abused. She is filmed being tortured--with the majority of those tortured in movies being Asian women. These movies are sold to customers. The customers are aroused by the illusion that they too can dominate and abuse women. Absolute power over another, as I saw repeatedly in wartime, almost always expresses itself through sexual sadism.
Capitalism, along with imperialism and colonialism, its natural extension, is perpetuated by racist stereotypes. This dehumanization is expressed in the film "American Sniper," in which Iraqis, including women and children, are turned into one-dimensional, evil human bombs that deserve to be gunned down by the film's hero. Those who set out to destroy another people and their land must dehumanize those who live on, nurture and love that land. This dehumanization is used to justify domination. Imperialism, like colonialism, depends on racial stereotypes, including sexualized racism and the forced prostitution of women of color, to annihilate the culture, dignity and finally resistance of indigenous populations. This is true in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Indigenous traditions and values are portrayed as primitive and worthless. The oppressed are turned into subhumans, people whose lives do not really matter, who stand in the way of the glories of Western civilization and progress, people who deserve to be eradicated.
And you can see this racism on display in porn. Black men are primitive animals, brawny and illiterate studs with vast sexual prowess. Black women are filled with raw, animalistic lust. Latin women are hot and racy. Asian women are meek, sexually submissive geishas. Porn, as Gail Dines writes, is a "new minstrel show." It speaks in the racist cant that is the staple of the dominant white culture.
What is done to girls and women through prostitution is a version of what is done to all of those who do not sign on to the demented project of global capitalism. And if we have any chance of fighting back, we will have to stand up for all the oppressed, all of those who have become prey. To fail to do this will be to commit moral and finally political suicide. To turn our backs on some of the oppressed is to fracture our power. It is to obliterate our moral authority. It is to fail to see that the entire system of predatory exploitation seeks to swallow and devour us all. To be a radical is to stand with all who are turned into objects, especially girls and women whom the global community, and much of the left, has abandoned.
Andrea Dworkin understood:
"Capitalism is not wicked or cruel when the commodity is the prostitute; profit is not wicked or cruel when the alienated worker is a female piece of meat; corporate bloodsucking is not wicked or cruel when the corporations in question, organized crime syndicates, sell c-word; racism is not wicked or cruel when the black c-word or yellow c-word or red c-word or Hispanic c-word or Jewish c-word has her legs splayed for any man's pleasure; poverty is not wicked or cruel when it is the poverty of dispossessed women who have only themselves to sell; violence by the powerful against the powerless is not wicked or cruel when it is called sex; slavery is not wicked or cruel when it is sexual slavery; torture is not wicked or cruel when the tormented are women, whores, cunts. The new pornography is left-wing; and the new pornography is a vast graveyard where the Left has gone to die. The Left cannot have its whores and its politics too."
The Europeans and Euro-Americans who conquered, exploited and murdered indigenous communities were not only making war on a people and the Earth but on a competing ethic. The traditions of premodern indigenous societies, the communal structure of their societies, had to be destroyed in order for colonialists and global capitalists to implant the negative ethic of capitalism. In indigenous societies, hoarding at the expense of others was despised. In these societies all ate or none ate. Those who were respected were those who shared what they had with the less fortunate and who spoke in the language of the sacred. These older, indigenous cultures held fast to the concept of reverence. It is the capacity to honor the sacred, including the sacredness of all life -- and as a vegan I include animals -- that capitalism, colonialism and imperialism seek to eradicate. We need to listen to women, and especially indigenous women, as we seek to recover this older ethic.
"They treat Mother Earth like they treat women ..." Lisa Brunner, the program specialist for the National Indigenous Women's Resource Center, has said. "They think they can own us, buy us, sell us, trade us, rent us, poison us, rape us, destroy us, use us as entertainment and kill us. I'm happy to see that we are talking about the level of violence that is occurring against Mother Earth because it equates to us [women]. What happens to her happens to us. ... We are the creators of life. We carry that water that creates life just as Mother Earth carries the water that maintains our life. So I'm happy to see our men standing here but remind you that when you stand for one, you must stand for the other."
The Earth is littered with the physical remains of past empires and civilizations, ruins that cry out to us about human folly and hubris. We seem condemned as a species to drive ourselves into extinction, although this moment appears to be the denouement to the whole, sad show of settled, civilized life that began some 5,000 years ago. There is nothing left on the planet to seize. We are spending down the last remnants of our natural capital, including our forests, fossil fuel, air and water.
This time, collapse will be global. There are no new lands to pillage, no new peoples to exploit. Technology, which has obliterated the constraints of time and space, has turned our global village into a global death trap. The fate of Easter Island will be writ large across the broad expanse of planet Earth.
The ethic peddled by capitalist and imperialist elites, the cult of the self, the banishing of empathy, the belief that violence can be used to make the world conform, require the destruction of the communal and the destruction of the sacred. This corrupt ethic, if not broken, will mean the end of not only human society but the human species. The elites who orchestrate this pillage, like elites who pillaged parts of the globe in the past, probably believe they can outrun their own destructiveness. They think that their wealth, privilege and gated communities will save them. Or maybe they do not think about the future at all. But the death march they have begun, the relentless contamination of air, soil and water, the physical collapse of communities and the eventual exhaustion of coal and fossil fuels themselves will not spare them or their families, although they may be able to hold out a little longer in their privileged enclaves than the rest of us. They too will succumb to the poisoning of the natural elements, the climate dislocations and freakish weather caused by global warming, the spread of new deadly viruses, the food riots and huge migrations that have begun as the desperate flee from flooded or drought-stricken pockets of the Earth.
The predatory structures of capitalism, imperialism and colonialism will have to be destroyed. The Earth, and those forms of life that inhabit the Earth, will have to be revered and protected. This means inculcating a very different vision of human society. It means rebuilding a world where domination and ceaseless exploitation are sins and where empathy, especially for the weak and for the vulnerable, including our planet, is held up as the highest virtue. It means recovering the capacity for awe and reverence for the sources that sustain life. Once we stand up for this ethic of life, once we include all people, including girls and women, as an integral part of this ethic, we can build a resistance movement that can challenge the corporate forces that if left in power will extinguish us all.