SCUM Manifesto

I read the SCUM Manifesto quite some time ago. Far from a radical feminist, I figured it would do me good to expose myself to political literature on the opposite side of the spectrum. Fortunately, it’s quite short, so I can just re-read it to write my review. Is review the right word? I’m not here to tell you if it’s good book or if the writing’s bad. I did want to share my thoughts on the book. Apologies in advance for being overly political.

Verb definition of review

Huh, I didn’t know that “to review” implied change is possible. Seeing how Valerie is dead I suppose this is more of a ramble than a review.

Foreword

To pad its petite length, my copy of the SCUM Manifesto comes with a foreword by Michelle Tea. I found the first five and half pages rather engaging. Michelle shares her experience of family and fatherhood and wrestles with the fact that her step-father that makes her mom happy is also a perverted creep. Unfortunately this interesting insight into the human psyche ends there and laughably simplistic claims follow. Among other things, Michelle asserts that all women are prostitutes, and that there are no professional sex workers.  That she was a prostitute that did petty evil things to her clients and why it’s okay to be evil if you’re scared. She evens recollects her plans to blow up fraternities and deciding not to because she didn’t want to do it alone (because that would be crazy). Michelle’s rationalization of her terrible life choices and violent bigotries sets the tone perfectly for the SCUM Manifesto, and slides nicely into her introduction of the author, Valerie Solanas.

Michelle praises Solanas’ ability to use humor as a hammer for the truth. That the book is to be taken seriously and not seriously at the same time. SCUM will crack you up page after page, but the book is not a joke; it is a painfully funny commentary on an absurd reality.

It is so; so funny that it’s hard for me not to condemn anyone bothered by it as painfully lacking a sense of humor.

I personally like dark, absurdist humor and believe humor is a powerful weapon for truth, but I did not find this book funny. It’s one trick is calling men sub humans. That’s the joke. This hardly speaks about the human condition or the absurdity of reality. Instead it’s transparently political, angry and so painfully one-sided that it cannot possibly be a tool of insight except into the author’s tiny, warped mind.

Michelle introduces Valerie’s other political aims besides eliminating men, which reads like a high school communist’s Christmas list: class warfare, overthrowing the government and eliminating money. Michelle points out that so many people get worked up over the calls to genocide that they miss the class rage. Michelle posits that her class commentary, calls to genocide and vulgar language is why she wasn’t noticed by her feminist peers until she attempted to murder Andy Warhol. It seems that many people were fascinated with her life, but no one wanted to claim her as their own. Michelle laments, “In the end, it may be the criminals, the prostitutes and the artists that will claim her” but in reality she died alone.

The Hags

Michelle goes on a tangent to talk about a butch dyke street gang named The Hags, which, for the record, is an awesome gang name. The Hags all meet terrible deaths as a result of their criminal lifestyle: mental illness, flesh eating bacteria, cancer. Except one. One of them transitions to a man, sobers up and lives. I really liked this aside because it confirms my belief that a lot of the virulently hateful butch lesbians and enbies are just trans men that can’t accept themselves. Like anti gay politicians or preachers that turn out to be gay. I’m surprised that Michelle included it in her foreword given it seems an excellent counter argument to the entire manifesto.

Controversy and Conclusion

Michelle curated performance to commemorate Valerie, but decided to shut it down as “unexpected” controversy around the event grew. The main protestors were gay men and trans women, which is unsurprising given her hateful, bigoted and genocidal attitude towards them.

I might not find the SCUM Manifesto funny, but I am finding the foreword hilarious in a way even Valerie might have appreciated. I am actually shocked that Michelle idolized Valerie given how much Valerie would have hated her. Valerie lived by her own rules and specifically advocated for criminal behavior. Michelle is too cowardly to blow up fraternities unless she has social acceptance from her friend. Michelle passes on joining the Hags, despite her own admission that they are Valerie clones, because they are too rough and criminal for her. To top it all off, Michelle cancels Valerie’s memorial event due to controversy!

Possibly Valerie, loyal to no demographic but her constructed, imaginary SCUM Woman, would have appreciated the hoopla, but I was frankly too exhausted and bummed to carry on, and pulled the plug on the event.

Michelle, you are a poser. Valerie would likely hate you. Your foreword includes a story where everyone that lives Valerie’s lifestyle dies a horrible death and the only one that doesn’t becomes a man. Thank you for the laugh. The manifesto is not darkly humorous but your foreword certainly is laughable.

SCUM Manifesto

Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation, and destroy the male sex.

The opening paragraph nicely sums up and sets the tone for the SCUM Manifesto; Valerie doesn’t like society, she doesn’t like men and she’d like to eliminate both. For the uninitiated, SCUM stands for “The Society for Cutting Up Men” and is not so much an actual society but a state of mind. Valerie wastes no time attempting to justify her hate by listing all of the ways that men are worthy only of death and servitude. Valerie’s theorizes that men screw because they know they’re incomplete women and want to fuse with women to become whole. They also screw to defend against their desire to be female. If that seems contradictory, don’t think about it too hard, Valerie didn’t either. The result of this lack is that men cause things like: war, niceness, dignity, politeness, prostitution, marriage, money, work and prevent the automation of society.

The entire manifesto is a meandering stream of consciousness, so I’ll just briefly discuss  general themes in the sub sections below.

Daddy Issues

Valerie goes on for a bit talking about “Daddy” the father figure of the household. She laments that fathers now provide moral guidance to their children and disappointment at their moral failings, preferring men that beat their children because those men are easier to hate. Freud would have a field day with Valerie, she frequently mentions “Big Momma,” “Big Daddy,” “Daddy’s Girls” in her writing and metaphors.  as she talks about dads wanting to fuck their daughters, steal “momma” for themselves, suck on her breasts, etc…

Individuality

Valerie believes that men are fully physical and automatic creatures not capable of emotion, thinking, creativity or individuality. They are capable of thinking, but not real cognition, a distinction presumably left up to the reader to discern. Her view of female individuality reads like a bad Tumblr post:

In actual fact, the female function is to relate, groove, love and be herself, irreplaceable by anyone else; the male function is to produce sperm. We now have sperm banks. In actual fact, the female function is to explore, discover, invent, solve problems, crack jokes, make music – all with love. In other words, create a magical world.

In actual fact, you sound like high teenager waxing romantic about why they’re so special and society is like, a total drag, man.

Valerie mentions that the suburbs are to bolster a man’s sense of individuality by letting him keep his woman away from other men by isolating her in a self absorbed family unit. Hippy communes are equally condemnable, even though in many ways they are the opposite of a suburban life. This is because they’re just in it for the free access to pussy and will eventually drag some simple minded woman off into the suburbs as soon as they feel insecure enough.

A woman not only takes her identity and individuality for granted, but knows instinctively that the only wrong is to hurt others, and that the meaning of life is love.

I found this statement funny from someone that shot a man in real life and wrote a manifesto promoting genocide. In addition, anyone that takes their identity for granted is in danger of being the most ignorant conformist and claiming that the meaning of life is “love” is as underspecified as “do good, not bad.”

Men & Society

Valeria has much to say about society The Patriarchy™. She asserts that men can’t be TruRebels™ because the men on top want to maintain the status quo, and the men on the bottom want to be the man on the top; implying that all societies patriarchies are interchangeable which is surprisingly insightful on the prevalence of hierarchies across culture and time but equally without nuance. She believes society is setup to prevent friendships, love and conversation and in its place provides great art, culture, sexuality and boredom.

Valerie asserts that art and culture are man made constructs to make up for the lack of friends, conversation and love. Arts purpose is to make men seem heroic, but fails because men are soulless husks with nothing to communicate. To Valerie, the only true artists are “funky females grooving on each other and everything else in the universe.” Surprisingly there is a little nugget of wisdom in her screed. She does make a point about appealing to authority to know what art is good and which is bad. She also calls people out for virtue signaling, “…they can pride themselves on the ability to appreciate the “finer” things, to see a jewel where there is only a turd (they want to be admired for admiring).”

Automation & Knowledge

Repeated throughout SCUM, Valerie asserts that men hoard a wealth of knowledge so that no one will ever find out that men are biologically and psychologically inferior to women. In actual fact, men are so insecure and so desire to work monotonous jobs that they actively hold back progress and automation. Valeries predicts that thanks to men computers will never be widespread. From the comfort of our future perspective we can see just how wrong she was.

Sexuality

Surprisingly, for someone that talks so much about sex, Valerie promotes borderline asexuality as the ‘rational’ position for someone to take. Like a Catholic priest handing out Graham’s crackers she believes that anyone who has sex cannot be cerebral and rational (like herself presumably). Furthermore she believes that people who enjoy sex are likely to be nice people while people that reduce it to the mere act of fucking or abstain all together are likely to be violent psychopaths (again, presumably like herself).

Conclusion

There is a lot I don’t sympathize with in this book. In part, this may be an artifact of its time. I wasn’t alive in the 60’s and perhaps the world has changed so drastically that this book appears lunatic. Mostly I think it’s the high school revenge fantasy style of writing with the goal of promoting genocide. Each page makes plain her ignorance on every topic she cares about. Even if the manifesto is not supposed to be taken seriously then it still reveals how much hatred and impotence is in her heart.

This ended up being longer than I had planned for, it’s so stupid that I wasn’t even sure if it was worth quoting or going through point by point. The book is a trip to crazy town and the only thing it is good for is identifying self professed Valeri admirers as the rotten people they are.

Possible Trans Man

In a twist of dark irony I suspect that Valerie was a trans man. I think Michelle suspects this as well, and makes mention of it in her foreword. Throughout the book there is bizarre insistence by Valerie that men are women and women are men. Besides making the manifesto even more confused and contradictory, it seems to me that she is projecting her own dysphoria onto the world. Why would she do this? Michelle posits that trans people weren’t well known when Valerie lived, but I think Valerie was well acquainted with the queer community to not have ignorance as an excuse. If anything it was her own prejudices that sealed her fate, and I can’t help but feel a smöl bit of schadenfreude.

I Am A Strange Loop

Upon finishing Douglas Hofstader’s I Am a Strange Loop I threw it across the room. Not because the book’s contents were offensive, heretical, or objectionable to me. Quite the opposite; I found the book a bloated banality and was happy to be free of it. This is made all the more tragic because I wanted to like the book. It caught my eye in the basement of a San Francisco bookstore and the title immediately invoked a prior musing about how the brain is the only muscle that flexes itself. I was eager to read the thoughts of someone that had put the time in to develop the idea. Unfortunately this book doesn’t develop them very far and repeats the few ideas it does have again and again and again.

The Big Idea

The mind is an illusion, an epiphenomenon of a material substrate. Its primary components are symbols. As a person develops, more and more symbols accrete in their mind; the “largest”such symbol, the one “activated” in the most “loops” is the “I” or ego of a person. A consequence of this is that the “I” believes itself to be a prime mover, an agent of causality. The eponymous strange loop is perceiving events which activate certain symbols culminating in action (and then starting over). Also Gödel’s incompleteness theorem allows for self referential mappings in any sufficiently complex arithmetic system therefore any sufficiently complex perception to action mapping could be self referential. Hofstader talks about some other topics, such as simulation capture and how categories, including self identification are blurry.

My issue with I Am A Strange Loop is that it stated the obvious without building upon it and pretentiously hand waved the hard questions of consciousness. The idea that humans map perceptions to “symbols” in their head and then act on the world is as old and overly simplistic as it is obvious. Hofstader could have elucidated what constitutes a symbol, or the minimum set of symbols required for consciousness or explained the neurobiological underpinnings of symbolic systems or anything that would have made this observation interesting instead of unoriginal.

Ironically, on page 328 Hofstader lists and gently mocks a set of questions that, if he had attempted to answer, would have made his book far more valuable.

Which physical entities possess Consciousness, and which ones do not? Does a whole human brain possess Consciousness? Or is it just the human’s brain that is Conscious? … What organizational or chemical property of a physical structure is it that graces it with the right to be invaded by a dollop of Consciousness?

This goes on until it ends in the question the book eminently avoids answering:

How does Consciousness coexist with physical law? That is, how does a dollop of Consciousness push material stuff around without coming into sharp conflict with the fact that physical law alone would suffice to determine the behavior of those things?

i.e. the preeminent question of the mind.

This is made more frustrating because Hofstader states a pragmatic definition of truth and how it then it conveniently avoids applying the same definition to consciousness. For instance, Hofstader relies on the idea of self referential mapping that causes consciousness to arise from arbitrarily extensible sets of symbols. Functions are mathematical constructs dreamt up by the mind and do not exist in the same way the material world exists. Pragmatically they could both be said to be real but then you couldn’t hand-wave consciousness away as an illusion.

There are many other examples in the book of this unequal treatment (mostly because there are too many examples in the book in general), but this one stood out to me as particularly egregious:

SL #642: All of this I see, but why do you keep implying that one of these views is an illusion, and the other one is the truth? You always give primacy to the particle viewpoint, the lower-level microscopic viewpoint. Why are you so prejudiced? Why don’t you see two equally good rival views that we can oscillate between as we find appropriate, in somewhat the way that physicists can oscillate between thermodynamics and statistical mechanics when they deal with gases?

SL #641: Because, most unfortunately, the non-particle view involves several types of magical thinking. It entails making a division of the world into two radically different kinds of entities (experiencers and non-experiencers), it involves two radically different kinds of causality (downward and upward), it involves immaterial souls that pop into being out of nowhere and at some point are suddenly extinguished, and on and on.

This is sophism. Hofstader fails to explain why the world can be divided into particles and non-particles (and different types of particles) but not “experiencers” and “non-experiencers.” In addition Hofstader doesn’t find it objectionable that particles frequently pop into and out of existence or can have a virtual existence. The epistemological bottoming out of materialism, as humorously illustrated below, is never considered either.

I was not impressed with onerous retelling of basic phenomenological facts and inconsistent treatment of the ideas present within the book. There are some familiar ideas but they aren’t well developed.

Writing Style

The writing style is unexceptional, and Hofstader’s first person explanation of ideas to me came off as unnecessary and often pretentious, although that could just be my own projection. Speaking of projection, Hofstader goes out of his way to conspicuously note how not sexist he is (e.g. page 57 and 312) which gave me pause for thought.

The book is 363 pages long and ~300 pages too long. The cause of this bloat is the abundance of redundant examples for an idea. Hofstader would explain a concept and then throw in an example or analogy to facilitate comprehension. That’s well enough, but then he’d throw in another example. Then another. Plus a metaphor and two tangential anecdotes. I started skimming about the third of the way in because much of the book repeats itself.

My final complaint is that the puns are bad and Hofstader makes them worse by explaining them. A book this long doesn’t need to be padded by bad puns and their explanations.

Conclusion

This book is for no one. If you have never considered your own consciousness before, this book provides a minimal foundation, made scarce through its own verbosity, for you to build on. If you’ve given the paradox of existence some thought there is nothing new in this book; unless you really want to know about Gödel’s incompleteness theorem and even then I recommend the Wikipedia page.

Other Reviews

Reviews of the book corroborate my analysis, mentioning the book is: not as good as his other works, contains only one idea and is too long. Other people genuinely enjoyed the book, so don’t let this review dissuade you from this book or Hofstader’s other works.

Selected Reviews

This book is good in the sense that his major premise has much to commend it. In another sense, his major premise could have been explained in a rather lengthy article in only 36 pages, rather than the 363 pages it takes to explain.

It’s very long and tiresome at places […] I suggest reading it topological (don’t be afraid to skip pages or only read intros of sections). It’s still a good read with valid logic.

This is rather long for a one-trick pony ride and, after about the middle, devolves into what looks to this old psychoanalyst like pathological grief.

The Brothers Karamazov: The Lady of Little Faith

The first passage I’d like to talk about is Book 2, Chapter 4: A Lady of Little Faith.

In which a lady has travelled to visit the Elder Zosima and confess to him that she is having a crisis of faith. She recently learned of the idea that there is no afterlife, but only the void after death and it troubles her greatly.

She asks the Elder “How can it be proved? How can one be convinced?” to which Zosima replies “No doubt it is devastating. One cannot prove anything here, but it is possible to be convinced.”

This response reminds me of Jordan Peterson’s lectures where he talks about how the meaningless of life is a rational conclusion and ironclad in logic. But so what? That ‘fact’ is not very useful to living, in fact it is often very detrimental and sends people into existential depression or crisis like the lady in the passage. In this way the meaningless of life is not ‘true’ although one cannot write a ‘proof’ that meaning is possible, one can become convinced that life is meaningful.

Skipping ahead, in the Elder’s chambers we see a repeat of this idea in Zosima and Ivan’s

Skipping ahead, in the Elder’s chambers we see a small repeat of this conversation, this time between Zosima and Ivan.

“Can it be that you really hold this conviction about the consequences of the exhaustion of men’s faith in their immortality of their souls?” the elder suddenly asked Ivan Fyodorovich.

“Yes, it was my contention. There is no virtue if there is no immortality.”

You are blessed if you believe so, or else most unhappy.”

Why unhappy?” Ivan Fyodorovich smiled.

Here Dostoevsky reveals what a great character writer he is. The elder asserts that being freed of all moral responsibility must be a great thing for Ivan, or the complete opposite, and Ivan smiles at the latter.

This is brilliantly done; as I have personal experience with this smile as I suspect many others do. Imagine two strangers standing at a rainy street. Both without umbrellas commenting how the rain makes being outside awful. Then one turns to the other and remarks about his closed umbrella they smile knowingly.

“Because in all likelihood you yourself do not believe in either in the immortality of your soul or even in what you have written about the Church and the Church question.”

“Maybe you’re right…! But still, I wasn’t quite joking either…,” Ivan Fyodorovich said suddenly and strangely confessed – by the way, with a quick blush.

“You weren’t quite joking, that is true. This idea is not yet resolved in your heart and torments it. But a martyr, too, sometimes likes to toy with his despair, also from despair as it were. For the time being you, too, are toying, out of despair, with your magazine articles and drawing-room discussions, without believing in your own dialectics and smirking at them with your heart aching inside you…The question is not resolved in you, and there lies your great grief, for it urgently demands resolution…”

But can it be resolved in myself? Resolved in a positive way? Ivan Fyodorovich continued asking strangely, still looking at the elder with a certain inexplicable smile.

Here is the echo of the Lady of Little Faith’s question, this time asked by Ivan the genius atheist. Can one become convinced that their life has meaning?

“Even if it cannot be resolved in a positive way, it will never be resolved in the negative way either-you yourself know this property of your heart, and therein lies the whole of its torment…”

This last part by Zosima struck me as very profound; if the conclusion that life is bereft of meaning is so true, so iron clad in logic and cemented in reason, then why do we resist the conclusion in our hearts? Even Ivan, a rational, extremely smart atheist wrestle with it in his heart?

Zosima says, like he said to the lady, that it cannot be proven (in the positive way, that life has meaning) but now goes further to also assert it cannot be proven in the negative way. If it could, our minds would resolve this fact like any other and not be tormented by it. No one is tormented by the fact the sky is blue although the sun is white.

So perhaps one can be convinced of their being meaning in life, and that is a lovely thought.

For completeness, here is the rest of what Zosima says:

…But thank the Creator that he has given you a lofty heart, capabale of being tormented by such a torment, ‘to set your mind on things that are above, for our true homeland is in heaven.’ May God grant that your heart’s decision overtake you still on earth, and may God bless your path!”

The Brothers Karamazov

I started reading The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky as translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

I started reading due to a University of Toronto psychology professor, Jordan B. Peterson. In one of his talks he is asked “What is required reading for life?” and Dr. Peterson replied that anything by Dostoevsky. Since I am currently enamored by Dr. Peterson, I picked up a copy of The Brothers Karamazov.

I’m currently an 1/8th into the story, and in these writings I am not going to bother to summarize the book but instead focus on the passages I found meaningful and why.