Let’s get it wrong

6 02 2017

November 8, I snapped: something fundamental in me, something I thought I knew, I did not.

Now, the consequences for the country—and, perhaps, the world—of electing a poorly-informed, thin-skinned, D-list celebrity are dire: ‘malevolence’ and ‘incompetence’ are fighting for descriptive supremacy of this GOP-administration-on-meth.

Just in case it wasn’t clear what I thought about all of this.

But there’s also the personal, intellectual side, and here the unpredictability is more promising.

As I’ve mentioned, I followed respected Americanists in understanding the 2016 elections, in particularly, their understanding of historic trends and of the polls. It was reasonable to do so, and for that reason, I don’t regret it. They, and by extension I, got it wrong, and that sucks—hard—but they were wrong on the margins in one of those exceptions in which the margins matter. Such error requires reconsideration, not the wrecking of an entire model (although how much reconsideration is for them, not me, to decide).

No, what I regret is that I only followed those respected Americanists, and discounted my own abilities as a theorist.

I’m not a great theorist—too much the syncretist to toss out something truly original—and goddess knows I’m not a great academic (haven’t published anything in years). But I am a pretty good theorist, and I let my failings as an academic blind me not only to my own skills as a theorist, but also to the insights that political theory and the humanities can bring to political phenomena.

I’ve tried to hold the line for political science and the social sciences generally as sciences, that is, as forms of inquiry into the human subject and human systems, but I’ve never considered political theory scientific. I (and not a few other theorists, I’d guess) cede the contemporary empirical observations to the quants and to those who follow closely Congress or the parties or the policy process, and let their regressions and outlines guide me in my judgements of the course of modern American politics.

Okay, this sounds snarky, but I don’t mean it to be: instead, I’m telling on myself for not having the courage of my own disciplinary convictions. I think quantitative analysis is useful, and limited, and that past is often, although not always, prologue, but when it came time to taking seriously what theory—what an analysis of rhetoric, of what may be animating partisan declarations, how various actions may be interpreted, how this fits, or doesn’t, with what Americanists were saying—I. . . didn’t.

I don’t know why. This may be due to the distance so many (although not all) political theorists have traditionally held themselves from contemporary politics, to the low esteem for theory everyone not a theorist has for the field, to the fact that I’m currently engaged in a project which has my head in centuries past—and I think all of that’s true.

But it’s also the case that I had inklings, anxieties, about this election that I dismissed. Now, the main reason for that dismissal is that I have anxieties about everything, so I work (to varying degrees of effectiveness) to dial it all down so I don’t find myself curled up under my bed with gin and the cats. But I also knew our social fractures were not just figments of my neurosis—see my various entries regarding ‘loaded dice’—and I didn’t collect those fractures into any kind of coherent skepticism of the ‘this is fine’ narrative.

Why not? Maybe because it’s all too impressionistic, reeks too much of Peggy Noonan’s ‘vibrations’ or comes off as political woo: the quants, after all, have the sharpness of their predictions (even as the best of them warn us of the fuzziness on the margins) and offer beguilingly ‘scientific’ understandings—proof! evidence! facts!—of electoral politics. Abashed by my own field’s meager offerings of ‘interpretations’, I was suckered into forgetting that ‘voting behavior’ and ‘party politics’ are themselves not the whole of politics.

Again, I don’t blame them for my willingness to follow and, again, I won’t stop listening to them. But I will return to what political theory can do, what I can do, and try to make sense from here. It will be, of necessity, more tentative, smaller, and much messier, but may offer the kind of clarity one can only find amidst the tumult.





From California to the New York island, 3

16 03 2016

I’ve half-joked before that political scientists don’t do either love or humor.

Plenty of political scientists are lovely and funny, but in our intellectual approaches to politics, we forget about passion and about the weirdness of political activity itself. Politics is about ‘interests’ and ‘resources’ and ‘distribution’, ‘policy’ and ‘governance’ and, oh yes, ‘power’. Some of us might speak of the ‘common good’ or talk about Aristotle vs. Plato, but in our rush to impose a rational structure across the sprawl of politics, we all seem to forget Hume’s admonishment that reason follows passion.

Yes, we attempt to come to terms with political ardor in terms of cognitive biases or philosophical error—which is fine!—but passion is not merely something to be explained away, but something in and of itself, which may in turn help to explain something (like politics) else—both explananandum and explanans, as it were.

This is a long way round to the point that those of us who study politics should not be surprised by passion, that people pick sides, and that they will defend—with words, with fists, with guns—what their (our) sides.

This isn’t an excuse for violence—for Hera’s sake, does that really need to be said?—but it is a defense of passion itself as a legitimate driver in politics. Unlike Hume, I do think reason may also be a driver, and just as passion may inform reason, so too may reason discipline—if only the expression of—passion.

But reason does not, should not, erase passion. Especially in politics.

cont.





I got life

29 09 2015

So: “pinched nerve” might be a lay and not medical term, but it does describe a real phenomenon, in my case, an impingement upon the sciatic nerve.

No, I didn’t get this diagnosis from a doctor—there’s not much she could do, so why bother—but it’s pretty clear from my symptoms that my occasional lower back troubles can cause what is literally a pain in my ass.

If I want a more exact diagnosis than “o.l.b.t.”, then, yes, I’d need to see a doctor and undergo a variety of expensive (e.g., MRI) tests, but as a more exact diagnosis would likely lead to no greater precision in treatment—rest, time—there’s seems little point in doing so.

I am gonna have to get more ibuprofen, though.

I.

While I haven’t enjoyed in any way the pain from my grumpy sciatic nerve, I did take interest in the (non-pain) side effects of the jumped-up nerve, namely, the random twitching up and down my lower right side.

At one point early on I watched the middle toe of my right foot flutter like a drunk hummingbird. It didn’t hurt at all, and if I concentrated, I could stop the movement; in any case, after 10 or maybe 20 minutes, it stopped.

Sometimes my glutes twitched, sometimes, the muscles in my calf. It’d start, then stop, seemingly at random.

I still get the occasional muscle-shudder, but as whatever is annoying the nerve is slowly retreating, so to is the twitching.

II.

One of the reasons I love teaching my bioethics course is that I get to talk about human biology, which is so astonishingly jerry-rigged that I can’t help crowing “biology is so cool!”

Most of us Homo sapiens sapiens have 46 chromosomes occupying the nuclei of our somatic cells, but some of us have 45 and some have 47, 48, or even 49 (that’d be one of the varieties of Klinefelter’s).

A woman with Turner syndrome is missing a second sex chromosome (45,XO), and while she’s infertile and may experience some developmental delays, she likely will have normal intelligence and may live out a normal life span. On the other hand, a child born with a deficiency in the short arm of the 5th chromosome will be born with Cri-du-chat syndrome, which affects both her physical and intellectual development, and may leave her unable to communicate.

So, missing an entire chromosome might have fewer effects than missing a portion of an arm of chromosome. A man who is 47,XYY is likely to experience no effects whatsoever, 47,XXY will have Klinefelter’s (and thus be infertile), and 21,XXX (Trisomy 21 or Down syndrome) will experience profound physical and intellectual effects.

Oh, and some women are 46,XY.

Now, one of the things that can be inferred from this little recitation of chromosomal abnormalities is that the genes on these chromosomes are tremendously important, such that the genes on the short arm of the 5th chromosome are involved in aspects of our development that genes on the sex chromosomes are not; similarly, the Y chromosome is so gene-poor (~350) that doubling up on the Y has no discernible effect.

Then again, the few genes—most importantly, the SRY gene—that do remain on the Y are clearly important: their dysfunction, after all, can result in an XY woman.

The second thing that can be inferred from all of this is that biology is messy—I haven’t even discussed mosaicism or chimerism, or situs inversus or any of the other kinds of weirdnesses within us—and that the messes themselves are messy: sometimes they matter a whole lot, and sometimes not at all.

III.

So the first day my sciatic nerve commenced its protest it hurt to stand, was uncomfortable to walk, and running felt fine.

The second and third day, it hurt so much in the morning that shortly after rising I would sit down, gasping, from the screaming in my leg; after moving around a bit, however, the pain receded.

A couple of days I limped. Some days it hurt to put pressure on my right leg, some days it hurt not to put pressure on it. If I positioned my foot this way I was fine, that way, not; later, the fines were reversed.

I can walk quickly, but for the past 4 or 5 days, can’t run. Going up and down stairs was initially problem-free; now I grasp the railing.

Slowly, slowly, I am getting better: while the troubles migrate, they also abate. I was hoping they’d be gone by now, but I expect by next week, they will be.

IV.

Aging sucks.

V.

I’d rather not have gone through this and will do my damnedest to forestall a recurrence, but it does make me wonder what is going on beneath my skin.

Yes, I pay attention to my body, but usually when something is wrong I can trace it back to its source: I ate too much, didn’t stretch after a workout, wiped out on an icy sidewalk;  thus having linked effect to cause, I lose interest.

)And with migraines, well, they’re just SO irritating that I become preoccupied with the pain itself; the rare occasions when I get auras I am less fascinated than, well, irritated. Knock it off, shimmering lights, you’re blocking my view.)

In this case, I’m pretty sure I know what set off the latest back pain, but how that migrated down into the sciatic nerve, and how that nerve proceeded to respond to this trespass hopscotched around predictability. Why is my toe shaking? Why is my calf muscle clenching and unclenching?

What the hell is going on?

Oh, I know: what’s happening is that my body is now more assertive in letting me know it is unhappy with my treatment of it, i.e., that I’m getting old.

It’s not that when younger I thought I was in charge of my body, but, yeah, I thought I was in charge of my body.

I’m not humbled, but bothered, to learn otherwise, and I will not be gracious in relinquishing control.

It will be a fight to the death.





If you’ll be my enemy

29 04 2015

Some of us are boundary-patrollers, and some of us are boundary-trespassers (and some of us just don’t think much about boundaries, one way or the other).

I can be frantic when it comes to personal boundaries. Yes, I share some pretty personal stuff on this blog, but there’s a lot (mostly boring, I must say), that I don’t care to share and, really, the crucial issue is whether or not I have the choice of what to reveal.

But when it comes to partisan issues, man, I am not at all interested in boundary patrol. I might think you’re a shitty leftist if you’re anti-union or not much of a feminist if you support anti-abortion legislation, but beyond that not-at-all-enforceable judgement, well, I’m not going to try to enforce anything.

It’s not that boundary-patrol isn’t necessary—it helps to be able to distinguish between x and not-x—but that I don’t think it necessary for me to engage in it. Hell, I’ll help to set up those boundaries—I’m pretty happy to draw lines all over the place—but if someone wants to wander across them, I’ll wave ’em through.

In any case, there are more than enough people out there who thrill in shrieking Halt! Who goes there? at the wanderers that I don’t worry about shirking guard duty. Or in trespassing some boundaries m’self.

I don’t know how much of a change this is for me. I could be strident when young and can be strident now, but I don’t know that I ever had much of a passion for cleaning out My Side. Maybe I did and I’ve just forgotten, but I just don’t recall ever taking on the role of Ideological Bouncer.

And I’m in no mood to start now, especially not since embracing the whole messiness thing—smudges and breaks are pretty much unavoidable. Add to that my general sense that if you’re not trying to kill/maim me, you’re not my enemy and, well, it’s no surprise that, absent an emergency, I won’t be (wo)manning the ramparts.

Makes me a pretty shitty militant, I guess (which is probably why I’m not a militant).

Anyway, all of this is a way of sidling up to our latest version of the US Culture Wars: Religion Edition.

Rod Dreher is, predictably, very upset by the rough beast of same-sex equality slouching toward Bethlehem: there are lines in Christianity and barricades in morality which simply must not be crossed, and woe the blood-dimmed tide about to be unloosed upon the land.

(You think I’m exaggerating? I am not.)

Not a few of his commenters think he’s hysterical, but what they miss is that Rod is a boundary-patroller. He’s the guy on the wall or in the bell-tower trying to protect against the hordes and to rouse his fellows—of course he’s going to be screaming all of the time.

I think he’s wrong, of course, but he’s playing a role on the right as surely as the p.c. folk are playing on the left—which means that, if I am (however grudgingly) to accept the good that may come from left-patrollers, I ought to extend that same (grudging) legitimacy to a right-patroller.

Even as I sigh and roll my eyes.





State your peace tonight

16 08 2013

I’m not a Republican—you’ve sussed that out, haven’t you?

A civic republican, yes, but GOPper? Nope.

Still, as much as I’m not a GOPper, I nonetheless believe that the US’s 2-party democracy needs two functional parties—that is, two parties prepared to govern—and that the Republican Party’s descent into madness is bad for us all.

Thus, as much as I’m not a Republican, I’m very glad that there are Republicans who are unwilling to leave their party to the nutters.

So, yea to North Dakota Rep. Kathy Hawken, R-Fargo:

Have you ever considered switching parties or a third-party option? 

Have I thought about it? Yeah, I have. But there are reasons that I am a Republican. When somebody tells me I’m not really a Republican, I say, “I really think I am. I’m not sure you are. I’m not sure how you define what it means to be a Republican.”

She’s a pro-choice moderate, so it’s not that much of a stretch for me to cheer her, but good for her for not giving up her seat (metaphorically) to those who want to push her out of it.

When I was younger I was frustrated by the ideological hash of the two parties—conservative Democrats, liberal Republicans: it made no sense! Put the lefties on one side and the righties on another, and let it all be clean and neat and clear.

Except politics is not meant to be neat and clean and clear; tidiness tends to work against politics. No, politics is a mess, and political parties which cannot take account of that mess are unsuited to governance.

So, to the extent that Kathy Hawken is keepin’ it messy in North Dakota: Good for her!





Give me the gun

4 08 2013

Yet another article about yet another shitty government official and in the comments, the usual:

Yeah, we should totally give up our guns to these tyrants!

Okay, yeah, comments (often a cesspool, not representative, blah blah), but this sentiment is so commonly expressed in the comments that someone less obsessed with gun regs/rights (take yer pick) is likely simply to skip past them.

I, for example, usually skip past.

But today a new thought hit: Guns are a simple answer to a tough problem.

I’m a good-government type of gal, but any leftist who isn’t at least skeptical of governmental power isn’t doing it right. I like big, messy, pluralist, complicated societies, and the only way to live well in a big, messy, pluralist, complicated societies is to establish some kind of rule of law to navigate those messes and complications.  And if that law is to have a chance at approaching justice, good government is required.

But it’s also manifestly the case that government isn’t always good, that law falls short of justice, and sometimes you really do have to defend yourself by any means necessary.

Thus, while it’s easy for me to roll my eyes at so-called gun-nuts, there is some small part of me that gets some small part of their agenda. There’s a lot I don’t get and a lot I don’t agree with, but the notion that the government is not always to be trusted. . . ?

Anyway, trying to wrest good government out of bad is hard, hard work, rarely straightforward, and almost always takes too long. And even if you think you’ll fail, you have to believe enough in the worth of good government to try.

Not everyone believes this, of course, which is why some prefer the quick recourse to weaponry. But there may be others who are driven less by animus against the government (or the big messy society which requires it) than a frustration that the Right and the Good are just so goddamned obvious and just as goddamned obviously never to be achieved by standard operating procedures, that the best way to the Right and the Good is to blow a hole through those SOPs.

Thus, the gun: It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s done.

~~~

h/t: Brad DeLong





Keep it loose, keep it tight

28 08 2012

Sorry for the light blogging, but I had to get my shit together.

This is how I am: I let things go, then reel ’em back in.

Not my hang-ups—Hera forbid I would let go of my hang-ups—but various tasks and maintenance and organization. Papers proliferate, folders flop about, and the miscellany of work and life moulders on benches and shelves and. . . anywhere, really.

This is a minor problem during the school year, but it worsens in the summer (when I’m not teaching) because, well, I hate everything in the summer and am utterly unwilling to do anything which might improve my surroundings and thus, my mood.

I wallow, in other words.

Well, the school year is about to begin, and although I am still in the midst of the August mugging, the necessity of pulling my teaching shit together prompted me to begin pulling my apartment together. I bought—even though I really don’t want to buy any more stuff—a couple of shelves, moved a pile of books off of the floor and on to one set of shelves, and cleaned up my sweater pile with another.

Then I attacked a mess of papers lurking about my desk, recycling a bunch of stuff and filing the rest. There’s more to be done, but at least the remaining piles are sorted.

And then—oh, yeah!—I had to update my syllabi, print out notes and class rosters and check on just where my classes would be meeting. Terribly embarrassing to show up in the wrong classroom.

Do I sound excited for the school year to begin? It’s because I am!

Yes, your bitter, sarcastic, foul-tempered and foul-mouthed blogger actually enjoys teaching!

Don’t hate me because, while I do hate everything in August, I don’t hate everything all of the time.

And I have a tidy apartment to prove it.