Dec. 19th, 2016

tim: Solid black square (black)


"Everything in my life that I love
Could be swept away without warning
Yet the birds still sing and the church bells ring
And the sun came up this morning"
-- Billy Bragg, "Rumours of War"


  • Michigan Supreme Court Slams The Door On Jill Stein’s Recount Case, by Daniel Marans for the Huffington Post (2016-12-10).
    "Only five of the Michigan Supreme Court’s seven justices considered whether to hear the appeal. Chief Justice Robert Young and Justice Joan Larsen recused themselves after Stein questioned whether they could decide the case independently, since President-elect Trump had put them on a list of preferred candidates for the U.S. Supreme Court."


  • Trump proposes stripping citizenship from political protesters by Ian Millhiser for Think Progress (2016-11-29): "But once a person’s voting rights can be made contingent upon their beliefs, or their silence, then elections become increasingly meaningless."

  • The biopolitics of desire and neo-nazi fashion icons, by Flavia Dzodan (2016-12-06). On the connections between media coverage of "dapper Nazis" and eugenics.

  • The Electoral College is Great for Whiter States, Lousy for Cities, by Emily Dreyfuss for Wired (2016-12-08).
    "In the sweep of American history, this is Alexander Hamilton versus Thomas Jefferson flipped on its head. The Framers designed the Electoral College to make sure that smaller states were not ruled by the tyranny of the majority. Today, rural voters wield disproportionate Electoral College power compared with population centers, while cities preach decentralization as a way of keeping a check on the executive branch....

    At the forum, critics proposed two different ways to sink the Electoral College: abolition by constitutional amendment or an agreement among states that their electors will side with the candidate who wins the national popular vote. But the chances of either happening are slim to none, since the party that has now benefitted twice from the Electoral College system in the past 16 years controls both Congress and the White House (not to mention a majority of state governments)...

    "For eight years, Republicans accused the Obama administration of executive overreach. Now its Democrats warning of too much power in the hands of one president—a president that this time around most voters didn’t even choose."


  • Love Deez Nutz, or Why Van Jones Is Wrong and Maybe Even a Bit of a Bullshitting Magical Negro, or Happy Friday from My Corner of Trump’s America–Whatever You Like–I’m Tired, by Michelle R. Smith (2016-12-08).
    "I can work with white people without exploding my antipathy for the worst among them all over the rest of them. I can teach white people without exploding my antipathy for the worst among them all over the rest of them. I can share public space, transact business, cooperate with, and socialize with white people without exploding my antipathy for the worse among them all over the rest of them.

    And so can millions of other black people. So do we all. Because if we ever did explode–whenever we do explode–we get eviscerated or incarcerated or fucking eradicated.

    And since we do it, and white people rank themselves as better than us–they make all these adamant claims to superior intellect, morality, discipline, and wisdom–they should be able to do it, too. They should be able to interact with us without exploding their supremacist bullshit all over any of us, even if they fantasize about doing it the entire time."


  • Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America, by Lauren Duca for Teen Vogue. I couldn't pick a quote to pull from this -- it's all so good.

  • Diving deeper into Russia's role in the US election (clearer news has come out since these stories were published):


  • A post about coming out as queer in mid-life, by Molly Wizenberg (2016-11-30), the co-host of my favorite podcast, Spilled Milk, and from what I can see, an all-around awesome person.

  • A couple links about systemic racism and why Trump's surrogates don't have worse opinions than him, they represent him:

    • Steve Bannon’s disturbing views on ‘genetic superiority’ are shared by Trump, by Laurel Raymond for Think Progress (2016-11-28)
    • Trump's Proving that Those who Called Clinton 'The Lesser of Two Evils' Didn't Know What Evil Looked Like", by Damon Young for VSB (2016-11-18)
    • Why So Many Liberal White Guys Just Can't Admit the Election Was about Race, Explained, by Damon Young for VSB (2016-11-29):
      "Where can you find them? Trader Joe’s parking lots. Inner-city bike lanes. Jason Derulo listening parties. Giving TED Talks about couscous. Writing for Slate. Producing feminist porn....

      Liberal White people, however? You’d think someone told them their favorite gluten-free bakery has been using wheat.

      ...their steadfast refusal to acknowledge the role race played in the election makes it seem as if they’re playing some sort of devolved, pre-racial game of Taboo. Of course, there was Mark Lilla’s “The End of Identity Liberalism” which I assumed would be the pinnacle of this train of thought — the fuckshit thinkpiece to end all fuckshit thinkpieces. But a few days later, Mother Jones (perhaps the crunchiest major platform on the Internet) published Kevin Drum’s plea for us to be “careful with the White supremacy label.” Here, Drum defines and limits White supremacy to “people believing non-White people are inferior“; ultimately failing to realize that whether they believe we’re inferior doesn’t matter as much as the effort to ensure White dominance. Which is why the White Supremacy label fits. (It also must be said that Drum’s piece was a defense of Crunchy Jesus himself, Bernie Sanders, who also attempted to minimize the value of identity politics.)"



  • Political correctness: how the right invented a phantom enemy, by Moira Weigel for the Guardian (2016-11-30). Long, but has so much in it:

    Every time Trump said something “outrageous” commentators suggested he had finally crossed a line and that his campaign was now doomed. But time and again, Trump supporters made it clear that they liked him because he wasn’t afraid to say what he thought. Fans praised the way Trump talked much more often than they mentioned his policy proposals. He tells it like it is, they said. He speaks his mind. He is not politically correct....

    Trump and his followers never defined “political correctness”, or specified who was enforcing it. They did not have to. The phrase conjured powerful forces determined to suppress inconvenient truths by policing language....

    There is an obvious contradiction involved in complaining at length, to an audience of hundreds of millions of people, that you are being silenced. But this idea – that there is a set of powerful, unnamed actors, who are trying to control everything you do, right down to the words you use – is trending globally right now....

    If you search ProQuest, a digital database of US magazines and newspapers, you find that the phrase “politically correct” rarely appeared before 1990. That year, it turned up more than 700 times. In 1991, there are more than 2,500 instances. In 1992, it appeared more than 2,800 times. Like Indiana Jones movies, these pieces called up enemies from a melange of old wars: they compared the “thought police” spreading terror on university campuses to fascists, Stalinists, McCarthyites, “Hitler Youth”, Christian fundamentalists, Maoists and Marxists.

    Many of these articles recycled the same stories of campus controversies from a handful of elite universities, often exaggerated or stripped of context. The New York magazine cover story opened with an account of a Harvard history professor, Stephan Thernstrom, being attacked by overzealous students who felt he had been racially insensitive: “Whenever he walked through the campus that spring, down Harvard’s brick paths, under the arched gates, past the fluttering elms, he found it hard not to imagine the pointing fingers, the whispers. Racist. There goes the racist. It was hellish, this persecution.”

    In an interview that appeared soon afterwards in The Nation, Thernstrom said the harassment described in the New York article had never happened....

    But soon enough, the term was rebranded by the right, who turned its meaning inside out. All of a sudden, instead of being a phrase that leftists used to check dogmatic tendencies within their movement, “political correctness” became a talking point for neoconservatives. They said that PC constituted a leftwing political programme that was seizing control of American universities and cultural institutions – and they were determined to stop it.

    The right had been waging a campaign against liberal academics for more than a decade. Starting in the mid-1970s, a handful of conservative donors had funded the creation of dozens of new thinktanks and “training institutes” offering programmes in everything from “leadership” to broadcast journalism to direct-mail fundraising. They had endowed fellowships for conservative graduate students, postdoctoral positions and professorships at prestigious universities. Their stated goal was to challenge what they saw as the dominance of liberalism and attack left-leaning tendencies within the academy.

    Starting in the late 1980s, this well-funded conservative movement entered the mainstream with a series of improbable bestsellers that took aim at American higher education. The first, by the University of Chicago philosophy professor Allan Bloom, came out in 1987.
    "The responses that the conservative bestsellers offered to the changes they described were disproportionate and often misleading. For instance, Bloom complained at length about the “militancy” of African American students at Cornell University, where he had taught in the 1960s. He never mentioned what students demanding the creation of African American studies were responding to: the biggest protest at Cornell took place in 1969 after a cross burning on campus, an open KKK threat."
    By making fun of professors who spoke in language that most people considered incomprehensible (“The Lesbian Phallus”), wealthy Ivy League graduates could pose as anti-elite. [ed.: Emphasis added. Sounds familiar? Trump = posing as "anti-elite."]

    ....As Black Lives Matter and movements against sexual violence gained strength, a spate of thinkpieces attacked the participants in these movements, criticising and trivialising them by saying that they were obsessed with policing speech. Once again, the conversation initially focused on universities, but the buzzwords were new. Rather than “difference” and “multiculturalism”, Americans in 2012 and 2013 started hearing about “trigger warnings”, “safe spaces”, “microaggressions”, “privilege” and “cultural appropriation”. [Emphasis added]

    ...As evidence of the “hegemonic” influence enjoyed by unnamed actors on the left, Chait cited two female journalists saying that they had been criticised by leftists on Twitter.

    ....The anti-PC liberals were so focused on leftists on Twitter that for months they gravely underestimated the seriousness of the real threat to liberal discourse. It was not coming from women, people of colour, or queer people organising for their civil rights, on campus or elsewhere. It was coming from @realdonaldtrump, neo-Nazis, and far-right websites such as Breitbart...

    First, by talking incessantly about political correctness, Trump established the myth that he had dishonest and powerful enemies who wanted to prevent him from taking on the difficult challenges facing the nation. By claiming that he was being silenced, he created a drama in which he could play the hero.

    Second, Trump did not simply criticise the idea of political correctness – he actually said and did the kind of outrageous things that PC culture supposedly prohibited.

    'We should not underestimate how many Trump supporters held views that were sexist, racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic, and were thrilled to feel that he had given them permission to say so. It’s an old trick: the powerful encourage the less powerful to vent their rage against those who might have been their allies, and to delude themselves into thinking that they have been liberated. It costs the powerful nothing; it pays frightful dividends....

    Trump drew upon a classic element of anti-political-correctness by implying that while his opponents were operating according to a political agenda, he simply wanted to do what was sensible. [Emphasis added]


    That last part? Basically the fascist playbook: people talking about how much they hate politics and they don't have an ideology are usually trying to subvert the political process in the service of fascist ideologies.

  • 6 Ways Spiritual Thinking Can Reinforce Oppression and Racism, by Virginia Rosenberg for Decolonizing Yoga (2016-11-26). Not explicitly about fascism, yet highly relevant to the strategy of using words to denote the opposite of their actual meaning (a tool in the fascist toolkit):

    Discussing events as “an illusion of the material world” keeps you in an unhealthy illusion that you don’t need to be an agent of change. Retreating to your safe personal cave of “inner peace” can too easily be used as a method of hiding....

    Visualizing world peace is great. What’s even better taking concrete steps toward building that vision in real time.


    I feel that way when white liberals invoke MLK, Jr.'s "arc of justice" line without mentioning the amount of blood that was and continues to be shed trying to bend that arc.

  • Why We Must Protest, by Masha Gessen for Literary Hub (2016-11-21):

    Posting guard is a reasonable and measured response to a clear threat. When a neighbor threatens to poison your dog, you secure the fence. When an aggressive power threatens to invade, a state arms and fortifies its borders. And when an autocrat-elect threatens your liberties, you post guard around them. As constitutional-law scholar Garrett Epps has written, “there is hardly a provision of the Bill of Rights or later amendments [Trump] did not explicitly promise to override, from First Amendment freedom of the press and of religion to Fourth Amendment freedom from ‘unreasonable searches and seizures’ to Sixth Amendment right to counsel to Fourteenth Amendment birthright citizenship and Equal Protection and Fifteenth Amendment voting rights.” He has not only promised to begin his work of undoing democratic institutions on his first day in the Oval Office—he has already begun, by insulting the protesters and by denying access to media. Waiting to post guard would be foolish and irresponsible....

    The number of people in the streets is very close to being our only hedge against Trump’s power....

    Finally, protest is a powerful antidote to helplessness and confusion. Autocracies work by plunging citizens into a state of low-level dread. Most of the powers commandeered by the autocrat are ceded without a fight, and the power of imagination, the claim to a past and a future are the first to go. A person in a state of dread lives in a miserable forever present. A person in a state of dread is imminently controllable. The choice to protest, on the other hand, is the choice to take control of one’s body, one’s time, and one’s words, and in doing so to reclaim the ability to see a future.


    I really like the idea of protest as trauma recovery.

tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
I wanted to pull out so many quotes from The Hidden Author of Putinism
How Vladislav Surkov invented the new Russia
, by Peter Pomerantsev for the Atlantic (from 2014) that I thought this deserved its own post:


The brilliance of this new type of authoritarianism is that instead of simply oppressing opposition, as had been the case with 20th-century strains, it climbs inside all ideologies and movements, exploiting and rendering them absurd.

[describing a novel apparently written by Surkov] 'Egor is described as a “vulgar Hamlet” who can see through the superficiality of his age but is unable to have genuine feelings for anyone or anything'


Like liberals working for Fox News, the new Russian authoritarians use compartmentalization and cognitive dissonance in order to live with their own complicity:

When I asked how they married their professional and personal lives, they looked at me as if I were a fool and answered: “Over the last 20 years we’ve lived through a communism we never believed in, democracy and defaults and mafia state and oligarchy, and we’ve realized they are illusions, that everything is PR.”'


"Everything is PR" is similar to the phrase "virtual signalling" as used by white supremacist: the propaganda that no one holds sincere beliefs and anyone who appears to do so is just performing or trying to make you think they have beliefs:

'“Everything is PR” has become the favorite phrase of the new Russia; my Moscow peers were filled with a sense that they were both cynical and enlightened. When I asked them about Soviet-era dissidents, like my parents, who fought against communism, they dismissed them as naive dreamers and my own Western attachment to such vague notions as “human rights” and “freedom” as a blunder."


Who does the next paragrah remind you of? If his first name rhymes with "Kylo" and his last name rhymes with "Viannopoulous", you might be right.

'Surkov himself is the ultimate expression of this psychology. As I watched him give his speech to the students and journalists in London, he seemed to change and transform like mercury, from cherubic smile to demonic stare, from a woolly liberal preaching “modernization” to a finger-wagging nationalist, spitting out willfully contradictory ideas: “managed democracy,” “conservative modernization.”'


If this sounds like 4chan or rationalism, then you're right too:

"Surkov’s genius has been to tear those associations apart, to marry authoritarianism and modern art, to use the language of rights and representation to validate tyranny, to recut and paste democratic capitalism until it means the reverse of its original purpose."


I think the antidotes to the destruction of meaning and morality are science, math, engineering, emotional self-awareness, genuine art, earnestness, sincerity, vulnerability, relationships, and queer sex (and as a friend said, all good sex is queer to some extent). There is no divide between science and art, only a division between intellectual fields that suffer under toxic masculinity and ones that have a little more individual and group balance in terms of gender.

And that part about the description of Surkov's novel jumps out at me. Hipsterist detachment and irony as a direct path to inhumanity; 4chan's in charge now, not because they're fascists but because of their use of irony to evade the imperative to take moral stances. Shitposting is not a good system of government.

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Tim Chevalier

March 2017

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