Murmurs and Antagonisms

Orthodoxy via Heresy

Category: Politics

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?”

On (Not) Voting

Let make this clear from the outset: I don’t hate America. And most times when I’ve said that I do it’s been in a fit of frustration about some incident or another. Am I jaded and cynical with regards to America and its dream? Yeah, absolutely. But I think that makes sense to some degree. I care about America, if by America we mean it’s varied people and not just some abstract ideal of America. I care about America because I hate to see it screw up constantly. But none of this is to say I want America to keep doing the whole, “We’re sorry. We’ll try to do better to live up to our liberal, democratic ideals,” shtick. Not interested in that. I want to be a part of change in America, to criticize the system, and to acknowledge the good.

This leads me to voting. I’ve been eligible to vote for almost two years now. And in neither of those two years have I voted. I remember getting my drivers license at 18 and seeing the old gentleman at the desk raise his eyebrows when I said I didn’t want to register to vote. In no way am I opposed to voting. It’s worth partaking in if your conscience so dictates and if you think it meaningfully contributes to social change. I’m skeptical, especially lately given the Citizens United ruling and the money it’s brought to political campaigns.

But the reasons I’m skeptical aren’t just because of big money, the fact that we are in no way democratic, and the neoliberal system has failed us in numerous ways. Nor is my skepticism ignorant of the major movements to secure the ability to vote for women or persons of color. Those were, and are, important movements which we’d do well to heed with the onslaught of (racist) voter ID laws. I acknowledge all of this. But I still remain doubtful about voting.

Part of this ties into thinking the unthought. Why is that we haven’t gotten past the whole, “If you don’t vote, don’t complain” deal? Even progressives partake of this weird logic, albeit in a more passive aggressive way. Somehow not voting is apathy, a failure to account for grassroots movements, etc. In contrast I want to start thinking what a democratic republic might look like where voting isn’t some sort of deified, often too easy, means of social change. Why is voting given so much importance?

Now, contrast the American situation with that of Greece. America doesn’t really need our vote, in fact if less people voted the system might actually be bucked a bit and change might occur. Greece needed a turn out, in both its elections and referendum because, in those moments, the vote meant something. But Greece has had a history of numerous left anarchist groups and right wing groups that clash, riot, protest, etc. America has that history too. But somehow it’s become easier for us to go vote  than to go in the streets, go to local town hall meetings, engage with local news, protest, call people out, situations where we’re actually unconvinced.

Maybe Zizek is right, we need less action and more thought. And maybe the most violent way to effect social change in a system predicated on wealth is to do nothing at all, let the system run itself into the ground, keep hoping, keep protesting, but don’t bite the bullet. As a friend recently posted on Twitter, we thought Obama was going to change the American situation but he hasn’t, not meaningfully. We think Bernie will, but Bernie is still part of the system and is less a socialist than he claims.

So, I’ll let people vote.

But I’ll be over here thinking, trying to imagine a world where we don’t need the call to vote, where voting isn’t the end all be all of politics, where politics isn’t just about elections and the current system, thinking a world better than this one, a world where thought is actually respected again. Call me a utopian, call me an idealist, call me an apathetic bastard, whatever, but I want to actually think about why we feel the need to vote, what spurs us to vote, to think like this, and then I’ll go from there.

On Gay Marriage: Pissing People Off

[This is a follow up to my post On Gay Marriage, just a few various thoughts]

1. The question, or point, the previous post was aiming towards was not one of the rightness or wrongness of gay marriage. Rather, I wanted to suggest that in  being in the world feeling multiple things at once is possible, good even. But ignoring that some of the comments made it abundantly clear that we are discussing surface level issues. Marriage is the idol of our allegedly secular (read: Christian) nation. It’s the project towards which big money has been going these past ten some years. None of this is to discount the lives lost to get us where we are today, but it is to say that marriage is just another Christian commodity, gay or not. Everyone has been sharing Justice Kennedy’s statement about marriage. Other than the fact that he sounded like an idiot high school kid he was expressing a distinctly Christian form of marriage.

2. Like it or not, these issues are uninteresting in many ways to me. It was increasingly clear over the past three years or so that gay marriage would be ruled legal in the US. It’s all centered around discourse that still partakes and finds itself embedded in the Christianity so many people seem to want eschew.  I get it. But when you’re talking about love in an American context you’re still talking about a colonizing, often Protestant love, a love that extends the Christendom project of America.

3. And that’s the rub. The liberal, capitalist elite run the social justice issues of the day and in a sense co-opt the labor of the average person. When you can make your Facebook profile picture a pride flag, when WordPress has a pride flag at the top of the dashboard the other day, it’s clear that this isn’t anything resembling a small person issue. And in many ways I can respect the middle America conservative folks who feel threatened by big money shoving an agenda down everyone’s throats. So, I get it. There’s something to be said when one’s values are threatened. Laughing conservatives off the stage is understandable but at the same time it kind of reifies the discourse.

4. If our single concern is marriage equality I think we’re missing the point. I think I’d rather combat my whiteness and subvert it to the best of my ability than worry about equality especially if equality merely means sharing HRC logos and the passionate speeches of celebrities who have nothing to lose.

5. As Yasmin Nair states, “But the sad truth that many of us learn after years in sexual playing fields (literally and figuratively) is that how many people you fuck has nothing to do with the extent to which you fuck up capitalism.”

6. I’m going to eschew sex positivity if it’s still tied to capitalist, Christian, pseudo-secular discourse. I’ll pass on talking about marriage equality while those in power are murdering the least of these.

7. Gay marriage is part of the commodity forming machine of capitalism at this point. We can definitely do better.

Remarks on Jesus’ Blood

Blood is weird.

Anidjar thinks blood exists everywhere and he’s not wrong. Blood functions within Christianity rather oddly. This function is summarized nicely by the line, “Oh, how precious is the flow/that makes me white as snow/no other fount I know/nothing but the blood of Jesus.” I’ve been thinking about this line, about the ironic ability of red blood to make white (or is it white blood making white?). Even that phrase, “makes me white as snow,” seems odd. Making white, odd. In American history blood and sin tie together in intimate ways that reflect a strange back and forth between blackness as privation and salvation as life in whiteness.

I think my hesitance with this hymn stems from the fact that it bears a similar line of argument to that of Samuel Cartwright’s abhorrent argument regarding the blood of African Americans. His argument goes as so:

It is the red, vital blood, sent to the brain, that liberates their [African Americans] mind when under the white man’s control; and it is the want of a sufficiency of red, vital blood that chains their mind to ignorance and barbarism, when in freedom.

Earlier Cartwright states that the blood of a person of color is darker than that of a white person. And if Anidjar is correct in states that “Blood must become a category of historical analysis,”(44 of Blood) then the logic of Cartwright and the hymn go hand in hand and a brief look at the function of blood seems apt.

Without the white washing blood of Jesus one is unable to be “saved” which really only means, in American Christianity, being more white. “Christian master, enter the dark cabin of thy servant [read: slave], and with the lamp of truth in thy hand, light up his yet darker soul with the knowledge of him, whom to know is life eternal…” (A.T. Holmes, “The Duties of Christian Masters”). The gospel no longer stands as an end, but a means to extract labor, to civilize. The ultimate goal of the message of Jesus seems to be: blackness is the privation of the saving blood of Jesus that makes white as snow the “still darker soul” through enslavement’s catalyzing effect on blood flow.

My friend Melanie has written much more beautifully, and holistically, along a similar vein of thought here.

To White People: Protests

This is not the end of the conversation. It is not even the beginning. This is not me laying down truth but trying to understand American history. The accusation and condemnation of riots/protests in the wake of Ferguson speak to an ignorance of our nation’s history. These condemnations speak also to a misunderstanding of the current age, of the function of protests. However, I can’t explain protests, I don’t have anywhere near the definitive grasp on the subject. But I do wonder if (a mild rereading of?) Nietzsche might offer some helpful explanations of the function of protest, in any form (race related, wage related, etc.)

…the underprivileged have no comfort left; that they destroy in order to be destroyed; that without morality they no longer have any reason to “resign themselves” – that they place themselves on the plain of the opposite principal and also want power by compelling the powerful to become their hangmen. This is the European form of Buddhism — doing No after all existence has lost its “meaning.”

This “doing No” presents itself as a subversion of purpose and meaning. Nietzsche casts aside the notion that meaning/purpose are mind independent metaphysical truths or facts. Instead, meaning, like most anything else, is a construct, an invention. And for the underprivileged resistance functions as an active negation of meaning. So too with morality. What has been said of meaning can be said about morality.  Meaning and morality are made by those in power.

Example: Mike Brown’s murder served as a catalyst for protest. But it’s not an isolated incident. Reactions were not so much shocked, it seemed, but angered. And rightfully so. But in the case of Eric Garner it seemed inevitable that an indictment of some sort would be leveled. There was video evidence showing what appeared to be a choke hold, showing police using excessive force, but once more: no indictment. The protests that erupted seem to stem from the fact that the morality handed to persons of color by white supremacy failed. Because of this resignation can no longer be the answer. Instead, forcing the oppressor into a damned if you do or damned if you don’t situation becomes inescapable.

But I’d like to make clear: persons of color have known of this oppression for the entirety of American history. They have been on the receiving end of the violence of whiteness. This post is a white person attempting to make sense of riots and their meaning for other white persons. I’m trying to argue that any riots at any time are a reaction at the failure of morality given by the One (whether that be the State, Company, or Police).

Riots and protests are the cry of a positive nihilism of sorts. I think, for me, this is why discrediting the protestors seems inane. Criticizing the protestors misses the question of Du Bois, asked in their actions: “Would America have been America without her Negro people?” That question is being asked still today, Is America really America without its’ minority populations? David Walker was right in his “Appeal” in saying that African Americans were the only ones who truly appreciate the notion of liberty.

Response to Kevin Williamson

[TW: transphobia]

Cox’s situation gave him an intensely unhappy childhood and led to an eventual suicide attempt, and his story demands our sympathy; times being what they are, we might even offer our indulgence. But neither of those should be allowed to overwhelm the facts, which are not subject to our feelings, however sincere or well intended.

This from arguably one of the most poorly articulated pieces on trans folks I’ve ever read. I get what Williamson attempts, and in some misguided sympathy, can admire what he is trying to do. But shock for shock’s sake ought to be governed by some kind of sensibility. And, thankfully, unlike Matt Walsh, Williamson actually writes well and with some sense of vigor. But his article is still garbage.

The main flaw I find with his idea comes down to biological determinism. He constantly appeals to scientific “fact” as if it were some new deity we can bow our heads to in submission. Scientific “fact” however is malleable and extremely subject to change. Never mind that Williamson appeals to basic observable facts and ignores the studies done on the minds of trans folks themselves which seem to indicate more to this discussion than initially thought. So, for all the appeals to science he seems to not actually care about science as it continues to evolve and develop (isn’t that sciences purpose?).

Additionally, for one who presents himself, seemingly, as opposed to the tyranny of the government he seems hell bent on imposing tyranny of science upon a portion of society the tyranny of “objective fact”. Nikolai Berdyaev, in his classic Slavery and Freedom,  states, “The free man ought not to bend the knee either before history or before race or before revolution or before any objective unity which makes pretensions to universal significance” (71). The point being that sex is an objective unity which makes claims to being significant. Male and female somehow mean importance on a universal level. Mr. Williamson engages in a monism which is, “. . . the denial of personality and freedom” (68). Williamson assigns categories to people and thus denies their personality, he objectivizes them and makes them into a mold, an item and cog in the machine of societal functionality.

Look. I doubt Mr. Williamson will ever see this brief response. Heck, even if he does I could care less if he were to acknowledge it since I’m an eighteen year old kid who has a passion for people and loving on them as best I can. All I do have are a few things I wish to say in regards to this topic, stemming from Williamson’s Laverne Cox piece and his previous Chelsea Manning piece:

1. Comparison of a man wishing to be tigress seems inane and superficial. There’s a difference of species to species change and identifying and experiencing dissonance between assigned sex and gender.

2. Seems to lack appreciation for the intersection of language and science.

3. While I appreciate that in his Chelsea Manning piece Williamson actually provides stats and extrapolates on his argument he seems to lack sensitivity to those who experience gender identity problems. In fact, suggesting that there be some sort of therapy to better help people cope with their gender problems (sounds startlingly similar to reparative therapy for gay folks) misses the point. I appreciate his concern for the duty of doctors but I wonder if he realizes some of the more recent statistics regarding trans folks?

4. But I have a problem with how he went about these articles. He has a tone which strikes me as divisive, schlocky, and frankly, poor. Instead of engaging he seems to want to sit on his pedestal and speak “truths”. Instead of engaging, opening up, he shuts down. He misgenders (which is violence) and perpetuates the idiocy of trying to discuss without patience and openness.

So, Mr. Williamson, please reconsider. I admit these are the half formed thoughts of a soon to be college student and I don’t have all the answers. But there’s more to this world, Mr. Williamson, than is imagined in your philosophy.

America as Church

America has its creed – the Constitution, specifically the Amendments.

America has it’s own, Credo! – the Pledge.

America has it’s own worship anthems – the National Anthem, America the Beautiful.

The only real, true difference between the Christ’s Church and America is this: one uses weapons of war and violence to maintain its liturgies and habits. The other follows the way of a dead (risen) King who throws away violence and instead offers his Body and Blood as the way in which our habits are maintained and formed.