Friday, October 31, 2003
(8:51 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Last night at RCIA, we discussed the sacraments of matrimony and holy orders. The sister who was leading the discussion seemed to be dead-set on making marriage into the sacrament of romance, and I ruined the party by pointing out that "matrimony" has its root in the Latin for "mother," and that the point of marriage is not to close the couple in on themselves, but rather to be open to others, specifically to children. I ventured the guess that the emphasis on romance leads to an overload that might even contribute to the high divorce rate. Perhaps the lack of birth control, and the resultant many children, might also help to keep the family from becoming a closed-in, Freudian nightmare -- the children just kind of arrive, instead of being the next step up from having a dog. The emphasis in a large family would have to be on training up the children in the way they should go, rather than in fulfilling the parents' own emotional needs. This is not to say that the parents' emotional needs would not be fulfilled, but just pointing out that direct responsibility for that kind of thing is not fair to a child.
But I don't really know anything about marriage, except what I've read -- which is almost always about how marriages fail, whether overtly or covertly. I'm exaggerating slightly, and I'm sure the literary record is biased against truly successful marriages, since nothing makes for great literature quite like depression and hopelessness. Oh, I mean "gritty realism."
I wish we could go back to the days when academic jobs were more readily available and more secure and when you were allowed to sleep with your students.
In another note, Doonsbury this week has been all about one of the college-age characters being caught looking at porn. It's really bizarre.
Thursday, October 30, 2003
(12:35 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Atrios is being threatened with a lawsuit by some lunatic commentator. Here and here are more characteristically Atriosian follow-ups. And yes, this is just a rip-off of CalPundit's post on the subject, but you guys probably don't read CalPundit.
I think the most disturbing aspect of this may be the fact that the guy threatened to subpeona Blogspot in order to get Atrios's real name. Given the level of national discourse these days, I think that anonymity is the only thing standing between Atrios and some genuine harrassment and perhaps even physical danger. Even if that's an exaggerated concern, it's still his business if he wants to remain anonymous, and a spurious lawsuit is not an appropriate way to get at his secret identity.
UPDATE: At the suggestion of Slacktivist, I have sent an e-mail to the lawyer in question "confessing" that I am Atrios. I hope I won't be the only one. You can e-mail the guy here if you feel so inclined.
(12:18 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Good ol' Jared has a post about his two-fold addiction: buying books and using the Internet. Most disturbing is his story of awaking in an alley, covered in his own feces, his head resting on the complete prose works of T. S. Eliot, his mouse forced into service as a makeshift belt.
Thankfully, I haven't quite reached his level of addiction. At least in terms of book-buying, I have slowed down significantly since the early days of Post-Graduate Depression, but my Internet addiction is still going strong. I view part of it as a public service. For instance, I know that people actually read my website sometimes, and if it hasn't been updated, I often receive death threats. (I anticipated this problem, which is why I invited co-bloggers to join me on a site arrogantly named after me.) Also, my insightful contributions to Olivet Nazarene University's dialog discussion forum and to Dennis Bratcher's site are formative influences on the theology and practice of the Church of the Nazarene. My "surfing" of the "blog-o-wave" provides me with valuable conversation-starters ("Did you know that George W. Bush is an idiot?"), and I know that many of my friends rely on me to keep conversations going, often almost single-handedly.
This is not to say that Internet use does not interfere with my achievement of larger goals. For instance, I still haven't managed to squeeze in that 12-page paper on Bonhoeffer and Zizek. The bathroom definitely needs cleaning, and here I am posting on my blog. I could go on. Internet addiction is, alas, a real thing, which I definitely "have."
Now for my tirade against the psychologizing of all of life: we have all these psychological terms to replace traditional moral language -- depression instead of sadness, addiction instead of lack of self-control, etc. -- but we're not using it in a rigorously psychological way. All of it is nothing but a group of scientific-sounding language to take the place of a discredited set of moral judgments. We're trying really hard not to say that excessive use of drugs, alcohol, or the Internet is sinful, so we displace it into psychological terms. In so doing, we miss the possibilities that a true "psychologism" could open. At least the language of sin held open the possibility of salvation, and it was honest enough to realize that all our individual sins or vices ("symptoms") point to the deeper original sin ("neurosis" or whatever).
Our regime of psychologizing does nothing but treat the moral symptoms -- try not to use the Internet so much, cut back on smoking, think positively, maybe even take a pill if it gets bad enough. Modern psychologizing is nothing short of works righteousness -- it leaves the underlying neurosis alone and in fact makes it worse. For instance, say someone uses the Internet so much because he feels lonely a lot of the time, and he feels like he needs to receive a message from someone that will complete him or tell him who he is. Now let's say he figures out a way to cut back on Internet usage. Is that really a solution? It might make the underlying problem worse, for instance because he feels like he has earned someone's approval by following their instructions to keep his addiction under control.
What we need is a more thorough psychologizing, specifically (in my opinion) a psychoanalytic-izing. It's either that or return to Christianity, and I'm not sure that's a viable option anymore.
Tuesday, October 28, 2003
(10:55 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
"If I get old, remind me of this..."
Just a reminder: There is a new comment feature on this page. I know that the previous service sucked some serious ass, but this one is better. If the link is visible, then everything will work just fine -- no more waiting forever for the page to show up.
If I am wrong about the increased effectiveness of the comment feature, please let me know via e-mail so I can try yet another one.
(10:51 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Some brief notes
Heard today during the call-in segment on Chicago Public Radio's "Worldview": "What kind of system of government is it [in Iraq] where a person remains in power the whole rest of his life? What does he think he is, pharaoh?"
Shortly after that, I was pulled over by a non-obvious police car. I got all my documentation ready, but the police officer was dressed like a normal business man. He said to me, "Who are you?" I was confused. I held up my driver's license so he could see it. He continued, "Who the hell are you that you can f---ing drive like that in my state, with your Michigan plates?" The best I could do was, "I was in a hurry." Then he said, "Well, slow that shit down!" and walked back to his car.
I'm sick of driving so much. I almost hit a deer tonight.
I wrote to Dr. Bowling, president of Olivet Nazarene University, about the fact that his hiring decisions have basically thrown the religion department into chaos. Since many of my friends from Olivet are still involved in that department, and since it at least used to be the most reputable from an academic standpoint (as far as people pursuing further academic work), I have felt like this is something I need to worry about. I told him all the horrible things I had heard, and he responded with a little parable for me: some guy loses his axe head, and he's sure it's not his fault, and the kid next door was probably the one who stole it, and the kid looks like a thief, and then when the guy finds his stupid axe head, the kid doesn't look like a thief anymore. To put it in some clearer terms: Bull Shit.
He said I wasn't being objective, that it looks much different from where he's sitting, that no one's perfect, etc. He took the time to write to me, but that's probably because he knows that I still have some influence on people around Olivet. (Anthony Smith, did he ever write you back about anything?) As I said when I had my one-on-one interview with the guy, during which I was schmoozed: he's good at his job, but it's a job that probably shouldn't exist.
Today in Ted Jennings' class, we were discussing the Roman period. Around the first century CE, aristocratic women experienced a lot of liberation and freedom. It caused a great deal of anxiety, especially in a society that placed such an emphasis on manliness and domination and that had just assembled a large empire. So after a while, it just went away. Everything went back to normal. The strain was apparently too much. Any gains that progressives make, he said, are "eminently reversible." We can't count on any change remaining in place indefinitely. The best we can do is enjoy the times of greater freedom while the last and try to lay the groundwork for future periods of liberation during the downtime. The idea of steady progress is a myth.
This is probably why the right wing is so much better at mobilizing people: change is hard. Change causes some serious anxiety. Too many questions come up, things seem chaotic, and a lot of times, people are pissed off about it, or at least ready to be pissed off if someone comes along and tells them that's how they should feel. A good, solid right wing politician comes along and asks, "What must we change so that nothing at all will change?" With all the changes the US has experienced in the 20th century and continues to change, we should not be at all surprised at the ever-increasing popularity of the right wing.
During a conversation along these lines with some classmates, I said we needed another Lenin. If you ever want to stop a conversation, drop that one in there.
Monday, October 27, 2003
(7:24 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Hopelessness, Hopelessness Is What I Long For
According to a couple polls, young people in America have very little confidence in the continued viability of Social Security -- in fact, significantly more young people believe in UFOs than feel confident about Social Security. It is a commonplace in political discussions for someone to say, half-jokingly, "Well, you know Social Security isn't going to be there by the time we retire anyway."
I'm not sure that this particular issue, taken by itself, is that big a deal. It does contribute to the overall attitude of negativity among people of "my generation." There are many examples of this, but the one that hits closest to home for me is the "abyssmal academic job market" -- the majority of us with academic leanings are led to believe that we'll get to the end of our degrees, saturated with debt, and have no meaningful work waiting for us. A recent blog exchange between me and Mike Schaefer is a case in point -- he noted the terrifying reality, and I came up with my best possible defense for getting a PhD anyway. But once I get to the end of my degree, which I supposedly will enjoy getting, what is there? Nothing. Maybe I'll go back to working for Dr. Grumish. Maybe I'll get my teaching certificate.
There's a similar sense of hopelessness on other fronts. The radio sucks, and it will never get better. TV is only going to get worse and worse. Our schools are becoming little more than prisons for the innocent. We're going to be at war for ever. Maybe we can find some meaning and companionship in marriage -- but then, half of all marriages end in divorce. I feel very naive whenever I don't picture myself reaching a point in life when I just completely reach the end of hope and live for decades as a hollowed out shell of my former self. The only thing to do is enjoy what we have at the moment -- if I can get into that PhD program with a stipend, I can fritter away my time with Heidegger for six years, and after that, who cares? Even if I will inevitably be "downsized" at any job I ever get, I might as well enjoy the benefits of a steady paycheck while I can. In fact, why not just run up the credit cards, then declare bankrupcy (while I can -- they are steadily moving to make that impossible, too, calling it "reform")?
I don't even know what else I want there to be. I don't even know what it would mean to have real "hope" for the future. I know I'll get by. I know I probably won't end up out on the street -- the deck is still sufficiently stacked in my favor, since I'm white, male, and college-educated. In fact, I might even get that academic job, but "chances are," it won't be a tenure-track job, or else I'll have to cobble together a bunch of adjunct work. Failing that, I might get a nice job teaching in public schools, but then my union will probably overreach, and labor laws will have been gutted by then, and we'll all lose our jobs. Nothing is sustainable in the long term. Planning for a hope and a future is naive, liberal bullshit.
I'm going to have to face up to the stark reality. Reality always has to be stark. We have to make damn sure to build our society so that reality is stark, so that people have access to plenty of edifying "lessons" and have to always "live with the consequences of their actions" -- because that's most efficient. That's realistic. That's the way to go.
There's nothing more efficient than a thoroughly hopeless situation, and we still can't think of anything better to do than to keep everything exactly like it is right now. I can't think of anything to do but write my vague criticisms and post them for the whole world to see, as if that counts as doing something.
(12:32 AM) | Robb Schuneman:
You Cried the Union Forever, but That Was Untrue Girl
From a friend's away message, I've just read one of the most puzzling articles I've ever seen.
I think I'll let you read it for yourself as I'm still pretty baffled, but apparently back in 1967 Israel attacked the USS Liberty, killing 34 people and injuring over 170 more. A subsequent investigation concluded it was a mistaken identity, as Israel had just entered the 7 days' war with Egypt. However, on wednesday, the lawyer in charge of the whole investigation submitted a signed affidavit saying that Lyndon B. Johnson told him to "conclude that the attack was a case of 'mistaken identity'.
In addition, an independent study was done by a group involving a former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairperson, a former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and other military personnel concluded this was "one of the classic All-American cover ups."
The panel suggested that perhaps Israel was hoping to sink the Liberty and blame it on Egypt in order to bring the US into that war.
Adding to the strangeness, my friend personally emailed this story to the newsdesk of both CNN and the NY Times, both saw it..but neither ran it. It's just strange to me, because things like 'Scary Movie 3 Smashes Records' top both sites.
I'm really not trying to be anti-semitic or anything, I love the Jewish people, I just worry sometimes about the state of Israel. But beyond that..it just doesn't make sense..this story just baffles me. I mean like, you know, this is something rather big, our major ally (nearly?) sunk one of our ships and the man in charge of the investigation basically lets everyone know there was a cover up. It would seem like people would want to know what was being covered up, and why.
Basically, I guess I just feel bad for Johnson and his crew, because it seems like they didn't need to go through all the hassle, as no one really would have cared anyway. I don't know.
Sunday, October 26, 2003
(7:50 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Preview of the President's Next Press Conference
I have received some inside information from Donald Rumsfeld himself about the upcoming final stage of justifying the war on Iraq. Let's list off the attempts that have been made so far:
- Claim that Iraq is an immanent threat -- this is clearly ridiculous. Iraq's neighbors didn't think it was a threat, much less an immanent one. Even Kuwait, whom the Iraqis, you know, actually invaded, were not at all concerned that Iraq would be a military threat. The idea that Iraq could threaten the US or the UK was simply ludicrous and indefensible.
- Claim that Iraq has "weapons of mass destruction" that could fall into terrorist hands -- I think we're all familiar with how that one panned out: they don't have any WMDs, at all. The weapons inspectors and everyone else who Actually Knew Stuff and claimed that Iraq didn't have substantial weapons were right.
- Claim that Iraq plans on making WMDs at some vague future date, which might then fall into terrorist hands -- turns out that one doesn't work, either. Even the ambiguous "evidence" presented in the Kay report has been discredited.
- Claim that we are doing it out of the goodness of our heart -- but if that's the case, why wouldn't we choose to invade the country that is suffering the worse abuses, and work our way up from there? Why "do" Iraq now?
- Strongly imply that Iraq had ties to 9-11 -- this one was just a plain old lie, on which the press eventually called the administration out.
- Claim that Saddam's very existence and evilness tied him to 9-11 in the great chain of being -- this argument is a little bit metaphysical and hard to follow.
- Claim that the Iraqis are a lot better off without Saddam, because we're building schools and hospitals now -- um, weren't there schools and hospitals before? In fact, wasn't education in general one of Saddam's greatest successes? Plus, before, weren't there, like, police and stuff to make sure people could go out at night without dying? And finally, was Iraq subject to almost daily terrorist attacks before we got there? How are they better off again? I hate to be cynical -- I know the big statue of Saddam was torn down and everything -- but seriously.
At this point, there are only two options:
- Admit that this is part of a larger strategy to ensure American hegemony well into the next century by securing access to Middle Eastern oil supplies and by creating a situation in which the military must be constantly expanded while social spending must be nearly eliminated -- well, that one's a little wordy, so we're left with:
- "It just happened at random, okay? We don't know why it happened. We wish it wouldn't have. But here we are. Iraq's our baby now. Deal with it."
Rumsfeld told me in his e-mail, which he wrote to me, that the administration plans on releasing this new "happened at random" explanation the day after Thanksgiving, just in time for the holiday season. When that happens, remember: you heard it here first, at The Weblog, the all-time #1 best blog in the history of blogging.
(6:59 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
New Comment Feature
Flagrantly copying Jared Woodard, I have adopted a new comment feature. It should prove to be much more reliable than the absolutely horrible comment feature I previously used -- I should have known better than to entrust my comments to the British.
The only possible problem with this is new thing is that it features text-based ads on the bottom of the pop-up comment window. If you are using Google Toolbar or another similar pop-up blocker, it may identify the comment window as an ad and block it. Simply instruct your software to allow pop-ups from my site, and everything will be fine.
So now you'll be able to post comments reliably and get a discount subscription to Maxim. This is just more of the high-quality service you've come to expect from The Weblog.
On a sad note, all previous comments are now dead and gone, but you probably couldn't get them to come up half the time anyway.
(3:02 AM) | Robb Schuneman:
I'm Never Gonna Know You Now, But I'm Gonna Love You Anyhow
Elliott Smith, the musician, apparently committed suicide on Tuesday.
I'm late to report this, and most of you already know, but..I'm somewhat shocked right now, and figured I'd tell anyone else who didn't know.
I consider myself a major fan and didn't know about it until I happened to go to his site tonight to see what the status of his new album was. It was strange to do the cliche thing of thinking it was a joke, and then suddenly feeling more and more sick.
It's weird to see someone who had meant so much to you pass away, considering that you had no clue of who they were. All that Adam talks about regarding the strange relationship between a band and a listener seems to come to a head with overwhelming clarity.
I've just typed and re-typed this paragraph about 7 times trying to express the fact that I feel overwhelmingly sad that someone I never knew died. I think to over-dramatize this fact now would just be some petty attempt at "I'm hurt more than you other fans," and I can't do that. Admittedly, part of me is selfish, I am saddened that there will be no more music. Admittedly, part of me is apathetic - I'm still going to sit and finish reading The Crying Of Lot 49, and then go to bed. I'm not going to lose sleep over this. And yet, in some ways, Elliot Smith dying will affect me more than a lot of deaths involving people much closer to me. I've listened to a cd of his at least three times a week for the last two years, and now, though I'll undoubtedly do so again, it will never be the same. Each lyric, like the title for instance, will somehow have the capacity to bring me closer to tears than it did before, and it was pretty close before.
I wasn't into music when John Lennon died, when Jeff Buckley died, and when Kurt Cobain died, so I apologize if these conflicting feelings are well-trod ground for many of you. But, Smith was undoubtedly the best song writer of the current time, in my mind. There's many stories of how he would always take fans who couldn't get tickets to his shows and put them on his guest list to get in free. I think that's probably pretty demonstrative of the generosity he was capable of. It saddens me to think that even having a close knit group of fans nightly showing their appreciation of him, spending hours upon hours doing webpages devoted to him, sending him supportive e-mail, screaming "I Love You!" and all these other typical signs that people really do care about him was not enough to keep Elliott from stabbing a knife in his chest while his girlfriend was out of the house. It's incomprehensible, and deeply disturbing.
I've got to stop now because that same, previously mentioned over-dramatic voice is taking over and I could ramble on for many paragraphs. I'll close just by saying thanks to Elliott for the inspiration his music gave me, along with the feeling of comfort in knowing someone else has been as depressed as I am, or as happy, or as angry, which his music so vibrantly displayed. Also, I'm sorry that no one was able to convince you that your capacity for empathy with others was returned to the best of our abilities in our situations. I hope you've found some sort of peace, and I wish I were better at stating what I mean.
Saturday, October 25, 2003
(8:18 PM) | Robb Schuneman:
And If You Want These Kind Of Dreams, It's Oklahomophobia
I am guilty of a terrible crime. I was listening to the Chili Peppers yesterday, and wondered if I could come up with a witty word that involves and embodies the general feeling of my state like Californication does. Thus came the title. Imagine my disappointment when I found 8 Google links to it already. Luckily, they all refer to an album by little known comic "Mondo Fax" and, to my renewed joy, that page contained the strangest Amazon.com product description ever:
"I love this movie like I do, you will definetly want to own these DVDs so you can count on high-performance products at a fair price. Made of hardened steel, the replacement blades are factory sharpened for superior performance. The EB-016 will fit the following Black & Decker delivers a powerful musical message with Once Upon A Time . Her silky style is seasoned and tight everyone gets a chance to get to the 88 Olympics run track and are on their way out of your 2-D objects. Create and manipulate light bulbs, spotlights, sunlight, and ambient lighting with powerful lighting tools."
(Note: I think this is some sort of Amazon screw up..and probably the reason why this page was only available as cached)
So, feeling the need to seize a chance to populize the phrase before Mondo Fax hits the big time, I wanted to share it with you all. The only problem was I had to come up with something to post about. This probably isn't the ideal order in which the creative process should go, I apologize...
That said..I think it worked out okay.
Basically, I began searching for some "news" I could comment on that might fit the title. I hit paydirt with this article. It deals with the execution of Jay Neill in Geronimo Oklahoma, which is about an hour and a half south of my humble abode. Back in 1984, driven by debt Neill and his lover decided to rob the town's bank. His lover stayed in the car while Neill went in and stabbed 3 bank employees to death, stabbing so deep as to break their ribs. He also shot four customers, killing one. The catch in this trial, apparently, was that Neill was gay.
Now, in the 18 years between the crime and his eventual execution, Neill was a model prisoner. He got the highest marks from everyone involved, and had converted to Buddhism, and showed every remorse for the families. One could probably argue that since the death penalty is supposedly only to be used for those who show no remorse, this individual case was wrong. But something more was involved here - what brought this case to people's attention was the blatant anti-homosexual remarks used by the prosecution in order to secure the death penalty.
The prosecutors closing statement started like this:
"I want you to think briefly about the man you're setting [sic] in judgment on and determining what the appropriate punishment should be," the prosecutor told the jury. "[J]ust put in the back of your mind - what if I was sitting in judgment on this person without relating it to Jay Neill, and I'd like to go through some things that to me depict the true person, what kind of person he is. He is a homosexual. The person you're sitting in judgment on-disregard Jay Neill. You're deciding the life or death on a person that's a vowed homosexual."
Keep that quote in your memory, and let me give you the United Nations Guidelines for the role of prosecutors in trials:
they are to "perform their duties fairly, consistently and expeditiously, and respect and protect human dignity and uphold human rights," and "carry out their functions impartially and avoid all political, social, religious, racial, cultural, sexual or any other kind of discrimination." The right to freedom from discrimination on the basis of sex, which includes sexual orientation, is recognized in international treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
What the heck kind of prosecutor is this than? The whole point of that opening line is to take away the dignity of the person on trial, and dehumanize him because he happens to be gay!
I don't want to get too far away from the facts here. I mean, if you do support the death penalty, there's a very legitimate argument, due to the brutality of these murders, for this man to be killed. But this fact makes the prosecutions arguments all the more ridiculous. Since the state of Oklahoma does quite vibrantly believe and often utilize the death penalty, there were plenty of other ways for him to get that feather in his cap. Instead, to insure it he basically says "When considering whether to kill this man, remember - he's homosexual (thus he's automatically of deplorable character, and our society will be better off with one less of his kind)."
I'm not sure this case could have happened many other places than Oklahoma. At least, there's no way it could have been as blatant elsewhere. The kind of discrimination I've seen since moving here is really somewhat shocking. It's more than just the occasional racist or anti-gay joke, it's that I often see an unmistakable avoidance towards helping people of other races, or people who are homosexual, in stores. It's a disgust, an air of supremacy that before now I'd only seen in movies. It's that dramatic and defined, as if it were scripted.
I think, somewhat thankfully, we've reached a point where no prosecutor could keep his papers after saying something like "I want you to think briefly about the man you're "setting" in judgement upon, and I'd like to go through some things that to me depict what kind of person he is. The person you're sitting in judgment upon is black. You're deciding the life or death on a person that's black." Yet, the case wasn't thrown out for obvious sexual-bias on the part of the prosecutor, the prosecutor didn't even get a slap on the wrist. Heck, he probably got a promotion.
What, perhaps, is most perplexing to me is that I'm pretty sure if I took this to work on monday, or to school, or just to random people in the mall and asked them about it, they'd say it was a valid line of defense. I'm not sure that if I just printed out his entire closing statement (the quoted line is not the only prejudicial one) any great number of people would find something out of the ordinary until I pointed it out.
What confirms this for me is that I've been searching on the net pretty relentlessly to find other articles on this case, and nearly all of them ignore the prosecutor's comments. I doubt the linked article was merely made up, as it includes the support of Amnesty International and several large watch groups. Yet, this blatant disregard for the stated duty goes unnoticed and the lawyer involved likely gets a hefty pay raise for delivering a death sentence.
This isn't the first time this happened. The article references another execution of an african-american lesbian woman who killed her lover. The prosecution again emphasized the defendants homosexuality by making major points based around the fact that she was "the man" in the relationship, and that she wore the pants in the family, and that she spelled her name, Wanda Jean Allen, in a "masculine way."
I could argue the wrongness of the death penalty here, but that's not my point. I think regardless of your beliefs on capital punishment, it's easy to see how destructive this sort of discrimination can be to the justice system. When we start judging people based off who they are rather than on what they've done we're in definite trouble. I could keep trying again and again to restate what I mean to make it clearer, but I think the dissenting opinion given by Judge Carlos Lucero definitely says it better:
"..what is it that makes the comments more than merely improper? As prosecutors know, gays and lesbians are routinely subject to invidious bias in all corners of society...The openly gay defendant thus finds himself at a disadvantage from the outset of his prosecution. When a prosecutor directs the jury to make its guilt-innocence or life-death determination on the basis of anti-homosexual bias, that disadvantage is magnified exponentially and raises constitutional concerns. This is so because prosecutors occupy a position of trust, and their exhortations carry significant weight with juries... Justification for these remarks was unquestionably illegitimate. Exploiting his position of trust and spinning the reality of anti-gay prejudice to a pivotal position in the capital-sentencing phase, the prosecutor undermined the possibility that petitioner's sentence would be based on reason rather than emotion."
Dream of Oklahomophobia.
(Dang I'm getting good at these one line closings!)
(7:06 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
We're Number One
Robb has enrolled adamkotsko.com in Blogstreet, the ultimate clearinghouse of blogology. He noted that he checked out InstaPundit, the number one most influential blog by their estimates, and found that it sucked ass. I agree. That's why my goal, starting now, is to have the absolute best #1 blog in the history of blogging, within one month's time.
The key is to get linked. I already have very valuable links from Jared Woodward and Melinda Minch, but some of the so-called "big names" in blogging don't appear to know I exist. I've posted about three comments a week on CalPundit, which is a pretty good stat given that he routinely gets over 100 comments each post, so I'm bound to get noticed and linked on that site. The real mother load, however, would be for Atrios to notice me. Thus, I'm going to comment like there's no tomorrow, with alacrity, zeal, savoir faire, and insight. I'm going to send him some heads-up messages:
Hey, Atrios -- love the site, man. Keep it up. You might know this already, but there's a new Krugman column up on the Times website, because it's Tuesday. They usually put it up around midnight Eastern time on the days it comes out, so I read it then. Just giving you some inside juice. Now please link to me. Love, Adam
Or how about this one:
Atrios, buddy -- I don't know if you already knew this, but Andrew Sullivan put up a new article on his site, from that British paper he works for. I thought you might be interested, because he's gay and conservative, which is kind of unusual. Now please link to me. Love, Adam
Pretty soon, Atrios would be linking to all kinds of cutting-edge stories and then giving me credit with such lines as "courtesy of attentive reader Adam Kotsko." He wouldn't realize that I was only using him in my relentless quest to get to the top of the blogging world! Before long, he would be a blogging backwater, while hundreds of commenters and fellow bloggers would be hanging on every word of The Weblog's dynamic duo (and maybe Michael Schaefer, contributor emeritus, would want to get in on the game more often, as part of his plan to become the Michel Foucault of Eastern European Studies). By the end of the month, InstaPundit would be in a panic coming up with half-assed defenses against my bullet-proof refutations of his half-assed so-called "ideas," and women everywhere would be studying up on cartoon shows from the late 1980s in a desperate gambit to get some attention from Robb.
That's when I'd reveal the Final Solution: a tip jar. We would far outpace Andrew Sullivan's pathetic blogging income of $80,000, which would give us the financial wherewithal to spend the entire rest of my life doing nothing but blogging. I would become one of the foremost popularizers of continental philosophy, while Robb's influence on the music world would be so great that bands would begin putting "blurbs" on the back of albums specifically to profit from his prestige.
We would get an inside track at Blogger's IPO and would become fabulously wealthy as the Democrat who got elected in 2004 (due to my overwhelming influence on political discourse) would get the deficit under control, give universal health care the old college try and fail miserably, and preside over a booming economy based on rampant speculation in the tech sector. I would become wealthy enough to have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, where I would eradicate war by linking to anti-war blog entries, selecting a particularly good quote, then writing "Indeed."
Finally, cut to me on my death-bed, in a grandiose but unfinished shell of a mansion -- before I expire, I mutter the seemingly incomprehensible word: "Rosebud." After a series of tedious interviews and flashbacks, a generic reporter character will come to some kind of banal conclusion, namely that even being king of the blogosphere was not enough to buy me love. Little did he know that I was talking about the ... Okay, yeah, this is dumb. The rest of my plan is going to work, though.
(2:36 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
(2:05 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Protecting the Traditional Family
This is based partly on the (at the time of this writing) nascent discussion of the politics of gay marriage over at CalPundit. I don't think it's necessary to use such inflammatory words as "marriage" in this debate -- I think it's pretty much self-evident that if two people of any combination of gender have been living together in a committed and intimate relationship (which may or may not include sex) for a long period of time, then they should have rights similar to relatives or spouses. For instance, if Richard and I had lived as roommates for as long as five years, I think there's a good argument to be made that we should be able to visit each other in the hospital with the same rights as a relative, even though Richard and I would be extremely unlikely to engage in sexual intercourse. In a nation with increasingly diverse living arrangements, I think some form of institutional recognition for a variety of close, long-term relationships, perhaps on the model of "common law" marriage, would be a good idea.
Quite possibly, we might need to maintain an infinite qualitative distinction between civil, legal unions (of all kinds) and church-sponsored marriages or partnerships. For instance, society at large might find it advantageous to recognize certain partnerships or other relationships (for instance, parenthood or legal guardianship) on an official level. People could be free to enter into such relationships regardless of their religious affiliation, and perhaps we could even go so far as to say that religious ministers should be stripped of the power to finalize such unions -- that is, the church should get out of the marriage/civil union business. If the church wishes to maintain an intra-church institution that it calls "marriage," in which people actively commit to lifelong cohabitation and sexual fidelity, then it can officially recognize such relationships at its discretion, independently of whether the state recognizes those relationships.
The problem with this is a certain incoherence in Christian teaching on marriage -- Christian marriages are always "piggy-backing" on state-recognized marriages, such that the church does not have an adequate independant vision of what marriage might mean in a church context or a very good justification for why the church should maintain the discipline of marriage for its members instead of some other hypothetical arrangements. In terms of officially recognizing celibates, anchorites, hermits, and larger religious communities (primarily monasteries), the church as a whole has developed (in some cases, previously existing) social structures in its own distinctive ways. In terms of marriage, I don't think that's the case. I honestly don't think there is an adequate, distinctively Christian doctrine of marriage -- if we read our Foucault, we'll find that everything Christians say about marriage (aside from calling it a "sacrament," which is a late and ambiguous addition), Roman sources were already saying. In the case of celibacy and other arrangements, that is not true, or at least not to the same degree.
Thus I think the current Christian panic over marriage is based on the fact that Christians don't know what to do about marriage and cannot come up with an adequate reason why they shouldn't tag along with the state if the state chooses to recognize homosexual marriages. Christians don't know what they're doing, qua Christians, when they get married. At least I don't think they do.
(11:50 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Following the example of the lovely Kari Thomas, I am going to make a web-based to-do list for this weekend. I will divide up my tasks according to their priority level.
High priority (actually assigned for next week)
- Read half of Bernadette Brooten's Love Between Women, a book about lesbians during the early years of Christianity. The second half apparently includes a scathing indictment of Paul. I also have to read something from Ovid and Juvenal, in order to have some primary sources under my belt.
- Read the second third of Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship; write a two-page "reflection" over said work.
- Read 1 and 2 Kings, as well as supplementary (short) sections from The Women's Bible Commentary and Old Testament Parallels.
- Read about fifty pages of The History of Christian Thought, vol. 2 by Justo Gonzalez and a few snippets of Readings in the History of Christian Thought by William C. Placher -- a very thin volume featuring about three pages from each major theologian.
"It would be nice" tasks -- optional assignment to get out of the way
- Write a 4-6 page paper for People and Faith of Israel over Introducing the Old Testament by Richard Coggins, with special reference to the importance of the historical accuracy or lack thereof of many portions of the Hebrew Bible.
- If I don't do the previous one, I'll have to write a paper over The Covenanted Self by Walter Bruggemann. This would be a lot more interesting to me and would probably allow me to write a better paper overall, since Bruggemann is Actually Good. I read a book of essays by him once during my 100-book days entitled Texts That Linger, Words That Explode that included an essay on Marx's use of the Old Testament -- a topic that is, shall we say, not often addressed.
Insanely Impossible Tasks That I Cannot Possibly Do
- Finish Homo Sacer by Giorgio Agamben (the first twenty pages have been excellent).
- Write a paper over Zizek and Bonhoeffer for this conference at Purdue, which was brought to my attention by the lovely Jared Woodward -- although I could write either a paper, fiction, or performance art on Zizek and Bonhoeffer if I were so inclined.
- Make some progress on German using my fun little German book.
- Hanging out with Brett and Tara tonight -- I normally limit myself to one night of fun a week, and I had that last night. This might be more than I can take.
- Going to church tomorrow -- I could go to St. Rose's 4:00 mass, which is like a half-hour, but which is also like super-depressing due to the decrepit priest who does it and who apparently cannot hear the congregation and is thus awkwardly three or four words ahead of us on the things we're all supposed to say in unison.
- The Internet
Beyond this weekend, I can also do stuff Monday night or between classes Tuesday. In a pinch, I could call off work Monday. Next semester, I might decide to just max out my loans, move to Hyde Park, and become a Super Student. That would really fit me a lot better. If I got my endurance levels up to like nine hours of reading a day, with writing at night, I could go to ten conferences a year, read 200 books each year, and learn a foreign language every three months, eventually getting to the point where, like Bill Brower, I can (pretend to) read Kierkegaard in Danish.
I won't keep you posted on what I get done, because that might be even more boring than what I just did. (Robb, feel free to scroll this post to death later today, if you still have a post in you after dropping such a major load yesterday.)
Friday, October 24, 2003
(4:39 AM) | Robb Schuneman:
This is dang long, and I apologize. I even edited a bunch of stuff out..but, I figure I had some length stored up from my absence. Hopefully some of you might read it.
I have been asked by Stephen Case to discuss Pedro The Lion's seminal work "Control." He asked me to do this over e-mail, but I figure if I'm going to take the time to flesh this out, I might as well get my name back up on the page here, since I have been scroll barred to death.
So, to start, I must declare all biases. I consider Control to be one of the greatest albums I own, and I own a ridiculous amount of CDs. I have a list if you want to pity me, just email me. It's easily in my top 5, probably in my top 3, and on good days (rather, on days where I feel like slow, plodding, dark and somewhat depressing music..so..probably on bad days..) it manages to somehow beat out Pavement's Terror Twilight and Dandy Warhol's 13 Tales From Urban Bohemia for 1st.
It's a concept album involving the simple and oft-told tale of a feigned ideal marriage where the husband cheats and the wife gets revenge through killing him. However, David Bazan, who is Pedro, doesn't need to tell this story. I mean, we just have to turn on Oxygen at any time of the day, other than when the Sunday Night Sex Show is on, and we can see it told through some badly acted drama. If you mistakenly turn when The Sunday Night Sex Show is on, don't fret - I think Pedro's next album is reportedly all about old women discussing sex toys, so he'll soon have you covered there too. It's a story that's been repeated a million times, but the message is about much more than When Good Marriages Go Bad!.
The brilliance of the album is that the all-too-commonly used situation is only focused on here to show the destructive power that the desire for control can have on life. It starts with "Options" The seeds of what is to come are planted in this turn on the picturesque honeymoon when the husband character speaks the chorus:
"I could never divorce you without a good reason, and though I may never have to, it's good to have options."
Even here, at the outset of a new marriage, a time when everything should be filled with happiness, love, and the voluntary giving up of all control in the hope of gaining actual relation to another human being, the husband keeps it all at bay because the allure of having enough control to end it if it goes bad is prevalent on his mind.
It reminds me of an episode of Extra I was watching the other night because I am a horribly sad and lonely man. The piece was on Leah Remini's somewhat impromptu engagement and marriage to some Italian looking tan dude. And she started feeling nervous and what not, as one is want to do while filling out a wedding license to someone she hardly knows. She asked "What's the worst that could happen?" and he said "Well, we'd get a divorce." and she said "Right..no big deal.." Leah is amazingly lovely, and I've been a big fan ever since those beach house episodes of Saved By The Bell, but this is not the way to enter a marriage.
Marriage is the ultimate human relationship. It should be centered on love. Love allows for no control, because control demands to set the terms, and there can be no terms for love. It must be unconditional, uncontrollable, if it is to be love at all. The idea planted by the husband here early on in Bazan's masterpiece is one that says "Okay, I'm entering this relationship, and I can have love, and if it starts to go places I don't want it to, I'm still in control with this out-clause." Any relationship which starts with this idea in mind is doomed to failure before it has a chance.
This seed grows more and more as the album goes on. In the very next song we see the husband again taking control at any cost. He apparently can't find satisfaction in his wife, so he finds another woman where he can gain the same feeling.
How the heck did the husband get this way? Again, Bazan locates this problem in the environment he works under with the third song, "Penetration." With it's memorable chorus
"If it isn't making dollars then it isn't making sense, if you aren't moving units then you're not worth the expense, if you really want to make it, you had best remember this: If it isn't penetration, then it isn't worth a kiss."
This attitude can be seen in the corporate world everywhere, and is yet another way to enforce the word I've said about 150 times already in this article - Control. This world we've set-up is brutally cold in that it isn't anger that causes it to ruin lives and people, but merely indifference to anything but getting what it wants. To ensure it can get that, it uses the opposite of love: fear. We've set up hierarchies to the sky with the express purpose of scaring the living be-what's it out of everyone involved. The lower jobs are threatened from fear of losing their job, the management is fearful of the lower jobs telling their boss something bad about them and getting them fired, as well as fearful of those above them. At the very top, the shareholders are fearful of losing their shirt. Fear controls all, because fear is seen as the best way to control an outcome.
We see this all the time, and what's worse is we teach it to our kids. Bazan deals with that in his song "Indian Summer" which delivers another memorable line -
"All the experts say you ought to start them young, that way they'll naturally love the taste of coporate cum. God bless the Indian Summer." Being in Oklahoma, I've come to understand why people so like their indian summers, (it's the time in late autumn when it starts to get warm again and you get that one last glimpse of good weather before the winter..for instance, this week here it's been back in the 90's after dipping down as low as the 50's and 60's 3 weeks ago..) It's perfect weather, it's as warm as it has been all summer, but with the cool breeze of autumn. In this same way, there's that time in life when kids are still innocent enough to believe everything they are told, yet experienced enough to start putting it into practice their own way.
The society takes over right then to start enforcing this structure of fear on our kids. You can easily see it in grade school. I mean..imagine a relay race in grade school. Imagine the kid who is out in front slows down and beckons for his friends to catch up so that he can run with them, laughing and actually enjoying the race not as competition, but as a shared experience. I don't think it's too far fetched to imagine a kid who did that being scolded and sent to the principal's office for not trying his hardest, for not "giving his all." We offer prizes to whoever finishes the race first, second best is never good enough. We perfectly prepare our children to enter into this corporate structure of fear and loathing.
Pedro refuses to let the wife be above reproach as well though. He shows in the next two songs, "Progress" and "Magazine" that fear dominates the home just as much as the work place. The opening lines of Magazine may state this clearest:
"This line is metaphysical, and on the one side, on the one side the bad half live in wickednesss, and on the other side, on the other side, the good half live in arrogance, and there's a steep slope with a short rope, this line is metaphysical, and there's a steady flow moving to and fro."
Speaking as the wife, Bazan shows how her response to her husband's infidelity is equally an attempt to enforce control. By "taking the moral high road" and looking down upon her husband, and also in her attempts to portray and force her children to look like perfect angels, the wife and mother also takes control by setting the terms of the relationship. Her attempts to cram her moral superiority down her husband's throat lead to what normally happens when something is crammed down a throat - the husband spews them back up, and feels more sick and more lost.
Finding that her attempt to impose order upon her children and husband through these means doesn't work, the wife eventually seeks the comfort of the ultimate symbol of control - the gun. Seeking to force her own happiness with a warm gun (ma ma..bang bang shoot shoot..) the wife takes control again by killing her husband.
In the second to last song, "Priests and Paramedics", we see the first response to the destruction caused by Control. Both professions have seen too much of this to still believe that the system works. The Paramedics response to the husband's question of "Am I gonna die?" is a lie, a lie they've been trained to tell in situations like this. Even though they know there's no possibility of his survival, they keep a straight face and tell him he'll be fine. This response is to look into the face of the terror of control, the terror which is the bare fact that all of it, every last thing we've been told we can get through control, is a lie.
They have seen this unbearable truth which caused Kertz in The Heart of Darkness to give that terrible whisper - "The horror!, the horror!" yet, they make the same decision that Marlow does within that novel - when confronted with the terrible truth, Marlow still tells Kertz's wife that his last words were of her. Similarly, the paramedics see the horror, and know the unbearable end, yet tell the husband here "Buddy just calm down you'll be all right."
The priest at the funeral gives another response. Like the paramedics he has seen too much of this horror to deny it any longer, however, the Priest has simply given up. His depressing eulogy is simple, and terrible. He merely says:
"You're gonna die, we're all gonna die, could be twenty years, could be tonight. Lately I have been wondering why we go to so much trouble to postpone the unavoidable and prolong the pain of being alive."
In the final song, "Rejoice", which many consider to be the opus of cynicism, Bazan proposes another answer. Unlike the many Amazon reviewers and otherwise who point to this as the pinnacle of depression on a depressing album, I see this simply finale to be the point of hope. The lyrics are short and simple, and merely say:
"Wouldn't it be so wonderful if everything were meaningless, but everything is so meaningful and most everything turns to shit. Rejoice."
If we could take the answer of the paramedic or the priest, life would be a lot easier, a lot simpler. If we merely could lie to appease ourselves and ignore the truth, or give up all hope for meaning, the problem of Control suddenly becomes a lot simpler. But we can't. As a self-proclaimed follower of Christ, this option is not available to Bazan, because Christ takes this terrible structure, dies and rises again to show that there is meaning inside it. Christ submits himself under fear to the point of death in an ultimate confrontation with "the horror! the horrror!" If Christ had been the paramedic, when confronted with crucifixion, he could have lied to Himself about whether his death made any difference, and merely gone on living. Had Christ been the priest, his death would have been a relief, and the ressurection would have been a torturous extension of meaninglessness.
However, because Christ is Christ, in the death and ressurection he stares unblinkingly at Fear itself, and proclaims love at any cost. He refuses to accept control, even though he could have called down angels, even though had he but spoken a word in his defense he could have ended the trial, even though the people tried endlessly to declare him as King, he refused to establish any control over his life, and instead ceaselessly pursued love in whatever form it may take. He refused to set love under his own terms, to define whom He could love and whom He would not. This pursuance of love in whatever form it takes is the only answer Christians have to the fear which so dominates our world today. To properly relate to other people, it's the only thing that can work.
Pedro shows this with a simple album about a marriage gone terribly bad. Yet, it's easy to see this same thing in any situation. If we are to relate to other people, like Christ we must embrace the unknown meaning of life, which is love. We must embrace the fact that most everything turns to shit, and instead of ignoring this, or giving up hope, or passing on the blow of fear to establish control, we must remain vulnerable, and the ultimate symbol of vulnerability is love.
That love is possible, even in the midst of all the crap of the world, is reason to rejoice. That there is meaning within what seems so meaningless is reason to rejoice. That Christ came in order to say that in spite of everything that is the horror of this world, love is still possible at the cost of giving up all control, is reason to rejoice. This radical response, this refusal to take control of His situation lead to Christ's crucifixion, and certainly won't necessarily lead to any better for those who follow his path, but in it is all meaning.
Thursday, October 23, 2003
(11:19 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Rethinking sexual abuse
Apparently the Diocese of Joliet has decided that the best way to deal with the priest sexual abuse scandals is to require all church volunteers (such as me) to sit through a three-hour presentation on sexual abuse. After the presentation, I'm still ambivalent on the issue. The more I think about it, the wiser it seems to have all people involved in the church on the lookout for sexual abuse, because as they pointed out, the rate of sexual abuse among priests is not higher than among lay people. The problem is not priests per se, but rather sexual abuse as such, and educating lay people can help to prevent sexual abuse by priests and lay church people alike.
One person at the table made the obvious "point" that this problem might go away if priests could marry. Let's investigate this claim, though. Isn't it safe to say that having sex with a child would be a very different experience from having sex with one's wife? The emotional and power dynamics would be very different, in addition to the difference in the partner's body. Being a straight male, I'd have to say that if heterosexual intercourse with adult women were disallowed, I doubt that a real "solution" would be to allow me to have sex with men -- obviously those are different things, and I think it's misleading to lump them all together under the category of "sex." A lot of child molestors do have adult sexual outlets, but they also desire sex with children. They don't necessarily want children as such -- one child molestor in the presentation tonight was married with his own children, but he didn't abuse his own children. There are all kinds of other preferential issues, too; for instance, a person who's attracted to underaged teenagers is a very different creature from one who is attracted to actual grade-school children. Child sexual abuse is a disturbing and terrible thing, but that doesn't stop it from being a complex issue worthy of careful consideration.
That said, there does need to be investigation of the kinds of attitudes toward sex that might lead one to seek out priesthood. Some people might view the vow of celibacy as a kind of defense against sexual urges they know are wrong -- for instance, in The Seven-Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton talks about how he thought that the celibacy vow would free him from his burning desires for women. That is obviously a naive attitude, and I'm sure that once people like that get into a situation where they have very little accountability and they can basically get away with it, they are obviously going to find it very difficult to control themselves.
The church as a whole should be held accountable for creating this kind of situation, especially through its excessively negative attitudes toward sex. The very idea that sexual expression absolutely must be submitted to some utilitarian purpose (i.e., reproduction) makes it very difficult to view sex as anything but a necessary evil. As Aquinas (reportedly) says, one can only give up something good -- if sex isn't good, if it's something that must be given up unless you plan to use it to produce as many children as possible, then giving it up doesn't make any damn sense. It's like making priests take a vow not to murder anyone. I think celibacy has a place in the church, but when paired with attitudes toward sex that produce pathological behavior, it can create terribly destructive situations.
I'm glad that the diocese is going beyond a simple reaction to the media scandal. It would be easy for them to make priests' lives more difficult in some superficial way, to claim they were doing something. By getting the lay people involved, I think the church is taking a very valuable step to keep children safe from sexual assault -- and it's also good to see them granting such responsibilities to the laity. Still, I think that this is basically a band-aid solution. The priest scandal showed very graphically what the sexual attitudes of the church are doing to people. Perhaps the laity needs to take the responsibility of ignoring those particular teachings in practice and refusing to pass them down to their children. In the same way that the laity should be responsible for catching sexually abusive priests before they start, they should also be responsible for helping to break other vicious cycles of abuse.
Wednesday, October 22, 2003
(12:35 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Rethinking the Historical Humpty-Dumpty
In another note, Jared Woodward (one of the most frequent commenters on this site, back when people posted comments) has a blog, I just discovered.
Tuesday, October 21, 2003
(11:08 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tuesday Night Fever
Now that I've overcome clinical depression, I am much better equipped to handle my 45-60 minute commute to Chicago two days a week. I am finding that if I increase my speed, I can get there faster. The only problem is that sometimes cars get in my way. Oftentimes, there are people (probably left-handed people or people whose fathers beat them with their right hand or who preferred to nurse at their mother's left breast) who are quite frankly addicted to the left lane! They can't get enough of it, and in order to maximize their time in their beloved lane, they drive as slowly as possible. Personally, I understand their desire to act out on the symptoms of their mental illness, but at the same time, there is the very real issue of the social conventions governing lane usage.
Yes, I have written about this before, but this time it's different: I know what to do. No matter how left-addicted these people are, there seems to be one taboo line that their psychosis will not allow them to cross. Thus, in the right circumstances, I might be able to pass them on the shoulder. Perhaps if they saw someone even further to the left, they would start actually driving in the left shoulder and thus be out of my way. Another option is to retrofit the front of my truck with a kind of fork-lift device. I could get right behind the person and place the forks underneath the offending car. Then, unlike with a real forklift, my device would be able to actually flip the car behind me. Sure, it would end up injuring that driver and any unfortunate souls behind them, and the device would undoubtedly strain my budget. But imagine being able to literally dig through traffic. The time spent in traffic jams alone would be worth the price.
Tonight before driving home, my professor of Hebrew Bible, Ken Stone, passed out a survey that CTS is required to have new students fill out for some reason. I was a little bit confused about some of the questions. For instance, it asked how I would describe my general theological orientation, and it ranged from "Very Liberal" to "Very Conservative." What's the glaring omission? "Correct." I just put down "liberal," which is pretty much a synonym. Also, they asked me why I first came to the seminary. Apparently there is this list of set reasons that everyone fits into, and they asked me to pick the best ones for me. Sadly, "I didn't know what the hell else to do because I was not about to spend another year working full-time as a damn 'chiropractic assistant'" was not one of the options. I put down "knew faculty member" and some others.
The best part, though, was when they wanted me to rank all the different things that motivated me to pursue seminary education in general. I could rank each one as "of no importance" to "of greatest importance." I was unable to assign great importance to "felt a call from God," although I did squeeze out a little importance for "seeking God's will," which was the closest synonym I could find for the aforementioned "I didn't know what the hell else to do, &c."
Another fun part of my day was hanging out with a female fellow traveller who didn't seem to realize at first that I was actually hanging out with her. Up to this point, we had always had some kind of pretext, even if it was often somewhat thin ("You're parked in the parking garage? I don't know where that is. Why don't you show me?" -- even though I have no intention of paying for parking in Hyde Park). This time, it was just straight up quality time. She does have a boyfriend, so maybe that's part of the desire to have some kind of "reason." Either that or, like every other person in the entire world, she doesn't quite know how to act around people. I know I'm one of them. In fact, I'm a really strange person, and I doubt that people ever get a really clear idea of whether I like them or not.
That brings me to my conclusion: I think that we need to fill out forms relating to all our relationships every so often. We just need to commit to carrying #2 pencils at all times. Here's a sample question:
- Would you rate [insert person's name] as... (circle only one)
- A person with whom you've been in a situation in which you should have introduced yourself, but you went an awkwardly long time without doing so and thought that it was best to just run with pretending he/she doesn't exist?
- A person you met once and forgot his/her name?
- An acquaintance?
- A close acquaintance?
- A friend you'd feel uncomfortable coming out and calling a "friend"?
- A friend?
- A close friend?
- For women only: a "best friend"?
- A potential love interest?
- A person who makes you feel sexual urges you didn't realize you had?
- A potential spouse?
- A former friend with whom your relationship was ruined when you attempted to take it "to another level"?
- A former friend who ignored the fact that you tried to take the relationship "to another level," leaving you in a constant state of limbo?
- A significant other?
- A former significant other?
- A former significant other's current significant other?
- An actual spouse?
- A former spouse?
- A relative or family friend?
- A pet?
- A prostitute?
- A co-worker?
- Your "hook-up" for illegal drugs?
- A clerk at the local grocery store whom you wish to ask out, but you can't think of a non-creepy way to do it?
- Your family doctor?
- Pat Sajak?
I guess that one pretty well covers it. I think a one-question monthly quiz from everyone you know would be reasonable. Then we could just run them through the scantron and give everyone a report, and everyone would know exactly where he or she stands. No more of the guessing games, no more awkwardness -- just the facts.
Monday, October 20, 2003
(1:55 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Overcoming clinical depression
As many of you know, I am definitely going through Hard Times right now. Here's a brief rundown:
- A wedding has transmogrified a woman of my acquaintance from "cool friend I'm glad I get to hang out with so much" into "the only woman I'll ever love and whom I never see anymore, ever." There have been several candidates for "the only woman I'll ever love" (approximately 10 at last count), but I really think this one is going to stick.
- Richard and Kari are moving to Indianapolis after a shotgun wedding in January. I've never told him this before, but Richard has become something of a mother figure to me over the last year and a half -- paying all my bills for me, making dinner, picking out my clothes every morning, etc. In exchange, all I had to do was slave away with housework and pet maintenance tasks while all my friends experiment with drugs, sex, and alcohol. Then he subtly lets me know that while he's willing to tolerate it when I talk about things I'm interested in, I'm really weird and he wishes I'd just be normal. Then he starts screaming and throwing plates around the kitchen, the dog runs to another room with his tail between his legs, and I cower in my bedroom for a while talking to my moody girlfriend. A few hours later, he apologizes and we hug.
- Speaking of my family, my father was recently murdered, and I suspect that my mother has married the murderer, who is also my uncle.
- There's a pledge drive on NPR.
- After months of experimentation, I've definitely pinned down a pretty inflexible relationship between "actually going to work" and "getting paid." The credit card company is not amused with this experiment.
- I received a letter from John Ashcroft alerting me to the fact that the FBI recently started a file on me. (I feel like it was probably a form letter, even though he tried to make it sound personal.)
Even with all these circumstances in mind, my depression seemed too great to be simply "caused" by my circumstances. It was pretty clearly clinical depression. The despair was overwhelming -- diet pills and espresso barely made a dent. Then, the cure came. You'll be surprised when you learn what it was:
The weather changed.
That's right. My circumstances had nearly driven me to suicide, and when we got an unseasonably nice day, all symptoms were gone. I'm going to start marketting my method. I call it "If you're depressed, try to hold out until a nice day, and you'll feel better."
(8:50 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Kobe Bryant is probably guilty
I don't know the facts of the case, aside from the fact that Fox News repeatedly mentioned "vaginal tearing" on the night the story broke (but, I mean, it could have just been rough sex, vaginal tearing doesn't necessarily mean rape, vaginal tearing, vaginal tearing...). Still, precisely because there is such a high burden of proof when a very young girl claims to have been raped by a millionaire world-famous basketball star, I think that we should give her the benefit of the doubt. Even in This Day and Age, alleged rape victims have their entire sexual history exposed when the alleged rapist's lawyers settle on the ol' It's Impossible To Rape A Slut Defense. If a woman is willing to go through that kind of indignity, shouldn't we assume that she has actually been raped?
The only other option is that she's such a slut that she's actually using the inevitable exposure involved in a rape trial as free advertising for her insatiable sexual urges. Along the same lines, we could say that Arnold probably ran for governor of California at least partly in order to give women the "heads up" that he enjoys a good grope now and then. Now, whenever he meets a woman, he will immediately know where he stands -- she will either say, "Please refrain from groping me" or "I love Arnold -- and you know what? He can grope me anytime." It's not quite the same as grabbing a tit or two regardless of the woman's feelings, but what can he say? It was only in the last few months that he learned that women had these so-called "feelings." He's grown a lot, just by running for governor, so imagine what he'll learn when he settles in to do the hard work of governing.
We've heard some "complaints" from "pundits" who think that the historic "LA Times story" about the groping issue relied too much on anonymous sources. I honestly think that maintaining the anonymity of the women involved was the only moral thing for the reporters to do. The last thing we need is to ruin these poor ladies' dating lives by publicly exposing the fact that they're frigid bitches who can't take a little involuntary intimate contact from a total stranger in stride. If you didn't want to be groped, why did you get a job at a restaurant? Why do you work out? Why do you wear clothing that you find comfortable? Why do you check the "female" box on forms?
I'm having trouble coming to any conclusions, to be honest. All I'm saying is that Kobe Bryant is probably guilty and that he should probably go to jail for what he did, so that all the conservatives can complain about how all these liberals are all about "equal rights" until we start talking about a millionaire world-famous married basketball star having "rough sex" with a very young woman -- where's their equal rights now? Where's their "tolerance" now?
Sunday, October 19, 2003
(11:05 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
In this day and age, it is generally accepted that most people will support civil rights issues. Even if you're white, even if you have no black friends, even if you've never even really met a minority person, no one is surprised if you are an advocate, whether rhetorically or financially or whatever, of civil rights or affirmative action. If someone writes an article on the Internet or in print, with no photo attached, advocating civil rights or affirmative action, no one assumes that that person is black or a member of another minority. It is within the scope of our imagination that one could support the idea that people of all races should have equal political rights and even that races that have historical disadvantages should get preferential treatment, without those policies directly benefitting the advocate.
Similarly, no one assumes that advocates for illegal immigrants, the homeless, the elderly, the unborn, Sudanese Christians, the Palestinians, or single mothers are themselves always illegal immigrants, homeless, elderly, unborn Sudanese Christians, Palestinians, or single mothers, respectively.
With that in mind, one would think that a rational person could arrive at the conclusion that, given allowances for the possibility of coersion or abuse, people should generally be allowed to have sex in the ways in which they find themselves to be inclined. Further, a person with no personal stake beyond a concern for justice might believe that laws, institutions, and deep-seated cultural attitudes that force people to choose between entering into a sexual relationship that they find deeply distasteful and unsatisfying or having no sexual relationships at all need to be critiqued, changed, and possibly disposed of.
Why, then, is an advocate of gay rights quite often suspected of being gay?
UPDATE: In all fairness, it is also often the case that opponents of gay rights are accused of being self-loathing closeted homosexuals. No one really suggests that racists actually have some minority blood in them and hate themselves for it.
(3:07 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Okay, I'm backsliding
Here's an editorial in the New York Times by everyone's favorite Catholic homo-con, Andrew Sullivan.
Here he drops the bombshell: "For the first time in my own life, I find myself unable to go to Mass." That's a classic Sullivan sentence -- did you previously find yourself unable to go to Mass during, say, your mother's life?
In all honesty, though, only the Catholic Church has enough weight behind it for people to care about its moral teachings, whether they're right or wrong in themselves. With every other church, one can find another version of the same denomination that has the exact right calibration of doctrines and practices. Not pleased with the gay Episcopal bishop? Well then, a conservative church that still uses the Book of Common Prayer is not too hard to find. Some people might be worried about who's "most truly Anglican," but the stakes are vastly smaller than with Rome. A break with Rome means something in a way that a break with Canterbury does not.
Hence my position that Rome represents the last best hope for Christian unity. A lot of things would need to change for that to really happen, and in order to preserve a sense of continuity, things would have to move somewhat slowly. The abuses that a centralized church authority has brought with it in the past are not sufficient reason to throw out the idea of authority in the church in general. The key is authority for service. Too often, it seems that popes have been worried about preserving authority for its own sake, as though we can only deal with matters of pastoral concern or discipleship after we're absolutely certain that the appropriate teaching authority is in place. An authority in the service of discipleship would, I think, be able to avoid the pitfalls of the "papal persecution complex" to which the church has been subjected for the last 100-odd years (with the exception of John XXIII).
So I probably need to start building up my resume in order to have a shot at the papacy.
Saturday, October 18, 2003
(12:43 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tell me, is something eluding you, sunshine?
Aside from the air-conditioner scene, the part of High Fidelity that most resonates with me is his attempt to organize his vast music collection autobiographically. Certain albums and songs seem to me to be the key to my very soul -- if only someone could listen to "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box" (Radiohead) and "TV Movie" (Pulp), then they would be a long way down the road to understanding me. I've tried a few mix CD projects, and I've always kept the audience very small, usually with one definite target and a few peripheral targets. I try not to share my music with people I know won't like it, since I know that I will take it personally. Interestingly, though, these direct vistas onto my soul were created by complete strangers and mass-produced. Even if I were into small indy bands, chances are that the songs would be written neither for nor by me, without any knowledge of my existence.
This narcissistic feeling of intimacy with music is tied up with the mechanisms that bring it to us. We listen to music, overwhelmingly, alone. We listen to it in our cars, on headphones, locked up in our rooms. The singer is singing to me; the song resonates with the irriducibly unique emotions that I am feeling at that moment. The greater fragmentation of the music industry, coming together with the institution of ever greater superstars, intensifies this effect. My mp3 collection is hand-selected, song by song, never fully shared with anyone else. It should not surprise us that the mp3 phenomenon is so popular and so indifferent to the morality of intellectual property. Music is our chief means of individuation -- my music belongs to no one but me and those with whom I choose to share myself.
The publicly accessible mp3 collection is parallel to the soul-baring blog or the tell-all memoir. Our individual experiences and feelings become public property, given away for free, even pushed on all who will listen. In our attempt to convince ourselves that someone is really out there and that this self I've so carefully constructed is worth learning about, we reveal that there was nothing unique there in the first place. I am not the first person to like Pavement, not the first person to think that Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain is overrated, not the first person to assemble the complete Dave Matthews (with a lot of live stuff you won't find most places), not the first person to feel alienated from my parents, not the first person to wish they hadn't taken Ducktales off the air.
Even in a culture that is continually exuding new and different products, it is impossible to achieve uniqueness through consumption -- for instance, we could look at the various groups full of those who want to rebel against established fashions and values, but end up spontaneously looking just like each other (punks, goths, whatever). Yet do we conclude from this that everyone is just "the same"? Do we conclude that everyone "wants to belong" and that some type of conformity is absolutely inevitable? That even the most rugged individualism is always acted out for an audience? This assumption, that at bottom we're all "the same," seems to be at the bottom of much of our public morality, and our current far-left groups, with their identity politics, seem to be a futile attempt at rebelling against this sameness. No preserve seems to be left for individuality -- in fact, individualism is taken as the chief obstacle to achieving any kind of desirable society.
But something keeps making me think that people really are unique, even if we all talk in cliches and listen to the same music. I don't think that a Levinasian/Derridean move of making the otherness of the Other inaccessible in principle is the way to this insight -- it ends up making every other not every bit other, but every bit the same as every other (which is in fact one translation of Derrida's tout autre est tout autre, "Every other is every other," if you've seen one other you've seen them all). Paradoxically, we can say that individuality has to appear as such in the public domain of the symbolic order. Yes, all "content" of our individuality is by definition shared with everyone else -- even the most individualized modernists, such as Pound or Joyce, were working with public materials, and they are not incomprehensible in principle, since we all in principle have access to their building blocks. The individuality is found in the form, not simply in the literary form, but in a kind of "form-beyond-form" -- what did Chinese poetry mean to Pound? What did the Catholic dogma he learned by rote mean to Joyce? We can talk about those things, without thereby "colonizing" the otherness of the other; we can touch the otherness of the other through language, through materials available in the public domain.
Levinas seems to me to prohibit touching the other, setting up a law that will maintain irreducible otherness by keeping us from testing its limits. The function of language in his account is ambiguous, in that nothing is communicated -- certainly I never get to explore the otherness of the other, even if the other gets to penetrate me to my very depths ("self as bitch of the other"). Communication is completely empty, and I am supposed to get nothing out of it, certainly nothing of the other, because then the other would be colonized, an object of knowledge. We have to make sure that the other doesn't become part of my stuff, and yet the pre-linguistic domain of the face-to-face does not seem like an adequate or believable place for otherness to occur. Levinas's ethics of otherness lead to the suspicion that otherness really is some kind of content, and that the whole thing will be ruined if we poke through and discover it.
So why not just throw out Levinas's rules? Why not say that otherness appears in my stuff without being part of my stuff? To me, that seems to be the only way to preserve otherness as such, and also the only way to preserve the uniqueness of every other, including the other that is my self.
I apologize for that, to all of you who don't care about Levinas or otherness. I've had this background process of "Zizek vs. Levinas" going on in my mind for a while, and it just came out here. (Zizek is implied.)
Have a wonderful day.
Friday, October 17, 2003
(6:38 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
If you're ever in the blogosphere
CalPundit's post today about "class warfare" is very good and also very representative of a meme that's spreading lately: the idea that any "class warfare" was started by corporations. He has a nice quote from a company executive who argues that waiters in California should be paid less than minimum wage (which is the case in most other states), so that they can cut labor costs by 2%, thus raising profits and raising the value of stock. Whatever pay cut these waiters get is likely to amount to a whole lot more than 2% of their gross income. Here's a nice paragraph:
It never ceases to amaze me that businessmen are continually so outraged over the possibility that any decent paying non-executive jobs are left in our country. But they are. If you're just an ordinary schlub working in an ordinary job, you don't deserve a decent wage, you don't deserve decent healthcare, and you don't deserve any job security. And don't you forget it.
Another similar meme is the one propagated by Atrios about identity politics, where he points out every situation in which whites ruthlessly seek their own advantage to the detriment of other groups. The overarching theme of both these memes is that conservative dismissive terms for liberal activities are more accurate descriptions of conservative activities.
Can we think of any variations on the theme? For instance, if we assume that military spending counts as government spending, we could say that conservatives are "addicted to government spending" and will stop at nothing to raise government spending to the highest possible levels.
(5:36 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
What a day that will be
Slacktivist has announced that he is going to spend the weekend revealing the Left Behind books for what they really are: evil, anti-Christian crap. I'm sure he'll do a good job.
Thursday, October 16, 2003
(12:43 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Why Republicans Should Favor Socialism
CalPundit has a very interesting post about why Republicans might ultimately end up supporting a single-payer system. The comment thread is also very interesting, although there are a few people spouting the conservative talking points.
(11:56 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Virtue of Selfishness
At long last, lacan dot com has substantially updated, with a new issue of lacanian ink. Here is the excerpt they provide of Alain Badiou's article entitled "Obscure Disaster", under the heading "The 'Triumph of Democracy'?":
Democracy triumphs on the ruins of communism, say our prose writers. Or it is going to triumph. The greatest triumphalists evoke the triumph of a "model of civilization." Ours. Nothing less. Those who say "civilization," especially in the form of a triumph, also proclaim the right of the civilized to their gunboats -- for those who might not have understood in time on what side the trumpets of triumph sound. The rights of man are no longer a tired intellectual demand. It is the time for rights with muscle, for the right of intervention. Triumphal movements of democratic troops. The need for war, that obligatory correlate of triumphant civilizations. Iraqi deaths, accommodated in silence by millions, even exclusive of any count (and we know to what extent the civilization of which we speak is a counting one...), are only the anonymous remainder of triumphal operations. Shifty Muslims, after all, non-civilized recalcitrants. Because, take note, there is religion, and there is religion. The Christian and his Pope are part of civilization, rabbis are a considerable part, but Mullahs and Ayatollahs would do well to convert.
We are, and this is important, in a moment of confession. That the substantial content of every "democracy" is the existence of gigantic and suspect fortunes, that the maxim "get rich!" is the alpha and omega of the epoch, that the brutal materialism of profits is the absolute condition of every respectable member of society -- in brief, that ownership is the essence of "civilization" â€” this is the consensus, after having been, during almost two centuries, the adventurous and slandered theory of the revolutionaries who wanted to end a rather pitiable "civilization." A "Marxism" without proletariat or politics, an economism that puts private wealth at the center of social determination, the rediscovered good conscience of the corrupt, the speculators, the financiers, the governments exclusively preoccupied with supporting the enriching of the rich: there's the vision of the world presented to us under the triumphal banner of civilization.
Here Badiou seems to be a kind of Lewis Lapham beyond Lewis Lapham. The style is similar to Lapham's Harper's columns, but whereas Lapham is the pro-American anti-capitalist (i.e., believes that democracy once really and truly happened in America and our best chance is to return to those roots by getting rid of capitalist accretions), Badiou thinks that even that qualified cynicism is naive.
An interesting topic to discuss is whether it's possible to have a "subversive," naively American vision. That is, can we "go back to" the Founders, to the Bill of Rights, to the Declaration of Independence, in a way that does not serve to reinforce the existing order? (The same could be asked of Christianity, I think.)
One tentative suggestion I would make is that any subversive Americanism should not appeal to betrayed ideals. Through my reading of Bonhoeffer, I am coming to believe that ideals are not what we need, ever, if we want to effect change -- ideals are by definition unattained and unattainable, inspiring not so much action as humble reverence. A subversive Americanism would have to say that we already have a government for, by, and of the people and that we need to make it work. At that point, I think it might become clear that the unrestrained rule of capital is exactly what keeps obscuring the principle of the sovereignty of the people. I don't know how well this would work, though, since there seems to be such an emphasis on private property in the founding documents -- although, thankfully, we got "the pursuit of happiness" instead of "the pursuit of property."
Since this post is already so long, I think I'll throw in a nice long quote from Laclau and Mouffe's Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, when they are discussing why they chose the particular path they did (Marxism read through deconstruction) to get to their political conclusions:
Political conclusions similar to those set forth in this book could have been approximated from very different discursive formations -- for example, from certain forms of Christianity, or from libertarian discourses alien to the socialist tradition -- none of which could aspire to be the truth of society.... For this very reason, however, Marxism is one of the traditions through which it becomes possible to formulate this new conception of politics. For us, the validity of this point of departure is simply based on the fact that it constitutes our own past.
In other, less academic words: we wanted to come up with a new way to talk about and do politics, and Marxism is just where we were. I wonder: Is there any reason to believe that a particular discourse is simply incompatible with this kind of thing? I'm sure a lot of my readers are deeply suspicious of "Americanism," but couldn't our own native political tradition provide some avenues for change?
Of course, "where I am" is not so much the American political tradition as Christianity, and so I cleverly avoid directly asking the question about that -- because Laclau and Mouffe are not necessarily right in thinking that "certain forms of Christianity" could help to bring about a more democratic and just order.
Wednesday, October 15, 2003
(8:31 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
I think we're all familiar with the fact that mimes are widely considered either stupid or annoying and with the many entertainment venues that use the suffering of a mime as a sure-fire gag (i.e., "Mime Time" from Animaniacs). I think we're also familiar with the fact that France is most closely associated with mime-ing. Is it possible that this is a persistent manifestation of an anti-French undercurrent in American popular culture? This theory becomes more plausible if my vague memory of some anti-mime humor on Monty Python is accurate, since the British are often much more overtly anti-French.
On another note, yesterday in Ted Jennings' class, we were reading some Hellenistic Jewish texts on Sodom that emphasized both the infertile nature of homosexuality as well as the blindness associated with following one's passions in a manner contrary to reason (and in the story, the crowd of gang-rapists is actually struck blind by the angels in Lot's house). Suddenly I made a connection -- could this be the root of the idea that masturbation makes you go blind? I asked Ted about it, and he said that he didn't know, and we just awkwardly moved on with the discussion. I still think there might be something to it, though.