It seems like everybody got the blues

27 08 2018

This is not an obit.

Yes, Aretha Franklin has died. And John McCain. And Neil Simon. But I don’t have much to say about any of them.

I mean, Aretha’s “Respect” is a song for the ages, one I can’t begin to listen to without finishing it, and what she could do to and with so many songs? Yeah.

But even as I had a cd or two of hers, I wasn’t a devotee, and don’t know that there’s much I could say.

I’ve enjoyed Simon’s work, but: ditto.

And John McCain? His reputation was on the whole better than he was, but that for bravery was entirely earned. And as terrible as so many of his policy preferences were, he seemed actually to give a shit about the common good.

A low bar, yes, but one too few are able to clear these days.

Anyway, I comment on these deaths mainly to comment on the commentary on their deaths. It wasn’t enough for Aretha to have been a musical genius: every song she sang had to be better than any other version! And John McCain? He was a hero! He was a warmonger! How dare you say anything good! How dare you say anything bad!

How dare you say anything good! How dare you say anything bad!

That’s how it is, I guess, policing every reaction to every event. It’s probably always been like this—gotta keep folks in line—but with social media it’s not just fights but fights about the fights and fights about the fights about the fights. I like a decent recursion, but this is a bit much, even for me.

I’ve got my own lines, of course, but as I’ve said before, I’m not much for boundary policing. There’s some worth to it, I guess, especially on public matters, but I don’t much see the point of cracking on people for their personal reactions. I read a really good in-depth negative obit of McCain—one which probably comes as close to any to capturing my own sense of the man—but I’m not bothered by those which lean positive. There’s no betrayal of principle in recognizing he lived a long time, did a lot of things, many (from my perspective) negative, but a few positive.

Besides, what the hell kind of principle is it to deny humanness to an adversary? He may not always have been the best of us, but I think he tried. I think it’s fine to land on either side of that; just don’t deny the other side.

~~~

That said, I’ll be honest: I probably won’t react well if, when the current president dies, someone who ought to know better says something good about him.

So, if I do anything other than roll my eyes at those folks, well, feel free to call me out. This is one line I would defend.

 

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Don’t tell me what to do

29 11 2016

A few I-define-you examples (leftover from yesterday because I couldn’t pull it together, man, so quit bothering me, all right?!):

*Consider the reaction to fat women who are unashamed that they’re fat, who have the temerity to insist that they are human beings who don’t need your approval, thankyouverymuch: it is unbelievably nasty.

*Remember when Obama said that if he’d have had a son, he might have looked like Trayvon Martin? That seemed to me a simple, poignant, observation, but holy shit, the number of (white) people who lost their shit in response to that—I couldn’t understand it.

But now, I think that (some white) people were pissed that Obama identified with a young black man, and in doing so, reminded them that he himself was, in fact a black man. And, too, maybe his empathic imagination was just too much for (some white) people, serving as a rebuke to their own, narrow judgements.

*Oh, and this is one I remembered as I was getting in bed: Famed anti-Semite and Viennese mayor Karl Lueger responded to those who complained he was too friendly with Jews by saying “I decide who is a Jew.”

As Ta-Nehisi Coates noted in his commentary on this (and other, similar, instances):

When I was young man, I studied history at Howard University. Much of my studies were focused on the black diaspora, and thus white racism. I wish I had understood that I was not, in fact, simply studying white racism, but the nature of power itself. I wish I had known that the rules that governed my world echoed out into the larger world. I wish I had known how unoriginal we really are.

~~~

What do we do with all of this? I don’t know. That you are bothered when I define myself does not mean that I shouldn’t define myself.

Is it enough to recognize that there will be bother, conflict, and so prepare for it? Is there a way through this conflict? I don’t know.

But as a matter of justice, as a matter of human being, each one of us gets to claim that humanness for ourselves.





Baby, baby, please let me hold him

8 02 2016

Y’all know I’m pro-choice, right?

Like, I haven’t mentioned that I could fairly be called a pro-choice militant approximately 738.4135 times before, have I?

So, you know, when it comes to what may be a new variant of the Zika virus and its effects on the developing embryo and fetus, I have no issue whatsoever with an affected woman deciding to end a pregnancy.

I also—militant that I am—have no issue with a woman deciding to continue a pregnancy and to raise a child with microcephaly.

Microcephaly can have devastating effects on the person, but not always: Ana Carolina Caceres was born with microcephaly, was pronounced profoundly damaged by her doctor, and now works as a journalist. Not everyone will be as healthy as Caceras, of course, but she notes that with family support, medication, and five surgeries, she now leads a good life.

Caceras is insulted by the notion that a diagnosis of microcephaly should automatically lead abortion, but allows that, in the end, that choice should be left to the parents.

The most important thing is access to treatment: counselling for parents and older sufferers, and physiotherapy and neurological treatment for those born with microcephaly.

And for all of the talk of the necessity of women avoiding pregnancy (which, shees), what of those who for whatever reason (choice or lack thereof) do give birth to children with microcephaly?

So in addition to discussing better access to contraception and abortion for women in affected regions (which, frankly, should have been available long before the effects of the virus hit), let’s also talk about the support that these women, these children, these families will need in order to maximize those children’s chances for their own good lives.

I get and ought to get no say in what happens to the embryo or fetus in another woman’s body, but once that fetus is born, in whatever shape she’s born, we owe it to her to treat her as a human being.

What happened to her may or may not be a tragedy, but she, herself, is not.

She’s one of us.

~~~

h/t for Caceres piece: JonH at Lawyers, Guns & Money





Everybody knows the deal is rotten, 19

16 08 2015

When I was younger—much younger—I thought I’d get the kind of job I could really throw myself into, an all-encompassing career that would provide me with all of the pleasure and meaning I could want from life.

Touching, isn’t it, how little I knew.

Now, it could be said—has been said, by the likes of me—that my current inability truly to commit to my work (paid and unpaid) takes things in rather too far the opposite direction, but I do think that my unwillingness to commit to a Stakhanovite* work-ethic is generally more healthy than not.

Consider Amazon:

Every aspect of the Amazon system amplifies the others to motivate and discipline the company’s marketers, engineers and finance specialists: the leadership principles; rigorous, continuing feedback on performance; and the competition among peers who fear missing a potential problem or improvement and race to answer an email before anyone else.

Some veterans interviewed said they were protected from pressures by nurturing bosses or worked in relatively slow divisions. But many others said the culture stoked their willingness to erode work-life boundaries, castigate themselves for shortcomings (being “vocally self-critical” is included in the description of the leadership principles) and try to impress a company that can often feel like an insatiable taskmaster. Even many Amazonians who have worked on Wall Street and at start-ups say the workloads at the new South Lake Union campus can be extreme: marathon conference calls on Easter Sunday and Thanksgiving, criticism from bosses for spotty Internet access on vacation, and hours spent working at home most nights or weekends.

It must be admitted, of course, that Amazon would never hire, much less interview, me: I lack tech skills and corporate experience, so I am most definitely not the Amabot they’re looking for.

Some employees do relish the competitive atmosphere at Amazon, thinking that it makes them better, sharper, more able employees; that this kind of bionic work ethos won’t do much for the person they are outside of being an employee is, of course, irrelevant.

(As an aside: I used to that going to grad school was like sticking your head in a pencil sharpener: you do come out a lot sharper, but you also lose a lot in those shavings.)

And as loathsome as I find Amazon’s “purposeful Darwinism” practices—their treatment of employees who do exhibit human frailties is appalling—they seem to me more different in degree than in kind to many other workplaces. Google and Apple and Facebook might provide all kinds of goodies for their employees, but these aren’t these goodies simply the happy-clappy way to get those workers to spend more time at work?

Now, as an employee I’d rather work for someone who wants happy rather than frazzled workers, but really, I want to work at a place that knows its place in my life: important, but not everything.

I may not have much in my life (this is one of those above-mentioned issues), but I do at least have the possibility of having something more.

And that ain’t nothing.

~~~

*h/t to Chatham Harrison for this reference. My first thought on reading of the need for self-criticism was that that sounded Cultural Revolution-ist, but hey, given the contradictions of a company ethos that demands both that workers be self-critical and that they not admit of any doubts or lack of knowledge, why couldn’t it embody both Stalinism and Maoism?

And no, for the record, I don’t think Jeff Bezos is the bald offspring of Uncle Joe and Mao; I mean, there’s no record of him being a genocidal maniac, is there?





Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, 1918-2013

5 12 2013

One of the best human beings of the 20th century.

He was not a saint, not a martyr.

He simply demanded to be treated as a human being, and knew how to be human.

He will be missed.

~~~

Photo from Mandela Day





I’m as free as a bird

1 06 2013

Is freedom possible for human being?

Sure—conditionally. And there’s the rub.

dmf asked in response to the last post whether one could “step out of one’s socialization”, to which I can only say. . . I dunno.

As to “how does this work”, well, you can become aware of your socialization (if only partially), and as a result of that awareness alter your relationship to the forces which have shaped you. Is this awareness “freedom”? It could be, or it could simply be a precursor to said freedom.

It would seem to me that such awareness is necessary to an understanding of freedom in which the individual is able to make meaningful choices about her own being. This doesn’t mean she would have to go against her socialization, but it would mean that she would have to have some sense of other ways of being such that the decision to remain on the path on which she was set can be understood as a free decision.

Such a decision wouldn’t be absolutely free—“absolute freedom” is a nonsense concept—but it could (not necessarily would) be as free as any decision about human freedom. And that the decision is free doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be terrible or tragic: a person could freely choose a life of sacrifice or pain. If she knows she is choosing a life defined by hardship, she may choose it freely, nonetheless.

And that is my objection to closed systems: they block out knowledge of other ways of being. In  countries and cultures in which freedom is prized less than other values, such shuttering of the mind might be necessary, even laudable. Advocates of such systems are themselves free to argue in favor of closure, and I might understand why they’re making such arguments: tradition, truth, obedience, survival, even love.

But if the case for their way of being requires ignorance of other ways of being, it’s tough to see how they have any case at all.





I pick up the phone and go Execute

27 12 2012

Are we always already cyborgs?

Sorry for the Heideggerianism, but it’s tough to talk about ontology and technology without bringing in the Nazi Gasbag, specifically, his Question Concerning Technology and, for that matter, Letter on Humanism.

What’s set off this spasm of speculation? A bit in Crooked Timber on a piece by Noah Smith about cyborg techs. Chris Bertram was snarking on economists in his bit, but the, um, question concerning (cyber) technology is taken up with some vigor in the comments.

One question, of course, is the one ol’ Marty throws at us: what is it to be a cyber-human? Can one even be a cyber-human? He, the master of despair, would say No:

In truth. . . precisely nowhere does many today any longer encounter himself, i.e., his essence. Man stands so decisively in attendance on the challenging forth of enframing that he does not grasp the enframing as a a claim, that he fails to see himself as the one spoken to, and hence also fails in every way to hear in what respect he ek-sists, from out of his essence, in the realm of an exhortation or address, that he can never encounter only himself.

As I paraphrased this elsewhere (okay, my dissertation), “There can be no peaceful coexistence between technology and humans because the ways of technology, in the course of enframing humans, prevent them from being fully human.”

This drives Heidegger over the edge: “We have only purely technological conditions left. It is no longer an earth on which human beings live today.”

To which I responded, more or less, Bosh.

Heidegger’s concept of enframing helps us to see how caught up we are already in a techno-scientific world, that we are not separate from the technologies we create and use, and, as such, are shaped by the techs themselves. But as acute as Heidegger was in diagnosing technoscience, his prognostic skills for humans were warped by his own, ah, idiosyncratic understanding of history, and rather complete misunderstanding of actual humans.

And even the acuity of his diagnosis is marred by its partiality, that is, that he treats technological practices as somehow more forbidding and final than every other social practice that ever existed before.  In other words, he gets the transformational powers of technology, but in assigning the power to the techs rather than to the nexus of social practices which produce them (although he does go forward from the techs to the practices they produce) he misses the continuing human presence in the tech practices themselves.

This line of thinking leads rather easily to Foucault and his much-quoted bit—“My point is not that everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous, which is not exactly the same as bad. If everything is dangerous, then we already have something to do”—as well as to Donna Haraway’s admonition that “We cannot pretend we live on some other planet where the cyborg was never spat out of the womb-brain of its war-besotted parents. . . . Unlike the hopes of Frankenstein’s monster, the cyborg does not expect its father to save it through a restoration of the garden.”

In other words, this is how we are, and how we are today is as human as we want to be.

Two further points: One (and this was going to be the main point of this point until I sidetracked myself, and hm, maybe I really should make that a separate post), the real excitement about cyber-techs is about the dream of control—and it is the dream, not the tech, that is the worry.

A précis for that separate post:  A computer, its parts and software can all be patented and their use, to some extent, controlled, but what we think when we’re away from the computers remains with us, is beyond the control of any owners or managers. I don’t know if implants would make us more productive, but they would certainly make us more manageable.*

The concern, I’d argue, lies more with the management than the implant.

*Note: This is not necessarily an argument against all implants, and the speculative future post will dig around the nuances of cyber-techs and practices, but, y’know: précis.

Two, it’s not at all clear that we much care how human we are or could be.

Heidegger bemoaned the concealing power of techs—to do is not to think—but it’s doubtful than many people in the history of people have ever spent much time pondering being. Maybe cyber-techs will hide us irrevocably from ourselves, but it’s also just possible that in thinking about how we incorporate these techs into ourselves, we’ll wonder not just about the techs, but about us.

I doubt it, but what the hell: one can always hack the hack.