But as I looked around for guidance and clarification—what sorts of passions do the Algerian war and its complicated aftermath—especially in Algeria—raise nowadays?– I found that the loudest voices were the most certain and the most certain voices were the least informative. Everybody was trying to find an angle, to take a line, to drown out somebody else, to predict disastrous consequences, to moralize, punish, engage. And I found myself yearning for one or two intellectuals to be un peu désengagés—a bit less warlike and a bit more cautious. Maybe I was yearning for late Camus—a man who fell silent because he just didn’t know what to say.
Those who are on the path of individuation are the most likely members of the “spiritual, not religious” sector of the population. These are the people for whom faith tends to be more central than belief; for whom religion has become a personal spiritual affair instead of an institution whose belief system you sign up for. People like this are not so concerned with what they believe or don’t believe; they want to know how rather than what — how they can connect to a world beyond their own ego, a world of meaning and value that they intuit to be present, and yet are not always in touch with.
Unlike religion and atheism, the faith that lives in the heart transcends our mania for conclusions. Religion is full of definitive answers about the meaning and purpose of life meant to guide you safely from the cradle to the grave. Atheism is equally conclusive in insisting that there is no meaning or purpose to life at all and that what we see is all we get. Spirituality without religion, on the other hand, allows us to live with uncertainty, change, and ultimately, death, not because we believe that a better place awaits us, but because we intuitively sense that there is an intelligence, an inherent rightness, in the way life presents itself moment by moment. We have faith that life has its own Logos beyond all physical appearances — that life is deeper than our minds can ever know.
Ancient quarreling aside, the overarching theme of the Bailey episode for Dreger was whether or not a scholar should be allowed to present evidence for a theory that some find profoundly threatening and deeply offensive. The critiques of Bailey often revolved around whether his book was “invalidating to transwomen” — which seemed like a separate question from whether the argument itself had any merit, a question that continues to be debated.
In her new book, Dreger also empathizes with Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer, authors of A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion (2001). They argue that rape is motivated at least in part by sexual attraction, a view that diverges from the widely held notion that it is solely about violence and control. Palmer and Thornhill see their work as contributing to an understanding of why rapists rape and therefore, ultimately, of help to victims. Their many irate detractors see them as rape apologists. What started as science devolved into name-calling and death threats.
…”I very much identify as a liberal feminist,” she says. “That said, I get extremely impatient with liberals who want to rail about Republicans who won’t look at facts and then you get people who are making decisions based on identity and not on the facts. To me, that’s just a perversion of liberalism.” That stance wins her fans among a crowd she’s not sure she wants on her side. “Believe me, it makes me uncomfortable that my last 20 Twitter followers are right-wingers,” she says.
Yet she worries that partisan team-playing — making sure the progressive cool kids like you — is a hindrance to reasoned dialogue on tough topics. “I think we get lazy sometimes, and we let our politics rule what we’re doing, and as academics we can’t do that,” she says. “There’s this whole branch of academe in which simply telling your story is taken as some sort of data beyond just telling your story. To me it’s just telling your story.”
If I had the stature or the ability to write a Letters to a Young Foolosopher sort of book, I would center it around this simple advice: Be suspicious of narratives. Not reflexively contrarian — don’t argue just for the sake of it. Automatically taking the opposite side of any given argument is just another way of letting other people set the terms of your thinking for you. Not nihilistically paranoid, either — don’t assume that anyone speaking of “truth” and “objectivity” is just cynically concealing a lust for power and dominance. That sort of nihilism is a comforting meta-narrative itself, a way of shrugging off the burden of weighing, judging and measuring each new set of circumstances. Just be suspicious. For various reasons, from biological to social to individual, it’s very easy for us to notice patterns and submit to their internal logic. Like jogging through the woods, it’s natural to notice a clear trail and let that determine our direction. Narratives are both indispensable and unstable, and thus require constant vigilance.
When Michael Bérubé famously joked about people who “used to be a Democrat, but thanks to 9/11, (are) now outraged by Chappaquiddick”, he was basically talking about the power of narratives, the need to fit this particular experience into a preexisting story. Pace Bérubé, though, I don’t think you need Marxist theorists to make sense of the phenomenon; I think it can be explained by the cognitive phenomenon of chunking. It may seem paradoxical at first glance, but it’s actually easier, given the way our brains work, to substitute one grand narrative for another, like switching railroad tracks, than it is to rethink individual principles piece by piece, which can be frustrating and time-consuming. In other words, confronted with a traumatic shock like 9/11, many liberals might have felt disoriented and confused over principles that they had formerly taken for granted. But rather than think slowly and methodically about whether their personal pacifism had been too reflexive, or whether liberalism as a whole had let multicultural dogma blind itself to a serious threat, they responded by wiping the intellectual slate clean (simplicity!) and replacing their former worldview with another one, fully-formed (more simplicity!). Crisis averted, and at minimal cognitive cost. They might be wrong about a whole bunch of different things now, but at least they feel comfortable again.
But that, right there at the crisis point when you’re not sure what to think or who to believe, is where I would suggest you need to be suspicious and resist the urge to seek comfort among allies. Having emerged, blinking, into the sunlight, don’t be so eager to turn right back into the shadows. Take your sweet time, don’t be afraid to be left behind by those who have already made up their minds, and consider what makes this experience unique before deciding it’s merely a reflection of something else. Many of the people who would laugh knowingly at Bérubé’s witty formulation are the same ones who favor a different narrative, in which they are too sophisticated, rational and objective to ever fall prey to such groupthink, and the cycle begins again, to the delight of whichever trickster god gave us the gift of narrative to begin with.
There may not be any singular, objective truth about the world to be found. There may even be several, or many, irreducible truths, all in permanent conflict with each other. Still, using the general concept as a lodestar seems to be beneficial, especially when, as Dreger has experienced, up becomes down and ally becomes enemy. Concentrate on finding as much truth as you can, don’t be in any hurry to assemble it into an overarching narrative, and don’t be intimidated by those who use guilt, anger and shame to prevent you from inconveniencing their own narratives. Doing so may marginalize you in favor of those who are always ready to put politics ahead of truth-seeking, but I’d hope you find that a fair price to pay.
Rob Crow says he’s pretty much quitting music, saying it’s “financially irresponsible to [his] family,” as well as “ultimately humiliating to my psyche.” The Pinback and Goblin Cock frontman posted on Facebook that he’s going to try to “finish and release the work” he’s “already spent [his] heart and tears on,” but that “even that is likely to ruin” him.
I was just listening to him today. Shitfuckhelldamn. I hate a world in which Rob Crow can’t earn enough money as a musician to keep doing it.
At a time when the left is struggling to redefine itself and respond to current political and economic crises, a series of trends in contemporary theory has reshaped the ways that politics is understood and practiced. Older thinkers such as Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, and Jacques Derrida, and newer voices like Alain Badiou, Jacques Rancière, David Graeber and Judith Butler, among others, have risen to the status of academic and cultural icons while their ideas have become embedded in the “logics” of new social movements. As some aspects of the recent Occupy Wall Street demonstrations have shown, political discourse has become increasingly dominated by the impulses of neo-anarchism, identity politics, post-colonialism, and other intellectual fads.
This new radicalism has made itself so irrelevant with respect to real politics that it ends up serving as a kind of cathartic space for the justifiable anxieties wrought by late capitalism, further stabilizing its systemic and integrative power rather than disrupting it. These trends are the products as well as unwitting allies of that which they oppose.
Perhaps Hegel was right after all, and rather than keep attempting to resuscitate a dying political tradition, we should look to facilitate a new synthesis.
…adding, since we’re on the theme of “whither the left?”, this essay from David Auerbach is also very good. There’s even a handy graph!
Today’s Moralist accepts a more moderate version of the Structural critiques of the Theory Cluster, acknowledging that good intentions may mask underlying prejudice at the individual and societal level. But the Moralist also reverts to a more Ethical focus, demanding of individuals that they comprehend the Structural framework, struggle against it, and finally emancipate themselves from it. At its extreme, the Moralist Cluster is embodied by the callout, the act of finding fault and inadequacy in the words or actions of another, which, even when well-intentioned, nevertheless constitute a betrayal of leftist ideals. Indeed, the good intentions are themselves problematic since they, in their seeming innocuousness, may succeed in obscuring a malevolent force of injustice. The callout demands that the target rectify this mistake (and so doing, alleviate suspicion) by staging a public or semi-public admission of fault and aggrievement, and applying for absolution from a community of his, her, or its cultural peers.
Leftists may draw ideas and practices from any of the four quadrants, but the further apart two principles are, the more likely they are to come into tension with one another. (Thus, individuals will tend to themselves take ideas and positions that are closer to one another rather, inasmuch as they tend toward coherency and consistency.) Many internecine struggles within the left can productively be understood as resulting from the distance between positions on the graph. In particular, the far leftist attitude toward liberalism is not a consequence of marginalization nor of resentment per se, but instead stems from the sense that liberalism is in fact the most virulent danger facing leftism today, the true center of reactionary and conservative forces—the space where these forces lie hidden rather than out in the open, and, thus cloaked, frustrate the possibility of real change.
Now certainly, one could spend one’s life reading only books by straight white men, and never run out of wonderful material. But this is akin to spending a lifetime’s worth of vacations visiting only Disneyland. Whether or not one agrees with ‘the SJWs’ that it’s ethically contemptible, it is, in a word, boring.
Because, naturally, all straight white men think and write exactly alike, which is no surprise, given that they were all mass-produced on the same suburban assembly line before being assigned to their identical upbringings. Their vocabularies, their prose styles, and their imaginations all follow the same well-worn paths as dictated by their biology. Their race and sexuality, needless to say, thematically informs everything they write. The Exotic Others, of course, do everything differently, from sex to grocery shopping to forming friendships, which is why they’ve evolved completely new languages to convey those nuances, languages which are nearly incomprehensible to straight white readers.
I swear, this fetishization of superficial differences reminds me of Pliny the Elder describing the inhabitants of the All-Ears Islands, or Marco Polo (and later, Columbus) telling tales of dog-headed cannibals. Now let me tell you of a race of equatorial homosexuals well worth describing in this book. You may take it for a fact that all the men of this island have massive, permanently engorged members, which they use alternately as pogo sticks, oars, jousting lances, or parasols; for I assure you that the whole aspect of their lives is that of a phallic nature…
Middlebrow bumper sticker in California: IF YOU CAN DREAM IT, YOU CAN DO IT. Yeah, sure. Unless the thing you’re dreaming is impossible. Then, chances are, you can’t do it. But try to enjoy life anyway.
— George Carlin
And the turn away from modernity and enlightenment has also been coincident with the neoliberal variant of capitalism. Could it be that an unrecognized casualty of neoliberalism has been the forward-looking optimism of both the Left and Right? That neoliberalism and the global defeat of workers’ movements have resulted in a decadent bourgeoisie more interested in looting short-term profits than investing in new technology, research, and exploration?
And if this is true, then retracing our steps back to the fork in the road where we went astray will require a fresh embrace of the logical, the rational, the empiricist, the positivist, the materialist. We might try to remember that once upon a time, it was as incumbent upon leftists to battle superstition and unreason as it was to battle the bosses and bankers. We must be careful to avoid naïve championing of scientism, of course, or worse still, a blimpish, New Atheist–style Enlightenment-mongering that barely hides its apology for empire.
But why must Dawkins-esque bullying and Romulan anti-rationalism be the only choices? We might instead take inspiration from Spock, Surak, and Spinoza, and of course Rodenberry, Nimoy, and the rest of the egalitarian, ambitious, humanist, reason-loving dreamers that gave us Star Trek, and rejoin their battle so that instead of the current innovation-phobic, Earth-bound stasis, humankind might again advance outward to our final frontier.
Indeed, “if this is true”. Rather than being a trifling afterthought, this is in fact the impasse preventing us from proceeding with the plan for an intergalactic socialist utopia. Is it true? Which is the cart and which is the horse here? Did neoliberalism unfairly brainwash and demoralize the masses, or was some form of reinvigorated market worship very likely to come about following the widespread disillusionment with socialist utopianism? Have people cynically embraced greed and selfishness, or have they rationally decided that it is, in fact, logically and empirically justified to focus our attention and efforts on tinkering with “the way things are” rather than attempting to enforce “the way we want them to be”?
But then again, can any human institution truly be said to represent some objective, preexisting nature of things? Isn’t human nature at least partially a creative act? Aren’t some parts of our nature flexible enough to adapt, whether through circumstance or design? Given the right conditions, could we perhaps create a new type of human shorn of barbaric impulses? If so, though, given past experiments, is it rational to trust those who claim to have mapped out the plan and empower them to act on their vision, or will the required gods-eye omniscience forever be out of our reach? In the case of something as completely unprecedented as relocating human civilization to outer space, what would even count as a reasonable plan? What economic and political standards can we even use for guidance?
And so it comes down to a leap of faith in one way or another. Personally, I see no reason to believe that human nature would be any more transformed for the better by reaching the stars than it was by reaching the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Wherever we go, there we are. There’s no escape, even in space, from the inevitable incommensurability of values. Indeed, even here, we see the same old seeds of politicized conflict sprouting in this visionary soil of interstellar brotherhood: Enlightenment, logic and rationality mean seeing things my way. Disagreeing with me marks you as a reactionary. I wonder where that stance will lead us?
The late political scientist James Q. Wilson described “Calvin and Hobbes” as “our only popular explication of the moral philosophy of Aristotle.” Wilson meant that the social order is founded on self-control and delayed gratification—and that Calvin is hopeless at these things. Calvin thinks that “life should be more like TV” and that he is “destined for greatness” whether he does his homework or not. His favorite sport is “Calvinball,” in which he is entitled to make up the rules as he goes along.
Day-in, day-out, Calvin keeps running into evidence that the world isn’t built to his (and our) specifications. All humor is, in one way or another, about our resistance to that evidence.
Aristotelian philosophy? Pfft. What this shows is that Calvin is the modern-day embodiment of a trickster deity. Selfish, amoral, and prone to delusions of grandeur, his wild adventures nevertheless tend to produce beneficial results for others, however inadvertently (in our case, at least, we are greatly entertained). He belongs to the realm of mythology, predating philosophy.
Research has found that women are superior to men in most ways that will count in the future, and it isn’t just a matter of culture or upbringing—although both play their roles. It is also biology and the aspects of thought and feeling shaped by biology. It is because of chromosomes, genes, hormones and brain circuits.
All wars are boyish. People point to Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi and Golda Meir as evidence that women, too, can be warlike. But these women were perched atop all-male hierarchies confronting other hypermasculine political pyramids, and they were masculinized as they fought their way to the top. There is every reason to think that a future national hierarchy staffed and led by women who no longer have to imitate men, dealing with other nations similarly transformed, would be less likely to go to war.
As women come to hold more power and public authority, will they become just like men? I don’t think so. Show me a male brain, and I will show you a bulging amygdala—the brain’s center of fear and violence—densely dotted with testosterone receptors. Women lack the biological tripwires that lead men to react to small threats with exaggerated violence and to sexual temptation with recklessness.
Perhaps it is time for us to consider returning to the hunter-gatherer rules that prevailed for 90% of human history: women and men working at their jobs, sharing, talking, listening and tending children. Men didn’t strongly dominate because they couldn’t; women’s voices were always there, speaking truth to male power every night around the fire. There was violence, and it was mainly male, but it was mostly random, accident more than ideology.
Specific yuks aside, there’s a couple things that are meta-amusing about this. One, it’s funny to see the WSJ, of all papers, blatantly trolling its own readership with articles you’d expect to see on the HuffPo. Two, I remember decades ago seeing mediocre stand-up comedians play with the conceit that women would make the world more peaceful and efficient. But the spirit of our age is such that, if you add in a smattering of neuroscientific buzzwords, those old jokes are suddenly fit to print as serious think-pieces.
“If you say you’re going to diversify, why not add a few red-haired emoji in the mix?” asks Emma Kelly, the site’s proprietor. “Natural redheads may be rare at less than two percent of the world’s population, but that is 138,000,000 iPhones waiting to happen.”
Kelly isn’t the only advocate who says hair is the next frontier of emoji diversification. Writing at the Guardian, Rhik Samadder noted that there are no emojis for beards or afros. Survey the list of humanoid emojis, and the hair is mostly black, brown, and straight.
No beards?! Okay, I retract my earlier sarcasm. This is serious.