Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The evil feminists are attacking! ...somehow!

It is very fashionable to argue using feminism as a garbage heap. That is, one offloads all the evils of the world onto it and forgets all about it whenever it's not directly mentioned. No matter where, how or when - feminism always wants the most evil of all things, and there's no end to the evilness once the offloading gets going. Whatever evil it is - feminism wants it.

There's a lot of evil in the world that needs forgetting, it would seem.

The strangest thing about this is that it is always Feminism as an abstract entity that's invoked. It's very seldom a specific happening or person that's put to blame - as if the feminist terror is more existential than material.

One might, at this point, expect someone to burst forth, dramatically waving a copy of the SCUM manifesto, triumphantly proclaiming instant victory. Which is interesting, since it was published in 1967, and you'd think the all-encompassing threat of feminism would have produced more than one provocative piece of literature during the last forty years.

Really? Only the one text in forty years? Wow. Much scare.

It's enough to give one pause. Who's the scary feminist that wants all these evil things? Is it Judith Butler? bell hooks? Angela Davis? Susan Faludi? Helene Cixous? Luce Irigaray? Julia Kristeva? Catharine MacKinnon? Susan Bordo? Simone de Beauvoir? Betty Friedan? Virginia Woolf? Mary Wollstonecraft? Sojourner Truth? -

I imagine there being avid antifeminists reading this, and wondering who all these people are. If you're one such person, then this is a sign. A sign that you really have no clue as to what you're anti about, and base your opinions more on uncritical momentum than on actual knowledge.

Which is very much like criticizing Lord of the Rings without knowing who Gandalf is. No matter how good your poker face might be, you still look like a fool.

It does not suit you as well as you think.

Originally published January 19, 2014

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Your simple rhetorical guide to complexity

One can read the guide to rhetorical self defence as a negative guide to how to write. One would end up with a group of very generic (and somewhat unhelpful) tips on how to write. As in "don't write unclearly", "avoid being self-contradictory" and so on. Which is all well and good - follow these advices whenever you can. But.

There's always a but. And that's the whole point of this post.

You can write the most straightforward, least misunderstandable, straight from the mouth of God text the world has ever seen, and people will still be able to "but" it. This is not a fault on your part - it's how discourse works in relation to humans.

Humans like it simple. Humans do not like it unsimple. They especially don't like it when they have to put effort into something to determine whether something is simple or unsimple. They are much more likely to not put in that effort then to do it, and this is rhetorically important.

Most importantly in cases where you'd think the case is so obvious that there'd be no need for additional wordage. Especially when there's more additional wordage added to that case than any sane person would ever want to look at.

The sheer wordage is a rhetorical strategy.

People like it simple. If you can point to the volume of things said and written about something, that's a rather compelling argument that something is unsimple. And so, people retreat from the issue at hand.

Simple as that.

Fortunately, this is easily turned into a useful analytical and rhetorical tool. Whenever someone starts to be more obfuscating than they should be, simply restate whatever your initial point was in a simpler manner. Do not fall in to the temptation of making things harder than they are - that's what they want. In order to then turn around and say "well, look at how complicated this turned out to be, we'd better leave it open until we can get some clear answers".

Defenders of status quo loves this strategy. Postponing things is the best defence of status quo there is.

But is it really that simple?

Yes it is.

The equally selective utopia

There are people who maintain that the quest for gender equality is completed.

Fulfilled. One hundred percent done. Finished. Executed according to plan, summarized in the postmortem, and yet another milestone on the path of modernity towards perfection.

Mission accomplished. Fait accompli. Let's move on.

Seen from the eyes of these people, any additional efforts to increase gender equality is by definition a wasted effort. Since we've already achieved it. Instead, such efforts are seen as threats, errors in judgement or outright attacks - especially by those who are expected to take part in these efforts.

Especially by men.

They maintain that when something is done, it's done. And it's done for a reason: everything that needed to be done has been done. If everything that needed to be done hadn't been done, the doing wouldn't have stopped, and the work would still be in progress. But it has been done, so nothing more needs to be done. Therefore, stop doing!

It is a strange way of thinking. One can almost understand it if one tries hard enough, but this does not diminish the strangeness.

It would appear that the message that perfection was achieved was broadcasted during a major disturbance in the communications networks. Some got the message, others didn't. Which is, indeed, a strange order of things.

Some got the message that Utopia had arrived. Others got the message that the dishes had to be done today too. And tomorrow. And the day after that. And all days after that.

It is indeed a strange order of things.

Originally published October 24, 2013

Friday, January 10, 2014

Why all liberals are feminists by default

Let's jump right in to it. No introduction, just premises.

Premise 1: The state exist in order to and is legitimized by securing the rights of its citizens.

There's nothing controversial about this. You can go back to any of the big names of liberal theory, and they will expound at length about how the rights of the individual are of the utmost importance.

Premise 2: Among these rights we find the right to not be exposed to acts of violence.

Again, nothing strange or controversial about this. It might be argued that criminals in the act of being criminal are exempt from this, which they are. In general, though, an honest, law-abiding citizen has the right to not be violenced upon when not doing anything out of the ordinary.

Premise 3: If and when the rights of citizens are violated, it is imperative that the state provide institutions that serve to address the situation.

Most notable among these institutions are the courts and the police. These two institutions are by far the most important in this case, but they are by no means the only ones of this kind.

Premise 4: If and when these institutions fail to prevent or address violations of an individual's rights, this delegitimizes the state as it stands.

This goes back to premise 1 - the state exists in order to guarantee the rights of its citizens. If it fails to do so, it fails to accomplish its main mission. This is a call for change - in minor cases a reform in how the affected institutions go about their business, in major cases revolution.

It is from these four premises that I draw the conclusion that also serve as the title of this post. If you are a liberal, you are also, by default, a feminist. By virtue of the following statement:

Women are citizens too.

This means that, should you be serious about being a liberal, the symbolic, physical and sexual violence against women are a concern that seriously concerns you. Every time a citizen's rights are violated is also, as it were, a failure of the actually existing liberal state to accomplish its mission, and this does not change by virtue of these citizens being women. All citizens are equal before the law, and are thus guaranteed the same right to not be violated.

This is a call for change. Feminist change.

I sense that there are those who would like to argue at this point. Especially liberals. I encourage you to do so. I also, as a friendly reminder, encourage you to argue in a way that does not portray women as something akin to second class citizens, or, worse, not citizens at all. It would rather defeat the point, after all. -

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Connecting the polka dots

You have awesome people around you. You know awesome people.

Thing is: they don't know each other.

So here's an easy thing to make the world just that much better: introduce them to each other. Right now.

Do say hi from me. (:~~~~

Friday, January 3, 2014

The future is your oyster

Predictions are hard. Especially those about the future. And especially those about humans.

You'd think it work something along these lines:

You make a prediction. It turns out to be right.

You make a prediction. It turns out to be wrong.

Clean, precise and simple. It's either true or false. Or true to a sufficient amount of digits to justify the wanton use of the phrase "Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient".

You'd think it be that easy. But then these things happen:

You make a prediction. Because you made this prediction, people made a conscious effort to make this prediction come true, and thus made it happen.

You make a prediction. Because you made this prediction, people pulled together and made it their solemn duty to make this prediction not come true. And this it didn't.

Suddenly, the prediction becomes a part of the thing it's supposed to predict. Which, to be sure, makes the whole prediction business that much trickier. Not as clean and simple as one would think.

You'd think this would be the end of it. But no! It gets worse!

You make a prediction, and people act in such a way to facilitate the prediction coming to pass. However, their actions are of such a nature that they undermine the conditions which would make it possible to come true, and thus it doesn't.

You make a prediction, and people act in such a way as to try to prevent it from happening. However, in their eagerness they manage to do precisely those things that makes the predicted thing happen, and thus it happens.

As you can see, predictions can have all kinds of effects on things. Especially humans. Things can happen because you predict them. Things can fail to happen because you predict them. Things that might have happened might unhappen because of your prediction. Things can be caused to happen by your prediction of them.

I predict you managed to get your head around all of that. And that you're thinking: well, it can't get any worse than that, can it?

Well, you could predict something that is quite obviously going to happen whether anyone predicts them or not. And that others have predicted before, but not in quite as loudmouthed a way. By being among the most vocal of those doing the predicting, you elevate yourself to a higher social status by virtue of saying true things about the future. Loudly.

To which I predict you thinking: wait, predictions can change the thing they predict, the person doing the predicting, and the relationship between predicted, predictor and predicated? What maze of recursive mutually dependent dialectic twists and turn is this?

You'd be excused for thinking that sometimes, it's easier to not think about these things.

Such as in the comparatively easy hard sciences. -

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014 starts here

You know that lecture that gave me pause in the last post?

Turns out it's gonna give me pause for a long, long time to come. So without further ado [skip to 6:40], get prepared to be politically, morally and rhetorically floored. In all the good ways.

The introductory performance

One of the things I tend to do is to listen to random lectures on Youtube. Listen, as in letting the audio roll and looking at something else than the accompanying visuals. Multitasking, you know.

The last one I happened to stumble upon is this one with Cornel West. I haven't listened to it yet, though - something about the introduction gives me pause. And this something is this: how come introductions to lectures tend to sound so alike, regardless of who is introduced and who is doing the introducing?

One theory on this is that it's just a common tendency among people in such circumstances to say the same kinds of things. And that they, thus, independently from one another, acting from their own points of discourse, will come out sounding similar and familiar.

Another theory is that it is something of a genre, and that people have internalized certain implicit expectations and assumptions that goes with this genre. That they, in short, know how an introduction to a lecture is supposed to sound, and work (consciously or unconsciously) to emulate this idea of how it's supposed to be done. The template is there, and the only thing you have to do is fill it with content, so to speak.

Listening to this particular introduction made me think that it's more of the latter than the former. It's the intonation, you see. You don't get that particular stiltedness of pronunciation anywhere else. People have too much personality to conform to this pattern out of sheer random anything. On some level, they know what they're doing, and doing their best to do it right.

The proper way, as it were.

Whenever someone wants to say "let's ignore all the blatant pitfalls that are inherent to doing what I'm about to do", they tend to say "let's for the sake of argument assume that". So let's for the sake of argument assume that all these genre performers don't quite know what they're doing on a conscious level. They know enough in their bones and guts to make the genre performance in an improvised fashion, moving along on the general principle that it has to be done in some way and the way in front of them is as good as any. Better than most, actually, as time constraints constrain.

That would account for how so many sound so similar without ever having talked, communicated or even been in any kind of proximity to one another. The genre permeates their tendencies, and tends them to conform whenever the situation doesn't require anything out of the ordinary.

Genres don't have servants. But they have a Butler. Sometimes referred to as Judith. And this is, at a basic level, how her notion of performativity works. People perform and act out a certain genre whenever they don't do anything out of the ordinary, and this genre is gender. They know, on some level, what 'a man' or 'a woman' is supposed to do, and act to emulate this supposed ideal. The template is there, and all one has to do is to go through the motions.

The obvious caveat to this is, of course, that gendered persons tend to know on which side of the genre fence they're on. Either because they've internalized the expectations of what being a wo/man means, or because they've gotten the rules brutally beaten into them whenever they've dared to perform badly.

The beatings themselves being a part of the genre of gender. In subtle and not so subtle ways.

The way to avoid these beatings is to conform to the genre. The way to avoid both the beatings and the dreadfully boring life of conformity is to subvert the rules - play along just enough to pass the minimum bar, but perform in such a way that the whole production cannot but look as ridiculous as it actually is. Embrace the letter, profane the spirit.

(re)Mix all the metaphors. And become freer for it. -