What you say? I’m just askin’ (pt I)

29 08 2010

When do words and acts become being?

As quoted by Tobin Harshaw in The NYTimes’ The Opinionator, Sister Toldjah:

The little secret that is not really a secret except in the closed-minded world of the left is that most conservatives don’t “hate” gay people. Apparently, because most conservatives don’t support gay marriage and don’t support gays openly serving in the military, they “hate” them. This is “hate” – in spite of the fact that most conservatives also do not support polygamy nor any other type of “alternative” marriage, nor do they support women serving on the front lines in war. It’s an issue of not wanting to tamper with the existing social structure of the two parent man/woman family, and not wanting to create an atmosphere of great uncomfortableness in the military between those who are openly gay and those who aren’t. We’ve seen the disastrous results of the left’s tampering in the social arena for decades now, and we’re opposed to signing onto anything else they have to offer on that front.

A commentor, Ralph Dempsey agreed:

I am so sick of being called a ‘homophobe’ just because I oppose gay marriage and want to keep homosexuals out of the military. The liberal Left is trying to play the same game they play with the race card. Sincere, honest, loving, genuine people oppose two men or two women attacking the sanctity of those in heterosexual marriages. That is not bigoted any more than people who opposed interracial marriages were racist. Over 85% of the country during the early 60’s did not want Black men trying to procure white women – were all these people racist? Give me a break. We should be free to oppose minority lifestyles without being labelled as haters.

Hm.

I do like that Mr Dempsey made manifest what is so often implied: Why should the majority suffer any consequences for opposing (oppressing?) minorities?

(And yes, I also like the comparison to views about interracial marriage in the 1960s, when ‘Over 85% of the country did not want Black men trying to procure white women’ didn’t necessarily mean those people were racist. I see. Would you accept sexist?)

As much as I’d like to play around all day with the scary-Negro-carrying-off-white-women image, I do think the more significant issue is the one of doing and being: At what point can your actions—your words, your deeds, your opinions—point to something about you and your character?

Nobody wants to be a bigot, but, it seems, many people wish to speak and act in a bigoted manner.

My first reaction is thus: There are two kinds of tolerance: that of the superior for the inferior, and that of equals for equals. As long as gays and lesbians (and bisexuals! don’t forget us bisexuals!) and anyone else cast in the role of Those People are treated as lesser, then those with the superiority complex may justly be called out for the bigotry of that superiority.

If you seek to deny others what you enjoy yourself, then you may be justly called out for the injustice of that denial.

If you seek to justify this injustice, then you may justly be called a bigot.

You want to be able to speak and act in a bigoted manner, but you don’t want to be called a bigot.

It’s really quite simple: If you don’t want to be called a bigot, then quit acting like one.

****

A fine conclusion (and one which sentiment I’ve almost certainly stolen from others), and certainly a satisfying shortcut through bullshit.

But, alas, in so shortcutting the deeper question is both highlighted and skirted: what are the dots between what you do and who you are?

And what are in those dots, anyway? Stay tuned. . . .





And when I fall asleep I don’t think I’ll survive the night

27 08 2010

Everyone dies, and everyone was dying.

It was the end of the world, gently. People were falling over and dying, everyone, and everyone knew their own ends were soon, and instead of hysteria and rioting we were going out restaurants and laughing on our barstools and everyone was well-lit (as in the lighting was good but maybe also a little drunk) and in a really good mood.

A bit of melancholy, but mostly a resigned good cheer.

At one point I felt the heaviness in my chest and I crept behind a plywood wall and lay on shaded grass next to a wooden bench and thought Okay, this is it, and the only thing that felt wrong was that I was all alone. We were all dying and it seemed we should die together.

I wasn’t afraid or angry or anything but accepting; it was not a bad feeling.

But then I started to write and I thought, Well, wait a minute, let me try to write before I die, so I got up and was writing on the wall and then on boards and then I thought I need another marker. I got on a bus to take me to a place to get that marker and the bus started careening all over the place and everyone was laughing and I realized that this was a crash bus (it had specific name which I can’t remember) and I had to get off. Not yet, I said, not yet. So when we passed a patch of grass I launched myself off the bus and landed and rolled and when I looked up the people on the bus were laughing and giving me the thumbs up and saying Way to go, Radio.

Radio? I was confused and thought that maybe that had something to do with something I said on the radio. I didn’t know anyone had heard.

Was I afraid to die, was that why I left the bus? I was more worried about the crashing, the injury, than death. Still, I wanted to write.

I ended up in a lab run by the guy who played Michael on LA Law and his young assistant and I said I needed markers and the assistant gave me a small marker which didn’t work and Michael said No, no, she needs a real marker and he gave me a couple and I started writing then and there on whatever wood I could find.

I knew I wouldn’t finish but I thought There has to be a record, someone has to write something down before we’re all gone. Michael and the assistant and the other people in the lab were all working on why we were all dying and they were all smiling, gentle and resigned and still working.

Is this how it is? Wouldn’t there be violence and mayhem and denial and wouldn’t we do anything wreck anything to get away from our end? But no it was like a charmed party nearing its end which we didn’t want to leave but knew the evening had finally come to a close.

So I was back to writing in block letters because it was a thick marker and my penmanship is terrible and I wanted to make sure you could read it and I wondered if other people were writing. I hope other people remembered to write about our end.

And then my chest got heavier and heavier and then I woke up.





Q&A: Caputo

26 08 2010

how did you come to his works? —dmf

dmf—who clearly knows more about John Caputo’s works than I do—asked me the above question. Given that Caputo is not widely read by political scientists nor, almost certainly, by the general public, it’s the kind of particular query which opens up to the more general: how’dja find this [relatively unknown] cat?

For Caputo and me, the answer is twofold:

1. I read a long review of his works in the online version of Christianity Today; given the length of the essay, I think it was in the Books & Culture section. I was intrigued.

2. I worked in the philosophy section of the Astor Place Barnes & Noble and noticed we had a copy of Caputo and Gianni Vattimo’s After the Death of God. Employees are allowed to borrow hardcover books from their store, so I plucked this one out.

That’s the twinned short answer; here’s the bifurcated longer answer:

Early in my grad school career I became interested in the question of knowledge. It didn’t initially cohere into an inquiry into epistemology, but I did note that many of the questions I had about x, y, or z phenomena would lead me to questions about the approaches to x, y, or z phenomena, which led, ultimately, to questions about any approach to any phenomenon—in other words, not only how do we know what we know, but how do we determine something is a ‘what’ worthy (or at least capable) of being known, and what does it mean that something has been plucked out of the everything to become a ‘what’ in this particular way.

(These kinds of questions, it should be said, can go on for a very long time. You get the drift. . . .)

Epistemological issues were all the rage (really!) in some parts of the academy in the 1990s, which is when I did the bulk of my graduate work. Early on I was a dogmatic post-modernist and quite glib in my denuciations of Liberalism, the concept of the unitary individual, and the notion that we could ever truly know anything. Ah, the joys of the supercharged nihilist!

Then time did its thing, I mellowed, and while I didn’t surrender my skepticism, I no longer held it in such esteem. I don’t know that we can know, but we seem to make do, in the meantime. I toss a lot of knowledge into the category of the ‘provisional’ and go on from there.

There’s much more behind this, of course, but this is reasonable gloss on where I am now.

So I’m much less dogmatic than I used to be, more curious, and more willing to retrieve from my own personal ash-heap notions that had seem dead, naive, or hopelessly problematic. (Note: that something was ‘hopelessly problematic’ was reason both for my know-it-all (!) nihilist self to toss it and my curious self to retrieve it.) One of those things I had tossed was hermeneutics.

My department was very strong in political theory, but most of the theorists were suspicious of the turn theory seemed to be making away from the history of thought and toward considerations of method. Still, there were courses on method, and in one of those courses we mucked around a bit in hermeneutics. This, however, was a hermeneutics of the Gadamer sort, that is, an explicitly backwards-looking interpretation of tradition and meaning.

I have my disagreements with Habermas, but I think he nails it with regard to this type of interpretation: it is the method of the museum.

So to have come across Caputo and Vattimo and their arguments about ‘weak theology’ and nihilism and radical hermeneutics, well, I was intrigued: This was not your father’s interpretive method.

Couple this with an ongoing interest in questions of existence and hop-skip-jump I am led down another rabbit hole.

The second element at play concerns curiosity and cowardice among the credentialed. You see, once you get a degree, you [are able to] assume a level of expertise about your particular field. This expertise requires you both to know the Big Names and Big Debates and to have more answers than questions; it also requires you to shun certain topics and authors as unworthy of Serious Consideration.

In short, you know whose name to drop and whose to dismiss.

Now, I had never heard of either Caputo or Vattimo when I was in grad school, and I have no reason to believe that either had any kind of reputation, good or bad, among political theorists. Still, they were (are?) outliers among my kind, which makes them risky: If others haven’t heard of them, how are you to talk about them? Perhaps there’s a good reason no one else has heard of them; perhaps there’s something wrong with you for thinking so highly of them. . . .

Please note that no one has ever actually said any of these things to me; no, the responsibility for carrying this particular set of neuroses lies with me. But having been acculturated into academia, and by remaining even tangentially involved (as an adjunct) in my field, I remain caught in those cross-currents of ‘credentiality’; perhaps as an adjunct I am even more vulnerable to questions about my legitimacy as a political theorist.

Yet I have also, because I am an adjunct who is not looking for a tenure-track position, had the space to turn around and look at what and why it is I am doing, on the margins, in the academy. What is the purpose of my presence in the classroom?

And that is where Caputo and Vattimo have led me, in their forward-looking or radical hermeneutics: What is your purpose? What is the point? What is the meaning? What are the possibilities?

Answers are fine and necessary things, and in certain contexts require their own kind of courage. But the questions! Those can always get you into real trouble.





Fine line

25 08 2010

Recounted by Stephen Budiansky:

olvidar la injuria es la mejor venganza: to forget an insult is the greatest revenge

h/t: The Daily Dish





It seems strange that she should be offended

24 08 2010

I  swear to god, this is my last post on this. . . and I swear to goddess, it won’t be long.

So, does anyone remember when people pundits used to ask ‘Where are the moderate Muslims? Why aren’t any moderate Muslims speaking out against terror?’

(Emily Hauser, over at In My Head, did a fine job of assembling at least some Muslim response to extremism, and in so doing, poking a stick in the eye of gently reminding those same pundits not to confuse their lack of attention for these folks’ lack of effort.)

And now here’s a man, Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, who has been sponsored by both the Bush and Obama administrations to speak about the United States to Muslim audiences, who has a long history in the United States, who’s a Sufi, who’s praised by Jeffrey Goldberg fer cryin’ out loud!, who steps up and wants to make nice, and how is he treated?

Mm-hmm.

I don’t know this guy, and I don’t know if this center will ever actually be built, and as a non-but-only-very-rarely-anti-religious type who thinks pluralism is nifty, I don’t much care one way or the other if this joint is built. If it is, dandy; if not, okey-doke.

But. As a resident of New York City, as an American citizen, and as adherent to a kind of chastened humanism which sees the kind of hate-based intimidation which has been all-too-prevalent in this so-called debate as a danger to us all, I most definitely care that some among us are cast out out of public life not because of what they do but because of what it is feared that Those People will always and inevitably do.

This hatred diminishes us all, closes us down and corrodes our body politic. Damn those who revel in it.

*Update: Matt Finkelstein has more on the shit thrown at Rauf.

(h/t The Daily Dish)





And I don’t even know their names

22 08 2010

I catch the last car through the grate. Shit.

But it’s not mine, not whisking by the platform, tho’ it’s headed, like me, deeper into Brooklyn. I puzzle over this as I swipe my card and push through the bars to stand and wait.

Hoyt: the train I missed I didn’t, a 4 moseying through on the express track, just not express.

The next 2 train will arrive in. . . 19 minutes. I look up, and the sign says, 2  12 minutes.

Huh? Oh yeah, just cycling through. No 3 train this weekend. Not that I care: the 2 is mine.

I pull out my The Beautiful Struggle and consider leaning against the ceramic pillar while I read, but decide my naked arm is too clean, and I adjust my gym bag and widen my feet instead, hips pushed forward.

Sound down the line, and I peer into the tunnel. The light’s not right: another 4 taking its time rumbling through. I go back to my book, then look up, and see a small girl with her hands cupped around her eyes, spying on Hoyt, spying on me. Her grin is shy, and then, just before she disappears, an even shyer wave.

I watch the people in the rest of the cars. A small boy bouncing in the window, laughing. Two middle-aged men, sitting tight. A woman reading. Another woman reading. A man leaning against the rails, snoozing. The middle conductor glancing at me, his face, blank.

Two more 4 trains amble by while I wait, and I let my book go slack for both of them, staring through the dim of the middle tracks and into the lighted cars. The woman fixing her hair. The young man turned sideways, toward his girl. More books read by more women. A man signing to two people whose backs I can only see. A man in a kipa half-turned, gazing ahead. A young woman in Heidi braids, dozing. The last car, always someone leaning his or her head against whatever will hold it up, dozing. The last car, the conductor’s berth always empty, until the return.

Most of these faces are black, some brown, a few Chinese (do I know they’re Chinese? I do not.). Even fewer are almost as white as me.

I’m still damp from my workout, still damp from my shower, and damp in the long quiet of the station.

The 2 rolls in, the door opens right where I stand. I step through, and head for home.





Mad world

19 08 2010

I cannot believe (as in: I despair) that this is being considered:

Are there enough curse words in all the world’s languages  to be dropped in response to this?

On a (very small) upside: check out the serious debate on the Atlantic‘s website about Jeffrey Goldberg’s article in particular and the Iran-with-nukes scenario in general. Goldblog irritates me to no end, and in looking at the participants in the debate my first reaction was Elliot Abrams? Seriously?!

Still, there’s a real—as in, serious and reasoned—argument happening there. Wish there were a wider spectrum of views—well, more skeptical and radical views—but then again, I wish I could run 5 1/2 minute miles and that eating Doritos helped me to lose weight.

So just as I puff out oh-so-much-more-than-5 1/2-minute-miles and limit my Doritos consumption, so too do I limit my ambitions as regards mainstream debates about world affairs. That is, I accept that sometimes the less-than-ideal can still be worthwhile.

Now, if only we could get various delusional/sullen world leaders to agree. . . .





Kitty chill

18 08 2010

All right, so I’m irritated about everything. . . but the LOLcats, they work for me:

You’re welcome.





Too goddamned irritated. . .

17 08 2010

. . . to write on the following topics:

  • New York vs California
  • nostalgia and memory
  • understanding and critique
  • bias and understanding (epistemology, ontology, and hermeneutics)
  • something about my deranged cat
  • anything other than Lower Manhattan development or abortion

I want to be thoughtful and honest and maybe a little funny and not caught up in every last fucking idiocy which streams across my computer—but, alas, I fail.

Breathe, ab, breathe.





Harry Reid is a fucking idiot

16 08 2010

“The First Amendment protects freedom of religion,” reads a statement from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office (D-Nev.). “Senator Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else. . . .”

The fuck this has to do with Reno. . . ?

h/t: Huffington Post (because, as of 9:23pm EST, there is no mention of this statement on Reid’s senate website.)