On Getting Your Professors Fired

On Getting Your Professors Fired

You, who are tearing down for justice,
it is one of our final duties
to be convicted for the crime
of outliving our convictions.
You, who will not read the rest of this poem for awhile,
it is one of our final blessings
to be gone before your fire examines itself
and loses its desire for oxygen.

You, who will take our place,
it is one of your final duties
to return to this poem because you fear
the kids are not alright.
You, who will write a poem,
it is one of your final blessings to recognize:
the fire burns both ways,
the kids have never been alright.

They have no way to teach you. Nor can you show them
the slow maw of adulthood.

Media Non-Fiction

Walking With The Wounded


And you used to speak so easy

I have been listening to “Wounded” by Third Eye Blind and considering what would happen if that song came out now. A group of white men recorded a song about how the speaker would like to be intimate with a survivor, and how he wishes she could come back from the dark place she is in. The feminist critiques that spring to mind are numerous, but all revolve around the same principle – centering the white male gaze in the story of a woman who has been the victim of sexual abuse. Is it fair to say that’s what the song is about? Is that even the right question, is it fair.. does this explanation meet the guidelines of what the normative imaginary finds comfortable? Is that how you ask, “what does this song mean?”

I found this big nerd when I was looking up the lyrics to the song (because it sucks when you write a whole long thing on the basis of lyrics you completely misheard, right?), and he argues that we can expand this notion of relating to a victim to relating to the victim aspect in all people, up to and including the ways in which we are victimized or even victimize ourselves.


You’re afraid to talk to me.

Mirroring this rejection of acceptability politics (whatever the fuck) is a different, more fragile idea. I have an instinctive feeling that despite the elegance of the argument about the white male gaze, there is something fundamentally dishonest about dismissing the experience of being proximal to pain. Not only because of the emotional labor that a person does in the presence of pain, but rather because we are all in pain, and near as we are to each other, we are nearest to ourselves.

It seems to me that we live with two contradictory truths. The first is that pain is a temporary handicap that quarantines a person from serious personhood for its duration. We accommodate people in pain until they are “on their feet again,” and in return we know that when we are suffering, we have that same network to fall back on.

The second truth is that there’s nothing temporary, nor selective about living with pain; we are all doing it all of the time.  We must consider people seriously even as we accommodate them without any end point in sight, outside of death itself.

The confusing tangle this contradiction makes of what we think we might be, and the relationship of that to what we claim to be, is at the center of being in the world. I have a feeling you know what I mean, that like me, you have at least some dim awareness that there may be parts of us that we ourselves have to meet. Call it the divine notion of a soul, call it the Kantian idea of things as-they-are vs. things-as-we-see-them, call it marketing psychology, call it individuation. We try calling it a lot of things, but there’s something lost in the systematization of self-encounter.

Specifically, in the quest for the freest will, a kind of control that is naturally beyond the scope of what we are capable, but which we are assured is our right and the thing most worth fighting for, we lose the ability to recognize pain we do not want because its very presence indicates a lack of control. Perhaps it’s better to say, we refuse to recognize pain we did not make. Perhaps it’s best to say we are afraid to face reflective pain – the existential pain that reflects back from the plain of our souls, like sunshine on snow.



It’s like walking with the wounded

The point is precisely that it is a matter of course, of every day happening, that we meet each other and ourselves amidst pain. It is difficult to countenance and yet brutally true that even the best public dialog has an obscuring property, something that is left in the dark in order to highlight something else. Right now our society is dominated by conversations about power and equality and these are important ideas. What they obscure, by definition, is the socially indiscriminate — those phenomena which do not privilege anyone, cannot have anything to do with political equality or anything man made at all. Existential pain is one such thing, there is no human structure that can prevent it, and no institution that can ensure it is doled out equally.

When confronted with public debates about political privilege, I fail myself and everyone else when I do not raise the point that to not take into consideration the pain that is not created by us is to fail all of us. I don’t bring it up in part because it’s difficult to say without sounding like an utter cliche. “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”


Carrying that weight way too far, concrete pulled you down so hard

It seems as though a significant percentage of Americans in post-X generations take as an assumption that political justice speaks to or solves the personal struggle of being in an unjust world. To which we have to face two different and difficult truths: the first is that the injustice in experience — when something bad happens to you or something feels bad for reasons that are not or mostly not your fault — cannot be solved by just systems, because the injustice is endemic to nature. Justice is a human notion. Older religions seemed to acknowledge this: they valued people who were clever, or survivors, over the virtuous and the kind.  It may even be true that religious notions which downplay these traits were originally politically motivated to engender subservience.  That is, not that some divine will wants people to be subservient, but rather the political machinations of man made religious institutions might want that. Either way, this leads to the second, more devastating truth: whatever conditions are responsible for the logic that social justice is the same as personal well being deprive us of what leads to genuine well being, human connection. Let me be clear: the logic of social justice works against the emotional sense of homecoming and home-being that arises from feeling close to other people.  It’s not necessarily intentional because the work of social justice often involves the deconstruction of comfort, but it can be intentional. To wit, any time anyone suggests that you should endeavor to remain actively angry all of the time, that is a rather obvious incitement to be unhappy.

That isn’t to say that social justice is meaningless or that working towards a more just society is futile, or will make everyone unhappy. Rather, it is to say that the work towards social justice is not the same as the work towards feeling at home in yourself and the world. The latter is accomplished through the familiar human connection of companionship and camaraderie. Acts of friendship as opposed to activism. If you try to turn your own personal struggles into the structures of social justice, you will do yourself a grave injustice. Give yourself permission to love across the boundaries of partisanship. I specifically mention friendship here because it is the most universal kind of love that is still particular in each instance — no two friendships are the same, and people who are very different from each other can develop close friendships. Friendship is to homecoming what partisanship is to representing.  Right? So your political views speak to what you represent, and your friendships speak to the home you build yourself in the society where you are.

It’s easy to silo this distinction — we get personal satisfaction from friends and societal well being from politics — and call it a day, but that is to overlook an extremely important point, which is that existential pain is mixed up in both struggles, the one for belonging and the one for justice. It might seem like it should follow that a just society relieves existential pain by literally making it easier to exist. But ease is not the axis upon which we tend to value our existential being. How we do measure that value is complex but what is unquestionably true is that it it is bound up with the feeling that we are, personally, recognized — that we are known — and simultaneously that we can recognize, that we can know others. This kind of personal connection cannot be replaced with political solidarity, and when we try to do so, we build into the fabric of our society a tendency towards carrying pain around that we are not allowed to claim because it would be “unjust.”

For example, it is unjust for the speaker in “Wounded” to center his own desire to be close to a woman who has been victimized instead of centering her needs. That is the political read, the personal one will seem intuitively obvious to us: he was close to someone who was hurt badly and whose relationship with him has been hurt as a result, and that sucks for him, too. Both of these reads highlight something important about experience, both are methods for approaching pain. It seems as though it is taken as an assumption that personal happiness is secondary to, or less important than, social justice. This view offers us a false dichotomy, it is not one or the other, it cannot be. Achieving justice is important. Achieving happiness, where happiness is defined as a sense of belonging and comfort with oneself, is not the same thing and often requires us to see past narratives of political privilege and power, to validate the battle each person is fighting.


Out there with the wounded, we’re missing you.

Having established, I hope, that it’s okay to be in pain, it’s okay to recognize that pain, and it’s okay to recognize each other’s pain, regardless of any kind of question of justice, I think there is something offered here that can be taken as a comfort. I mention this because I understand that stepping back and saying, hey hold on a minute, this pain of being is endemic to my experience, it is not going to go away when we achieve political equality, is, in a way, a little bit crap. Maybe it’s not ideal that pain is something we carry around all the time, and maybe it sucks that it turns out the answer isn’t solidarity, or worse, that there may not be an “answer.” Not countering, but possibly altering our perspective on the notion of unavoidable, unending pain — that is a condition of existential being — is an idea I have that we naturally seek and share our existential concerns as a way of building intimacy between each other. Even though there is an aspect of homecoming that is coming home to the pain that perhaps was obfuscated or avoided via the rhetoric of politics, that same pain can be the catalyst to its opposite, the feeling that you are, without a doubt, exactly where you’re supposed to be.

It resonates with my experiences and understanding of the world to say that there is a way in which covering up or not acknowledging that kind of personal pain not only makes you lonelier but actually contributes to a general sense of fragmentation among the people you come into contact with. To wit, when you first realize that there are certain things you can’t say or believe, certain ways you cannot be, if you want to be loved in any situation, it’s going to be alienating. Sometimes that’s unavoidable, because every person really does have their boundaries, of course, but there’s a particular interaction in which it is clear that one person has bought into a set of ideas that he or she is repping — not a case of personal discomfort but rather a form of apologetics, “I refuse to meet you where you are because I have to justify my political ideology.” This moment is fraught intellectually as the focal question arises: why are we attempting to replace the personal experience of homecoming with the political experience of solidarity? But it’s also fraught in the basic, emotional way that a rejection is always fraught: “you can’t come in, you’re not welcome here” is a message that leaves the people who receive it more alone in their battles. Again, sometimes this rejection is necessary, and when that is the case, it is ultimately for the good, but where it is because we are rejecting emotional honesty as a whole, it only creates more fragmentation, more alienation, more loneliness. And we notice, whether we realize it or not, and we miss those potential connections that never had a chance to be.


Well I never claimed to understand what happens after dark
But my fingers catch the sparks at the thought of touching you
When you’re wounded

We are all in the dark, we are all wounded, we are all reaching for each other.

Media Non-Fiction

Twitter, Speech, and Flame War

Lately, as many of you who follow me on the Facebox are aware, I have been spending a lot of time with the alt right on Twitter. I made an alt account just to chill with them for awhile and see what the what is. I’m learning a lot, but one of the things I’m learning that is unrelated to political content is that Twitter is actually design for flame wars more than anything else.

In the first place, they don’t ban IP addresses. One user I came across is on his 245th (yeah, two hundred and fourty fifth) account because he doxes people (in retaliation, he claims).

In the second place, it’s possible to read the tweets of someone you blocked. That is, you can block a particular user and still follow them, but only by visiting their personal twitter timeline (not on your feed). I imagine Twitter’s line of thought was if, say, you’re being doxed or otherwise harassed, you might want to block the person but still be able to see what they’re planning/doing for safety purposes. But this lends itself perfectly to spying and it can turn into an obsession pretty easily if you’re at all fragile, which we must assume that people blocking other people already might be.

In the third place, Twitter instituted a 12 hour suspension rule, where it tells you that you have a have a 12 hour countdown which will begin after you delete the tweets it points out to you as violating policy. This rule is designed for people who break Twitter’s posting policy with one or two tweets but not as an account generally. However, the paternalistic ritual of making users delete their tweets is bound to humiliate a statistically significant percentage of folks and they’ll come back 12 hours later angrier than they left.

In the fourth place, and maybe this is so obvious, it gets overlooked: when you limit a post to 140 characters, you limit the possible depth of the conversation.

The combination of these things: permabans that can be gotten around easily, blocks that aren’t two-way, hand slapping with temporary suspensions, and the extreme limit on length makes it perfect for jabbing, and provides the incentive to jab, too.

It’s the perfect flame war machine. It’s beautiful in a sadistic way.


This Should be an Essay

This Should be an Essay

I want to say that I feel your absence but I think
I feel the absence of recognition
You make bad poetry out of the best prose, falling apart
halfway through a thought

like you put the “fucked up” in “fucked up.”
or maybe it’s just the “uck.”

Anyway, maybe it’s better sense to pretend
you make sense, that everything is just the lens
it kind of offends but hey it’s something or
not nothing which is better than yawning gaps,
titty slaps, all the people steeple your moments
make churches out of faps yeah I see them too
and true it’s hard to construe the difference
between sin and bullshit penance

It’s no use having a thought anymore
if it doesn’t feel right, it is therefore
a matter of shame.  I learned
this is what tolerance means

I watch my friends from before
steel for a fight, can’t ignore
things aren’t the same, they burned
bridges to build teams.

We put the “ow” in how we
talk about how to be

And your states become algorithms
Fascinated little machines
audio out, audio in
claims and screams

Dear Diary Humanities & Social Thought Non-Fiction

American Grownups: Morality and Accountability for Privileged Adults in the U.S.A.

On my 31st birthday, I’ve learned to refrain from the temptation of feigning earnestness. I want to talk about compromise. Specifically, I want to talk about the compromise that is living better than other people live, despite knowing that other people are living in worse conditions. I want to talk about the relationship of that compromise to the accountability of adulthood.

I am a petty person, which means I take small things very seriously. I take small things very seriously because they feel very serious to me. The good news is that since I have a lot of experience blowing things out of proportion, I have a good handle on what the experience of white male privilege is like; I know what it’s like to feel that something is very unfair despite it really being absolutely nothing compared to larger injustices. I also know the rhetorical response to this backwards and forwards, and I know why it doesn’t work. I know why shaming Neo-Nazis and Nazism doesn’t get rid of Neo-Nazis or Nazism.  It doesn’t work because the experience of something being very unfair is real, regardless of whether or not you think it should be. That’s not a moral position, that’s a recognition of a central truth about being in the world, namely that being for us is entirely inside our own experience, and thus experience is the shape of our own reality. I talk about Kant a lot, because he’s my go-to example about the kind of slow, meticulous thought that we’re losing. But he comes to mind now in the middle of this Heideggerian gobblygook because Kant’s critiques taught me how to think about various phenomena in terms of their limits. What are the limits of experience?

Today, every internet article is supposed to be read as a come to Jesus moment, revealing some great organizing truth. And I don’t object to these articles because I think I’m more right or better than their writers. I object to them because they’re boring, masturbatory performances that stink of the overestimation of their own moral jurisdiction. The judgment of the Left is meaningless in the face of experience; it doesn’t matter that you think that white guy doesn’t get to feel lonely. He’s going to feel lonely anyway and the deeper down he hides it, the more likely it is to turn into something that explodes, something that can’t be ignored. The greatest limit of experience is its limit on what you can be. Any belief that you have transcended your own experience is an illusion inside your own experience. There is no you outside of your experience, but there also is no world, there also is no anybody else. The limits of your experience are the same as the limits of your reality. That’s why the experience of white dudes that seems so blown out of proportion from the outside can radicalize from the inside – it’s proportional, just not to the reality you experience.

I am laying this out starkly, but none of this is news. You already knew that telling someone their feelings don’t matter isn’t going to stop them from having those feelings. You already knew that shaming them for their feelings wasn’t going to end white supremacy. And you already knew that experience was relative, that the alienation white dudes feel might consume them even though a God’s eye view may not grant them the right to get consumed. No amount of articulating the fact that we know these things, or feeling bad about them, or performing our guilt about it, will do anything except try public patience. It’s simply and utterly childish.  And you know that we can’t simply decide to discard our privilege. We have to use it on behalf of people with less privilege. That’s the accountability of American adulthood. What does it mean to use our privilege well? What does it mean to be an American grownup?

It means blowing up the false dichotomy of there being a central dichotomy. The world is complicated, people are complicated, and there are many sides to every issue. By many, I mean way more than two. The in crowd and the out crowd was a high school idea, at the latest. Time to put that one to bed.

It means differentiating between experience and perspective. You can have enough perspective to know that yours is not the only experience, but there will never be enough perspective to let you make someone else’s experience take the place of your own in guiding you. Let that ship sail.

It means recognizing the supremacy of primacy. That is to say, you will experience a “normal” that will not be shared by everyone that will provide you with default functionality. All things are not equal, you will unconsciously give more weight to certain ides and behaviors than others, because they support the structures of your “normal.” The primacy of a “normal” cannot be avoided without absolute dysfunction.

It means constructing without shame. Your life will be guided by a series of social constructs that you contribute to and help maintain. You cannot exist merely in the rubble of social construct, because social construction is what enables functionality in a social society. Yet no social construct is entirely inclusive; you will contribute to the alienation of others and so will they.

It means owning that no kind of political identity category that you or anyone else belong(s) to can substitute for actual identity, which has at its heart is your personality, which persists. The things that make you an individual matter. The straight, white, rich dude who is spreading his legs when he sits on the bus and insisting on the existence of his own alienation is more than the cis-het-patriarchy because he is less than it, too. Political identity categories don’t shoot up churches, or march in Charlottesville, or hide their emotions because they’ve been shamed; people, individuals with individual personalities, do.  Political identity categories don’t live in high crime neighborhoods, or get murdered by police, or get paid less for the same job, or have a harder time getting health coverage; people, individuals with individual personalities, do. That is to say: the fact of a a true condition of society does not itself give you permission to stop acknowledging that you are bringing the individuality of personality to bear on what is happening, and it does not give you permission to forget that you are showing up for people, not just categories of people.

It means showing up anyway. Despite the fact that you can’t center someone else’s experience, despite the fact you’re not going to make social change by having the right views, despite the fact that your sorrow or guilt over your own privilege is actually meaningless, despite the fact that showing up has absolutely nothing to do with you or your identity in any way, despite the fact that the struggle of being an individual would continue even if the struggle of being part of a group were to cease, you have to show up. You have to speak up for the rights of others so that they’ll be there to speak up when it’s your turn. It’s not a moral act, it doesn’t really speak to your character, except to reveal whether or not you’ve grown up. Unfortunately, the world and the people in it are far too messy to make human rights or civil rights a question of morals or a question of identity. They are neither of those things. They’re a question of process, a commitment to show up over and over and over again. That’s it. There’s nothing else there. In the face of this, it is often tempting to turn that process into a moral endeavor but all that does is make the process less accessible. In other words, turning the process of showing up into a question of morals is itself immoral. It does not matter one little bit what you believe. If you’re a grownup, you’ll show up.

Humanities & Social Thought Non-Fiction

Do You Exist? (Or: The Deconstruction of Being)

I was recently reflecting on the relationship between the idea that we are a product of our conditions and personal experience.
I came to this when I was watching the newest season of House of Cards with a friend and [spoilers] we were watching the break down of Will Conway, the opponent of Kevin Spacey’s character in the U.S. presidential election. In the show, knowing that he can’t win a straight election, Spacey’s character manipulates the situation to stay in office and drag out the election for months, and this eventually leads to the psychological breakdown of his opponent. I expressed some sympathy for Conway and my friend said, “Who cares? He’s still a rich, white guy.” And that got me thinking: who does care about the significance of experience outside of the context of identity politics? Who recognizes it? If nobody does, does it exist? Outside of the political categories to which I belong, do I exist? (At this point my thoughts veer away from the specific conversation about House of Cards; please do not read the rest of this essay as a commentary on my friend)

In this new context of thinking about what is and is not real, I suddenly realized there’s a through line here: erasure of actual experience in favor of representational meaning is a bipartisan effort, recently made famous by Trump. If it doesn’t matter what you experience unless it can be categorized politically, then there’s no you anymore, you have been abstracted into broader categories of  identity over which you have little to no control, and absolutely no authority. Nobody can speak to your experience, so the saying goes, but it seems to have an unspoken second half: and therefore, nobody acknowledges it.  Cuz if a white guy’s whiteness and guyness erase his experience — that is, if categories of political identity are the only way to measure what is happening in the world — then it doesn’t matter what happens, it only matters how we label what happens. And that way of measuring the real is actually the baby of the Left, although it is currently being fostered by the Right. Mommy and daddy don’t get along, but they’re both parents of this thing, now.

The Left, within its own, has tolerated for far too long this stubborn refusal to acknowledge and uplift the role that experience plays in Being, and consequently, the role that Being plays in creating the conditions in which we live together.  The pinnacle of this moment is the President himself, who does not acknowledge experience, meeting the Left on its own chosen battleground: naming what we see. It was, I am beginning to see, only a matter of time before the Right figured this out; if the only thing the Left measures meaning with is labels, the only thing they have to challenge are the labels. They don’t have to get into the experience of being sexually harassed, they just have to claim that the name for it is something besides sexual harassment. And so on, and so forth.

All of this is very interesting but it actually isn’t even the crux of the point.  The take home message here is not actually political, it’s deeply personal. Jean Baudrillard, in his famous work, Simulacra and Simulationargues that when we replace meaning with symbols that point to meaning, e.g. when we use a label like “man” to define the experience of a man, we cease to be, and instead, become a mere simulation of being. (For him, we already had by 1981 when this was published.) I want to suggest that this critique carries far more weight for each of us personally than it does for all of us communally, because the consequence is that while we only exist as a function, you don’t exist at all. There is no part of you anymore that’s you, it’s all some subset of we. 

I try to avoid prescription, but I think there’s something to be said for taking some time to pay attention to the parts of your conception of yourself that are not direct products of your political identity, and then to extend that lens to the world. What would a dead, rich white guy in North Korea look like that through that lens? What would your best friend look like? Your worst enemy? Your family? You? Do you exist?

Humanities & Social Thought Non-Fiction Uncategorized

The Case Against Narcissism: Donald Trump and the Horror of Being

About a year ago, I came across an article about how mindfulness can be bad for middle class white people sometimes. At the time, I was taken aback by the sheer hubris of The Guardian writing a “story” about this- like, you can just imagine them “recovering” over their Starbucks Vente Soy No-Whip Chai Lattes, right? But in the wake of the Trump presidency, and the growing question of what it means to be accountable and to whom one is accountable, the same article floated back into my mind, framed somewhat differently: can the simple condition of awareness cause pain?


In my own, brief existence, there has never been a moment when it is clearer that we are what we believe, and that those beliefs together produce a reality in which each of us individually must exist. This observation has taken the political world stage as we watch Donald Trump go to town on this thing we think of as “truth.”  But it would be naïve to assume that this phenomenon has suddenly sprung into existence. Rather, Trump calls our attention to this collective act of being by rejecting it outright. In the analysis of why Trump rejects consistency, most media and individuals have concluded that it must be because he doesn’t want to acknowledge anything that might reflect badly on him, or his brand. His fragility and defensiveness, his overly literal solutions (such as the wall and the ban), and his overly literal measurements of what is allowable (when he doesn’t pay people or businesses he hires, when he talks about assaulting women),  are all taken as evidence that Donald Trump is mainly interested in Donald Trump. I would like to assert the opposite: Donald Trump is on the run from Donald Trump.

Martin Heidegger, author of Being and Time, is famous for two things- for introducing the idea that we, humans, are concerned with being, and for being a Nazi. How, one often wonders, do the people who have so much insight into the human condition always end up being such lousy examples of human beings themselves? It may be that those who are most sensitive to world disclosure are the same as those who generally make the conditions of the lives of the people around them worse.

World disclosure, identified by Heidegger in Being and Time, is the process by which any entity (living or non) gains meaning. However, the warning here is that this is not the cultural notion of meaning. Rather, it refers to becoming intelligible in the world.  The assumption here is that an entity’s existence does not automatically make it intelligible. A baby looks at many things and few of them are disclosed to it, in the sense of “world disclosure.”

And yet, moving beyond Heidegger perhaps, although certainly still to do with being, a human is unique among entities, for at the same time he is disclosed to the world, that is the moment when he becomes complicit.

There’s that word again, that seems to rise like a tide of self righteous anger: complicit. Still, it’s worth remembering that we are complicit not only in suffering, but in the all. And perhaps that is still terrifying, but it’s a different kid of terrifying. Just a few days ago, an article was rising on this tide and floating through my feeds. The woke misogynist, this article argued, was the guy who identified as feminist, even spoke like a woke man, but was in the end, merely a hypocrite, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, undeniably Part Of The Problem. And, bracketing the grievous act of sexual assault for the moment, we are confronted with a question that this article shies away from addressing: in the messy relationship between ideology and practice, what does it mean to be? For the unspoken rare universal truth is that no human escapes the grasp of hypocrisy entirely, we all struggle to embody the change we want to see in the world, and we all fail sometimes. The question here is not, “should we forgive someone who commits sexual assault if he’s really a feminist who just slipped up,” no, the question is “who or what is a feminist accountable to?” And put as the philosophical question that underlies the practical question, “what is accountability?”

There seem to be two conflicting definitions. The first is the degree to which a person’s deeds match the belief sets they explicitly subscribe to, and the second is the degree to which a person shows up for and on behalf of other people. These are not the same thing by a long shot. The former, the consistency between a person’s alleged belief sets and his actions, is measured most often by the category of potential victim: feminist accountability is judged by women, anti-racist accountability by people of color, and so on. This measurement is then adopted by the larger group as a social conviction.  The latter, the comprehensiveness with which one is accountable to other people, is measured through the response one has to the expression of experience by another. This latter definition requires first the ownership of experience, and second the expression thereof not couched in any kind of rhetoric, but rather true because by definition, experience cannot be false. We cannot have false experiences, and in expression, they are only false if we are lying. To take the tremendously upsetting example from the article as a way of showing this point, the experience of sexually assaulting someone may not be that of committing a sexual assault, even if that is exactly what is happening. If a perpetrator of sexual assault says, “I did not experience sexually assaulting someone,” that is true. If he says, “I did not sexually assault someone,” that is false. The question here is not, “should we forgive someone who commits sexual assault if he doesn’t experience it as sexual assault,” no, the question is, “what is the relationship between experience and accountability?” And put as the philosophical question that underlies the practical question, “how does experience become intelligible?”

Through the process of world disclosure – that is when an entity becomes intelligible to the world – it becomes an element of that world, in fact it collaborates in the very constitution of the world. For that reason, the mere act of awareness is world-constituting. This is a process that can be described in technical terms, philosophically, but it can also be described in the disquiet of a middle class white woman who breathes in and out and counts her breaths. It can be described in the pain of a sexual assault victim in Brooklyn, New York, who faces the deeply disturbing gap between the ideals we hold up and the actions we take. Our very thereness makes us complicit in something far more horrifying than the narrow and deep suffering of people who are not us. It makes us complicit in constituting reality.  A person is because he or she is intelligible to us, and if we did not recognize him as such, he would live in a different reality, based on a set of conditions that are still entirely imaginary, that we have constituted together and subjected him to.

This is not a new claim, but it is quite a large one. The border between a person and the conditions in which he or she lives is porous, and the conditions themselves are constituted by all people together, but not to equal degrees. The President of the United States of America, alternatively called The Leader of the Free World, has, according to many, the largest amount of complicity. My assertion is that his own complicity in the constitution of reality already terrified Trump before he was president. Consider that if people are partially or wholly a product of the conditions in which they live, then accountability to belief sets is far less relevant than accountability to each other. We are constituted by each other, and that is true because of the fact of our existence, not because of any choice we can make. What we owe, we owe to each other and not to anything greater than or external to each other (take that, nation state).
And if, as is reasonable, we find this complicity terrifying, some of us will react, unreasonably, by avoiding accountability. What does avoidance of accountability look like? My assertion: narcissism. Consider that once we have disallowed the measurement of meaning to be a reflection of our complicity, the ways we have left to measure value are identical to those which Trump uses:

-How much human effort can we get on our own behalves for how little of our own resources? This is the measure of the value of work.
-How many other bodies besides our own can we claim for our own use at the cost of the least amount of our own emotional labor? This is the measure of the value of status.
-And of course, the literal barrier, the wall, as a measure of the value of protection.

The reason why these things are all absurd and offensive behaviors in our view is that we take into consideration accountability to each other. We do not, on the whole, sexually assault each other, because we constitute each other, and because we hold ourselves accountable for our own role in creating the conditions that define our experienced reality.

And finally, we reacquaint ourselves with the plain truth that this complicity is not a choice, it is true because of the fact of our existence- it becomes true as soon as we exist, and it remains true as long as there is human society. Indeed, even after death, what we have done and thought and shared continues to constitute people and the world.

But accountability is a choice. A person can run from the very notion of himself to avoid the complicity the fact of himself creates. Of the multitude of ways a person can run from himself, I have briefly approached two: to hold ourselves accountable to rhetoric instead of each other, and to measure meaning in the intentional absence of each other, using the literal mechanism of more and less. Trump does not want to be held accountable; no one is surprised by that statement. But what Trump does not want to be held accountable to is his own complicity, which requires him to avoid the very fact of himself. Donald J. Trump is not a narcissist, he is exactly the opposite. No one’s home.

As in the case of  the sexual assault perpetrator, the question is not, “Do we forgive Donald Trump because he is acting out of a place of pain, fear, and guilt?” The question is, how do we approach Donald Trump from the perspective of a man running from himself, instead of a man who is only interested in himself? And put as the philosophical question that underlies the practical question, “what does the fear of being mean?”

If what we are seeking is a more accountable society, forgiveness is never the question because on the societal stage, ethical jurisdiction and accountability are not the same. The relevant measurement of the perpetrator is not how right or wrong his experience is, as if his experience can be right or wrong. It cannot be either of those things any more than it can be false. Rather, the measurement that is a reflection of societal accountability is the one which tells us how the experience of perpetrators of sexual assault is produced. We hold ourselves accountable for the production of that experience, and we send him to prison not because of his experience, but because of his action.  If you think your own moral judgment of an admittedly immoral human helps constitute the change you want to see in the world, well — that’s just narcissism.

Humanities & Social Thought Non-Fiction Uncategorized

The Administration of Identity Vs. The Experience of Identity (A Series, Part 3 of 4)

Image result for define "trigger warning"

Triggering: Preventing normal function by causing a person to relive past trauma.

I have been engaging in the ongoing debate around trigger warnings in a very limited way for a straightforward, if judgmental reason: I do not think the debate is being had on behalf of the ideas it tries to claim jurisdiction over (yes, I know, I really like using the word “jurisdiction.” Mainly because it has the word “dick” in the middle). There is a simple solution to the question of trigger warnings, and the fact that we have not embraced it seems to me to suggest that we’re in this thing for the wrong reasons to begin with. Let’s take a look.

The question is, purportedly, whether or not we should institutionalize the use of trigger warnings by creating a policy at the institutional level that promotes their use in the classroom. We will start with the assumption that there is nothing inherently wrong with trigger warnings, because the people who argue that the world is simply an unsafe place and folks need to learn how to live in an unsafe world are obviously correct, but are not really saying anything about trigger warnings. Some people drink tea as a coping mechanism and you don’t hear anyone saying that people do not deserve to drink tea because they should just get used to an unsafe world.  The fact of the unsafe world is the premise for the trigger warnings, not the argument against them.

The argument allegedly for trigger warning policy cannot be pinned down because the various strands contradict each other:
– Some supporters claim that trigger warnings are a coping mechanism for people who experience PTSD, and are only legitimate within the context of a psychiatric diagnosis. In this case,  in order to be entitled to trigger warnings, you also need what is essentially a ‘doctor’s note.’ Moreover, it is understood that the trigger warning allows the student to engage with the material in a different way that is better for him or her, but does not excuse the student from engaging with the material.
– Some supporters claim that teachers or professors should ask at the beginning of the semester for students to provide introductory information, including what, if any trigger warnings they would like.  Detractors assert that students should not feel obligated to reveal any of their past traumas to teachers/professors. It is not clear whether or not, in this case, students should be allowed to  simply not engage with the material.  The definition of what is a trauma, and what constitutes coping with it is entirely decided by the teacher and the student in this case.
– Finally, I have seen a few arguments that support trigger warnings for the express purpose of allowing students to avoid engaging with material they might find triggering. It should be noted again that “triggering” does not mean “uncomfortable” or “upsetting,” but rather, “preventing a person from normal function.”

The argument allegedly against trigger warning policy is that any policy which encouraged trigger warnings would have to have a definition of what constitutes “triggering,” and gives easy rise to institutional bias or discrimination.  Also, frequently, the “unsafe world, get over it” argument that I rejected above. There is something to be said for the fact that universities are explicitly places for freedom of ideas, including offensive ones, but not much — we live in a time when pursuing education past high school is mandatory for many people, and it’s plain silly to say that people who have to be there have to be traumatized. This argument carries into the individual classroom as well: either students have total authority over deciding which content they will or will not engage in on the basis of their own past traumas, they have a doctor’s note, or the teacher ends up having to make a call about what is “legitimately” traumatic.

The trouble across all these arguments for and against is that it is difficult to design a system for the administration of trigger warnings, less than whether or not trigger warnings are in and of themselves worthwhile. The solution to this problem strikes me as pretty obvious. Simply create a policy which requires annotated syllabi. Providing small summaries of what to expect in the media that students are required to engage with can only help them contextualize their work for the purposes of the class. And, by default, such a syllabus would also solve the problem of “trigger warnings” by offering short summaries of the content the class will be working with. Not to mention, a good percentage of my professors would have been better professors if they’d visualized the class well enough in advance to know what we were going to be reading (GUYS COME ON THAT IS [PART OF] YOUR JOB). Given the straightforwardness of this solution, one wonders why it’s still an argument at all. There shouldn’t be anything fundamentally controversial about summarizing. Yawn.

So the question I have is why are we still arguing about this? And the answer that I come up with is: People are arguing about experience of identity, instead of the administration of identity. It doesn’t matter what you personally think a traumatic experience should or should not be and it doesn’t matter what you personally think feeling safe should or should not be like. I mean — it matters — but not to this debate and not to questions about categories of identity. We can all agree that no one should be subject to whatever it is they experience as trauma or lack of safety. We can also probably mostly agree that the fact that no one should doesn’t ever mean no one will. Therefore, there is no actual debate about the worth of trigger warnings, because even if they’re only effective a small percentage of the time, that’s still a small percentage of a problem we all recognize being solved. But when we argue about the experience of identity, it becomes a lot more personal: suddenly it’s about who gets to call their own experiences legitimate, which is not an okay position to be put in or to put someone else in, at all, ever.


Hey Dylan Media Non-Fiction PC Games Uncategorized

1979 Revolution: Black Friday (PC Game) [Open Letter Series]

[Note: This is a reply to a letter written by Dylan Holmes over at his blog, as part of a game blogging series we are doing monthly. This month, we are discussing 1979 Revolution: Black Friday – a game about Iran in 1979. In addition, his response to this letter can be found here, and I finish the letter series hereAll the spoilers.]

maxresdefaultHey Dylan,
I will begin by agreeing with most of your thoughts. I agree that the cinematic aspects of this game are of far higher quality than the ludic aspects. More specifically, yes, there were a lot of mouse movements that were annoying as all get out. I agree that the information is presented in a compelling way, the world building is pretty good in that regard.  I get the impression that maybe the group of people who designed this game are not particularly interested in being a games studio — when I went to the website to link to it above (in the note), I saw that they partnered with a studio that may have done a lot of the non-cinematic parts. Lastly, I am also still glad that I played the game. I think what this game succeeds at, possibly against pretty decent odds, is that it is about something historical for the sake of making us aware about something historical and yet it is not edutainment.

But by far my biggest issue is that the choices often don’t affect the outcome of the game. I ended up playing this game in fits and starts, and therefore I noticed:

1) It didn’t appear to make a difference whether I got the documents out during the first scene or not.
2) If I chose to save Ali instead of Hossein, Ali died anyway, which lends the impression that there is a right answer.

I don’t know if there were other examples, but there might have been.

The choice to copy the Walking Dead game, or more specifically to introduce “so and so will remember that” is probably better for people who don’t usually play games and who need instructions on how to understand what is happening if they haven’t had an experience interacting with a narrative in that way before.  This might be more defendable in a case like this one, where the target audience might not be gamers (which is not true of The Walking Dead game or Dreamfall Chapters). But this of course gets back to the question we were talking about earlier this week — what the role of authorship is in games.  Notably, we say “game designer”  and not “game author,” which does seem to denote a different relationship between the creator and the content.  There seems to be something sort of gloating about the text on the screen,  as if the designer is saying “Ah, so that’s what you’ve chosen,  well let me tell you what that means.” Most gamers do not want to be reminded so blatantly that their agency is usually limited by the programming, and either way, it does sort of bring the player out of the world and into the meta over and over.  At the end of the day, I am somewhat forgiving because I think the flaws of this game are a result of naiveté and  lack of experience.

As for the story,  I would have preferred a straight “break the story” procedural. It is a continuous problem in media that they underestimate the understated. The trouble with blatant violence is that it is the least complex way to deal with power dynamics in a narrative, and therefore it ends up feeling a little cheap. But the world building was so good in this game that the ham handed (as you put it) use of violence didn’t take away too much from the immersion for me.


Humanities & Social Thought Media Non-Fiction

The Administration of Identity Vs. The Experience of Identity (A Series, Part 2 of 4)

{Spoilers for BOY MEETS WORLD and for the new film, “Don’t Think Twice.”}

14212588_328432474171482_5796106988774123007_nI came across this meme on Facebook not too long ago. I reposted it with the note: “Unless you legitimately want to, in which case, you do you.” To my surprise, there was a lot of backlash. For many people commenting on the thread, all who self identify as Leftists, a woman who makes the choice to go to the college her boyfriend is going to in order to be with him has internalized sexism. The questions that arose on the thread included:

– What is the author’s responsibility regarding ethical representation in fiction?
– What is the feminist answer to ‘what should a woman do?’
– What age does a person gain the jurisdiction to decide what makes him or her happy?
– What is the value of choice?

The consensus seemed to be that being able to choose herself over a man made a woman more free,
as opposed to having a choice.  Generally, there was also common agreement on the idea that a teenager might make a bad choice because she’s a teenager,  that is that she cannot yet be trusted to make important social decisions on her own behalf. I was a curmudgeon and disagreed on just about every point.

Don't Think twice
Don’t Think Twice

Not too long after that, I saw “Don’t Think Twice” in the theater.  Brain child of Mike Birbiglia, this was a wonderful movie about what it means to “make it,” and how we change as told through the perspective of millennials, focused on professional comedy. One character, Samantha, gets an audition for a nationally syndicated show, and on the day of her audition, concludes that she doesn’t want to try out. Her boyfriend also gets an audition at the same time, he tries out, and he makes it.  At the end of the movie, she’s broken up with her boyfriend, and become a teacher, choosing to teach students improv instead of seeking national notoriety for her own performance.  Some may come away thinking her choice was a product of internalized sexism, or a reflection of the film writers’ sexism, because her boyfriend’s success is analogous to how we understand success generally, and her decision along the same lines seems like the back up plan. Others will say that this is different because she is choosing between two different career options, not between herself and a man. But perhaps, the correct answer is really “whatever she chooses, as long as she chooses, is a feminist choice.”

This is the question we ask about Topanga and about Samantha and about our sisters, daughters, wives, and friends — is it necessary for them to make decisions which challenge the patriarchal norms in order for them to be feminist decisions?  If those decisions make them less happy, according to their own experience, is it really challenging patriarchal norms? If we say that making decisions which apparently benefit men in their lives exemplifies internalized sexism, are we denying them jurisdiction over their own experiences?

I’m putting this in the series on the administration of identity vs. the experience of identity because I think that often in the literature, in the class room, and at the protest, we are fighting on behalf of the right to make a choice that some women may not want to make. We are therefore dealing with the administration of identity — the right to choose as opposed to the particular decision. The particular decision will always be a product of experience, the right to choose a product of the administration of experience. This difference is key.