Murmurs and Antagonisms

Orthodoxy via Heresy

Letters to John: Love in a Time of Crisis

Finally getting around to replying to John’s reply to me.

________

Dear John,

I need to apologize as well. This is late in coming. We’re 3 days out from the inauguration of a fascist and all his racist friends. It’s still not quite feeling real but it still feels too real, if that makes sense. I’m also sorry for the delay since I’ve been dealing with a bunch of my mental health stuff and so this is a long time in coming. But finally, a reply.

I think, though, a brief moment of reflection on the times we find ourselves in, a time of crisis — rather, a time of crisis that’s been ongoing for centuries. This is, as you note, nothing new. But I think for middle class white people like me it’s a bit new as an experience, as a phenomenological moment of, Fuck this is real. But I think this engagement is something fruitful, I think it’s a way of resisting. I’m not sure why I think that and it might just be my delusional belief in the usefulness and goodness of writing. But I think it so that’s that.

My claim regarding that to be Western is to be Christian was a geographical claim. Admittedly, geography is not excused from the fluctuations and determinations of anti-Blackness. But I want to work through this, because your reply has been in my mind for a while now. Insomuch as you and I were born in a Western nation we are Christian since the West as such and Christianity as we know it are, at some level, co-constitutive. The West exists on the the bodies of those it excludes. This will tie into your concept of “the matrix of man” later actually.

So, to directly answer your questions: 1) I would say I am Western in two senses a) in the sense that I was not born in another place and, related, b) that I was born in this defined-as-such place called the West. Point B) simply means that I was born into a nation classified as “Western,” a classification resting on exclusion. And since I am the inheritor of the benefits of anti-Black violence, directly or indirectly is irrelevant, I guess, with some shame, I am “really Western.” Question 2) This is hard and I’m not sure I’m prepared, capable, or even know how to answer it. But given the terms of the West currently I don’t think there can be inclusion that isn’t in some way tied up in capital and contradiction? Question 3) Difficult. I really don’t know. I don’t think refusal of God and a God who loves me (whatever the fuck that means, or looks like, I don’t know precisely) but I guess the phenomenological experience of that is something I cannot refuse. Whether that’s precisely Christian, I don’t know. I’m not spiritual but I think I’m religious. So, I can’t easily refuse Christianity. I don’t know really. I am averse to reformist tendencies and attitudes in Christianity. This is a question I might need to come back to. And one I need to think through more. Though, it should be said explicitly: to be Western is to be a part of the accident of violent geographical delineations and to be, or not, properly a member of those violently lined borders and horizons is a question. To be Western requires access to the Human and those outside that category aren’t Western beyond the accident of being born in “the West.” Unsure if that makes sense but it’s a start to processing your questions, I think.

I think your clarification is helpful. Referring to something I mentioned above: I wonder if this matrix is a way to think more clearly the ways in which capitalism, or its American modality, came to be alongside, or because of, anti-Black violence? Though, I wonder, if the term “Matrix of Man” might better be formulated as “Matrix of the Human.” I suggest this for two reasons: 1) obviously the use of “Man” is problematic, since it carries weight to it, an assumption that I know you don’t share but, and more importantly, 2) I wonder if the Human provides a better way of describing what you’re after. I read your description of this Matrix as a form of capture. Unlike identity claims this Matrix traps us within specific positions in a field. And I wonder if thinking it as the Matrix of the Human makes explicit the reality that Blackness is the condition for the Human. And precisely because of the exclusions of the Human I wonder if thinking at the Matrix of the Human might be a more precise manner of conceptualizing this?

As always: thank you for sharing your thoughts with me and allowing me a chance to partake in the shared work of thought with you.

With love in a time of crisis,

Jonas Weaver

After Trump: Whiteness, Class, Place, Family

I had planned to publish this prior to the election. But I waited and processed a lot and now that Trump is President elect I want to publish this as a reflection on my past, trying to understand where I come from and the forces that formed me. We’re all formed by generations of family and friends: whether by reacting against and making new politics or falling in line we are formed by our social spheres. So, please, take this as a reflection on place, people, as an attempt to process rather than any firm or fixed philosophical/political position. I’ve been thinking a lot about whiteness and identity and I have no set answers. But this is me trying to give voice to what I think my ethical duty is: as a white person to fight the anti-Blackness in my communities but also to fight the ways in which capital harms these communities too. This is my attempt to be worthy of the life I’ve been given, of the place I’ve been located in. And to struggle with identity and the fact that if anyone ought to combat folks like Richard Spencer it needs to be white people like me. Listen, understand, resist, argue accurately and articulately…I guess these are what I see my task as being.

_______________________________

“Obama’s a Muslim.”
“Clinton got someone killed.”
“You need to change your degree, hun, cause you aren’t gonna get a job.”

Three things I forgot about while abroad, three things I was reminded of when I spent three some hours in Hartsfield-Jackson. Two older, white, Baptist women telling me why they hated Obama, Clinton, and my decision to study German and Philosophy. Two women who probably meant relatively well and who, for good or ill, are probably not going to be understood by a lot of college aged students. I’ve heard that Obama is a Muslim, that Clinton is evil, that my degree is worthless (“What the hell are you gonna do with that?” is a common retort in the states) for a while now. And that interaction served as a rather sudden reminder that I’m not in Europe and that maybe the Europe I experienced this past summer (or the Germany I experienced) wasn’t so different from the America I grew up in.

I’m a college student. I’m a second generation college student. My father was the first member of his family to attend college, followed by his brother. Now there’s me, my brother(s), and some of my cousins. I’m also a dual citizen (German and American citizenship, more on this later). And I study Philosophy and German at a relatively liberal but devoutly Christian college in the Midwest. I grew up all over the US. I was born in Pennsylvania and lived there till I was nine. My family then moved to Tennessee for two years (where being a Florida Gators fan and being a “damn Yankee” weren’t to my advantage). Following that we moved to Virginia for four years, then Colorado, then Ohio (where I graduated), and now I’m in Michigan. From second grade till the end of my tenth grade year I was homeschooled. Initially, it involved co-ops (Richmond co-op/homeschool culture was a lovely clique), speech and debate, and eventually online classes.

While homeschooled, I lobbied for a constitutional amendment titled “The Parental Rights Amendment,” took part in speech and debate, did ballroom dance, played hockey, wrestled, etc. I was a relatively normal high school student surrounded by pro-life advocates, fans of traditional marriage, and conservative background. It’s not worth going into at length but I grew up in a culture that hated Obama’s presidency, saw very little good coming from it and so on. I give this excessive background to explain to some extent that I had a relatively normal life. I grew up middle class, I had a family that loved and supported me, and I had a social life (shocking I know). But this election has me thinking about my mom and dad’s families more. My mom’s family is German but working class. And my dad’s family is as working class as you can probably get.

My mom grew up in Nordrhein-Westfalen, the German federal state where Köln, Dortmund, Dresden and other relatively well known cities are located. Her parents owned a bar, worked in factories, and made a decent life for themselves. Neither my mother nor my aunt nor any of my cousins on that side of the family went to college. My mom did an Ausbildung and worked with an oral surgeon and as an insurance auditor. My aunt worked in an army kitchen and as an independent insurance agent. Eventually my mom left Germany as a first generation immigrant to America, married my father (who she’d met while he was stationed with the army in Germany), got a green card, had three kids and has worked as a stay-at-home mom for most of my life. My aunt still lives in Germany and works at an Imbissstand, my one cousin works as a roofer, and the other in construction (his wife is a nurse).

My dad grew up in Williamsport, Pennsylvania and was the fourth of five kids. His father owned a garbage route (which my cousin still owns) and he grew up playing sports and working. He was the first of his family to get out of Williamsport. While in college he joined the ROTC and was sent to language school for Dutch directly after and ended up in the Netherlands.

All of this is to explain: I have a family with a working class background, a background whose sensibilities were passed to me. I have a family on one side who are generally Democrat but hold Republican values. And on the other I have a family who feels screwed over by Merkel and misunderstood by the politicians in charge. In some ways, there’s a lot of overlap between both sides of my family. Disenchantment is real. My family couldn’t give a shit about what most millennial/college students seem to care about currently. Pronouns, affirmative action, all these things are generally not high on the priority list of my family’s concerns. I won’t speak for my family but I know enough to say those aren’t really meaningful issues to them.

And here’s the thing all this is leading to, the thing I’ve been obsessing over for a while: race and class. More broadly, I don’t think anyone should be surprised by the Trump phenomena (if you are you might be willfully ignorant/part of the problem). And if I’m being deadly honest I get the appeal of Trump. The appeal makes sense (at least abstractly). But I’ve been more or less stuck on something Austria’s prime minister said, in an interview with Falter (it’s behind a paywall, otherwise I’d link), that boils down to: the Left has failed the working class. This article in the New Yorker highlights this with regard to the Democratic Party in the US. While I don’t share the article’s optimism about Clinton and the working class it does well to highlight the anger in white working class America. What it doesn’t get and what I think it’s time to admit to myself and to others in my sphere: we’re the target of anger, or at least partially.

This isn’t guilt or anything but reality. The people who voted for Trump, the people who are working class Americans probably see me as irrelevant to their concerns. I care about police murder of Black persons, about misogyny being prevalent in culture, about LGBTQ+ persons, and the list goes on. Most persons in my peer group care about similar things. We have our in groups, our found family, our communities where we’re safe. The same goes for my dad’s family who couldn’t give two shits about what is happening in LA or Seattle or NYC. They care about their family and friends and community. It just so happens that the racial makeup of this community is over 80 percent white. It’s been that way for years. And for many of the working class, college students who haven’t (seemingly) worked hard for where they’re at, who somehow have forgotten where they came from, etc. are part of the issue, are contributing to division.

Whether this sentiment is fair is a different question. But I know that I care about things which aren’t particularly relevant to my family, to the people I care about, to the places they come from. Or, at least, they don’t care in the same way. The Germany I worked in this summer was a small vacation town where I met average Germans who were sometimes racist, sometimes not, but all angry at Merkel (she was called a “Fötze” frequently) and her policies. There was anger that the poor Germans under the bridges in Hamburg were off the radar of their government but a refugee who came in was being paid and had a roof over their head. It’s an anger that comes from feeling disconnected. It is a racialized anger. But it’s an anger that also, I think, makes sense. And the only reason I think I can get why their is anger at the elites who want to (allegedly) undermine America rests on one simple fact: I am the child of working class parents who passed on a love for America and its goodness. My mother is an immigrant who loves America and has called this country home for 23 years. My father is a man who worked his ass off to get where he is. There was no prior financial leg up that he had. Sure, does my parents being white give them benefit in this nation, yes. But I only understand my father because he gave me an appreciation for certain values. My anger at elites on the coasts has nothing to do with the Marxist literature or classes I have taken in college. But it has everything to do with the sensibility that maybe if I work hard enough I can succeed, that those people who are representing me don’t represent me.

I don’t know what to do to bridge this gap. I don’t know if it even should be bridged. But it’s stuff I’ve been thinking about a lot.

_____

I don’t know what the point of this. I have no means of articulating well what I’m trying to say. But it is worth saying that just throwing platitudes of care at the white working class isn’t going to work. Just saying we need to start caring more is absurd if we don’t actually find ways of caring. There’s a cultural divide among college students (who will remain the focus of this since I am one) and the people they don’t seem to get and vice versa.

That white woman who told me to change majors was speaking from a legitimate concern for my well being. I have no solutions but I do know just talking about class abstractly won’t help. Poverty affects and harms numerous ethnic groups, not just white people. Poverty is a larger concern. But in the US, if we want to curtail the rise of some kind of right wing populism in 2020 we might as well face reality: the working class are being eliminated slowly. Jobs are leaving the country (whether through federal policy decisions or company head’s going for cheaper labor production elsewhere, ultimately, due to federal policy), there is a truth to working hard to get what you want, that possibility does exist (not just pure nihilism), and that people’s neighborhoods are emptying or the demographic is shifting. Denying this isn’t helpful. Denying that the demographic shift in communities is scaring (often) white homeowners isn’t helpful. Admitting these realities that white (often working class) persons experience is not to condone or welcome it. But it is to try to figure out how to hear them and their experience.

Again, no idea what my goal in writing this is. It’s more a reflection on my background and that I’ve started worrying and caring about my family more and more. That after spending time in Germany for a summer and listening to the anger at the government (very rarely were refugees actual focus of anger), of fears of becoming a minority in one’s own country, after all of this I can’t just ignore frustration. When a tour guide can’t even express pride in being German without saying “But I’m not a Nazi!” there’s a problem. White pride isn’t an answer, white nationalism isn’t the answer. But some kind of communal identity might be. Whatever that community might be it can’t simply be one predicated on suffering as a (singular) tool of sense-making, as the only way to make your life make sense. Finding pride in what you do, in the community you’re in, in your family and friends, isn’t bad at all. It’s dangerous but not intrinsically evil.

Identity is hard, it’s not reductive, it’s not clear cut. But it exists and to deny people the right to be proud of their community is absurd to me. Do I want people to expand their contact? Yes, of course. Do I want people to be welcoming, gentle, gracious? Absolutely. But I don’t think denying people any sense of pride is the answer and it only hurts the chance to care deeply for one another. The World is shit, it’s geared against  the living but the living find ways to make life under this and some of those are better than others; some advance and worsen the World (white pride and nationalism), some help the World trudge along as it is with an illusion of change (naive liberalism/cosmopolitanism), and some refuse the World.

Thoughts? Help?

 

On Not Being Unworthy: Antifascism, Racism, and Trump

Donald Trump is president. And I’ve already yelled at my father, cried alone, watched friends cry, witnessed friends worry, seen friends planning for the worst as best they could, partaken in this planning. I’m still processing. I posted initial thoughts on Facebook but there’s more to work through. Everyone has a hot take. Everyone has a desire to explain how we failed. It’s most certain that someone failed. But shifting blame and responsibility to third party and non-voters (statistically improbable), to Clinton’s pandering to the elite (evidenced and clear but not primary origin of people’s hatred), to the failure of the two parties to reach out to working class white people, all these are shifting blame and all them true to some extent.

Can we straight up give people the barest dignity of agency? White men and women, the majority of whom voted for Trump hold a lot of blame. They voted, they chose. Whoever voted for Trump consciously is to blame. I don’t care why so much as they did this. Do all these persons support Trump fully? Of course not. But they clearly support Trump enough to vote for him. Today at an event to lament and express anger and sadness two white men spoke. One spoke, scared shitless, of how he was a Republican but wanted to try to understand people’s hurt. No one said anything except encouraging him to look at the faces. The second white man spoke and stated how he had voted for Trump because of the same fears as everyone there. He hadn’t listened. And much has been sad about the failure to listen. Also true.

I don’t have clear thoughts. But it’s worth noting a few things, scattered thoughts:

  1. Liberal fantasies are failures. The liberal consciousness cannot account for white rage. Liberalism has become the location for celebrities and easy memes. It’s predicated on a naive cosmopolitanism and humanism that makes Trump being elected unfathomable.
  2. Leftist politics needs to exercise caution. As my friend Sean has stated in various places: suddenly remembering that poor white people are harmed by capitalism and systems must not mean we ignore racial antagonism.
  3. What this moment, the next succession of moments, demands of us is hard. It demands that we somehow find a way to sit with the family we have (though no one is obligated to do so) who voted for a man we find repugnant. It demands radical education. If Jared Sexton is right that ” Blackness is theory itself, anti-blackness the resistance to theory,” then radical education is an encounter with Blackness. It is, as Frank Wilderson states, trying “to develop ways and means for your speech and action to be authorized by a Black/slave grammar of suffering rather than the grammar of suffering of subalterns.” It demands disruption. When the KKK take to the streets in December to celebrate: throw rocks, stop them, disrupt their movement. It demands getting involved with local organizations. It demands staying angry. It demands that if Trump follows through with his threat to create a registry for Muslims you register. It demands that disrupt walls being built. What it demands is everything other than checking out, sitting out. Be creative, disrupt, think more from the grammars of suffering and not those of dominance.
  4. If you’re white: start educating yourself; start listening; don’t question anger; don’t question ideas. If you want to question ideas educate yourself and find friends who will engage with you. Build relationships. The work is on us. The goal is not to get persons of color to be our fans, to ignore their distrust of us, their anger. The goal ought to be to find ways to be comrades together, to keep working to fight in good faith as best you can. The goal is to educate yourself and step back. Anger, distrust, that is all valid and okay. All we can do is to sit with those who hurt and do the work to educate ourselves, to think new ways. That is on us. Never on our friends of color. Ever.
    [Addendum: If you’re white and “woke” get off your ass and do the work to educate other white people. Correct white people. Call them out. Shame them to be better.]
  5. If you’re male identified/straight: listen to your LGBTQ friends. Care for them. Educate yourself. Stand with us. And learn to see how the World favors you.
  6. The World is anti-Black.
  7. Antifascism is always self-defense.

 

I’ll probably have more theoretical and articulate thoughts later. But these are concrete thoughts I can articulate right now.

Letters: A Reply to John

To John,

I will probably just attempt to feel my way around in your thought as best as possibly and not so much respond critically but engage productively (which sounds goddamn trite).

You asked how I could consider myself Christian still. I still ask myself that. Of course, on one hand, the easiest answer is we’re all Christian inasmuch as we’re Western. And, while I think that to be at least generally true, I think it’s an exercise in avoiding the question. The question is still: how can I continue to be a Christian with the body I inhabit? Our bodies are ours and not ours. And I guess by that I mean a body which I had little say over is one I came to inhabit (not that I am anything other than that body). Lacking a “say over” my body has been the tension I’ve existed in. My body is read as male and relatively masculine at that and, similarly though not analogous to your experience with anti-blackness, I cannot escape the trans-antagnostic structure that frame my body while giving it a context under which to make it make sense. So how can I believe in God? How can I identify with Christianity? The answer is to some extent still to be determined.

But I wanted to touch on your tautology. I think your tautology traces a methodological commonness between us, or at least a shared assumption. It assumes that everything, at its core, is theological. And I think I would articulate it differently: namely that theology isn’t so much the study of statements about God (religious confessions) nor is it simply about religious practice but a study of explicit names of God. If your conclusion (via Feuerbach) holds, that theology is anthropology, I think it’s also to some extent fair that theology is genealogy.

Which fits nicely with conceptions of God’s death. God has died yet we require new names for God and I think you touch on this in stating that “God is a socio-instituted concept… God is real, but God did not have to be and does not have to be.” And I think that’s pretty apt. Though, I guess, for me, and here I might have a disagreement. I agree that God did not need to be but I do think the term God has a distinct referent. What that referent is I’m not sure. But if we need to name God and naming God isn’t some reductively Christian argument that “Money is God” I would contend that we are naming an actual Object/Subject. I think this to be true because I think naming God, theology, fundamentally originates in an encounter with something/one (whatever that might be). Along the lines of Julien Baker: “But I think there’s a God and he hears either way/and I rejoice/and complain.”

I like your “Matrix of Man” which seems to be the antonym (or at least a contextualizing partner) of intersectionality. And I say that since I don’t think one can identify as intersectional, or rather, make it an identity claim. Since intersectionality is a method of analysis, a tool to confront crossing forms of material oppression, I wonder if the “Matrix of Man” is a correction or at least a less positive encounter with material. And this is hard to work out in my brain so let me try to put it into this form:

1) Intersectionality is a tool to analyze the criss-crossing points of material oppressions. As such it’s useful to an extent but it has a strange rigidity. It can encounter and define and excavate but I’ve always felt that it was still a bit too rigid to encounter material harms;
2) In complement or antithesis to intersectionality the “Matrix of Man” seems more fluid, more topological and less geographical. Less oriented at a crossing but existing on a plane, a plane that enfolds us.

Are intersectionality and “Matrix of Man” absolutely opposed? No, I doubt it. They are antonyms but complement one another. Maybe intersectional is particular and “Matrix of Man” is more generalized, less centered on a foci or point but on self-justifying institutions that perpetuate themselves.

I find your last few sentences kind of intriguing since it seems to be a weird resignation. But I don’t think it is. I think it’s denying an outside, that we’re always inside this bullshit. And being inside means a refusal, what Beauvoir calls an “explosion in the heart of the world.”

So, why am I still a Christian? I’m not sure if I am or not (depends on how you define that term). I know there’s a God, am inclined to accept that the basic claims of Christianity are probably true-without-being-True, and I want to follow Jesus but following Jesus too often means following a white, cisgender, heterosexual norms (the whole “not called to heterosexuality but to holiness” stuff). And being within a Christian world (your Matrix is explicitly and distinctly Christian for us in the West I think) means to some extent learning to find ways of saying no to that World such that I could exist without it.

Your friend,

Jonas

 

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First post in this series of letters: On God and Theology

Bathrooms: A Redundant Take

I didn’t want to write this. I really didn’t. Partly because it means reliving parts of growing up that are harmful, partly because it means saying what has been said before. But I have to, just to make some things clear.

Yesterday, Russell Moore published this startlingly simplistic blog post  was pretty much immediately ripped to pieces by Twitter, especially progressive (queer) Christians. Rightfully so. What Russell Moore says in this piece trickles down through the denomination he is a part of. Moore is the head of the Ethics commission for the Southern Baptist Convention. A Convention that this church is a part of. The pastor of this church in Georgia spoke at a town hall meeting and said that this situation was perverse. This situation refers to the simple idea of letting people piss where they feel comfortable. Moore’s theology has been rightly criticized and questioned, though I doubt he will change a thing. What’s disturbing to me is that on my Facebook feed images like this have been shared:

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What’s disturbing is that Moore’s theology masquerades as the loving side of biblical theology. His theology is predicated on the exact same assumptions as Kevin Swanson, Bill Jack, and others. The theology Bill Jack and Kevin Swanson share is one of violent behavior. Swanson advocates bringing back the death penalty for gay people (and presumably trans people). Bill Jack, on Swanson’s radio show, pretty much took time to rip on my college (Calvin College) for being LGBTQ friendly. I emailed him about that because for a while I considered him a mentor, a friend, a man I respected. I attended Worldview Academy (the religious organization he is affiliated with) for three years, I was on staff as an intern for a week, I thought he was a good man. Now I’m frightened by him. But I emailed him to correct some things and to make an appeal personally. I wrote (in part):

“I’m also a queer student. 
I’d like to write you and wonder about your radio broadcast about my school. How much do you know about Calvin College? You seem to have exhibited an inability to understand a few key things about the CRC and Calvin Chimes.”
To which Bill replied:

“…in response to your claim that Calvin College has drawn you closer to Jesus, who is this Jesus you say you worship?  Show me this Jesus who winks at sin, excuses vile behavior and fails to call one to repentance.  What truth and what beauty has Calvin taught you if it is outside of Scripture? In short, support your position from Scripture, not from feelings or from Calvin College statements, my young friend.  I fear you are in danger of God’s wrath and God’s discipline.”

Bill recently, along with my former debate coach from Colorado, decided to propagate fear, hate and mocked the plight of trans individuals on Kevin Swanson’s radio show.

All this to say, I don’t intend to say what Jesus would or would not do. Nor am I interested in decrying this as not “real Christianity” because it is very much real Christianity. It is very clearly based on an interpretation of sacred texts of Christianity. It’s very explicitly their way of following Jesus. And it is violent and evil. I didn’t want to write this post because the religious right has been castigated a lot (most times deservedly, others times not) but this was too much.

Trans people are being threatened with violence, being threatened by men who want to protect their daughters from sexual violence by threatening to assault (even shoot) trans persons. The issue is that this theology trickles down through families, through people. Moore’s theology is two steps too close to Swanson’s for comfort. And extending grace is becoming impossible and frankly less and less lie a valid option.

If your theology resembles Moore’s or Swanson’s or Jack’s you are willfully participating in violent theology. And if you’re okay with being complicit in that I might not be able to have a conversation in good faith with you. Nor should you expect any queer person to have a conversation in good faith with you.

Christianity is and has been violent. It has also been good and beautiful. Choose which form of it you want to partake in, because I know which side I’m on and it’s with the trans girl who just wants to piss, it’s the trans guy who just wants to shower, and it’s with then-binary person who simply wants to change after a sporting event.

As stated, this post is redundant, has been state more clearly by better people. But these men (Swanson, Jack, Moore) have a readership, audience, and have influenced hundreds (thousands) of people. They have an impact on people, their theology has an impact on people. And it’s worth calling them out and naming what they’re saying as evil. Because it is evil. But this is redundant, won’t change anyone’s minds, but it needed to be said because I grew up around these people and their theology. I saw it wreck me, watched it wreck others, and I’ve seen it lead to throwing people to the margins and mockery.

To anyone still in speech and debate in Colorado with Steve Vaughn: get the hell out.

To anyone tied to Worldview Academy or Bill Jack: get the hell out

To anyone tied to Kevin Swanson or Moore: get the hell out.

 

What’re You Talking About: Refugees, Europe, Culture

  1. Sloterdijk is correct to point out the hypocrisy of Europe: doing nothing when they could or should have and is now expecting Germany to handle this situation. He is also correct that Merkel is in a deal with the devil here, especially when engaging the eastern European countries.
  2. With the recent Austrian elections it’s clear the far-right has a grip on the political imaginations of the people. As this map shows Norbert Hofer won in a majority of area in Austria: 1300px-bundesprc3a4sidentenwahl_c3b6sterreich_2016_1-_runde-svg
  3. The issue is not one of far-right populism, or not just. In fact, when it comes down to it far-right populism has the unfortunate side effect of bringing far-right extremists along with them. In Germany Frauke Petry (the speaker for the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD)) stated in an interview that gun violence should be used against refugees on the border to stop them from entering. In the last year over 1K incidents of violence/harassment against refugees has been recorded in Germany, over 100 incidents of arson against refugees homes. Chants of “Wir sind das Volk!” are heard frequently at Pegida rallies – an ironic chant since it was previously to protest the East German regime. In the last year or so since this crisis got big there have been 369 claims of refugees doing violence to citizens (rape, assault, etc.) and all 369 turned out to be hoaxes.
  4. There is no easy solution to the crises. But Identitäre have interrupted two plays about refugees in Vienna, blaming Europe and Austria for having a role in the deaths at the Bataclan. Norbert Hofer, the leading candidate for president in Austria, wore a blue flower in his lapel in 2013, this blue flower was a way for Nazis to identify each other when the swastika and such were banned. Refugees are in camps (like Idomeni). Refugees are drowning in the Mediterranean as they try to come over to Europe. All of this is happening, and Viktor Orban and others are leading the charge to block refugees, to shut down their borders, to deport refugees, all in the name of defending their culture.
  5. This defense of culture sounds less and less like a defense of traditions and more like a defense of Leitkultur.
  6. Again, there is no easy solution. I have no idea how to solve this. From an ethical perspective Merkel did the absolute correct thing in welcoming so many refugees. But from a practical political perspective it is a nightmare for Germany. The social system is being strained, people are frustrated, and those frustrations are understandable and (in some cases) valid. But this frustration has led to the AfD winning their place in the local state parliaments in three German states, it’s led to the increased popularity of National Front in France and Marie Le Pen, of Orban and company. And a naive humanism won’t work. A naive humanism that says: welcome them all! They’re human and deserve safety! While true, these naive platitudes, lacks teeth to resist the inevitable surge of racist rhetoric and action.
  7. The far-right isn’t just a populism anymore here, there’s a very real fear of the lengths they have (and are willing to go to) to stop Middle Eastern and North African immigrants. Any solution will end up angering someone else. But what is incredibly clear is that resistance to the far-right is needed, that fascists are running over Europe, and that the chant “Nazis Raus!” is all too relevant still, and that refugees have nowhere to go back to. They’re stuck between camps with measly tents and destroyed cities, abused and harassed by smugglers, the women are assaulted, put in front of gates telling them they’re outside of the human.
  8. And this is what it fundamentally comes down to, I think: any defense of tradition or culture or place is not absent its context. In this case, the context is a Europe not too far removed from nationalism and colonialism. That being the case it’s hard to hear Norbert Hofer saying he wants to protect Austrian culture, tradition, etc. and not hear a man determining what is acceptable and human to an extent. It’s hard to hear this and not ask: what the hell do you mean? Wiener Schnitzel (ironically, probably not from Wien) and Lederhosen and Dirndl’s? And I mean that in kernes: if you defend culture and traditions: what the hell are you specifically talking about?
  9. “Ein Mittelfinger für die Nazis”

A Waste of Life

I’ve been listening to a lot of grunge/female fronted bands who do a genre of noise rock. I’ve managed in the past two days to devote somewhere near five hours of time listening to music that probably annoys people on the whole. Partly because it’s the best music for me to study to and partly because the genre piqued my interest. What’s this got to do with anything?

Well, a lot. Or a little, at least. As I write this I’m listening to a song called American Society by L7 and thinking about why the hell I study what I do at my school. These thoughts have been going through my mind the past few weeks spurred by the re-prioritization my school is undergoing, a process that I will see throughout my time at Calvin. And whether or not one thinks its good or bad it’s caused me some anxiety about why am I majoring in German and Philosophy.


Weirdly this song by L7 has been helping me make sense of this whole situation. I think my answer to the question, “What do you plan to do with a philosophy degree,” will no longer be: No idea. Rather, my new answer will: I’m trying to not drown in American society. I’m trying to find ways to come to terms with the fact that “…there is no escape from the world, no transitivity, no transcendent something.” There’s no escape from capital and the influence it exerts on my education, on the world we inhabit. There’s no escape from this and instead of trying to just play along and be drowned and be a “twentieth century [or 21st] casualty” I’ll just try to make life.

What would being a casualty look like? Just numbingly going along with the flow. But note, this isn’t resistance, this isn’t a delusional attempt to change anything. In fact, I think philosophy in many ways is fundamentally useless towards productive action or world-changing, especially geared towards a transitivity. Instead, this is me making life within what is, tyring to find ways to exist without becoming a casualty or drowning within this society.

So, why do I study what I do? Because it’s the only way I know how to make sense of the lived-life I am. Maybe it is a waste of my life (thank you Tapji for this post by the way) but in one sense it’s only a waste if life is something that can be achieved. And if that life is the typical weird American dream I’m not sure why me trying to avoid that drowning would be a waste of my life?

And maybe it is a waste but it’s a waste of an excess, an inability to live with the present conditions.

Study to make life-becomings possible, I suppose.

Further Thoughts on Calvin

[These are some unorganized, spur of the moment thoughts I’ve been having.]

  1. I just read this post by Adam Kotsko and I think it hits on a fundamental problem with how my university is thinking about education.

    It [majors] misleads students (and their parents), who generally hold some fetishistic belief in the power of a major to lead directly to a job, as though the job market is the next level of college applications. This is obviously not the case, and it is not even the case that you need to go to grad school in the field you majored in! The whole major thing is literally a lie. And it’s a lie that serves the worst trends in higher ed. It creates interdepartmental competition for “majors,” in order to maintain the department’s status, its hiring clout, and in the last resort, its very existence. It encourages a naive belief that you’re getting some set chunk of knowledge from college, which feeds directly into the naive belief that majors are direct paths to jobs.

  2. Education guided by business is flawed because it is dictated by fear, irrational presumption and idealism, and ultimately a stifling of the liberal arts. The liberal arts go deeper than just a simplistic learning to think well. Fundamentally, the liberal arts provide students a way to figure out what they love, to acquire a diversified set of skills, etc etc (not necessarily measurable; it’s why, I think, philosophy majors do well on LSAT’s).
  3. Calvin is telling us that the liberal arts (read: humanities) are useless to help students become members of society and good workers. To some extent I’m not sure I give a damn about long term goals of sustainability when Calvin, an explicitly Christian university, is caving to fear now (most certainly the opposite of a Christian habit). Fear of the new tomorrow, where another debt crisis comes and goes. Fear of not having enough interest to put money into departments. Fear which makes the immediate seem the most wise.
  4. Can we talk for a moment about “low student demand” (a term used by the administration in the email to us all)? Low student demand for the humanities comes from a fear of not having a job when one graduates. The economy dictates majors, not the other way around. Part of this plays into the (unfortunately) common assumption on campus that college is here to get you a job. (Bracket for a moment the absurdity of paying 40K a year for a job). The email also stated that the cuts were made to better align resources with demand. Demand, debt, the economy, and all the various intersections along those lines of control, put a stranglehold on students and schools.
  5. Gilles Deleuze, from his Postscript on Control Societies:

In the school system forms of continuous assessment, the impact of continuing education on schools, and the related move away from any research in universities, “business” being brought into education at every level.

To Calvin College

I get it.

We get it.

We’re aware that Calvin is in debt. And I am (at least) impressed with how much we’ve managed to reduce the debt in two years. None of us are urging Calvin to go further into debt.

We all get that there need to be cuts etc.

None of us, as far as I know, are denying these facts.

All that said, it sucks. As a double major in German and Philosophy, it sucks.

I’m literally embedded in the humanities and 3/4 of my classes occur in the same building. I’m lucky, on one hand, to be in the Philosophy Department because it’s basically safe from most cuts, if only because it has status within the world of Christian philosophy. But being in the German department is hard. Especially since we’re potentially losing the German major.

Plenty has been said about Calvin and its false advertising. When the art department faced cuts (alongside art history, history, and music) people pointed out that having a tab for ARTS on the Calvin homepage is disingenuous because, frankly, Calvin doesn’t care about the arts. Sure, we have the 106 Gallery, and the little gallery in the CFAC…but where is the Art Department? The basement of one of the buildings.

Now Calvin has proposed cutting the German, Greek, Latin, Theater, and Art History majors (and God knows what will happen to Chinese, Korean, and Japanese). Calvin is leaving the minors but…so what?

I’m keeping this fairly short and brief but it’s worth posing the following to the administration:

Are we a liberal arts school? It doesn’t seem like it. At least, on surface we are, we still have humanities degrees on offer. But in practice I find it difficult to see how Calvin gives a rip about us. Calvin cares about numbers, metrics, factoids, not about well-rounded creative thinkers. Why are there no cuts in the sciences? In the business department? In engineering? Because numbers. Because there are more students in those departments. It’s a question worth asking and right now we’re failing.

Calvin states this on its website:

The real result of a Calvin education is this: graduates who want to expand their capacity to care, to get involved in their churches and communities, and to love God with mind, heart and soul.

Is this still the goal?

Right now the answer seems to be a good ol’ West Michigan No. A No that’s too cowardly to just come right out and say that the humanities only matter in relation to the “practical” majors.

 

Various Thoughts on Radicalism

It’s fair to say that most of my radicalization has happened through music, specifically folk punk, and I think it’s equally fair to say that my politics are fairly well expressed in a song not written for my context. When Pat the Bunny wrote From Here to Utopia he probably wasn’t thinking of a liberal arts college kid studying philosophy with about as much midwestern privilege as the next person. That said, there’s something in the lyrics that gets at a simple reality: namely that learning to think and make unthought worlds means hating the world, denying it, and still hoping for a world where “I don’t wanna have to hate everything anymore.” It’s a hope that the song gets at, that the world as we know it is problematic and young kids attempting to be radicals aren’t new at declaring the problem of the world. That this shit can’t go on, yet it does. Pat gets at this reality, the simultaneous failure of radicalism and its necessity when he says that our enemies “will teach our corpses to dance.”

Radicalism in the modern age requires a sense of nihilism. Nihilism that is guided by a reality that we live in a new geological age and the planet is beyond saving. Install solar panels on your house, recycle, do the best to care for this planet but realize you’re only slowing the inevitable. Nihilism guided by a reality of living in a world made by, and defined by, white supremacy, queerphobia, nationalism and a myriad of other evils is beyond recognition in any humane, gracious way. Course, saying that radicalism needs nihilism seems odd since nihilism is given the bad rap of being a suicidal way of seeing the world. Well, the world’s already killed itself (or at least we aided in the suicide).

The world isn’t good. It’s beyond saving in a lot of ways. At least under current models of being. But I think that’s where nihilism shuts us down and gets us outside of ourselves. But it’s not enough.

Nihilism isn’t enough. Nihilism is just facing the reality of the world but still trying to explain away suffering. What comes next is sitting within suffering, working from within it, naming it, naming the unthought, and realizing that half this shit is unthinkable, at least to our white, heteronormative, Eurocentric modes of thought.

So, am I radical? I don’t know. Radicals are basically folks who claim the title but sit on their ass and aren’t willing to do anything. I’m one of those. I’m a failure at most everything I say or claim as a belief or guiding principle. But I try and move baby steps forward. And realize that pragmatism (note: pragmatism isn’t equivalent to getting one’s hands dirty) is a luxury afforded me. A luxury not afford other folks. Face the world, name it, damn it, and move on.

“Who killed the world?”