Where Were You From?

Living in the UK and in North America as an ethnic minority, I am often asked in different situations: “Where were you from?” And in fact, with the growing ethnic, linguistic and cultural complexity of the Hong Kong population, I was asked that question fairly frequently even there. How this question is being asked of course indicates different sociopolitical presumptions and connotations of the questioner. While some people are sincerely and genuinely curious about who I am, others often turn the conversation into a kangaroo-court-styled investigation, making me feel not only uncomfortable, but also violated.

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The Liberty to Deny You Equality

The demonstrations against “marriage for all” have shown a surprising side of French democracy. If you’d asked me three months ago, I would have said that France was immune to Tea Party stratagems. They have worked out a social order with ample (never adequate, because there’s no such thing as adequate) provision of life’s essentials, and a political system with an imperfect (like all of them) representation of a wide variety of interests through four or five major political parties, whose bases and alliances shift with time but who have a lot of consensus among them; and they recently threw out a plutocratic president suspected of illegal campaign financing, among other things, in favor of a bland but decent technocrat from the squishy Left. It didn’t seem to me that there were the ingredients for intense polarization of the electorate by politicians who had recently lost a vote and wanted to get even. The ranters and extremists were focused on immigration, the reliable hot-button issue in those prosperous countries that have relied for two generations on cheap labor from nearby poorer countries.

But “Mama and Papa” have done the job, it seems.

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The Problem With Recognition

Hegel, as you know, started his account of social life with the struggle between master and slave. The master’s dependency on the slave meant that ultimately the slave was stronger. Alexandre Kojève (born Kojevnikoff) read this struggle as a combat for recognition, in which only humans could engage. Need a definition of “the human”? Recognition makes us human. At the ends of the spectrum of which ordinary human consciousness occupied the central band, you had pre-human animality (mere struggle for resources) and post-human dandyism (purely aesthetic competition, with no material stakes).

This always seemed to me a heretical revision of the Marxist-materialist account of society. But an immensely successful one. Napoleon used to marvel at how he could make men brave death for the sake of little plaques of metal tied to bright ribbons. By choosing to translate economics, sociology, psychology, philosophy into the common currency of recognition, Kojève launched a lot of ships, including a certain Lacanian armada and multiculturalism in its Charles-Taylorish version.

But there’s a problem with recognition: it works all too well.  Continue reading


Debatable Propositions in a Book I Otherwise Thought Important

If Bildung comprises a reactionary alternative to revolution, it shares this pacific spirit with modern human rights law. The French declaration of rights similarly articulated, after the event, how the revolution could have been avoided, and how future revolutions might be avoided through the reproductive mechanics of popular sovereignty. Although they emerged from the context of revolution, both human rights law and the Bildungsroman are reformist, rather than revolutionary… both human rights law and the Bildungsroman project individualized narratives of self-determination as cultural alternatives to the eruptive political act of mass revolt…

Both human rights and the Bildungsroman are tendentially conservative of prevailing social formations. Plotting novelistic and social evolution as an alternative to civil and political revolution, the idealist Bildungsroman narrates the normative constitution of the modern rights subject…. What emerges from the process is a socially contingent personality imagined to prevent certain antiestablishment collective and collectivizing revolutionary actions.

(Joseph R. Slaughter, Human Rights, Inc., pp. 115, 135, 136)

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Duck and Cover

I grew up in a small Kansas town that seemed at the time far removed from just about everything except the Soviet Union. Most of the U.S.’s planes were put together in Wichita (still known as the “Air Capital of the World”), which meant it was a first-strike target by that other superpower. Wichita sits about 130 miles east out on highway 50, and according to predictions and all sorts of maps bloomed with damage estimates, we (give or take a few megatons) would be erased with it.  I somehow understood all of this relatively early.  We practiced ducking and covering in the middle-school hallway, ostensibly to prepare for tornadoes, but the weather contributed little to the ambient fear of the time.

Shortly after Sandy rewrote the East Coast, my son told me about his class’s hurricane drill.  They turned out the lights and were instructed to huddle away from the door and to be very quiet.  In the wake of the Newtown shooting — a town just 60 miles north of us — we received messages from the school principal and our kids’ teachers advising us to talk to our children about what happened (best to get out in front of it all) and offering suggestions about how to go about that.  The upper grades would dedicate time to questions and discussion.  At home we broached and comforted and consoled more or less as advised.

This will be the legacy of Newtown:  Mass shooting is a children’s fear now, one they practice for and live with — one that, unfortunately, can no longer surprise even them.


Goodbye to Aleppo

For Inna, Jörg and Ilonka


Clashes are raging in the Syrian city of Aleppo as government troops and rebel forces battle for control. (DemocracyNow! Headlines, July 24, 2012)

Whereas I used to follow the reports on the popular uprisings in Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, I have caught myself shunning news from Syria, especially the visual footage from the urban battlefields: Daraa-Damascus-Hama- … When about two years ago the tumult of the Arab Spring broke out in the Middle East, an anxious thought of Syria immediately crossed my mind. I expected Syria to join. Knowing the country’s uneasy political past, I sensed how badly it was likely to turn out. The long-lasting silence from Syria was ambiguous: It could be a sign that Syria was doing better and would be able to solve its long suppressed conflicts by taking a path of reform. Or maybe it was the silence of a population too broken in spirit to mount a protest. Deep down, however, this silence gave me hope that Syria might be spared this time the bloodshed of post-revolutionary Egypt and especially that of the excruciatingly brutal civil war in Libya. When the protests finally started, I did not follow them. Glancing only briefly at the headlines, I inexplicably and for a long time hurried to turn away to something else. I did not want to dwell on my reaction, until suddenly in mid-summer I saw Aleppo in the headlines.

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Republicans on Copyright

A few years ago at the instigation of Paul Saint-Amour Ted Wesp and I spent a few months thinking and writing about copyright (results in Paul’s edited book, here). Ever since I’ve been convinced not only of the importance of copyright for thinking about the history of aesthetic production, but also of its vital contemporary impact on the entire economic life-world, ranging from patent law (and its implications for technological or medical developments) to the field of culture.

Crooked Timber points me to the Republican Study Committee’s new thinkpiece on copyright, which argues against it from a radical capitalist/libertarian perspective. I am not going to read the entire RSC piece, and neither are you, so here instead is the quote CT pulls out:

Copyright violates nearly every tenet of laissez faire capitalism. Under the current system of copyright, producers of content are entitled to a guaranteed, government instituted, government subsidized content-monopoly … It is a system implemented and regulated by the government, and backed up by laws that allow for massive damages for violations. These massive damages are not conventional tort law damages, but damages that are vastly disproportionate from the actual damage to the copyright producer. … we do know that our copyright paradigm has … Retarded the creation of a robust DJ/Remix industry … Hampering scientific inquiry … Stifling the creation of a public library … Free 12-year copyright term for all new works – subject to registration, and all existing works are renewed as of the passage of the reform legislation. If passed today this would mean that new works have a copyright until 2024.

Ummm. Amen?


Oh, so that’s why

Stanley Kurtz explains Obama’s reelection:

Just before the election, Jay Nordlinger reported that the proportion of Princeton University faculty or staff donating to the presidential candidates was 155 to 2. Only a visiting engineering lecturer and a janitor gave to Romney. It’s an almost entertainingly extreme example of academic bias, but when you think about it, also a deadly-serious explanation for Obama’s victory. The college educated professionals at the heart of Obama’s coalition are products of an academic culture that not only leans far-left, but is dedicated to producing precisely the national political outcome that Obama represents. Obama himself was both a product and a member of the elite leftist university faculty.

In contrast to Reagan’s appointees Bill Bennett and Lynne Cheney, the Bush administration avoided public battles with the academy. Republicans nowadays tend to write off academia as silly and irrelevant. Meanwhile, our colleges and universities have been quietly churning out left-leaning voters for some time. Not all graduates go along, of course, but many do.

Higher education is also connected to the demographic roots of Obama’s victory. Prior to World War II, college was still the path less traveled. By the sixties, it had become common. Now years of post-graduate professional education for a large percentage of Americans have pushed back the age of marriage, increasing the numbers of single women so crucial to Obama’s coalition. The phenomenon of extended singlehood is at the root of the new social liberalism as well, not to mention the demographic bust driving our entitlement crisis.

Yes, it was all those liberal university elites at those places thought silly and irrelevant by current conservatives.


Another day, another dawn

Big day for the party of compassion and bunnies yesterday! First time that a gay marriage issue has won at the ballot box (x 4, at last count); Prop 30 passes in California, assuring that those universities will stay open; and of course the Dems end up with the Presidency and a 55-45 lead in the Senate. Also a major victory for science and poll quantifiers over the gut feeling idiot pundits like George Will and Dick Morris.

It will be very interesting to see what happens in the next four years as Obama begins to govern without thoughts of re-election, and as the economy (which was going to get better anyway because of things he’d done, but for which now Dems will get the credit) improves. Clinton-Warren in 2016!

Oh, and for schadenfreude: depressed Republican reactions.


I’m so fucking tired

I am so fucking tired of people (mostly men) talking about banning abortion “except in cases of rape, incest, and the life of the mother” as if that were the compassionate stance. As if forcing women to carry through with pregnancies that they don’t want or can’t afford or are not ready for, for whatever reason, were a perfectly reasonable and ethical position to hold. As if the only way a woman could “deserve” to be a more worthy life than a clump of cells growing inside her were if she’s already been violated. As if there were some index of suffering against which such violations can be measured: If she wasn’t beaten up but good, then it wasn’t really rape. If she knew her rapist, then it doesn’t really count. If she wasn’t a virgin, then what’s the harm? And if she can’t prove that the pregnancy was a result of violence or could end in death, then violence will most certainly be visited on her, because god forbid she should enjoy having sex and not pay a price for it.

I’m pissed off that this veneer of reasonableness in the rhetoric of violence against women is the controlling discourse on abortion, that politicians can stand there and proudly spout their beliefs about the sanctity of life with no repercussions, and that even pro-choice groups treat the “rape, incest, and death” exception as an acceptable ideological difference. I find it bizarre that Nicholas Kristof  “respect[s] politicians like Paul Ryan who are consistently anti-abortion, even in cases of rape or incest” because such consistency, according to him, bespeaks a “heartfelt” position that could cost them votes, and therefore is “courageous” (no I’m not making that up!). If Ryan or Romney has a “heartfelt” belief that women who get pregnant but do not want a child must nonetheless be forced to continue the pregnancy and deliver, because anything else is murder, I guess they are free to hold that belief. But when they plan for the state to be in the business of forced pregnancy and delivery for the vast majority of women faced with an unintended pregnancy, then they need to be called out loud and often for the dangerous extremists that they are. Courageous? How about pathologically misogynist?


On Repeating the Experiment

"On Tuesday, be careful you don't set the country back 50 years."

via AMERICAblog

The quippy jpeg above has been circulating on Facebook and seems apropos. Our collective quadrennial alienation from one another can, I think, be safely judged to have reached new heights this year; certainly, I have never seen 4 year-olds driven to tears by overexposure to the political process before.

Some obvious contributing causes: the Citizens United decision, which has thrown open the floodgates to unlimited untraceable political donations and Super-PACs; the ensuing carpet-bombing of television, radio, and home telephones in swing and near-swing (swung?) states, including bonus collateral damage in cross-border markets; Fox News and the triumph of hyperpartisan right-wing media; increasing polarization of Congress; and the continuing agonies of the worst economic contraction in 70 years, and median income that has been stagnant for a decade, along with the resulting widespread shame, anger, and despair.

Employment recovery comparison of recessions

Employment recovery for all post-WWII recessions (2008 “great recession” in red), from Calculated Risk

For me personally, however, the single most alienating aspect of the election has been living with the knowledge that a persistent, and very determined, 48% to 50% of my fellow citizens want to engage in a repeat trial of the 8-year experiment in Republican economic and foreign policy orthodoxy that we completed less than four years ago.

After all, I understand that a minority of the population is on board with the scientific approach to economic policy taught in our Econ 101 classrooms. And the liberal approach to foreign policy has been in eclipse my entire lifetime. Moreover, public policy debates typically suffer from the severe handicap that the outcome of the counterhistorical scenario – the parallel universe where the alternative policy was put in place – can never be known.

Causes of increasing Federal debt under Bush vs. Obama, from Ezra Klein

But not in this case! In this election, we have as close to a controlled trial as any single nation is likely  to achieve in this world. 12 years ago we elected (well, sort of) a President whose policy prescriptions were identical in every way to the policies Romney proposes to implement in his administration – from taxes, healthcare, energy policy, and business deregulation to go-it-alone military adventurism abroad. Those policies were implemented, with drastic and obvious negative effects on almost every aspect of life in the United States. As a result of those policies, one can fairly say, we elected our current President four years ago. And now, having seen the alternative approach in action for four years, half of our citizens nonetheless wish to repeat the prior experiment.

No matter what the election results on Tuesday – and as far as that goes, in Nate I trust – I do not think I will ever get over this feeling of disconnect from our fellow citizens who feel either that the Bush policies were superior (in what way?), or that their reincarnation under Romney would lead to different results. In its own way, voting for Romney represents a rejection of the scientific thought process – a discipline I have devoted my life to – as complete and total as  the rants of the most extreme religious radicals.

Perhaps I should be less shocked. But let us hope that this time the rational way prevails.


Poll watching

I know most folks are probably feeling anxious about Tuesday’s election. One way to make yourself feel better is to visit the Princeton Election Consortium, which seems to have the most optimistic statistical take (maybe it’s just accurate) on the day’s events. I also look at Electoral Vote and of course Nate Silver’s 538 blog, though my feeling is that Sam Wang’s critiques of Nate’s methodology seem right (also, the commenters at PEC are much better than the ones at 538).

Then again we’ll know a lot more about whose methods worked best, at least this time around, come Tuesday evening.


Epistemic implosure

I’ve been trying to put my finger on why I find myself more exasperated and dread-filled this election season than during any other.  It’s not that I worry the candidate I favor may lose despite my belief that he is far and away the better choice; I’ve spent enough time with those worries to make peace with them.  And it’s not the feeling of powerlessness that comes with living in a state totally irrelevant to the election’s outcome.  (Peace has come to that front, too.)  Though closer, it’s not even so much the epistemic closure, more hermetic each cycle, of the Republican ecosystem.  Rather, Republicans have given up on epistemology altogether.  Yes, that’s it.

Epistemic closure is all about restricting (or in many cases generating) facts to only those that support the beliefs and positions held by the inhabitants of that ecosystem.  But this restriction still presupposes and relies upon a recognizable evidence-belief relation, one in which truly holding a belief demands having evidence and reasons for it.

Think about it like this.  How do we revise our beliefs?  Myself, I’m partial to the Duhem-Quine thesis, which pretty much says that our beliefs, knowledge, and experience together form an explanatory web we use to make sense of anything, a web we constantly revise and update based upon experience and reflection.  But our experiences and reflections don’t by themselves determine how we should revise our web, and any bit of it is in principle revisable, depending upon how willing we are to adjust the rest of the web accordingly.  Watch a magician work, and you’ve got a choice: Conclude that your eyes are being tricked or that a physical object (tiger/elephant/Statue of Liberty) can be made to disappear upon the utterance of the right word.  You can believe the latter, but doing so means revising deep and wide in your web — giving up beliefs about object permanence, for example, to hold true the observation.  Radical, but possible.  For some, letting gays marry undermines central principles about the universe, both material and immaterial, so it’s better to believe children need a mother and father or will grow up to rob liquor stores. Epistemic closure, then, serves as just a type of defense against belief revision.

The Romney/Ryan ticket have gone beyond this defense into epistemic implosure.   It’s not that Romney/Ryan create their own facts (which they do on occasion).  Rather, they don’t revise in any recognizable fashion.  Romney decries Obama’s withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan by 2014 on one day, then embraces the timetable wholeheartedly the next.  He works hard to help institute universal healthcare in Massachusetts, then attacks the very same model as unsustainable and enslaving.  He contends both that government doesn’t create jobs and that he will (somehow) create 12 million jobs as head of government.  (And the principle of non-contradiction is one of those center-of-the-web kind of things.)

It’s tempting to conclude (to best preserve one’s own web) that Romney is willing to say more or less anything, that he has no center to revise, and that’s just, you know, Politics These Days.  If you’re willing to believe that, you better be willing to give up on believing.


Liberal Guilt

So the other day I heard someone say, with the impression that it would be illustrative and moving, that in the wake of a recent natural disaster that killed hundreds she canceled a planned trip to Europe.

This strikes me as an excellent model for assuaging one’s survivor guilt more generally, but it would benefit from some nuance. For instance many things happen that don’t quite arrive to the level of canceling a vacation; upon hearing about the deaths of a few people in, say, Norway, in a train accident, you might refuse to put sauce on your pasta for that evening’s dinner; or upon reading that some ridiculous percentage of Americans are planning to vote for Mitt Romney (a tragedy in multiple dimensions), you could forgo your morning coffee. It’s not wearing a chalice, but hey, it’s a start.


Religious News From All Over

Did you hear about the fundamentalist preacher in Florida who wanted to go on the attack against Zen Buddhism? He threatened to burn a stack of koans.

And the local Zen monks turned out to lend a hand.


“All right, we’re going to move to a–“

Writing as an ‘outsider’ who deeply dislikes the thinking which gives rise to the apparent need for a word such as ‘outsider,’ it seemed cheekily appropriate to write about the first of the “Presidential Debates.”  The full transcript can be found here:http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/03/us/politics/transcript-of-the-first-presidential-debate-in-denver.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

The first presidential ‘debate’ was, I’m sorry, farcical.  That is not hyperbole.  The first three ‘segments’ – supposedly concentrating on the economy, were near replicas of each other.  Mr Lehrer, who had apparently chosen the questions himself, and had phrased them so ambiguously that they could easily be taken for the same question: in fact, by and large this is how they were fielded, by both candidates.  These are they as an aid to memory:

1:    “What are the major differences between the two of you about how you would go about creating new jobs?”
2:    “What are the differences between the two of you as to how you would go about tackling the deficit problem in this country?”
3:     “It’s two minutes. Mr. President, do you see a major difference between the two of you on Social Security?”
4:    “You want the Affordable Care Act repealed. Why?”
5:    “Do you believe — both of you — but you have the first two minutes on this, Mr. President — do you believe there’s a fundamental difference between the two of you as to how you view the mission of the federal government?”
6:    Many of the legislative functions of the federal government right now are in a state of paralysis as a result of partisan gridlock. If elected in your case, if re-elected in your case, what would you do about that?”

(The sixth question was only asked three minutes before the debate’s end, which gave neither candidate time to produce anything but a synoptic answer with no subsequent discussion.  Which is a pity, because in many ways it’s the most interesting question.  The moderator was ever verging dangerously close to incompetency, and doing so immoderately.)

The first five questions elicited variations on almost the same answers from the candidates: Obama would finish the work of the last four years, Romney would “look at history” and do something “not like anything that’s been tried before.  Both espoused support for the “middle class,” who both acknowledged were “suffering.”  This was interesting, as I have never yet seen any coherent definition of exactly who the “middle class” are, and when people start talking about things which have no clear definition one ought to wonder why they use these terms.  In Europe, from where I am writing, these terms have clear historical meanings: the “middle class” are those who are neither “the aristocracy” nor “the working class.”  So, with a little substitution one could conclude that the “middle class” are those who are below the moneyed elites, and above the working class (and, presumably, by dint of tainted status, those unemployed or who have stopped seeking employment).  But it’s the working class, surely, who do the work; it’s the working class for whom these jobs are most important.

Now, in Britain the old distinction between classes had been pretty consistent for at least two hundred years.  Then, in 1979, an interesting shift began, instigated under the governance of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party and, I suspect, set in motion quite calculatedly by Thatcher herself.  The shift was a redefinition of “working class” and “middle class,” such that the “middle class” were characterized as having the socio-economic benefits to which the “working class” aspired, or ought to aspire.  The “middle class” then had its numbers swollen even more by the inplicit inclusion of the “aspirational working class.”  Thus the “middle class” has ended up – in the UK – as the vast maority of people, irrespective of actual income or actual status.  You are middle class if you are not of the “landed gentry” and not “on the dole.”  The membership has become so vast that the category no longer has any basis in reality, its only basis being rhetorical.  A little like the “tax payer,” darling term of our media.  Both the “tax payer” and the “member of the middle class” have become almost mythological creations of the media/military/legislative/industrial complex.  And people here have almost entirely forgotten about this shift in meaning: both the Labour Party and the Conservatives claim to be the party of “the middle class.”

So both candidates were reaching out to the same sector of the population.  And, I’m sad to say, Mr Romney did this with greater surety, aplomb and seeming conviction than did Mr Obama.  This is not to say that his arguments were more cogent; these “positive” qualities were purely presentational.  His was a ‘seductive’ appeal rather than an appeal to reason.  In fact what he said so seductively was by and large unreasonable, untested and dangerous in the extreme; far more dangerous than Mr Obama’s utterances (though they, too, contained dangerous motifs).  Romney sounded assured, certain, about the capacity of his plan – never spelled out in detail – which had never been tried before.

The people have been taught to admire strength, or what they are told is strength, forthrightness, or what they are taught is forthrightness, and charisma – which cannot be taught.  They have been taught to prefer eyes that look straight at the person spoken to than those which remain lowered in order to concentrate on notes.  And what the people have been taught to admire, they tend to vote for.  And in this particular case, voting for Romney would be a disaster, both for America and for the rest of the world (which many Americans have forgotten, it seems, is much, much larger than America is or ever could be).  To be fair, Mr Obama presides over a highly toxic administration which has openly arrogated to itself the powers of “world police,” moral arbiter, judge, jury and executioner, and he needs to be dealt with.  Mr Romney’s election would destabilize even that which is already unstable.  Here’s what he would do with his five part plan:

“One, get us energy independent, North American energy independent. That creates about four million jobs.
Number two, open up more trade, particularly in Latin America; crack down on China if and when they cheat.
Number three, make sure our people have the skills they need to succeed and the best schools in the world.
Number four, get us to a balanced budget.
Number five, champion small business.”

I dearly hope that these are in no particular order.  Number one alone poses a real and present danger to all seven billion inhabitants of this planet, in the form Romney sketches it out.  Creating four million jobs a the possible cost of the species seems like an unsound gamble.  Number two sounds both isolationist and imperialist, isolating the Americas and likely to be achieved at least in part by military or covert interventions.  What “cracking down on China if and when they cheat” precisely means is unclear, but it does not sound like a safe attitude to one’s main creditor and business partner.  Number three, as I’m sure any Printculture reader knows, is hardly likely to happen given Mr Romney’s attested views on what we here still take pride in calling the welfare state.  Number four is to be achieved through completely untested means, by Mr Romney’s own admission.  Number five, well, Mr Romney’s view appears to be that “small business” is primarily an adjunct to the functioning of large corporations such that, if large corporations grow, so too the number of small businesses.

Oh, yes.  Mr Romney will absolutely not be making any cuts in military spending.  One wonders – why? – and is fearful of the answer.

Here are a few suggestions for Mr Obama, none of which he articulated plainly.  In particular order only with regard to the first point.

1:   The threat of anthropogenic climate change is the single most important threat to everyone, everywhere, everywhen.  Period.
2:    In any civilization worthy of the name, healthcare is a basic human right, irrespective of the wealth of the recipient.  Period.
3:    Any destabilizing, resource-centered foreign policy, even one less biased that the one he currently presides over, is counterproductive to (1) as well as being inherently hazardous.  Period.
4:    As for healthcare, so too for education.  So too for shelter.  So too for food.  Period.
5:    Likewise for every and all public infrastructure.  Competition in infrastructures which have universal benefit and usage must always be counterproductive due to systems incompatibilities and loss of economies of scale.  Period.
6:    Money has no place influencing politics in anything even remotely close to the degree to which it is permitted to in the U.S.A..

I also hope that Mr Obama wins this intrinsically rigged election, as he seems to be more likely to be convinced by the above, and I, for one, very much hope that the deliberately repeated ‘periods’ do not coalesce into a full stop.



The following clip (discovered for me by René, already a transportation theorist at 2 years 8 months) seems to me allegorical of just about everything. White guy in nice shirt drives around Johannesburg destroying things for the camera! Early on, White Guy in Nice Shirt says something like “On the one hand, I worry about bumping into things. On the other hand, I don’t have to worry about bumping into things,” which is worth ten volumes of moral philosophy and analysis of the spirit of the age. The bit where the SUV drags away the police tow truck rather nicely encapsulates the culture of impunity which will be even harder to extirpate in the case of a Romney win. Meet the Marauder. “A struggle with the earth…”


*sigh*; on the other hand: gay marriage!

I’m reading bell hooks’s Teaching to Transgress (Routledge, 1994) for work, and the following passage stood out to me:

It is apparent that one of the primary reasons we have not experienced a revolution of values is that a culture of domination necessarily promotes addiction to lying and denial. That lying takes the presumably innocent form of may white people (and even some black folks) suggesting that racism does not exist anymore, and that conditions of social equality are solidly in place that would enable any black person who works hard to achieve economic self-sufficiency . . . Lying takes the form of mass media creating the myth that feminist movement has completely transformed society, so much so that the politics of patriarchal power have been inverted and that men, particularly white men, just like emasculated black men, have become the victims of dominating women. . . . Add to this the widely held assumptions that blacks, other minorities, and white women are taking jobs from white men, and that people are poor and unemployed because they want to be, and it becomes most evident that part of our contemporary crisis is created by a lack of meaningful access to the truth. That is to say, individuals are not just presented untruths, but are told them in a manner that enables most effective communication. When this collective cultural consumption of and attachment to misinformation is coupled with the layers of lying individuals do in their personal lives, our capacity to face reality is severely diminished as is our will to intervene and change unjust circumstances. (28-29)

The cultural touchstone that hooks mentions in this passage — the Clarence Thomas hearings — seems painfully quaint in the post-Bush II era of lying-on-steroids (SuperPAC, the new comic book hero!). Almost 20 years later, and the alternate universe of lies seems to be where more than half the country wants to live.