Murmurs and Antagonisms

Orthodoxy via Heresy

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.

On Gay Marriage: There is No Contradiction

Gay marriage is legalized.

This shouldn’t be news to anyone who reads the news, is on social media, or has friends who do the former two. Gay marriage is legalized and I’m celebrating with my friends who are married, who want to marry, and who need to have their marriages recognized by law so that that they and their families can partake in the benefits everyone else can. But I have some other, more curmudgeonly thoughts. Thoughts directed primarily at Christians who hold a traditional ethic. But thoughts also directed at progressives.

A traditional ethic is fine. Hold dearly to what your conscience dictates, what you interpret the bible to be saying. That’s fine. But at some point maybe ask some questions. At what point does traditional marriage become an idol? At one point does fighting for heterosexual unions distract from other, more important issues? Where’s the outrage about Charleston, Ferguson, Beavercreek, McKinney, New York City, and any other place where Black bodies are under attack? Where’s the outrage about settler colonialism? Where’s the outrage and worry about the capitalist system that’s killing our economy and environment? Where’s the concern for nonhuman animals being slaughtered for our mass consumption by factory farms out to seek a profit? Care about any of those? Or just gay dudes making out? And maybe ask if your view actually is hurting queer folks?

Cause frankly you don’t need to like, support, endorse, or even give a single shit about gay marriage. Like stated, I don’t care if you change your views and in some ways I’d rather you not. But marriage seems to be the hard on of choice and it bugs me. I think Jesus cares a bit more about the Palestinian kid being murdered at the hands of Israeli soldiers than gay couples marrying. Could be wrong.

I’d like someone to tell me how gay people are impeding the bringing of the just kingdom to earth in all its fleshly glory?

But it’s okay. Hold to your traditional beliefs. But if you’re not coming out and fighting against the murder of trans persons, against the workplace discrimination of LGBTQ persons, against police brutality, against nationalistic terrorism done in the name of the red, white, and blue, please step off. Otherwise, I’m going to say you’re making marriage an idol, a bigger deal than St. Paul ever made it, than Jesus ever made it. And wondering why you don’t care about the actual least of these in society.

But this isn’t just anti-conservative Christians. I’m kind of pissed at the progressives too. At one point did we decide it was okay to be a part of a screwed up system? Why do we want equal rights to be in the military and government? It confuses me? I feel like honesty demands that any progressive worth her salt admits that the gay marriage movement isn’t a minority movement, not meaningfully. Sure, go off population stats but then you’re playing into the hands of the conservatives. When Apple, White House, Amazon, Starbucks and basically any other large company endorses you you’re not a minority movement anymore. Not really.

And that’s not always bad. Gay couples can marry and receive benefits, as they should. But it distracts from more pressing issues surrounding trans healthcare, murder, and assault. Big money isn’t gonna save you, it just makes gay marriage another privatized commodity in the capitalist machine.

What’s the point of this point? I’m just pissing on peoples joy and sorrow. Yep. That’s right. Mostly I’m registering publicly that the work is not done for progressives at all and that conservatives need to get their priorities in line.

I rejoice with the couple who drive me to church on Sundays in Michigan. They’re two of my heroes and I admire, love, cherish, and appreciate their friendship and for welcoming me into their lives. Appreciate all that more than they can know.

I love my conservative friends who challenge me and push me to do better. More than I have ever made clear or probably ever will.

But I can’t get behind either side full heartedly, not when queer people are being murdered and killing themselves, not when people are being killed by the police, not when sentient beings are being slaughtered for our pleasure and enjoyment.

I rejoice and mourn. Both are possible.

Conservatives: rejoice in your gay friends today and mourn the loss of a traditional ethic. There’s no contradiction.

Progressives: mourn with the conservative Christians and rejoice. There is no contradiction.

I rejoice with my progressive, gay, queer, friends and mourn the continued loss of life.

I mourn with the my conservative friends, because they feel attacked and regardless of whether they are or not they feel something and I mourn and suffer with them.

That’s being human. This isn’t just a piss party. It’s a post to try and get us to focus on bigger issues, on issues that are pressing still, demanding attention, and to move on from our victories and losses and use them as motivation to move forward, to learn to think the unthought and work from within difference.

Thinking the Unthought: To White People

[Very brief, altogether insufficient thoughts…but I needed to put them down somewhere.]

 

Kendrick Lamar raises an important question that we as white folks in America would do well to start asking: “You hate me don’t you? You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture.” It’s a hard question, a question that needs asking, that needs to be dealt with. Thinking the unthought, seeing the unfelt in our hearts, the unacknowledged. Do we hate black people?

Do we?

The heart is deceitful above all things according to Jeremiah. Let’s not abstract that. Let’s face our reality as white Christians: that we say racism is evil all the while reifying white supremacy. It’s easy for us to condemn the terrorist act in Charleston and say we’re not racist but we still support the police officers who murder black people in the streets, we still partake in systems that are unjust. We are complicit. Our hearts deceive us and we deceive ourselves.

White silence is privilege, is complicity. I don’t really have words for how to deal with the continued destruction and disregard for black bodies in America. In the words of Fred Moten, “What I need you to realize, motherfucker, is this shit is killing us both?”

White supremacy that remains unthought by white Christians kills black bodies.

White supremacy that remains unacknowledged in our hearts destroys us and makes it easy to seek pat answers and pray.

Justice is too general. How about, as a dear friend said, “Stop killing black people.”

Affirm black life.

Affirm your complicity.

Acknowledge your guilt in your silence.

And start asking if you actually hate black life?

On the Christian Question (of sorts)

The Christian Church, whether one likes it or not, acknowledges it or not, is sitting in the middle of a cultural shift. A cultural shift spurred by new issues. Or, I guess, “new” means these issues are now more public than before. Between gay marriage and Caitlyn Jenner, Christians have a lot more opinions than are fit to print. Besides the fact that the LGBTQ movement has been co-opted by the white, rich, elite and is no longer really a “little guy” movement (at least as concerns gay marriage) and ignoring the fact that somehow it takes a a rich, white woman to get people talking about trans issues, despite both of these things I think we’re asking the entirely wrong questions. And in this regard, Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option at least makes sense. That said, I still think there’s a better question for the American Church.

In The Gift of Death Derrida discusses the notion of the secret and how Christianity incorporates and represses what came before it. The point is that Christianity can account for everything and anything. As a friend pointed out, Christianity repressed Marcionism all the while embracing and incorporating it. The same goes for Platonism. The problem isn’t that folks like Matt Walsh are assholes who aren’t “Christian enough” (which means, I guess, not loving enough). The problem is that we haven’t dealt with Christianity on its own grounds. We haven’t really asked, or thought, if Christianity can work from within the differences of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons. We haven’t really begun to think about the white supremacy that fills Christianity full. This is part of the reason folks like Gil Anidjar have been writing (and asking) about the Christian question. We have a lot of answers about the Muslim question, the secular question, but not a ton about the Christian question.

The issue isn’t really about Caitlyn Jenner or gay couples or explicit racism. Rather, the issue is dealing with the ground upon which and from which Christianity arises, how it incorporates Lockean essentialism and white supremacy. But it doesn’t just incorporate. That’s the beautiful thing: Christians can say that trans murder and assault is wrong and evil but also manage to say that trans identity is invalid. Christians can condemn racism but never have to face the incorporated white supremacy of their doctrine.

In many ways Christianity is the most beautiful sleight of hand. And maybe Christians ought to start thinking the unthought, thinking what they’ve repressed rather than lashing out. Christians are good at criticism but awful at self-reflection. This isn’t to become better at being Christian but to actually start dealing with Christianity on its own terms. In this sense I don’t think we can ever have an honest conversation about racism or LGBTQ issues. Mostly since trying to have those conversations seems to boil down to surface tensions.

Maybe Dreher is right, maybe we need the Benedict Option. But maybe we need it so we can actually begin to think the unthought within our own belief system. But, I doubt that that’s Dreher’s goal.

Notes on Being Radical

We all want to be radical and many people my age (college aged millennials) claim the label. Something seems odd, though. It seems so oddly difficult to claim to be radical since no one really is. Not truly. We’re all inconsistent failures. Ironically, the most consistently radical are those conservative, right wingers who follow out their horrid beliefs to the logical end. Or the anarchists in Greece who bomb far right group meeting places and start fist fights. We all want to be radical. I want to be radical.

Somewhere along the line it seems we lost any sense of what it means to be radical. We say we’re radical but then when pressed we back down. Somehow being radical means holding fully formed and fleshed out beliefs about the world and the problem with the world we’ve been given. And I guess I’m not sure how to be radical. What follows are some brief thoughts on how to be radical, to do violence to the system and world we’ve been given, to imagine new ways in the break.

Maybe radical means standing in solidarity with black persons. Maybe it means shutting up and turning off the desire for “all of the facts” and actually trying to be there. Being radical in this case doesn’t seem too radical at all. But maybe that’s the point. Go to a protest. Protests the murders of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott. Stand against Darren Wilson, Mike Slager and the murderers. As a white person I’m starting to think maybe I need to shut the hell up and just be there. I need to relearn and unlearn my history and my past and the current climate. I need to make the last first and be silent and listen and mourn with those who mourn. Maybe demonstrate that black lives do matter in a tangible way by centering those lives.

Maybe being radical is suffering with queer kids. Maybe it’s shutting your damn bible and listening to stories. Learn to step into the shoes of others.

Maybe being radical is actually going to protests, writing, expressing, and educating oneself about the issues that are important to do today.

I don’t know. These are just thoughts. I’m really struggling with these things lately, trying to know how to proceed and being too pragmatic for my own good.

 

Comments welcomed.

Frantic Thoughts about Nature

What if this world is a failure? What if we don’t live in the best of all possible worlds? What’s this lead to? What if it’s an endless joke? What if what if what if, the only question raging in my mind right now.

What if God’s declaration over creation — that “it was good” — is the problem? The horrible irony that the goodness of creation means we don’t know what do with nature, with stuff within the world. Nature is good still but tainted. Horrible sad things occur within nature. Tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, drastic changes in nature that kill us. Yet still, we declare two handedly: it is good. But we don’t believe it’s good, not if we’re honest. We know we’ve sinned. we know we’ve tainted creation. And maybe we haven’t taken this idea far enough. That we are the problem. That nature was good. That we were good. And that we messed up badly, continue to mess up badly. Even Kuyper suggested that regardless of the fall of humanity we would be co-participants with God because nature is only good. Nature is not perfect. Anyone with a basic grasp on the way nature runs its’ course can tell you that.

What if we really are the problem? The onset of climate change, the fracking, the abuse of the earth and of nature for our gain. Maybe that’s the irony. “It was good,” was spoken over plants and animals and humankind. But maybe we only want to affirm the body of humanity, the rotting corpse that kills and harms the rest of the good. Nature is good, but so are we. Aren’t we? We are the heirs and lords of nature, possessing and dominating that which was “given” to us by God.

We kill and eat and destroy that which we have been given. The given good of nature, of creation. And we still don’t know what to do with this goodness. We tear up the ground for an artificially real thing called money and, without a hint of irony in our voices, declare that nature is beautiful. The only parts of nature that stand as beautiful are the parts untainted, untouched by human hands, our killing hands. We recognize this and acknowledge we’re the problem, we’re killers. But no sense of confusion comes in acknowledging the death habits of our hands. Acknowledge and turn face. Say how beautiful our national parks, proceed to eat a burger, proceed to drive a car guzzling fumes through the park.

None of this is good. What if the world’s goodness is an artificial declaration given by an outside? What if it’s fundamental status is not good? What if nature’s goodness is it’s problem and downfall? As the song goes, “don’t know where i fit between the vegans and the nihilists. that might be the first thing i’ve said that wasn’t a lie tonight.” Both the vegans and nihilists realize the fundamental shiftiness of the this world we inhabit. But one sees the hope and potentiality and tries to better this “good” world. The other just accepts this best of all possible worlds.

This curse isn’t a curse of sin but of goodness. Status given to a created entity that seems less than good. And simply chalking it all up to the fall of humanity seems a bit odd. Or maybe we just haven’t seen the radical truth that nature still might be good and that we no longer are. That we are not good for nature. And maybe that’s the two sided truth about nature, that we see it as good and beautiful and ours to use. I guess nature might be good and I guess that that might be a problem. 

The Failure of American History

American history is, too often, a failure. This isn’t to say that America is a failure since, by most standards, we’re pretty powerful and successful (though, I’d argue, in the wrong areas). Rather, the way American history is taught is a failure. History is a construction, just like anything else. Events occurred and years down the line we attempt to construct an accurate, or acceptable, image of what occurred. And, so far, American history is taught from the constructed narrative of the dominant group, namely white folks of European descent and with liberal values. Yes, history textbooks will mention the slave system, the forced migration of large swaths of people to not only America but the West in general. Sure, they’ll mention a few stories about the Trail of Tears and the brutality that Andrew Jackson committed against Native Americans. But rarely do they emphasize how intimately tied to the growth of America these policies and actions were, and to some extent, still are.

The slave system is presented, conventionally, as a sad misfortune in this great land of Liberty. The opposite is in fact the case, as Du Bois states, “It was the plain duty of the colonies to crush the trade and the system in its infancy: they preferred to enrich themselves on its profits.” Instead of dealing with this evil the founders blatantly ignored it. The early history of America from, say, 1780-1830 were formative years in which the slave system was advanced in the name of profit. Andrew Jackson forcibly removed Native Americans from their lands to sell land to investors for cotton growth. Millions of acres taken by force and with bloodshed for the benefit of white landowners and that great profit maker: cotton.

Yet, somehow American history has been taught in a way that makes this unfortunate rather than a central focal point of the industrialization of America. Baptist notes in The Half Has Never Been Told that, “the 3.2 million people enslaved in the United States had a market value of $1.3 billion in 1850 – one fifth of the nation’s wealth and almost equal to the entire gross national product” (pg. 352). The slave system was one of the most disturbingly efficient means of production in the modern world. On those 3.2 million people’s a good half of America’s wealth came through primary, secondary, and tertiary effect. This wealth fueled the industrialization of America (Baptist’s book is a powerful resource on this).

But this isn’t taught in American textbooks. We weren’t taught that our first President spent three years attempting to catch an enslaved person who fled for her freedom. We minimize the complicity of our leaders and the men we admire. And American history has failed to deal with this properly. As Rabbi Abraham Joseph Heschel has noted, “that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”

Whether we like it or not our history has failed. We’ve failed to teach what founded this nation. And I wonder what it would look like differently. I also wonder what it means that Oklahoma lawmakers want to suppress this “bad” side of American history. For white Americans we are responsible, whether we like it or not. And we need to look at our past and deal with it seriously. We also need to realize the implicit racism we are born into and with. American history has failed to deal meaningfully with its past, a past built on the blood and labor of human beings from it’s inception well into the 20th century. All founded on whiteness as being the dominant group. I wonder what a re-centering would look like. And I don’t have an idea what it might look like but it needs to happen.

My Sister Has Far Right Friends [New Poem]

My sister has far right friends. 

They drink basic white girl drinks,
write reactionary polemics
—somehow not a tension worth attending to.
Screeds to redundant traditions long past.
About men who wear suits with bowties & cufflinks.
Write about being right and white.

Wishing there were more like Lee and Stonewall,
praising Knights Templar.
Resurrection is their fixation and life blood.
Bloodied honor stains their too neatly pressed white clothes.

My sister has far right friends, stagnating in nostalgia.

On Becoming Vegetarian

I’ve grown up in suburbia and trees. Grown up surrounded by a family who hunt and/or fish. On my dad’s side hunting seems to be the most common, on my mom’s side fishing. I’ve done both. I’ve caught fish and failed miserably at hunting. In either case I’ve always been repulsed by the idea of gutting an animal. Something seems off putting about it to me, but serious injuries on a human body fascinate me. Despite my repulsion I’ve enjoyed the results of successful hunting and fishing. I enjoy venison, I enjoy freshly cooked fish, I’ve enjoyed meat. And still do, if I’m honest. There’s meals my mom makes, that come from my heritage (German-America), that I really appreciate and cherish. But I’m not sure I can eat meat any more. This isn’t some sudden appearance of an idea I don’t think. It’s been in my mind for a while.

I first really became disturbed by the videos I’d seen in high school. These videos that depict immense cruelty to animals, mistreatment, and disturbing methods of development and meat production (Glass Walls [graphic, disturbing imagery] stands out as one of the main ones in my memory). I was aware of the cruelty, of the pain. But I figured that it’s okay, my family hunts, we use a fair amount of the meat. And, more bluntly, I just didn’t care. I’d been taught by churches and particular interpretations of the bible that animals were just animals, that somehow I was better than them. This teaching was backed by passages in Genesis describing how humanity has dominion over nature. I had no reason to really consider ethical eating of any sort. Till a year ago.

I revisited Glass Walls (leaving aside the problematic nature of PETA and their campaign rhetoric). After revisiting the video I just had this sudden overwhelming intuition that eating the flesh of another being is, if not wrong, weird and uncomfortable. But I still ate meat. I had an intuition and I tried to follow it but not seriously. Then I came to college. And my college has good food (or not horrible food) in my opinion. The best options tend to be vegan/vegetarian, to my estimation, so I ate that most times. During the course of last semester I ended up in an intro to philosophy course with my advisor (an ardent animal rights activist and thinker). Within the course my advisor has us consider speciesism. We didn’t dwell on speciesism for too long but the brief time we spent on it made clear to me that the language I use (and have been given) brutalizes animals just as much as a visceral practice of slaughter. Or, at the very least, it allows for mistreatment. Mix that with eating mostly vegetarian options and things became interesting.

All that to say, I’m pretty much committed to at least a form of vegetarianism for now. The health benefits seem to outweigh whatever benefits I could get from meat and I feel better physically (though that may not be linked directly to meat). I’m still working through the process of why I am. But it seems clear to me that factory farming is in itself problematic. Since more than half the meat we eat comes from factory farms (estimates range, depending on the animal, from 78-99%) I can’t really justify continuing to eat meat under the notion that I killed it, or it was ethically harvested. This isn’t to say that the possibility for ethically sourced meat doesn’t exist, just to say that I don’t have affordable access to that meat, much less a means of cooking and presenting it.

I guess for me it comes down to selfish reasons but also to the fact that, as Mylan Engel has so beautifully argued, if I claim to desire a world with less harm and suffering then my participation in the meat producing industry contributes to that and I am complicit in a systemic harm. My moral complex, however pathetic it might be, doesn’t allow for unneeded suffering. None of this is to condemn meat eaters or folks who enjoy a good steak (I have and maybe will some time down the road, though unlikely) but it is to say that for me, in my Western, developed country context, I have no justification for eating meat that doesn’t come down to: I like it. And liking something isn’t an argument for allowing harm.