Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Don't Read This: Way Too Philosophical

I am not sure what took hold of me today, but I found myself plunked down in the library reading Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. I hadn't read this book since I was an undergraduate. I had picked it up to make certain that a secondary source on him had something right, and I found myself engrossed.

I was trying to pinpoint exactly why I was so engrossed this evening with my friend Yehudi. I handed him a section that I had been reading, against his protests, and he was quickly engrossed as well. He looked up from the book and said "I actually understand this now." That was exactly what I had felt reading this today.

But, specifically what had drawn me in was Sartre's notion of freedom. I was struck by the similarities his work bore to Kant's Second Critique and so, for what it is worth, I will expound on this some. Both Kant and Sartre are, for all intents and purposes, impenetrable. When you read their works, you are struck by how dense and long these works are. You pore over sentences, scratching your head, "what on earth can this mean."

Then, you happen upon a sentence that poetically resonates with you. This happened to me with Kant over 10 years ago, and happened again with Sartre today. You intuitively understand what they are arguing. It strikes a nerve, but you can't quite reconstruct the logical steps that got you there.

What has alway intuitively struck me about Kant was his insistence that what underlies all experience of the world is a framework that we use to make sense of the world, and yet we cannot present this framework to consciousness as an object of experience. My colleague SteveG always uses Kant's own analogy to explain this to students. Kant argues that certain fundamental structures of consciousness function similarly to glasses for a seeing-impaired (like the PC overtones?) person. I am pathetically near-sighted and thus require glasses if I have any hope of reading signs while I am driving, or assuring that I can recognize the face of someone I am passing by on campus. Kant argued that consciousness supplies us with tools, like glasses, that allow us to pick out discrete object in the world and make sense of their relationship to one another.

Kant also argued that freedom is one of the structures that consciousness comes hardwired with and hence permeates our comprehension, our grasp of the world. Freedom is the condition of the possibility of all moral experience. That is, Kant presupposes that all human beings come hardwired with the capacity to evaluate available information, make decisions, and give good justifications for what we did. He also argues that there is one, universal moral standard: the categorical imperative. This moral law exists a priori and therefore all beings capable of discerning it are equally bound to this law. This sort of moral framework is not at all disimilar from the claims of Christian ethics, which claim that there is one right moral code that we should all obey and that should underpin all of our laws. The difference between Kantian ethics and Christian ethics is in the former's level of abstractness. Kant does not tell us specifically what to do in each instance, but he does clarify the law that we need to consult in order to make autonomous decisions. Kant, that is, gives us guidelines that we must all follow if we want to claim ourselves to be human, which mean rational beings.

Sartre, on the other hand, rejects any a priori notions that Kant presupposes. Whereas Kant argues that there are universal structures that help consciousness makes sense of the world in a uniform and a moral manner, Sartre only agrees that humans are "condemned to be free." We are the sort of creatures that transform our worlds, that invest meaning in certain rituals, that place faith in certain mysteries. All of these activities are evidence that humans are free. To be free, for Sartre, means to be always already acting toward a goal, despite the deterrence of external forces and obstacles. Human beings seize the world, give it some sort of scientific explanation, but yet also recognize that all of what constitutes reality is in fact part of a human project of transcendence. We are always overcoming that which we are. We are always striving for a goal that may not ever be realized. We are incessant activity. And, to deal with this constant striving toward an unknown future, we rely on storytelling. We tell our stories to others, at least the relevant features of what has gone on before, in order to better identify who it is that we are becoming. And, if you are a true Sartrean, there is no a priori law by which you can evaluate your actions. The only means by which you can evaluate your actions is in relation to what you hope to leave as a legacy.

I warned you. This was too philosophical.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Melancholy Monday: The Cyberspies Who "Love" Us

I don't have a lot of time to be blogging this evening. In general, I am having a fantastic day; it is virtually impossible for me to think of something melancholy to say. It started off with a wonderful goodbye kiss from Za, after he had already made coffee (Hello!? Keeper!) It has ended with one of my best friends in the world getting offered a tenure track job at my college. (Woo Hoo!)

Anyway, my friend, Emma, currently recovering from knee surgery on my couch just sent me this FRIGHTENING article from the NYTimes. What bugs me is not so much the fact that thieves have gotten smarter about stealing our money online. What bugs me is that the software with which they do this thieving is sold commercially to women who want to spy on their children or husbands.

Technology for grabbing text and screen images is not new — or particularly sophisticated. Keyloggers are even sold commercially, as tools for keeping an eye on what children are doing online, or what a spouse might be doing in online chat rooms.

Ok. So, maybe it is just me, but Sweet Jesus. If you need to buy software to monitor the activities of your husband, wife, or children, it seems to me that you have problems that exceed the benefits of software. If you cannot trust the people who are closest to you, even your children, then spying on them is certainly not going to improve the relationship.

In the case of a marriage or romantic relationship, if you are spying on your man or woman, you either have to go or get some damn therapy, and quick. If you are spying on your children, then you can kiss any sort of healthy, mature relationship with them "goodbye." If you are spying on them because they are drug abusers or felons, well, then you already know it. But, if you are being one of those insane controlling parents, who monitors every second of your child's life, then expect to be facing a lot of therapy bills for them in the future.

UPDATE: Here is how to start regaining your privacy from cyberspies.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Why Women Need to Figure Out How to Fight Off Emotional Predators

I have spent most of the weekend chilling out. I have one friend recovering from surgery, who I am tending to, and another working through the pain of a break up. I like feeling useful and supportive to people. But, I can't shake the feeling that sometimes my desire to be helpful is bordering on pathological.

I have this heightened capacity to sense when people are suffering and I get a great deal of satisfaction from helping them through their difficult periods. I think this is a good quality and one that I would never want to change. What I do worry about, however, is letting manipulative or selfish people play on my desire to help. I have done a good job surrounding myself with friends who make it clear to me when I am being asked to do something totally ridiculous. Many of my friends have made me promise that I check in with them before committing to serve on another committtee at work, or carry out a favor for someone that would take lots of time away from my own research. This is a valuable service.

The people that are closest to me do not drain me, nor ask for more than I should give; they care as much about my own needs and boundaries as I should. Friends like this are rare and a real treasure. Both of my friends that I am hanging out with this weekend are decidedly in this category. In fact, I have to be forceful with them to let me help.

Though I am a philosopher, I tend to be primarily an intuitive person. My understanding of the world and others come from that sense, and only later do I try to spell out analytically or logically what my insight is. The labor of turning intuitions into rational arguments is intense. But, if you can do it, it's satisfying. But, I am starting to realize that many of our experiences defy our ability to accurately communicate them to others. More importantly, we often intuit when people are crossing our boundaries and yet employ our rational faculties to deny this intuition. More often that not in my life, I have committed the latter sin. My body was communicating as loudly as possible with me that I didn't like the situation I was in, or how another person made me feel, but I dismissed this as my own shortcoming.

The signs are usually predictable: I find myself feeling angry after agreeing to do something that I don't really have time to do, nor any real expertise to do. Or, I notice that my stomach hurts when I am around someone wanting my intimacy. The anger or anxiety are important indications that I am being taken for granted or taken advantage of. Many people who demand too much from bleeding heart types like me, are also happy to use guilt or play the victim to elict my support despite my anger. If guilt doesn't work, another useful strategy is to suggest that I am being selfish if I don't help them or that I am somehow not keeping my word if I don't follow through.

So, why I am blabbing on and on about the body and its specific language for warning us from emotional predators? Because, the fact is that very few people are ever going to guard my time and my energy but me. And, it is really hard for me to deny my attention and energy to someone who I think needs help. The latter trait seems intractably bound up with being raised female in this country. I know plenty of men who suffer from the need to help others too. But, mostly I see women in these unhealthy patterns with others. Who, after all, make up the majority of the caring professionals? Who are the overworked and underpaid nurses, social workers, primary school teachers, elder care providers, day care providers, etc?

Now, I am not interested in getting into a rather fruitless debate over whether or not women "choose" these professions precisely because they are naturally suited to tend to the needs of others. Sure, there might be biological evidence that suggests women are more compassionate, caring, etc. on average. But our personality is never fully a product of our genetic predispositions. We are taught, over and over again, how to sacrifice our own needs and serve others.

This latter quality, if exercised moderately is a virtue that I think all people should strive for, despite what gender/sex they identify with. When it is expected, however, that you should always sacrifice your own needs, or be punished for being a selfish bitch, then we have a problem. We have a problem primarily because women (or men) who spend their whole lives trying to help others with little regard for their own needs, sanity and wellbeing, are bound to become angry people.

I often wonder if the vitriol issuing from the self-righteous anti-feminist women ("conservative women") towards feminists is fueled by their diminshed sense of any life outside of the socially enforced institution of self-sacrificing motherhood. I just don't think that any human being, whether you are conservative or liberal, girly or feminist, handles well the vampiric emotional draining that others will all too happily do unless we are willing to draw boundaries and get called bitches.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Random Reads

Some random posts for your reading enjoyment.

When Rape is a Gift found via I Blame the Patriarchy
Here’s a taste:

How she feels beforehand depends upon the individual circumstances, but she may well feel fear – and she may well want to feel fear. Her heart may be thumping, her adrenalin pumping, her mouth dry, her palms sweaty: an exhilarating sort of fear, not the fear of a victim. She may be experiencing the most intense desire to be taken she has ever felt: a desire made only more intense the more strongly she resists and fights.

Jedmunds at Pandagon writes Abortion for Dummies.

I agree with Shakes!!!!!!!!

New Civil War: South Dakota Bans Abortion via Culturekitchen

Definition teases apart gender roles vs. sex vs. gender identity vs. sexuality.

“You know how when a teenage girl isn’t a virgin, it means she’s a dirty slut”

Finally, from Den of the Biting Beaver “Fighting Sexism is a Man’s Obligation”

Why is this a special obligation for men? Well, there are a few reasons:
We are, generally speaking, physically safe.
We are, generally speaking, less likely to spark an escalation of the confrontation with our comments.
We are more likely to be taken seriously.

Now That's What I Call Justice . . .

I bet the Sudanese could teach the South Dakotan Legislature a thing or two.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

You can never be too rich...

There have been lots of great posts on Body Image in the past few weeks, including a FANTASTIC carnival over at Mind the Gap with that theme. These posts have caused me to think a lot about my own upbringing, and my own continuous battle with body image, which is somewhat difficult for me to tease apart, but here it goes.....

“You can never be too rich, and never too thin.” My mom had this saying stitched on a sampler which hung over the vanity in her bedroom. My mom has always struggled with her weight; her eating habits would seesaw between fasting and binge eating. I can never recall my mother having anything more than a few sips of diet Coke for dinner, although she’d cook a large spread every night for my brother and I.

When I was 12, my mom was hospitalized after dropping down to 85 pounds. I remember visiting her in the hospital, eating chocolate pudding from her lunch tray while even then she refused to consume anything other than water and soda. “I want to show you something,” she said. I watched as she wrapped her fingers around her wrist so that her index finger touched her thumb. She moved the circle that her adjoining fingers created up and down the entire length of her arm. Even on the largest part of her forearm, her fingers could still touch. Years later she would confess that she performed this action dozens of times a day; it became a measure of her success. Her success as an anorexic.

As an adult, I think about that conversation with her, and feel repulsed. But as a child I thought differently, I thought that my inability to encircle my own arm with my touching fingers was an indicator of my inadequacies. This action was a measure of success for my mother, and in that moment became a measure of my failure.

I started dieting the next day. I remember standing on the scale following my first full week of calorie counting and felt empowered when the realization set in that I’d lost 5 pounds with so little effort. Over the years my efforts have increased, and so have my results. At first you revel in the compliments that you receive as you revel in the high that you get when you step on the scale and it reads just a little bit lighter than the last time. However, there’s a marked change that occurs, somewhere between the moment when you stop taking pride in your ability to control your food intake, and the moment when you start becoming ashamed of your habits. It’s the distance between the two where control over your body and over yourself is relinquished out of a desire to be thin. I have reached that state.

It saddens me to say that. It saddens me because I consider myself a feminist, a relatively intelligent, reasonable, person, yet there’s nothing reasonable about what I’m doing to myself, and no amount of feminist theory about body image can convince me to stop.

I’ve often read accounts of women who struggled with issues surrounding eating, or rather not eating, who often state that anorexia is about establishing a sense of control over one’s body. I can relate to this, however, the bitter irony is that a disease which manifests out of a desire for control ultimately results in a complete surrender of control, a helplessness, and powerlessness.

It’s an addiction and an obsession that may stem from a variety of sources. Although I think that young women diet in an effort to lose weight, it doesn’t escalate to the point of compulsive dieting unless there’s a desire to starve out some sort of emotional hunger. Food is a safer, more familiar, and more controllable element than emotions themselves. And it’s relatively easy to turn your every attention toward eating, in an effort to starve those emotions away. It’s a coping mechanism of sorts, albeit a detrimental one.

An eating disorder is not usually a phase, and it is not necessarily indicitive of madness. It is quite maddening, granted, not only for the loved ones of the eating disordered person, but also for the person herself. It is, at the most basic level, a bundle of contradictions: a desire for power that strips you of all power. A gesture of strength that divests you of strength. a wish to prove that you need nothing, that you have no human hungers, which turns on itself and becomes a searing need for the hunger itself. It is an attempt to find an identity, but ultimately it strips you of any sense of yourself, save the sorry identity of "sick". It is a grotesque mockery of cultural standards of beauty that ends up mocking no one more than you. It is a protest against cultural stereotypes of women that in the end makes you seem the weakest, the most needy and neurotic of all women. It is the thing you believe is keeping you safe, alive, contained - and in the end, of course, you find it is doing quite the opposite. These contradictions begin to split a person in two. Body and mind fall apart from each other, and it is in this fissure that an eating disorder may flourish, in the silence that surrounds this confusion that an eating disorder may fester and thrive.(Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia, by Marya Hornbacher)

It’s a personal battle, but that’s not to say that we should negate the political connotations that contribute to the problem. It’s no coincidence that the successful anorexic’s body type resembles that of a teenage boy, it’s no coincidence that women’s “problem areas” oftentimes include their hips, stomachs, and buttocks, we diet and exercise to rid our bodies of the very things that constitute them as female. It’s no coincidence that women who are raped or abused engage in a cycle of behaviors to make their bodies physically smaller, so that they take up less space, so that they won’t be noticed, so that they won’t be gazed upon in a sexual way. It’s no coincidence 85-90% of Americans with eating disorders are women. Is this a feminist issue? Undeniably so.

Last weekend, my mom visited for the first time in a few months. I’ve lost a lot of weight since my back surgery, and am currently at the lowest weight that I’ve been in 10 years. When my mom saw me at the train station where I was awaiting her arrival, her initial reaction was to tell me how great I looked. She examined me for a moment before reaching down to measure the breadth of my arm, in the way that she had modeled for me so long ago. For the first time in my life, the largest part of my arm could be encircled by her adjoining fingertips. She smiled before offering a congratulatory “Good girl.”

There was a time when I viewed myself as abnormal for being what I thought was overweight, but now that I’m standing where I am, I don’t think that there’s anything more abnormal than the belief that one can “never be too rich, and never too thin.”

Someone hit George Will with the Idiot Stick

To be fair, Will thinks that the conclusions of this Pew Research Center study showing conservatives are happier than liberals is suspect, but it doesn't really stop him from running with his crackpot theory.

Will's contention is that conservatives are happier because they are pessismists at heart. Yep. I know that's a paradox (maybe even a contradiction?). Will knows it too. But, he's game:

Conservatives think the Book of Job got it right ("Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward"), as did Adam Smith ("There is a great deal of ruin in a nation"). Conservatives understand that society in its complexity resembles a giant Calder mobile -- touch it here and things jiggle there, and there, and way over there. Hence conservatives acknowledge the Law of Unintended Consequences, which is: The unintended consequences of bold government undertakings are apt to be larger than, and contrary to, the intended ones.

Let me get this straight. Conservatives believe the world is a cruel place, full of unjustifiable evil imposed on them by governments. Is that what he is saying? Or, is he saying that the world is awash in evil. And, if government tries to save you from some of that evil it will make things worse? Either way that is indeed a dark picture of humanity. In fact, if I held such a view of the world I would want to just kill myself right now. Shit, this is darker than Camus.

Conservatives' pessimism is conducive to their happiness in three ways. First, they are rarely surprised -- they are right more often than not about the course of events. Second, when they are wrong, they are happy to be so. Third, because pessimistic conservatives put not their faith in princes -- government -- they accept that happiness is a function of fending for oneself. They believe that happiness is an activity -- it is inseparable from the pursuit of happiness.

Will's recipe for happiness:

(1) Expecting the worst=happiness. That is a new twist on stoicism for you. The Stoics didn't think that accepting suffering would make you happier, just free from pain.

(2) Conservatives are even happier when the worst doesn't happen. They expect total disaster: billion dollar never-ending-war in Iraq, insane dictator from Iran looking for nuclear weapons, drunken V.P. shooting his buddy, United Arab Emirates operating our major ports, China keeping us financially afloat, ad nauseum. When that sort of shit happens, they are happy since they saw it coming. But, they are even happier when they don't wake up to Armageddon.

(3) Government doesn't guarantee your happiness. You have to go out there and earn it. Pursue happiness, that is lay waste to the environment, embezzle some corporate dough, get no-bid government contracts, help yourself to some K street money, buy lots of guns, don't forget getting yourself that big Hummer. Everyone knows that any government concerned with reducing health care costs, caring for the elderly and the young, protecting the environment, ensuring fair wages, or sexist and racist free environments is the stuff of misery.

Cross-Posted at Majikthise

Legislators Doing Their Job? I Don't Think So!

When I posted my brief post on this new South Dakota bill broadly banning abortions, even in the case of rape, incest, or the health of the mother, and called my post "Anti Abortion Judicial Activism Alert," I invited some rather foolish replies from commentors at Majikthise. I am delighted to procrastinate for a moment to explain exactly how foolish they are.

First of all, Chad wrote:

O.K., I can see where you might try to call this judicial activism, but that would be incorrect. The way that abortion was made legal was judicial activism. No one voted for it. No representatives of their constituents had any influence in the process. The person that "won" now wishes to have the case thrown out, but is blocked by liberal judges in lower courts, and in the supreme court. That's judicial activism. This is democracy. Representatives of the people of South Dakota passed a law for the state of South Dakota. That's not activism, that how it's supposed to work. I'm not here to debate the rightness or wrongness of abortion. I'm just pointing out a fact. The best thing that the pro-choice people could do, would be to not fight it. It would then never go before the supreme court, and could never overturn Roe V. Wade. If you want to have an abortion, move to Minnesota. It's not that difficult.

Now, I responded a bit more snarkily over at Majikthise, and I will try to tone it down here a bit. However, I am utterly clear that my goal in responding to these comments is not to have a productive conversation with Chad. Rather, I want to clarify some issues for folks who are persuaded by reason.

First of all, you would have a hard time convincing anyone whose interested in truth that this S.D. bill is not intended to get to the SCOTUS and overturn Roe. As the WaPo reports today:

The bill was designed to challenge the Supreme Court's ruling in Roe , which in 1973 recognized a right of women to terminate pregnancies. Its sponsors want to force a reexamination of the ruling by the court, which now includes two justices appointed by President Bush.

"The momentum for a change in the national policy on abortion is going to come in the not-too-distant future," said Rep. Roger W. Hunt, a Republican who sponsored the bill. To his delight, abortion opponents succeeded in defeating all amendments designed to mitigate the ban, including exceptions in the case of rape or incest or the health of the woman. Hunt said that such "special circumstances" would have diluted the bill and its impact on the national scene.

Secondly, I am tired of the false claim that no one voted on making abortion legal. That is simply false. States such as Hawaii, California, and New York repealed their abortion laws and Colorado, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia reformed and liberalized repeal laws. There were debates taking place in legislatures all over the country prior to Roe. Some legislatures rejected all repeal efforts, some accomodated some of their proposals, and some repealed the laws. Certainly Roe was a huge victory for the repeal movement.

Thirdly, this statement makes no sense to me: "The person that "won" now wishes to have the case thrown out, but is blocked by liberal judges in lower courts, and in the supreme court. That's judicial activism." What? You are saying that lower courts who do not violate constitutionally protected rights are liberal activists? "Roe" (Norma McCorvey) might be an anti-abortion activist now, but that doesn't mean that every court in the country should suddenly ditch Roe v. Wade.

Fourthly, this business about Pro-choice people not fighting the South Dakota law is just nuts. Of course Pro-choice people will fight the law. It's unconstitutional, not to mention utterly inhumane. You want to tell me that citizens should just sit back and allow a law to exist that makes it a felony for a 13 year old who has been raped and impregnated by her abusive father to get an abortion?

Lastly, this suggestion is just utterly naive: "If you want to have an abortion, move to Minnesota. It's not that difficult." Let's consider my example of the 13-year old raped by her father. How do you propose she get herself to Minnesota? Should she have a bake sale at school to raise money for her incest baby? You think she is going to be able to stay in Minnesota long enough to get the judicial by-pass to get an abortion as a minor? What if the person who agrees to get her to Minnesota gets charged with transporting a minor across state lines to obtain an abortion? And, let's say that she does get the money and transportation to get to Minnesota. What will she find outside the clinic when she gets there? Droves of anti-abortion nuts calling her a murderer for killing a life. Will they care that she is repeatedly raped and abused by her father? Will they care that she is totally mentally incapable of raising a child or even get herself to any good pre-natal care?

What bothers me the most about anti-abortion folks such as Chad above is that they are so clearly misogynistic. Anyone who supports this S.D. bill does not care about women. To decide that any woman raped, abused or facing a dangerous and risky pregnancy doesn't have a right to terminate her pregnancy and take care of her own health and wellbeing is just plain disgusting. Do any of these folks have women in their lives they care about? Are you telling me you would force your own mother to carry a pregnancy that resulted from a rape to term? How sick is that?

Now, let me turn to Robert who wrote:

Legislators legislating is exactly what they are supposed to do. Sometimes, as in this case those laws get challenged in court. This is no way shape or form is Judicial Activism. It is simply Legislators doing their job.

Legislators legislating bills that aren't unconstitutional is their job. But, passing a law that makes it a felony for a doctor to perform any abortion, except to save the life of a pregnant woman, is not what legislators have authority to do. Hence, why we have the SCOTUS.

I feel better now. I can get back to work.

101 Most Dangerous Professors

Damn, I wanted to get voted onto this list!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Mind the 9th Carnival of Feminists

over at Mind the Gap. Whooo Hoooo!

Anti-Abortion Judicial Activism Alert

No surprises here, South Dakota is working on passing anti-abortion legislation that they hope will end up in the Supreme Court. The NYT reports:

Lawmakers here are preparing to vote on a bill that would outlawnearly all abortions in South Dakota, a measure that could become the most sweeping ban approved by any state in more than a decade, those on both sides of the abortion debate say.

If the bill passes a narrowly divided Senate in a vote expected on Wednesday, and is signed by Gov. Michael Rounds, a Republican who opposes abortion, advocates of abortion rights have pledged to challenge it in court immediately — and that is precisely what the bill's supporters have in mind.

Optimistic about the recent changes on the United States Supreme Court, some abortion opponents say they have new hope that a court fight over a ban here could lead to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, th 1973 decision that made abortion legal around the country.

But,what was that hullabaloo over the judicial activism of liberals?

Cross-Posted at Majikthise

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Larry Summers Resigns


Feminists Need to Actively Fight Racism

E.J. Dionne Jr. has a thoughtful editorial today in the WaPo concerning the Democrats failure to commit themselves to redistributing wealth in such a way to lift up the very poorest Americans. While this criticism is nothing new, what is bold and likely to raise some eyebrows is that Dionne emphasizes the dire condition that young men of color face in this country. He writes:

While policymakers have spent much energy on the problems facing single mothers, they have done little about the disadvantages facing young men.

Why do I call this a bold move on Dionne’s part? Well, he could invite invective from feminists. (Rest assured, I am not going to be one of those feminists hurling such invective). A cursory reading of this piece might appear to echo the sentiments of many anti-feminist Conservatives (e.g. Christina Hoff Sommers) who worry over how poorly our young men are faring in classrooms designed to teach little girls, but inattentive to the boisterous, rangy nature of little boys.

But, clearly this is not his aim. I don’t take him to be heaping more crap on feminists in the style that many Democrats have in vain attempts to win back the middle. Rather, he is reminding us of at the pervasive and crippling poverty that exists here in America and that we could not turn away from in the aftermath of Katrina. He is also reminding us how profoundly racism still impacts the life chances of a young man of color in the United States.

The decline of manufacturing employment means the economy is producing fewer well-paying jobs for the less-skilled. These disconnected young men tend to go to the poorest schools, grow up amid concentrated poverty and in families that often lack fathers, and face persistent employment discrimination. Face it: The one expensive social program we have for this group is incarceration.

I was grateful to see this piece if for no other reason than to remind feminists like me that sexism does not operate independently from racism. Feminists cannot afford to neglect the situations in which men of color find themselves; we (if we are white) cannot afford to ignore how we directly benefit from the racism working against these men lifting themselves out of poverty. The trick is actively taking on these issues without allowing anti-feminists to point to us and say: “see, you feminists always think that you are the victims. Men suffer too, and perhaps more profoundly.”

Cross-Posted at Majikthise

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Melancholy Monday: What Break Ups Should Be Like

First, let me preface this "Melancholy Monday" entry by saying that it is a revision of an entry I published elsewhere. I wanted to present it here for my usual melancholy monday musings. So without further ado:

Most of the time when I am advising people on break ups, I trot out my Kantian theory of the break up. I tell people that the only respectful way to end a relationship is face-to-face. You don't have to be nasty about it. Just clear. At this point, I get the usual protests: "but it will hurt their feelings" or "I can't stand to see X cry" or "I don't want them to be mad at me." I follow up with my moral point: not telling them is paternalistic. You are assuming that others don't have the wherewithal to deal with the break up. Treat your boyfriend/girlfriend as an autonomous person for goodness sake. There is no way to break up without making someone mad or sad, but eventually the anger and hurt will dissipate and they will move on.

Let's face it, my Kantian advice is totally ridiculous. It commits the same sin that I upbraid libertarians for: it assumes that we are actually these self-possessed, totally transparent individuals totally immune to the coercive behaviors of others. Anyway, that advice is really about what I would want someone to do who was done with me. I hate it when people stay in a relationship when they are clearly done. I can read ambivalence. I would rather it end than stay with someone who isn't really sure if I am 'the one.' In the past, I have taken off with my shit as soon as I got a whiff that my boyfriend's affection was waning. I had learned from the past that if he lingers, its because he thinks you just can't handle the break up. That pisses me off. I can take it. I don't like it, but I can take it. I'm a big girl.

Usually when others want to break up, but can't quite get up the courage to do so, they start doing a lot of insensitive, disrespectful, and hurtful things, in hopes that you will dump them. You know, the stuff like "wow, you're starting to really gain weight" or "why can't you just give me a minute to be alone" or the full on sexual rejection because you smell or something. This passive aggressive stuff is just plain uncalled for. There is no need to make rejection worse by putting your boyfriend/girlfriend down. The break up is going to hurt either way, try to spare them the other mean stuff that makes any of think there is something intractably so wrong that no one will ever love us.

What really made me want to throw my Kantian theory right out the window was the realization that I have stayed in way too many relationships with people that made me miserable simply because I didn't want to deal with their manipulative crap if I tried to leave. My favorite line is: "well, you just don't like nice guys, do you." Or, "you clearly cannot let someone love you." Yet, if I think back on how these guys treated me, I realize that they didn't actually care about what mattered to me. They only cared about what I was giving them. Moreover, these men were willing to play on my deepest insecurities and abuse my compassionate nature to get what they wanted. Why did they do it? To feed their own ego.

This started out being a melancholy monday post and an extension of things I have already written. But, I want to end it on a sanguine note. The fact is, I am finally able to realize how shitty the so-called nice guys were that I dreaded dumping, because I finally landed myself a partner (covivant, man toy, work out bench what have you) that actually cares about me as an autonomous person. He doesn't want me to change. He doesn't demand that I give him things that I don't want to give him. He doesn't criticize my all-too-human traits. And, above all, he NEVER uses guilt as a weapon.

Using guilt as a weapon is a sure sign that you are dealing with someone who cannot be considered "autonomous." Well, let me correct that. It is really not about being "autonomous" in the sense of my ideal Kantian theory. What I now see more clearly is that you cannot count on others to be as mindful and respectful of you as you are of them. The biggest and most emotionally draining experiences that I have had are the ones where I presume the person I was dealing with thought, felt, and assessed the world roughly the way I did. I wrongly judged that they would not willingly hurt me, manipulate me, twist facts, or guilt me to do what I didn't want to do. (Boy, I am making myself sound pretty much above reproach, eh?)

My generous assessment of others, my willingness to believe that other people would not, nor could not be so cruel has always been my undoing. My Kantian theory of break ups doesn't really match up with what people are really like. The fact is that if someone else was considerate of your real needs, and cared about you not as a neat possession, but as a independent person with desires and wants that might oppose your own, well, you wouldn't need to break up with them now would you?

Too many people--women and men--stay in relationships that were totally beating the crap out of their self-respect. The sad thing is that they don't realize that a relationship shouldn't make you feel like crap. Someone who truly loves you wouldn't guilt you into staying in a relationship that makes you miserable.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Prozac Feminism?

I write a lot on Prozac and its impact on or relationship to feminism. At the moment, I am in the midst of a sabbatical finishing up a manuscript on this very issue. Yesterday I was writing a section addressing Peter Kramer's notion of "rejection-sensitivity," which is a personality style that he believes Prozac highlights as a new psychiatric diagnostic category. Before Prozac, we might have referred to our overly sensitive friends as "high maintenance," or "needy." We would recommend that our needy friends get some therapy to help them work on self-esteem issues. Kramer, however, argues that Prozac can turn a needy person into a self-possessed person in two weeks or less.

The underlying framework of Kramer's Listening to Prozac is that our identity, our selfhood is ultimately biological. We may not have been born "needy," but certain traumas in our childhood get biologically encoded. Writing about his masochistic patient Tess, who regularly found herself wrecked by unfulfilling relationships with married men, Kramer begins to philosophize about how powerfully the Prozac worked:

If her self-destructiveness with men and her fragility at work disappeared in response to a biological treatment, they must have been biologically encoded. Her biological constitution seems to have determined her social failures. But how does the belief that a woman who was abused as a child and later remains stuck in abusive relationships largely because of her biologically encoded temperament affect our notions of responsibility, free will, or unique and socially determinative individual development? Are we willing to allow medications to tell us how we are constituted?

What intrigues me about Kramer's claim that our personalities are biologically encoded is that he is not a simple reductionist. He grants that some of our personality is genetically inherited and we then develop our character and moral self in relationship to life experiences, whether they be traumatic or benign; he is not a nature or nurture guy, but a both kind of guy. Kramer forces us to consider, however, if it's time we give up the belief in something like "free will," some immaterial, mysterious force lying deep within the self that allows us to have some measure of control over the kind of person we want to be. We might have to admit to ourselves that we need technology--we need Prozac--if we want to become the person we want to be.

What, you're wondering, does this have to do with feminism? Everything! Simone de Beauvoir taught us in the Second Sex that we weren't born women, but made into women by social institutions, expectations, and reinforced behavior. She detailed the many sanctions young girls face for acting too much like young boys, the long history of Western texts reinforcing that women are inferior, the legal, political and economic policies that force women's submission to men, and the role religion played in maintaining patriarchal rule.

If you read that book, you can't help but conclude that what women are is a product of powerful and pervasive social instituions that conspire against women growing up with any sense of their worth outside of the behavior rewarded by a sexist society: nurturing, giving, selfless, passive, submissive, domestic, vain, sexually submissive, etc.

Kramer's work, especially his reflections on "rejection-sensitivity" leave us with a new option for overcoming the profound sense of worthlessness that lead many of us to feminist activism: Prozac. Kramer doesn't disagree that women are a product of their social environments. He just points out that Prozac does a better job of fixing this problem. It is cheap, powerful, and fast. Moreover, he argues that Prozac gives feminists more self-esteem and pep to get out there and demand that better social institutions. It helps women better compete in formerly male-dominated professions, which should, in turn, help us get more economic, legal and political equality, right?

So, as I am writing this section my cell phone rings. I am working in an office on my campus that is in a different department and around people I don't know very well. The phone call was a personal matter, and so I found myself lowering my voice a bit so others wouldn't hear me. Then, I realize that I can just shut my office door to get some privacy. When I shut the door, however, I was surprised to notice that I felt a bit rude. I couldn't help but analyze more situations wherein I feel guilty or rude doing things that my male colleagues probably don't think twice about (granted some do, but most of them don't).

I often don't answer my phone if I am in the middle of conversation with a colleague or student, even if I know that phone call is important. I leave my door open all the time so that people won't perceive me as difficult to approach or talk to. I drop whatever I am doing to address the questions or needs of whomever walks into my office, whether it be for a stapler, directions to a bathroom, or help on a paper. These behaviors are not only a tad bit pathological, but they concretely work against my ability to be as competitive as possible in my field.

I have learned these behaviors. For example, I can remember on several occasions my father lecturing me on how I should never talk about myself with others (wow, blogging is such a taboo!), but rather ask questions of others and find out what they care about. (My brother, btw, never got these messages). I was also the caretaker in a fairly dysfunctional, crisis-prone family. I am a rock when a crisis emerges, and when there is not crisis, I feel rather unstimulated or useless.

So, I should just take the Prozac right? What matters more: that women climb up the ladder professionally, or that we make the world more accepting of "feminine" qualities? This is exactly the question that I think we need to think through, carefully. What do we become if we line up and take an arrange of biotechnologies, whether they be Prozac of Propranolol, which could help rape victims literally forget their rape? What sort of culture do we become when we can gender engineer ourselves right into the sort of personality types that kick ass in business, that make us less sentimental about sex, and less overly sensitive to the needs of others?

Are we ready for this medically enhanced post-modern Feminism?

Cross-Posted at Majikthise

Friday, February 17, 2006

Confronting Tortured Faces

Helmut from Phronesisaical has weighed in on why torture, except the "ticking-bomb" analogy, is morally indefensible. I want to focus on what the newly released photographs of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses should do, but I fear won't do. First of all, if you haven't seen these photos, you will find them here and here. My colleague in the Philosophy department sent out email as widely as possible yesterday with a link to the first site, with this comment: "I wish that they could be viewed by the entire country, because I really believe that if people saw what was going on, the public outcry would be immediate."

I hope he is right, but some of my discussions with those who support torture inside and outside the classroom has made me rather pessimistic. In my experience, the students who stridently support torture make two different sorts of arguments. The first move is not really an argument at all, but the newly empowered PC: patriotic correctness, that is. I first experienced this last semester, while teaching different moral theories and then proceeded to get my students to evaluate practices from within a moral theory. We pulled up the NYTimes in class that day, the front page story reported 26 Iraqi and Afghani prisoner deaths, 16 of which were homicides. I asked my students to evaluate the morality of killing a prisoner of war.

One "true believer" argued that these prisoners were terrorists, they flew the planes into the twin towers, they are the enemey, and they should die. Another student started to cry, and explain that she was from NYC, saw the twin towers collapse and now has a brother over in Iraq. Finally, one of my smarter students wanted to point out how trivial this report was. 26 deaths since 2002, he reasoned, is not that big of a deal. When I pushed him to explain why the number of deaths made the act less morally problematic, he replied: "Isn't it the case that most professors are liberal and just want to "hug" the terrorists, rather than deal with this serious threat."

The second pro-torture strategy that the more sophisticated students take (as well as the wingnuts out there) is to clarify what we mean when we are talking about torture. One student said the other day, after impassioned arguments for/against torture, that he believed it was important that we take a sober approach to this matter, bracket out all emotional claims (read: irrational), and settle on a definition of torture.

I am not sure which strategy I hate more. I am leaning towards hating the latter more, because it is so pompous and cold. If you were to show this student the photos now circulating of the prisoner abuses, he would remain detached and demand that we better clarify what we find objectionable before reacting.

This is one of those moments where being a philosopher seems like an obstacle to being human. Of course, I cannot stand to look at those photos. I also am ashamed that we have directly or indirectly sanctioned this behavior. Moreover, I am horrified by what sort of people those soldiers--smiling over degraded bodies with thumbs up--have become. To perform such abuse, you either have to be a socio-path, or have been trained to dehumanize, objectify and hate the other. Neither option is very good.

I realize that my colleague wants these pictures to get out to persuade not the pro-torture enthusiasts, but the sort of ill-informed masses. Of course, my fear in this case, is that these images are so reminiscient of any CSI show or video game, that the public is inured to such haunting images.

What do you think?

Cross-Posted at Majikthise.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Hot Car a Binieri

A little taste of this article, "La Dolce Vita," from the WaPo on the many flavors of Italian cops.

Our foremost protectors here are the Polizia, in their navy uniforms and boots, and their gloves and their belts. They are all dark, stern and ruggedly handsome. It's almost scary, the effect those uniforms have on many people -- not us -- and just as scary to realize that these guys know it. They smile these little smiles that say, "I know I am a fabulous looking Italian man in a well-cut coat and manly boots. I am a little bit in love with myself. It is only natural that you should be as well."

Read More

On Ambivalence Towards Critical Thinking

I am trained in Continental Philosophy. What this means to those unfamiliar with the distinction is that I am still hung up on existential questions. More specifically, I spend a lot of time thinking about how we tell our own stories, how we make sense of our lives, and how we ought to live our lives. Obviously, the last question is a moral one. And, while I am quite familiar with the various moral theories we can use to clarify our moral choices: deontology, utilitarianism, natural rights, virtue ethics . . .etc., at the end of the day, I tend to see most moral decisions as ambigious.

When I teach moral theory to students or critical thinking skills for that matter (how to spot fallacies, construct valid/sound arguments, evaluate evidence), I rarely change a student's perspective on the world, or make that student more empathetic to other peoples' situations. I usually make them smarter at articulating the worldview that they inchoately held before. Hence, smart Catholic students who believe that abortion is absolutely wrong or neo-cons who believe in the doctrine of pre-emptive strike leave my class better able to defend these views. As a teacher, I regularly give my enemies tools to win arguments against less articulate folks who share my basic intuitions about the world.

In a post I wrote last week, my colleague, who is an Analytic Philosopher, responded that: "EVERYONE needs critical thinking . . ." The idea here is that if people use logic and fair rules of argument, then we will make much more headway in our political discussions and come to better reasoned, defensible positions. My sense is that critical thinking doesn't make people better people, it just makes them better at playing the game. In fact, this realization is why I turned away from Analytic Philosophy in the first place. It stopped asking the big questions, which were probably too fuzzy anyway, and went in search for better foundations and better methods of seeking truth. They began to focus more on verifiable methods for evaluating truth claims than asking what is the direction of my life?

My love affair with Continental Philosophy has waned in the years since I became a full-time teacher and scholar. I never really went in for the nauseating jargon of the post-structuralists. I loved the phenomenologists, that is the thinkers who were trying to develop accounts of human experience and human identity. Granted, even their texts leave me a bit cold now. But, what has stuck with me is the insight that we learn much about ourselves through the stories of others. And, frankly, I would rather read people's stories and personal accounts than I would read Heidegger or Husserl.

To clarify, I want to mention a lovely post that I read over at the Happy Feminist on body image yesterday (she always has great personal stories). The further I read, the more deeply I began to identify with her story. I actually poked my head up at one point and said, outloud, "omigod, she is me!" But, of course, I came to my senses. What was happening when I read her description of battling with body image--the pressure on women to conform to certain beauty standards, and her drive for perfection--was that she was giving me a frame, a way of making sense out of disparate and fragmented experiences of my own.

The way I see it, we come into the world and develop certain intuitions about what other people are like or what kind of place home is. We see people as kind, suspicious, or foolish, for example. The more we encounter other people, places, atrocities, or triumphs, our intuitions of the world are either confirmed or challenged. Our experience with the world makes the most impact on our overall worldview. If you learn the important tools of philosophy, like critical thinking, you become better at clarifying to yourself in consistent and defensible ways what your worldview is.

However, what sort of person you are--liberal, giving, compassionate, withholding--has little to do with how rigorous or skilled you are at making arguments.

What gives me the most satisfaction as a teacher, therefore, is helping students develop empathy for others. I often find that the process of making sense of the fragments of our own life is intertwined with coming to understand other people.

What happened when I read the Happy Feminist's post is that she helped me put together a bunch of experiences I had about my own body image issue stuff and helped me see it as part of my intutions that much of my identity has been impacted by sexist practices.

The "Ah-Ha!" moment, when you start to see yourself in another's story is a familiar process to most of us. A writer friend once told me that the more idiosyncratic that she makes her characters, more people identify with the characters. In the particular, in the most intimate features of another's story, we begin to better grasp ourselves. We might also begin to care about others who once seemed so foreign to us, so unrecognizable, until we saw ourselves in their stories.

The latter process can only happen, however, if and only if we are able to really listen to someone else, believe that he or she has something of value to say, and that we might learn more about ourselves by paying attention.

Cross-posted at Majikthise

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Cheney's Folsom Blues

I will be cross-posting my blog entries this week over at Majikthise. Lindsay kindly asked me to pitch in with some guest blogging, while she was off to Amsterdam. So I will have some posts here that I don't cross-blog, and others that I will put up in both places.

In the meanwhile, for you Johnny Cash fans, Dick Cheney has his own rendition of "Folsom Prison Blues," called "Go Fuck Yourself" over at the Huffington Post.

Why Conservative Women are like High Dollar CEOs

Two days ago the Conservative Students brought Carrie Lukas, Director of Policy for the Independent Women's Forum (IWF), to my campus. I spent a few minutes debating whether or not to go and hear her out, and in the process of my deliberations went to read some of her policy pieces, mission statement and stuff. The IWF's mission reads:

The Independent Women's Forum was established to combat the women-as-victim, pro-big-government ideology of radical feminism. We seek to restore, strengthen, and extend that which promotes women's well being by advancing the principles of self-reliance, political freedom, economic liberty, and personal responsibility (my emphasis).

I wisely chose to stay home and watch the L Word instead.

If I had gone to this talk, I would've asked why she calls her think tank the Independent Women's Forum? In what sense is she using the word "independent"? I read through a few of her articles such as "On Valentine's Day, Let's Celebrate Love and Romance," or "Sex (Ms.) Education," wherein she reveals herself as a staunch traditional values type of gal. She proffers a view that women's modesty is likely to ultimately lure her financial stability from a good marriage by invoking the better angel's of otherwise incorrigible men (see Tierney's latest on that).

Women, according to Ms. Lukas, should be chaste, mysterious, alluring, seductive, coy, and, above all, submissive. On first glance, the title "Independent Women's Forum" appeared to be a blatant contradiction to their message (not that contradictions ever bothered wingnuts). Ms. Lukas' strident admonitions towards young women always amount to a single message: be dependent on a man.

I noticed that Ms. Lukas spent some time as an analyst at the Cato Institute, wherein she crafted her pro-Capitalist, staunch deregulation, uber free-market, libertarian agenda policy expertise. How, I asked myself, can one reconcile such a liberatarian world view with an equally fervent embrace of retrograde, Victorian femininity?

Alas, I think I have figure it out.

Conservative women who dedicate much of their energy, time, and resources to defend the traditional marriage are gamblers. These are, indeed, "high risk, high reward" ladies. The singular focus on finding a rich, straight, good-looking, stable, faithful and uxoriously devoted husband is akin to the kind of insane search-for-the-holy-grail kind of relentless pursuit that is the engine of capitalism. These women are going for the gold. They are pursuing that alluring object of desire, that transient blissfulness that many would not have the balls to bet their security on.

The pursuit for this big pay off is what economists, like Steven Levitt of Freakonomics fame calls a tournament. Many shareholders are more than willing to cough up insane salaries for CEOS, like these women, who are willing to go for the big pay off.

Given that I can now give an account of husband-seeking and marriage in market terms, and thereby reconcile the apparent contradiction between libertarian lust for free choice and the stifling straight-jacket of conservative mores, I now have a better grasp of what it is that I find objectionable with Ms. Lukas' message.

She is trying to artificially capture and keep the big pay off. The whole point is that the perfect husband is an illusion. Even when you win the tournament, you are still in the game. You can lose your prize. But, the attempt to persuade men and women alike to play by these antiquated rules of courtship and marriage, and threaten ostracization if they do not subscribe to them, is changing the rules of the game. You can pursue the ideal husband all you want, and at the sacrifice of your own security, happiness, or long-term health. But, if you do happen to snag that prized prey, don't think you won't have to release him back into circulation. Capitalism requires that the winners one day become losers the next.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Hooooo Boy, This Will Cheer a Sullen Heart

Frank Caliendo's Bush Routine.

Sexy Name Decoder

Via Shakespeare's Sister:

Amorous Seductress Providing Arousing Zeniths and Intense Affection

You too can find out your Sexy Name Decoder.

Let Me Count the Ways to Refer to a Lover . . . Help?!

Alright, I am taking Za's advice and soliciting my reader's help in coming up with a better way to describe Za's relationship to me besides: "boyfriend" "partner" or "significant other." Za and I live together, our financial lives are intertwined, and so to call our relationship a "dating relationship" is silly. Once, when I referred to our relationship as "dating," Za sort of laughed at me. Do people who are "dating" live together? Ok, fine.

But, this weekend, while I was judging mock trial competitions, I found myself in that uncomfortable position of refering to your "honey" (a word that I don't see myself using) as a "significant other." I was a bit nervous before uttering this phrase, since my co-jurist was a Naval Intelligence officer, not likely to have much patience (I assumed) for such PC labels. I wanted to explain to him that Za worked near where he lived. I could've punted and just called him my "husband," but I have some principles left. I am not going to call Za my husband, nor make the sole decision to marry Za, hinge on how much more socially acceptable it would be to refer to the nature of our relationship.

I also hate the word "partner" because it makes your relationship sound like a business relationship. Some brave souls might use the word "lover," which reminds me of the Sex in the City episode where Carrie starts dating Aleksandr Petrovksy (Mikhail Baryshnikov) and tells her friends: "I have decided to take a lover." She is clearly making fun of the antiquated nature of the term, and demonstrating how affected it is. It's not me.

So what's a feminista to do?

Valentine's Messages for the Demented

"It's hard to tell, what with all the SSRIs in my bloodstream, but I
think I feel something for you."

Go to McSweeney's for more witty Valentine's Day messages for the one you can't help but love.

Hat Tip: Blondesense

Monday, February 13, 2006

Melancholy Monday: A Good Enough Woman

I spend a lot of time thinking about the impact of psychopharmacology on our understanding of what it means to be a person. More specifically, I tend to focus on how Prozac, and its specific advertisement campaign toward women stressed out with full time work and full time childrearing, impacts women. What is the line between being stressed out because too many demands are put on your time and having a "chemical imbalance?"

The latter phrase is, of course, meaningless. It is a phrase invented by Big Pharma to convince them that their symptoms and signs can be explained in terms of one, simple cause: serotonin imbalance. The fact is that we are chemistry all the way down. Eating too much twinkies or going too many sleepless nights or running for an hour changes our "chemistry."

Aside from the fact that I don't think much of the"chemical imbalance" phrase (what Antheia just wrote about), I do have a great deal of sympathy and concern for people who find themselves so overwhelmed by life that they are spiraling downward. Many women I know tend to hit a depressed patch when they find themselves utterly depleted by fulfilling their "feminine" duties of tending to the emotional needs of others and battling the competitive environments of work. Certainly both men and women are equally drained by their work life. But I notice, often, how much better my male colleagues are at closing their doors or saying "no" to requests on their time than women are. I myself find it almost impossible to close my office door when I am on campus (I know! If you are planning to lecture me on this, I already know it's crazy).

No matter how competent, tough and competitive women get in the workforce, social expectations that they be nurturing and self-sacrificing toward others do not seem to adjust.

I took a "day off" today to unplug from the frenetic and chaotic demands on my time. In the process of stretching out on the couch and reading a novel (!), my mind would turn to so many of the women in my life who I know are just tapped out. They are all walking a fine line between being stressed and depressed. I also thought about the magical belief that many of us hold that we will one day be able to find just the right system, the right advice column, the right therapist, the right diet, the right yoga or meditation class to finally get our lives under control. Geez. How many damn self-help gurus are out there trying to sell us a false view of life that we can actually conquer the all-too-human chaos of being human?

How many people do you know who go to therapy believing that they can identify the aspects of their personality, or the moments from their childhood, that contribute to long stretches of feeling out of control? Americans are problem-solvers. They want to figure out what's broke, fix it, and then move on. Our lack of willpower or "desire to change" is all that stands in the way of a fulfilling, admirable life. Give me a break.

I think the only smart insight that I had all day is that you can never fix what is broke. You can't go back and change what happened in your childhood, and you cannot finally get the right system that finally gets your chaotic world under control. We all have things about our personality that we don't love, but is it really worth it to perpetuate the false belief that we can actually totally remake ourselves into what is "perfect?"

How much of the stress, and the anxiety that it seems to precipitate in women, can be accounted for as a deep sense that they aren't able to get it all together? They cannot easily balance being a care-taker and a cocksure coworker. But the image of a woman who can is as damaging to women's sense of self as anorexic models on young girls.

Last friday my colleague told me about a book she read while her children were young that quelled her deepest fears of being an inadequate mother. It was callled something like the "Good Enough Mother." I think someone needs to write a book called the "Good Enough Woman."

Saturday, February 11, 2006

On Being "Surprisingly Depressed"

Three weeks ago I underwent a spinal fusion that was recommended to me as a remedy for my unyielding back pain. I can track the beginnings of my back pain to a sports injury that I experienced when I was 10. While running the hurdles relay for my CYO track team, I caught the back end of the hurdle with my front leg and landed face first on the track, dislocating my shoulder and clavicle. The back pain that resulted from the injury has come and gone since then. I’ve seen orthopedic physicians, chiropractors, physical therapists, I’ve taken oxycontin, had massages and acupuncture, and had 2 surgeries prior to this one. Nothing works.

I’ve been toying with the idea of having this surgery for a few years, always putting it off because I was in school, not wanting to spend my summer vacation recovering, or because I was starting a new job. But I was recently told by quite a few of the country’s leading orthopedic surgeons that I had no other option, either I consented to the surgery, or stopped scheduling office visits because there was nothing more that they could do.

I was reluctant to have this particular surgery as I’ve heard that the recovery is excruciating, and it has been. I spent 2 weeks in the hospital, and although I’ve tried here and there to take on limited responsibilities at work, I’m not physically able to walk or even sit upright for more than 2 hours at a time. But the most difficult part of attempting to recover from this surgery hasn’t been the physical pain, but rather the psychic pain, the depression, that reared its ugly head a few days following the surgery.

I had a conversation with my surgeon while I was still in the ICU. After speaking for a few minutes about my pain level, and the specifics of the recovery, he verbally noted that I appeared “surprisingly depressed” with the addendum that he recommended adding Paxil to my daily prescription cocktail.

I contemplated the specifics of his words—what does he mean by “surprisingly depressed”? Is having major surgery, the inability to walk, eat, or perform basic human functions not grounds for slipping into a depressive state? Fuck, it’s taken a lot less than that for me to fall into the slippery slope of depression in the past. Is there ever a time when we view experiencing a major depressive episode as “normal”? Or is it always “surprising”?

When I inquired as to why my surgeon thought a prescription antidepressant was necessary, he went into a whole song and dance about how depression is about a chemical imbalance in the brain. I had to laugh. How can depression which supersedes a painful or traumatic event be viewed as being due to a chemical imbalance? I think that the good majority of people who experience a major depressive episode following a horrific medical diagnosis, the death of a loved one, or the loss of a job, are not suffering from a chemical imbalance so much as they're suffering from pain that is so immense in magnitude that it spills over into every aspect of their lives to the point that it impedes daily maintenance or basic functioning. How can we medicate for that?

It’s a tricky seesaw on which the depressed have to sit, on the one hand is your desire to express your inner most turmoil outwardly, on the other is the desire to hide it, mask the utter despair with a smile. The problem with the former is that others can only tolerate so much talk of sorrow and anguish before they stop listening, the problem with the latter is that even the best actors break character every now and then, they drop lines and miss entrances, their masks become translucent when confronted with the right light.

Depression for me is hitting the “reject call” button on my cell phone after recognizing the number on the caller ID, out of complete ambivalence as to whether I talk to whoever’s on the other end of the phone. It is refusing to eat, even when threatened with the insertion of a feeding tube; not out of vanity, or out of a compulsion to lose weight, but out of a strong desire to withhold food from myself. It is pretending to be asleep when friends, family, or even medical staff enter my room; it is detesting the thought of even basic conversation or socialization with anyone. It is hitting the snooze button on the alarm over and over in a desperate attempt to spend the day sleeping, for in sleep we can escape our own realities. It is not wanting to “snap out of it,” because that would require admitting the potential capability of experiencing joy on some level.

In the days and weeks to come I know that I’ll “snap out of it.” I’ll get back to work, I’ll start to eat again, I’ll return all of the phone calls from friends and go out for martinis with them on Fridays. But there’s still the lingering thought that my depression isn’t cured so much as it’s in hibernation. Paxil isn't a remedy. It will simply make my bad days more bearable while reducing my great days to the same intensity.... bearable.

I had surgery to remedy my back pain after exhausting all other options; I’m currently looking for a solution to remedy my chronic depression. Yet, the difference between dealing with physical and psychic pain is vast. When dealing with physical pain there always seems to be another doctor, another procedure, another reason to hope that the pain will subside. But with psychic pain, the realization is that there is no remedy. In the brilliant words of William Styron: “In depression… the pain is unrelenting, and what makes the condition intolerable is the foreknowledge that no remedy will come—not in a day, an hour, a month, or a minute. It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul.”

Friday, February 10, 2006

Pill of Rights

If you didn't catch the Daily Show last night, and particularly Jason Jones' story "Pill of Rights", you missed a genius piece of work (you have to click on the latest headlines sketch with the above title).

Schlafly Watched Too Many G-Rated Films

Phyllis Schlafly loves to convince women, in the words of David Brooks (aka bobo) that the "power is in the kitchen." A report on her book tour from 2003, summed up nicely her message:

[. . .] women today should look ahead and plan their lives realistically because they cannot have it all as the feminists have so loudly advertised. The truth is simply different. According to the Wall Street Journal, 52% of successful women are divorced or unmarried compared to only 5 % of men. Moreover, says Schlafly, feminism is just not compatible with happiness:

It is no surprise that the feminist movement is having "an identity crisis." It lacks successful, happy role models. Indeed the old role models - Friedan and Steinem - still try to sustain their dying cause by proferring the notion that someone "has dealt women a fowl blow by rendering them female." In truth says Schlafly, all that these women have left are their scrap books from old rallies, while Schlafly has photo albums of her fourteen grandchildren. "Family and children are the way to our future," she emphasized.

The veil is lifted off Schlafly's neanderthal message with a recent study, "Where the Girl's Aren't: Gender Disparity Saturates G-Rated Films," by SeeJane.org and Dad's and Daughters. If you seriously want to consider the relevance and urgency of feminism, take a look at Professor Smith's work, whose study group at USC focused on developmental differences in children's reactions to mass media. Among the major findings are the following:

(1) In the 101 studied films, there are three male characters for every one female character
(2) Fewer than one out of three (28 percent) of the speaking characters (both real and animated) are female.
(3) Fewer than one in five (17 percent) of the characters in crowd scenes are female.
(4) More than four out of five (83 percent) of the films' narrators are male.

Schlafly, of course in good BPD/wingnut fashion, lays the real problem at the feet of those most committed to ensuring women have good role models--feminists. Her solution doesn't challenge the real damage that thousands of hours of watching G-rated films does on young women's sense of value and worth in a society. Women characters are literally mute.

The report argues:

The gender imbalance seen on the silver screen can have a strong impact on children ages zero-11 because they are so impressionable. For children, images and stories help influence the important developmental task of understanding what it means to be male and female.

We know that a majority of children in this country have access to a variety of videos and/or DVDs in their homes, many of which may be G-rated. In a 2003 nationwide survey, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that over half (53 percent) of parents say that their zero to six-year olds have at least 20 videos or DVDs in the home. Further, almost half (46 percent) of the caregivers surveyed reported teh children they care for watched at least one video or DVD per day. Content in G-rated movie videos and DVDs may have a particularly strong influence on children's social learning about gender because children tend to watch the same movies over and over.


The TV research suggests that television viewing can have an impact on developing or possibly reinforcing children's stereotypical attitudes and beliefs about gender. In fact, meta-analysis of 30 surveys and experiments reveals that exposure to television is a significant and positive predictor of sex role acceptance and attitudes among children and adults. With repeated television viewing of characters engaging in traditional sex roles, a child's gender expectations for his/her own sex or the opposite can become simplified, skewed, an stereotypical in nature.

Clearly, Schlafly watched way too many G-rated sexist propaganda to think straight. Don't let this happen to your little girl.

Thank the goddesses for fathers like Witi Ihimaera (author of Whale Rider) who:

says he wrote "Whale Rider" -- a modern retelling of a Maori legend -- in response to his daughter's complaining about the boy always being the hero.

While the damage that these stereotypical, simplified, and skewed images of femininity do to women is considerable, let's not forget the mark it leaves on the male psyche. It is simply inexusable in this day and age to perpetuate myths of feminine inferiority and submission in this way.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

On Dealing with Borderline Pathology, that is, Wingnuts!

A lot of lefty and moderate bloggers out there refer to right wingers as "wingnuts." I used to giggle when I read that, but I refrained from resorting to this ad hominem because I believed, naively, that you could actually win an argument with a wingnut. The fact is that wingnuts are never playing by the same rules as I am, and they know exactly how to take advantage of my charitable nature by invoking my rules, only to ultimately subvert them. Wingnut is actually not an ad hominem but a fairly useful diagnostic tool to help you know what you are dealing with and how to avoid going crazy.

Interacting with a right wing pundit is like interacting with someone who has borderline personality disorder (BPD). If any of you out there have dealt with a BPD, you know how crazy it is.

Folks with BPD have four salient characteristics that lead me to make this comparsion with wingnuts.

(1) Emotionally Driven Interactions with Others: Every interaction you have with a BPD/Wingnut always devolves into emotional pleas, crises, and wars. All conversations about anything, whether it be as mundane as what to do for dinner tonight or how to better our schools, turn into holier-than-thou condemnations of your views because you are absolutely immoral, selfish, intolerant, or uncaring. If you aren't being accused of possessing every possible vile human characteristic, then you are forced to see that they are actually your victims. Nothing is ever their fault. For example, College professors are insensitive to my views when they present evidence that the war is unjustified. Or, primary schools are conspiring against young boys by making them sit quietly and attentively in class, that is why they aren't going to college.

"For complex reasons, Borderline pathology includes a relatively fast-and-loose relationship to historical fact when the individual is emotionally aroused in some way. If a Borderline feels abused, in their mind, abuse must have factually
happened. For obvious reasons, this is an extremely confusing world-view for others to comprehend; all the more so, given the obvious intellectual clarity of the individual in other contexts."

(2) Projective Idealization: BPD/wingnuts accuse you of engaging in the crazy behaviors that they are actually engaging in. They take the focus off of how nuts they are by telling the world that you're the one doing it, not them.

"As in projection, the individual deals with emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by falsely attributing to another his or her own unacceptable feelings, impulses, or thoughts. Unlike simple projection, the individual does not fully disavow what is projected. Instead, the individual remains
aware of his or her own affects or impulses but mis-attributes them as justifiable reactions to the other person. Not infrequently, the individual induces the very feelings in others that were first mistakenly believed to be there, making it difficult to clarify who did what to whom first."

My favorite recent example is the issue of "indoctrination." The wingnuts spend hours trying to indoctrinate others to their looney views through a coordinated, well-financed media effort (the Churches do their part too). They misrepresent reality: "global warming isn't real" "we are winning the war in Iraq." They rename what they are doing to make it sound legitimate, e.g. illegal wiretapping becomes "terrorist surveillance program." Then, when a sane, balanced individual questions their sense of reality--i.e. a college Professor asks students to consider the ethics or legality of state sanctioned torture--well, you are indoctrinating students with your left-wing looney ideas.

(3) Splitting: BPDs/wingnuts see are black and white thinkers. Either you are "with us or against us." There is no room for grey or for considering more complicated, nuanced explanations for how the world works. You can go from being the most noble, beloved person on the planet to the worst, most hated just because you say something that a BPD/wingnut doesn't want to hear. There is no room for disagreement.

(4) Triangulation: If a BPD/wingnut doesn't succeed in manipulating you, they will find someone close to you and get them to do the job. Let's say that you put up clear boundaries and say "no, I will no longer engage in this conversation about abortion with you any longer if you insist on calling me a murderer." They walk away. You think, finally, some peace of mind. Then, 8 hours later a close relative, let's say your mother, calls you and asks "why were you so mean to"X" (BPD/wingnut)." Your mom will also proceed to ask why you felt it was necessary to have called her controlling and insensitve, since most likely your BPD/wingut nemesis has told them lies to win them over to their side.

If you are interacting with a BPD/wingut and you are starting to feel crazy, you know like night is day and up is down, there is help.

First, stop believing that you can actually have a rational, reality-based conversation with this person. You can't.

Second, they prey on you because you're tolerant, charitable and fair-minded. They force you to have to shut the door on them and their views if you have any hope for sanity and peace. I know, this is hard. Well, it was hard for my naive self, believing that if we sat down and had a real conversation with the other side we might come to some common ground. You can't.

Third, be prepared for being called intolerant, close-minded, controlling and indoctrinating. But, this is just another one of their ploys for messing with you. If you build strong enough fences, eventually they'll find some other poor sucker to pick on.

(Cross posted at Sisyphus Shrugged)

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Robertson Makes Me Nauseous

Who knew that Jean-Paul Sartre was such effective contraception? Perhaps we should substitute existentialism for abstinence-only classes in our local high schools?

Hat Tip: Atrios

The Eighth Carnival of Feminists!

Hot off the press and up at Gendergeek. As usual some fantastic stuff out there. For example, both Antheia and I have pieces featured.

The Perversion of Free Speech

I had lunch today with a friend who has two daughters enrolled in the Catholic school in my town. A few weeks ago, the 5th-8th graders of that school were taken out of class to protest Roe v. Wade and agitate against abortions. I asked my friend, who is clearly a supporter of choice (as is his wife), what they will do when their daughter enters 5th grade next year.

"Will you keep her home that day," I asked. That turned out to be a rather naive question. But, alas, I don't have children so I tend to forget some of the more complicated issues invovled. He explained that if they take his daughter out of school that day, or if they protest the school's policy of rounding up all the students in support of their political cause, his daughter will suffer from ostracism. "We will make her different from all the other students," he replied, "and being different at that age is no fun." This dilemma is forcing he and his wife to consider removing their daughters from the school. The downside, of course, is that this is, to their mind, the best school in the area. Do they stand up for their principles, and potentially sacrifice their daughter in the process? Do they coincidentally call her in as sick every Jan. 22nd? Or, do they compromise their principles, so that their daughter gets an excellent education?

These are tough decisions and I couldn't help but consider my friend's dilemma in light of David Horowitz' op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer today, and the link at Shakespeare's Sister to this comic's critique of the Danish Cartoon Story. The common thread in all of these stories is the status and meaningfulness of free speech.

First, let me compare Horowitz' ABOR campaign to my friend's dilemma with the Catholic school. In both cases, a top-down, well-funded, and well-organized campaign is forcing its way into public consciousness or the legislature in the name of free speech. And yet, in both circumstances, this is a total perversion of free speech. In the case of Catholic schools all over America taking students out of class to protest abortion, you have a large, powerful institution coercing and imposing their values onto young children, and using them to sell their message. How is this free speech?

David Horowitz, the engineer behind the ABOR movement and the organizer of student groups like Students for Academic Freedom is abusing free speech in similar ways to my local Catholic school. His campaign to pass the ABOR in legislatures across the states is not the product of an organic, grassroots movement by students who have simply had enough of the "man" indoctrinating them with their dangerous ideas. This is a "free speech" campaign that is designed and sold to these students, who are used to disseminate his message. The right wing has enticed students by flying them out to seminars on seemingly neutral topics like "how to be a good journalist" or "leadership training" and then train them to start a campaign to root out dangerous professors who dare to criticize George W. Bush's policies or conservative principles in general.

The effort is backed by lots of money and supported by legislators who are invested in keeping the party in power. One way to stay in power is to control the message. This is what the right wing has done to the media. Now they are tackling our schools.

It is particularly disheartening to see them disguise their well-coordinated campaign as a campaign to protect free speech. I am terrified how many people will read Horowitz op-ed and think that he is making perfect sense. This is exactly what happened in the Intelligent Design case. These right wing pundits are good at framing issues in ways that tap into abstract American ideals: tolerance, civil discourse, accountability, free inquiry . . . Consider this passage from Horowitz today:

The hearings were authorized by Pennsylvania House Resolution 177, which established a committee "to examine the academic atmosphere and the degree to which faculty have the opportunity to instruct and students have the opportunity to learn in an environment conducive to the pursuit of knowledge and truth" at public colleges and universities in the state.

It is hard to see how anyone could object to such an inquiry, but professor unions and academic associations have protested, loudly. In a series of reckless attacks, these groups have distorted the committee's intentions and activities, while smearing anyone who thinks that there might be a problem of political abuse in schools.

Doesn't he sound eminently reasonable here? It makes me shudder. He blatantly misrepresents his activity as a wholly American pursuit. He doesn't of course remind his readers in this op-ed that he has set up a website for students to send in libelous complaints about professors. He aggressively seeks out anyone who will help him further his cause to shut up anyone who demonstrates the insanity of this administration's policies.

Horowitz further writes:

The question before the committee is whether professors who are public officials, funded by taxpayers, are to be held accountable for their behavior in the classroom, and in particular whether they are to be held to professional standards. Full professors in public universities in Pennsylvania have lifetime jobs. They earn more than $100,000 a year plus a benefits package (medical care, pension, etc.) that many Pennsylvanians would feel privileged to enjoy. Why should they be less accountable for their professional behavior than Enron Corp. executives or SEPTA officials?

This paragraph is so unbelieveable; this is first rate sleight o' hand. He portrays academia as a lucrative job, with very little measures of job performance or accountability to your boss. Most professors out there in the universities are not full professors. It takes years and lots of hard work to earn that title. Here is a recent article from CNN on faculty salaries, if you want to consider carefully how irresponsibly Horowitz has portrayed the facts. As you will see from this article, faculty salaries are not keeping pace with inflation, and like every other employee out there (with the exception of the uber rich) we are shouldering more and more of the burden of health care. Let's also not forget that most of us have an enormous pile of student loans that we are paying off, so that we could have the privilege of being overworked and underpaid. Sorry, that last line sounded bitter. But it is pretty frustrating to listen to this well-financed mouthpiece of the right wing go on and on about how irresponsible educators are in higher learning. Good lord. I would get far better pay and treatment if, like Christina Hoff Sommers, I sold out my principles and started spreading the gospel of right wing ideology.

I am going to go on a limb here and say that most of us get into Academia because we care more about truth and knowledge, and let's not forget education, more than money. We hold ourselves to strict standards of evaluation, which is the tenure process. The tenure process is quite brutal and the consequences of failing tenure are far worse than being fired from a job. To get tenure, you have to work your ass off, have a many experts in your field evaluate your research and teaching, and cross your fingers. If you don't get tenure, it is a black mark on your resume (what we call CV) for the rest of your career. How is this comparable to a CEO from Enron? Shit, you can be the worst CEO out there, get fired, and then rehired for even more money at another company faster than I could type this sentence.

I am straying from my original point. I began by comparing the Catholic school with Horowitz' SAF. Both are perverting free speech, portraying themselves as the rogue fringe who must stand up for minority rights. This is just fantasy land. This is a power grab. They are trying to neutralize the institutions that keep our citizenry informed enough to have a meaningful and rich democracy. A healty democracy depends upon a well educated citizenry. This is what is at stake in both the Catholic school and the ABOR. Both of these groups are indoctrinating people and manipulating information to get the political outcomes they want: elect more conservatives.

This movement, disengenously disguised as free speech, is not so far from August's point about political cartoons and free speech. Sure, technically speaking, racist and fear mongering cartoons are free speech. But, give me a break if you cry "I am being denied my free speech" when people react with disgust and anger to your hateful, divisive, and intolerant tactics. Shame on you for wasting your free speech this way.