The demonization campaign against trans women

When people think of “demonization,” they usually think of the simple act of painting someone as evil and irredeemable. My research for The Prince of This World convinced me that a further step is necessary if you really want to turn someone into a demon — like the medieval Christian God, you must actively set them up to fail, inducing the “free choice” for which you will blame them. A demon is a creature who has just enough moral agency to be blameworthy but not enough to effectively change their situation. The overt “demonization,” making them out to be nihilistic rebels who seek only destruction, is actually only the last step in the complex victim-blaming process.

Hence, for example, the “superpredator” rhetoric against black men in the 1990s was not demonizing simply because it painted black men as malicious for its own sake, but because it was used as justification for sending black men to institutions that everyone knows for a fact increase criminality, and then leaving them few employment or housing options when they got out. The crimes committed are still the individual’s “choice” in some minimal sense, and there are always those exceptional individuals who manage to completely turn their lives around, etc., but the net effect is that society has a reliable pool of “demons” — against whom mainstream society must be protected (even though the individuals involved have suffered immeasurably more violence from society than they could possibly dish out to society at large).

A very similar dynamic is occurring with the trans bathroom laws advanced by various Republican legislatures. Read the rest of this entry »

Bernie Sanders’ next move: A constitutional convention

Bernie Sanders

It seems increasingly likely that Bernie Sanders will fail to win the Democratic nomination. Even if he does manage to beat the odds, however, his entire candidacy is based on the premise that our system is broken. Hence, whether or not he wins the nomination, I believe that the only possible next step for Bernie Sanders is to declare a constitutional convention.

Note that I said “declare.” The existing U.S. Constitution includes an intentionally laborious process by which one may call for an official constitutional convention — but a constitutional convention that follows a pre-existing template is not a constituent assembly at all. It is just a committee to reform the existing arrangements.

The Founders themselves devised a new ratification process for our current Constitution that did not follow the rules set out in the Articles of Confederation. We should follow their example and declare a genuine constituent assembly to replace an order that has become every bit as unworkable as the Articles of Confederation were in their day.

Why should Bernie Sanders take up this solemn responsibility? Because he can, and because no one else will think of it. And if Trump tries to get in on it, he can declare, with the backing of natural law and the custom of all nations from time immemorial, that he has called dibs.

The time is now! Senator Sanders, you owe it to your followers and to all future generations of Americans to reinvent American government from the ground up. In Year Zero of the Third American Republic, we shall all well and truly Feel the Bern.

Further thoughts on the prevailing political affiliations of academics

What if it turns out that no professional group is closely aligned with the distribution of political affiliations in the general public? What if that differential distribution were in part driven by values inherent in the respective professions themselves?

What if — and stay with me here — professional groups are among the demographic segments out of which political parties build their coalitions? And what if some of that coalition-building takes the form of demonizing certain groups — to pick a random example, let’s say… teachers?

That is to say: the two political parties — and the “conservative” and “liberal” leanings that they imperfectly reflect — are neither a fact of nature nor are they exhaustive of all forms of political thinking and loyalty. The two parties are two competing organizations that have basically monopolized American politics over the course of the last 150 years, in large part by being opportunistic in the building of political coalitions.

There is no reason to expect any particular group of people, especially a self-selecting one, to display a 50/50 divide between Democrat and Republican (or liberal and conservative, to the extent that those terms are proxies for the existing political parties). Nor indeed is there any reason to believe that a 50/50 split along those axes would represent an important or meaningful form of intellectual diversity.

It would be safer to assume just the opposite, because a perfect 50/50 split between Democrats and Republicans would indicate that the group in question was completely and exhaustively defined by the conventional wisdom constructed around the current balance of power between the two political parties. If I found a university that was perfectly divided between Democrats and Republicans, I would advise potential students to just save their money and read the New York Times opinion page for four years.

What if I told you that the entire world was your safe space?

There is a piece by a well-known New York Times columnist alleging that universities are somehow discriminatory toward conservative views. This is one of the most boring cliches in all of higher ed reporting, not least because it depends on gerrymandering the university: yes, if you cut out economics, business, athletics, and the administration — which is to say, all the most powerful groups at most major universities — then there turns out to be a disproportionate number of Democrats, and that creates social discomfort if someone wants to express Republican views.

For some context, let’s look at what happens at universities that are overtly run by conservatives. I recall a case within the last year where a professor was forced out at Wheaton for making the controversial but arguable theological claim that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. I could name many other similar cases from my former denomination’s higher ed system.

Conservatives may feel uncomfortable talking about how much they love small government at the departmental holiday party, but there’s really no comparison. And if conservatives get tired of the hostile environment in comp lit circles, then I suggest that they practice some self-care and find a “safe place” where their ideas are taken for granted — namely, the entire rest of American society.

The irony, of course, is that conservatives are most opposed to “safe spaces,” but perhaps that’s because they’re so thoroughly ensconsed in “safe spaces” that they don’t even notice them. “Safe spaces” are just the air they breathe. And for that reason, I think campus activists should consider rebranding the “safe spaces” concept.

My suggestion for a new name: “interesting spaces.” It’s not that you can’t handle contradiction or are afraid to hear painful truths — it’s that when you’re dealing with something really important to you, you don’t want to waste your time engaging with someone who feels entitled to pass judgment after 4.3 seconds of half-distracted thought. This is doubly so when we reflect that the compelling ideas that these gadflies are bringing are actually cliches that everyone has heard a million times. If you want to create a space for interesting discourse, you need to do some pruning of tedious, thoughtless ideas. And if you want to participate, you should try to be less boring.

“But I’m not boring!” Yeah, I knew you’d say that. Try again.

My profound insights into Trump

Trump hugging flag

I have no insights into Trump. Whatever the sources of his appeal, I am utterly blind to them. Whatever he’s offering, I don’t even have receptors for. Most of my family is conservative, but they all hate him. My inside informants into the conservative mindset are therefore useless here. To me, he seems like a charlatan and a fool, in a way that is immediately, overpoweringly obvious. I know we are all rightly suspicious of universals in this day and age, but I suspect that anyone, regardless of cultural background, is fully capable of recognizing Donald Trump as a worthless blowhard.

We are dealing with a phenomenon to which I radically lack access, even indirect. And so to those commentators who say that this should come as no surprise, that this is a natural outgrowth of America or whatever other too-knowing-by-half bullshit is filling all the column-inches, I feel I must say: please, just shut up. A cartoon character, a literal professional wrestling contestant, is one economic downturn or one scandal away from becoming the president. We’re allowed to be surprised, we’re allowed to be afraid, and we’re allowed to reject the cold comfort that at least Donald Trump is a total nihilist and hence his presidency would be an exciting throw of the dice.

Liberals gonna liberal

The amount of tone-policing and other forms of meta-discourse surrounding the Democratic primary is overwhelming. Everyone feels patronized, insulted, inundated with negative information about their candidate and apologetics for the opponent. Every day brings us a new meditation on “electability” or abstract “qualifications.” Every primary prompts ad hoc moralizing about whether the rules are fair — though neither side has a pre-existing theory of what fairness would look like, other than them winning.

I can see this kind of maneuvering in a race between fundamentally similar candidates, but they are really asking for different things — either a continuation of Clintonian centrist “neoliberalism with a human face” or an attempt to return to something like FDR’s postwar settlement. Even this genuine, substantive disagreement gets shunted into the meta level. The young people love socialism, so that’s the future of the party, or else socialism is “unrealistic” and we should just try for slight tweaks to the status quo. In other words, even a major ideological difference is primarily grist for the electability mill. And my God, I am so sick of hearing about those secret Wall Street speeches — again, a procedural argument where there should be a substantive reckoning with the public record, which provides ample evidence on all the relevant issues.

They say liberals won’t take their own side in an argument, but it’s worse than that: they won’t even directly have an argument. It’s all proceduralism, all the way down.

Posted in politics of the absurd. Comments Off on Liberals gonna liberal

What exactly is wrong with Zizek’s political commentary lately?

I find it interesting that the dominant mode of critiquing Zizek’s recent political writings from the left is simply to post quotations from him, with dismissive comments. It’s taken to be self-evident what’s wrong with his statements — and presumably also what should be done instead of what he recommends. What’s interesting is that the explicit critique and alternative never seem to appear in this context. Is it just not worth it, because it’s *so* completely obvious? Is it tacky of me to even ask?

I mean, I should already know. And I do, of course, no question — but just to make sure we’re on the same page…

(I also quietly note that this has been the dominant mode of critique by liberal commentators: pull out a quote about Stalin, then rely on everyone to draw the obvious conclusion that he’s dangerous. Or he says something about anti-Semitism, so he must be an anti-Semite, etc.)

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