Same as it ever was

14 11 2017

Ever more allegations of sexual abuse—yay?

I mean, it’s good that those who’ve been harassed and assaulted are speaking up and, even better, apparently being heard: in Hollywood, gymnastics, politics, comedy, universities, the media, . . .

But oh, yeah, all of this shit happening everywhere all of the time.

Will THIS BE THE TIME something finally changes?

I don’t think so.

I’m not making any predictions—I am out of the prediction game—so my I don’t think so is more of a mood than anything else, and, oh yeah, I am mighty moody.

Rebecca Traister veers between hope and wariness:

This is different. This is ’70s-style, organic, mass, radical rage, exploding in unpredictable directions. It is loud, thanks to the human megaphone that is social media and the “whisper networks” that are now less about speaking sotto voce than about frantically typed texts and all-caps group chats.

Really powerful white men are losing jobs — that never happens. Women (and some men) are breaking their silence and telling painful and intimate stories to reporters, who in turn are putting them on the front pages of major newspapers.

[…]

“It’s a ‘seeing the matrix’ moment,” says one woman whom I didn’t know personally before last week, some of whose deepest secrets and sharpest fears and most animating furies I’m now privy to. “It’s an absolutely bizarre thing to go through, and it’s fucking exhausting and horrible, and I hate it. And I’m glad. I’m so glad we’re doing it. And I’m in hell.”

Traister focuses mostly on how this entire matrix captures all of us, perpetrator, victim, and bystander, but also notes (along with Barbara Ehrenreich) the class dimension of this latest round of revelations:

That reality fogs some of the satisfaction we feel in watching monstrous men lose their influence; we know that it’s a drop in a bottomless bucket. “Maybe we can get another two horrible people to have to step down or say they’re sorry,” one Democratic lawmaker told me, “but that helps only 20 people, and it’s 20 million who need things to change. Plus, you’re a farmworker? A lady who cleans offices? You’re a prostitute or an immigrant? You’re not going to tell your story.”

Hollywood can afford to lose Harvey Weinstein and Time can lose Mark Halperin and Fox is fine without Bill O’Reilly and Leon Wieseltier was in the twilight of his career anyway so, okay, throw the bums out and slap your hands together and mission accomplished.

Men have not succeeded in spite of their noxious behavior or disregard for women; in many instances, they’ve succeeded because of it. They’ve been patted on the back and winked along — their retro-machismo hailed as funny or edgy — at the same places that are now dramatically jettisoning them. “The incredible hypocrisy of the boards, employers, institutions, publicists, brothers, friends who have been protecting powerful men/harassers/rapists for years and are now suddenly dropping them,” says one of my colleagues at New York, livid and depressed. “What changed? Certainly not their beliefs about the behavior, right? Only their self-interest. On the one hand, I’m so happy they’re finally being called out and facing consequences, but there’s something so craven and superficially moralizing about the piling on by the selfsame people who were the snickerers and protectors.”

Another woman, who works in politics, grimly observes, “Sure, good liberal thinkers will go to their sexual-harassment seminars and do all the things they should be doing. But ultimately, this is a cover-your-ass moment, not a change-the-rules moment.”

Cui bono? Always ask this, I tell my students. It’s not the only question, sometimes not even the most important question, but if you don’t look at who gains from any system or practice, then you can’t really see why that system would persist or that practice embraced.

Hard on this question is the less mellifluous Who pays? If who benefits and who pays are two different groups, then the system will remain.

Not doing much about abuse has worked for a lot of people, men and women, for a long time. And those for whom it hasn’t worked, well, they haven’t mattered as much. Those who benefit are more powerful than those who pay.

And while there is something cathartic in those who’ve paid and paid and paid again shouting and hissing and grimly intoning Enough, while it seems as if this is A Moment, I dread the counter-moment, the It’s-gone-too-far, the Enough-with-enough backlash.

As Traister notes, “A powerful white man losing a job is a death, and don’t be surprised if women wind up punished for the spate of killings.”

Still, she is hopeful, noting that maybe, this time, finally, this time it will be different. She quotes a friend’s response to the recent election results: “Maybe we’re the backlash.”

It’d be nice to think so, wouldn’t it? I don’t, but maybe it’s worth it to act as if it were so.

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I’ve looked at life from both sides now

6 11 2017

Night is falling early, so time for this:

Perfect every time.





History recalls how great the fall can be

26 10 2017

My teaching has changed.

Not that it’s obvious: I’m still teaching the same subjects (politics, bioethics) and assigning the same (-ish) readings, still presenting much of the same material, still asking many of the same questions, and still assigning papers and take home essays.

But I’m also less, mm, neutral than I used to be.

Again, not in terms of conclusions I expect students to reach or questions they may ask—I invite disagreement—but in stressing what is at stake in these questions and conclusions. I want them to know that everything we study has happened, is happening, or could happen, and that these happenings matter. They must be able to think in order to deal with what is and what’s next.

What was that old Mary Harris ‘Mother’ Jones quote? Sit down and read. Educate yourself for the coming conflict!

I don’t say that directly to the students, but, yes, that’s the attitude I now take in teaching them.

This started awhile ago, in teaching bioethics. Bioethics is not neutral: there is explicit value placed on human life, health is a good, and biomedical research is in general (although not always in the particulars) to be encouraged. Those who work in bioethics make commitments to the values of the field, and while there is little consensus on how best to uphold those values, there is a sense that, yes, to work in bioethics is to pick a side.

I think that exists in other fields, as well, although in much older fields (bioethics is quite young), those values may be submerged beneath a veneer of professionalism, i.e., what matters is what is done rather than what is valued in the doing. That doesn’t mean those professionals are value-free so much as value-assumed.

Shit, I’m not getting this right. What I want to say is: read the last chapter of Richard Evans’s Lying About Hitler.  Really, read the whole thing—it’s a terrific takedown of David Irving’s Holocaust-denying, Hitler-apologizing, so-called historical work (an evisceration performed in service to Deborah Lipstadt’s defense against Irving’s libel claim)—but in that last chapter he goes all-in on the necessity of standards in historical research, and of the necessity of historical research itself:

Reputable and professional historians do not suppress parts of quotations from documents that go against their own case, but take them into account and if necessary amend their own case accordingly. They do not present as genuine documents those that they know to be forged just because these forgeries happen to back up what they are saying. They do not invent ingenious but implausible and utterly unsupported reasons for distrusting genuine documents because these documents run counter to their arguments; again, they amend their arguments if this is the case or abandon them altogether. They do not consciously attribute their own conclusions to books and other sources which, in fact, on closer inspection, actually say the opposite. They do not eagerly seek out the highest possible figures in a series of statistics, independently of their reliability or otherwise, simply because they want for whatever reason to maximize the figure in question, but rather, they assess all the available figures as impartially as possible in order to arrive as a number that will withstand the critical scrutiny of others. They do not knowingly mistranslate sources in foreign languages to make them more serviceable to themselves. They do not willfully invent words, phrases, quotations, incidents, and events for which there is no historical evidence to make their arguments more plausible to their readers.

At least, they do not do any of these things if they wish to retain any kind of reputable status as historians. [pp. 250-251]

Irving, of course, did all of these.

Now it could be said, fairly, that what Evans presents is an idealized version of what is a good historian, and that, as with idealized versions of scientific inquiry, the reality falls rather short. Still, he is making the argument that we can, with much effort, learn, come to know something of the past, and that this knowledge matters enough for historians to put in that effort.

I am more leery than Evans of speaking of the truth of various events, but, really, if I believe—if I know—that Holocaust denial is false, then aren’t I saying that the truth is, in some way, out there?

Anyway, in last week’s politics & culture course we went over the early career of Hitler; I made a point to highlight that his eliminationist antisemitism was there from the outset (1920) and that those who would deny that Hitler knew anything about or wanted to kill all Jews were not credible. The evidence is there, I said, in documents and speeches, in the recollections of others and in his own book, and these can’t just be dismissed.

You can’t just make shit up.

They tittered when I said that, but I was dead serious. Yes, there are legitimate interpretative differences of agreed-upon evidence, and not everything can be known, but if you want to know—if you value knowledge—then you have to take reasoned account of that evidence. You can’t, I repeated, just make shit up.

And that, I guess, is how I take a shortcut to this post’s end: I have until too recently been too cavalier about the value of knowledge itself. Ye gads, yes, the post-structuralist in me is screaming and the epistemological nihilist rolling her eyes, but I can’t, or really, won’t, in this moment, say Lol, nothing matters.

I never really did teach as if nothing mattered, and I’m (almost) always enthusiastic about what I do teach—it is not uncommon for me to interject Isn’t this cool!—but, yeah, I have had a take-it-or-leave-it attitude with regard to what the students get out of a course. I wanted them, sure, to get something out of it, but I don’t know that I ever thought it necessary that they do so.

Now, I think it’s necessary, that it was always necessary.





Nazi punks fuck off

20 09 2017

Ohhh, I don’t know why, but it seemed that it might be a good time to read Deborah Lipstadt’s Denying the Holocaust.

No reason, really. Y’know, I just happened to have recently watched Denial, happened to have been at the Strand, happened to have to have found myself in the Holocaust Studies section, and, Oh, look, there it is. And then I just happened to have found myself in the opposite corner of the basement in the Law section, where, again, Lookee, here’s History on Trial.

I have said before that, after that first rush to do something, anything, to grit up the gears of the Trump machine, I’d deflated.

I’m still flat. Oh, I still go to the occasional protest and holler, but mostly, I read of all the harm this administration is doing and think God. Fucking. Dammit. And not much more.

I am still trying to think, however, and I figured Lipstadt would be among those authors who could give me something to think about. She doesn’t sketch out an explicit typology of denial in Denying, but in laying out the stories of Hitler and Nazi apologetics, she makes it easy to see the tricks and bullshit these horrid wretches pull to advance their pernicious claims. (In fact, I think I may go through the book and pull out and arrange that tricksy shit for all of y’all.)

It is discouraging, however, to note that, in the preface to Denying, she writes of the incredulity her work provoked, as if no one could believe such a rebuttal were necessary. But then, she continues, That situation has changed dramatically. Regrettably, I no longer have to convince others of the relevance of this work.

Why discouraging? Denying was published in 1993.

~~~

I know, it’s easy to laugh at tiki torches and fashy haircuts, but anyone who wears a swastika is a menace. I absolutely believe that we can and should laugh at these assholes as much as possible—if mockery can shrink ’em, then let’s errrrybody mock—but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take them seriously, and shouldn’t be ready to confront them at every possible turn.*

I’ve long thought it important to keep an eye on the fringes, even if I didn’t think it necessary to do more than that. The overt antisemites are still on the fringes, along with the hood-wearing racists, but that they’re popping up has made it even easier for the ‘respectable’ white supremacists to advance their ideas about “globalists”, “thugs”, and “aliens”.

Again, none of these convictions translates, for me, into a clear sense of what, exactly, I should be doing. But I know I need to prepare for whatever comes.

~~~

*I just re-read Jen Graves’s 2013 piece on Charles Krafft, an artist who worked—ironically, it was thought—in Nazi imagery; turns out that, no, really not ironic.

So Krafft is a piece of shit. But what’s striking is less his shittiness than his friends’ reactions to that shittiness:

Another old friend, Tacoma writer Peggy Andersen, said she had to stop socializing with Krafft. “I told him, ‘When I hang out with you, I feel like I’m endorsing something.’… His main thing is that the Holocaust is an exaggeration. I say, if they only killed 10,000 people because they were Jewish, it would still be a holocaust, jackass.” As Andersen and I ended our interview, she said, “Be sure to say I love Charlie.”

A longtime friend who insisted on anonymity said, “It’s not only anti-Semitic stuff, it’s also racism—you know, blacks and women and anything that is held dear by the liberal establishment. And I can see a reaction against holier-than-thou attitudes, I mean, yeah, of course. But…”

Other friends, like Larry Reid, coauthor of the 2002 monograph on Krafft, Villa Delirium, just sort of look away. “I try not to pay too much attention,” Reid said.

Yeah, no, looking away, proclaiming love, not paying attention: not gonna fly.

Like I said, I may not know what to do, big-picture, but if one of my “kind”, “generous”, “articulate”, Zen friends goes Nazi, I sure as hell hope I know at least enough to say NOPE.





Shine a little light

11 09 2017

Last year, I didn’t go out to look at the lights.

They’re visible from the grounds of my building, two thin, blurred beams towering up through the night, disappearing into the beyond. All I have to do is walk down a few flights of stairs, across the lobby, out the door, angle a look left and up, and there they are.

I haven’t seen them every year since I’ve been in New York; in fact, I don’t know if I saw them before I moved to my current apartment. Maybe? I don’t know.

Anyway, I wasn’t here when it happened, didn’t know anyone (at the time) directly affected; those who I know who were here will talk about it, if prompted, but none of them will volunteer the memory. It’s personal.

It sometimes seems fake for me to claim those two lights as mine, to think that there’s anything to my witness of this annual rite. But I felt bad, last year, for not going out. Here or not, mine or not, it seemed disrespectful not to remember, especially since that remembrance costs me so little.

So, tonight, I took the short walk down and out, looked left and up, and there they were, grayer here and brighter there as they passed through the clouds and up into the beyond, farther than those of us on the ground can see.





Going to the chapel

10 09 2017

I was supposed to get married last night. Or early this morning. Or both, really.

This happens every so often: I am in some sort of wedding venue about to wed a man I barely know.

Last night, he was blond and nice and I don’t know even know if bridal-me knew his name. I think I knew the bridesmaids—in one version, the three of them were wearing not-entirely-awful aubergine dresses, and we acted like we knew each other—but I also remember wondering whether they were friends or family or why they were my bridesmaids. At one point they were stepping on my very long train.

In both versions the wedding was being held in some kind of funky mansion/old hall with 17 chapels, with many weddings happening all at once. It was an amazing place, and it was all quite festive.

Also, in both versions, I thought Why the hell am I getting married? I mean, the groom (younger than me, I think) seemed like a perfectly decent guy, but we hadn’t know each other very long and I felt nothing in particular for him. In one version I actually made it into the chapel and was about to head down the aisle, but in the other I (and/or bridesmaids and/or friends and family) were rushing to find the right chapel, thinking we’re late, but not. At one point in one of the versions I recall telling a friend I really shouldn’t be getting married and she cheerfully agreed, but nothing came of it. I also thought I should call this off; isn’t it too late to call this off? Then again, I also thought, Well, let’s see what happens. Oh, and yet yet again, I thought, this is all just a dream so it doesn’t matter what happens because when I wake up I’ll be single.

Also, in both versions, my hair was a disaster.

Now, when I was younger I thought—assumed—I’d get married. As a dress-hating pre-adolescent I announced that I would get married in jeans, a jean jacket, and a jeans hat. Yes, I left that particular fixation behind, but also, at some point probably in my twenties, stopped assuming I’d get married, then stopped wanting it.

Do I want to get married? In the abstract, no, which, given that my relationships never lasted long enough to advance much beyond the theoretical, meant that that abstraction reigned. But what if I met someone who was not abstract, with whom I did manage to maintain a relationship long enough for it to become real, for us to say, Hey, maybe. . . ?

I dunno. I doubt it. Then again, Hey, maybe. . . .

In the meantime, I guess I’ll keep having this nocturnal ceremonies with grooms (thus far, they’ve all been men, but that could change) I barely know, wearing gowns I’d never choose, always simultaneously late and on-time, the perpetual bride-to-be.





Not touching ground at all

22 08 2017

Sucks to look for a therapist.

Physician? Not a problem: as long as the person’s competent and friendly (enough), I can work with him or her. I found my current doc via a walk-in service I used when insurance-less; now insured, I still see her, and she’s fine.

But a therapist? I gotta click with the person, and since I don’t know ahead of time who I’ll think, Yeah, okay, this is someone I’m willing to talk to even when I’m unwilling to talk, it’s a pain in the ass to search.

Well, that, and that I’m looking for a therapist means I’m NOT IN THE MOOD to be looking for a therapist.

I’ve had two good therapists, one nice-but-not-great one, and a number of non-starters. The two good ones were nothing alike—one was a younger psychiatrist who taught in the UW med school and was laid-back in her approach; the other was older, had a master’s in counseling psychology, and pushed—but both were tough and kind. I trusted each of them as much as I’ve trusted anyone.

So, beyond “tough and kind”, I don’t really have a type. I’ll know within a session or two—well, honestly, I’ll know within one session if I cannot work with someone, a few more if I can—which means I have to do the therapeutic equivalent of speed-dating before deciding on a relationship.

This shouldn’t be that big of a deal: meet for an introductory session, and if it works, great, and if not, well, it was only one session. But this seems like an enormous obstacle when one is NOT IN THE MOOD to be doing much of anything—which is, of course, no small part of the reason why I’m looking for a therapist in the first place.

I’ve been avoiding looking for months, but tonight I finally hopped on to my insurer’s website and looked for therapists who a) they covered; b) dealt with affective disorders; c) were in a convenient location; and d) had a schedule which would accommodate my own. I found three who met these criteria, although if none of these work out, there are plenty more available.

Now, having managed to drag myself out of my torpor long enough to find some possible therapists, I need to maintain this momentum (hah!) to confirm that my insurance coverage does, indeed, cover the therapist AND THEN book an appointment! Horrors.

Do I have it in me? I’d better, if I’m not to sink any further into this lassitude. I’m not in crisis, which makes it easy to put this off, but if I put it off too much longer, well, I might still be fine, or fine enough.

But knowing what not-fine is like and that that’s a risk? Yeah, I’d best get on this.