Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Slavoj Zizek, Facebook, and the Echo Chamber

I'll try to keep this short, although I certainly have more to say about it than just a few paragraphs.  Yesterday, I reposted Slavoj Zizek's article "The Sexual is Political", highlighting a few points in the article that I thought were particularly insightful.  And then my post was either reported or algorithmically culled, and I lost posting privileges for an hour or more.

Essentially (and my interpretation could be incorrect), Zizek is saying that the social justice movement that aims to eliminate or expand our ideas about sexuality and gender contains its own antagonist, meaning it reinforces that which it intends to destroy.  The Ouroboros.  That is, that the argument will continue ad infinitum, or it will collapse in on itself.  In creating an ever-expanding list of categories to define gender (LGBTQQIAAP+), it props up the male/female dichotomy as the antagonist.  It cannot exist by itself without that other point of departure.  So, the solution that he seems to advocate is creating a general category for gender, or an un-category.

The part that people seem to take issue with is that he points out, in the infinite regress of categorization, we are setting a foundation for the recognition of even further divisions, almost speaking into existence a problem that didn't exist before.  He uses the analogy of bestiality to accomplish this.  Knowing Zizek as a "pervert" and provocateur, this isn't shocking.  He isn't conflating gender identity and sexuality with bestiality at all; rather, he is stating that a foundation for infinite regress is being established.

This brings me to my censorship.  I was in no way supporting or advocating Zizek's argument as a whole.  I just found aspects of the article interesting, particularly the idea that the more marginalized and excluded the new Left categorizes you, the more they support your assertion of identity.  This is an example of the ideology curving in on itself, and thus performing the job of the Far Right (which I think is a valid point to make).  Since this is critical of new Left ideology, they are quick to label it fascist and eligible for censorship.  There's the problem.  In trying to cleanse the general living space for these marginalized identities, the Left is advocating a type of social privilege where everyone is able to live in their own proverbial bubble, as if the rest of the world does not exist.  The fact is, however, that these "aberrations" in thought will never disappear, and trying to remove them from the discourse is simply immature at best...  and of course, it is totalitarian at its worst.  The only way to clean and homogenize an entire discourse is through the suppression of dissident thought, of which the inevitable outcome is a marginalized subculture (real or perceived).

This is why the alt-right exists.  This is why otherwise intelligent young white males are voting for Trump.  

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Losing Our Objectivity

This post will probably won't sit well with a number of you, but that's what discussion is for.

After wrestling practice last night, I got really, really deep into this discussion with a friend of mine from Volgograd.  So the question is;  where does moral, spiritual, and philosophical relativism leave us?  At what price do we reject objectivity?  I believe this is at a great, great cost.

Let's set a foundation for this.  I have a masters degree in theology, as does my cousin in Chicago, but we are both agnostic leaning toward atheism.  When I asked her about her current religious beliefs, or lack thereof, she said that she identifies mostly with Vaclav Havel's position that humanity requires an eternal, objective standard or point of reference, lest we fall into nihilism and existential despair.  The consequences of that shift in the public consciousness are being felt right now, I believe, in our collective nihilistic shoulder-shrugging, religious-like adherence to ideology, and reactionary behaviors in groups like ISIS.  Most succinctly, Havel

"...points to that “‘higher’ responsibility, which grows out of a conscious or subconscious certainty that our death ends nothing, because everything is forever being recorded and evaluated somewhere else, somewhere ‘above us,’ in … an integral aspect of the secret order of the cosmos, of nature, and of life, which believers call God and to whose judgment everything is liable.”

Without an objective order, our lives mean nothing in the truest sense, as meaning is a human projection onto the framework of ontology.  The logical conclusion of subjective meanings is nihilism.  Our influence on others, in the face of death, ends in their deaths, and it all ends when the Earth is swallowed by the sun.  Philosophers or part-time philosophers like Schumpeter attribute this to the march of capitalism and liberalism, as well, because it was Enlightenment liberalism (in his opinion) that began to reduce everything to mere calculations and automations.

We need to believe that somehow, somewhere, our actions and lives mean something objective.  It is being recorded somewhere and these things matter.  It is integral to our most basic programming as humans.

This is not to say, though, that it must end in religion.  On the contrary, I view this universal objectivity as a point in a cloud of quantum uncertainty, insofar that you can point in the direction of this higher reality, but how you define that reality is difficult to locate unless you are looking for it.  Understand that this isn't an apologetic for religion (although it certainly could be) as much as it is the recognition of our need to behave ethically and compassionately, which only makes sense if we believe our individual and collective lives contain eternal significance.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Milo Yiannopoulos *sigh*

This post will inevitably draw the ire of many, particularly in my circle of friends and acquaintances.  However, if they take the time to read this through, perhaps we can find some common ground.

Recently, Milo Yiannopoulos was permanently banned from Twitter for allegedly instigating a terribly prejudiced and insensitive attack on actress Leslie Jones.  I happen to agree with the ban, although I generally support Milo's role as a provocateur (for philosophical reasons touched on in my three previous posts).  So how is it that I could support Yiannopoulos, while still maintaining my particular, fairly-Left ideologies?

Well, it goes something like this:  The pejorative term "social justice warrior" has a basis in reality.  Although it is sometimes misused, it does describe a real phenomenon and a real breakdown in the structure of progressive politics.  In fact, I completely attribute the recent uptick in far Right, alt-right, ethnopluralist ideology to the rise of SJWs.  And that isn't to say that those ideologies are inherently bad all the time; I just mean to say that they aren't necessarily the most enlightened ways of looking at things.

When Yiannopoulos engages ardent feminists in debate, for example, he exposes something that is emblematic of many on the Left who were swept up into their causes without sufficient research or investigation, and that is that so, so many of us became involved in "causes" on emotional grounds.  So many on the Left do not question the information that they are given, nor do they have any foundation in why they do what they do.  Therefore, when Milo confronts them with conflicting information about the wage gap, they do not have factual rebuttals for their positions (that, for example, women show less income for a myriad of social reasons that do NOT include discrimination).  They do not counter him with facts, or address his information with anything approaching an explanation.  They simply shout "sexist!" or "bigot!", or chain themselves to doors in hysterics, or use air horns to drown out his voice.  This does nothing but push the overwhelming young, white, and perceptively "disenfranchised" alt-right further and further away.

His role as a provocateur exposes the Left and progressives for all the bad things that it has become.  It shows in stark detail that all the circle-jerking accomplished nothing.  We have a huge cultural divide right now, the largest that I ever recall in my lifetime, because people on the Left (with whom I would most accurately identify) can't calmly handle their affairs when faced with alternative points-of-view.       

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Do Non-Left Politics Have a Place in Punk Rock? pt 3

Continuing, some right politics are incompatible with ideals that could broadly be applied to punk, which should include the humanity and dignity of everyone.  Without fully diving into that can of worms, extreme nationalism could categorized as such, although nationalism in and of itself isn't necessarily bad.  We championed the sovereignty and identity of the Scots when they voted on the issue of independence, and we celebrate indigenous heritages worldwide, but often malign American pride, which had a firm place in early hardcore.  Warzone, Agnostic Front, and others would be examples of that.  That isn't without its thorns, of course (America has a rough history), but arguably there are some ideals Americans equate with being American that are worthy of a place in the discourse.

Early hardcore and oi often pushed back against anarchism and other strains of Leftist thought in the scene, but I don't think that makes one more "punk" than the other.  Quite to the contrary, both sides embody that spirit of rebellion that makes punk what it is.  Both are taking issue with structures that they feel are unfair, or that misrepresent their interests and the well-being of others.  Furthermore, that tension between the two is absolutely vital to real discussion.  As Noam Chomsky said,

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum....”

Passivity and obedience, or complacency, is commonplace within any social group, punk included.  Without deviant politics, it's all a sham.  That doesn't mean we allow extremist behavior or thought, but it does mean that we become acquainted with what makes us uncomfortable.  By narrowing the range of views that are socially acceptable, we strangle the life out of the very reason that many of us turned to punk in the first place.  This may take you into ideologically scary territory.  It may have you confront your own logical inconsistencies, biases, and prejudices.  To me, that's perfect.  

This is where the provocateur has its place in punk, no matter what ideological direction it comes from.  Stir the pot, get shit started.  Embrace satire, sarcasm, and shock value.  Without it, we might as well return to the mundane flow of birth-to-death, which is just a waiting game.  

Do Non-Left Politics Have a Place in Punk Rock? pt 2

Using music as a way to provoke people gave punk rock a new purpose (for me, at least).  I played in a hardcore band called PonyBoy that often dressed in drag, and our live shows were usually very confrontational.  Sometimes bordering on violence.  We would openly mock the bands we played with, as well as the audience.  We played a few shows in Victoria with some skinhead bands, and were threatened with violence for our provocateur-type antics on multiple occasions.  Shit, I miss those days.  Pushing the envelope was interesting to me.

So where do non-Left politics come into play?  Well, first of all, this hard delineation between the Left and Right is an illusion of sorts.  It's a false construct that stifles and divides the political discourse, although it does have some basis in reality.  I mean, there are core values at play in each that aren't compatible; planned economics will never be compatible with the free market, liberal social policies will never coexist with religious fundamentalism, and so on.  We have to draw the line somewhere, or the ultimate result is a nihilistic quagmire.

But to reduce punk rock to a specific set of ideals is a subjective activity, and always will be.  Doing so also fails to recognize that politics, in general, don't serve the masses.  Those without.  Minority groups.  Really anyone who feels powerless.  It succeeds parsimoniously in making large generalizations, but neglects the individual experience, which illusion or not is how we view the world.  The hazards of neglecting the individual experience are quite obvious to anyone that can assess things objectively (or at least as objective as we can hope things to be).  The recent tension between the police and black folks is one example, but you can point to the Great Chinese Famine or the 34+ million "unnatural deaths" that occurred under Stalin.  A friend of mine in Kazan, Russia, told me on Skype one morning that her grandfather succumbed to one of Stalin's purges, and that she readily equates communism with fascism.  Her words, not mine, are that those killings were a direct result of the idea that the individual did not matter.  

Therefore, obeying the party line (in my opinion) is antithetical to punk.  We need provocateurs, satire, sarcasm, and a certain level of nihilistic despair in order to have an honest discussion.  In order to not take ourselves too seriously.  If that involves ideas that aren't steadfastly "Left", then so be it; at least we have remained true to the idea that all things must be questioned, authority in particular.  And authority does not care what side of the spectrum you identify with.  The individual experience and creating an identity we are comfortable with is a part of the human condition, even if it is in flux.  

Do Non-Left Politics Have a Place in Punk Rock? pt 1

I was reading some pretty demagogic posts on Reddit yesterday about how punk rock is firmly and irretrievably Left, fundamentally, and this follows a post on Facebook from an acquaintance who made a similar dogmatic claim to the effect of "if you don't agree with x, then you aren't punk."

First of all, I'm always open for discussion, and I always change my mind on things.  It depends on what I've read, what kind of thoughts are influencing me at the time, my general mood, and a host of other things.  I feel that if you don't recognize the fluidity of "identity", then you are too firmly attached to the completely unscientific and simply untrue idea that there is an "I" floating around in your head.  I mean, I wish it was there, but there doesn't seem to be any evidence that it's true.

When I first got into punk, it didn't have a political ideology attached to it; I listened to punk out of pure teenage rebelliousness.  I always perceived myself to be different from most everyone else.  I didn't have a lot of close friends, and sometimes none at all.  I was really into reading books, playing music, and got into trouble A LOT.  Alternative school, ISS, kicked out of high school band twice, arrested a good handful of times...  It all lead to an increasing feeling of alienation that punk rock remedied.

I listened to a wide variety of things: the Descendents, Down by Law, Dag Nasty, Shelter. the Ramones, Hagfish, the Queers, the Riverdales...  I remember listening to Dropkick Murphys and the Business in the parking lot at high school and thinking that I was doing something really special, when kids had been doing the same thing all over the world for decades.  It was a way to reject the small-town, very conservative values that I was surrounded by, as well as funnel all that just general angsty teenage bullshit somewhere sort of constructive.  I started a ska band when I was 15 or 16, and then a punk band that played at the skatepark in town, as well as a morning pep rally.  But what started as a generic sense of adolescent identity soon turned into a tool for provocation.