Take the long way home

6 06 2019

I mentioned awhile back that I was working on a project called “Modernity’s Ideologies”, in which I trace the historical emergence of political ideologies in Europe from ’round about 1517-1945. I waaaay condensed that into a chart much like this one:

(Sorry for the bleed-through: I print almost everything on used paper.)

I haven’t given up on that, exactly, but the bugger certainly became bigger and bigger and bigger and I thought, Man, I gotta getta hold of this. So, I’m still reading and thinking and thinking and reading, but I’ve cooled my jets considerably.

That project was/is meant as scholarship, but also as a teaching tool, and I used some of those ideas in my class on the Weimar Republic to try to help the students make sense of the riot of political movements in 1920s Germany.

(I don’t know that it actually helped.)

Anyway, in teaching that, on women’s politics, and a course on American government and politics, I’ve also had the occasion to ask What is politics, anyway?

In those cases, I used a version of this chart:

This refers to what I call the “fields of action” of politics, and I first developed it when teaching that women in politics course in order to capture the multifarious ways women participated in political life.

I’ve since adapted this to my AmPol course, and as you can see by the written notes, the adaptation is ongoing.

In fact, this adaptation is part of a new project called “A Partial Politics”, a part of which I plan to use for teaching in the fall. I’ll discuss the fields of action (mentioning that in other nations military, religious, and economic institutions may also form overtly political fields) along with various definitions of politics (Aristotle, Easton, Lasswell, Crick, Arendt, Schmitt, etc.). I lecture on all of this and write it on the board, but I think it would be useful for the students to have a version written out for them and that they can refer back to.

The fields of action thing actually works well for how I teach the AmPol course, which includes a central role for the early civil rights movement (1960-65, more or less): I note the different institutions within government, the splits in the parties, and note how the NAACP fits more as an interest group, SNCC & CORE as activists groups, and the SCLC somewhere in the overlap.

One thing I’ll definitely change in the chart is the implication that “underground” politics flow only out of activist groups: certainly the overlapping roles of the Klan, the White Citizens’ Councils, and sundry other violent white supremacist groups with state and local governments give lie to that. And, of course, the various corruptions involving modern-day interest groups, while not exactly underground in the same way, suggest further modification of the above-ground/underground distinction.

I may also include some discussion of the different types of roles one sees across all fields (although some may be more prominent in one area than another); I currently have:

policy
process
prophet
politicking (persuading, pressing flesh, etc) [eh, too indistinct; maybe ‘persuader’?]
pundit
foot soldier
connector?
trickster (dirty, ie, ratfucker; anarchic, eg Yippie, Pirate Party, Ukrainian comic)
hustler (grifter; spotlight hogs, etc)

Political actors may inhabit multiple roles, or may be primarily defined by one. Nancy Pelosi, I’d argue, is a master of process, but she’s not who to turn to in developing policy or to lead the masses to the promised land, i.e., a prophet.

And this isn’t just about elected officials; you can find people to fill these roles across all fields. John Lewis in his SNCC days, for example, was a foot soldier and a connector, putting himself on the line repeatedly as well as being willing to work with King and the SCLC when others in SNCC were unwilling.

Anyway, this is all preliminary: I’ve got the summer to get at least this part pulled together.

You’ll notice that I didn’t say anything about ideologies and AmPol. That’s due mostly to my focusing on strategies and tactics, but also to the fact that the chart above needs to be radically altered to account for American ideologies (another piece of that overgrown Ideologies project). Given that the US, as a nation (ie, since the 1780s), has always been modern, discussing ideologies as a reaction to modernity doesn’t work. There’s also the matter of how to deal with the slaveocracy, which to my-mostly-ignorant mind, attempts to graft Enlightenment sensibilities on top of a pseudo-feudal structure.

I won’t teach from a mostly-ignorant position, so this doesn’t get discussed much at all. Given that I barely get through the material as-is, this isn’t a problem.

But if I am to fill out that “A Partial Politics”, then I will also have to fill out that ideologies section, in some way or another.

I know, I keep doing wide outruns and getting lost; this time, I’ll try to keep it closer, and plink away at it bit by bit.

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In the end the rain comes down

4 06 2019

Oh, what’s a conservative to do?

Yes, I’ve been following the Ahmari-French “whither conservatism?” dust-up with some professional interest and personal amusement. (You can find links, along with Rod Dreher’s usual voluminous commentary, to the whole schmatta here, here, here, and here)

As a political theorist, I’m interested in how ideology shakes out; as a leftist, I’m a bystander, as I have no interest in making conservatism stronger. And even if I did want to contribute, I don’t know why any conservative would want to take my thoughts under advisement: I’m sure as hell skeptical as hell of anyone from the other side telling those on my side how to do better.

That said, I will offer this one nugget of analysis: none of these arguments are going to go anywhere unless they can find a way to contend with both capitalism and climate change.

I know Dreher likes to go on and on and on and on about politics-being-downstream-from-culture, which, fine, the relationship between politics and culture is fraught, but to think that either of these realms can be dealt with apart from the material conditions under which they manifest is to fail at thinking.

Now, I’m a bad marxist and am allergic to any kind of determinism, but Jesus, Mary, and Adam Smith how can you have a version of the Good Society without some sense of the economics of that society? I’m not saying you have to go commie—I mean, 20th-century American conservatism has pretty much been defined as against that—but you gotta do more than vaguely wave toward God-and-markets and away global warming.

What ought they do? Again, that’s for them to work out—and if they don’t, well, then none of what they’re saying will matter.





Take your hat off boy when you’re talking to me

24 05 2019

Status determines treatment.

I.

I make this point to my bioethics students every semester. US regulations on what can be done to which research subjects illustrates this nicely: it is acceptable to kill mice, for example, in the course of research, while human subjects cannot be killed. And while research on chimpanzees isn’t banned, federal funding for such work has effectively ended.

Human embryos are both protected and not: the Dickey-Wicker amendment prohibited all federal funding on research involving the creation or destruction of embryos, but privately-funded research continues. And, of course, hundreds of thousands of embryos are created every year in fertility clinics across the country.

And then there’s the matter of abortion. Some consider the fertilized egg to be fully human, some the early embryo, some the fetus, and some, a baby. As I’ve noted elsewhere, I take a developmental view of the matter, figuring that the fetus gains personhood status at some point in the third trimester.

It’s clearly human tissue from the beginning—a Homo sapiens zygote won’t develop into a puppy—but when is it one of us, deserving of the same protections we grant ourselves? That’s what the fuss is all about.

II.

Well, partly. The other part of the fuss has to do with the status of the person gestating said embryo/fetus.

I say person because not everyone capable of gestating another being is a woman: some are transmen, and some don’t identify as a woman. It’s important to recognize that.

It’s also important to recognize that an attack on the right to decide whether to continue or terminate a pregnancy is an attack on women.

Whether you are a man or genderqueer or cis-gender, if you are capable of getting pregnant, then to the anti-abortionists that capacity in and of itself overrides all other identities and considerations and marks you as an untrustworthy being, i.e., a woman.

You—we—are hosts, victims of abortion-violence, sinners, irresponsible, would-be murderers, all due to our capacity to gestate. All due to our woman-ness.

It doesn’t matter if we can’t or won’t get pregnant (in which case we are lesser women, unable or unwilling to fulfill or womanly destinies): what defines us, in the ideology of the antiabortionists, is the ability to gestate a zygote through to delivery. It might be conceded that we can do other things besides gestating, but once the egg envelopes the sperm or  the conceptus begins burrowing into uterine lining or a clump of cardiac cells begin beating, then and only then can we become fully woman.

By which is meant: subordinate.

It’s not only the from-the-moment-of-conception antiabortionists who think this; cf this exchange after the somewhat-pro-choice Damon Linker referred to the fetus as a (tiny) human:

This is a perfectly normal kind of exchange among the somewhat-pro-choice: I don’t support outlawing abortion in the first weeks, but later on? Bien sûr!

What’s wrong with this? After all, didn’t I just say I hold to a developmental view of the fetus?

Well, do you think the pregnant person isn’t also able to make such judgements? Do you think she needs laws to tell her that an 8-week embryo is not the same as an 8-month fetus?

Saying you need laws and regulations to enforce this distinction is to say that you don’t trust pregnant people—women—to make this distinction for themselves.

Alabama Senator Clyde Chambliss extends this argument to its nonsensical ends, apparently arguing that a woman could only end a pregnancy as long as she didn’t know she was pregnant. That is, once Eve gains knowledge, she is no longer to be trusted to act on that knowledge.

The somewhat prochoicers might be unhappy that I tie their thoughtful uneasiness to Chambliss’s confident ignorance, but they are different points along the same line drawn to downgrade the paradigmatic woman—the pregnant person—to someone unable to make up her own mind.

III.

Oh, and then there’s this:

The naked embryo lacks status. It can only gain status once located in and at the expense of s/he who would bring it into the world.

There can be only one person, and the one who’s pregnant, isn’t it.





As sure as your sorrows are joys

26 04 2019

Reading something else, I came across this, and decided, what the hell, let’s listen:

That’s nice. Long, languid, a bit of a urgency, then easing back; fits a late-night mood.

~~~

I didn’t know much about Traffic, so wasn’t really a fan, but my college therapist, N, was.

I remember her referring to “Stevie Winwood.”

Stevie. I knew “Steve Winwood,” who’d come out with a solo album in the ’80s. I had a copy, and must have mentioned it to her.

Huh, I just looked him up on YouTube, and one of the suggestions was for “Arc of a Diver.” I think that was the song she mentioned, described to me. I can still see her motioning her arm over.

That wasn’t my song, though.

It’s not that I was a huge Steve Winwood fan, but there was one night, at the Regent St Retreat, when “Higher Love” came on, and I just, I just danced.

In a time I mostly stumbled, this night, a regular week-day night, after work, I just danced, closing my eyes and wrapped in the glow of the dance floor lights.

I don’t know if I told N that—I told her so few good things—but wouldn’t it be nice if this was what I mentioned to N, that this is what prompted her to tell me about her own fondness for Stevie Winwood.

I’d like to think that this was something good that we shared.





And don’t give up the dream

20 04 2019

My mum’s a McCue, from a line which apparently traces back to 19th century Cork. So I’m of Irish descent. There might be some from my dad’s side as well—he’s a true American mosaic—but the McCue is a solid line.

That said, having grown up in southeastern Wisconsin, the culture was more German (which, yep, my ancestors also were) than anything else. Bit of Dutch, bit of Swedish, some Polish, heading toward Milwaukee, but I grew up in the land of bratwurst, sommer sausages, stumpf fiddles, and polkas.

Still, McCue, which was enough at some point in grad school to set me off on an “I’M IRISH” kick.

It was a shallow kick—I still haven’t read any good histories on Éire—but even a few inches will lead one into jigs, reels, Irish punk, and, as they happened to be recording when I was kicking—Black 47.

I do try to keep in mind the Pogues’s line “we celebrate the land that made us refugees” to keep any romanticism in check, but even a nationalist-skeptic like me gets choked up at a good, rousing, Rising song.

As a teen I took great pride in my cynicism; now, even though that seems a cop-out, a way to justify resignation, it’s tough to avoid.

So, yeah, I know there’s a fair amount of bullshit about the revolution and a dangerously blinkered revival of the (New) IRA, but however contrived my Irish identity, and whatever my unease with nationalism, I am not ungrateful that I can still be moved by a song celebrating liberation.





Hush, hush, keep it down now

10 04 2019

Over 8 years ago the economist Robin Hanson wrote a  post on “gentle silent rape.”

It was a thought experiment, an attempt to understand why rape is punished more often and severely than cuckoldry, something he found “puzzling,” given that, as he had argued in a previous post

Biologically, cuckoldry is a bigger reproductive harm than rape, so we should expect a similar intensity of inherited emotions about it.

Men would rather be raped than cuckholded, he’d said—no mention is made of what women prefer—but in trying to figure out what, besides sexism, could account for the discrepancy in the social response to rape and cuckholdry, he wrote that

It occurred to me recently that we can more clearly compare cuckoldry to gentle silent rape. Imagine a woman was drugged into unconsciousness and then gently raped, so that she suffered no noticeable physical harm nor any memory of the event, and the rapist tried to keep the event secret. Now drugging someone against their will is a crime, but . . . .

Now compare the two cases, cuckoldry and gentle silent rape. . . . Consider also that it tends to be easier to prove cuckoldry than rape, so if we avoid applying the law to hard-to-prove harms, that should favor punishing cuckoldry more than rape.

I cut out all sorts of nonsense—by all means, go read the entire, short, post for yourself—as it focuses on what should be the appropriate punishment for cuckholdry (fines? torture?), and I, like so, so many others before me, want to focus on the gentle silent rape.

Why now? Well, I heard a couple of interviews with Miriam Toews, a Canadian author who wrote a novel based on the real-life mass drugging and rape of Mennonite women by Mennonite men in a Bolivia, a years-long ordeal which was only exposed in 2009.

I’d never heard of this before, and I won’t go into the entire, horrifying and enraging tale here—again, click on the links to read what happened—but upon listening to an interview today I was reminded of that old Hanson post: Hey, didn’t some economist write about the relative non-harms of rape of which the women have no memory?

It was a bonkers post, one which Hanson continues to defend (while declaring that any mention of him as pro-rape is “bordering on slander“). Hey, he’s just, y’know, asking questions.

I’m all in favor of asking questions, and it’s important for scholars to turn conventions inside-out. To analyze a phenomenon fully, it makes sense to poke at it from every angle, to press even on the sore spots.

But if, as Hanson claims, you’re simply “trying to understand the world and work out puzzles and theories,” then you’ve got to bring those puzzles and theories back to the world you’re trying to understand.

He says he’s a “nerdy intellectual type” who’s “probably personally less able to and inclined to think those things through,” which is a helluva statement from someone who’s trying to understand the world.

It’s also irresponsible as hell.

By all means, apply your “simple evolutionary heuristic to ask roughly what would we guess the overall level of concerns about these things to be”, but then you need to, as the economistically-minded are so fond of saying, “mark to market”, to see if that heuristic or puzzle or theory actually does tell you anything about the phenomenon you’re prodding.

Had he done so, Hanson might have come across the story of the Mennonite women in Bolivia, might have considered whether gentle silent rape was even a thing worth conjuring, and whether he had any understanding of harm, much less the world, at all.





The kind of skin you can see through

3 04 2019

“Don’t touch me!”

That was pretty much my mantra throughout my teen years and into college. No hugs, no kisses, no thank you.

There’s no trauma beneath that, just an angry, depressed and otherwise-articulate kid who couldn’t figure out any other way to set boundaries, be they physical or emotional.

As I got older I eased up, and today can reasonably tolerate and even enjoy non-romantic physical affection. (Except for holding hands: hate that.) It’s been years and years since I’ve flinched at a friendly arm flung around my shoulder.

Which is good; flinching is socially awkward. Also, given that I live in a city in which I am often snug up against others on the train or bus—although most of us have the decency to pretend we each have our own space—it’s probably for the best I don’t freak when I don’t have at least 36″ between me and the next person.

You know what this is leading to, right? Fuckin’ Joe Biden.

I’ve certainly enjoyed the ‘Uncle Joe’ of the Obama years, the Onion bits about Camaro Joe and the guy who’d ‘get out over his skis,’ but it was always a scam—hell, I enjoyed it because it was a scam.

Oh, sure, he might really (really) like gettin’ up close ‘n personal (in that hoarse-whispered Scranton ‘Joey’) way, but the man was a senator from the state of banking and credit for decades and ended up VP and, jesus, you gotta be full of knives if you’re going to get anywhere in DC.

Especially if you’re going to be as folksy as Joe.

In fact, that folksiness was, if not all, then certainly also about the power. He was the one who pulled you in, who cracked the slightly-off jokes, who caressed your shoulders, and, uh, sniffed your hair—not you. He may not have been mean or nasty, but he was in charge. He liked being in charge.

There’s no point in disentangling motives: the power granted him the leeway to be touchy-feely, and the touchy-feely-ness perpetuated the power. It’s not complicated: he likes both.

I never met Biden and don’t know how I would have reacted had he leaned in, uninvited, toward me, but I’d like to think my inner teenager would have reared up and snarled.