geez, when i tried to pitch a piece to the new york times with the headline what o.j. simpson taught me about being black, they rejected it, then turned around and gave it to mcwhorter. but really everything i know about being black i got from o.j.
geez, when i tried to pitch a piece to the new york times with the headline what o.j. simpson taught me about being black, they rejected it, then turned around and gave it to mcwhorter. but really everything i know about being black i got from o.j.
if the nytimes editorial board had the guts to represent their own political convictions in public, they would have endorsed sanders and paul, not clinton and kasich. and why in the world, how in the world, have we reached the point at which the editorial board of the new york times doesn't have the courage to represent their actual political convictions in public? i think we've reached the pretty pass at which the editorial board of the new york times operates exactly like the politicians they cover: carefully calibrating polling, pitch, message, frame, making fine alleged differences in electability into serious reasons to keep the economy in the hands of citibank.
first, we might ask about what the newspaper biz has become. really, the shit is sad. but second, so many people are operating on this level: so many people feel it to be impossible, for example, to vote anything like their convictions, or anything that is not directly opposed to their convictions, as though (a) voting was a terrible moral dilemma, which justifies me always in (b) making a horrendously wrong decision by my own lights.
and then, perhaps you seem to yourself to have some vague commitment to democracy. well, you might want to refresh your appreciation of what that is: oh go back to mill's on liberty or dewey's democracy and education: now feed in to that a situation in which the press and very many members of the public simply will not act in public according to their own convictions, if they perceive those convictions as shared by only 49% of the population. or try to get that democracy thing to comport with the paradigm of strategic communications, where speaking the truth or speaking sincerely are held to be impossible or worthless projects, while controlling other people's behavior is conceived as the only goal of human communication. now we know what love is!
when they asked who they should endorse among the republicans - always an afterthought, of course - they thought to themselves and one another: which of the establishment-track candidates has the best chance of consolidating support and fighting off trump? then they looked at new hampshire poll numbers, endorsements from new england papers, etc. so first off, you might wonder why the nytimes is concerned to preserve the republican establishment at all costs. and then, you might ask yourself how things like that can be more important to, like, opinion journalists, than positions on nsa, mass incarceration, race, syria. really, i want y'all to look in the mirror and understand fully what you've become. if you're comfortable with it in and on reflection, i'm comfortable blogging about it.
how safe do you actually have to play this shit? what are you actually scared of?
i finally figured out what's up with the nytimes opinion section: courageously, counter-intuitively, they always go for max boredom. their goal, every time out, is to be literally dead center of the mainstream. they have noblest ambition of all, to make no difference whatever. what guides their editorials and their selection of op-ed columnists and contributors: an extreme desire for total safety, a profound commitment to not making any mistakes, a bold flight from bold opinions. really as they meet to decide on an endorsement, for example, you can see them asking one question above all: who is the safest choice for us? their range from egan or whatever on the left to brooks or douthat on the right is about a millimeter wide.
truly, were i operating an opinion page with the prestige of the times's, i would regard that as a license to continuous free-wheeling boldness. they view it as an unprecedented opportunity to be extremely extremely careful.
ross douthat: sanders is "arguably technically further to the left than trump is to the right." it seems to me like it would be hard to throw this shit around all day, as people do, without reflecting that you yourself have no idea what you could possibly mean. it doesn't seem to give even really smart people pause that the whole thing makes no sense, which is a real problem in this case, because it leads to unmeaning assertions. you can see that even douthat knows there's something wrong: "arguably technically": why not about seventeen other qualifiers?
not to get technical and shit, but just what sort of facts would be determinative in this matter? what would go to show that sanders is further to the left than trump is to the right? for decades, people have been arguing about who's left and right, or whether bill clinton or tony blair are on the left, etc. everyone who has a position somewhere along the spectrum (has an internally inconsistent position and) sees the whole line from their little point: everything to the left of their point is on the left, everything on the right is to the right, so it all depends on who's talking. but then, there is no line. also, even if there was, i don't really give a shit where any person is on it. those aren't the issues i'm worried about, and they concern social positioning rather than any substantive characterization of positions.
like i really, really don't see how people keep talking this way without quite becoming aware of their absolute inability to clarify the basic terms of their political structure. this inability issues not from their intellectual limitations but from the fact that the underlying concepts are inarguably technically gobbledygook.
Mass Shootings and Original Sin
By Crispin Sartwell
Responses to mass shootings, in the media or around the television or water cooler, long ago became merely routinized. People try, for example, to feed the latest event - from whatever particular angle it comes - into their political processors, after which they produce the same sentences over and over, each time around. They seem to think it is terribly important to find the right single word: is it 'terrorism' or 'murder'?
This is one way that we try to grapple with apparent incomprehensibility, the excess, the extremity, the seemingly inhuman in the human body, the unsayable or unfaceable, the opacity to us of things apparently so very much like ourselves.
It's an understandable response, even a necessary one. It allows us to take something that might seem impossible or debilitating or even wrong to assimilate and gives us somewhere to put it, a way to set it aside in its particularity and embed it in general categories or principles which we can grasp and affirm and communicate. But it's also a way of falsifying the real event, of failing to face it and experience it. Well, sometimes we need our cowardice.
But perhaps before we turn on a dime and renew our commitment once again to more surveillance or fewer guns, before we lob the event effortlessly into its pigeon-hole, we should try to live for a moment in the incomprehensibility, in the explosion of the event itself. The incomprehensibility of what happened in San Bernadino, for example, is important. It's scary not to understand it, but it's even scarier to understand it.
To say that an event like that is incomprehensible is, among other things, to disavow it, to say 'I would never do that.' Nonetheless, even if it seems strategic, I myself feel this incomprehensibility; I rarely write about mass shootings anymore because I don't know what to say. We need distance from the perpetrators to assure ourselves and one another that we are not just about to tip suddenly into violence directed randomly at the people around us.
In lieu of an explanation, then, an observation: we suck. I really do believe that in many dimensions human beings - and by this I mean myself as well as you - are irremediably flawed. Though I am an atheist, I feel the power of the doctrine of original sin: a seed of depravity or destruction inherent in all of us, inherent in myself.
When Christians such as Augustine or Jonathan Edwards asserted the doctrine of original sin, they had to grapple with the mystery of why a good God would create fundamentally depraved creatures or suffer them to exist. This is another way of saying that our hearts are incomprehensible to ourselves. We don't even know what we ourselves might do. And, in agreement with Augustine and Edwards, I don't think a treatment for this condition can come from pretending to be exempt from it, or pretending that we can leave it behind through policies or progress.
A treatment for our inherent evil could only begin by really knowing this about ourselves, knowing that we ourselves are irremediably flawed, that we ourselves are the sorts of things that are capable of killing, for almost any reason or for no reason at all.
Now, to produce a secular version of original sin, we'd have to generate some sort of naturalistic explanation. Perhaps it's a random mutation gone horribly awry. Evolution has produced, for examples, creatures with allergies and without eyes in the back of their heads. It's compatible with a lot of what we might tend to think of as mistakes. At any rate, it is pointedly indifferent to our moral aspirations for ourselves.
Counter-productive or gratuitous violence and rage varies historically in its objects and its forms. It might be a giant bureaucracy organized for genocide or a cult of human sacrifice or an outbreak of mass shootings, but as long as there have been human beings, we have been like that.
Anyway, that's no explanation, more of a feeling. But what I do want to say is: this is what we really are.
Crispin Sartwell teaches philosophy at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA. His latest book is How to Escape, a collection of essays.
[piece i couldn't sell]
thought i might put up a few old op-eds, and then maybe i'll try to do some of the rock criticism too. this is from the philly inquirer, i'm going to say '96: let us together with confidence place our future on the broad shoulders of headless human clones
andrew sullivan is quitting the dish, and ana marie cox (the delightful original wonkette) is basically declaring the blog over as a medium, or whatever 'the blog' may be. i guess i started blogging - right here - around when they did or shortly after (2004). now first of all, burnout is legit. when i started blogging, i was getting tired of writing a weekly op-ed column, and really after i started blogging i realized i wanted to quit that gig, even if i also wanted back on the op-ed page from time to time. i've often taken a month or six weeks off without notice, although at other times i'm posting like mad.
but i've got to say: i fucking love the form, alright? for many reasons. i am a much better writer now, i believe, because i've written however many hundreds of thousands of words for 'publication'; some blog entries i've refined dozens of times. i publish, revise, and then publish again, the perfect cure for the problem of suddenly seeing a piece in print and so seeing it from a different or outside angle, and wanting and being unable to fix it. genres like the 700-word op-ed or the academic book or a twitter feed have some rigid parameters; a blog entry can take any length, any form; it is improvisational or jazz publishing. i poach it all the time for academic or opinion-journalist-type writings. i just love it as a place and way to write.
and also...it is an autonomous press that i control completely. there is something to be said for good professional editing (john timpane at the philly inquirer and i worked on a couple of hundred pieces together, i think), and something to be said against bad professional editing (naming no names). but there is a lot to be said for the unexpurgated individual human voice that knows it will not be edited except by the person who emits it. and that is what i think a blog ought to be, even if there are several voices on a blog, you old crusader. i published an underground newspaper starting in 7th grade, which was not unique in my era. my heroes william lloyd garrison (the liberator), josiah warren (the peaceful revolutionist), and emma goldman (mother earth) figured out how to make a free space for their voices, to tiny or big audiences. they had to figure out how to print it themselves. i see the blog as a continuation of that. i've said many, many things here that i could not say at the daily beast or huffpost.
andrew sullivan and ana marie cox were great bloggers at times. but they literally sold out the blog, if i may say so. cox's thing is that there are better ways to make money as a writer. on the other hand i have never myself sold advertising or done anything but pay to blog. i respect professional writers, coming from long lines of them, and i realize i have a nice position as an academic from which to do this (which is not to say i ain't broke). but cox and sullivan wanted to blog for someone; embed their blogs in the atlantic or the guardian or whatever. others were always calculating how to get the largest audiences and thus a good flow of advertising.
they sold their blogs, ok? it's not the worst thing, but maybe that's when they stopped blogging and just became staff writers or wheeler-dealers, with a comments section and a time posted, etc: the accessories but not the essence. this was a pretty straightforward choice for them, because they are people of relatively mainstream views who aspired to the biggest possible audiences. but there are plenty of bloggers for whom that wouldn't be an option, one way or another.
for years i just argued that there were no blogs on the nyt's opinion page, no matter how they were presenting stanley fish or whomever; they just called a column a blog, basically just edited it the same way, and so on. i'm not going to put any weight on the 'real' meaning of the term, but let's say the blog got co-opted and then died. that is ok, because post-collapse it might again become a space of eccentric voices with small audiences; it never stopped being that too: a verson of the diy zine. and it will remain one of the possibilities. at any rate, i've got no plans to stop.
boy they are crucifying chris hughes on this tnr thing. i don't doubt that he is annoying, and you might understand that no writerly person can listen to phrases like 'vertically integrated' without wanting to poke someone in the eye. but i want to speculate that chris hughes may also be tired of the ideology that the staff represented, albeit ably considering what they had to work with. the new republic has had a number of phases of real controversy and wild debate, but i would say that over the last decade it has sunk into a basically uniform, unbelievably tired, american liberalism. this has gotten so repetitive; it so lacks any sort of imagination; it answers every problem with a bureaucracy; it basically hasn't changed since about 1932.
i hope someone like chris hughes quickly reached the point where he was just, 'am i reading that again in my own magazine? oh man that is some tired shit. why would anyone want to click on that?' the left has just got to re-think. there just can't be more more more paul krugman and hedrik hertzberg and michael tomasky, e.g.: miserable elitists and hyper-enthusiastic oppressors in the name of human liberation. there are so many things a left could be besides state state state, so many people it could encompass besides people who are simultaneously proponents of equality and extreme hierarchy, and who express their position with rigid self-righteousness and really unbelievable repetitiveness. it can't inspire anyone anymore to do anything.
and the new republic sank into the opinion-journalism mode of the moment. they present stuff as though it was propaganda: emphasizing all facts that help and none that don't, along with a constant rhetorical pounding of the same sentences and ideas. but however, their audience is 100% people who already agree with them, so whose responses are they trying to control? obviously rush limbaugh or glenn beck do the same: it's like they are desperate to persuade people who are already persuaded, desperate for the manipulated agreement of people who already agree. it's as though they are trying to utterly expunge their opponents in a debate, but their opponents aren't even there, and the only effect is to make their audience ever-more self-righteous and less self-reflective. on both sides, killing the other side is just a performance for themselves, designed so that everyone can feel superior together. why is that a worthwhile project?
this webchat with zizek shows various things about him that i like and various things that i don't like so much. so first of all, i like that there's a philosopher doing a webchat at the guardian, and in general how free-wheelingly and frequently zizek writes about contemporary issues in the day-by-day media. at least a philosopher exists in that space, and he is quite the swashbuckler, either doing high-end history or philosophy or metaphysics, or writing columns on the economy. i think he writes boldly and relatively clearly in english for a continental killer. we need more folks who do all those things; these are things i would like to do and be.
now, on the very other hand, i would prefer almost anyone to hegel, marx, and lacan as figures to push into the future. i think he constantly constantly flirts with totalitarian communism, and always withdraws the most achingly disastrous conclusions. but he's always opposed to any sort of anarchism, and that's one of many things that lead one to think that, like everyone else, he's got the same old giant leftist state coming at you. the totalitarianism takes care of itself after that, btw.
indeed, most of the questions in the chat are political, and really several of them have that quite bizarre marxist-scholastic tone of like soviet apparatchiks. i guess in the back of my mind i figured that there were still people like that, but lord.
but zizek in response is typically both playful and always slightly fudging at the pivot points. it's awfully hard to know how seriously to take him at any given moment, and i think he's quite a bit more improvisational and probably ultimately more unpredictable than people usually give him credit for. these are good things to blow into the academy at this time.
and who should set immigration policy? how about sheldon adelson, bill gates, and warren buffett.i do think the latter two set policy in the obama administration to a very great extent. even people who seem like they should be anti-capitalist or something regard them as having tremendous credibility (=$$$) and benevolence.
at the very same time as the dems are listening to the richest people in the world as to actual policy, they're squawking about inequality. now also, i would just mention to anyone who might be editing the opinion page of the new york times that you just published a horrendous parody of english prose cobbled together by three staffs.
here's a slice:
A “talented graduate” reform was included in a bill that the Senate approved last year by a 68-to-32 vote. It would remove the worldwide cap on the number of visas that could be awarded to legal immigrants who had earned a graduate degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics from an accredited institution of higher education in the United States, provided they had an offer of employment.
another way to put this: send us your bourgeoisie. meanwhile we must crack down on, say, starving children, whom nobody wants whatsoever. one measures the value of human beings in cubicle productivity, which might also have a bit of a eugenic element: who do we want to add to the gene pool? probably we should have recruiters rolling around the world offering citizenship to people based on standardized test scores.
not to undercut my own attempts to sell it something, but i have gone very off the nytimes op-ed page. it would be hard to imagine a more superficial, repetitive, predictable discourse. one convention is that everything you write about has to show something pseudo-profound about where the whole culture is going etc. today's piece by david brooks about isaiah berlin and anna akhmatova is perhaps itself supposed to be an ecstatic tribute to poetic profundity or something. instead brooks tries to describe excellent and deep writers with flat, blank cliche-peddling: "Today we live in a utilitarian moment. We’re surrounded by data and fast-flowing information". why is that sentence and several more like it in this piece? oh because that's what brooks writes in every column. indeed, everyone has written it in every column since 1992. it is without signification, much less the love and pathos and power he is writing about. the volcanic passion he is supposed to be describing becomes "the whole Great Books/Big Ideas thing". he emerges as a person who could not possibly understand the intellectual and emotional exchange he is describing. he is the situation he's lamenting.
the quality of the arguments shows something about the intelligence of our leaders in various walks of life. but i do particularly like the portrayal of snowden as 'solitary' by brooks and others. this has a variety of rhetorical functions, even though it has no logical force. it's a typical bit of 'mere' rhetoric: the idea is a kind of ersatz peer pressure. even if it were real peer pressure, of course, it wouldn't be a reason. so, first off, if snowden were standing as a solitary sentinel against injustice - all alone at tremendous cost - that would be even more admirable, because even more courageous. but he's not alone. even these polls that people are trumpeting show 40% support or something. there are plenty of people who accept every word of the argument he made and who would have made it themselves. for all you know, he had a little group of libertarian friends.
he's 'solitary' only insofar as the state is the social in its entirety: the same old saw about the state being all of us all together. anyone who doesn't agree with that is a howling savage, beyond the pale, an isolate. no, actually, such a person might have plenty of real community. there are many ways to make connections, and many ways that dissent or revelation contributes to the social fabric. the unity you're recommending is false because coerced, but you're identifying it with the possibility of human community per se. the actual means that you're using to form all of us up into one community is a secret program to watch everyone all the time. really, time to face up to it: you are a person who could make an argument like that for a conclusion like that. but even the mainstream community depends on its defectors and subversives and truth-tellers for whatever decency and truth it possesses.
i do think that being in an elite and in particular exercising authority has an epistemically distorting effect. it's really like these people have lost their reason. what you do instead of giving easons when you have authority is just keep repeating yourself more loudly, or start to rant and screech at individual victims in your proximity.
it is amazing what's happening to edward snowden. the outpouring of revulsion is remarkable: it shows you every flavor of the authoritarian personality. also it is bullshit. jeffrey toobin on cnn practically jumps out of his skin with hostility and - like many others - constantly makes reference to snowden's age. i suppose 29 is too young to do the obviously right thing. say rosa parks had been 29; she'd have been a laughingstock. and he goes with 'you just can't do that' as an argument; just a sheer repetition of the authoritarian imperative. here are david brooks's complaints today:
He betrayed honesty and integrity, the foundation of all cooperative activity. He made explicit and implicit oaths to respect the secrecy of the information with which he was entrusted. He betrayed his oaths.
keeping your promises is one dimension of honesty and integrity, but it can be over-ridden by other moral imperatives, including the moral imperative to help other people. understand, that is exactly what snowden took himself to be doing.
He betrayed his friends. Anybody who worked with him will be suspect. Young people in positions like that will no longer be trusted with responsibility for fear that they will turn into another Snowden.
this is assistant principal bullshit. everyone will be punished for your transgression.
He betrayed his employers. Booz Allen and the C.I.A. took a high-school dropout and offered him positions with lavish salaries. He is violating the honor codes of all those who enabled him to rise.
to repeat, honor codes are important. they can be over-ridden by other considerations, and for that matter other honor codes. here the argument is that it's obligatory to violate your own basic values if you're being paid lavishly. that i guess is what david brooks would call a social contract.
He betrayed the cause of open government. Every time there is a leak like this, the powers that be close the circle of trust a little tighter. They limit debate a little more.
this is unbelievably tendentious, fallacious claptrap. on brooks's view, it serves the cause of open government for it to be a secret that everyone is under surveillance at all times. revealing that just causes more secrecy. truly, the logic is depraved.
He betrayed the privacy of us all. If federal security agencies can’t do vast data sweeps, they will inevitably revert to the older, more intrusive eavesdropping methods.
this 'backlash' style of argument has got to go. your resistance to oppression is wrong because we'll double the oppression. the correct answer is then we'll double the resistance. seriously, here's why keeping all your crap secret is a bad idea: it forces us to reveal your ass to the world. don't make us do it. you'll have only yourselves to blame. you're just serving the purposes of julian assange again.
He betrayed the Constitution. The founders did not create the United States so that some solitary 29-year-old could make unilateral decisions about what should be exposed. Snowden self-indulgently short-circuited the democratic structures of accountability, putting his own preferences above everything else.
this is mindless. i don't know what the founders thought about 'solitary 29-year-olds,' but brooks does. i want to say this: edward snowden is not alone. he is not a solitary figure. what he did, he did at tremendous cost to himself and out of an evident commitment to actual public service. he has a worldwide community.
the community brooks appeals to is an imaginary community simulated by secrecy and coercion. every one of these arguments is an argument that everyone should be secretly under surveillance at all times. but the arguments are just this anthology of desperate manipulations, meaningless spasms of the authoritarian mind, real stupidity.
no evil committed by an institution, whether a state or (for god's sake) a defense contractor cannot be justified by arguments like this. you could transpose these arguments directly to any fascist or communist dictatorship in the world; they could be and have been the ideology of every genocide. they are arguments that your conscience does not count, and hence you should do what we say. you don't even deserve to know the basis on which we're making our decisions.
you know, arguing for evil is annoying, but it's really the logic i find discrediting. so, your argument against revealing a massive secret police program to its victims is that the person who did it was a high school dropout. what's sweet about this as an example is that it both implicitly accuses snowden of stupidity on an inadequate basis (have you heard him talk?) and itself enacts stupidity (it's derangedly irrelevant, like a kind of incompetent surrealist poetry).
greetings from nola. here's a column i wrote last time i was down here, the mardi gras after katrina. with regard to the writer who declared that this is where she forgot the best moments of her life, i said that 'forgetting must always make you wonder whether regret is in order': that was perhaps too optimistic, because some folks are incapable of regret. one drawback of such people is that they are dangerous to themselves and others, because they will never undergo any moral development, or be better than they are now, which i would say it's obvious that they need to be. regret is a necessary condition of conscience, and not having any is really a kind or symptom or a mild case of psychopathy; the whole idea is to release yourself to do wrong or be disgusting or stupid, forever. i was negotiating my way back to the hotel through such people last night as they stumbled about swallowing ever-more alcohol and bellowing, or passed out in the alley puking, or tried to make out with strangers. these are, no doubt, the best moments of their lives.
on the other hand i had an amazing meal yesterday, and passed dr. john moving around with a cane on the outskirts of the quarter. everybody calls you 'baby' and makes you feel good just for being alive. the art that came and comes out of this place has changed the world. there is no doubt that these things are connected in certain ways, but not, i would say, by logical necessity or something, and even if the art is in part a transcendence of the degradation, it is also a self-reflection and something more than any particular source or experience can explain. honestly, the vice tourism isn't helping the quality of the art now, even if louis played the brothels in 1915 or whatever. it just freezes it into a kind of parody of itself and peddles it to these amazingly gross people from elsewhere.
if i sound puritanical, it's because puritanism is more or less the way i stay alive. i fail by its standards of course. but i am definitely opposed to these zones of moral impunity or moral vacation, and there is a catholic/protestant kind of split on this: mardi gras or the rio carnival are excellent examples, and occasionally people assert that these things are archetypal and necessary. but one problem is that these zones expand. every city has such zones. pretty soon, every saturday night is such a zone. but i do aspire to some sort of moral consistency. you have priests exempting themselves here or there from the values they profess, for example, and maybe confessing it later. that's a good way to become a monster.
ask yourself: you just married someone. they pledged monogamy. do you think as you pledge the same that they mean: except in vegas, except in new orleans, except saturday night, unless i'm really drunk? i've known people who actually became two people by this technique: the values they profess with total passion they violate in special zones or special occasions, when they have a completely different and incompatible set of values; they're like two moral agents, neither of whom appears even to know what the other is doing; personality b's acts don't count against personality c. it's a moral derangement, a form of dissociative personality disorder.
and then think about what actually happens to so many people in your zones of impunity. the hot young call girls, strippers, trade, who slowly decline into blank-eyed, broke, and broken victims. the addicts strewn around right there, under your very feet, leading lives of complete tortured misery and then dying. i guess the corpses stay in vegas. the people losing everything, including every shred of pride or decency, at the casinos. it seems like a happy harmless celebration. only if you are fucking blind, which is of course what you're trying to be.
my amazing aesthetic manifesto is in the los angeles time today. free your senses, folks.
now, i think the first question that will arise for anyone is whether i can really defend my view that fast five is better than lincoln, obviously and by a long way. both films have stylish cinematography and good editing, but i think what made the difference for me with fast five were the really profound lesssons in leadership. watching vin diesel take a ragtag group of body-builders, hip hop artists, comedians, and models, and forge them into a unit capable of destroying rio...well, it was inspiring. as doris kerns-goodwin, on whose book fast five was based, has so often said with a groan of ecstasy, we need our president to be a lot more like vin diesel.
people like jill filipovic are spearheading a revival of classic second-wave feminism; she's amazingly appealing in a way just by being foursquare where ms. was in '72. but she definitely is writing in a different era; she has to deal now with her own love of fashion, which when you feed it through second-wave feminism just comes out as false consciousness. she takes a traditional line: women have to care about their appearance so much and engage in these consumption patterns and so on because the expectations on women's appearance by the patriarchy are so throrough and extreme; you can't survive an office job without carefully calibrating, etc.
this is a complete misunderstanding of where we are as a culture, i think. the fashion world is an aesthetic coalition of straight women and gay men that has developed autonomously for decades and which surely cannot, at this point, be plausibly regarded as sub-altern. (you have to think about these identities as combinations of privileged and deprivileged elements: gay, but male (and also, er, white); female, but straight (and white, etc.). they are not exactly only oppressed minorities.) we heterosexual guys for the most part have no idea what is happening or why and we don't care. perhaps straight women theorize that we have very fine-grained expectations about their appearance. not by their standards, we don't. so look, let's take the common obsession with shoes. if you think your 60-year-old het male boss at the real estate company is evaluating your shoes every day, or has any idea what the styles or brands or prices may be, or can distinguish a manohla or whatever it is from a target store brand, you're just wrong. 'aren't those boots from last year?' or 'i wonder whether those are knock-offs,' say, are sentences that simply cannot appear in the idiolect of people like me.
maybe straight women just stopped being subordinate to straight guys and started being subordinate to gay guys. if so, i think that was your call, not ours, though perhaps you were sheltering together against the storm of us. on antm or on the pages of vogue or seventeen: who is taking the pictures, designing the clothes, working the images over in photoshop, selecting the models, judging or training the contestants, doing the make-up? you might compare the images there to those in maxim, for example. the images that come from the het-wo/gay-man side are much more relentless, much more processed, and the models are skinnier. what the readers of maxim want is pretty straightforward: pretty girls in lingerie. on the other side is a gigantic fantasy world of images and identities that we just didn't build for you, that we could not possibly have imagined.
it would be worth exploring how far one could go with the speculation that the way the images look has less to do with what straight men want to do than with what gay men want to be. they are hard to explain on any other terms, i believe. that might be the overriding source of the repertoire. this could plausibly be extended way backwards to when fashion designers and people who were dressing movie stars were still at least nominally in the closet. people like camille paglia or david halperin have looked back for the slightly-concealed gay sources of all sorts of arts and culture; what they say is plausible. but, it has got to be plausible for better and worse. finding the impetus in gay men probably gives straight women too little agency in the whole thing (as little as second-wave feminism attributed to them with regard to the hetmale gaze), and whatever the source, the images obviously work very powerfully on many straight women. one thing to consider: gay men are men, and straight women are women. the exercise of patriarchal power is possible, or indeed structurally inevitable, between the two groups in patriarchy, even if the story gets complicated after that. the gaze of a gay man is the gaze of a man.
at any rate, i'll tell you this: straight guys could not possibly have invented this repertoire; it corresponds to nothing we ever knew or envisioned. maybe it wasn't straight men who conveyed the message that you should stop eating and disappear, after all. (really, we never did want you to disappear. we needed your bodies with us, even if we didn't always want to have every piece of the subjectivity.) then think about the inextricably intertwined fantasy and shame that a gay man might have experienced in 1970 or whenever, and think about how images of what gay men wanted to be might really have come out. that is a rather brutal diagnosis. but...is it clearly false? that would need showing in the details of the history.
so first of all, maybe you shouldn't feel bad or wrong or anti-feminist for literally buying into that world. one thing it actually is is a sphere in which oppressed minorities have found power and self-determination (others have found there only prejudice and exclusion, however). but if you do feel funky about it, for god's sake you can't blame us (though we have plenty of actual oppression to answer for); the whole thing is internal to a culture that is closed to folks like us or is explicitly designed to extrude us and that we basically find incomprehensible. the standards of beauty it enforces really have very little to do with anything we ever thought or wanted. take some responsibility.
so, most op-ed columnists, radio hosts, and so on (start, say, with charles blow or gene robinson, either of whom could and sometimes does do much better), have moved off any attempt, say, to defend their policy positions, and on to sheer attempts to manipulate people, by calling other people, even the milquetoastiest, such as obama and romney, extreme or weird. the op-ed column, for example, has fully merged with the advertising industry, via political parties and campaigns and consultants; op-ed writers are more like political consultants every day; opinion journalism is now a wing of 'strategic' 'communications'. (an egregious example is the frank rich columns from 2008; week by week they mirrored the obama campaign's talking points, very often word for word.) it has repudiated truth or sincerity as anachronistic or impossible. one pitiful feature of this approach is that it cannot persuade anyone who doesn't already agree; it is explicitly designed to alienate and irritate anyone who doesn't agree. so the only idea is to manipulate people who already agree with you to agree with you.
seriously, you know 90% of the nyt's opinion readers or so are left of center, and yet it's written as though projected at their opponents; it's apparently intended to devastate them and make them feel bad for being on the wrong side. but of course everyone knows they're not there. they're insulting or in the best case arguing against them to each other, for their own edification. well, obviously let's say right-wing radio or sectors of fox and msnbc are the same. that is a very useless exercise. or what i'd say is that every column or rant is devoted to enhancing the self-esteem of the columnist or host and his audience: you're so great, so normal, so reasonable, because you're not like them. that this embroils the whole country in an ever-growing partisan divide that is ever-more contentless is neither here nor there i guess, compared to how rational and righteous you can persuade yourself you are, even by means that with complete clarity demonstrate the opposite.
as i have been saying (and saying, etc), this kind of jive is a tribute to the industriousness of cretins. i gave you a chance to reform; now i'm launchin. zachary goldfarb argues that obama's inaugural wasn't liberal, on the grounds that most people agree with it. one entailment, of course, is that no view that most people agree with is liberal. now to determine whether zachary goldfarb is himself the sort of person who might consider himself a liberal, or that other people might consider a liberal, would require reading more zachary goldfarb, which would be indefensible. but if zachary goldfarb is a liberal, then on his own account he ought to oppose regulating greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change, support cutting spending on medicaid, oppose a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, support cuts in education and transportation funding, and oppose same-sex marriage. for the contradictory positions, goldfarb flatly asserts, are not liberal. or another obvious implication: it is conceptually impossible to have a liberal majority, you doink.
but really, you see this everywhere every day: these are examples of the fact that our political discourse is dominated by meta-level 'analysis' that has no connection to any sorts of policy, or any practical matters of any sort, whatsoever. even the mere labeling (of a policy as 'liberal' or 'conservative, much less 'extreme'), even if someone were doing it coherently, is without any practical weight in the sense of reasons to do or believe anything about the issues of the sort goldfarb suspends in it, like mini-marshmallows in a bowl of turd-flavored jello. what turns on whether more education funding is a liberal policy or not? does that help you figure out whether it's a good idea? aw just spitballing here but you might want to look at the effects and costs of the policy and stuff like that. but at any rate, it cannot possibly be a liberal policy, according to zachary goldfarb. so, if you you are, sadly, the sort of person who evaluates policies according to whether they are or are not liberal, and tends to endorse those that are, you should oppose increased education funding with every piece of your big liberal heart. and you should not engage your mind at all.
but really, merely giving ideological labels to particular policies etc is the least of it, though zachary goldfarb cannot manage to do even that with even superficial coherence. the meta-discourse consists entirely of deciding who counts and who doesn't, who's extreme and who's not, according to who is doing well in the polling this week. same sex maririage, goldfarb points out, is polling at a bare majority. the moment it got to 50.1 was the moment it ceased to be a liberal policy. should that poll have a margin of error, or oscillate slightly, then it will, day by day and hour by hour, cease to be and then become again a liberal policy. so another lovely entailment here is that you are a liberal only if you are constantly changing your mind about this. the polling isn't used to lend weight to the actual positions, as 'ultra-brite is the best-selling toothpaste in toronto' might be held vaguely to provide some reason to buy it. all it says is: most people agree with me, hence, my opponents are wrong. ponder that inference. the polling is used to develop the ridicule, and none of it has a damned thing to do with anything even in competent versions.
just an absolutely minimal standard of consistency: if polling shifts, you've got to own your own crazy, anti-american, evil extremism. when jim crow segregation or anti-communist witch hunts or screeching homophobia were polling well, then of course all of your basic ideals were the views of extremists. that, by your own account, is what you yourself were the day before yesterday, and what you'll be again the day after tomorrow, and it is on your account a fundamentally important way to evaluate how plausible or morally good an opinion is. a decent person would just say 'so what?', which is precisely what martin luther king or harvey milk did say when people said (which they did) that they were extremists.
however, zachary goldfarb does provide a stunning argument that educational funding ought to be cut, or perhaps elminated entirely. the people who are basting the world with irreason on this scale are people who emerge from our educational system with advanced degrees. (right i am speculating that zachary goldfarb has undergone this sort of training; finding out for sure would require googling 'zachary goldfarb,' which would be wrong.) we like to think of education as imparting knowledge or something, but we probably ought to regard it as a systematic, intentional corruption of possibly-promising minds. evidently, the better your training in statistics or whatever it may be, the more ignorant you become, or the more boldly you endorse glaring fallacies or contradictions. it appears that whatever institutions zachary goldfarb emerged from pursued a policy of systematic neurological damage, which is a liberal policy, because it is not polling well. certainly it suggests that the whole educational structure from which goldfarbs emerge is entirely counter-productive. folks like this would be better and wiser people, they would have more reasoned positions - or at least they might have positions - if they were, for example, illiterate.
as on all such occasions, i feel that the best revenge against zachary goldfarb would be to take his 'arguments' at face value. don't assume that he is deploying them as clever manipulative strategies. that is particularly plausible in this case because goldfarb so signally fails to be clever in any dimension. if you take goldfarb to be sincere, or to mean what he says, the piece provides a devastating reflection on himself and his like. (on the other hand, if you assume that he is not sincere - and also on the plausible assumption that he is not some sort of master of irony - that is also a devastating reflection.) we should assume until shown otherwise that folks who put these sort of items forth are sincere, or would be sincere if they had said something. treat them as being precisely (as roget, consulting his excellent thesaurus, would put it) the sort of blockheads, dimwits, dolts, dullards, dunces, ignoramuses, imbeciles, and morons who would believe that they just made a good and important argument. assume that they believe that they are saying something and assume that this is the best they can do, until they actually display competence. then see that what they're saying is both completely empty and obviously incoherent, a stunning combination.
but i'm not at all angry! like jesus, i love your stupid ass.
this column by charles blow is ridiculous. first of all, it's just an exercise in manipulation and propaganda. "extremist extremist extremist': it doesn't engage the opponents or characterize anything about their positions; merely hurls insults at them, in an attempt to join a bunch of people together into a gantlet to spit on, dehumanize, and degrade their enemies. it's amazing that people who, say, could endorse the occupy movement, just uncritically use words like 'revolutionary' in a completely pejorative sense. as soon as your people get power, everyone does the same thing: our noble protests have won the day, and now disagreeing with us is illegal. sentence after sentence is quotation from hundreds of other columns by hundreds of other columnists: blow can't even write his own shit, despite the fact that he has been entirely liberated from cognitive or empirical content.
this, let's say, is the difference between individualism and collectivism as applied to op-ed columns: blow's column was written by a vast committee of people whose collective identity is founded on (1) hatred of their enemies, and (2) sentences that they all chant in the same order. the first move in establishing a collective consciousness is to stop thinking or trying to formulate ideas on your own. just kind of look sideways at what the folks around you are saying, and say it too, even if you're a bit late. for us all to flow together like the waters, each of us will have to be submerged. for us all (or at least, or rather necessarily, everyone except the Enemy) to become one thing, each of us must cease to be anything. i hope charles blow's people have celebrated his annihilation/expansion, as he has become one with all that is, or at least with his portion of the political spectrum.
one slight loss connected with the emergence of collective consciousness is that the voice of all us is very non-distinctive, as it has to be. well, art is going to be impossible in these conditions. they're incompatible with any sort of stylish or distinctive prose. that is a small price to pay for the ecstasy of unity, however.
i just might say: it's amazing what people say about white guys these days. if you tried that with any other group, the pc police would tar and feather you and run you out of town on a rail. stereotypes, profiling, a string of sheer generalized insults hurled at the group: all acceptable in this case. there are some reasons for that, of course. that doesn't make the structure of thought plausible or decent. 'thought,' however, might be inapt: the idea is to find a slogan or a word and then recite together like maoist schoolchildren.
really, i think that the idea of collective consciousness is basically a fiction or a simulation. but it is a fiction that has to be enforced by myriad social pressures and, as its real enthusiasts have known, if not said, by pervasive coercion. and i do think that you cannot have even the simulation of a collective consciousness that does not rest fundamentally on exclusions; our unity is proportional to our hatred, and there are just no clearer examples of that than the approach of people like blow, in fact just exactly like blow or indistinguishable from him. if someday he condemns partisanship or says all americans need to pull together, just snicker.
the favorite trope of leftists these days is condemning 'individualism,' which is self-evidently the essence of evil. but they need in the process to square up to the various dark sides of their own position, for example that solidarity is proportional to extrusion. we're all in this together, and that's why these monsters among us with the incomprehensible temerity to disagree with me must be silenced and exiled. this is completely obvious from their own expressions of their own positions: their plea for togetherness starts by attacking as evil idiots anyone who disagrees or who resists complete incorporation.
somehow, the new york times op-ed page has become the journal of empty brain research.
The part of the brain where the instinctive “fight or flight” signal is first triggered — the amygdala — is situated such that it receives incoming stimuli before the parts of the brain that think things over. Then, in our ongoing response to potential peril, the way the brain is built and operates assures that we are likely to feel more and think less. As Professor LeDoux puts it in “The Emotional Brain”: “the wiring of the brain at this point in our evolutionary history is such that connections from the emotional systems to the cognitive systems are stronger than connections from the cognitive systems to the emotional systems.”
look you've just imported the most primitive old-time dualisms into your interpretation of the imagery. human beings are torn between rationality and animality, between reason and passion. it might as well be spirit and flesh. 'the part of the brain that thinks things over': are you sure this is the clearest way to espress what you're saying? i am telling you that 'emotional' and 'cognitive' systems are just not going to turn out to be distinct. try to persuade me that you didn't just presume this dualism as a completely unjustified conceptual structure within which you conducted your resarch.
now you want to know why rational animals like ourselves believe and behave so irrationally. does it strike you that 'the irrational part is stronger than the rational part' is just a restatement of the problem, not any sort of solution? it's exactly as though i explained why people fail to be rational by pointing out that it's because they are seized by irrationality. why is michael jordan so good at basketball? because the good-at-basketball part of him is stronger than the sucks-at-basketball part.
the fact that you call the animal in us 'amygdala' only gives a slight patina of obscurantist authority for your entire augustine-style picture of human psychology, complete with original sin. you want to account for the fact that people behave irrationally. the answer: it is the beast within. even aristotle had a more sophisticated moral psychology. but what i love about it is that no work at all is devoted to questions like: is rationality distinct from the emotions? is that distinction where we want to start, as opposed to a bunch of other possible distinctions? if you don't start by really working through the definitional questions, you'll have no idea whether you're seeing the irrational bit or not. i don't doubt that y'all are pretty sophisticated in generating data. what i doubt is that you have any ability even to become aware of your own most obvious assumptions. possibly your higher cognitive module is being seduced by your amygdala.
as hume put it, the pre-frontal lobe is and ought only to be the slave of the amygdala. or kant's theory was that we could be motivated by pure application of the executive region, which should subdue the amygdala entirely. robert louis stephenson illustrated the brain research in his novella dr. pre-frontal cortex and mr. amygdala.
evidently, the key reasoning strategy of nobel-prize winners is amazingly direct: from any premises whatever, your pet conclusion follows. no matter what the data, it always shows that government should be larger and more active. krugman, i have to say, is merely obsessed: he just desperately wants to be subordinated: he thinks about nothing else day or night: nothing else actually matters.
so as i understand the argument, it's that if you agree that consumption drives the economy, and if you agree that certain governmental activities increase consumption, then you are rationally obliged to agree that such activities should go forward in a slump like this one. er. look: the inference is wildly fallacious. here's a parallel argument: consumption drives economic activity. requiring every american citizen to spend 50% of their savings on amazon this weeekend would increase consumption. so you're rationally obliged etc.
possibly any measures you take will have other effects than sheer stimlation. well assessing those effects - oh, you know, doubling the deficit - might be sort of important i assessing what you want to do.
well, i'm grateful to the times's stone blog, just for throwing philosophy into the popular press. and unlikely as this seems, one fermin debrabander seems to occupy a position that i once did at mica. however, this, i feel, is not the stone's best moment. the freud stuff with which he starts is a useless argument for general determinism: the worst sort of argument because you'd have to accept freudianism to agree with it. and if you think anti-individualism follows from sheer determinism, you are not a competent philosopher. of course the basic opinion is just this week's leftist whinge: he's just lifting his little voice in chorus. one should expect no better from a collectivist, i suppose; on his own view, no better is possible. debrabander makes the argument that none of us actually think for ourselves, then illustrates it as well as he can. just one more time: when such people say 'the interdependence of us all,' they mean 'coercion.' i mean, the interdependence of us all is both sort of a reality and what could be an inspiring aspiration, but judt etc just effortlessly use it synonymously with increasingly comprehensive state power. that's why the vision is chilling and the argument extremely insincere or self-deluded as well as demonstrably dangerous. it would be more dangerous if it were more plausible; it's just a tissue of elisions.
the reason that the argument is so bad is because the group is so unanimous; everyone loves the conclusion, so they're not too particular about the premises. it may be that debrabander has hardly interacted with anyone, or been edited by anyone, who might disagree. each time someone says it, it becomes more autonomic for everyone to say it. like i say, the argument is not only an example of that, it is an argument for it.
'now the election is no longer a referendum on obama, but a contest between two visions': it's amazing that every single pundit on all cable networks as well as a variety of op-ed columnists have all produced the very same 'idea' in the very same words for days, each with a flourish, as though pulling a rabbit out of a hat. how can a professional opinion-expresser not do better than that?
a tribute too all the empty instant explanations, via greatest hit, philly inquirer 2001:
I Was a Disgruntled Male Loner
"FBI believes angry male loner sent anthrax letters." When I saw that headline, I assumed that there was an actual suspect, but what they have in custody is a profile, developed by forensic specialists.
Now the FBI meant this announcement to be reassuring, to show that they're all over the case. But it had exactly the opposite effect: it made it clear that they haven't been able to do a damn thing, though I guess we can now eliminate your mom and the Dalai Lama.
FBI "behaviorist" Jim Fitzgerald said he hoped members of the public might recognize these characteristics and give the bureau some leads. But to be honest, most of the people I know are disgruntled male loners. Come to that, I am myself an disgruntled male loner. Consider that a tip, Jim.
Possibly it is time to stop interning Arabs and start interning disgruntled male loners. We'll set up a network of camps where loners can be gruntled. We'll have a bowling league and a drum circle.
The disgruntled male loner has truly become an icon of American culture. Perhaps it is a mere coincidence, yet it seems that assassins and terrorists such as Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Lee Harvey Oswald, Tim McVeigh and so on were all disgruntled. On the other hand, our heroes - such as the characters played by Clint Eastwood and John Wayne - are also disgruntled male loners. We love our disgruntled male loners, yet we fear them too.
It's so damn hard being a disgruntled male loner these days. We receive mixed messages from the media, which disgruntles us further. We used to be admired, even venerated, but in the post-September 11 world, our heroes aren't cowboys, but friendly, well-adjusted bureaucrats.
Profiling is an interesting business. It consists in reading character from its effects, inferring who someone is by what they do. In fact, we're all profilers. To figure out who people are, all we have to go on is what they do.
A character in a play by Moliere, asked why opium makes people sleepy, says with a grandly scientific air that it has a sleep-inducing property. To say that someone is angry isn't much of an explanation for their violent behavior: rather their violent behavior is the explanation for our attribution to them of anger.
In the FBI profile, the "male" part comes from the fact that most people who send threatening mail are men. According to these experts, the perp probably also has "some scientific background." I'm hoping that the bureau didn't actually use my tax dollars to pay someone to tell them that the person who did this was angry
When we infer a personality with as little specificity as that attributed by the FBI to the bioterrorist, it seems evident that we are dealing with a ghost, a mere abstract postulate. When you're dealing with your best friend, the ghost in the machine seems more vivid, but it's no less an artifact of imagination.
Even our sense of ourselves is more or less an inference from our own behavior, and an inference from what other people infer about our behavior.
The FBI might believe that they are piecing together "who" the perpetrator is. But all they're doing is restating the information we all have in slightly different terms. We are all skilled at this kind of paraphrase, and any of us could have done as well with less information.
Let me see: the perp is not an Al Gore supporter. He's liable to be over ten years old and to have at some time been in the state of New Jersey. He has a conflicted relationship with his Dad. He's not a tee-ball coach or a member of the Loyal Order of Moose. He isn't a very good ballroom dancer. He's resentful. He's unhappy. He's not much of a talker. He's not on anti-depressants, or if he is, he needs his medication adjusted. It's unlikely that he's a native of New Guinea; after all, most people aren't. He's not regarded as sensitive. Women have treated him badly. He probably does not like opera.
If you know this person, call your local FBI field office.