Monday, June 29, 2009
Larry: 'There is no other place like this country.The dream of every foreign country I’ve visited is to be America."
Clarissa: "You couldn’t be more wrong, Larry. It is a myth that most people around the world want to have a life that’s all work, work, work, saddled with a 30-year mortgage, where you feel you have to kill yourself working to buy that new plasma screen TV, where there is little sex and even less fun, where people feel enormous guilt for relaxing even for a while, where neither healthcare or higher education are guaranteed to everyone, where you have to be pretty rich to go to college (or saddle yourself with enormous debt.)
Don’t get me wrong, this is a wonderful country, but the idea that people of all cultures would see this life as perfect and actually want it is truly wrong. I am an immigrant and people from my old country don’t envy me in the least. They think I’m an idiot for wanting to live here. Both my friends and I are right in our own way. Different cultures have different priorities. The very doubtful American prosperity that comes at such a steep price is hardly the envy of everyone."
I want to add: I consciously chose to emigrate to North America. I chose to live here and I love it. This doesn't, however, make me think that everybody in the world would want the same. people are different, their needs are different, what's good for me, might be intolerable for somebody else. I know many, many immigrants who bought into the myth of America while knowing nothing about the reality of America and are now truly miserable. I know immigrants who went back home and those who are saving money to go back home.
There is no way of life that's perfect for everyone. The idea that "everybody is jealous of the American lifestyle" is promoted by the likes of George W. Bush in order to justify American intrusion into world affairs and promote the kind of hysterical patriotism he needs to sustain its military adventures.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
In terms of fun, there is this wonderful thing called "hate mail-apalooza." Kos publishes the most ridiculous pieces of hate mail that the site receives. Here are the most fun parts of the recent sample that had me roaring with laughter:
dear socialist fuckstick,
i am well awear of the fact that liberals are immune to logic and reason, but allow me to try to prove to you that you are communist scum thrugh something called the scientific method:
1 a) FACT: you suck obamas cock every chance youget. you defend everythign he does and says and you are nothing more than an apologist. this makes you complicit in obamas actions.
1 b) FACT: obama is a well known socialist. this is evident his policies and his love of SELFDESCRIBED COMMUNISTS LIKE BILL AYERS!!!! so dont thinkthat he can hide his true nature for much longer. he will eventully be exposed and impeached. SOCIALISM CANNOT WORK OR RUSSIA WOULD STILL EXIST AND THEY WOULD NEVER HAVE LOST THE COLD WAR TO REAGAN!!! retard.
1 c) you are thusly a pro forma socialist; whether you like it or not. logic dictates this.
(2) FACT: you, sir, are a illegal immigrant. i dont give two shits whether you are an american citizen or not: you came here on taxpayer expense and you continue to drain our limited resources. you should be ashamed and go back to guatemala or whatever fucking middleeastern asshole you came from and try to sell yor leftwing bullshit there. [. . .]
Even if this is a parody, it's a brilliant one. The Daily Kos site has the entire letter and a very fun poll to go with it.
As I said before, blogging is the future of the news media and of the entertainment industry as well.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Friday, June 26, 2009
So many people are very very angry today. They are angry because of the loss of their savings, because they have suddenly found themselves unemployed, because their house has been taken away from them, because they've been on the job market with no results for months and there is still no prospect of a job in the foreseeable future.
I have no doubt that Dr. Allan, whose main point is to teach people that directing their rage at those who have harmed them is dangerous and wrong, will never have any problem with getting funding for his research. His strategy is great: scare people with the possibility of disease. Since those people who are the angriest right now are also the ones with no medical insurance, it might really work.
I'm not saying that the good doctor is doing this on purpose. It's just that, somehow, he found the right spin he can put on the results of his research. The social (as opposed to medical) value of his data soared.
I'm not a doctor but I disagree with Dr. Allan. Anger is good, it can lead us to very productive things. It can lead us to look at our lives critically and change what we don't like. Behind every movement for social justice there's been a lot of anger. My favorite feminist sticker says "If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention." So, to hell with this doctor's advice. Let's be angry.
"Stop feeding your baby after 10-15 minutes a side? My baby is a slow eater. Why would I deprive him of food? And what's the problem with allowing him some non-nutritive sucking after he's done eating? Breastfeeding is about more than just calories. You have to meet their emotional needs too."
Their emotional needs? Really? Or the sexual needs of an unfulfilled mother who can't get a grown man to suck on her nipples, so she utilizes a poor baby for this purpose? Of course, it's all presented like it's about the baby's needs. It's the baby who enjoys on an emotional level sucking on her nipples. Because the baby told her so.
It's scary to see how people would do anything they please to their children and then justify it all by saying that it's for the children's good.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Every time you turn on Dr. Phil, Oprah, Law and Order, etc. you see suburban parents flapping their hands and clucking about how profoundly sexualized the younger generation is. They discuss the supposed orgies that their children (or somebody's children) participate in with such gusto that you can't fail to wonder whether they are verbalizing their own secret desires. Take, for example, the ridiculous invention of the so-called rainbow parties (Levy, at least, recognizes that it's a myth but doesn't try to identify why and where this myth originated.)
I'm just going to give a couple of examples of how my students see sexuality, so that my readers would understand why I view this massive hysteria about the intense sex lives of American teenagers with the deepest suspicion.
The following story took place in a class I was teaching to high school students. A female student, whose outfit, hairdo, and makeup are of the kind that make people like Levy imagine sex orgies of all kinds, talks about the main character of a short story:
Student: The main character is a prostitute.
Student: She had sex with a guy without being married to him.
Me: But did she take money or anything for sex?
Student: No, it doesn't actually say that but it's obvious she did.
Me: How is that obvious?
Student (triumphant): Why else would she have sex with him??
The next story is one of my pedagogical failures. I never expected the response I got from the students, so I hadn't prepared any arguments for a debate on the subject. We were reading a novel where a woman in her mid-twenties is forced to marry a much older, impotent guy she barely knows in order to avoid dying of starvation. I suggested that this is not a happy ending. Unexpectedly, my undergrads disagreed.
Student: I think it's a pretty happy ending. She has a house now, and food, and she can afford to buy things for herself and her children.
Me: What kind of an existence is this for a young person? No love, no sex, no profession, no social life. Would you be content with this?
Student: But she has a nice man in her life.
Me: A man she doesn't love. A man who can't give her sexual fulfillment.
Student: But he takes care of her!
Me: Like she is a puppy?
Several students at once: It's important to have someone take care of you.
Me: More important than having a happy sexual and emotional life?
Students: Of course!
And to conclude, a sentence from a male student's essay (I'm translating from Spanish but I swear I didn't change a word): "The main character wouldn't have had to have wild sex with his mistress if his wife had gone to the opera with him more often and shown more interest in his hobbies."
A wildly sexual generation. Yeah, right.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
"Oh, the first Russians this season!" says one of the regulars. "They always come in and run out immediately."
This is funny because my boyfriend (who is Russian) and I (who look very Russian without being it) have been here quite a few times. I wonder why we haven't been identified as such in spite of speaking only Russian to each other.
So in order to prove that not all "Russians" are afraid of an anarchist environment, I started speaking very loudly in Russian on my cell phone.
I believe that it's here that Levy's argument fails. Her views become parochial and limited at the point where she sees the current attitude to sexuality almost exclusively as a result of what the 2nd generation feminists did or failed to do. As important as the ideological differences between Jong and Dworkin are for the history of the movement, it doesn't seem like the whole country was sitting there, waiting with bated breath for the resolution of their conflict. I propose that in order to understand the way sexuality is viewed, lived, and enacted in America today, it would be useful to look at the issue from the outside. Not only outside feminist debates, but also from outside the continent itself.
When we were talking about cultural stereotypes with my students, they asked me about the way I had imagined the Americans before moving to the US. I told them that the main stereotypes I had held were that Americans were friendly and sexually repressed. The students were very surprised. They were even more surprised to hear that after living in North America for 11 years, I hadn't found much to contradict these assumptions. My undergrads talked about the American culture as being overly sexually permissive, and even "too sexually liberated" for its own good. I reminded them of abstinence-only sex ed, virginity pledges, purity balls, the fact that Roe v Wade was still not safe (and this conversation took place even before Dr. Tiller's murder), and about all the times when I had to stop them from characterizing women as "slutty" for having more than one sexual partner. When I asked why they thought Americans were "too sexually liberated", my students echoed Ricci Levy by answering that "sex was everywhere" in the form of magazine articles, TV shows, movies, etc.
This is precisely the phenomenon that Levy addresses in Female Chauvinist Pigs. And she makes the same mistake as my students, equating obssessive sex talk with actual sexual liberation. There is a very telling moment in her book when she talks about the Girls Gone Wild series, the favorite whipping horse of those who believe in the "pornification of America." One of the young women who takes part in the show by stripping for the camera "declared proudly" that she was a virgin. Here is the answer to the entire problem. This young woman lives in a society where, instead of a mere physiological fact, virginity is an issue that merits emotional attachment and is something to be proud of. So she goes on the show to enact sexuality, since practicing it is forbidden to her by a repressive society. Girls Gone Wild comes not out of a sexually permissive society, but rather out of a sexually repressive one.
(To be continued).
Monday, June 22, 2009
In her article "Like a Virgin No More," the Newsweek's Kayleen Schaefer takes on modern brides who, instead of being "blushing, virginal and wrapped from head to toe in tulle and lace", are "more vamp than virgin" and "more bold than blushing." In her scandalized observation that on their wedding day most women today are not virgins and have nothing to blush about, Schaefer is several decades too late, so I won't even address her strangely outdated views on brides.
What interests me much more is the refrain that characterizes most of the publications on sex in America. "Our entire culture is loosening up and becoming more sexualized" says Schaefer, echoing Levy, Valenti, and many others. Here is yet again, this peculiarly American belief that talking about sex and performing it equals being sexually liberated. In fact, of course, it's just the opposite. People who create endless variations on the word porn (porny, pornified, porned, pornification, etc.) and people who talk sexuality to death are equally afraid of sex. The strong desire to have sex and the enormous fear of sexuality (Puritanical heritage) produce both the phenomenon Schaefer describes and her response to it.
In order to justify her discomfort with more revealing bridal gowns and "racy bachelorette parties", Schaefer comes up with an extremely belabored explanation for her fears: "While most sociologists agree that women admitting to lust and wanting to be sexually empowered is a good thing, they see a problem with making exhibitionism the centerpiece of the wedding ceremony: it might crowd out other aspects of the marriage." This article is far from being an only attempt to ascribe some social message and meaning to what is simply the author's discomfort with the idea of sex. Schaefer need not worry, however. Everything she describes in her article has as little to do with sexual liberation as her article itself.
Can anybody tell me why every single academic journal (at least, in my discipline) comes up with a list of very peculiar norms of publication? We have our MLA Handbook, why can't we just follow the norms for quoting and bibliography that it suggests? We all know the MLA requirements very well and feel conmofrtable with them. But no, that would make our academic lives way too easy.
When you are used to quoting in a certain format, it's incredibly time-consuming to have to go through an article and redo it according to some weird and inexplicable requirements of a specific journal. And the most upsetting thing is that if they reject your article, you'll have to redo the entire bibliography and all of your quotes for another journal.
A journal where I submitted my most recent article (on Rosa Montero's Temblor as a Neo-Baroque Bildungsroman) wrote to say that it successfully passed the first round of evaluation (whatever that means) but now I have to change the bibliography according to their norms as soon as possible. Why couldn't they first decide whether they accept it and then ask me to do all this work changing it?
So, on this beautiful sunny day I have to be sitting here trying to grasp the intricacies of their unusual system of quoting. I hope it's not for nothing.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Saturday, June 20, 2009
… can be called a number of names: BMV, DMV, or, like in Baltimore, MVA. That’s where you obtain a coveted piece of plastic to get your hands on all kinds of booze, red wines being my favorite (if under 21, you can only use it for the dull task of operating a so-called vehicle).
Naturally, great things do not come easy. Brace yourselves for an exercise in frustration ye who enter this house of misery. Today, on a heavily rainy Saturday morning, I had to make an extra trip home from Gwynn Falls MVA because the real list of required documents turned out to be different from its online version. I’m definitely getting good at it: the last encounter with Indiana’s BMV resulted in two or three extra trips, not one. Yesterday my newly acquired co-workers served me with a few similar “license & registration hunting” stories. What I can’t understand is: USA is the most driving country in the world. All the relevant procedures here must be the least painful, so why aren’t they?***
***This post is brought to you courtesy of a guest reader who wished to remain anonymous.
For example: why not establish on-site daycare facilities in workplaces? The expense would be minimal and the benefits huge. Parents could spend more time with their children, they will concentrate all the better on their work if they can go see that the kid is ok at any point. Employees with children would not try to leave the workplace at 5 p.m. on the dot because they have to get to daycare before it closes. And the government could offer significant tax breaks to companies who do this. If it's true that, as Alberta's Finance Minister claims, children benefit so much from being close to their parents, why isn't she doing anything to promote such measures?
Another set of important measures (also pretty cheap and easy to introduce into the workplace) as proposed by my reader mom of seven: "Better working conditions for nursing mothers, including pumping breaks and pumping rooms. Better maternity leaves to allow them to get breastfeeding well established before they have to return to work. Getting insurance companies to cover things like good quality breastpumps that would allow moms to work AND BREASTFEED." Sounds great, so why isn't anyhting being done about this? Why is it accepted as gospel truth that the only way to rear children is to stick women in the home? The government could reward companies who adopt such measures with tax breaks if it wanted to do something productive for a change..
Friday, June 19, 2009
Still, the idea of legalizing prostitution makes me feel uneasy. If, as this post argues, prostitution could always remain as "merely the exchange of money for sex between two willing individuals" there would be no problem. This is, however, often not the case. Many women are trapped into prostitution by pimps and find it next to impossible to leave the industry when they want. While prostitution is still a crime, they can at least have the hope of denouncing their pimps to the authorities in order to free themselves from exploitation.
Another problem is that I don't see how it will be possible to untie prostitution and drug business in order to legalize the one while considering the other criminal.
Diamonds and buying a woman's body for the price of a diamond seems to be a favorite theme with the chauvinists. I already wrote about a sexist billboard I have seen recently. Now, courtesy of the people at Feministing, I have discovered this gem.
What bothers me in the varied reactions to Evans's statement, is not so much that "socially conservative groups such as the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada applauded Evans for speaking out." They are conservatives, it's their job to ensure that women are subjected and tied to the private sphere for good. What is more annoying is the reaction of progressive groups. For some reason, they decided that the only reason why people have careers is the economy: "Parents are going out to work because they need to afford the fundamentals of life - the basics of food, clothing and shelter." Apparently, the moment we can afford the fundamentals, we will have no reason to keep working. This way of putting it in reality supports the conservative agenda that pushes the image of women as working only out of desperation because there is no big strong man to support them.
Of course, Evans didn't specify the gender of the parent who should be left at home with no professional realization. But with the existing pay gap and within the patriarchal cultural tradition, we all know who those stay-at-home parents would be.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
The really sad part is that the piece provides very interesting and, in my view, important information on the difference between the way the recession treats men and women. There is a lot of data that I was glad to find out. Unfortunately, these facts are accompanied by the journalist's comments and are used to support his blatantly anti-feminist agenda. As a result, it's difficult to take aanything Zincenko says seriously.
This is how Zincenko introduces himself at the beginning of the piece: "someone who has spent his career working to save an endangered species men". Grammatically, the sentence makes very little sense but ideologically it is even harder to comprehend. Men are not separate species, they can't be endangered by themselves. If men are extinct, so will be women.
Zincenko continues to whine about "the endangered male" for a while until he comes to the real root of the problem: women's liberation. Over the past century, he claims, women have gained a lot, while men have lost. The data he provides actually contradicts this statement but who cares about a little thing like facts when you need to promote your ideology. Since most families now have two working adults, Zincenko recognizes, men have a sefety-net in the form of their spouses' salaries and benefits in case they find themselved unemployed. That should be a good thing, right? But, somehow, Zincenko sees this as evidence of male decline.
Next, the journalist proceeds to analyze the reasons for generally lower life-spans for men. This is an incredibly important topic that, in my opinion, should be discussed and researched. Unfortunately, Zincenko comes up with a way to spoil his argument yet again. The reason why there isn't enough research into male health issues, he claims, is that now it's the "payback time" for women. Apparently, the implication is that women are preventing this research from being conducted in order to take revenge on men for centuries of exploitation. Of course, it's hard to take any part of Zincenko's analysis seriously after such paranoid (and extremely badly written) statements.
Another annoying feature of this piece is Zincenko's eagerness to manipulate the facts to boost his conclusions. Men live shorter lives than women, we all know that. There is no need, however, to compare an average lifespan of an African-American man to that of a white woman in an attempt to pretend that race doesn't matter. Black men are likely to live 11 years less than white women not just because they are men but because of racial discrimination they are subjected to their entire lives. Let's not pretend that we don't realize this.
Of course, I'd take an open chauvinist like Zincenko over a fake liberal like Douthat any day of the week. It's sad, however, that wherever one goes for information a little dose of fact is garnished with such an amount of ideology that even hard data become impossible to swallow.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
I have received complaints claiming that I deleted people's comments. This is not true. I have not taken down a single comment. What sometimes happens (especially in busy threads where several people try to participate at once) is that the comment doesn't appear on the first try. Wait for the message "Your comment has been posted" and if it doesn't appear, scroll down to comment form and press "Post comment" again (Your text is usually saved in the comment box, so you won't have to retype it). Once, I had to repeat this operation 6 times before the comment was posted.
If for some reason this doesn't work, send me your comment and I will post it for you. Censorship is not and has never been my goal, so everybody who wants to participate will get a chance.
Today, Maureen Dowd decided to repair her destroyed reputation and came out with a really snarky article that epitomizes fat-shaming. In her op-ed piece "Hold the Fries," she analyzes President Obama's eating habits in order to slip in her tired fat-is-bad message. The main idea of the article: when alone, Obama eats healthy, but when cameras are present he sometimes - oh, the horror, the horror! - consumes hamburgers to cater to the tastes of us, lowly fat people. She writes with reverence about how once "over a three-hour meal, he managed the impossible feat of nibbling only one French fry." The language of the quote is very telling. "Nibbling" is obviously a good thing for this journalist. You can just feel Dowd's admiration flowing. Forget about being elected as a first African-American president in history. The real feat is managing to avoid the fries.
The conclusion of Dowd's article is equally condescending: "Maybe when Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer come next week to broadcast a special on health care from inside the White House, the president should forgo the photo-op of the grease-stained bovine bag and take the TV stars out for what he really wants and America really needs: some steamed fish with a side of snap peas." See how this journalist knows exactly what we need to eat? Her disgust with "grease-stained bovine bags" is palpable. Actually, the word "grease" seems to be an important part of Dowd's vocabulary. A fast-food place for her is necessarily a "greasy spoon."
In short, the message is clear: nibbling good, eating bad. When the President "nibbles" he gets approval, when he eats more than one fry he's a self-promoting hypocrite.
Dowd must believe that without her valuable contribution there isn't enough fat-shaming in the media already. Not enough people suffer from anorexia and bulimia, not enough people hate their bodies and spend their lives looking for the next miracle diet. Let's help the dieting industry grow some more by promoting the image of a popular President as someone who "wants to stay skinny." Dowd has no interest in analyzing how and why the word "skinny" has come to be perceived as invariably positive. Obama wants to be skinny (which might not even be true), so we all should.
As we all know, there has been absolutely no proof that being "skinny" is beneficial to anybody's health. There is, however, more than enough data about the physical and psychological damage fat-shaming causes. Under the false pretense of worrying about the nation's health, Dowd's article (among many many others) causes a lot of harm and benefits no one. Except the companies that push diet pills, of course. I wonder if they thought of sending Dowd flowers. She's trying to boost their profits so hard that she definitely deserves some recognition.
Her main strength, in my view, is the way she writes about characters who are initially slightly eccentric but who gradually experience a descent into insanity. The writing is really good, the plots are gripping. She achieves that, however, not so much through action as through atteention to character development. Rendell doesn't write about car chases or the mafia. She doesn't pile on bodies or go for gory details. The tension in her novels mounts slowly but inexorably. The characters she creates are among the most memorable you will ever encounter. Rendell's books are not about shocking the readers, they are about showing us the horrors that often hide behind the mundane, the ordinary, the seemingly insignificant.
Monday, June 15, 2009
Pregnancy books are not the only source striving to bully women into breastfeeding. Recently, a new study has appeared linking breastfeeding with academic success. These studies crop up every two seconds, and each one sounds more hilarious than the previous one. Here is the main conclusion of this particular study:
"The study, published in the Journal of Human Capital, found that an additional month of breastfeeding was associated with an increase in high school grade point averages of 0.019 points and an increase in the probability of college attendance of 0.014."
Wow, if only my mother managed to breastfeed me, imagine what heights of academic achievement I might have accomplished. I mean, 0.019 and 0.014 points, that's some serious shit, people. Don't even think of depriving your child of these precious 0.014 points.
I have absolutely nothing whatsoever against breastfeeding. What annoys me, though, is seeing how difficult it is for everybody to just let women decide for themselves. The study I'm quoting based its conclusions on 126 children and arrived at 0.019 and 0.014 points. Doesn't this sound like a statistically negligible result? Is this kind of data really so conclusive and definitive that it needs to be published everywhere? It basically tells us nothing. But how on earth can we forego one more chance to tell women what to do?
So, why do we agree to pay the ultimate price for the illusion of identity? Obviously, nobody would engage in all these violent and self-mutilating practices for nothing. The most evident reason is that collective identity frees us - at least momentarily - from our cosmic loneliness. The illusion of not being alone in the universe is so precious that giving up reason does not seem such a huge price to pay.
However, this isn't all. I believe that the strongest lure of collective identity resides in the fact that it liberates it from the painful burden of our individuality. Subscribe to a group agenda and - voilà, no need to think, elaborate your own position, struggle with contradictions, etc. At the same time, the group will shoulder the responsibility for everything. You can have a point of view, a discourse, an agenda, and a ready-made enemy. And you will not even have to bear responsibility for any of it. No wonder that people would defend their collective identifications hysterically.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Michel Foucault offers the following definition of the "aesthetics of existence": "Those intentional and voluntary actions by which men not only set themselves rules of conduct, but also seek to transform themselves, to change themselves in their singular being, and to make their life into an oeuvre that carries certain aesthetic values and meets certain stylistic criteria." Practice of life as an artistic endeavor is a very engaging concept. Every day in our lives consists of a multitude of little mundane actions and events. Turning them into tiny pieces of art, probably indiscernible to any one other than yourself, but nonetheless beautiful, is a great idea.
In her novel Temblor, Rosa Montero proposes the vision of life as a cruel interplay of blind unpredictable forces of pure chance. This Spanish writer is, of course, far from being the only thinker terrified by the seeming lack of control we as human beings have over our universe. Why else would Taleb's The Black Swan sell as well as it does even years after its original publication?
Foucault's idea of life as an oeuvre where we can choose the artistic style of our creation is one way to combat the feeling of impotence one might experience in view of life's apparent unpredictability.
We just moved from Indiana to Baltimore. It's great to be in a big city again, especially one as beautiful as this.
When I first started living in New Haven, I had to get used to the sensory deprivation that awaits everyone coming from a large city to a small town. The absence of noise, colors, variety of people, places, impressions were very traumatic. Today, in Baltimore, I've had a chance to remember everything that I lost years ago when I started living in small towns.
One thing, however, that Baltimore shares with small towns is how nice everybody is. It's rare to experience such level of warmth and hospitality among city dwellers.
There's also been a really great surprise for me: it turns out that I will be living right around the corner from Red Emma's. Life is beautiful!
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Thursday, June 11, 2009
The candidate selection process in the academia is very arduous. Often, however, candidates don't know that they are invited to campus interviews purely for show. The decision to give the job to a spouse has been made already and - after putting the candidates through several circles of hell - they are just simply rejected. The candidates think that something is wrong with their job talk or maybe that they are not good enough and don't know that the only reason for the rejection is that the job was needed for someone else. Often, for someone who has few (if any) qualifications for the position.
The saddest part is that the students (who pay a lot of money for their education) have no idea about who is teaching them. I've often had students come up to me saying: "You told us this and that while Professor X is teaching us otherwise." And I can't even tell them that Professor X is not really a professor and is simply not qualified to teach this subject.
As an academic, I can understand as well as the next person the desire to have your partner close to you. I don't think, however, that either my colleagues or my students should pay the price for my personal happiness.
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Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Now that I am a teacher myself, I know that nothing makes me happier than to hear one of my students say: "You know, I've been thinking, and what you said is completely wrong." My goal as an educator is not to create acquiescent little clones who bow their heads to my authority and repeat: "Whatever you say, Professor."
Dissent and discussion are crucial to promoting knowledge. They are also lots of fun. If everyone agrees about everything, then what is the point of talking? Somebody I love even prepares a list of controversial topics before she goes out to meet friends. She doesn't want to sit there, exchanging platitudes for hours. Instead, she hopes to promote engaging conversations where everyone expresses themselves freely and leaves thinking about important issues.
When I was 12, my father once heard me listen to something an important writer said on TV and saying "I agree with him completely." My father gave me a 4-hour speech on how wrong it is to agree with even the biggest authority before you've taken the time to reflect and form your own opinion. This is what it means to have your own worldview: you don't subscibe to the point of view of any authority figure, political party, or reference group. You reflect, form your point of view, exchange it with people, argue, debate, modify your opinion. I admire President Obama and I cried for joy when he was elected, but I disagree with about half of his decisions. I think Juan Goytisolo is the greatest writer of the XXth century, but I dislike his ideology in many ways. I admire Terry Eagleton as a critic but I keep talking about his profound theoretical and personal limitations.
When everybody agrees, intellectual life, thinking and generating new ideas simply die. When people start to self-censor for fear of appearing "intolerant," we find ourselves in a really sad situation where nobody dares to express themselves for fear of offending somebody's sensibilities. What is truly offensive, though, is not dissent, but rather faked agreement that's forced and, by its very nature, dishonest.
I'm very thankful to my readers who come here to express their opinions. Especially those who disagree and give me food for thought. V. who is a regular participant and also a friend - you always make me think, thank you for that. Three anonymous participants (you guys know who you are and I love you to bits). NancyP who is a very interesting person, I have never met you but I respect you deeply. My reader, the Brandeisian, thank you so much for giving me information I wouldn't otherwise get. Pretzelboy and Allison, you guys are interesting people, who are always informative and polite, I'm glad I got to talk to you. Thank you, my friends!
It is, however, deeply saddening to see how many people there are that dedicate a significant amount of time and effort to quashing any kind of dissent. I follow a number of progressive blogs that keep me informed on important issues so much better than TV news and print media (DailyKos, BitchPhD, and Femenisting are my favorite at this point).
However, engaging in a discussion on these sites is often difficult. There is always a group of well-meaning fanatics, who strive to promote what they see as the "party line." Anything they perceive as dissent is swiftly castigated. As I have recently discovered, they would even follow you to your own blog to scream insults at you. They wouldn't even attempt to read what you are actually saying before they start accusing you of every abomination under the sun. The saddest part is that they hide their censorship itch underneath the mantle of tolerance, acceptance, and political correctness.
In the discussion about Asexuality, I learned important things from smart, interesting, well-informed, and reasonable people. I have also learned that anger, censorhip, and the desire to quash dissent come in all shapes and sizes. Sadly, they often come from those who see themselves as liberal and feminist and who unfortunately fail to see how similar they are in their hatred of dissent and difference of opinion from the ostensibly (but in truth not really) dwindling McCain/Palin camp.
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When I enter a baby clothes store, I always intuitively feel that something is wrong. On closer inspection, I realize that it's the nearly total absence of any space between the pink for girls and the blue for boys (plus matching gender-codified paraphernalia). Among the inundation of pink and blue outfits, you can find things in different colors. These clothes, however, go out of their way to signal gender in some other way.
This is sad because we are talking about very little kids. Why do we have to tell them from the very day they are born that there is no space we are willing to allow for anybody but girly girls in pink with frills and pictures of fluffy kittens and manly boys with pictures of racecars, footballs, and bikes on their shirts?
Enlightened parents (such as the couple for whom I was trying to buy baby clothes), who cringe at the idea of moving exclusively within the blue/pink dichotomy, have real trouble finding decent clothes for their baby that don't scream gender.
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Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Unlike reasonable, enlightened, healthy men with satisfying personal lives (such as President Obama obviously is), Douthat can't concede that women are capable of deciding what happens within their bodies for themselves. He feels that, in spite of not being likely to get pregnant any time soon, he needs to have an opinion on pregnancies. He speaks at length of the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy pregnancy in an attempt to convince his readers that he, Douthat, and not the actual pregnant women and their doctors are better qualified to make that distinction.
He also joins the group of those who try to justify Dr. Tiller's assassination by suggesting that Dr. Tiller performed abortions "on healthy mothers and healthy fetuses." Yet again, I highly doubt thaat Douthat saw these women or these fetuses. He does, however, consider himself qualified to diagnose a group of people he has never seen. And all this just in order to suggest that Dr. Tiller has actually deserved being murdered.
The goal of this piece is to suggest that abortion be "returned to the democratic process." What that means for a virulent chauvinist like Douthat is that we should stop the discussion of third-trimester medical exemptions and move on to the attempt to prohibit second-trimester abortions. Can anybody guess what the next step would be?
Of course, a possibility of stopping any discussion of third, second or first term abortions in order to leave this decision to women and their doctors is too painful for Douthat to contemplate. Women, deciding what to do with their bodies??? Never! Mr. Douthat can make that decision so much better.
Why is Douthat incapable of accepting that women can make reasonable, intelligent, well-informed decisions about their own bodies? I can't help suspecting that the reason lies in this individual's personal history with women. If he accepts this, he will also have to accept that all the women who denied access to their bodies to him (many, many women, judging from his level of hatred) did this because they are unreasonable, stupid, and don't know what's best for them.
P.S. Here is a link to an article by the talented Jodi Jacobson exposing Douthat's lies and distorions.
In its capacity of an imagined community (Benedict Anderson's definition), collective identities need to create feelings of common interests and solidarity between people who have never met. This is, of course, a project that cannot be carried out through reason and logic. Applying the light of reason to identity will lead to its destruction. So, what's left? Emotions, feelings, passions. You manage to make people emotionally attached to their identity, and they will never stop to analyze its failings.
One of the easiest ways of creating emotional attachment to an imagined community is by fostering a sense of a common grievance. If the persecuting Other does not exist you need to create it. There cannot possibly be a collective identity without an Other (both external and internal).
After the Other is created (or chosen), you need to ascribe a certain set of characteristics and a certain discourse to it. Usually, the Other serves as a site onto which you can project the desires, the beliefs, the actions that are your own but that you don't wish to recognize in yourself. Think about the whole "Jews are greedy" stereotype. This characterization has nothing to do with the Jews. It has to do with non-Jewish people wanting to distance themselves from being perceived as greedy.
After the Other is located (or, rather, appointed) and endowed with a set of characteristics, you need to create the narrative of oppression. It doesn't matter how much grounding in reality it has (it can have a lot or none at all). What matters is that it should be as incendiary as possible. In view of a common grievance, people will put aside their differences and unite around what they perceive as a shared slight.
But what's wrong with this? one might ask. People will unite and defend their collective interests. That certainly sounds as a good thing.
Well, first of all, who's going to say if they have common interests and what those might be? And then, what do we do with the Other that we created and turned into the sum of all evils? And that our group now hates so deeply? Remember, we had to abandon reason and logic in order to create our group identity in the first place. How can we now hope to turn reason back on in order to promote a political agenda that will be REASONABLY satisfying to all of us?
(To be continued).
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