It might be time to bring back frontal lobotomies

See update for October 27, 2022, at end of post.



Fig. 1. Photograph via Oren Segal on Twitter, October 23, 2022,[1] fair use.

Honestly, I try, desperately in fact, to ignore Kanye West, whose musical genre I do not appreciate and who obviously suffers from serious mental health issues,[2] along with the entire Kardashian clan, which is just too, too much in every pathetic way imaginable.

Ye [the rapper formerly known as Kanye West] has recently repeated antisemitic outbursts across social media and in news interviews, including vowing to go “death con 3 on Jewish people,” claiming that he is the target of a “Jewish underground media mafia,” and that “Jewish people have owned the Black voice.” He was locked out of several social media accounts as a result of his comments.

Goyim Defense League has tried to capitalize on Ye’s comments by targeting the Black community with antisemitic propaganda, according to a report by Anti-Defamation League.

The group has launched a campaign “seeking to convince Black people that Jews are a universal enemy,” the anti-hate group said.[3]

It hasn’t “just” been against Jews. Anti-Semitism is, of course, a sore spot for a lot of people, including those who apply the label to anti-Zionism,[4] so when West launches an anti-Semitic tirade, or, as it happens, more than one such tirade, a furious reaction, in this case, fully warranted, is sure to follow. West, however, also espoused explicitly white supremacist talking points even against Black people:

Earlier this month, [Kanye] West appeared on the popular rap podcast “Drink Champs,” where he pushed other antisemitic ideas, including the trope that Jewish people run the media and have “owned the Black voice.” He also claimed, falsely, that George Floyd died from a fentanyl overdose, when pressure from a police officer’s knee on Floyd’s neck actually killed him.

West also faced criticism for wearing a “White Lives Matter” shirt to his YZY runway show during Paris Fashion Week in early October, a statement that the Anti-Defamation League has called a “white supremacist phrase.”[5]

The “White Lives Matter” shirt is an obvious attempt to minimize the very real experience Black people have with police white supremacist gangsters, expressed in the Black Lives Matter and Defund the Police movements.

Anytime that you have people that happen to be Black speaking out against the interest of Black people it emboldens non-Black people to be more audacious in their anti-Blackness. . . .

White supremacy has always searched for Black faces to put on it. And there’s always been Black people, who are descriptively Black, who put their very selfish quest for either feeding their ego, or lining their pockets, or both, ahead of the interest of the collective.[6]

This, of course, is not sensible stuff. West clearly has a problem.[7]

“It’s far from clear how many people take West’s comments seriously or are inspired by them,”[8] but West has been right wing, even Trumpist, for a while now; it’s clear he is not alone even among rappers, let alone the Black community;[9] and I think I’m now understanding why, in my back seat, some young Black men have defended Donald Trump and even insisted that there was a rising backlash among the Black community against Democrats and so-called “elites” (including journalists and academics).

I’m pretty sure I saw a comment on Twitter—I can’t find it now—that this episode will increase West’s support. Whoever wrote that had an insight I failed to recognize at the time: There is a strong resemblance between the aforementioned comments from my back seat and what I once understood as authoritarian populism[10] but is now bundled up in an increasingly monolithic white Christian nationalist conservatism[11] that feeds on and promulgates conspiracy theories. Many conservatives, whether or not of color, will see West as a victim because he is saying what they want him to say.[12]

Which of course leads me to wonder if it’s West alone who suffers from mental health issues.[13] But the kind of hatred that motivates his remarks both against Jews[14] and his own people[15] is, for me, par for the course with rap music, and one reason—only one reason—I despise it so much.

West’s “apology”—I will leave this judgment to those targeted—might be viewed as a non-apology:

I’m sorry for the people that I hurt with the confusion that I caused. I feel like I caused hurt and confusion and I’m sorry for the families of the people that have nothing to do with the trauma that I had been through.[16]

Whatever. This is hate speech that should not be accepted or tolerated in any way, shape, or form, in civilized society. West is causing real social harm and that “the family is powerless”[17] to stop him is far from a sufficient response.

West and people of like mind need to be silenced by any means necessary. And if that means bringing back frontal lobotomies, with their “personality changes”[18] now seen as desirable, then I’m all in favor.


Update, October 27, 2022: When I arrived in Pittsburgh, in the year following the Tree of Life massacre,[19] Confederate flags were everywhere to be seen, flying proudly in people’s front yards. To say I was horrified understates it, as I rather rapidly pieced this together with the even more prominent support for Donald Trump, the guns meant to honor veterans but mostly found in and around conflict zones where working class white people fear their Black neighbors, the banners also honoring veterans but extraordinarily rarely veterans of color, an insanity in which you might as well ask Pennsylvania men to cut off their own penises as ask them to give up their guns, and a widespread support for police white supremacist gangsters that was an obvious reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement, that all seemed inescapably to add up to one very ugly white supremacist picture.[20] My mother had warned me about racism in Pittsburgh but I was unprepared for its prominence and unprepared for how widely these views were manifest.

Even neglecting any knowledge of U.S. history, with my mother’s warning in mind—she had grown up in Dormont, a Pittsburgh suburb, in the 1940s and 1950s—it was incoherent to suggest that such racism was anything new. Rather, I came to understand, Trump had made white supremacists feel comfortable enough to openly display their bigotry.

I was thinking principally of Black people, who live with a wide intersection of race and class where Black people number disproportionately and visibly among the poor and white people number disproportionately and visibly among the well off, evidence of systemic racism. But there was also that Tree of Life Synagogue shooting.[21] (This synagogue remains closed.)

While at a generalized level, antisemitic attitudes have dropped, the incidents have risen because there is less shame. People feel they can say and do anything.[22]

I realized quickly that I was seeing more broadly and boldly than I had ever imagined, what I understood as authoritarian populism and paleoconservatism in my dissertation[23] and, quite unintentionally, my time in Pittsburgh has served to increase my understanding of these tendencies, now part of a wider phenomenon of a White Christian nationalist conservatism,[24] encompassing most of the tendencies I had earlier identified,[25] that Trump has made nearly monolithic.[26]

Whether intentionally or unwittingly, Trump tapped into a movement I had woefully underestimated, that dates back a millenium.[27] He was not even on the radar as a possible presidential contender, let alone president, in 2013 when Kim Messick wrote this:

[T]he Republican Party’s extremism can be traced to its increased dependence on an electorate that is largely rural, Southern and white. These voters, who figure prominently in the Tea Party, often decline to interpret political conflict as a struggle among interest groups or a good-faith clash of opinion. Instead, they tend to identify the country as a whole with an idealized version of themselves, and to equate any dissent from their values with disloyalty by alien, “un-American” forces. This paranoid vision of politics, I argued, makes them seek out opportunities for dramatic conflict and to shun negotiation and compromise.[28]

This “idealized version” is white, evangelical Protestant, and incoherently conservative, more against anything perceived to be “liberal,” let alone “socialist” or “communist,” than for any coherent program.[29] To be otherwise, in this view, is to be disloyal, alien, unAmerikkkan.[30] Trump has relentlessly exploited this[31] and now, look what’s happened:

We’re in an era when the MAGA movement’s boundaries of who is considered a real, good, authentic American are mutating and the future is very unpredictable.[32]

One thing we’re seeing here is a narrowing of who, under a white Christian nationalist construct, is Amerikkkan. But the hell of it is that this is really a twofer. Not only do white supremacists denigrate, threaten, and even commit acts of violence against Jews, but in doing so, they rationalize Zionist occupation, in which the existence—whether we admit it or not—of Israel is a reaction to the Holocaust and to a relentless series of pogroms dating back centuries,[33] aggravating the Palestinian problem.

When Kanye West pits Black people against Jews,[34] he thus in fact also betrays a legacy of Black support for the Palestinian cause.[35]

But the evil here is enormous, much, much wider than Jews and Palestinians, encompassing many issues that distinguish a civilized society from barbarity. We tolerate it at our own peril.

  1. [1]Oren Segal, “Hate in America: Yesterday, the head of an antisemitic and white supremacist group (and his supporters) dropped banners over the 405 in Los Angeles. One banner read, ‘Kanye is right about the Jews,’ Twitter, October 23, 2022, https://twitter.com/orensegal/status/1584132843285794816
  2. [2]British Broadcasting Corporation, “Kim Kardashian West addresses husband Kanye West’s mental health,” July 22, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-53501482
  3. [3]Times of Israel, “Antisemites hang banner over LA freeway declaring Kanye ‘right about the Jews,’” October 23, 2022, https://www.timesofisrael.com/antisemites-hang-banner-over-la-freeway-declaring-kanye-right-about-the-jews/
  4. [4]David Benfell, “But they have a wonderful social justice tradition,” Not Housebroken, April 27, 2014, https://disunitedstates.org/2014/04/27/but-they-have-a-wonderful-social-justice-tradition/
  5. [5]Grace Toohey and Salvador Hernandez, “Kanye West’s brazen antisemitism gives hate a celebrity mouthpiece. ‘There’s real harm,’” Los Angeles Times, October 25, 2022, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-10-25/response-to-antisemitic-acts-in-los-angeles
  6. [6]Melina Abdullah, quoted in Grace Toohey and Salvador Hernandez, “Kanye West’s brazen antisemitism gives hate a celebrity mouthpiece. ‘There’s real harm,’” Los Angeles Times, October 25, 2022, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-10-25/response-to-antisemitic-acts-in-los-angeles
  7. [7]British Broadcasting Corporation, “Kim Kardashian West addresses husband Kanye West’s mental health,” July 22, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-53501482
  8. [8]Grace Toohey and Salvador Hernandez, “Kanye West’s brazen antisemitism gives hate a celebrity mouthpiece. ‘There’s real harm,’” Los Angeles Times, October 25, 2022, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-10-25/response-to-antisemitic-acts-in-los-angeles
  9. [9]Dory Jackson, “Pusha-T Equates Kanye West’s MAGA Hat to Ku Klux Klan Hood,” Newsweek, July 5, 2018, https://www.newsweek.com/kanye-west-pusha-t-maga-hat-kkk-hood-donald-trump-1010427
  10. [10]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).
  11. [11]David Benfell, “My 2024 forecast,” Not Housebroken, October 14, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/03/10/my-2024-forecast/
  12. [12]Grace Toohey and Salvador Hernandez, “Kanye West’s brazen antisemitism gives hate a celebrity mouthpiece. ‘There’s real harm,’” Los Angeles Times, October 25, 2022, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-10-25/response-to-antisemitic-acts-in-los-angeles
  13. [13]British Broadcasting Corporation, “Kim Kardashian West addresses husband Kanye West’s mental health,” July 22, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-53501482
  14. [14]Times of Israel, “Antisemites hang banner over LA freeway declaring Kanye ‘right about the Jews,’” October 23, 2022, https://www.timesofisrael.com/antisemites-hang-banner-over-la-freeway-declaring-kanye-right-about-the-jews/
  15. [15]Grace Toohey and Salvador Hernandez, “Kanye West’s brazen antisemitism gives hate a celebrity mouthpiece. ‘There’s real harm,’” Los Angeles Times, October 25, 2022, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-10-25/response-to-antisemitic-acts-in-los-angeles
  16. [16]Kanye West, quoted in Times of Israel, “Antisemites hang banner over LA freeway declaring Kanye ‘right about the Jews,’” October 23, 2022, https://www.timesofisrael.com/antisemites-hang-banner-over-la-freeway-declaring-kanye-right-about-the-jews/
  17. [17]Kim Kardashian West, quoted in British Broadcasting Corporation, “Kim Kardashian West addresses husband Kanye West’s mental health,” July 22, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-53501482
  18. [18]Peter Pressman, “Frontal Lobotomy and Medical Ethics,” Verywell Health, November 3, 2021, https://www.verywellhealth.com/frontal-lobotomy-2488774
  19. [19]Campbell Robertson, Christopher Mele, and Sabrina Tavernise, “11 Killed in Synagogue Massacre; Suspect Charged With 29 Counts,” New York Times, October 27, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/27/us/active-shooter-pittsburgh-synagogue-shooting.html
  20. [20]David Benfell, “The banners and the guns: Flagrant racism in Pittsburgh,” Not Housebroken, October 3, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/09/20/the-banners-and-the-guns-flagrant-racism-in-pittsburgh/
  21. [21]Campbell Robertson, Christopher Mele, and Sabrina Tavernise, “11 Killed in Synagogue Massacre; Suspect Charged With 29 Counts,” New York Times, October 27, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/27/us/active-shooter-pittsburgh-synagogue-shooting.html
  22. [22]Jonathan Greenblatt, quoted in Michelle Boorstein and Isaac Arnsdorf, “Overt U.S. antisemitism returns with Trump, Ye: ‘Something is different,’” Washington Post, October 27, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2022/10/27/antisemitism-kanye-trump-adidas-jews/
  23. [23]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).
  24. [24]David Benfell, “My 2024 forecast,” Not Housebroken, October 14, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/03/10/my-2024-forecast/
  25. [25]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).
  26. [26]David Benfell, “My 2024 forecast,” Not Housebroken, October 14, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/03/10/my-2024-forecast/
  27. [27]David Benfell, “Barack Obama asks, ‘Why is it that the folks that won the last election are so mad all the time?’” Not Housebroken, November 4, 2018, https://disunitedstates.org/2018/11/04/barack-obama-asks-why-is-it-that-the-folks-that-won-the-last-election-are-so-mad-all-the-time/
  28. [28]Kim Messick, “Modern GOP is still the party of Dixie,” Salon, October 12, 2013, https://www.salon.com/2013/10/12/modern_gop_is_still_the_party_of_dixie/
  29. [29]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).
  30. [30]Kim Messick, “Modern GOP is still the party of Dixie,” Salon, October 12, 2013, https://www.salon.com/2013/10/12/modern_gop_is_still_the_party_of_dixie/
  31. [31]Jelani Cobb, “Donald Trump’s Idea of Selective Citizenship,” New Yorker, July 29, 2019, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/07/29/donald-trumps-idea-of-selective-citizenship
  32. [32]Benjamin Lorber, quoted in Michelle Boorstein and Isaac Arnsdorf, “Overt U.S. antisemitism returns with Trump, Ye: ‘Something is different,’” Washington Post, October 27, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2022/10/27/antisemitism-kanye-trump-adidas-jews/
  33. [33]Avigail Abarbanel, “A change needs to come,” Electronic Intifada, May 25, 2008, http://electronicintifada.net/content/change-needs-come/7529; Albert Memmi, Portrait of a Jew (New York: Viking, 1971).
  34. [34]Michelle Boorstein and Isaac Arnsdorf, “Overt U.S. antisemitism returns with Trump, Ye: ‘Something is different,’” Washington Post, October 27, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2022/10/27/antisemitism-kanye-trump-adidas-jews/; Philissa Cramer and Ron Kampeas, “Kanye West’s vow to ‘go death con 3’ on Jews and his antisemitism controversy, explained,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, October 12, 2022, https://www.jta.org/2022/10/12/united-states/kanye-wests-vow-to-go-death-con-3-on-jews-and-his-antisemitism-controversy-explained; Oren Segal, “Hate in America: Yesterday, the head of an antisemitic and white supremacist group (and his supporters) dropped banners over the 405 in Los Angeles. One banner read, ‘Kanye is right about the Jews,’ Twitter, October 23, 2022, https://twitter.com/orensegal/status/1584132843285794816; Times of Israel, “Antisemites hang banner over LA freeway declaring Kanye ‘right about the Jews,’” October 23, 2022, https://www.timesofisrael.com/antisemites-hang-banner-over-la-freeway-declaring-kanye-right-about-the-jews/; Grace Toohey and Salvador Hernandez, “Kanye West’s brazen antisemitism gives hate a celebrity mouthpiece. ‘There’s real harm,’” Los Angeles Times, October 25, 2022, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-10-25/response-to-antisemitic-acts-in-los-angeles
  35. [35]Jewish Women’s Archive, “Tensions in Black-Jewish Relations,” n.d., https://jwa.org/teach/livingthelegacy/tensions-in-black-jewish-relations