No misdeed, no crime, no tragedy fills the op-ed pages of top American newspapers quicker than an elite college admissions scandal. Injustices surely more heinous happen every day, such that a cynic might begin to wonder if all those deeply personal expressions of indignation are less about systematic assaults on equality than they are about stolen valor.
Tag Archives: Ideology
Lakes are people, my friend
Pride in place came a little too late. Kudos to my former home!
In general, it’s an interesting response to the abdication of regulatory authority by the governmental agencies responsible for environmental, labor, and consumer protection. If, under neoliberal governance, the only right respected is the right to private ownership, then everything should be made a private owner.
Europe Bookends with Antiziganism
In recent weeks, Italian minister and Lega Nord leader Matteo Salvini has moved to expel as many Roma as possible from Italy, and put the rest on a registry. Comparisons to Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy seem to be the order of the day in our current political discourse (and they’re often entirely justified (re: Trump’s “summer camps” for refugee children)), but this one requires no explicit comparison. This isn’t just something out of the fascists’ playbook–it’s straight out of the fascists’ biography. Romani people endure violence from fringe groups and governments alike every day, but, sadly, it takes an act like this one–an act whose evocation of the Holocaust is all but impossible to ignore–for people to utter the phrase, “Never again.” This has to change. The fate of Europe depends on it.
The importance of antiziganism is lost on Americans, partly because Roma are much less visible in North America and because Holocaust education is incomplete, and because, let’s face it, Gypsies are far more likely to appear in Disney cartoons than history documentaries. The importance of antiziganism is not so much lost on Europeans as it is conveniently hidden. Either way, I would argue that Europe as a political entity is bound to antiziganism. Antiziganism bookends Europe.
The Feeble Logic of the Historical Arc
I’m worried that my fellow travelers on the Left may be making too much of the recent election in Alabama. First of all, the election was close. And as of this writing, Roy Moore has yet to concede defeat. The conspiracy machines are turning. This thing might be taken to the courts, and the United States does not have the best track record when it comes to letting courts decide elections.
The grim possibility that partisan judges might be empowered to interpret the will of the voters notwithstanding, I am concerned with the way the Left is interpreting this political moment. The Left, you see, still acts as if there were such thing as an arc of history. Richard Wolfe’s latest column for The Guardian, “Roy Moore’s stunning defeat reveals the red line for Trump-style politics,” is typical of this view. The thinking is that we have had our reversal of fortunes, and now we’re undergoing anagnorisis, or recognition. Soon, after his family tears itself apart, the mad King Lear will fall and we will have our catharsis. That may well happen, but the problem with such a view is that encourages us to wait and spectate. We’re all watching a play while a mob stands outside the theater with torches, ready to burn the place to the ground.
Taxes, Death, and Lacan
I’m not often drawn to the Lacanian reading of things. There are a few reasons for this, none of which approach anything like a refutation of Lacan. I always feel that I’m not particularly interested at present, but that some day I will be. Anyway, for someone who does Lacan well, I’d refer you to Levi Bryant, who, in terms of raw IQ, is pretty much unrivaled in his field.
Still, I can’t help but think there’s something Lacanny about the current national debate around facts, which, after the Comet Ping Pong shooting and the CIA’s findings about Russian mischief, appears poised to upend the sustaining illusion of our nationhood. What follows is not a Lacanian reading, but Lacanny conjecture.
It begins, perhaps, with the argument over climate change. That was the first major clash between basic science and politics. Religion and science had of course clashed before that, and those clashes inevitably spilled over onto politics; but if there is religious opposition to the science of climate change, it is because the politics of climate change denial has spill out onto religion, not the other way around. In any case, climate change denial is not an article of faith for most sects.
Shut Eye vor My Big Fat Gypsy Mess
Te tu kamlan o film Thinner, apa, kam volis o programmo Shut Eye. Kako shon kam avel nevo programmo pe Hulu kaj bushol Shut Eye pa duzhmane Rromende kaj traijen sar i Mafia. Chaches, si o bersh 2017. Offensivno? Oh yeah. Numa nashti ma jertisarav le bilasho skrimos. Mustaj man te phenav: o skrimos si o chacho dosh.
Chaches, me dikhlem o Jeffery Donovan ando programmo Burn Notice taj me kamlem leste. O dondalo actor butivar ankerel versogodi mishto kering leski butchi, numa chi dashtisailo te azhutil kakalo khulalo programmo. Maj ekh data, o skrimos strashno lo. O Leslie Bohem (ironic nav) ramosardyas o Shut Eye, taj fal ma ke wov kerdjas lesko “research” katar e lila King of the Gypsies aj Hastened to the Grave finke sa Rromane swata te e Rroma den vorbi si “buzho,” “amraja,” “love,” aj “gazhe.” Chi ashunlem nikon kaj phenel kukole swata “buzho” vor “amraja.” Numa butivar dikhodol kukole swata ande kadale lila. Vi kanagodi won phenen “gazhe,” won phenen “gazhe” vash jekh mush taj vi but zhene. Sode pharo te pokinel ekh chacho Rrom kaj del duma Rromanes te sikjavel lenge? Naj Hulu dosta love?
I familia po programmo bushol o Marks. Maj ekh data, o Bohem ljas lesko “research” katar Hastened to the Grave. Obviously. Po jekh episode, i puridej (Isabella Rosellini) shindyas ekh “M” la fatsa ekh raklyatar. Kon kerel kodja? Nadiv ma ke i chachi familia Marks keren lawsuit protiv le Hulu. Si chachimos ke won dashtin te keren kodja finke naj Rroma zor taj naj Rroma glaso taj naj Rroma love. Marks, arakhes Marx.
So maj bilasho kodo: Nikon mashkar la media (Dikh) prindjarel ke kodo programmo akushine chache zhene. Sostar ashunas “Naj bisteran” kana si antisemitism, numa kana si antitziganism, won prosto bisteren? Numa sar shaj seres ekh zhene kaj bichacho?
English readers: Please email me at email@example.com if you’d like a translation of my review.
The Onion or NYT Op-ed?
Columbia professor who sabbaticaled in France for a year reports that Europeans take a much more nuanced approach to things.
I am well aware of the excesses of so-called identity liberalism; but out here in the provinces, it is not just a play thing of the bored, hyper-privileged kids who populate Professor Lilla’s classroom (who will be fine no matter what they look like, no matter who is president). Out here, being black and female and gay and poor and Muslim still burns white hot with political energy. Identity politics was not the undoing of the Clinton campaign, but perhaps the failure to address geographical identity was. Lilla is from Detroit. He should know better.
Žižeks will be Žižeks…
Well now you’ve gone and endorsed Trump. Forty whacks with a wet noodle, you lil’ rascal.
Slavoj Žižek’s recent thoughts on the U.S. presidential race have made him some new friends at Breitbart, outraged others, and made the rest of us do the Lucille Bluth eye roll (see “Martha Stewart Needs to Get Somewhere…“). It has also revived the old discussion about the decline of the public intellectual.
Quartz‘s Olivia Goldhill has offered a particularly thoughtful piece on the subject, arguing that Žižek’s recent pronouncement is the latest sign that philosophy has become so decadent and insular that it has lost sight of its purpose entirely. As we re-adjudicate the matter of the public intellectual in contemporary culture, we are likely to, as Goldhill does, invoke past greats like Sartre, Camus, Arendt, and Foucault. And it’s true that when it comes to public intellectuals, they don’t make ’em like they used to.
But I would urge caution before laying the problem entirely at academic philosophy’s feet. To do so is to misunderstand the relationship between the philosopher and the public intellectual. When the likes of Arendt and Foucault were asked to talk in a public forum about social issues, they were not being asked to ‘do philosophy’ in a public forum. Rather, they were asked to give their opinions on social issues because they had done important philosophical work elsewhere. Their importance as philosophers translated into credibility as public thinkers. This is not the same thing as doing philosophy in public. You can see this division most clearly in the work of Noam Chomsky, who is the last living public intellectual of that previous era (although I think Chomsky has always adhered to the division too strictly).
Part of Žižek’s problem is that he has built his brand on philosophical readings of pop culture so that it is sometimes difficult to tell whether he is philosophizing, publicly opining, or just performing. Actually, I don’t think that’s a problem in and of itself because he has made some really significant philosophical contributions that way. The point is that Žižek is a difficult figure not because of the philosophy he actually does in the public but because he does philosophy in the public at all. That’s the part that doesn’t fit the mold of the public intellectual.
As for his stupidity and naive nihilism regarding a President Trump, I chalk that up to the perils of academic superstardom. He’s been surrounded by sycophants for so long (and academics can be champion sycophants) telling him that everything he says is brilliant and revolutionary that he sometimes believes it himself. It’s precisely why Jerry Seinfeld is no longer funny.
So yes, philosophy has become decadent and insular. There are some really good philosophers out there working on that problem as we speak. But the decline of the public intellectual also has to be an indictment of the public itself. At best, people with advanced degrees in Philosophy (or any of the Humanities for that matter) are considered vestigial organs, and and worst, they are the First Estate circa 1789…or perhaps the last druids hold up on Anglesey.
We seem much more content listening to the public opinions of people who only make opinions for a living. That’s the real death of the public intellectual.
Programmed to Self-Obstruct
I’m writing this about an hour before the third and final debate of this sordid presidential campaign, and it is resoundingly clear that no matter how well Trump does to clear the decumbent bar the country has set for him, the republicans are thinking past him. The watch-phrase of this final month is “checks and balances,” as in checking what might be a sizable mandate for Hilary Clinton. Translation: Ramp up the obstruction.
Democrats, on the other hand, are allowing themselves to hope for the first time in a while. There were at first whispers of a Senate win, and now they’re speaking quite loudly about taking the House. But I wonder how much it will matter even if they do get what they want. This is not me furthering that obnoxious American habit of equivocating everything in politics, dismissing both parties as corrupt and useless (I always suspect those people just end up voting republican in secret). Democrats are disappointing, but republicans are worse. What I worry about is the possibility that the institution of congress has grown so moribund that no change in leadership will be able save it.
When I hear the recent talk of “checks and balances,” I get taken back to October 2010, when republicans were poised for a massive win in the House. Conservatives at that time talked about checks and balances against Obama, but even centerists and liberals were capable of seeing a silver lining. The prevailing argument in those camps was that if the republicans did take the House, then they could no longer continue to act as petulant children. They would have to take some responsibility for governing the nation. But we know what happened. The dysfunction didn’t just get worse; it got fully institutionalized.
Congress has always been a favorite punching bag for Americans. It’s the branch of the federal government which comes closest to direct democracy, and it’s inherently messy. But it’s never been this close to not functioning at all. We know the reasons why: the persistent, racist denial of Obama’s legitimacy; intensive post-2010 gerrymandering; turning voter suppression into a science; the emergence of the automatic filibuster. In fact, I think the first sign of total collapse will be when a piece of legislation hits the Senate floor without being filibustered–the filibuster being so automatic that everyone forgets to actually invoke it. These measures were introduced as a virus, meant to crash the Obama program. But it is looking like this bug has now become the distinguishing feature of whole operating system.
My concern is that a shift in party control, even if accompanied by wave of good natured bipartisanship sweeping across the aisles, may not matter much. Even if the democrats take control of congress, the right may still be the most active force in government. This is because the post-Obama right wing agenda is nihilism, and the method is entropy. If your goal is the annihilation of public institutions, then all you have to do to win is let them disintegrate. To do this, you needn’t negotiate and persuade; just obstruct. And if the operating system is already programmed to self-obstruct, you need only sit back and watch it happen.
The consequences of this virus in the operating system are already visible. The burden of legislation is falling on the executive and judicial branches. But the virus is now crashing the judicial OS, meaning that power is becoming ever more concentrated in the executive branch. We already have an oligarchy, but we are slouching towards autocracy. Checks and balances indeed.
What to do about this? I’m not sure. Move to a parliamentary system? Learn to stop worrying and love the virus?
Mylan and Dr. Malcolm
Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jurassic Park), one of the great characters in pop-fiction/film, couldn’t have said it better:
If I may… Um, I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here, it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now your selling it. You wanna sell it…
Malcolm was talking about making dinosaurs, but it could just as easily be said about Mylan’s jacking up the price on Epipen when it found out a generic was going to be allowed. This action is going to cause a lot of immediate pain. The callousness of companies like Mylan is morally reprehensible. But this particular company’s profiteering is just part of the rot. The underlying rot is the capitalization of intellectual property, the buying and selling of patents on the open market.
Why should we expect Mylan or Turing or anybody else in big pharma to have any moral investment in the drugs they sell? They didn’t, as Malcolm said, earn the knowledge for themselves, so of course they take no responsibility for it.
Suggested reading: Philip Mirowski’s Science-Mart.