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.





Oh, don’t tell me what to say

29 11 2016

Tina Fey tells a story of Amy Poehler doing something vulgar and Jimmy Fallon squealing

“Stop that! It’s not cute! I don’t like it.”

Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him. “I don’t fucking care if you like it.” Jimmy was visibly startled. Amy went right back to enjoying her ridiculous bit.

I like this story.

Now, I heard this after having read Ta-Nehisi Coates for some years and imbibing his ethic of I’m not going to let you question my humanity; of Hannah Arendt stating it was no good to say she was human in spite of being Jewish, that she had to choose one or the other; of Steven Biko and Malcolm X emphasizing that their blackness made them in no way lesser.

You would not define them; they would define themselves, as they pleased—and not to please you.

To name, to define, to determine the worth of something or someone, is so basic a power that we often only see it when someone says No.

And then we see how much it matters to those who would define: How dare you think you’re pretty? How dare you think you’re funny? How dare you think you’re equal? How dare you think for yourself? How dare you think you don’t have to think of me, in thinking of yourself?

It’s not just that the default-definers don’t like the words you choose to define yourself, but that you chose them for yourself. You took a power away from them, a right to decide who others are and how they should live.

This is elemental to any supremacist (sexual, racial, ethnic, religious) system: the power to define.

That power is a power to abuse, of course, but it’s also a power of mercy: Look how good I am, deciding you’re worthy; how can I be a supremacist when I recognize that you’re not inferior? How can I be bad when I let you live?

Avid supremacists may hate your declaration of independence, but those in the majority who think of themselves as egalitarians, who act without malice, may also decry your claims: why are you rejecting me?

And sure, some of the liberationists may reject that person, personally, or may offer their own counter-supremacism, but mostly, at the center of someone saying I don’t fucking care if you like it, is the asserted-I, not the you.

Really, nothing personal, but you are no longer at the center of the world.

And this displacement can be profoundly confounding. This is, of course, a psychological as well as a philosophical disorientation, but not only that: it is also a political one. It is not always recognized as a loss of power, but that’s precisely what it is—and there should be no  surprise that people fight to hang on to it.





Talking ’bout what everybody’s talkin ’bout

27 01 2015

There’s an awful lot of shit about which I have opinions (informed and otherwise) that I think about writing about but end up not writing about because I am lazy and I’d rather not write uninformed thoughts which others who are informed have said better but mostly, mostly, because blogging is not my job.

It’s too bad, in some ways, because I’d really like (but not enough to do much about: lazy) to write for a rent check or two, but in other ways, saves me—mainly, from having to have an opinion about what everyone else is opining about. I get to say ehhhhh. . . in response to GamerGate or the NYPD or what that one guy said that time about a thing.

Again, I have opinions oozin’ out me pores, but most I get to save for an enjoyable session of barstool bullshitting rather than having to labor to turn them into something coherent enough for a blog.

No, that may not be a high standard, but it’s one I try (most days) to reach.

Anyway, all of this is a prelude to/apology for commenting on the the Jonathan Chait anti-p.c. piece. It’s not very good, but it is long, so. . . there’s that. Jia Tolentino, Amanda Marcotte, Angus Johnston, and Lee Papa all have good responses, so in the spirit of laziness non-repetition, I, uh, won’t repeat their arguments.

But, in the spirit of value-added, I will, uh, add this: JESUSHCHRISTTHISISSOOLD STOP STOP STOP!

Not enough value? How about: this whole p.c. thing has been around for so long—not the twenty years Chait complains about, but at least thirty—and that’s just using the term “politically correct”: as Erik Loomis pointed out on another LG&M thread, “such circular firing squads have existed for the entire history of the left.”

And yeah, the p.c. of my experience was indeed a lefty phenom—a term used by some leftists (who needed to work  or sleep or go to class and thus couldn’t turn out for every fucking rally) to mock those who’d condescend to those who needed to work or sleep or go to class and thus couldn’t turn out for every fucking rally as insufficiently committed to The Cause (it doesn’t matter which one), and who (the condescenders, not the rent-payers) didn’t shower, to boot, and. . . where was I?

(Can you tell this is a post written under the influence of Wonkette?)

Oh, yes: it was a term of mockery of the left-pure by the impure-left.

Guess which side I was on?

At some point, apparently, “p.c.” became a sincere rather than a snarky tag on the left, which was unfortunate, as it allowed those on the right to pick up those snarky remains, rearrange them, and turn what had been a dart into an axe. Good for them, I guess.

In any case, I don’t want to criticize the sincerity of those who worry about microagressions or trigger warnings or whatnot, but, like Papa, I don’t have much use for those worries, either. I also don’t see the problem with having some folks worry about microagressions and trigger warnings and whatnot, because sometimes the folks who worry about things which are often dismissed are right to say, “hey, wait a minute!”

And, yes, sometimes they’re wrong, and when they’re wrong, one has the option of ignoring them or refuting them or mocking them—just as the worriers have the option of ignoring or refuting or mocking the dismissers.

This is what the bloggers, above, note—so, yes, I guess I did repeat what they have to say. But I also want to extend this, to note two more things:

1. A lot of this is coming out of campuses and college-age students, which is unsurprising.

College is the time of boundary-setting and boundary-trespass in terms of ideas and identities, and often in quite extreme ways. This is the age and the setting in which someone can be utterly and completely given over to a cause (of whatever sort) and, importantly, find that cause in common with others.

You can be passionate and not alone, and for a fair number of students, this is the first time in their lives that they don’t have to choose between the two.

That’s an astonishing moment, a kind of coming-into-oneself during which one is finally free to see where and how far she can go. After a time, some of us go through this moment, some go too far into or beyond it, and some, having found themselves in that moment, decide to remain right there.

Most, I think, pass through in some way or another—grow up, sell out, burn out, whatever—so freaking out about twenty-year-olds freaking out about boundaries—their own and others’—is pretty much akin to Grandpa Simpson yelling at clouds.

2. To extend something which Tolentino, et. al.  point toward: a lot of those bitching about the p.c. boundary patrol are often powerful in the ways that the patrollers themselves are not.

Chait worked for The New Republic and now works for New York Magazine. Hanna Rosin writes for The Atlantic and Slate, and Sullivan, well, is Sullivan. They get to be irked by others taking issue with their words—who isn’t?—but to say there’s a right way and a wrong way to criticize is its own form of boundary patrol, and one most often deployed by those with more power against those with less power.

This is something which staunch free speech advocates (and it’s always “staunch”, isn’t it? never “rigid” or “unbending”)—and, sure, I’ll count myself among them—too often overlook in their defense of words: that words matter.

Of course, they get that “words matter”—hence the defense of words—but words can have more or less juice to them, depending upon who’s speaking or writing them. Pointing out microagressions or tone policing might be annoying as all get out, but they’re also ways to poke holes in those juiced-up words, to drain them of a bit of their power.

Or, more to the point, to poke holes in those who supply the juice, to drain them of a bit of their power—over others.

Again, annoying (especially if you don’t recognize yourself as having power over others) but not illegitimate on its face. It is, in fact, a fight about the rules of the fight, which those who are used to setting the rules would rather not have—and certainly not with such ardent critics.

And, again, as a tits-forward kinda gal and a rigid free-speecher, I think there are all kinds of criticisms to be made of p.c. policing, and all kinds of arguments to be made in favor of loose words.

But you can’t just bitch about having to make those arguments—you gotta actually make ’em.

~~~

*h/t Scott Lemieux and TBogg





Everybody knows it’s coming apart, 15

8 12 2014

Ironically, in seeking to curb the individual will to power in favor of equality, leftists invest their own subterranean desires for freedom-as-power in the activist state. In my view, the revival of the left depends on relinquishing this investment. We need to recognize that despite appearances the state is not our friend, that in the long run its erosion is an opportunity and a challenge, not a disaster. I don’t want to be misunderstood: I’m not suggesting that we stop supporting social security or national health insurance or public schools or antidiscrimination laws. If my immediate choices are the barbarism of unleashed capital or a state-funded public sector, the tyranny of uninhibited private bigotry or state-enforced civil rights, I choose the state. Or rather, I choose the social goods and civil liberties that are available under state auspices.The distinction is important, because the idea that the state gives us these benefits is a mystification. Basically [Charles] Murray is right: government does not cause social improvement. In actual historical fact, every economic and social right that we’ve achieved since the nineteenth century has been hard-won by organized, militant, and often radical social movements: the labor movement; the socialist, communist, and anarchist movements; the new left student movement; the black and feminist and gay liberation movements; the ecology movement. . . . The role of the state from the New Deal and the postwar compact till the start of its present no-more-Mr.-Nice-Guy phase was to manage potentially destabilizing social conflict by offering carefully limited concessions to the troublemakers.

. . . The government’s current rush to abandon any pretense of social responsibility ought to make this painfully clear: what the state supposedly giveth it promptly taketh away as soon as the balance of power shifts. In this case, of course, social power is shifting away from the national state itself; liberals and social democrats are still trying to board a train that’s already left the station.

In parallel fashion, the statism of the cultural left does not further equality so much as it reinforces law and order. . . . Insofar as the demand is to outlaw overt, provable discriminatory acts by employers, landlords, store, owners, and so on, it simply aims for public recognition that (pace [David] Boaz and Murray) discrimination is a coercive act as unacceptable as violence or theft. But the problem, from the social movements’ point of view, is that overt, deliberate discrimination is only the crudest expression of a deeply rooted culture of inequality. For many opponents of that culture, it has seemed a logical next step to invoke state power against patterns of behavior that reinforce white male dominance and exclude, marginalize, or intimidate vulnerable groups.

Actually, it’s a plunge into a dangerous illusion. The ingrained behavior and attitudes that support the dominant culture are by definition widespread, reflexive, and experienced as normal and reasonable by the people who uphold them. They are also often unconscious or ambiguous. A serious effort to crush racism and sexism with the blunt instrument of the law would be a project of totalitarian dimensions—and still it would fail. Transforming a culture and its consciousness requires a different kind of politics, a movement of people who consistently and publicly confront oppressive social patterns, explain what’s wrong with them, and refuse to live by them. . . .

It’s time for the left to become a movement again. That means, first of all, depending on no one’s power but our own. . . .

Ellen Willis, Their Libertarianism—and Ours, 1997

There is much which is provocative—in the best sense of the word—in Willis’s work, and much of her left-libertarianism with which I agree.

But she doesn’t confront the contradiction in her own essay: the gains of past movements, gains which she wouldn’t give up, were accomplished through the actions of that compromised, unfriendly, authoritarian state. She criticizes the right-libertarians for not recognizing the coercive power of the marketplace and warns leftists of the coercive power of the state, but merely criticizing parallel coercions does not in an of itself offer an escape from them.

Yes, by all means, we need a new, new-left movement (NL x.0?), a new vision of freedom and equality in which we live in “voluntary cooperation” with one another. But we can’t get their simply by dismissing either the state or the market as coercive—and not only because coercion (or, if you prefer, power) itself may be inescapable.

It’s nice to say we ought to rely on no one’s power but our own, but is that enough? And what if it isn’t? That is the dilemma, and the work.





Blames it on fate

29 07 2014

1. Victims are bad political actors.

To act politically is to act power-fully, that is, to wield power. To wield power well, you have to recognize that you are, in fact, capable and in a position to wield power; to wield power wisely, you have to be willing to act beyond the wound suffered, to see that others suffer, and to try to create conditions in which suffering is not the main driver of you and your people.

This, needless to say, is tremendously difficult: Nelson Mandela is lauded as one of the great political actors because he tried to move beyond suffering and to point South Africa toward a future in which all of its peoples took part.

He is lauded because what he did was so rare.

2. This doesn’t mean that victims can’t ever become political actors, or that the circumstances of one’s victimization cannot justly for the basis of one’s political activities.

There is a history of victims demanding recognition as having been victimized, demanding that victimization cease, and in some cases demanding recompense for their victimization. These causes—poor relief, civil rights, indigenous rights, Chicano rights, women’s liberation, gay liberation, disability rights—are just, and justly fought for in the political realm.

I am not arguing that the issue of victimization is off-limits to politics—quite the opposite.

The promise of politics is that one is able to act on one’s own behalf, to act in concert with others on shared concerns, and to act in service to larger principles and ideals. Politics offers the possibility of acting both for oneself and beyond oneself.

Politics offers the possibility of power.

A good way to avoid victimization is to gain power.* It is not unreasonable for those who first gain power seek to use it primarily in defense of oneself and one’s group, and then to try to advance that group’s interests based on more-or-less-narrowly self-interested grounds.

Note that this is the history of politics in New York City.

Note as well that New York City is not known for its pantheon of wise political leaders.

3. To state this baldly: in order to act well, to govern well, one has to leave behind one’s primary identity as a victim and embrace a wider role.

One’s past victimhood may, perhaps even should, continue to inform one’s political actions, but broadly, rather than narrowly, and based on generally applicable principles rather than solely on one’s own, particular, experiences.

Again, those experiences matter—politics ought not be shrunk to mere procedure—but if one’s own experiences matter, then one ought to be able to recognize that others’ experiences matter as well.

If you think it is wrong that you suffer, then you ought to be able to see that it is wrong that others suffer, such that when acting to relieve one’s own and to prevent future suffering, one ought to seek a wide relief, a broad prevention.

You don’t have to do that, of course—see the history of all politics, everywhere—but if you stick only to your own kind, insist that yours is the only victimization that matters, that even to suggest that others may be victimized, much less that you may victimize others, is to victimize you all over again, then you are a bad political actor.

If you cannot see that others may be victimized, that others suffer, then you cannot see others.

If you cannot see others, then, politically, you can act neither wisely nor well.

~~~

n.b. Recent events in and commentary about Israel and Gaza obviously informed this somewhat-fragmentary post.

~~~

*Arendtian tho’ I am, I nonetheless recognize that power may be gained thru non-political means as well. For the purposes of this post, however, I confine myself to political power.





Hold on loosely

9 12 2013

I’d have a lot more respect for this petition if the signers weren’t themselves sucking so hard on the juicy fruits of information on the internet that their cheeks are caved in.

Oh, and the fact they waited until this all became public knowledge—that is, when their customers found out—makes me think this is less a righteous stand for an open and free society than profit-saving CYA.

Still, message/messenger and all that: they ain’t wrong.

~~~

And I think Brendan Kiley (riffing off David Schmader) pretty much nails it: It is funny—the people who hold the power in any given situation tend to be the ones who behave the most fearfully.

See: Wall Street & its critics; Christians in the US & non-Christians (swap out Islam/Judaism/Hinduism as befits the particular society); MRAs and feminists; ad infinitum.

My only amendment to his statement would be that the people who believe only they should hold the power in any given situation. . . : in a decent political situation, it would be understood that one’s hold on power is of necessity temporary, and thus must be held lightly and confidently, not fearfully.

~~~

Ever since Bones killed off Pelant and Booth & Brennan got married, every fucking episode includes some sort of paean to their love/relationship/perfection for each other.

Tskghk.

Bones has become McMillan & Wife.





Under my thumb

5 10 2013

I was going to say that I’m severely ambivalent about the use of the word “privilege” (as a marker of unexamined social status), but, y’know, I’m not.

I flat-out don’t like the term.

Oh, I get it, I get why it’s used, and I don’t disagree with the notion that being able to take certain social resources for granted is, in fact, a kind of privilege. But the term “privilege” seems both overly personal and underly political: it seems more to judge the person than the circumstances.

I don’t really have a problem with judgment—I can judge with the best of ’em—but as a diagnostic rather than a weapon. Hell, if I”m going to attack you, Imma coming at you directly, not interpretively.

Still, “privilege” gets used because it does get at something real, and because there’s not a good, pithy, substitute.

Aimai at No More Mister Nice Blog doesn’t offer a substitute, either, but does usefully break apart the concept in order to examine that part of privilege which really is personal—the desire to punish and anger at the inability to do so—and then links it all back to politics.

Much to mull, there, in terms of her? his? links to Jay Porter’s discussions of tipping and Punisher-customers, and the notion that federal workers are somehow servants who don’t know their place; I wonder if this couldn’t be linked up to the idea that private charity is better than public provision, Oh, and the meritocracy fetish. So: chewy good stuff.

Still lookin’ for a better word than privilege, though.

~~~

h/t Brad DeLong