I spend every WisCon, the feminist science fiction convention, the same way—in a daze caused by too much input, too little sleep and too much coffee. Then I come home and spend a day or two sleeping; and then I begin to reflect on the con.
Right now I am reflecting on a panel (late in the con) on ending machismo worldwide. I suspect it’s a panel that should be done every year at Wiscon and at cons other than WisCon, because it asks the core question: “What Is To Be Done?” How can we react to and act in a world that seems (in many ways) increasingly grim?
I didn’t pay attention to the news during WisCon, but two pieces of information got through: BP’s attempt to cap their oil well did not work; and Israel attacked the flotilla bringing humanitarian supplies to Gaza, killing at least nine people. The US, as usual, is trying to protect Israel from any consequences.
So, how do we live and work in this world?
The panel — especially the comments from the audience — sounded like the kind of panel I’ve heard before, when people are beginning to discuss an issue, but don’t yet have an analysis or a plan. What is to be done?
Andrea Hairston talked about programs that help Third World women and girls gain an education and some economic independence. According to Andrea, if you give money to men, they will spend it on beer. Women invest to increase their wealth and better care for their children. If the lives of women improve, then the entire society improves. As the old union song tells us, the rising of the women is the rising of the race.
People in the audience talked about grassroots organizing and local politics as ways to change minds and effect change. Karen Joy Fowler asked what can be done about Fox News; and I suggested a boycott, like the one Color of Change organized against Glenn Beck. Harpoon them in the pocketbook, as Big Bill Haywood said. It’s the only thing they understand.
People on the panel and in the audience pointed out that none of this changes the system.
The system was not named. It is capitalism. It is important to name it, I think. It’s a slippery system with a remarkable ability to survive crisis after crisis, and to change its rhetoric whenever needed. (It’s like the diseases that are difficult to treat, because they fool the immune system. I think syphilis is one.) We need to counter the slipperiness of capitalism with clarity, with an analysis that enables us to actually see the world.
We need to talk about the cost of capitalism over and over. Evo Morales says we cannot save the environment unless we end capitalism. I think he has a point.
This panel was about something else: machismo is not the same as capitalism, though the people talking from the audience were actually talking more about capitalism than machismo. But we need panels on capitalism and on class. I’ve been trying for years to get a good discussion on class going at WisCon. It’s remarkably difficult. One of the ways capitalism disguises itself is by using language and ideas that obscure power relationships.
This leads to something else that needs to be discussed somewhere. What is the role of the intelligentsia, if any? Does our gift for language, art and ideas have any use, except to make capitalism more palatable? Can we dissect the system and show clearly through our writing what it is and does?
Have we done this already? I think not, because the discussions at WisCon so often slide around capitalism.