Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Misandry, Medusa and Men's Rights

It may not have escaped your notice that over at Comment is Free there has, of late, I know not where (sorry, that's Hamlet)....been quite a lot of what we might call - let's go for something approaching neutrality here - people making noisy noise about misandry. First there was the whole Tom Martin brouhaha, here and here (see also Sian of the Not-Straight Ribs here). And then Ellie Mae O'Hagan wrote a great piece last Thursday about the now infamously withdrawn Topman T-shirts, the ones that compared women to dogs (she's a bitch, geddit?), or gave a jaunty recitation of excuses for domestic violence. They're fucking hilarious. Given the apparent mood of the times, Ellie's credulity un-stretching assertion that the T-shirts indicate a disturbing normalization of misogyny met with a fairly predictable response.

First off there was the whole, crushingly depressing "it's just a T-shirt - jeez, don't you people with vaginas understand jokes"-fandango. To which I'll say what I've said before and suspect I will say many many times again: 
1) 'Joke' and 'politically significant' are not mutually exclusive fact, quite the opposite...humour can be used to subvert political oppression (hats off to you Mister Colbert) or to normalize it (thanks again Mister Hill). Comedy, is, in short, one of the most effective political weapons we have, and using it doesn't exempt you from an iota of political responsibility. Not a single drop.
2) I'm sick to the back teeth and half way down my oesophagus of the raggedy old 'women not having a sense of humour'-thing. First. Please. Get a new line. Second, we have a sense of humour. If we didn't have a sense of humour - living in this rampantly capitalist patriarchial ecologically-suicidal car-crash of a society - we'd have a hard job getting up in the morning and getting on with the business of working, and looking out for ourselves and trying to care for other people. The reason why we don't find this funny is not because the deity of humourless-bitches surgically removed our funny bones at birth but because:
3) Violence isn't funny. And nor is comparing people to animals. And violence and comparing people to animals at the same time. That never goes anywhere good.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Stopping the Rot

Four months ago Nocton Dairies – evangelists of the doctrine that ‘Cows do not belong in fields’ – withdrew their plans for a super-dairy in Lincolnshire in the face of public protest and objections by the Environment Agency. Now, both sides of the Atlantic have seen a further hardening of opposition to the practices of intensive agribusiness, and in particular, the routine use of antibiotics in industrial farming. In the States, the launch in early May of a campaign called "Moms for Antibiotic Awareness," was followed at the end of the month with a lawsuit filed against the FDA by The Natural Resources Defense Council. Both take issue with the fact that 80% of the antibiotics given to livestock are non-therapeutic, habitually placed in food and water to, in effect, ‘immunize’ animals against their less-than-salubrious living conditions. Similarly, the Friday before last The Independent revealed that the past decade saw a dramatic increase in the agricultural use of three classes of antibiotics considered vitally important to human health. This serves to further intensify concerns about the role of farming practice in breeding antibiotic-resistant super-bugs like MRSA, and the lethal strain of E. coli responsible for the recent outbreak in Germany.

Some of us – cynical about the incessant manufacture of panics – might well want to chalk this up to Yet More Scaremongering. However, I find it useful to divide the anxieties of our age into ‘Stuff which is in the interests of capital’ and ‘Stuff which is not.’ Opposition to extracting maximum profit from a pound of pig’s flesh – irrespective of the effects on health – seems to fall squarely in the second box. Which leads me to suspect that it might be more than just another whipped-up neurosis designed to brow-beat me into continued consumptive compliance.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Hysteriawatch: Like twitching, but for feminists

We might remember that some time back, our great and beneficent leader, on being interrogated by Angela Eagle during PMQs, decided that the best way to wriggle out of inconvenient questions was by engaging in an ill-advised impersonation of Michael Winner. 'Calm-down-dear'-gate, as it was thankfully never named, was, according inevitably to some, yet another instantiation of the way woman just don't get the funnies, or are prone to getting themselves all worked up about things which are really No Great Shakes. Because you see, not only do women's natural sensitivities prevent them from engaging appropriately in that great ratiocinative arena otherwise known as the House of Commons (priceless really, considering how much general school-boy jeering and paper-waving they routinely get up to over there), when this is calmly pointed out to them, they get all huffy and over-emotional.

As Libby Brooks noted in The Guardian that Thursday, language is actually Quite a Big Deal, particularly when that language is deployed more-or-less subtly to delegitimize critique, in a manner which neatly side-steps the need to actually deal with the substance of that critique. And, when it comes to Not Wanting to Listen to Women - especially when they are making observations about the myriad mechanisms used to silence, sideline or undermine them - there is perhaps no better way to silence, sideline or undermine them than wheeling out the accusation of hysteria. As it happened, a short while after Cameron's blunder, I published my little bit of criticism about Moffat and Who, which caused a predictably explosive response. As a case study of the polysemic range of rhetorical tricks on offer to anyone who wants to pull the 'I am Logos, and you are Irrationality Embodied' move on their opponent, it was, I have to say, something of a gold-mine. The reasons why I Shouldn't be Taken Seriously included, among other things, the charges of "incoherence" and "silliness," and the observation that I was "rambling," spouting "nonsense," and "ranting all over the place." I was told twice that I was "pseudo-" something or other, and finally - my personal favourite - that I was "insane" for trying to classify kisses. I mean, it's clearly a great Enlightenment endeavour to label butterflies pinned to a board...but kisses? Well that's just barking.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Notes on 'the good' (i): Peer-to-peer relationality and postmodern productivity

"[M]odernity...based on a autonomous self in a society which he himself creates through the social contract, has been changing in postmodernity. The individual is now seen as always-already part of various social fields, as a singular composite being....Atomistic individualism is rejected in favour of the view of a relational self, a new balance between individual agency and collective communion."
Michel Bauwens, P2P and Human Evolution (44-5)

"Soon this society will only be held together by the mere tension of 
all the social atoms straining towards an illusory cure."
The Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection (19)

"There is a logic of self-unfolding at ethic that values activity and caring...creativity, the continuous surpassing of oneself in solving problems and creating new use value."
Pekka Hinamen, The Hacker Ethic

Postmodernism - that favoured buzz-word of Nineties theory-drones - has, it must be said, something of an image problem. On the one hand it is despised, with equal vociferousness, both by the forces of political reaction - that legion of young and old fogies who would prefer to drag us kicking and screaming back to some unspecified point before 1967 - and also, at the same time, by many of the hard left. Quite why so much frankly inarticulate disgust is reserved for the deconstructionist-feminist-new-age-vitalist strain of the philosophical left by the Badiouian-Zizekian new guard is something I have never really been able to adequately get to the bottom of....largely because I find such apoplexies of revulsion deeply suspect. Nonetheless, it does have to be said, that while deconstruction should be always defended against the erroneous charge of nihilism, there is still much work to be done in terms of hashing out what we might understand as the form of positive or productive deconstruction. As one of my friends said to me recently, putting his finger on the issue which has perhaps alienated just as many as the spectacularly dense - but endlessly repeated - reading of 'there is nothing outside the text' (yes, that's right, Derrida thinks that tables don't exist)'s all very interesting as a theory, but what on earth is one to do with it?

What unsettles me so deeply about the current trend to dismiss deconstruction - in fact, to dismiss pretty much the entire legacy of post-Bergsonian/pre-Badiouian French thought - as simply a fad or a fashion, a mere intellectual blip in the forward march of principled the fact that what we are dealing with here are some really really fundamental ontological claims, claims about the nature of reality which we can't just imagine away because we think they lead to namby-pamby-wishy-washyness, or a failure of political virility. As Michel Bauwens suggests above, one of the most - in fact I would say, the most - salient fact about what is unhelpfully called the linguistic turn, is that it is not really about language at all, but is, rather, a claim about the fundamentally relational nature of is a claim that each and every being (whether a sign or a state, a subject or a star) is constituted by its temporal and spatial relation to that which is other than itself.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Education, education, education

So, inevitably, after the backlash comes the backlash...the furore generated by A. C. Grayling's gobsmackingly cynical announcment of the New College of the Humanities (see here and here for press, and here and here for blogosphere) mutating, by the week's end, into Deborah Orr's feigned incomprehension of what all the fuss is about, or Simon Jenkin's telling us - with characteristic generosity of spirit - that the fuss is about nothing more serious than "rich pips" getting pissy about having to pay for their own education. (There is also a staggeringly odious display of neo-colonial ad hominem non-argument posted by some chap called Hugo on the Varsity website for anyone who fancies getting really irritated - waytogo laying that ghost about Cambridge fostering disgustingly complacent posh-boy privilege Hugo).

So, for those of you having a problem getting your heads around this, let's spell it out. The fuss is about capitulating to the assumption that the function of education is to be rendered only in the logic of capital. Grayling, relying - as do so many of those who choose to sell their principles down the swanny - on the 'real-worlder' defense, claims to be defending the humanities from their present peril. But, as has been pointed out (here for example), if you want to defend the humanities, then how about you try defending the humanities...Because, do you know what doesn't come under the rubric of 'defending the humanities'?...Acquiescing to the neo-liberal managerialism that insists that the humanities are 'non-productive' leeches on the public purse and are henceforth only to be enjoyed by people who can pay eighteen grand a year to be educated by a bunch of media-hungry celebrity intellectuals.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Doctor Who and its Discontents: Part I - Moffat, Misogyny and the Problem with Pond

Doctor Who fans, by and large, are a tenacious bunch. As the tales of the wilderness years - of long nights spend huddled round the flame of Big Finish - suggest, there is something about the dedication that this show inspires which goes way way beyond whether it happens (or not) to be any good (or not) at any particular time, or whether, even, the Doctor is presently in possession of a televisual incarnation at all. Quite why Doctor Who rocks so hard is a topic of eternal and, necessarily, open-ended debate; favourite theories include the versatility of the format, the child-like effervescence, the unmistakable aroma of camp mixed with the uncanny, and of course, general, all round, timey-wimey goodness. But, in the end, it probably boils down to the one simple thing most Whovians can agree on (and that's not much): this guy is the greatest superhero ever conceived by human-kind, and there is a place tucked inside each of our souls - filled with the longing for wonder, and adventure, and cosmic justice - where we all need to believe he is real.

Being not only tenacious, but fastidious, by nature, the response of most Whovians to being disturbed or disappointed by what the Doctor has gone and done this week is to engage in explosions of analysis. And here we find ourselves. For I, among many of the faithful, am not at all happy with what is going on in the Whoniverse right now. This is, we should note, a far from unanimous opinion. There are many - principally those who spent much of the RTD-era wailing though gritted-teeth about the latest credulity-stretching deus ex-machina - who are endlessly enchanted by Steven Moffat's Chinese puzzle-box approach to plot development. Also, Moffat can do monsters. That I'll give him. But Who is more than the scaries, and evidence is accumulating - from declining ratings* to the National Television Awards flunk** - that all is not well in the land of rebooted New Who.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Of the rich, by the rich, for the rich

So let's cut to the chase. I’m no fan of the monarchy. I’ve long suspected that the British can be fairly divided into two camps when it comes to kings and queens; the reverential doff-your-cap-at-the-squire types, and the naturally irreverent I-fart-in-your-general-direction types, those who occasionally come with a side of “but-I-thought-we-were-an-autonomous-collective?” While some get all supermarket-sweep when faced with monarchic memorabilia, there are others – let’s call them the children of Python – who have only ever purchased a Charles and Di tea-towel with an eyebrow firmly-arched. I’ve always been in the latter camp. My general response to learning that ‘Waity-Katie’ would wait no more was to stifle a groan at the thought of the ensuing quasi-fascist bunting-frenzy and then set about planning how to get as far away as possible from nuptial-central. The western coast of Wales seemed like a good bet. And that is exactly where I’m going this weekend.

Fig.1 - Evil bunting

However, that said, I'm not going to take this lovely carnival affair (I'm rather hoping there will be mask-wearing and trance-dancing later) as an occasion to reflect on the relative demerits of constitutional monarchy versus its upstart republican cousins. No, instead, given the dire political situation (which, I might add, this whole wedding-fandango is doing nothing to obscure), I thought this a good opportunity to think through the general crisis of political legitimacy in this country. The crisis of political legitimacy which, for that matter, is also apparent in many other countries where the mechanisms of representation have become so utterly distorted by the overweening interests of capital. I guess that pretty much gives away where I’m going with all this (as if the title was obscure), but to back up for a second…what I want to talk about here is not the pros and cons of whether we should or should not have an elected head of state, but rather, the problems our political system shares, by historical descent, with its more pure-blooded (yuk!) republican relatives.