No time for dancing, or lovey dovey

10 01 2017

I’ve never been accused of optimism.

Well, okay, I was a happy happy kid, likely to believe that the Good will out, but nothing like a bout of life to kick the stuffing out of such positivity.

That said, I do think part of our political resistance ought to have nothing to do with politics at all, that it is not enough just to resist: we must celebrate the Good in the world. There should be dancing, and lovey-dovey: We want bread and roses, too.

~~~

In my piece on Modernity’s Ideologies I divided the response to the historical moment, Modernity, into particular worldviews (Liberalism, Totalitarianism, and Reaction), and extend the various ideologies out from those worldviews.

This can lead to a bit of confusion, insofar as I identify both Liberalism as a worldview, and liberalism as one of its ideologies. I’ve considered changing Liberalism to, say, Pluralism (which would then contrast nicely to Totalitarianism), but I think the term as I mean to use it is so entrenched in political theory that switching it up might simply lead to greater confusion. (I still might be convinced otherwise, but at this point, I’ve stuck myself with Liberalism and liberalism.)

What does this have to do with anything? Well, Liberalism can itself contain and tolerate a variety of illiberal elements, but its ideologies (liberalism, conservatism, and reform socialism) will generally seek to uphold and even further a Liberal worldview, even as they may, at times, be used to further what its opponents might argue are illiberal goals.

See, for example, disputes over whether business must serve all customers or if they may choose to turn some away. Those in favor of serve-all refer to principles of equality and justice, while those against might call on individual liberty and, yes, justice as well. These partisans are using Liberal values to advance/defend their particular ideology.

Now, various disputes about campus activists, safe spaces, trigger warnings, etc., often bounce back and forth between worldview and ideology, and often in ways which obscure the level at which the dispute is taking place. So, for example, someone like Jonathan Chait or Mark Lilla might chastise those campus activists as behaving illiberally, when it seems their real beef is that they appear to be acting against pluralism and tolerance, i.e., against Liberalism.

I’m not convinced of this, not least because I think Liberalism can also contain fierce partisanship and passionate, intemperate, even intolerant argument. I think, for example, that instead of smacking the activists as bad Liberals (which they probably could give a shit about, anyway), the tut-tutters should engage the argument at the level of ideology—by which I mean, actually engage the fucking argument instead of dismissing it as impolitic.

In other words, while I do think it’s necessary for liberals (and conservatives and reform socialists) to defend Liberalism, I also think that liberals (and conservatives and reform socialists) and anyone else gets to fight for what their version of the Good, and to do so without apology. If you disagree, fight back.

That, I would argue, is a great way to defend Liberalism.

~~~

But let’s get back to the fighting-for: we need to do more of this, without apology. I don’t mean nastily or triumphantly, but sincerely (jesus, did I just write that?) and profoundly and yes, even giddily.

As a bread-and-roses socialist, I want more dancing, more music, more art, more celebration of all we could possibly be. These are good, and part of the Good of human life.

This celebration needs a political grounding and goes beyond it—and in so doing, helps to justify the grounding itself. Liberal politics are often criticized—I’ve often criticized it—as deracinated, worn-out, and in its pure-procedural form, it is; but Liberalism is not just proceduralism, it’s also about possibility, an openness to what we can’t yet see. It’s about something more.

So let’s claim that, that openness and art and possibility, without apology.

I don’t want to reduce all of life to politics—too totalizing—nor demand that all celebrations celebrate all things—again, too totalizing. But when we have the chance to say, This is good, this song, this movie, this dance, is good, let’s take it.

When we have the chance to dance, let’s take it.





When they ask me, “What are you looking at?”

26 05 2016

So, two months with the smart phone, and. . . all right, it’s all right.

Mostly, because I’m paying less with this phone plan than I did with the last one, but also, those weather and MTA apps are pretty darned convenient. And it’s nice that my friends are no longer harassing me to, y’know, get a smart phone.

Oh, it’s also useful for another thing: Twitter.

I’d read tweets online, Twitter-er by Twitter-er, but with the Twitter app, I’m just reading them as they all come up. And while I thought I would find tweeting addictive, it’s actually the reading of tweets that I can’t quit.

It’s mostly a nifty diversion, a few minutes here and there (and, yeah, here and there and here and there) to check Jamelle Bouie and Jeet Heer and Dick Nixon (who’s far more entertaining dead than he ever was alive), and, occasionally, to plink out a few thoughts of my own. Harmless, mostly.

But, it must be said, people can also be really fucking stupid and mean, too. I know: shocking. I’m not talking about the racists and anti-Semites and misogynists (who litter others’ feeds), however, but the puerile shit tossed around by and at folks on the left side of the line—not least over who “deserves” to stand left of center.

I am adamantly not a boundary enforcer. Yes, I can perhaps see some small point to having someone patrol the line, but ye gads, only if that patrolman or -woman is unarmed and otherwise unable to do much but yell “Trespasser!”

Left Twitter is full of boundary cops, they’re all armed, and they want nothing better than to hold you up and demand the secret password, and to shoot if you can’t be bothered to mouth the right words.

It is contemptible, and exhausting.

My fatigued disgust (or disgusted fatigue, take  yer pick), is almost certainly because I am old and crabby and do not have time for this shit. Yes, when I was younger I would have FUCKIN’ LOVED to have jumped into every single feed and fight and throw punches and stomp and whoo-hoo!

I think. Maybe.

Or not. You see, when I was high-school young, I WAS the leftist, and if I fought (using my words, not my fists), I fought with the guy who was conservative. There weren’t that many people in my high school who cared about politics at all, so it’s not like there were a lot of people on my side I could go after (or who could go after me) for insufficient purity.

College? Well, plenty of leftists and liberals, but even there I don’t recall much interest in calling out others for their insufficient commitment to The Cause—and not a little irritation when I was called out. I don’t know, maybe it’s just not in me.

The boundary patrolling, I mean. Fighting the right? I’m all over that.

And that, in the end, is what I’ll do. As I said, I’m old and tired and have only a limited amount of energy to hoist up my rifle and take aim, so I’m not going to waste that energy taking potshots at folks more-or-less on my side of the line.

Especially now—not with an orange-colored Stay Puft Marshmallow Man about to stomp his way across the country.





Give a little bit

18 11 2015

There are days I’d like to get paid for writing, and days when I’m glad I don’t.

The past coupla’ days, I’m glad for the not-paid, because as someone who is not-paid for her writing, I’m under no obligation to give a HOTTAKE on the Yale, the University of Missouri, political correctness, illiberal liberals, Paris, Beirut, terrorism, or refugees.

Still, I’m willing to offer up a few warmed-over thoughts on the topics listen above:

*Yale: I could give a shit what’s happening at Yale, or any of the Ivies. It’s not that I think no one should care, but that I don’t.

*Mizzou, political correctness, illiberal liberals: I don’t know what it’s like to be a black student at a predominantly white university, but if I care about that experience—and I do—then I think I should listen to those who do know a li’l something about that topic.

This doesn’t mean I’ll agree a priori with the policy solutions suggested/demanded by those students, but that there’s nothing wrong with them either talking/shouting about those experiences or suggesting/demanding policy changes.

Which is to say, I view this as a political argument, and there’s nothing illegitimate with partisans taking their own side in that argument in such a way that challenges the preexisting norms of political argumentation (which are themselves the product of such argumentation).

Translated, this means that the liberal norms of how political discourse is to proceed are themselves shot through with political values. There’s nothing necessarily wrong or nefarious about value-laden rules, nor is there necessarily anything wrong or nefarious with challenging the values or the rules.

Such challenges can be irksome to those who think the rules sacrosanct or constitutive of the content of political discourse itself, just as it can be irksome to those making a particular argument to be told that their particular mode of argument-making is against the rules.

That’s politics, not the end of the world.

On a more personal note, I think there is some value to liberal norms of discourse, and that such norms can themselves accommodate apparently or even actually illiberal arguments, which is to say, partisans get to take their own sides.

There are all sorts of caveats, nuances, etc., to this interpretation, but my main sense that this is politics, and not a sign of the apocalypse, holds.

*Okay, I care a little about what happens at Yale, but that’s in spite of it happening at Yale.

*I have nothing new to say about the bombings in Paris, Beirut, and elsewhere, beyond an expression of horror, dismay, and sorrow.

As I’ve previously said, I doubt there’s one cool trick one can try to shed those unwanted terrorists, that terrorist networks might be comparable to organized crime networks, and that, like those organized crime networks, they will be difficult to root out—by whatever means.

*I think the U.S. should not only take the 10,000 Syrian refugees, I’d be fine with New York taking all 10,000.

I mean, the only downside is that we already have a housing crunch, but—and I am being serious here—if there were room in my apartment building, I’d say, Come on in!

Not to move into my apartment, I hasten to add. I do need my space.

But if I wouldn’t be your roomie, I’d gladly be your neighbor.





“If we don’t stand for what we believe in, we fail.”

30 07 2012

Read this, Sean Flynn’s piece on the massacre at Utøya: “Is he coming? Is he? Oh God, I think he is.”

Two of Freddy Lie’s three daughters are on Utøya. Cathrine, who is 17, is there for the second time, and Elisabeth, who is a year younger, is at her first island camp. Sometimes Freddy thinks his girls joined the AUF just so they could go to Utøya, but that’s not completely true: Elisabeth believes she can change the world. She wants to help people, and especially she wants to help animals. Oh, yes, the animals. Very important. She would say, “The fur, it stays on the animals.” She is also a number-one picker, a top recruiter, for the AUF in the østfold southern district.

Freddy’s girls are worried about him. He drives a dump truck in Oslo Monday through Thursday, but he’s added a few Friday shifts lately. Cathrine and Elisabeth don’t know if he’s in the capital when the bomb explodes. They call his mobile. Freddy always answers. If they call me one hundred times, ninety-nine I take it. Freddy is at home, in Halden, a border town south of Oslo, but he’s left his phone in the car. He misses the call. On the island, his daughters start to panic. They are certain he has been blown up. By the time Freddy retrieves the mobile, just before five o’clock, there’s a message from his ex-wife. “Call Elisabeth.”

He dials her number. She is giddy with relief. Through a window in the cafeteria building, Elisabeth sees Cathrine walk by outside. Cathrine points a thumb up so her little sister can see it, but tentatively, more of a silent question than a statement. Elisabeth smiles, gives her sister a thumbs-up in return. Their father is safe in Halden.

Freddy and Elisabeth talk for sixteen minutes and forty seconds. Elisabeth complains about the rain, teases that she might want to come home if the sky keeps emptying on the island. If it’s still raining Saturday, Freddy teases back, he’ll bring her a survival suit, and maybe a pair of goggles, too.

He tells her not to worry. He’s safe.

You know what happens.

The police emergency lines in the North Buskerud district start ringing just before 5:30 p.m. on 22 July. There are only four officers on duty in the entire district, which is headquartered ten miles north of Utøya in the little city of Hønefoss, and the calls come faster than the operator can answer. The senior officer, a sergeant named Håkon Hval, has been watching news of the Oslo bombing and waiting for his shift to end. He picks up a line. “There’s a guy in a police uniform,” a hysterical voice tells him, “walking around Utøya shooting people.”

Håkon does not believe this. He has worked in North Buskerud for eight years, and he has never been to Utøya, because there’s never been any need. Also, police in Norway do not shoot people. This is a sick joke, he thinks. But the phones keep ringing. Phones are ringing in South Buskerud and Oslo, too. He realizes, very quickly, that this is not a joke.

The cinematic moment, in awful reality.

Boats are launched. Toril climbs into one with a man who steers out into the lake to fish kids from the water. Hege stays at the jetty, waiting for people to come ashore. Within minutes, she helps two girls, wet and shivering, onto the jetty. “A policeman is shooting,” they tell her. She begins to walk them up the path to the café at the top of the camp, then detours to her trailer to retrieve her cell phone. One of the girls spoke to her mother less than an hour before and told her she was safe on Utøya. She needs to call her back.

Boats bring more campers, dozens, then hundreds. The people at Utvika gather blankets for wet survivors. Hege loses track of how many kids borrow her phone. One is a girl, maybe 18 years old, with long black hair. She is nearly hysterical, and she wraps herself around Hege. She refuses to go to the café, refuses to leave the jetty, because she left her brother on the island and she won’t leave until she finds him. She uses Hege’s phone to call her brother, over and over, but he does not answer, and Hege does not leave her.

Toril and Hege were engaged; it’s not clear if they are any longer.

There are ten kids on South Point. Five are dead; the other five are wounded. One of them, a girl, is in the water, upright but limping. Adrian helps her out of the lake and sees a wound in her right leg. There is no blood, just a hole deep and round as a golf ball. They sit together. The blue lights are still flashing across the water, but the helicopter is gone. Adrian tweets: “Shot on Utøya. Many dead.”

He turns to the girl. “It would be really nice,” he says, “to have a cigarette now.”

“Yeah,” she says without looking at him.

“Do you think the shop is open?”

The girl laughs and Adrian laughs, and then they laugh about their water-wrinkled fingers and the cabaret scheduled for tomorrow night that probably won’t happen, and they keep laughing, because there is nothing else to do until someone finally gets them off Utøya.

He gets his cigarette, at the hospital.

He’s missing some muscle, and there are seventy or so fragments still embedded in his flesh that work their way up to his skin every now and again. “So there’s always a reminder,” he says, “that there are pieces of evil in me.”

He smoked a lot over the winter. He got hate mail from right-wingers, and once, down by the water behind the mall, a little thug told him, “You weren’t killed then, but someday I’ll make sure you are.” When he went out, he left notes in his apartment saying where he’d gone and who he was meeting in case that person turned out to be a lunatic assassin and the police had to search his apartment for clues. He also wrote a book, with a Norwegian journalist, about his hours on Utøya. It’s called Heart Against Stone, which is a reference to his desperate effort to quiet his pounding heart in the moments before Breivik tried to kill him. He often wonders why he is still alive, why the man with the gun didn’t put a bullet in his chest when he had a clear shot, and how he managed to miss the head of a still body at point-blank range. Adrian decided it was luck, and that perhaps all of life is endless luck.

Maybe that’s true. On the sixth day of his trial, Breivik explained exactly why he didn’t shoot Adrian when he had his first chance. “I thought,” he told the court, “that he looked right-wing.”

Of course, Breivik came back to shoot him, mangle him. Luck, good and bad.

Read it all, all of the way to the banal and beautiful and awful end.

h/t Alexis Madrigal, The Atlantic Monthly





Reason will not save us. Or maybe it will.

13 03 2011

Like wiping an eraser across the land: The New York Times allows you to see before and after satellite photos of the devastation in Japan.

Stunning.

~~~

The planet does not care about us. Nature does not care about us.

Any care in this world begins and ends with us.

~~~

Errol Morris does not understand Thomas Kuhn.

Part of this non-understanding is due to Kuhn; part of this non-understanding is due to Morris.

(I am not the only one who thinks so.)

~~~

Judith Warner confuses the consequences of inquiry with inquiry.

Michael Bérubé is not confused, but did he really not understand the implications of epistemological nihilism?

I am not a genius—repeat, I am not a genius—yet even I, as a 2nd or 3rd-year grad student was able to suss out the political dangers of such nihilism.

I wrote a paper for a course on the philosophy of knowledge in which I (budding-but-not-yet-full-epist-nihilist) noted that the slipperiness of fact was a constant problem which must constantly be confronted. That “fact” and “evidence” and “reason” could be used as weapons meant that one must be ready to contest the deployment of such weapons.

This was a problem for me, for awhile: If everything is up for grabs, how can one move?

I solved this particular problem by moving.

Yes, there’s more, much more, involved than this, but this isn’t the place for an explication of my solution. I brought this up simply to signal my recognition that, yes, this is a problem.

I’ll try to dig out the particular paper, but I believe I used an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, in which Captain Picard is tortured by a Cardassian; his torturer, in an attempt to break him, wants him to say that there are five lights when there are only four. Upon his release, he turns to his torturer and emphasizes that there are, in fact, only four lights.

Later, however, he admits to Counselor Troi that he did see five lights.

Given that people can be coerced into not seeing what is in front of them—that truth as an intersubjective activity means that it is vulnerable to domination—means that truth is subject to political debate.

Upshot:  those of us invested in particular forms of and inquiries into truth must defend against assaults on those forms and inquiries.

I got this, as a smart-enough grad student, and I’d bet that I wasn’t the only one.

But Bérubé and Warner are shocked—shocked!—that  “it turns out that the critique of scientific “objectivity” and the insistence on the inevitable “partiality” of knowledge can serve the purposes of climate-change deniers and young-Earth creationists quite nicely.”

No shit, Sherlock.

Okay, so that wasn’t very nice. Bérubé  is a lit professor and was busy mining his own particular veins of concern; that’s one of the benefits of scholarship, after all: to forsake the surface and plunge below. Conversely, it was really not such a stretch for me, as a budding political theorist, to have recognized the political implications of anti-foundationalism.

Anyway, Bérubé is now aware that excavations below can lead to instability up top:  “[P]erhaps humanists [read: humanities professors]  are beginning to realize that there is a project even more vital than that of the relentless critique of everything existing, a project to which they can contribute as much as any scientist–the project of making the world a more humane and livable place.”

Just so.

There is more to this story, of course, not least of which is a defense of such excavations given the possibilities of instability; the short version is that the cracks were always there.

The long answer awaits.

~~~

What makes NPR liberal? What makes any media outlet liberal or conservative?

On the Media didn’t quite ask this, but in a segment with Ira Glass (who insists NPR is not liberal), they introduced the possibility that they will ask this question, as well as, perhaps, whether it matters.

Still would have liked to have heard them discuss O’Keefe’s edits of the vid.

~~~

I am old. I like to go fast.

That I put the “I am old” statement first tells you that I blame my age for my hesitations regarding speed.

Whatever.

I took my road bike out yesterday—first time in years—for a coupla’ spins around Prospect Park. Oh, every time I get on this bike I marvel at how quick it is. Unlike my road bike, this baby just sssshoooms when I crank the pedals.

That light narrow frame, those smooth skinny tires, the aerodynamism of the hunched-over posture. . . ack! That light narrow frame means it’s less stable! Those smooth skinny tires are apt to skip across the road! In my hunch I can’t see as well!

Ack!

No, I didn’t wipe out. (I will: I wipe out at least once every biking season, usually because I panic and can’t untangle my shoes from the clips fast enough. I try to have this happen away from traffic.) But the marvel at the speed competed with the concern that things are more likely to go wrong at speed.

Prudence is a fine thing, but so, too, is the exhilaration which follows recklessness.

Anyway, I’d rather not be afraid, and think that the more I ride the road bike, the less anxious I’ll be.

All the shit I have yet to learn and still, all the shit I have to re-learn.

Criminy.