Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Liberal Democrats for Santorum: Really?

I have been seeing more and more people bring up the idea that Democrats/"progressives" (scare quotes intentional) should vote for Rick Santorum, which I find positively infuriating. From what I can see, as an organized force it began at Daily Kos, and now I have started to hear people talk about it that I actually know in real life.

I mean, I guess I should qualify that at the beginning, I found the concept of a Santorum campaign pretty entertaining. The sheer ridiculousness of his political positions was enough to promise some sort of entertainment. But I've felt myself backing away from that kind of thought. Sure, Republican candidate Santorum might be an interesting thought experiment. But do I really want to go there? I came to the conclusion that it really doesn't make any sense, and all the arguments that I kept hearing for Democrats supporting/voting for Rick Santorum were not only somewhat incorrect, but they came from a place a great privilege.

The crux of the argument is that if Rick Santorum was elected in the primaries, he would have no way of ever beating Barack Obama: therefore there is no problem with supporting Santorum. I don't find this argument convincing at all, and I think it shows a lack of political awareness that is pretty profound. After all, I would say that no matter who the people running are, you are generally going to get 40-45% of people voting simply along party lines. Even more if you consider that racism affects this election. And then, you have the simple fact that no one on the earth knows the future. Conceivably any damn thing could happen between now and November: Iran-Israel war, Eurozone meltdown, et cetera. All of these could put Barack Obama in a much worse position to win any sort of election: then you would have a President Santorum. So, the entire idea is based on a relatively flawed strategy.

I also think that propping Santorum up is kind of a shitty thing to do to a host of minorities. The more time that Santorum is able to talk about how we should get rid of contraception, the more that becomes a legitimate view in the public square. Let alone his stances on abortion, which are already kind of mainstream in lots of places. Let alone the fact that this is basically a way of raising up a person who has made a job off of hate speech against queer people 'for the lulz' (the founding idea was called Operation Hilarity, after all). Everyone wrings their hands about queer kids having self esteem issues, but then we are supposed to say that it's alright to pour toxic misinformation and hatred out into the public consciousness even more because we want a politician to win by a bit more? To me, that seems like being a terrible ally to women, ethnic minorities, and queer people. And you are moving the Overton Window in the opposite direction of what you want.

Moreover, most of the arguments for this have a lot of privilege coming from those who argue for it. Most of the people that I've heard argue for this are in most ways unaffected by what would happen if Santorum became President: that is, they are people living in relatively liberal areas, are white, well off, cis* and frequently are male. There are obviously exceptions, but this has been my experience. So it seems like they are kind of bargaining with someone else's livelihood, and that is what I would call "a dick move." Then they tell the people who are a bit leery of electing someone who would have a much worse impact on them, that they are being overemotional, or any other number of misogynist/homophobic words. Politics is war, right? Never mind that that hypermasculine concept of politics is part of the reason we are in this problem right now.

You know what? They think that Santorum couldn't possibly win because the people I've seen only hang out in liberal echo chambers. Either online, or in the Bay Area. The thing is, I know a lot of people back in Kansas who would agree with a lot of what Santorum is saying I mean, I have no doubt that he would win there: he would win in a lot of places. So don't tell me how ridiculous his candidacy is, because I've lived places that Kris Kobach won election.

In the same vein, I hear a lot of people respond to the claim that giving Santorum a stage to say all his terrible things is necessary because his ideas need to be put to people upfront so that they can reject them. I don't know what hypothetical fantasy world these people live in, but I think I might fill out some immigration paperwork. Oh wait, I know, it's called living in the Bay Area and being a well off, white, cis, able-bodied person. Only if you live in the Pacific coast and never stop in between cities would you think that people are not confronted with being queer, or being a woman, at all times. If we should really put up the face of these ideas, we should all just write "Fred Phelps" in for the ballot, then people would really have to face up to bigotry. Well, that is if people weren't already aware of the fact that lots of Republican politicians are generally bigoted.

You know what? There's a reason that Santorum is where he is now. It's not because he hid his secret hatred of queer people. It's the fact that his stuff gets put out there, and he wins, because lots of people agree with him. There are just a lot of bigoted people in the world, and it all can't be like the rich white gay paradise that is San Francisco or Berkeley. If you think that anti-queer people bigotry is something that doesn't come up in midwestern states, or that people there would all of a sudden say "or wait, Rick Santorum doesn't like gay people? That's terrible!" you live in bubble that ignores the fact that in most places, lots of people agree with him.

Friday, February 24, 2012

You Just Replaced a Bad Word with a Worse One

I'm tired of the word "progressive." It's become the self-identifier of people who may have used to call themselves liberal, and has become pretty much the de factor monarch of terms used to identify a rather nebulous group of people who are defined by "Not being conservative." In a weird Mircea Eliade way, conservative is likewise defined in that via negativa: conservatives are those who are "not liberal/progressive/commies."

I discussed with Anna perhaps a couple of days ago, and we both agreed that it didn't make any sense to call oneself a liberal: it hardly stands for what the term originally meant. I mean, I suppose liberals of our day share some with Locke and Smith, but when economists like Hayek and von Mises also fit that category (and perhaps more closely), it's time to get rid of a word like that. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like that was the reason that people fled from that word. In fact, the reason why is because conservatives somehow managed to make their self identification a negative thing, and so they promptly ceded ground and ran away from it, to "progressive." Not even to mention things like "socialist."

Progressive wasn't really a new word though. It really actually recalls an attitude and movement starting in the late 1800's. The fact that we are recalling the good old days of that time period is a little depressing in and of itself. But I want to critique why it is that we might be using this word (if it is anything more than simply nostalgia).

I think my main problem with the word "Progressive" is that it has this whole Western teleology feeling to it: there is obviously Progress (with a capital P) and we will continuously get better until our society is some sort of utopia. This implies that anyone who happens to disagree with a progressive happens to be 'regressive' or a backwards person. We have certainly never heard this rhetoric in colonialist thought before. Oh wait, yes we have. So apparently there is some sort of objective measure that progressives all have the innate knowledge of, and will assist all the other people in achieving.     

You know, Liberal is a terrible word for someone with the vague area of politics that I occupy: I disagree with much of what would be called 'liberal' thought. But at least it actually refers to a system of belief- it actually says something about the person who claims to be a liberal. With the word "progressive" you simply have a political notion based upon the vague idea of "Progress," which is not only something completely unfalsifiable (and therefore improvable) but also sound and fury signifying nothing. It's basically like claiming to be a "Good People" political group. Who wouldn't want to progress? I mean, even neoconservatives think that they are enabling progress by giving their version of it (democracy) through wars. I mean, you only have to look at the collection of groups in the world that call themselves "Progressive" to realize that the word has basically no worth. And not only does it have no real meaning, the only true depth it has is one that is a concept generally used to further things like cultural imperialism. So... great choice?

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Pitfalls of Sex Positive Christianity

I realize that my blog seems to make me seem like a super reactionary person. Those who don't necessarily know me super well might get an incorrect impression, because I seem to mostly use this blog to criticize things that 'progressive' people say or do. I don't want that to come off as "So let's go back to tradition" because that's definitely not it. I just think that there are so many people already talking about those things in ways that are way superior to mine that I figure I might as well write about things that aren't beating a dead horse, so to speak. I might change that though, but just to clarify.

So, with that, I want to say that I have some serious reservations about how the embodiment/sex-positive Christian theology thing is talked about. Maybe that's just a hold over from my more conservative childhood, or perhaps it has to do with reading too many ascetic writers. But a lot of the rhetoric just seems to kind of make me feel weird. Obviously it is better than the whole "Sex after marriage only or you are going to hell" camp, but there are still some things I don't thing are very compelling. Or perhaps, over compelling to the point of seeming compulsory.

The first is that I find embodiment theology to basically be arguing so heavily on the side of sexuality being sacred and important that I overemphasizes it. The critique is that Traditional Christianity (TM [there is nothing wrong about that reification]) has been negatively obsessed with sex and sexuality; what the solution seems to be from many sex positive theologians is to be obsessed with sex and sexuality, but positively. I guess you might be able to make the argument that that is the only way to overcome the sex negativity of Traditional Christianity (ughuhguhguh). However, the lengths that they go to to reconcile sexuality with Christianity actually seems to have its own problems.

Most of the authors I've read have been in love with Audre Lorde's "Uses of the Erotic," which I personally don't have a great opinion of. I think it's a totally ahistorical way of looking at asceticism, along with being a bit essentialist and kind of sidelines asexual people. Why I mention it is because Lorde's essay is a great example of the trend in sex positive Christianity (even though Lorde wasn't Christian) to see sexuality as something that is necessary for spirituality, along with being completely universal.

The first problem here is that some people don't like sex. The idea of making the Erotic some sort of spiritual force or will to Power (or whatever) seems to be excluding asexual people from any sort of spiritual existence. I mean, it also presents everyone who doesn't agree with the sex positive theologians as people with a false consciousness, which is a really condescending way of doing theology. But moreover, I think it is sacralizing and spiritualizing something that doesn't necessarily need it.

Sex isn't some sort of mystical experience. It's not some sort of higher spiritual practice. Not inherently. It's an action. Like any other action, it can be made sacred or it can be made sinful. But don't tell me that somehow sexuality and spirituality are really tied or something and sexual desire is some sort of sacralized idea. Sex is just a thing that people do. I'm not trying to cheapen things, I just think that it is being afforded a great deal of more theological and metaphysical importance than it actually deserves. I'm not saying that it can't be a good or even great thing that brings people together. But I think many of these writers fail to realize that a lot of other things can also act in the same way; they are so busy arguing that sex is good that they make sexuality some sort of idol and reification. And in doing so, by pitting themselves as the "us" vs. the sex negative "them", they close out a lot of people from their theology.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Short Interlude: Why I'm Annoyed with the Contraception Debate

Ok, so I know that this is kind of breaking up the flow of my last post. But I kind of just want to voice my entire ambivalence to the arguments that I have recently seen regarding the contraception "debates" that have been going on recently. Mainly two things that I've been thinking.

First: are we seriously at this point where we are arguing about whether people should be allowed to use birth control? I mean... if someone thinks that that's a winner for politics, then ok. But I think that is shows how ridiculously terrible the entire political scene is right now. We've been ceding ground to people who want to take away sexual liberties for the past 40 years, and now we're at the point that condoms and birth control are being debated. That is so messed up that it kind of makes me want to scream. Also, the fact that some religious beliefs may not like birth control, doesn't mean that it's something that they don't have to pay for. I wish I could work for the Quakers and not have to pay taxes that go to war because of my "religious conscience," but I'd still get put in prison.

That is one that goes without saying. The second feeling I have on it is a bit more complex. I'm not Roman Catholic, and I disagree with the Roman Catholic Church on a lot of things, but I'm getting really frustrated by the rhetoric that is going on around this.

I don't think people quite realize the societal level that anti-Catholicism runs in this country, and there have been a lot of comments that I've heard from ostensibly "Progressive" (I hate that term, but it's a self identification) people have given into it. There is kind of the same thing going on for Mormons because of Romney, but I would talk about that later if necessary. But there have been a lot of people spreading rumors and general comments about Roman Catholics, or the Church that I think are pretty suspicious. Insofar as they have a long history in American Anti-Catholicism.

What I mean is, that I've heard plenty of people say things such as "The Catholic Church controls all the Catholics in Congress", or that Rick Santorum would answer to the Pope if elected President, or calling Catholics 'papists'. I've heard that the Catholic Church was why George W. Bush won his second term, because of their massive influence and money. Never mind that those people don't get that Catholics are generally more leftist in politics than the average person. Look, we've heard all of this before, and it was when we had JFK running for President. We can say that Rick Santorum would be a terrible President without falling into rhetorical conspiracy theories that were prominent 50 years ago.

The other thing that pisses me off is the recent mentioning of Catholic child abuse scandals. Now, there are a couple of different reasons for this. One of them is that almost all of them are done in the context of joking ABOUT CHILD ABUSE. Scoring cheap political points by making jokes at the expense of children who have been abused (even if the joke is intended for their abuser) is gross, and the people who do it should think twice before doing it. You're still joking about rape, even if you "mean it for good reasons". The second is that it follows a lot of the unfortunate trends of talking about Catholic child abuse scandals. The emphasis on Catholic priests' sex abuse over other faith traditions echoes both the American idea of priests as homosexuals, but of homosexuals as child molesters. From what I've been able to find, The John Jay Report on Catholic child sex abuse notes that the prevalence of abusing priests is about 4%, which is about the same amount as pedophilia across demographics.

What I'm not saying is that that is alright. But I think the obsession with Catholic priests is one that echoes a long history of messed up attitudes. We don't bring up teachers abusing students every time that they disagree with us, so why do that with priests? I think it comes both from American prejudices of the Catholic Church, along with homophobia, since the abuse is statistically more homosexual than places like schools.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Going to School to Be a Glorified Part Time Worker (and a call to action)

When I talk to most people about my plans for when I get out of school, I think that we have very different visions of the landscape that I am looking out into. I'm definitely better off than most people, but I just want to kind of outline what going into higher education is like:

So, let's say I hypothetically get accepted into a Ph.D program. Great! That is pretty difficult, since they are really getting rid of a lot of acceptance into those programs (for reasons we'll see later). I could hypothetically get a full ride scholarship, or maybe just a partial one. If any scholarship is involved though, you can better believe that I will be in some sort of T.A. position. What that means is that I will be a 'teaching assistant' for a class that is taught by a long term professor, usually with a large student class.

I'm pretty conflicted about the idea of T.A.'ing. On one hand, it's a good way of teaching graduate students how to teach, and it gives you a good amount of experience. On the other hand, I think it can get in the way of the learning that Ph.D study requires in a lot of instances, usually by forcing a student to do a whole bunch of work that is not really helpful for learning how to teach. This basically amounts to menial work like grading papers. This allows for teachers to teach giant classes and have T.A.'s do the work that isn't lecturing to a giant class full of students who aren't exactly paying attention; not quality education, but also it allows for the school to hire less teachers.

In any case, I would do that for some years, and then graduate. Yay! At this point, I am either incredibly lucky to have not gained any debt, or I am in debt to a bank. This debt is basically permanent: even bankruptcy can't get rid of student debt. So, at an interest rate of about 6% compounded a year, I will start to look for a job.  There's basically two types of jobs that professors can get. There is a job that is tenured, and there are non-tenured jobs. Now, when most people think about a professorship, they are thinking a tenured professor. But perhaps they shouldn't, and here's why:

There's a pretty big difference between a tenured professor and a non-tenured (also called adjuct or visiting) professor. Tenured professors get paid a decent salary, and also get health benefits, vacation, etc. All the things a reasonable full time job would give. Adjunct professors do not get the same thing: many times they are paid barely above minimum wage for a position that is technically part time, but requires more than 40 hours.

So why would you hire a tenured professor? Well, that's exactly the question that schools have asked themselves, and they've decided that they mostly don't need them anymore. So they'll hire some, just like some poor Americans become honest-to-God rich from 'working hard'. But the majority will be Adjunct, and they can fill in the gaps with T.A.s (see?), sometimes even undergrad students. If you look closely, this is exactly what has happened at jobs like Target/Walmart. As opposed to hiring one person for 40 hours a week and having to pay pesky things like benefits (or a real salary), they will hire two people for 20 hours a week, paying significantly less to get the same amount of work.

Well, not really. The quality goes down, sure. But in America, it's not the quality of the college education you get, it's the bare minimum that you get it. It's a status symbol for putting in a certain amount of money.

So, with the decrease in tenured jobs, I will probably have to settle for a 25k per year adjunct job, with no benefits. The sad thing is that you get people defending this system, because you have to 'pay your dues' to get a tenured position. Or to teach because it's 'what you love'. Well, besides the Stockholm Syndrome/abusive husband logic that goes into that, I would say that this system is rigged to generally allow people who are already well off to get these full time professorships. Only people who have some sort of buffer of money can live that way for the years required to get a good job. And these people with the buffer are generally upper class, white, etc.

Of course, there won't ever be enough tenured jobs for all the adjunct faculty (since they keep getting rid of the tenured jobs), so what does that mean? That means that the people who can't financially afford to hold a sub-living wage will have to drop out of it. It's basically a system that is predicated on crushing intelligent people's dreams, wasting their resources, and continuing the racist, sexist, classist status quo. All in order to tie people up into wage slavery to pay off their exorbitant debt they got in the process.

This isn't even to mention the fact that many people are shoved into college by a society that requires it for any job you won't get scoffed at for having, only to call you entitled if you don't take that same job because it won't pay your student loans.

With that in mind, I'm going to (in the next post) investigate the ethical and political arguments for a Student debt/loan Strike.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Is something ever 'just a preference'? (Pt. 2)

Right when Anna talks about how insightful I am, I have a post about Ska puns. Sorry if anyone was expecting any different.

But! In my last real post I was talking about whether something being 'just a preference' was a way of avoiding responsibility if the preference seems racist. I think that using that example, I was able to show that it is not really  tenable to say that showing racial preference has no ties to racist thinking, and that it being out of one's control doesn't really make it any less of a problem. At the very least, I think that I raised questions as to the legitimacy of the 'well that's just what I like", and why at least in the instance of desiring other people, that is not a complete defense against criticism. At the end, I said that I was going to bring this question to gender, and look at whether this criticism of 'just my preference'  could be extended in the same way.

Just for some background in my feelings on gender: I think that it is completely a social construct. That isn't to say that there aren't personality traits that might be inborn; there are certain physical characteristics that one might be born with, or a set that one feels more comfortable with. However, the grouping of 'male/men' and 'female/women' is socially constructed, and the ways that we understand people as being grouped into them  is definitely not some sort of objective reasoning. Let alone that there are two definite categories, male/female, is its own opinion, not fact. Just to give a quick, very cursory Gender theory 101.

So in the light of that thinking (which postulates both race and gender as categories which are socially created) we come to a challenging thought. If your sexual preference being based on race feels to many people as intuitively prejudiced, then why is it different with gender (barring heterosexism/cissexism/tradition)? That is to say, don't all the arguments that I made in the previous post about race apply in perhaps similar ways to identities like 'straight' or perhaps even 'gay' or 'lesbian'?

What pushed me to write this this time was a recent news article where Cynthia Nixon said that her gayness "is a choice". Later, she withdrew that statement. This drew a large amount of ire from the mainstream LGB people who believe that there is some sort of physiological or genetic cause to their orientation. I disagree with them, based on the notion of gender that I have above, but I don't really want to discuss that at this post.

The question might be: "Is it problematic (not a word I enjoy, but I'll use here) to distinguish between who you are attracted to based on gender/sex?" As we saw before, the majority of arguments are going to fall along the same two lines that the race question did, although this time with much more emphasis on the first response than the second. To show those again in this new argument, it would be:

1) Not being sexually attracted to (or especially to) a certain gender/sex is not (cis)sexist

2) If it is (cis)sexist, then since it is not under my control, it is not unethical (/I'm not (cis)sexist)

Now, we see that a lot of the reasons that people brought up for finding certain races preferable are also used for having a certain orientation. However, there is a change in emphasis.

The one that is most obvious is that people will hold that the genders are biologically different in ways that races aren't, namely dealing with how genitals and secondary sex characteristics are configured. This sounds similar to Devin's comment that people might use race as a shorthand to mean certain physical characteristics, although in this instance it is much more obvious. There are two problems with this argument from what I can see: it denies the variety of different types of people might have the same primary (and secondary) sex characteristics (and is therefore cissexist/transphobic), and it is also based almost completely on bodily objectification of other people.

The first problem here is that when one says woman, they mean 'vagina' and when they say men, they mean 'penis'. This looks over the fact that there are women with penises, men with vaginas, and a range of possibilities in between. And, to be blunt, you can not see someone with clothes on and know for certain what is going to be under them. Not only that, but there is a great deal of overlap in body shape, type and so on between people of all genders. So saying that you are using shorthand to certain physical characteristics is presupposing that there is only one type of each gender. This is cissexist/transphobic in ways that are, to me, rather obvious.

The second problem is that when one says this, they are basically saying "all I care about in my partner is what junk they have," which while I wouldn't qualify it as transphobic, I would certainly say is either sexist or just generally unethical. to use an example: A straight man is into women, generally. But if he meets a transsexual woman who has not had any surgery (because she doesn't have money, doesn't want to, etc.) most of the time he will not count her as a person to sexually desire. What this implicitly says is that it's not being a woman that he is attracted to, but that the vagina is the most important quality when it comes to his attraction to women. This seems obviously objectifying, and kind of unethical. This likewise goes for gay men who don't want to date someone without a penis, lesbian women who don't want to date someone with a penis, straight women who don't want to date someone with a vagina, and all the people who would not date intersex people. It would appear that the preference is not for the person, but only for their body, which I find to be somewhat unethical.

Another argument for it being 'just a preference' is that people are attracted to a certain 'je ne sais quoi' about people of a certain gender. A lot of times, I kind of consider this to be a form of essentialism, but we can see how this basically trades in stereotypes just like people saying that 'asians are more [x]'. This will not always be the case, and to try to exclude people because their stereotype doesn't fit your attraction is not beyond criticism.

For instance, there are plenty of women who are just as masculine as most men. Beyond the objectifying primacy of genitals (as just discussed) it is hard for me to see why someone who is attracted to men for their masculinity would not likewise be attracted to masculine women. To say that it's a different form of masculinity seems to me to just be essentializing women as not being able to be as masculine as men.

So I guess that would be my response to the first point. Maybe not as fleshed out as I would want, but I can always add to it later. Now, onto the second response: this occurs much less frequently dealing with gender than race, mainly because the first response is still very acceptable. But I think the second response falls apart for many of the same reasons it did in the earlier post.

One perhaps can not change their desire, but one can certainly change how you look at people, how you group and categorize them. I reject the essentialism that someone can just instantly spot who a man or woman  instinctively. And grouping people into 'man' and 'woman' is what allows for identities like 'gay' and 'straight' to exist. Without understanding people first as (definitely either) man or woman, the categories of gay and straight become very hard to use, and mostly unhelpful. So in that way, I would say being straight or gay is a choice: a choice to see men and women as the two main categories of people that exist, and to choose your partner based on that. I'm just not sure how ethical I think that choice is.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Ska Puns for All!

I love making puns with the word Ska. If I were ever to be in a ska band, I already have three thematic releases to put out, each dealing with their subject matter within the song.


Albert Skamus
Jean Paul Skartre
Skaul Kripke
Immanuel Skant
Thomas Skabbes
James Madiskan
Baruch Spinoska
Skarl Marx
Skan Fei zi
Mikhail Skakunin
Errico Skalatesta
Hannah Skarendt
Friedrich Nietzcheska


Skaugustine of Hippo
Thomas Skaquinas
Skathanasius of Alexandria
Skanselm of Skanterbury
Maximus the Skanfessor
John Chryskastom
Skambrose of Milan
John Skassian
Teresa of Skavila
Thomas Ska Kempis
Skatherine of Siena
Peter Skabelard


Joseph Skalin
Fidel Skastro
Skaugosto Pinochet
Skadam Hussein
Ayatollah Skameini
Francisco Skanko Don't tell me these aren't awesome, because they definitely are.