Affirmative consent is still a better idea

In recent weeks, dozens of powerful and famous women have come forward against equally powerful and famous men in industries including Hollywood, publishing, art, comedy and business.

Those accounts have emboldened others with fewer resources to post their own stories using the #MeToo hashtag or in other public forums. Allegations have shaken the leadership ranks at prominent institutions, including National Public Radio, ABC News and several state legislatures.[1]

I have three thoughts on the numerous recent revelations of sexual harassment and assault. First, the sheer volume of reports[2] and the fact that it’s about sex suggests a moral panic. That’s not by any means to say the allegations are false—I’m inclined to credit most of them—but rather that we need to be careful in our response. Cathy Young’s cautions about what conduct we really want to ruin people’s lives over[3] seem warranted and probably should be seen as a minimum. Continue reading “Affirmative consent is still a better idea”

Human lives and rights are only important when Charles Blow says they are

In a column yesterday (November 9), Charles Blow launched a diatribe against “all the Democrats who caterwauled last November about how the party had focused too much on courting women and minorities, and ignored angry white men,”[1] and we can reasonably infer that Blow thinks that the aforementioned “angry white men” have little interest in “recognizing, listening to and trying to satisfy the particular needs of particular groups of people who have very different lived experiences in this country.”[2] Continue reading “Human lives and rights are only important when Charles Blow says they are”

  1. [1]Charles M. Blow, “Resistance, for the Win!” New York Times, November 9 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/09/opinion/resistance-trump-virginia-republicans.html
  2. [2]Charles M. Blow, “Resistance, for the Win!” New York Times, November 9 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/09/opinion/resistance-trump-virginia-republicans.html

Occupied Catalonia faces the boot

Talk about putting the shoe on the other foot:

“The word ‘dialogue’ is a lovely word. It creates good feelings,” [Spanish Prime Minister Mariano] Rajoy said. “But dialogue has two enemies: those who abuse, ignore and forget the laws, and those who only want to listen to themselves, who do not want to understand the other party.”

Rajoy urged the Senate to approve Article 155 “to prevent Catalonia from being abused.”[1]

The charge that Catalan secessionists “only want to listen to themselves, . . . do not want to understand the other party” applies equally to those who would deprive Catalonia of independence. Second, the primacy assigned to the constitution and to law forgets that institutions need to serve people, not the other way around. And that, ultimately, seems to me to be a huge problem: As near as I can tell, Rajoy’s argument collapses entirely to a provision in the Spanish constitution, “which refers to ‘the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards.’”[2] There is nothing here of any benefits for Catalans in Spain, just nonsense about how “Spain without Catalonia and vice versa is a mutilated Spain and Catalonia.”[3] The origins of this drive for independence apparently lie in “a financial dispute [in 2012, during the financial crisis] over the tax contribution that wealthy Catalonia should make to poorer regions of Spain.”[4]

It is already apparent from the violence waged against the referendum that Catalonia held on independence,[5] which Rajoy defended as his “principal obligation . . . to enforce the law and ensure it is enforced,”[6] that Rajoy has no compunctions about using violence. Despite his appeals to public opinion surveys (a methodology I now treat as unreliable[7]) showing a majority even within Catalonia opposing independence,[8] it is clear that Rajoy is unconcerned with what the Catalan public may think of his use of violence against the referendum. The violence itself, directed against an election, undermines the remainder of his claim that his “principal obligation” is also to “protect and guarantee democracy,” and to “protect coexistence and harmony.”[9]

Further, it is apparent that Rajoy enjoys international backing[10] from elites who, on various rationalizations, nearly always oppose secession, except when a secession movement in another country might work to their own advantage.

So I see no constraint on Rajoy’s further deployment of violence to achieve his ends. Catalonia is occupied territory. Now I fear it will feel the boot.

  1. [1]William Booth and Pamela Rolfe, “Catalonia finally declared independence — but Spain vows it won’t last long,” Washington Post, October 27, 2017,
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/a-day-of-fireworks-in-catalonia-both-spanish-and-catalan-parliaments-are-scheduled-to-convene/2017/10/27/09685d34-ba90-11e7-9b93-b97043e57a22_story.html
  2. [2]Spanish Constitution, quoted in British Broadcasting Corporation, “Catalan referendum: ‘Hundreds hurt’ as police try to stop voters,” October 1, 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-41461032
  3. [3]Pedro Sánchez, quoted in William Booth and Pamela Rolfe, “Catalonia finally declared independence — but Spain vows it won’t last long,” Washington Post, October 27, 2017,
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/a-day-of-fireworks-in-catalonia-both-spanish-and-catalan-parliaments-are-scheduled-to-convene/2017/10/27/09685d34-ba90-11e7-9b93-b97043e57a22_story.html
  4. [4]Raphael Minder, “Separatists in Catalonia Win Narrow Majority in Regional Elections,” New York Times, September 27, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/28/world/europe/catalan-vote-seen-as-referendum-on-secession.html
  5. [5]British Broadcasting Corporation, “Catalan referendum: ‘Hundreds hurt’ as police try to stop voters,” October 1, 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-41461032; Peter Geoghegan, “Catalonia votes amid violent clashes,” Deutschewelle, October 1, 2017, http://www.dw.com/en/catalonia-votes-amid-violent-clashes/a-40770357; Jon Sindreu, Pietro Lombardi, and Marina Force, “Hundreds Hurt as Catalans, Spanish Police Clash Amid Independence Referendum,” Wall Street Journal, October 1, 2017, https://www.wsj.com/articles/voters-turn-out-in-catalonia-for-independence-referendum-1506838287
  6. [6]Jeannette Neumann, Jon Sindreu, and Pietro Lombardi, “Catalans Support Secession From Spain in Vote Boycotted by Opponents,” Wall Street Journal, October 1, 2017, https://www.wsj.com/articles/voters-turn-out-in-catalonia-for-independence-referendum-1506838287
  7. [7]David Benfell, “On a nine percent response rate,” May 28, 2017, https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/journal/2017/05/28/nine-percent-response-rate
  8. [8]Hans von der Burchard, “New Catalan president wants independence within 18 months,” Politico, January 10, 2016, http://www.politico.eu/article/new-catalan-president-carles-puigdemont-spain-independence/; Jeannette Neumann and Giovanni Legorano, “Spain Poised to Strip Catalonia of Powers,” Wall Street Journal, October 19, 2017, https://www.wsj.com/articles/catalan-leader-fails-to-renounce-secession-push-demands-dialogue-with-madrid-1508401099; Jeannette Neumann and Giovanni Legorano, “Spain Moves to Seize Control of Catalan Government, Call Regional Elections,” Wall Street Journal, October 21, 2017, https://www.wsj.com/articles/spain-moves-to-seize-control-of-catalan-government-call-regional-elections-1508587975
  9. [9]Jeannette Neumann, Jon Sindreu, and Pietro Lombardi, “Catalans Support Secession From Spain in Vote Boycotted by Opponents,” Wall Street Journal, October 1, 2017, https://www.wsj.com/articles/voters-turn-out-in-catalonia-for-independence-referendum-1506838287
  10. [10]William Booth and Pamela Rolfe, “Catalonia finally declared independence — but Spain vows it won’t last long,” Washington Post, October 27, 2017,
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/a-day-of-fireworks-in-catalonia-both-spanish-and-catalan-parliaments-are-scheduled-to-convene/2017/10/27/09685d34-ba90-11e7-9b93-b97043e57a22_story.html; Laura Smith-Spark and Claudia Rebaza, “Catalonia government dissolved after declaring independence from Spain,” CNN, October 27, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/27/europe/catalonia-independence-spain/index.html

To the students (but not only students) who won’t read this

It’s time to grow up. You are not the final word on righteousness no matter how fervently you hold your beliefs. Not any of you (and, yes, that’s a universal claim).

And universities exist for other purposes than your temper tantrums. Yes, you are entitled to invite speakers. That also means your fellow students—oh, here’s a news flash—are entitled to invite speakers. No, you are not entitled to throw a shit fit, let alone commit acts of violence, when they accept. Continue reading “To the students (but not only students) who won’t read this”

Women’s lives are still expendable

I was driving in Berkeley last night, which is a terrible mistake following a Bears (the university football team) game, because traffic is simply gridlocked with too many pedestrians (a common Berkeley malady) but lots more cars. The weather was cool but the young women, almost without exception, wore short, short pants and otherwise skimpy outfits.

I noticed one walking down the street alone. She was wearing a gold (okay, yellow) tube top with the blue “Cal” lettering. She was awkwardly—as if grace were possible in such a situation—pulling it up, as such tops are wont to slip down. She didn’t look like she was having a good time.

Continue reading “Women’s lives are still expendable”

On idealism

I suppose I should preface this by explaining that, no, I’m not speaking of a philosophical doubt of external reality as possibly nothing more than a perverse fragment of one’s imagination.

No, I speak of idealism in a possible perversion of Plato,[1] one I’m surely guilty of myself, of insisting that a thing can and must be the best that it can possibly be. As a notion, idealism is placed in opposition to realism, which itself lies in opposition to fantasy. And so it is that idealism and fantasy are often conflated.

But even in that conflation, what is a fantasy? Is it an unrealized potential? Or is it a nonexistent one? And if it is the latter, who determines what is ‘nonexistent?’

And it is in that question that a problem lies. For in social reality, ‘realism’ is intrinsically associated with the status quo and its preservation. It is therefore inherently associated with power.

So let me ask that question, again: Who determines what is ‘nonexistent?’ How do they make this determination and on what motivations?

Does a potential exist that is unrealized? There are probably many of them with varying degrees of plausibility. But if an authority rules that a social potential does not exist, does s/he do so even in part to protect or enhance her or his own position in overlapping hierarchies of political and economic power?

We must be careful about ruling out idealistic notions. Are we doing so out of justice or of authoritarian self-interest?

And if we act not out of justice, then what of those to whom we are unjust? Is it even possible to disconnect their injustice from authoritarian self-interest?

Several years ago, before I entered the Human Science Ph.D. program at Saybrook, I entered the Transformative Studies Ph.D. program at California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS). I retain serious doubts about this program. Nonetheless, I learned a lot, especially including about complexity theory. And the reading list I had for that summer before beginning the program was phenomenal. And I think it helped prepare me for that Human Science program from which I did earn my Ph.D. But Transformative Studies was the wrong program for me and that meant I had to leave.

So I attempted a transition to what was, at least then, called the Social and Cultural Anthropology (SCA) program at CIIS. This failed, with the committee saying I would have to start clear back at the Master’s level for preparation. As it happened, I had the acceptance letter from Saybrook’s Human Science program in hand, and so, with a lot more amazing learning, I now have a Ph.D.

But in that final Spring semester at CIIS, I signed up for classes (which due to a collapsing financial aid situation, I had to withdraw from) in the SCA program, one of which, taught by Richard Shapiro, introduced me to a Jewish notion of justice as a quest simultaneously never to be completed and never to be abandoned and a goal that, once imagined to have been achieved, has surely been missed. It is this powerful notion that leads me to think that if I were into patriarchal monotheism, I might choose Judaism.

I don’t remember much else from that class. A lot of it was barely comprehensible post-modernism and a lot more of it was fully incomprehensible. I liked a sense of ‘post-’ in post-modernism as a sort of retrospective critique of modernism and it is this same sense of ‘post-’ I draw upon when I call myself ‘post-disciplinary.’

But wow, that notion of justice. It is an awesome notion of justice that immediately separates itself from any attempt to reduce it to law, for justice is an intangible beyond our best efforts at emulation, let alone those puny bastards arguing fine points to see who can twist which rules in whose favor, and never mind the assembly line of injustice where overworked public defenders are too often too eager to secure ‘deals’ for their clients to plead guilty (or “no contest”) in exchange for a (possibly) reduced charge or sentence.

Justice itself is an idealistic notion. It demands an unending quest for perfection. Which is idealism at its core.

We are probably now long past that point in time in our society when we could choose: Would we seek justice? Would we understand that to seek justice intrinsically means seeking it for all?

We have chosen instead injustice. Every act of complicity with—even protest against (because it in fact appeals to[2])—the authoritarian regime is to choose the status quo, to choose injustice. And in that choice, we bear a moral burden that in neoliberal society we have arrogantly and self-righteously chosen to ignore.

I’m not much of a believer in karma. My understanding of the Buddhist concept is that it is a burden one imposes on oneself. (Enlightenment entails a shedding of that burden, which might be achieved through an accumulation over several lifetimes of ‘good karma,’ or perhaps in a single lifetime with Tantric Buddhism. Or perhaps that burden might be shed by simply abandoning it and disclaiming responsibility for it.) I’m simply not seeing that many cases where people get their ‘just’ due. Whether it is the vast deprivation of absolute poverty, the humiliation of relative poverty, or in the opulence of the top 0.1 percent, I see appeals not to ‘karma’ but to the ‘market’ or exchange system. This system is not ‘natural’ but rather a social construction which should therefore serve but instead inherently oppresses humanity.[3]

And the rationalization for this inherently oppressive social construction is an allegation that, given the opportunity, ‘lazy bums’ will be ‘free riders,’ consuming without contributing, that is, failing to participate in exchange. People must be therefore coerced to work and need for this coercion justifies political and economic authority. This allegation simultaneously assumes the worst of humanity and the best of political and economic authoritarians (who are also human).

Idealism demands the best of everyone. But realism, even leading to our extinction, has won.

Which means a great deal of suffering lies ahead. As climate change proceeds, the extreme weather we are witnessing can be expected to intensify and challenge the infrastructure that civilization depends upon.[4] Even currently prosperous places may face shortages as goods traded for from afar simply have no way to be transported. And as we have pursued a notion of specialization based on so-called ‘efficiency,’ we have fostered monocultures both in agriculture and production that assume a means of transport and communication for long distance exchange. People will go hungry. They will face deprivation.

Realism offers us no way to avert this outcome. So if we hope to survive, we’d better get idealistic. But I have lost hope.

  1. [1]Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View (New York: Harmony, 1991).
  2. [2]Bill Moyer, with JoAnn McAllister, Mary Lou Finley, and Steven Soifer, Doing Democracy: The MAP Model for Organizing Social Movements (Gabriola Island, British Columbia, Canada: New Society, 2001).
  3. [3]Max Weber, “Class, Status, Party,” in Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, ed. Charles Lemert, 4th ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010), 119-129.
  4. [4]William J. Burroughs, Climate Change in Prehistory: The End of the Reign of Chaos (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University, 2008).

Failing the test, again

Let this paleoconservative writing sink in for a moment: “‘Thirty years from now, the black and brown coalition plans to pit its new brown majority against aging whites,’ targeting Social Security benefits unless whites support their efforts to compel ‘the younger generation of whites to pay the future bills for welfare and education for America’s new Third-World majority.’”[1]

I want you to let this notion of racial conflict explicitly between whites and people of color sink in real hard because at the opposite end of the political spectrum, Rabbi Michael Lerner has repeatedly warned against demonizing all those (largely working class whites) who supported Donald Trump. He notes that many whites have economic grievances, are not racist, did not create systemic discrimination, but have felt abandoned by the Left and by Democrats, who now speak increasingly for just about every subaltern group imaginable except for folks who suffer various forms of economic injustice. The Rabbi’s warning stands on its own virtue; I do not know if he realizes he is also warning the Left against making a paleoconservative prediction true. Continue reading “Failing the test, again”

  1. [1]Yggdrasil [pseud.], “Republican Immigration Fantasies,” Occidental Quarterly, November 10, 2011, http://www.toqonline.com/blog/republican-immigration-fantasies/, as quoted in David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).