On Theresa May’s “Deal with the Devil”

This will be a short entry, as everything that has been said will be said about the “disastrous” 2017 UK election.

First of all, it is wonderful that Labour gained so many seats. But they came up just shy of true victory it seems. The Conservatives are allying with, it seems, the only other Parliamentary party on the right wing of the political spectrum, and even that is enough for them to gain a majority still. And what is that party? The DUP, the Northern Irish unionist party, known for their extreme anti-abortion views and anti-gay views. The DUP opposes abortion for rape victims and incest, and perhaps even more astonishing than that is that their dominance of Northern Irish politics means that abortion remains illegal for all except in extreme medical circumstances in Northern Ireland. But perhaps most vile of all is the fact that the DUP was once allied with right-wing paramilitaries. Of course, the same accusation could be leveled against Labour with respect to Sinn Fein.

But my real point is that while the Conservatives broadly failed, in that they turned their clear majority into a minority, Labour also failed to win. If all it takes is 42% of the English people to vote Conservative to form a government, it seems the situation is hopeless, because of the reactionary tendencies of the large swath of the upper classes.

The only ray of light seems to be that Labour increase its main body of constituents, the working poor, by letting Conservative policies take their toll.

Here’s hoping for more storms on the horizon, so we can see that silver lining in the clouds.

Zizek and Harman talk- response to Landzek

I have been watching the March 2017 talk with Slavoj Zizek and Graham Harman titled “Duel and Duet” and I was not disappointed at the intellectual stimulation value. Zizek, as most of you know, is the Marxist genius, and Harman is the obvious philosophical windbag stereotype. For those of you who don’t know, Harman belongs to a school of philosophy known as “Object-Oriented Ontology” (OOO) a kind of post-modern school. Object-oriented ontology, following Bruno Latour (who is notably an anthropologist) is a recent conceptual approach involving rethinking the role of objects in metaphysical schemes, how most approaches before the advent of postmodernism were concerned with the role of the human in the universe. Thus a lot of OOO tends to vibe well with environmental philosophies, Derrida, rethinking the relationship of the animal with the world, often Deleuze is thrown in there, etc. I have seen people do good things with OOO, but it often has an element of something that I hate. I couldn’t put my finger on it until tonight when my guy Zizek got up there and sparred with Harman.

In the talk, Harman begins by restating what OOO is, distinguishing it from “naive realism”, talks about how he thinks Zizek is more sophisticated than other philosophers, but then proceeds to critique him in several arcane respects. First he brings up the philosophical problem of essences. Harman sees no problem with essence as such, but thinks that essence is only knowable indirectly. So the essence of humans is different from other things, but…in fact, I don’t know exactly what he says about humans being different than other things. On the one hand, he says that humans are objects like any other object in the material world, and that we shouldn’t inscribe the difference in humanity into philosophy itself, that Western philosophy has inherited this gap between Creator and Created in medieval thought.

First let me reply to Harman. Harman thinks in such a dualistic way, even though he is trying to get beyond dualisms. Humans are subjects and objects, knowable and the knower. That is what makes us different- we are the knowers. We perceive things, we are existential beings who feel pain. Isn’t that a DUH???

For Harman, nothing seems to be a duh. The problem of essences he speaks of turns into the question of what is culture, with reference to Edward Said’s Orientalism. Harman says Said goes to far in his critique of Orientalism, saying there is no essence to the Orient. He says that when one claims to know something about it, then it becomes a problem. He then (in my view correctly) says but what about Culture and the difference between East and West as cultural systems?

To me, Harman is wading too deep into the waters of anthropological theory here. ***On the one hand, I believe that philosophy should have an open and engaging dialogue with anthropological theory, where many insights have occurred relatively unknown to professional philosophers***. That was one of the main ideas I had while watching this talk, because obviously Harman is a disciple of Latour, the philosopher cum anthropologist par excellence.

I realized my problem with OOO goes back to Latour and the whole “we have never been modern” thesis, which Zizek goes on to critique at the onset of his talk immediately. It is clear throughout the talk that Zizek is on a different level than Harman. Zizek’s whole style is to engage the audience immediately, claiming that differences between two philosophers does not matter so much as clarifying what is the problem. Zizek’s sense of responsibility in his thought is far superior to Harman’s. Harman in my mind (and this is kind of a straw man, because I haven’t read his books) fills an intellectual gap, sees OOO as superior, and proceeds to critique Zizek not understanding fully his whole approach, which takes into account the zeitgeist of the time, etc. Harman’s points become as DRY and emotionless as the subjectless ontology he philosophizes. Zizek’s motivation is an IDEAL, that is what makes him truly an idealist. It seems Harman doesn’t understand Hegel at all.

Back to my critique of Latour. Latour’s whole approach is based on a need to understand the non-human. While this is a great approach, it was essentially a copycat version of other developments in anthropology, such as Viveiros de Castro’s perspectivism (as far as I can tell). Perspectivism is a theory which looks at the Amerindian view of the human being as not separate from nature, etc. and is a brilliant theory of the way Amerindians see the cosmos and how we can use that. Latour is a post-modernizing of that approach, which has consumed anthropological high level theory as the “ontological turn”. Yay more philosophy in anthropology! It seems we have also inherited the bullshit

Finally, a response to Harman on culture and Said. Yes culture exists, and your about society not existing being conservative ideology is a great point. But one can’t merely just drop this point in for the sake of argument itself. Its a complex topic, one which Said has contributed more to than you. I found the same problem in Said’s work, his lack of acknowledgement of Difference in culture. Which is why I find my biggest problem sometimes with postmodern philosophy is that none of them seemed to have read the Upanishads.

In short, this video has given me insight that anthropology and philosophy need to engage FULLY with non-Western philosophies and ontologies. The problem of essences has already been dealt with by Madyamika-Prasangika school of Buddhism- essence is always changing, therefore there is no essence, only relative identity. Landzek’s post about this subject raises the question of philosophical EGO- a running theme in some of his posts (see the post on his blog about Obscurantism which I will link to ). He ends by saying philosophers should not worry about bruising the egos of others in dialogues. Often it is the most personal that is the hardest to put into words. That is what non-Western philosophies often handle best- the *emotional core* that has been strayed away from, even in postmodern ontologies.

I return to a conclusion from my previous post- we don’t need more theories, we need more open debate, more compassion, more EMOTION, less objects and ontologies.

Link to Landzek’s Constructive Undoing blog-

https://lancek4.wordpress.com/2017/05/25/zizek-and-lacan-obscurity-part-1/

Lacanian or Deleuzian Anthropology? Paradoxes of thought

Following Deleuze, it may be enough to ask “what does this concept do” rather than say “what does it mean?” For the ethnologist, or ethnographer, a concept can only be useful, to reduce the interpretation of a given field to “One Grand Theory” must be missing the point. We have reached the point as anthropologists where we can hold two contradictory thoughts at once in our heads, I believe that must be the case, if and only if we have already taken the “Crisis of Representation” seriously. For there are still far too many anthropologists, or at least anthropology students, who cling to simple explanations, simple Cartesian dualisms, and “vulgar materialisms” to quote Levi-Strauss.

But as far ethnology is concerned, particularly the interpretation of symbols, is it enough to always follow the “emic” interpretation? The question of the emic vs. etic distinction in anthropology has always seemed to revolve around the question of which should be privileged, the native’s point of view or the view of the anthropologist. Continually vacillating between the extremes of relativism and objectivism, anthropology’s ontology has never been stable, and of course is not singular, for there are multiple anthropologies. There are probably multiple anthropologies inside a single anthropologist! And not just when considering the change in the perspective of an author over their lifetime- no, as Whitman saw quite clearly, we all contain multitudes. It is this problem that I am grappling with currently, which must be taken from the abstract to the concrete and particular- which “mapper of the unconscious” has more to offer anthropology? Which French elite intellectual, Lacan or Deleuze, is a better fit for anthropology?

Point for Deleuze: Deleuze engages with a wider variety of anthropological material, from structuralists like Leach and Levi-Strauss but also has incorporated insights from more than the “French elite”, like Victor Turner. In fact Deleuze’s take on Victor Turner’s work with the Ndembu is fascinating.

Point for Lacan: Lacan’s model of the unconscious is also a model for enculturation, the Big Other who gives the signifiers, the Symbolic Order as such

In this sense, Deleuze and Lacan both offer ways to interpret the symbols of other cultures from a dimension that is beyond “structural-functional” or Durkheimian. For Lacan, it moves to the psychological dimension of structure, how individuals inhabit the social roles, their “fit” behind the mask, their identification with their social roles. This proper kind of psychoanalysis is a good fit for anthropology, because it can offer psychological portraits of certain individuals in complex societies that serve certain functions. How does an Ndembu man think about fatherhood? These are properly psychological/Lacanian-inspired anthropological questions.

Both authors seem to situate Desire as being a necessary element in the psychological constitution of an individual. Lacan’s concept of the “objet petit a”, a continual striving toward an unobtainable goal, is a fascinating concept. But it seems to always boils down, to Lacan, as with psychoanalysis in general, to the pathological individual, to the hysteric, to the individual as having some form of mental pathology. Or rather, that pathology is inherent in the psychological make-up of humanity, and that society “patches over” or represses these pathologies, or subverts them, or channels them.

Deleuze brings back the properly existential into this debate. For if Lacan says that we do not simply desire objects, in a economic reductionist sense, Deleuze takes it a step further- what about those who desire the end of Desire? The yogic assemblage. Or those for whom endless Limitless Desire is not the defining characteristic of the unconscious. Of course, for Freud, it was Libido that was universal. But what would Buddha say about this?

Of course, Desire is a defining characteristic of Man, in the sense of Want. But something that is different about Man, is that Man can withhold himself, stop his urges. In Buddhist cosmology, the human realm is the Desire realm, after all. But it is also the realm of Anger, to which the Freudian would reply “at not getting what one wants, frustrated Desire”. True- but it is also true that man can overcome! Perhaps we should go beyond the simple pathologization or valorization of Desire. For anthropology, maybe it is not Deleuze vs. Lacan that matters in terms of a model of subjectivity, but Nietzsche vs. Schopenhauer.

In any case, anthropology needs a broader engagement with the philosophical, because only through philosophical reflection can the world be properly conveyed in all its depth, its drama, its gravitas. The social is more than a simple scaffold or structure, it is a narrative, a grand drama of history in which there are “players”. Perhaps it all signifies nothing, in the end, but the model anthropologists should perhaps take from the best biographers is that in describing culture, one should attempt to draw a psychological portrait, to the extent that this is able to be done. What was the intensity of emotion at a certain moment in time? How did the lines on a face furrow? How did it impact the ethnographer? And how can we get at this thing called Emotion? In short, Deleuze offers me a better picture of how to be a better anthropologist, because Deleuze and Guatarri’s “ethico-aesthetic paradigm” (emphasis on aesthetic) is the only proper way to convey things like compassion. Any good author knows that to evince compassion out of a reader, poetry is necessary, and poetry is not just a string of pretty words. Anthropologists have the advantage of being in contact with the real, but no one is going to be swayed by caloric intake charts. Only a master craftsmen can get what he needs to across while touching the SOUL of the reader. Anthropology, despite its duty to faithfully collect “data”, must be already by necessity an art, insofar as it uses words and tries to convey a MEANING. If information tells us how we are supposed to think, meaning tries to convey a FEELING. In short, anthropology has yet to fully incorporate the existential in writing. It does not need a new “interpretative schema” or mechanism. It just needs more heart

 

More socialist ramblings

http://www.leftvoice.org/From-Farce-to-Tragedy-Zizek-Endorses-Trump

The ad hominems continue…

If you follow that link, you will find another half-assed attempt to discredit Zizek and a bogus argument for why he is wrong about Trump and accelerationism. Here is just some of the genius:

“Trump is a loaded, unknown package for the ruling class which is precisely what has made Markets and most sections of the US ruling elite fear him. ”

So that’s why the Stock Market went up in value and continues to climb. Sure Trump represents a degree of instability in the market, but there is no elaboration, no citing of evidence in the critique. The predicted market crash has not come, even though the dollar is expected to lose value. And why? Well the market is based on speculation, like all predictions about Trump. Their guess is not a unified guess. Trump definitely represents a gain for Big Oil, symbolized by his unabashed support for the Keystone XL and DAPL pipelines and his appointment of Rex Tillerson. Considering that Big Oil represents some of the top 10 biggest companies in the world, including Exxon, I expect “most sections of the ruling elite” aren’t as anti-Trump as they think. The situation is perfect, the capitalist personified is power. Those who have the ability to see it have already seen it. The Koch Brothers represent an exception that may give the opposing argument a chance.

Misrepresenting Zizek’s position as “endorsing the far-right” notwithstanding, what does this kind of Leftist position mean, this idea of unified opposition to Trump? Is it the authentic moment we have been looking for? It certainly *feels* like that to some, but then again, politics has always been the realm of dashed hopes and dreams. The audacity of hope should always be questioned.

So the question is, is Zizek too optimistic? Will Trump lead to a resurgence of a radical Left in 2020 and beyond? It should be recognized that Trump is considered a deviation from the normal, and Americans do want change, but a kind of pseudo-change. A certain section of liberal voting class is quite comfortable without shaking things up. The only chance of success seems to be a sort of revenge motive, to get back at Hillary’s wing for letting Trump win, thereby letting the progressives win. These sort of psychodynamics drive American politics, ressentiment and resentment. If this feeling of genuine outrage can be channeled, a left-wing populism can emerge, one that is genuinely frustrated with the DEMOCRATIC AND REPUBLICAN parties for not delivering. Even Trump voters will switch over, if caught up in Bernie mania.

Of course, this isn’t enough, but its a start. A start to the end- a foreseeable end to adventurism. The glimmer of hope I see on the horizon- if Americans can protest in airports all across the nation in defense of foreigners who can’t enter the country, they can protest against our interventionism and endless war. They just need to be reminded of what has been there all along- and guilt, I find, is a good psychological tool for awakening this kind of consciousness.

What needs to happen subjectively in the minds of the populace? A kind of psychological shift from rage to compassion? A shared sense of struggle? Perhaps rage and compassion need to come together. Perhaps a politics based on fear and anger is what gives Zizek an ill feeling about the anti-Trumpers, with the accompanying feeling of paranoia. “Will he drop the nukes?” we all wonder. Maybe we need to question why we have nukes at all. We need to move from a political moment to a critique of the broader SYSTEM. Therefore, by definition, the anti-Trump movement as such cannot represent an authentic political revolution. It is only an attempt to return to the status quo as it is- and what we need to wake up to is the pressing reality that what allowed Trump to happen in the first place NEEDS TO BE ERASED

A diversity of struggles need to be integrated. The fight against the military-industrial complex, Big Pharma, Big Oil, Wall St.- in short, capitalism itself. In other words, the government is not the primary enemy. It is the pullers of the puppet strings- and we need to remember that

 

“Untimely” Meditations, Part 2

Historians will look back on this time period, like many eras, as another example of the limitless bounds of human folly. Socrates would be the first to comment, “why should we leave the governing of people to themselves? They do not have the background knowledge to sufficiently make rational choices. Too much is left to chance”. It is certainly the case that the idea of democracy as a fetish is becoming SO apparent that even liberals can see where Socrates is coming from.

But it is certainly not the case that only a demagogue, elected by the people, have been the only actors in history that have done massive harm. Hitler was a demagogue, but Stalin was a military man and bureaucrat, and a revolutionary.

Why did I title this rambling untimely meditation? Because it is not written for the people of today. Nietzsche, in choosing to write for an audience beyond provincial Germany (somewhat), became a figure of history.

Will the historians again universalize this period of history as yet another demonstration of “x”? I tell you, denizens of tomorrow, that I did not choose to be in this time period, and that the majority of my fellow men live in what they feel is a reversal of the norm, a “Bizarro” world. The most searched word on the online dictionary of 2016 was “surreal”.

Remember, you judges of history and the human race, don’t judge the powerless by the actions of the powerful. Humanity is not wholly evil. Please spare your grandfathers a harsh judgment, as we spare ours

The Fallacies of Neoliberal Protest, Part 2

Recently, a professor at Cornell University named Russell Rickford wrote a fascinating article about the Black Lives Matter movement called “The Fallacies of Neoliberal Protest”. In this article, Rickford outlines what he calls the “false assumptions” that are “propagated by the corporate power structure [sic]”. He calls these fallacies “dialogue and awareness” “appeal to authority” and “the myth of the disembodied voice”. In short, the first fallacy is the idea that protest should be channeled into legitimate “safe channels”, the second and third fallacy is the idea that the people in power know how to manage effective protest, and the disembodied voice is the idea that people in power will adequately respond to the concerns of the protestors. We see all these fallacies currently at play with the protest movements at Trump’s inauguration. How so?

The Women’s March on Washington, the protest movement that has gained so much traction that plans to protest the inauguration, is essentially a mainstream protest. While it is expected that the March will have 3x the amount of actual attendees of the inauguration in what is expected to be a historic movement, we can safely say certain things about this march. The Women’s March, planned and funded by Planned Parenthood and NARAL, is largely geared toward a single issue, namely the woman’s right to choose and pro-choice movement. Given Trump’s stance on abortion, this is not a bad thing to protest about, and the protest is more broadly a show of opposition toward the incoming Trump administration. It is ALSO true that this opposition has already been co-opted by these previously established “legitimate” power structures and organizations in exactly the way Rickford describes. This is exactly the way wide-scale opposition toward a government is “pacified” and “de-fanged”.

Now, of course, the Women’s March plans to be non-violent, and I am NOT advocating violence. But I believe the “pressure politics” of this protest have been rendered largely impotent, even before it began. Why? Because there is no “day after” for this protest, no concerted movement. People will come to Washington, they will leave on the same Planned Parenthood buses they came in on. Families will come in, experience the “high” of organized activism, the ecstatic moment of being apart of something historical, and then go home.

Precisely by being under the banner of something “legitimate”, opposition to Trump  has been stripped of any power to scare or influence the incoming regime. Yes, I said regime. The incoming regime of the Trump administration is completely illegitimate. In my mind, as Trump was outvoted by 3 million votes, he has absolutely no mandate, and even worse. If it was not for our antedilluvian election laws, we would not have this reactionary holding the highest office of the United States. He deserves to be protested, 100%. But we ourselves our to blame for it, for protesting at the gates of death. We could have broken the electoral college long ago. But now, it seems as if the whole world is panicking the prospect of a Trump presidency, when this is the natural outcome of successive neoliberal policies. Brexit was partially a reaction to corporate neoliberalism which removed all barriers to trade, and Trump is also using anti-globalization sentiments to his advantage by playing the right-wing populist (even though his administration picks demonstrate he is staunchly corporatist).

I like Planned Parenthood, but in this context it also has to be admitted that they are part of an existing power structure, even if that structure is social justice/activism groups. Planned Parenthood’s sponsoring of the march also sidelines economic issues in favor of more identity specific issues (hence Women’s March, even though other groups will also be hypothetically targeted by the Trump administration even more fiercely, like immigrants, Muslims, and people of color).

I think that political will in this country is very dependent on circumstance. And that is ok, to a certain extent. One shouldn’t just protest without just cause. But I believe that these “fallacies” about neoliberal protest and its supposed effectiveness are still in play, especially the “appeal to authority”. If we allow all protest to be guided, managed, and staged, yes we risk the protest devolving into unorganized chaos, but we also also risk the protest becoming part of the existing system. For some, this is a good thing. The protest “should be perceived as legitimate”. The problem with this argument is that civil disobedience, in even wide-scale protest like this one, in the eyes of a reactionary administration, will NEVER be perceived as legitimate. Expect fierce opposition, by reactionary counter-protestors, agitators, and police.

My larger issue with this Women’s March protest, however, is that it does not encompass enough issues. The march is purely an “anti-Trump” movement, and that is how the media will cover it. Sure there will be signs that will say “Save Healthcare”, “protect immigrants”, and “Black Lives Matter”, but if these struggles aren’t given their specific articulations, the existing power structures will not hear the voices of concerned citizens. It does not matter the size of this protest. It could be 1 million, it could be 3 million people. If it continues to be an anti-Trump and nothing but anti-Trump march, and that is the messaging people get, then that is all that will register. Neoliberalism will continue, in its completely unfettered form, and the protestors will all transform back into paranoid and frightened private citizens.

Here is my advice- THINK. Don’t just act. Yes, this is the time for action. But the more we question the ways in which we too, are participating in our own subordination, the more I think we can change the course of history.

Link to “The Fallacies of Neoliberal Protest”: 

Sam Harris and Noam Chomsky: Moral Vectors in current politics

A recent half-debate or exchange of heated emails between atheist author and public intellectual Sam Harris (author of The End of Faith) and famous Leftist intellectual Noam Chomsky exploded over the internet this past year. Followers of Sam Harris’ intellectual career in the past couple years have noticed his resurgence as a popular opinion leader due to his appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher in the months leading up to the election, his series of talks with Cenk Uygur, Maajid Nawaz, and his string of recent video blogs and blogs on political topics.

The crux of their half-debate was on the topic of Islamic terrorism, a topic chosen by Harris. Harris maintained that Islamic doctrine is the main cause for Islamic terrorism and tactics like suicide bombing are built into the logic of the Qu’ran. Chomsky tried shifting the debate to the terrain of US policy in the Middle East. Somewhere in there Harris called Chomsky an Islamic apologist, Chomsky called Harris ignorant about US history (in effect). Sam Harris’ argument against Chomsky is long and complicated, so I’ll link to it at the end of the article. Basically, Harris distinguishes between actors in Middle Eastern conflicts based on intention. Harris believes that one can say with certainty that Bush had “good misguided intentions”, and Hussein was an evil dictator in Iraq. Chomsky and Harris spend most of the email exchange arguing about the bombing of a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan authorized by President Clinton. Harris is on the side of Clinton thinking that there were chemical weapons at this plant. Chomsky goes on to demonstrate, in delicious detail (already published!) why this is not the case.

For the amount of time Harris later spends claiming his detractors are moralizing, I find this argument nothing but moralizing. That term itself is cheap- its a moral debate, aren’t we inherently moralizing? Furthermore, Harris claims later that we should not foolishly label people racists or bigots and shut down the conversation. Harris’ idea that Bush’s intentions are completely pure in the Middle East seems to me to be naive, but I will humor his argument more. If on the basis of moral intentions, we judge these actors in the sphere of foreign policy, Hussein=bad, America=good. But does intention completely justify the actions that come after it? Harris at times comes off as a weird sort of utilitarian (I will get back to this point later). It seems that stupid justifications of imperialism come with the territory of Mill-style utilitarianism, so this is fitting.

In his article, Harris mentions the My Lai massacre to argue that what distinguishes us from our current enemies is that “as a culture, we have clearly outgrown our tolerance for the deliberate torture and murder of innocents. We would do well to realize that much of the world has not” (Harris blog). Clearly, given the fact that this blog post was written in 2015, after Guantanamo Bay and after evidence has clearly shown that orders from higher ups were given in for torture in Abu Ghraib, this argument rings hollow for many Americans. Which Americans have outgrown our tolerance for deliberate torture? Certainly not Trump supporters…

Harris throughout his debate seems intent on believing that America has the best of intentions, and our enemies only the worst. In terms of the My Lai massacre, this was certainly horrific, but it is prescient that Harris leaves out Nixon’s secret bombing of Cambodia and other acts of terrorism by the United States. These acts were so horrific that we can almost forgive Chomsky for thinking that reports of Pol Pot’s genocide were exaggerated US propaganda.

Here’s an idea- what if the moral terrain is NOT BLACK AND WHITE. What a concept.

Some background on Harris. Sam Harris, in his book The End of Faith, became well known for his hard hitting anti-theist stance, based on the idea that religion is based on an attempt to fool the public into believing things that are essentially irrational, and that religion is the cause of many ancient and modern problems. His central thesis is that fundamentalism is the only honest form of a religion, because any religion that admits the supernatural must take this literally or be hypocritical. He makes a series of accusations that Islam in particular is a religion based on a conquest narrative, although he says Christianity at certain points in its history also had this strain of belief.

These arguments of course are no more original than Feuerbach and even a certain strain of Marxism, although he delves into the neuroscience of belief and other topics. With current political events about Islamic terrorism being what they are, it is only natural that Sam reemerge as the “voice of reason” not afraid to denounce Islam for what it is: a warlike ideology fueled by irrational beliefs.

I read this book when I was fairly young: 13 or 14, and I found the arguments pretty convincing at the time. Although I was young, I still hold that Harris does not pull punches when it comes to his argument. The fundamentalism question is still an intriguing thought problem. However I think it rests upon an assumption: an assumption that there can’t be a “legitimate” interpretation of a religion that is non-dogmatic and open to questioning. It has been argued that early Buddhism, which was also non-theistic, had this kind of character, when Buddha talks about testing his words like the purity of gold to determine if they suit your mind.

The “ideological mystification”/superstructure argument upon which Harris’ argument is based lacks the cultural-historical or context dependent analysis which has challenged the standard rationalist idea of religion as superstition and means of deception. Harris even lacks the classic Marxist depth of assuming that religion is a tool used by the owning classes to control the proleteriat, or the soul of a heartless world. Harris’ argument isn’t so much anti-organized religion or anti-clerical as anti-religion in all its forms. This is where our opinions diverge. The Absolute primacy of the atheist argument over the deist argument philosophically is not self evident to me either (neither is the other way around). But I digress.

Harris is a part of the growing new school of New Atheism or militant atheism. This community of people, I claim, has taken Sam Harris as a thought leader in the field of politics as well as religion. His analysis about Islam and terrorism has found support among the ranks of people who find the “dominant” narrative about multiculturalism and the idea of religions all being peaceful to be a cheap lie told to the public, a PC fabrication meant to maintain the status quo. For these New Atheists, Islam is seen as a bastion of bad ideas, from backwards ideas about the role of women in society to how to treat members of religions other than Islam.

The proof is in the pudding of the Qu’ran for Harris. He cites passages that run the gamut from stoning the infidel to the right to have slaves. While these passages ARE atrocious, they also ignore the context of the era in which the Prophet Muhammad lived, not to mention the context of modern day Islam, in which, despite the human rights abuses against women in parts of the fundamentalist Islamic world, such as Saudi Arabia, slavery is no longer acceptable (unless it is forced labour in Dubai by migrants, but that has more to do with capitalism than Islam).

In effect, I think Sam Harris is a bad anthropologist. He ignores the context in which the mujahideen, which would later become Al Qaeda, arose (the Soviet-Afghan War, in which Osama bin Laden’s forces were trained famously by our CIA). He ignores the context of the revival of fundamentalism in Iran (again due to CIA-backed overthrow of a democratically elected government). The entire history of the Middle East is stained with the history of colonialism, so deep that the motivations of Islamist fighters against the “evil West” are not evident, maybe even to themselves.

It boggles my mind that when Sam Harris makes the moral argument that Islam is to blame when it comes to terrorist willingness to use suicide bombers, that when we do the same thing and allow civilians to be killed in an attack by drones, or wholesale bombing as in the case of the Iraq War, he does not blame our ideology, he does not blame Christianity for example. Or better yet, he does not blame the doctrine of American exceptionalism. In fact he leaves out our moral failures entirely, or brushes them off as irrelevant.

Now, Sam Harris makes the compelling argument that this is a false equivalency, but there are huge problems with this argument. One is that one can view ISIS tactics against the West as simple total war retaliation tactics against an occupying force. This is anathema in conservative circles to even mention, due to the horrific nature of the terrorist bombings, and they are horrific. But one must question the moral logic of a Just War and acceptable losses entirely to come to that conclusion. The moral weight of overwhelming civilian casualties by American forces in Iraq or Palestine seems not to have hit Sam Harris as deeply as bombings closer to his own place of abode.

It seems over and over that Sam Harris speaks from a positioned subjectivity, and his knowledge of politics is pidgeon-holed by the “popular” political discourse. Whatever is on CNN is the topic of the day. This is shoddy thinking at best, and get everything wrong at its worst. To ignore history and view any event is to be blind. It is all to easy to come to easy morally appealing conclusions about Islam and the clash of cultures. The only problem for Harris is that the Islamic world just needs to adopt our values. This smacks of colonialism to many people in the Middle East, from pan-Arabists to the small but still present community of radical Leftists.

But in Sam Harris-land, liberals ignore hard truths about different value systems in the Middle East that just aren’t compatible with our values. I could go ON AND ON about this debate, but it basically just boils down to Harris believing that liberals’ “PC culture” has eroded critical thinking about Islam. Bill Maher, normally a staunch liberal and quasi-progressive, has been lately the poster child for this kind of anti-PC liberalism. An atheist himself, he falls into Harris’ camp and has been for years on the question of Islamic fundamentalism. Frankly, this resonates with American voters for good reasons, because Islamist terrorism remains a real threat in the minds of American voters who seek security and peace.

Too often though have the desire for peace and security allowed us to use questionable tactics in the war on terror that have just fueled the fires of the enemy. Even Bill Maher, who most of the time is staunchly anti-war, has not taken Obama to ask enough for continuing the several wars he promised to pull out of. Our current bombing of Yemen and the hospital in Sana’a that was destroyed by American-funded Saudi Arabian bombers is continued proof of our less than noble role in the region. Obama not only did not fully pull out of the countries he was supposed to, he expanded the fight to Libya, where he took out Muammar Gaddafi in a move totally equivalent Bush’s deposition of Saddam Hussein. This pattern of regime change seems inescapable to those currently in power. Obama has served as a “neo-con lite” for liberals to feel not guilty about. In fact, conservatives should be ecstatic about President Obama, who dropped so many bombs over the course of his presidency in the Middle East the army ordered that they could not continue due to low supply.

Conservatives, neo-cons, and Harrisites continue to justify our engagement in the Middle East by the phrase “we are at war”. The phrase “we are at war” is not a neutral phrase. Far from being a statement of fact, it is a call to continued engagement. For neo-conservatives, if we aren’t on the offense in a fight against terrorism (which is by no means a war in the traditional sense of the word), we will never win. Chomskyian analysis of foreign policy in the Middle East leads to the conclusion that peace in the region, whether it is the conflict in Palestine or Yemen, has to be won *gasp* by de-escalation. Harris’ arguments for viewing Islam as the primary reason for the reason that these people fight against us is not a neutral argument in terms of the ontological question of what we should do in the Middle East. It assumes an uncompromising Other which must be defeated, instead of a complex process of radicalization that involves a complex interplay between economics, politics, and religion. Many Islamist resistance fighters in Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Middle East for example, are explicitly anti-imperialist, while maintaining their allegiance to an Islamist creed. In other words, they are desperate and driven into the hands of the radicals, who they see as courageous enough to defeat their enemy and a desperate chance at a better life. Islam also provides a sense of community and common culture for which to strive for and is deeply rooted in the everyday life of the people.

In my mind, we must Courageously do what is right, and that is refuse to bomb the Middle East in order to stop the bleeding. Peace through strength did not ended well in the 20th fight against communism, and I believe it will not against Islamic terrorism. Harris seems all too willing to ask “tough moral questions” in regards to people that he has never met, and has not dared to question the establishment narrative surrounding Middle Eastern conflicts. It does a disservice for him to pretend that he is in in any way a foreign policy expert, or “just trying to have a dialogue” with Chomsky, in order to push this anti-Islam narrative that has been latched onto by populist right wingers, the alt-right in particular, Trump supporters, and the anti-immigrant Right.

What does Harris get right? In my mind, Harris is right about some things for the wrong reasons. Just like many Americans, he has bought the conservative narrative anti-political correctness, an argument that should not be underestimated, because it narrowly won Trump the presidency. Harris makes the argument on his podcast that Trump won (partially) because of liberal political correctness. I have listened to people in polling stations, and random places around the country, and one theme I hear over and over for why someone voted Trump was fear of terrorism; in this respect Harris is correct. “He will defeat ISIS” they say. He does get something right- there is a certain culture on the Left that does not denounce human rights abuses in countries like Saudi Arabia as forcefully as it should. Harris is right about political correctness, but in a way only slightly more aware than conservatives.  Harris is channeling the anti-PC vector in current politics and has some interesting points to make. But I must in the end disagree with him in the end.

But Harris is wrong because the values he claims to defend are undermined by his willingness to entertain logic (such as his thought experiment about torturing terrorists in a ticking time bomb scenario in his End of Faith book) that goes against Western values, humanist and Christian values, and willing to go down the path of being a talking head about Islam and foreign policy, with no end in sight. Its almost as if Harris is shy about some of his political beliefs, that he is a closet anti-immigrant and Euroskeptic, and just does not want to alienate his liberal fanbase. I think he is simply confused about the matter, and decided to vote for Hillary Clinton, and probably thought that Bernie Sanders was a nutcase on foreign policy.

Harris needs to do some serious soul-searching about the direction of his career as a  public intellectual. Make no mistake Sam Harris: those that follow you on social media and repeat your arguments are not enraged anti-PC liberals, they are conservatives, alt-righters, and Trump supporters. They hound the comment sections of your videos. They dominate the conversation surrounding it. The stupid anti-PC anti-SJW culture on the internet has bred and attracted misogynists, racists, homophobes, anti-Semites, and outright bigots. Those on the staunchly PC side sometimes aren’t the most politically savvy bunch (see my article on Pop Politics articles), but they can claim to staunchly defend the rights of minorities in a day where one religious minority, Muslims, have seen hate crimes against them SPIKE in the rise of Donald Trump.

Harris is one step from normalizing Donald Trump in this regard. In my mind,  the complete moral higher ground of the United States in the realm of the wars in the Middle East is a foolhardy assumption until we stop ALL BOMBING. If we truly want to be better than our enemies, pacifism is the standard we should hold ourselves to.

In my mind, current political narratives are always a double blackmail. “If you hate Trump, you have to like Hillary Clinton”. “If you like Trump, you must be against mainstream conservatives”. The narrative is confused because the ideological lens through which any story is presented is not always clear. In reality, the similarities between Trump and Clinton, or Republicans and Democrats, is too close for comfort for many to admit.

In my mind, in regard to being PC, Democrats and Republicans are both wrong. Liberals sometimes do underestimate our enemies (ISIS, etc.) while Republicans are not afraid to saber rattle. When Russia hacks into our election system, some liberals are quick to make excuses or deflect and not believe Putin is capable of this (our future President is under this assumption as well). But we also should not listen to the likes of Lindsey Graham and turn this situation into another Cold War. In a recent Senate hearing on the Russian hacks, Sen. Lindsey Graham said that “I would do much more than Obama”, and is “ready to throw a rock”. This kind of saber rattling is exactly the kind of thing that actually got Trump elected with regards to Russia. Russia is not and should not be at war with us, either by proxy in Syria or elsewhere. I do not think we should be allied with them either. I think Obama’s step toward sanctions is the right choice for some of the wrong reasons (where were the sanctions after Russia bombed civilians in Syria? Oh wait we are doing that too…).

Russia and America both do not have the higher moral ground here. The two sides of the Cold War are equally culpable for current historical trends in the Middle East. When it comes to the foreign policy of mainstream Democrats, mainstream Republicans, and Trump, give me NONE OF THE ABOVE. Trump is still far closer to a moderate Republican than many realize in terms of foreign policy. We should never normalize bigotry and racism. But if we truly want to not normalize him, we should acknowledge that we should never have normalized our imperialist aggression in the Middle East. Those lives can never be reclaimed.

I don’t expect Sam Harris to convert to Chomsky’s view on foreign policy. But I am of the opinion that he shouldn’t bring a knife to a gun fight again, because he got destroyed in that debate. However I do believe if Harris had a dialogue with Leftist intellectual Slavoj Zizek, they would have a more fruitful and productive debate, specifically about Islam, terrorism, and political correctness. Zizek has written extensively about problems regarding Western intentions in the Middle East and political correctness for example. There are more contradictions in this realm than meets the eye, particularly in regards to humanitarian justifications for intervention. I believe that Harris is probably too easily swayed by the humanitarian argument for intervention. I expect Harris to lean further to the Left if he is given a chance to stand on equal footing with someone, unlike the Chomsky debate. Chomsky was being somewhat uncharitable with him, but probably because Chomsky kept having to explain things that he had already published in detail. Then again, if Harris can’t see our clear moral failure in Iraq by now, I don’t know what will change his mind.

Sources: 

https://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-limits-of-discourse

Electoral College Reform NOW

“We don’t want California and New York to decide our elections” they say. Nope, instead you want a couple of swing states to decide the elections. One vote should be one vote!!!

Thus a lone youtube commenter acts as the voice of reason against the army of troglodytes who refuse to think outside the bounds of established reason. I believe there are a basic set of principles that would make someone against electoral college reform, and is partly responsible for why it hasn’t happened yet. Hypothetically, if 100% of the American people were for it, there would be almost no likelihood that they would vote for a Congress who is opposed to it in majority. Sadly, we have some reactionaries who are actually for this outdated vestige of the era of slavery. Why? Let’s enumerate the reasons.

  1. Pure ignorance- I’m not talking about ignorance in terms of someone having the opposite opinion as me which automatically makes them more stupid than me. No, according to a Washington Post poll, 52% of Republicans believe that Trump won the popular vote. Just outright won it. Not when you don’t count California or illegal immigrants (an outright lie by the way). No, just 52% of them BELIEVE he won the popular. Either they are completely ignorant of the electoral college, or living in a fantasy bubble whereby somehow Hillary manipulated the vote but Trump somehow won anyway? I chock it up to sheer ignorance, because 60% of non-college educated Republicans believe it as opposed to 31% of college educated Republicans.
  2. Self-interest- This is a reason I can’t really argue with on intellectual grounds. If you are a Republican, and you want the electoral college to stay because you know it gives more chance to Republicans, you are right. Just like how gerrymandering and purging voter lists also helps certain candidates. Problem is, you can’t claim to be for it intellectually and self-interestedly. Can’t have your cake and eat it too. So if you have one single shred of integrity, if you fall into this category, don’t claim that the electoral college is a good thing. Its just good for you
  3. Buying into crappy arguments/”the Founding Fathers”/”Federalism”- So I’ll chock this one up into a combination of crappy reasons and a sense of patriotism that involves never questioning authority. As one defender of the electoral college says, “its Civics 101 man, California and New York shouldn’t decide the election”. Ok: hypothetically, lets say New York and California each gained a million more people next year. Well the electoral college provides for them to get proportionally more electoral votes. Lets say California and New York each became so large that they would decide the election anyway. Well, do you still maintain that they shouldn’t decide the election if they have more people than majority of the country? Will you stand by your defense of rural states should matter, even if there is only 10 people in that state? Take Wyoming for example. Wyoming has a population of 584,153 people as of 2014. The city of El Paso has a larger population than Wyoming! I don’t see the state of El Paso getting 3 electoral votes anytime soon. **As it stands, the electoral college is nowhere near proportional to state population** If the number of electoral college votes was determined purely by proportion of population, Texas would have approximately 16% more electoral votes, and California would have 20% more. DO THE MATH. In short, the only reason people don’t accept that one vote should equal one vote in electing the highest office of our government is because they believe somehow “states rights” have to be protected. Sound familiar? Cough Cough the Confederacy. But in reality, they aren’t being infringed upon under a popular vote system. Their vote would count just as much as the next guy. In reality, the people whose votes don’t matter right now are- 1/6 of Texans, 1/5 of Californians, and arguably people that don’t vote for the majority party in non-swing states. That’s right! All you Republicans in California and Oregon, all the Northeastern Ivy League Republicans, all you Tennessee Democrats- your vote would actually matter! No wonder people feel as if their vote doesn’t matter- it doesn’t under the current system!
  4. Internet memes- this is a separate issue, but its pertinent. All of the sudden right after the election, I couldn’t believe. Hillary’s numbers kept rising and rising, provoking almost no outrage. Eventually she led in the popular vote by 2.5 million. Now it will just be a footnote in history. In fact this is a democratic outrage. Built into our system of democracy is a fundamentally undemocratic system. This would be the scandal of the century in Europe, where even Brexit had to be passed to respect the will of the majority. So how did people justify it 3-4 days later? Internet memes spread by right-wing news sites. Yes, you heard me correctly, internet memes. All of the sudden the old arguments start coming out in cut down internet meme format. “2 states shouldn’t decide an election” “If you come from these counties (shows map of rural states who vote Republican) you’ll understand why cities shouldn’t decide everything”. These memes basically are gut appeals to emotion- I’m from rural Kansas, that makes sense to me! In short, its parochialism writ large in 2016.
  5. No belief in democracy- There is also an argument I’ve heard defending the electoral college. “We were never meant to be a complete democracy, we are a representative democracy”. That’s right- you don’t make every foreign policy decision, the President, as our representative, does. That doesn’t mean the majority shouldn’t pick him! If you don’t believe in democracy, don’t defend the electoral college. It was made to satisfy Southern states, part of the same deal that got them the right to own slaves and the 3/5 compromise which gave them more representation equally 3/5 of the slave population. If you think the 3/5 compromise was unfair, then you should be against the electoral college, because everything the Founding Fathers put their hands on isn’t sacred. They were men, not gods.

In short, if the electoral college is abolished, your vote is exactly equivalent to anyone else’s vote. Not more, not less. Chances are, if you support it, it will give you even more voting power.

Don’t believe the establishment. Electoral College Reform NOW! I for one want my democracy back. If it continues, we live in a pseudo democracy. From a critical theory perspective, the electoral college is a system that maintains the current hegemony and gives people the illusion of power while simultaneously undermining it, an essential component of bourgeois democracy. That is how strongly I feel about this.

There will be those leftists among you who will say getting money out of politics or the class struggle is more important. Well, I say that you are probably correct, but this is an element of that struggle. By reforming these institutions, one can pave the way for larger social programs and efforts at reform. First, the people we elect truly have to be elected freely. We cannot sacrifice our will to the will of a party cadre. We must learn to live with American democratic institutions. Maybe someday we can get the Senate abolished as well and have only a House. Until that day, we must pick our battles wisely.

What this blog is about

This blog is about thinking, and the value of thinking, and of philosophy, or love of truth (philo meaning “love of” and sophia meaning “wisdom” in Greek) in the broadest sense. G.W.F Hegel, one of the greatest philosophers ever, considered the philosophy the process of edifying the soul. In his words:

“In this respect culture or development of mind (Bildung), regarded from the side of the individual, consists in his acquiring what lies at his hand ready for him, in making its inorganic nature organic to himself, and taking possession of it for himself. Looked at, however, from the side of universal mind qua general spiritual substance, culture means nothing else than that this substance gives itself its own self-consciousness, brings about its own inherent process and its own reflection into self.”

Later he makes some provocative statements like this one:

“Truth is not like stamped coin that is issued ready from the mint and so can be taken up and used. Nor, again, is there something false, any more than there is something evil.”

He means to say that Truth is not given, divinely given or revealed, for then there would be no reason to think at all! Also that “truth is born out of error”.  Of course this was heresy at the time, so he had to shroud a lot of his philosophy in more Christian sounding language. Even though you would expect a nominal Christian philosopher who talks about the Absolute and Spirit all the time to believe philosophy is all about religion and edifying stuff like that, Hegel thought it was all about the lone soul coming to Reason through his own personal struggle. But I digress. The point is we SHOULD think, because it is our God given right as free beings, and freedom is also the freedom to think! And not be afraid to make mistakes. This all seems like common sense, but then again, everything that is common sense was probably originally written complexly by some 16th century philosopher.

This blog is about my thoughts, on every subject. It’s my attempt to get thoughts out on paper, and share them, for public debate or consumption. The main topic I’ll explore will be politics, but I will try to stay away from mainstream American politics (try), and try to have a tone that is more analytical rather than partisan. Anthropological so to speak. That’s really my passion, anthropology, analyzing culture.

Apart from the brainy stuff, I might talk about spirituality or personal research that I do over the course of my studies in anthropology, or past research. Maybe more artsy things. Don’t expect it all to be nerdy, although most of it probably will be.

A word on politics. It can be divisive sure, but I feel like there are many things that aren’t very divisive about politics that should be a no brainer. The goal should be to maximize human happiness for one- I don’t know anyone who doesn’t think that way besides extremely selfish people and social Darwinists. Of course, people can disagree about the extent to which politics SHOULD determine peoples lives. But as it stands, we live in a state society, where politics does have a huge influence on our lives. So even if you want to return to small scale society (which won’t happen on a large-scale), politics will have some effect on you globally. Of course there are topics that are cultural that aren’t political per se, but as someone once said, “the personal is political”, or as Gilles Deleuze calls it, “micropolitics” is all around us, from the way our workplaces are run, to how much things cost at the supermarket, etc.

Economic and environmental anthropology are two of my big interests, specifically “political ecology” and the anthropology of development when it comes to the Global South or “third world”. I’m specifically interested in the complex interplay between local people, governments, and environmental policy. So there may be some articles about that here.

On my personal politics- I’m a Socialist.

*E-gad!* *cue John McCain fainting*

And I’ll explain why later in some post particularly about that. When I say socialist, I don’t mean some crazy Stalinist or whatever, I don’t usually have to clarify that, but then again, there are some crazy people out there on the internet and far corners of Reddit (they are usually called tankies). And I don’t have starry eyes for people like Castro or Tito either.

My particular “tendency” on the Left would probably be called “libertarian socialist”, but more along the lines of IWW as opposed to “insurrectionist” for those of you who are adept in the radical jargon. Then again, I’m also somewhat of a pessimist, and don’t believe the revolution is coming anytime soon, so I’m not opposed to party politics on principle. As in, I admire the ideals of the SYRIZA party in Greece, if SYRIZA had not caved to the demands of Germany, but that’s a whole other debacle.

Anyway, I’m Stephen, this is my blog, and thank you for reading, I hope to post much more in the future on life, learning, and other fun things. 🙂

Oh, and its called Traveler’s Thoughts because I travel due to being an anthropology major. Some places I’ve gone and done research in are Bhutan, Guyana, and I may do my masters thesis here in the US on environmental problems on Indian reservations. So there may be travel posts or updates from those places if I return or find somewhere else exciting to go.

In essence, this blog will be a trip of the mind, a philosophical journey…an exploration of my own thoughts and ideas.

Thanks!

The problem with “pop politics” articles

Well I’ve done it already. I’m already going to write about Trump. No surprise there, he’s unavoidable.

Recently, I came across an article on the site “Everyday Feminism” that provoked a lot of questions for me. The article is titled “5 Gaslighting Phrases Donald Trump Used That Remind Me a Lot of My Abusive Ex”. Now I know what some of you are going to say. “But Stephen, why deliberately pick such easy targets of criticism?” As with any article from Salon or Buzzfeed, there’s more here than meets the eye in terms of the current zeitgeist.

This particular site has been a hub of popular Feminist writers, who pen articles on currently salient topics, often from an interesting range of perspectives. Sure, some of the writers may be amateur, but most of them have degrees and write for other magazines (this article in particular was written by Suzannah Weiss, “She is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, Salon, Seventeen, Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post, Bustle, and more.”). 

Nevertheless, the site, while aimed at a younger audience, often tries to tackle subjects such as sexism, racism, homophobia and trans issues, often with political undertones, but written from a “self-help” kind of perspective. Some article titles include “How to Compliment Women without Objectifying Them”, “5 Gender Neutral Alternatives to “Boyfriend” and “Girlfriend”, and “But Seriously, Let’s Talk about Millenial Poverty”. Two things strike me about these articles when I read them- they are at once personal, and from a “social justice” perspective. They attempt to integrate lifestyle choices with a liberal/social justice mentality. Many people (critics of political correctness) will immediately dismiss these sites and communities as “social justice warriors” and be done with it. However, there is an emerging identity/community of people like this, many of them LGBT, people of color, or women in the US, who take this kind of thing very seriously. People are trying to apply concepts originally drawn from sociology like “intersectionality” and apply it to their lives. What’s the harm in that, my inner lib says?

The problems I see with these “social justice pop articles” that have recently been ubiquitous on the internet are multiple.

First, it perpetuates a certain standard liberal narrative without any introspection. In terms of this article about Trump, it focuses on the racism/sexism angle of Trump’s candidacy. While these are undeniable aspects of Trump’s candidacy, and the article provides provides effective counterarguments to Trump’s own arguments about why it wasn’t important to focus “pussygate”, several things in this article are very telling.

First of all, when addressing anticipated and real criticisms in the article, Weiss makes the following argument about political correctness. “Political correctness is just being considerate”, and denied accusations of being the “PC police”. This not only represents a heightened sense of awareness of exactly what type of discourse is being presented in these articles, it is interesting to see a defense of political correctness in and of itself (I’d be the first to guess that it would come from this site).

Is she right? To an extent. Critics of political correctness fail to remember that there are moral standards which we should hold people to in public discourse, most of all people in positions of power. Advocates of this PC culture also are correct in saying that sexism and misogyny have been so thoroughly internalized by the populace that they shut down any attempt to be considerate as being “politically correct”. I would go so far as to say every time Donald Trump has mentioned PC culture, he has used it as an excuse to target some minority group. This is hateful and frightfully alarming rhetoric.

But PC advocates also fail to recognize the complex political valences around the “political correctness” debate. This article is shoddy in its attempt to address current politics, first of all because it doesn’t attempt to be analytical, and was written from a personalistic perspective. The metaphor of gaslighting is supposed to carry over seamlessly into politics. She starts the article talking about how people are “traumatized” by this election. This is standard liberal waffling. Have hate crimes against Muslims gone up? Of course! I’m not attempting to delegitimize people’s feelings about this election. I too am VERY concerned about the direction this country is heading. But the sheer psychological impact of this election is reduced in this metaphor to a personalistic metaphor about an abusive relationship. First of all, let’s ignore the fact that a politician can’t “gaslight” in the normal sense of the word. Sure he can attempt to silence his critics (like every politician).

But how did Trump manage to pull out of his nosedive in the polls after “pussygate”? One reason may be that he controlled the policy narrative afterwards, while Clinton focused on Trump’s personal scandals. Just like Bill Clinton was able to get through his impeachment scandal and his poll numbers even went up, Trump was able to refocus the debate and appeal to voters on the basis of his ideas, not his character. Trump said “I’m not proud of my locker room talk. But this world has serious problems”. This resonated with many voters, working class people in Michigan and Wisconsin for example, who have been left behind by neoliberal policies. It sends the message- “I have my human failings, but I will be your defender in the halls of power”. Clinton could not have done more damage to herself by focusing on Trump’s scandals. Aside from quote “normalizing racism and sexism”, what impact could Trump’s words and actions those many years ago on a tour bus possibly have for a family of 5 in rural Kansas?

It is interesting that despite their apparent ideological difference, the writer of this article and Clintonites appeal to the same moral conservatism as Christian conservatives to discredit Trump. Whether this moral critique is true or not (and it certainly is true- Trump is a cancer to the state of decency in political speech), it is the populism of Trump’s message that is completely ignored in this article. Conservative voters or Trump voters will read the first line and think “oh the poor libs went crying to the hotlines after their candidate lost. They’ll get over it”. Simply put- this rhetorical strategy isn’t working. More talk about sexism and racism, mainstream media friendly topics (if it’s about a dirty word a politician said or a picture Anthony Weiner sent, it will make front page) will only serve to make Trump appear like the arbiter of common sense in politics who takes on out-of-control political correctness in public debate.

I do think liberals have to reclaim the side of morality and decency, and fight against sexism and racism. But taking such a complex political issue and reducing it to a metaphor about your relationship only serves to muddy the waters, and represents the problems with today’s mainstream liberal Left.

I’ll also say a quick word (and try not to be too harsh) about today’s “activist blogosphere”. Too often the articles seem to be aimed at an audience which already believes what they are saying. The debate around Trump in particular in social media has become hyperbolic, emotional, and lacks clarity or any attempt to be analytical. Forget comparisons of Trump’s win to Brexit- Trump is obviously winning because of my ex-boyfriend, racists, and other baddies.

 

http://everydayfeminism.com/2016/11/gaslighting-trump-abusive-ex/