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Scandal Mongering as Anti-Politics

Today brings news that the president shared classified secrets with Russia that had been given to the US by an ally that did not give permission to share such secrets.  My social media is lit up with people who hope that this scandal is the scandal that finally brings down the president.  This story requires us to believe and support the CIA, not unlike the last scandal, the firing of Comey, that required us to believe and support the FBI.  These scandals do not appear to do much to change the order of things, but to allow them to be more stable.

I proposed on Inauguration Day that we ignore Trump the person and fight the political battles.  Today, after more than 100 days, I find many many people seem to want to fight Trump on the scandals, and not the political battles.  I get it.  It seems easier to shut him down by showing him to be ill-fit for the office.  But I think there is something characteristically liberal about that approach–liberal in the sense of concerned with procedure and the equal application of the law instead of justice and freedom for those who are oppressed.  This approach sidesteps the political work of having to show how every policy and new cancellation of rules hurts poor people, black people, immigrants, LGBT folks, women and the sick and disabled.  I worry that this approach makes it seem like the real scandal is the sharing of secrets instead of the moving of wealth to fewer and fewer people.  It makes it seem like the real scandal is a president who has no attention span instead of making the lives of more and more people precarious. Read more

S*Town is S*

People are really into the 7-episode podcast about Woodstock, Alabama from the producers of Serial and This American Life: S*Town.  I don’t like it.  I don’t like the reporter Brian Reed who thinks he is engaged with Americana, but is really just incredibly condescending.  I finally threw my hands up in frustration in Episode 5, when the colorful character, John B. McLemore, who gets Reed involved in the project, tells Reed that he knows what Reed really wanted to ask when Reed asks if McLemore felt like a friendship was a two-way street.  Reed says, “Do you think your guy’s friendship was more of a friendship or more of a paternal relationship?”  McLemore says, “What you wanted to say but you didn’t come out and say it is, is your guy’s relationship more of a friendship or more of a usership?”  Reed responds, “No, it wasn’t what I wanted to say.  It’s what you wanted to say, apparently.”

This exchange might capture everything I do not like about the podcast.  Reed is trying to be the nice thoughtful sympathizing reporter, and McLemore straight called him out and said, this was what you were really thinking, the thing that was not quite as nice.  First, the thing that McLemore asks is not even that different than what Reed asks, and McLemore seems to capture what is meant by “paternal relationship” well, so it is surprising that Reed resists.  I’m not sure how to interpret that resistance, but it felt like Reed was upset at not having the interview control he wanted to have.  Reed’s response came across as petty and inauthentic to me.  McLemore shared the basic sense that Reed has, why does he have to quibble with the language in an accusatory way?  Is he upset with what McLemore might be accusing him of thinking?  But he is thinking that.

The exchange is so painful to hear. Read more

Buying a House: The Lives of Things

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged in this series.  We closed on our house on May 3 and moved in Memorial Day weekend 2016, so this is the first spring in the house.  I am on sabbatical, so this spring, I’ve been getting up every morning, making coffee, and sitting in the dining room, gazing out the front window.  In the transition from winter to spring, the front room has become the bright, green space that sold us on the house.

I’ve never been a “lives of things” kind of philosopher.  I mean, I work on concepts of nature and I think about the ways that concepts like nature can be border markers for who or what is relevant to political and ethical questions.  But the idea that things could have lives, that they could reveal themselves, that they could have ways of resisting and conceding is not a view to which I really give my credence.  And yet, the newness of the house in springtime is making me think about the lives of things.  It’s not a different house in the springtime–I mean, it’s the same materials–and yet, it really really is a different house.   Read more

The Political Subject and Identity Politics: Reading Dean’s Crowds and Party

In her recent book Crowds and PartyJodi Dean argues against the radical individualism that continues to characterize politics on the Left, recalling a scene from Occupy Wall Street in which efforts to organize break down because everyone is asked to make their own decision about what to do.  She argues convincingly that the subject of politics is produced as the individual in a way that serves a market-based economy.  On this account, expressions of political resistance can be commodified and monetized as free expression.  In service to that marketization of politics, politics and political discourse require the individual be produced as the fundamental unit of politics and political decision-making.  Political resistance breaks down because the individual remains privileged above the collective.

Dean argues that crowds produce possibilities, heretofore unrecognized, for resisting the ways that everything from social media to marketing efforts demand that we be individuals.  Crowds are collectivities that are not yet communities.  Crowds have no shared history or shared norms.    I started reading this book right before the January Women’s Marches, and I was struck by the possibilities at work in this way of seeing the crowd:

Because the crowd is a collective being, it cannot be reduced to singularities.  On the contrary, the primary characteristic of a crowd is its operation as a force of its own, like an organism.  The crowd is more than an aggregate of individuals.  It is individuals changed through the torsion of their aggregation, the force aggregation exerts back on them to do together what is impossible alone. (9)

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Imposter Syndrome and “Proper” Archives

I thought I was working on a book on Aristotle’s biology, but it turns out I’m working on a book on Aristotle’s metaphysics.  I am a little trepidatious about this turn.  On the one hand, I find this exciting.  I thought I was working on a project about Aristotle’s account of male and female and the implications of this account being much more fluid than we tend to treat it for his account of form and matter.  Ok, so that already was metaphysics, but I thought I was working mostly on biological texts.  I didn’t realize how much I was working directly on debates about form and matter in Aristotelian scholarship.  I am learning so much.  A constellation of concerns that I was already addressing in my first book on the concept of nature in Aristotle’s Politics and practical works has become much clearer to me.  I am also finding that I have something important to say.

On the other hand, when I was in graduate school, a professor said to me that I should really look for jobs in social and political philosophy because Aristotelian scholars would not let me say what I wanted to say about Aristotle.  Not just once did this professor say this to me, but regularly so that this notion has produced an anxiety that makes me obsessively concerned with establishing my position with copious footnotes that demonstrate my grasp of the field, and thus, situate my argument in terms of these arguments.  I’m beginning to think that this obsessive concern is not only crippling but part of a field’s interest in reproducing itself to reflect its current state.

I learned Aristotle outside of the analytic tradition of the history of philosophy.  It is only lately that I am becoming aware of the debates within that tradition, debates that I find helpful for situating my argument.  I do not find these debates to close off the possibility of my argument, but to organize a field in which I can situate myself.  I’ve previously discussed how figuring out some of the forty-year-old debates in the literature brought me some clarity on this project.  I was trained to read texts well and this training prepared me to learn how to teach myself.  But the imposter syndrome has me worrying that the sources I cite aren’t the right ones–I don’t personally know these people, I didn’t sit in their classes, I don’t know the background.  Even though they seem to lay out disputes between figures who are or who have been influential in the field, I worry that I have somehow found the obscure random article that I will cite–not of course, without also following some of those references to their source–and that citing these articles–the one that no one else knows of–will expose me as the scholarly fraud that I am.

I think review practices contribute to this problem.  Review practices that take issue with scholars failure to reference “their literature” are in some ways disputes over the archive.  The notion that one archive is the archive that we all share and that one must master in order to say something worthwhile requires that we all see the lineage of the questions in the same way.  Of course, I’ve found learning this literature useful and informative and exciting.  I feel like I’m putting myself through several graduate courses in writing this book, and I love that.  But I think this anxiety about referencing the “proper archive” follows from idiosyncratic review practices where we each want to see our own archive and literature reflected, and I’m convinced that Kate Norlock is right about making judgments about the general state of the literature in reviewing rather than on whether this or that text is referenced.  Of course, this point involves judgment because sometimes that particular text the author omits is the directly relevant one.

I see my anxiety as one of how one can learn the literature from the literature, which I think is an anxiety about how much secret occult-like knowledge exists behind the archive.  That anxiety itself is about how open the field can be to those who were not in some sense “raised in it.”

It has turned out that analytic Aristotelians are perfectly willing to engage my work on Aristotle’s biology.  Funny enough, some have even said to me, “you can’t say that,” as my professor in graduate school warned.  I’ve been interested in finding how engagements with literature that has established what can and cannot be said can go a considerable way to loosen the hold on what can be said.  Nonetheless, I think having the right references is often a way of signaling being “inside,” rather than signaling a worthy contribution, which is what we should be concerned to support.  But I wonder whether we can make judgments about a “worthy contribution” if that calculation is so rooted in having the same archive.  When the “inside” looks like just the way things should be, it is hard to judge the outside as something worthy rather than just wrong.  It returns us to the question of whether something is good because it is ours or it is good because it is right, and whether we can even judge whether it is right outside it being our own.  Indeed, it is to respond to such a question that the Greeks first invoked the notion of “nature.”  They weren’t right for doing so.  Lord knows the trouble that archive brought us.


Genetic Testing Penalties, American Individualism and Political Nihilism

Over the last six weeks, I’ve been on the medical check-up tour.  I visited my general practitioner’s office, my gynecologist, my eye doctor and my dermatologist.  I’ve given my family medical history many times.  In the last visit, at the dermatologist, I realized when I had to check none of the boxes they were concerned with, that family-wise, I was in pretty good health standing.  On the contemporary view of American politics, this situation should make me shrug my shoulders at H.B. 1313, which passed out of committee late last week, which would allow employers to penalize employees who decline genetic testing.  While such testing might lead to higher insurance rates for employees who have certain genetic dispositions for illness, people like me might have little reason to refuse such testing (except that it’s a gross invasion of privacy). Read more

#DayWithoutAWoman Strike

In an odd sort of inversion where those who wish to maintain the status quo use the arguments and language of the opposition to shut down their activism, Meghan Daum argues in the LA Times that the Women’s Strike is only for privileged women.  Maureen Shaw makes a similar argument in Quartz.   In a classic critique of acts of systematic and collective resistance, Shaw went on to argue that strikes that have particular aims are more successful.  Tithi Bhattacharya and Cinzia Arruzza struck back at this line, calling this line of critique ‘concern trolling’ in The Nation.  They point to the responses to this line of concern that organizers like Magally A. Miranda Alcazar and Kate D. Griffiths discuss at length, also in The Nation. Read more

Against the Hypocrisy Charge

You may have heard–Mike Pence used private email servers and was hacked.  Jeff Sessions may have lied to Congress about conversations with Russia.  He may have called for impeachment against those who lie in an official capacity during the Clinton impeachment proceedings.  And while he has recused himself from investigations into Russian tampering with US elections, very few people think he will be impeached.  Democrats have responded by calling “hypocrite!” See Paul Begala, Bill O’Reilly for goodness sake, Salon who points out the racial hypocrisy of the “law and order” Attorney General, the list goes on. Read more

6 Behaviors to Avoid On Facebook

I heard someone say when I was in Italy awhile back that there are rules to driving in Rome, it’s just that those rules aren’t the published ones.  You have to be there for awhile to get a feel for the real rules.

Social media is kind of like that.  There aren’t really published rules.  Or if they are, they are the terms of use and not really the rules of how to engage well.  But there are rules for how to engage in social media, unwritten rules that ought to govern our conduct to make social media work.  In my experience, social media reflects real life but it multiplies exponentially the sense in which some people feel like the whole world is theirs to take up space in and to explain to others, while working to limit the degree to which other people can feel like that.  Social media then becomes a mechanism by which what Robin James has called multiracial white supremacist patriarchy (MrWaSP) perpetuates itself.  That’s not going to stop unless we actively resist it.

I think there are people out there who troll by virtue of their character.  But other people just seem oblivious.  This post is for those people.  I like the idea that we should think about people’s Facebook walls as their virtual home (ok, I say social media, but chiefly I mean Facebook – I spend time on Twitter, but I’m much less active there).  You are a guest, you should act like a guest.  If you don’t know someone IRL, you should be more reserved and not assume you are welcome until further encouraged.  But this rule, like the others, should be contextualized–some people will always be made to feel less welcome and you should think about that as you moderate your own wall.  Also, the host-guest metaphor might be insufficient because I think some people who behave poorly on Facebook would treat me like this in my house, too.  In any case… Read more

My first yoga workshop

Any day now I’m going to cry in yoga.  I’ve been having this thing happen to me where I’m holding a position and I’m sure I just cannot do it anymore and I have that emotional release that happens when you cry only I don’t cry.  I stay in the pose, and it is amazing.  Today I had that same feeling but only because I kept falling out of poses that I know I can do and it was so frustrating.  

Last week, I had a class that was really frustrating.  I didn’t seem to have my balance.  Poses that I had felt strong and successful doing in the class before were a struggle.  I was annoyed with myself.  I already mastered this!  Why do I have to deal with this again?  Lying there on my mat in shavasana in between poses it occurred to me that this is life–having the same struggle over again even though you mastered it before. Read more