Thursday, March 31, 2005

Social Security

Here's Mark at Pseudopolymath (a smart conservative & christian blog) on Social Securty reform:
We would like one hand for our legislators to engage in long range planning and think of the future without engaging in partisan short term dogfights....For on the flip side, when the President asks for us to open the question of SS and proposes we consider ways of improving the system in place, what occurs? Partisan warfare erupts. The salient questions isn't why does this partisan warfare occur, but to what end. As I see it, opening up discussion is rarely a bad thing with respect considering long range consequences.

[ed: on reread, I'm talking past Mark's point, but I've been wanting to mention SS at some point. Mark's point, which is well-taken, is that a lot of the rhetoric on SS reform is just political jockeying, and there's definitely something to that]

Given that this is the notorious third rail, partisan warfare is inevitable. I think it also bears mentioning that the way in which Bush posed the problem invited a fiery debate. He didn't say there was a problem and then open a space for brainstorming. He posed a solution that didn't really seem to fit the problem, and which could all-too-easily be chalked up to ideological advancement. Privatization is a good thing, but it's an answer to a question that wasn't asked. By itself, privatization just doesn't address the problem that was raised (per even the most ambitious versions of privatization, it would account for 3-5% of the program, leaving the other >90% of the problem).

That stark mismatch between problem and proposal just screams "hidden agenda."

Still, the conversation has been jump-started by Bush, and that really is a good and necessary thing. Just like with Iraq, good effects will have been secured through really, really dodgy reasoning. Maybe that was a strategic decision (as it clearly was with Iraq [cf: Wolfowitz's acknowledgement that the WMD emphasis was a "bureaucratic" decision]), or maybe Bush has keen instincts and less keen rational faculties, or maybe it was just accidental. Either way, the current discussion is a Good Thing.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

I got the protest monkey blues

I've decided today that the protest monkeys need to learn a new trick, as this one is getting boring. Even the NY Post said as much. Don't get me wrong; I've truly enjoyed the screeching insanity that has issued from the protest monkeys, but they need to learn a new dance. Isn't the time ripe for protesting the latent satanism of "hard rock"? Yeah, that'd be pretty funny.

So, even though we're probably only a week or so from the critical mass of insanity (when the Illuminati/Hospice industry conspiracy is "discovered"), it just isn't worth it.

So, if you read this, protest monkey (once I trackback to you, that is), remember: I was listening to Napalm Death backwards last night, and I swear I heard them tell me to kill my parents.

Monday, March 28, 2005

More lies in the Terri Schiavo kerfuffle

John Fund writes a bunch of stuff here that bears only a passing resemblance to anything that actually happened.

Fund misses a few important things and seems to flat-out lie about one. First: the court decision was 4/19, not 4/20, and it denied the INS's request to remove Elian from the country, not from his relative's house.

Fund: "On Thursday, April 20, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals...turned down the Justice Department's request to order Elian removed from the home of his Miami relatives.

The Court (2000 WL 381901): "Plaintiff [Elian], however, now moves for an injunction 'to preclude [Plaintiff's] physical removal from the jurisdiction of the United States during the pendency of this appeal.' We conclude that Plaintiff is entitled to such an injunction and grant the motion."

These two couldn't be more different. Fund's reading is that the decision was in response to a Justice Dpt. request, whereas the actual case has Elian requesting relief. (At first, I thought there must be some other decision, since the two are so clearly different. How could a journalist misread plain language like that? But, Fund quotes language that shows up in the case quoted above, so it looks like he did, in fact, misread the case that badly)

Reno then obeyed the court order by not allowing Elian to leave the country until the legal issues had been settled. By that time, the state court had ruled that the relatives didn't properly have custody; this was a concession that the INS could take Elian and return him to the custody of his father. [note: edited for clarity]

Further, they weren't trampling states' rights, because that restraining order of January issued by the florida judge was rescinded by the Florida state supreme court, which correctly recognized that its jurisdiction was pre-empted by the federal government. This is from the court's decision on April 13:

Elian Gonzalez's physical presence in this country is at the discretion of the federal government. The state court cannot, by deciding with whom his custody should lie, subvert the decision to return him to his father and his home in Cuba. This court is prohibited from acting by the Supremacy Clause of the united States Constitution from acting in this case....

The remedy sought in this court is custody of the child. While the court recognizes the many, many authorities that establish that domestic relations, family law, is an area reserved to the state courts, Petitioner fails to recognize the fundamental nature of his case--it is an immigration case, not a family case.

The United States through the Attorney General has articulately and bluntly insisted that reunification will occur. The basis for the custody claim is that the child should not live in Cuba, with his father, and is better off here. The Court's ability to reach that decision is derailed by the federal government decision that he must return to Cuba, his homeland, and be with his father. This court cannot second guess the INS.

Fund concludes:
"I've consistently said that I can't go beyond what my powers are, and I'm not going to do it," the governor says. Janet Reno and the Clinton administration showed no such restraint when it came to Elian Gonzalez.

This is true only in the bizarro world that Fund inhabits. In the real world, the feds didn't trample state rights, but acted in accordance with long standing principles of federal preemption in immigration cases; and they didn't operate outside of the law by violating a court order as Fund would love Jeb to do vis-a-vis Schiavo.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Sky Captain Adorno and the Banality of Evil

(This is a little something I wrote 9/04. It's not particularly current nor Easter-y. I just liked it.)

So, Sally and I saw Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow over the weekend. Before going to the flick, we had a bite to eat and a drink, and started talking about a book Sally had just purchased: Jonathon Strange & Mr. Norrel, ostensibly a kind of Harry Potter for adults. She mentioned that she figured people like these kinds of books for the escapist value, and I agreed. We figured that the escapism functions by creating an alternate world into which the reader can venture, thereby leaving the real world behind. To put it into kind-of Deleuzian terms, they create an imminent plane (Deleuze-speak for alternate reality) that parallels the world of the real. What followed was a conversation about 'serious' art. The kinds of works that get tagged as serious seem to incorporate elements of the cacaphony of the 'real' world. Mahler's symphonies, for example, are accorded a great deal of critical respect because of they way they include jagged edges that disrupt the subject's immersion in the imminent field. The conventional wisdom is that Mahler inserts traces of the chaos of the real world into his pieces, and prefigured the chaos of the 20th century in his symphonies (so the theory goes).

Interestingly, this kind of artistic strategy is then susceptible to objections from both the right and the left; righties (read: classicists, or aesthetes) get annoyed that the piece is getting into politics of a sort. The lefty objection is more interesting: they argue that, by absorbing the chaos of the real into the artistic plane of imminence, they make it beautiful, they aesthetize it, and thereby reduce or trivialize the shock or the affect that horrible things ought to induce. This is the sense of Adorno's maxim: there can be no poetry after the Holocaust.

Fortuitous, then, that we chose to see the movie we did. After about 20 minutes, I started noticing that all of the conventions, scenery, plot elements, etc., were those of a typical WWII movie. Every signifier was telling the viewer that this is occurring during WWII. But, it is supposed to be 1934 or so: pre-war.

Why would this be? When the theme begins to be developed, the reasoning behind the odd timing becomes evident. The movie deals with the horror of instrumental reasoning. In other words, in the film the world is beset by machines, which in turn are all part of one giant machine. We see technocratic and amoral scientists, the mundanity of bureaucracy that underlies the running of the machine, and, at its core, machines that operate without the benefit of human ethics.

In short, the movie develops a parallel holocaust. One of the key features of post-holocaust theory (see: Hannah Arendt) is the idea that what made the holocaust so uniquely evil was precisely the banality of that evil. It wasn't run and created by evil supervillains; instead, the people running it were middle managers. If it weren't for the insanity and barbarity of their enterprise, they'd be mistaken for company men at postwar IBM: they punched in, operated computers, took lunch breaks, had strategy conferences, all without a thought for the monstrosity in which they were complicit.

The movie operates, then, within the exact same problematic as the holocaust itself, and runs roughly parallel to it in history. Per the leftist critique of 'serious' art, you can see why this is troubling. The movie itself is filled with lush, beautiful visuals. Even when confronted with the heart of the machine, you can't help but think that the complexity of it all is beautiful. Plus, its location within the genre of the fantastic makes us less sensitive to the evil of the machine inside the film - we can only marvel at it. Basically, the viewer disregards the evil and gazes only at the process. The money shot: the movie forces the viewer to reproduce the very amoral instrumental logic that lies at the core of the banality of evil. If what makes the holocaust so evil is that those running it forget about the evil of their ends, it's a little creepy that the viewer does the same thing vis-a-vis the machine in the movie. The spectator is so overwhelmed by the visuals that s/he doesn't really stop to think about the horror on screen.

Weird, right? Kinda cool, but weird.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Harrowing: Super Jesus Kicks Ass

There are only a few hours left of The Harrowing. No point to this post. I just wanted to write "Super Jesus."

An amoral space: the strange ethics of capitalism

Brandon at Bad Christian linked to The Matthew's House Project. Apparently the director of the site, Zach Kincaid, was just fired from Oklahoma Baptist University for writing a letter to the editor criticizing the building of a massively expensive church.

I haven't gone through the site too thoroughly, but so far it looks a really smart online magazine/journal that investigates culture and religion, often using tools of cultural criticism. The first piece I checked out is an interview with Vincent Miller, a theology prof at Georgetown. Miller's concern in the interview is commodification. Commodification is the process whereby things are converted into products. For Marx, the author of the concept, labor is commodified in capitalism. Whereas we used to labor when we needed to make something for ourselves, now our labor is converted into a product which can be bought and sold on the market.

Since capitalism thrives on the market, everything that can be commodified will be commodified. We can see this quite plainly in the growth of securitization. Everything financial in nature - contracts, future earnings, debt - can be transformed into securities, which are then bought and sold on financial markets.

We see an analog to this in advertising. At the simplest level, the car commercial I'm watching is trying to sell me a car. However, it's clearly trying to associate the car with a set of less tangible things: for example, I can tell that, if I drive this car, I'll be able to buy the freedom of the open road, or the transgressive pleasure of flaunting speed limits. This is the commodification of social relations. I'm buying the car, but what I'm really buying is enjoyment, family togetherness, etc.

The commodity, also, is distinctly a thing of the industrial age. The commodity doesn't have a history - it comes to us ex nihilo, new and shiny. As Miller puts it:
A commodity is not necessarily a thing but a thing seen a certain way, and how the thing is seen is in abstraction from its origins, from its conditions of production, from the land and the space where the products grow, and from the laborers that then produce it and bring it to market. All those things don't appear, so when you walk into the produce section and see a banana there, all you see is whether it's an attractive banana or not and how much it costs. You don't see anything about the labor struggles in Latin America, how Equador coming online has undercut the labor gains of the last 30 years in Central America.

In other words, part of the existence of the commodity qua commodity is that we don't look for the man behind the curtain. Stronger still, it may even be unethical to look behind the curtain. If we are to believe some Christian bloggers, it is morally wrong to base our consumption habits on the means of production. This is truly weird; presumably, I can base my decision to not buy something on self-interest ("I don't like Taco Bell"); I can even base my decision to abstain on enlightened self-interest ("I like Taco Bell, but it's bad for me"); but it is unethical to base my abstention on ethics ("Taco Bell treats its workers unethically").

The curious upshot is that capitalism wants to create a purely amoral space, a space purely for self-interest; the logic of the market, then, entails that it is immoral to violate the amorality of the space of the market. We can be consumers, and nothing more.

Friday, March 25, 2005


From the comments here:

For the most part I don't live in the world of white Evangelicalism...nor its a young African american Christian whether or not Emergent is more in line with Calvin's Institutes gets little sympathy from me....I was checking my 9-year old out of the Children's ministry they have there. We were walking down the hall and I noticed he had a very perplexing look (His name is Israel...a very voracious reader of fantasy books) on his face. I asked him what was wrong. He asked, "Why are all the pictures of Jesus in 'our' church white?" ...But here's the deal though. We all agreed out of that two hour discussion that came from my son's probing question that this church needs to do something about issues relating to racial reconciliation and multi-ethnic participation and representation in the Church.

My comments from the blog:

I'm not perfectly fluent in bureaucrat-ese, but multi-ethnic participation sounds like code for 'do nothing of substance.'

The emergent church debate is actually quite important to the above issue; by focusing on the historical formation of the ideologies that drive the Church, the emergents provide some awfully helpful tools in this kind of area. I mean, we all know Jesus wasn't a porcelain-skinned western European, yet this image continues to dominate (american) church iconography.

The problem doesn't turn on vague mush like 'racial sensitivity' - rather, it turns on the question of why the white church continues to actively promote the falsehood that Jesus was "safe": a clean & well-kempt caucasian. How does this white-washed Jesus play into a larger white-washed theology?

I could go on, but that outlines an approach that an emergent would (or should) take. So the emergent thing, as emphasizing critical analysis, has quite a lot of bearing on "real problems." The emergent movement is a negative moment within a larger arc. I think this is why there's so much fuss over what the Emergent Church is: it's a negative, de-ideologizing moment. As a matter of positive theology, it's not so dissimilar from standard theology. We shouldn't underestemate the negative critqu of emergence, however.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The anti-truth squad: Congressional Edition

The following congresspeople have lied through their teeth regarding Congress's "Terri Law" (mind you - some of the links are PDFs and some are Word docs):

- Sen. Rick Santorum (PA): "What the statute that [Whittemore] was dealing with said was that he shall hold a trial de novo."

This is total bullshit. The law only enabled the judge to consider violations of federal law. A first-year law student could tell there were none.

- Rep. Mark Souder (IN): "This Act aims to ensure that a proper diagnosis can be made and that the wishes of Terri and her family are truly being followed."

The law only allows for rehearing of federal claims. There's nothin' in it about diagnoses, and certainly nothin' in it about following the wishes of the family.

- Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX): "The latest House bill to protect Terri's life gives her parents the eligibility to bring a suit in federal district court...[and] calls for the feeding tube to be reinserted until such a hearing can take place."

This one is just weird; it really doesn't bear any discernible relationship to reality.

- Rep. Mark Green (R-WI) - "U.S. Rep. Mark Green (R-Green Bay) issued the following statement Monday morning on his vote in favor of legislation that would, in effect, save the life of Terri Schiavo by requiring her feeding tube be reconnected."

Again, no relationship to reality whatsoever. You have to wonder why he'd say something like this. I know congresspeople are busy and don't read their own laws, but one would expect that they'd understand the general contours, if only so they don't look like functional illiterates when releasing public statements.

The war on the judiciary

Via Atrios, here's Santorum on the district court judge's refusal to grant a temporary restraining order in the Schiavo case:

What the statute that [Whittemore] was dealing with said was that he shall hold a trial de novo," the Pennsylvania Republican explained. "That means he has to hold a new trial. That's what the statute said....Judges should obey the law. And this judge - in my mind - simply ignored the law.

What's remarkable about this is that this isn't what the law said at all. This is the important part of the statute:
The United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida shall have jurisdiction to hear, determine, and render judgment on a suit or claim by or on behalf of Theresa Marie Schiavo for the alleged violation of any right of Theresa Marie Schiavo under the Constitution or laws of the United States relating to the withholding or withdrawal of food, fluids, or medical treatment necessary to sustain her life....In such a suit, the District Court shall determine de novo any claim of a violation of any right...within the scope of this Act

In other words, the court is only authorized to rule on whether any federal rights have been violated. It is absolutely not authorization to hold a brand new trial. The "de novo" language only means that, even if another court has ruled that federal rights weren't violated, the district court should look at the claims anew.

This is pretty revolting. Santorum is a lawyer, and should be able to read a federal statute. What this means is that either he's actually incomparably stupid, or he's lying in order to stir up a war on the judiciary. The latter, of course, fits perfectly within conservative ideology (see also: recent bills to remove certain issues from the jurisdiction of federal courts). Santorum is trying to fit a correct decision, made in accordance with a statute that he just voted for, under the rubric of judicial activism. There are plenty of reasonable ways to critique "activist judges," but flat-out lying isn't one of them.

For all intents and purposes, 'judicial activism' has morphed into 'I didn't like the decision.'

UPDATE: via Thomas, it turns out Santorum was a sponsor of the bill. He sponsored a bill he didn't even understand

Or, of course, he's totally unprincipled and willing to lie to rile his base up.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Lifetime material? I think not.

At Political Animal, Kevin Drum writes:

Apparently George Bush and other Texas Republicans think that pulling the plug on hopeless patients is perfectly OK as long as money is the issue and no one on the Christian right is protesting.

Mr. Drum is referring to this, explained by Atrios here:
In 1999 then governor Bush signed a law which allowed hospitals to withdraw life support from patients, over the objections of the family, if they consider the treatment to be nonbeneficial.

I think Mr. Drum is missing something crucial here: none of the cases mentioned by atrios etal. have been formerly pretty, middle-class women with backstories that read like a Lifetime movie.

As you can see, it's clearly a case of apples and oranges.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Rationality, insanity, same sex marriage

I'll put my cards on the table: I thought the CA decision was stellar. I say this not because it's the first court to take the advice that I had been tying to telepathically beam to courts across the country, but because it was correct on the merits (so was I, of course, which is mere coincidence).

At any rate, an interesting problem is raised by Law Dork:

The question this raises is whether the statutes being tested in these cases should actually fail under a true "rational basis" test.

The answer would seem to be no: The state gives a reason that has some support (i.e., encouraging procreation), and the "fit" of the state interest with the classification needn't be all that successfully achieved under rational basis for the statute to be upheld.

For the non-law dorks that may or may not read this blog, here's what Chris is getting at: when someone challenges the constitutionality of your everyday, humdrum law, the state just has to show that it has a reason for the law isn't totally bizarre. This is the rational basis or rational relationship (RR) test. So, if New York says that butchers have to wash their hands before they get to work, and some disgruntled butcher thinks that the law is unconstitutional, the state just has to prove to the court that the reason for the law isn't totally bizarre. It doesn't have to be a good reason; it just can't be insane.

To cut to the chase:

The judge claimed that the state's nominal interest in procreation is insane. I have no reason to doubt the good judge here: it seems clear to me that the stated reason, procreation, is actually quite insane. Literally: as far as I can tell, one may as well argue that the ban on same sex marriage is aimed at helping the lions of the Serengeti. Neither makes any sense whatsoever, and to the extent that either is even remotely plausible, an immensely complex causal chain has to be posited. Let's run through a version, shall we?

P1. Some people are on the cusp of sexual identity
P2. Same sex marriage legitimizes homosexuality in some sense
P3. If homosexuality were legitimized, those mentioned in P1 would be more likely to identify as gay
P4. At least some of those mentioned in P3 would have otherwise married and had kids
Conclusion: If gay marriage is legalized, some kids won't be born that otherwise would be.

If there's a more plausible version of the alleged harm that gay marriage would bring about as it relates to the state's interest in procreation, I'd love to hear it. So far, I haven't seen a non-religious argument against gay marriage that makes much sense.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Is there anything crazier than the LaHayes?

I don't think so. At any rate, here's Greg at the Parish, talking about the Jerusalem Prayer Team:
[A]ccording to their own material: "The Jerusalem Prayer Team is a prayer movement of people around the world...The mission of the Jerusalem Prayer Team (is) To guard, defend and protect the Jewish people and Eretz Yisrael until Israel is secure, and until the Redeemer comes to Zion."

Who is part of this wonderful movement? "Dr. Tim LaHaye, Mrs. Anne Graham Lotz, Dr. Pat Robertson, Dr. Adrian Rogers, Mr. Pat Boone, Dr. John Hagee, Mr. Bill McCartney, Ms. Kay Arthur, Rev. Tommy Tenney, Dr. A.R. Bernard, Dr. Stephen Olford, and Dr. Jay Sekulow are just a few of the more then 300 Christian Leaders who are part of the Jerusalem Prayer Team."

Why do I care? Because they have a new focus. This is from an email they sent recently. It was forwarded to me, by the way; I am not on their mailing list. "I am outraged! Our Lord's last words to us commanded that we were to be witnesses unto Him, first in Jerusalem. Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders are organizing WorldPride 2005, an international parade in the city of Jerusalem. This is not heaven witnessing; it is hell."

What will this tidal wave of gay people do in Zion? This is a quote. I'm not making it up. "They plan to fill the hotels and restaurants, and party like Sodomites, while the world press takes pictures."

I'll just cut to the chase: what a bunch of fucking retards. Seriously, if you use your Little Orphan Annie decoder, "The Jerusalem Prayer Team" becomes "huge ass-munch."

Past the buffet; hang a left at phenomenology

In this post, I laid out the theoretical grounds for my Christian project, which is based largely on John Rawls's theory of reflective equilibrium. Here's the quick version: when we assess given theories, we don't assess them in a vacuum. We have some really, really important pre-existing ideas, and some that aren't as important. For example, I couldn't accept a religion that thinks murder is OK. On the other hand, my belief that, say, permed hair deserves its own circle of hell is a pretty marginal belief; if I found the rest of a belief system compelling, I could ditch my disdain of permed hair, but I couldn't ditch my belief that murder is wrong. When we assess belief systems, we maintain our core pre-existing beliefs but are free to adjust at the margins.

We find the same pattern at work in variants of Christianity. I, for one, couldn't accept a Christianity that thinks homosexuality is morally wrong. As baffling as this to some (most of whom move their lips when they read), this is central to my pre-existing belief system. The standard response to people like me is to disdainfully refer to such a Xianity as a “buffet religion”: 'you just pick and choose what you want.' The obvious rejoinder is: ' what, fucktard?' There's no obvious reason why I shouldn't pick and choose what I want. Still, there's some intuitive force to this response, and as such it warrants a rational reconstruction.

The key idea underlying this objection-from-the-buffet is that religion ought to be, in some meaningful sense, transformative. A religion that just neatly conforms to all of our pre-existing ideas would appear to be sterile and dead. Why adopt a religion if it merely reproduces all of the ideas that one already has? Wouldn't that be just a lifeless religion, or a crutch for one's ideology?

That seems to me to be the truth at the heart of the argument-from-the-buffet: religion is a fundamentally transformative enterprise, and to the extent it simply props up already-existent theories, it is just an alibi or excuse for behavior.

So, then, let's take the case of a socially conservative altruist; she already believes that abortion and homosexuality are wrong, and also goes out of her way to help others. Her ethics perfectly track those of right-wing Christians. Ethically, then, the possibility of transformation is foreclosed: her ethics already perfectly track those of a Christian. Still, we'd expect to see a transformation, wouldn't we?

And there should be. While none of her ethical beliefs should change (what would they change to?), and none of her motivations should change (we shouldn't do good acts just to get to heaven, right?), something changes. All of her acts, all of her experience, is radically reoriented toward Jesus Christ. Suddenly, the world presents itself as that-which-is-to-be-experienced through Christ. That which-is-to-be is pure negativity; that which is as-yet is necessarily not-yet. As in the famous passage from Sartre's Being and Nothingness, the world is presented as a series of gaps and lacunae (nothingness). What is critical, then, is that there is always more we can do; the world is always lacking God. Fuck, Christ himself said so (cf: “Father, why have you forsaken me?”). [ed - see below*]

So there is a transformation; contra the Christian Right (aka “True Christians”), the necessary and sufficient transformation is phenomenological, not ethical. The world qua world is transformed, and us via that.

* A short version of what I was getting at is provided nicely in this passage from Bultmann, reflecting on God as the "Wholly Other":
The statement that the God who determines my existence is nevertheless the "Wholly Other" can only have the meaning that as the "Wholly Other" he confronts me who am a sinner. Furthermore, in so far as I am world, he confronts me as the "Wholly Other." To speak of God as the "Wholly Other" has meaning, then, only if I have understood that the actual situation of man is the situation of the sinner who wants to speak of God and cannot; who wants to speak of his own existence and cannot do that either. He must speak of it as an existence determined by God; but he can only speak of it as sinful, as an existence such that he cannot see God in it....(emphasis mine)

The key here is that our separation from God entails that we see in the world the absence of God. At the pivotal moment of faith, God is missing ("where art thou?")

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Ideology and Art, part I

Occasionally, discussions of art will pop up on the blogosphere; unfortunately, they tend to discuss the issue with all of the conceptual depth, historical knowledge, and patience of a 12 year-old. Given that, it’s hardly surprising that said bloggers will reach a 12 year-old’s conclusion: art should be pretty. Oh, and it should look like something, like, say, pretty flowers in a pretty vase. That seems to be the beginning and the end of the critique. But what critical power this theory has! For example, all of the resources of this theory can be brought to bear on classics of modern art like Duchamp’s Fountain: it isn’t pretty. On the other hand, it sure looks like what it is. So I suppose it’s a bit of a wash.

This inauspicious start has motivated me to work through some of the classic philosophical essays on art, and particularly those essays that reflect on the role of ideology in art. Today I started (re)reading Heidegger’s The Origin of the Work of Art (I “read” it once, but didn’t understand a lick of it). So far, it looks like Heidegger’s essay won’t reflect on ideology, but it sure displays a ton of it. Listen to this passage, in which Heidegger wildly projects his fetishization of the volk, the peasant farmer, onto a painting of a shoe (ie, he romanticizes the peasant farmer as a simple, happy worker that gets fulfillment out of back-breaking labor):

On the leather lie the dampness and richness of the soil. Under the soles slides the loneliness of the field-path as evening falls. In the shoes vibrates the silent call of the earth, its quiet gift of the ripening grain and its unexplained self-refusal in the fallow desolation of the wintry field….When [the peasant woman] takes off her shoes late in the evening, in deep but healthy fatigue…she knows all this without noticing or reflecting.

Ah, those noble but stupid farmers! If only they knew, as we do, that they’re deeply authentic people! Yeah, all this out of a picture of shoes.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Pro-torture = Patriotism

Silly me, I had always thought that torture is wrong, and America shouldn't engage in it. As it turns out, by criticizing America's use of torture, I'm actually engaging in treason and supporting North Korea. It's a little-known fact that Kim Jong-il is a regular reader of blogs, and uses them to justify his atrocities. See, I would've thought that a bizarre way of thinking, but I guess I'm mistaken:

I'll say only this: when radical leftists complain about the torture and human rights abuses that the United States supposedly engages in, they give aid and comfort to countries like North Korea that actually do engage in human rights abuses.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Cult of Children & the impossibility of the ethical

In this post, I expressed my loathing of contemporary fetishization of children. This post from K-Punk is the perfect articulation of the theoretical bases of that loathing: :

Lee Edelman's No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive is, in Lacanian terms, an Impossible polemic. How could anyone not be on the side of the children, of the future, he asks, when the 'child remains the perpetual horizon of every acknowledged politics, the fantasmatic beneficiary of every political intervention. Even proponents of abortion rights, while promoting the freedom of women to control their reproductive choice, recurrently frame their political struggle, mirroring their anti-abortion foes as a "fight for our children - for our daughters and sons," and thus as a fight for the future? What, in that case, would it signify not to be "fighting for the children"?' (2-3)

Hence we are all coralled into holding hands with little orphan Annie and singing rousing hymns to the redemptive telos of 'tomorrow'. Yet tomorrow is indeed 'always a day away': it never arrives, not contingently, but structurally....

'In breaking our hold on the future, the sinthomosexual, himself neither martyr nor proponent of martyrdom for the sake of a cause, forsakes all causes, all social action, all responsibility for a better tomorrow or for the perfection of social forms. Against the promise of such an activism, he performs, instead, an act: the act of repudiating the social, of stepping, or trying to step...beyond compulsory compassion, beyond the future and the snare of images keeping us always in its thrall. Insisting, with Kant, on a freedom from pathological motivation, on a radical type of selflessness no allegory ever redeems, the sinthomosexual stands for the wholly impossible ethical act. And for just that reason the social order .... proves incapable of standing him.'

It's that last line that seals the deal for me; there's always seemed something profoundly disingenuous and even cynical about an ethic that insists that 'someone, please, think of the children!' An action premised on the (structurally) elusive Children appears more as an egoism premised on the interiorization of the future. The 'children' seem to become the phantasmic projection of one's own future, such that 'won't someone think of the children!' is little more than 'won't someone please think of me!' (hopefully I'm not misreading - I still struggle with translating theory into the more legible language [to me, anyway] of analytic philosophy).

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

southern-fried politics

Digby nails it:
Let's just get this one thing straight. The theory that non-southerners are
intolerant of "his kind" is undisputably wrong. We have happily voted for
southern white males many times. It's southerners who refuse to vote for anyone
who comes from anywhere else.

But, just being happy to vote for southern white males isn't good enough,
is it? We don't properly get into macho, good ole boy culture. Ok. Let's try
that. I have absolutely no problem with a born again, cowboy hat wearing
president from a southern state who hunts and drives fast cars and even, dare I
say it, engages in the most macho sport of all --- clearing brush. He can tie on
a six gun and practice quick drawing in the rose garden for all I care. I am not
offended by any of those things.

But again, that's the problem, isn't it? It is not enough to be tolerant.
We must adopt both their style and their policies before they are happy.
Everyone must be a NASCAR fan. If you are not, they will take it to mean that
you disrespect their love of NASCAR. Everyone must hunt. If you don't, then you
are being intolerant of their love of hunting. If you don't talk about religion
the way they talk about it, you are not properly religious. Rappers must wear
cowboy boots, hispanics must speak English, we all have to drive American trucks
with confederate flags on the back and drink Jack and be exactly like these
macho, southern white men before they will feel secure enough to vote with