Treasures of the Stupid Ages, Vol. 1: “The Tac-Sac™”

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Inspired by the Fox show Futurama (we don’t talk about Comedy Central), Treasures of the Stupid Ages is a periodical series of posts featuring compilations of some of the most idiotic and absurd links from around the web. In the interests in fostering a diverse group of stories, great care is taken to keep references to the current administration to a minimum.

My good friends, stop where you are for a moment and listen. No matter where you are, I promise that whatever sound you hear is the sound of a thousand gender studies papers being written. In case you lack the ability to use the Force to hear the sound of a million voices crying out (before being silenced by mansplaining dude-bros with tenure), it falls to me to have to bring you this dreadful information.

Some company decided that it was a good idea to design, manufacture, and sell a set of testicles for long firearms.

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As if the conversation around gun culture hasn’t gotten bizarre enough, you can now purchase “The Tac-Sac*,” a “premier high-speed, low-hang novelty accessory for your firearm, paintball marker, or airsoft gun.” Occupying that precarious space between “macho” and “gay,” this piece of ammosexual fet gear serves no practical function except to show off at the range (it’s definitely not intended to be used a foregrip, which if you ask me, is either a serious oversight or a missed opportunity). You won’t even need a gun, because you’re gonna kill ’em laughing!

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When you couldn’t remember if you were supposed to call it “Tea Party” or “Tea Bag”

 

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Also available in blue! Because get it? Blue? Balls?

If you wanted to make a purchase, sadly, you’re out of luck because the company has sold out and must wait through its refractory period restock their supplies.

The connection between firearms and penises is so well known it’s become a pretty tired cliche. What we see here though is something that singlehandedly appears to prove Freud right about at least one thing. But to see it made so…explicit…and with such audacity skips over from self-parody to something a bit more pathetic. It’s not just immature. It’s not just irresponsible. It’s not just tacky and tasteless. It’s tragically, and explosively, stupid. There is no intelligent rationale for this.

So, here you are, oh fragile masculinity, for whom owning and operating a gun for fuck’s sake isn’t quite enough to prove you have the cojones to be a real man. You’ve fallen so far down the abyss of toxic masculinity that you’re literally attaching a vicarious pair of gonads to your piece. As you fire and fetishize your equipment intended for the ending of a life, let’s hope that your more natural set of equipment doesn’t anytime soon go and actually create a life. No kid would ever want to have to explain to his friends why daddy feels he needs to symbolically enact any scenario in which his own genitals fells a bull moose or ATF squad.

  • I will not post a link to this site, for fear of 1) giving them traffic, or 2) baiting trolls through pingbacks. You’ll have to Google this yourself.

Rethinking the Banality of Evil

15984617_303We live in a day and age in which we risk several lethal mistakes when it comes to the way we handle the question of evil and our response to it. We expect it to come from identifiable monsters, as we seem incapable and unwilling to find that kind of evil lurking in our own homes, churches, schools, and neighborhoods. “Normal” is a dangerous category in that it both incubates evil patterns and numbs us to their actions until it’s too late (I’ve already written about this). Because I want us to be able to fundamentally reassess our understanding and expectations of moral responsibility, and thus to increase our capacity and desire to choose what is good and resist what is evil, I want to examine the “banality of evil” as a warning to any modern society whose populace is seduced into “normality” of thought, habit, and feeling. I fear that we are so seduced, and that are so in increasingly violent ways. But in November 2017, the New York Times published an article describing the daily life white nationalist, focusing on (I would argue, fetishizing) the normality of his life. I believe this approach to understanding the banality of evil is wrong, and that we have to re-think what we mean by the banality of evil.

In the wake of the atrocities of World War II, one of the greatest insights into evil arose through the social philosophy of Hannah Arendt. She herself was a student of Martin Heidegger, a woman of Jewish heritage who found herself having to survive the Shoah by leaving Germany in 1933, before arriving in New York in 1941. In 1961, she reported on the trial Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. Observing his milquetoast character defined by his lack of any depth of thought, his tendency merely to follow orders, and his crippling lack of communicational skills as evidenced by his overuse of officially-sanctioned language and ideological platitudes, Arendt courted a provocative idea, one that she called “the banality of evil.” [1]

To understand how provocative it is, first, we must understand that modernity has its own theodicy. I would argue that our entire understanding of the ontology of science and technology is the enactment of this theodicy, especially when enacted in the context of capitalist ideology. The science of biology, especially, does not exist as an apolitical cumulation of facts concerning the phenomenon of life, but exists itself as a power discourse meant to legitimate instances of evil found in both nature and the will. Early evolutionary theories provided a pathogenesis of the evil of particular illnesses, social problems, and geopolitical structures. Racial theories, eugenics, socio-sexual deviations, etc. came to be seen, not as theo-ethical issues, but as medical issues as biology and medical science promised a remedy. Even evil behaviors came to arise from a biological cause, as the racial pseudo-science of the 19th century and Nazi Germany proves. Biology, when used as a reductive ideological system meant to describe the entirety of human life and experience, functions as a theodicy. It literally provides the justification for evil.

We also can’t understand how provocative Arendt’s case is without understanding a little about Kantian ethics. The 18th-century Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant proposed the idea of “radical evil,” [2] that is, the notion that evil doesn’t exist out of an express desire to be or act in an evil manner, but in a fundamental perversion of the heart that makes human beings prefer evil out of self-love. Evil doesn’t really have a “cause” (a tenet that echoes Augustine, who taught that finding a cause of evil is vanity, as evil doesn’t have an “efficient cause,” but rather a “deficient cause.” Evil stems from a lack of ontology and intelligibility. There’s nothing “there.” It’s a void). We simply have the freedom to accept what is good, or to accept what is bad. The problem of evil doesn’t command an understanding – the problem of evil commands a choice.

Eichmann,_AdolfWhat perplexed Arendt when faced with Eichmann was that we was so goddamn normal. What haunted her mind was the way in which Eichmann, and so many like him in Nazi Germany, committed such great acts of evil precisely through a failure to meaningfully choose at all. Eichmann didn’t appear to have chosen evil, anymore than he appeared to have authentically chosen good. He lacked the critical capacity or desire to exercise any bit of his personal moral freedom. Since he was no psychopath, nor mentally ill, he had his freedom, but in the course of fulfilling his duties for the Nazi state, convinced himself that he bore no moral responsibility for what his country did. Like Pontius Pilate, he was able to mentally wash his hands of innocent blood while simultaneously spilling it.

This observation, that Eichmann was astonishingly and boringly normal, is what caused such great scandal to the proponents of the legal system tasked with prosecuting a man responsible for innumerable deaths. Her critics have accused her of diluting the moral weight of Eichmann’s character and actions, taken her to task for overstating his normality, and downplaying the darkness of his character and life.

That criticism is just as alive and well in the criticism of the New York Times article.

I argue that any close understanding of what Arendt meant by assessing evil as banal means that we must be on guard against normalizing forces that could easily sedate us into behaving as mundanely malicious mild-mannered moral monsters. That Eichmann was an insidious anti-Semite, an enthusiastic fanatic of Nazi ideology, and a man stewed in murderous hatred does not negate the normality undergirding the contours of his life and character. In the age of Trump, I’ve met too many “normal people” more than willing to enable a racist, sexist, xenophobic, neo-fascist, authoritarian figure to think that it takes a willful and knowing choosing of evil in order for people to act and commit evil. Normality doesn’t downplay evil. The truest evils committed are by our next door neighbors, not by psychopaths with bloodlust.

Does the insistence of showing evil people to be monsters not, after all, achieve a sort of social distancing? Are we not able to project and deflect our social, collective ills onto such individuals and wash our own hands of innocent blood, all while our systems of normality continue to spill that same innocent blood? Does not understanding the banality of evil help us to identify and disrupt the murderous machinations of normality?

The value that comes from exploring the banality of evil is that it enables us to critically and piercingly engage in theo-ethical reflection on the social, political, and cultural systems that surround us whose “normality” conceals their murderous foundations. What it does not – or should not – do is allow us to fetishize the normality of those who enact the latent murderousness of those systems. Such fetishization goes the opposite direction: instead of allowing us to critically reflect on lethal normality, it causes us to accept and accustom ourselves to the very lethality of normality.

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The photo above is one of the most chilling photographs I’ve ever seen. The individuals in it are the clerical and administrative staff at Auschwitz. There’s nothing monstrous about their appearance. They’re smiling, laughing, posing, playing the accordion, enjoying a sort of workplace bonhomie. But this photograph alone doesn’t tell me anything about evil. Once I know who they are, where they work, and what happened in that place, then the picture reveals its chilling disclosure. Yes, it’s normal. Where’s the evil? Within that very normality. But I don’t know this until I know about who they are and what they’ve done.

The New York Times article, and the narrative about social evils that we replay every damn day in our own communities and neighborhoods, suggest that only monsters act like monsters. Racism only exists in the bigoted hearts of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and their ilk, not in the very structure and structures of normality itself. Evil can only be evil if it’s apparent. We dilute, justify, and ignore evil that comes in the guise of the normal. The answer isn’t to look at someone we know to be a monster and, without moral or ethical context, show how normal they really are. We look at how normal they are, and use what we see to sharpen our moral and ethical abilities.

Reflecting on evil as “banal” encourages us to find the moral contagion within normality – not to find the normality within the moral contagion.

 

[1] Hannah Arendt. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Viking Press, 1963.

[2] Immanuel Kant, Religion Within the Bounds of Reason Alone and Critique of Practical Reason.

In the Immediate Aftermath of the Austin Bombings, What We Can See About Social Deflection and Murderous “Nice Kids”

0321-mark-anthony-conditt-facebook-1It’s only been a few hours since the young man responsible for the recent campaign of bombs in the Austin area has blown himself up as the SWAT team descended upon him. Already, the narrative developing around him has taken a familiar turn: neighbors describe him as a “nice kid,” whose parents are shocked at bewildered, and who showed no signs of radicalization prior to the violence he committed. We saw a bit of this with Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year old shooter who killed 17 people at a high school in the Parkland, Florida shooting several weeks ago. We saw it with Brock Turner, the Stanford swimming student caught in the act of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. The Las Vegas shooter received the grown-up form of this treatment. I could go on. In the end, the narrative emerges that the individual was deeply, troublingly human, and this somehow mitigates their culpability because we can identify with them. If we can identify them, that somehow de-radicalizes them: they weren’t beholden to a toxic or violence point of view – they were just troubled, and their actual beliefs don’t mean much.

We want to believe this, because their beliefs (and their identities) don’t seem so far off from our own. They’re not monsters. We identify with their parents and their grandmothers who don’t know what happened, where they went wrong, and now they’ve lost their child and that child’s innocence in one fell swoop. Exactly how social pathologies operate, however, isn’t exactly as dramatic as we expect it to be. We live in an age of mass shootings and domestic terrorism, but we’re clueless about how these things arise because of things we see around us every day. We’re painfully unable to understand the violence of our society, because we’re obstinately unwilling to probe the pathologies of our society.

That Conditt was white has everything to do with this. That Conditt was also male and of a Christian background also has everything to do with this. We can’t imagine him as a terrorist, because the category of “terrorist” itself has, socially and in jurisprudence, always been meant to be a deflective category for the Other. Mark Anthony Conditt cannot be a terrorist because he’s not “Other.” We can’t dehumanize him. And yet, we can’t possibly see how the way he thinks and the actions he’s taken has anything to do with the lives, beliefs, and reality that we ourselves inhabit. He was “mentally ill.” He was “disturbed.” He was “troubled.”

It’s precisely because I’ve known so many people like Mark Anthony Conditt that I want us to take a good look at the social pathologies that animated his murderous decisions over the last several weeks. How did his whiteness, his Christian faith, his maleness, all the things that made him “normal” contribute to his decision to end the lives of two people and attempt to end the lives of several more? There’s a clue in an old blog post he made in 2012 condemning homosexuality, calling it “unnatural.” That argument arises from the politics of normality. All these accounts, including childhood friends, describe him as painstakingly normal (never mind that in my world, survivalist communities teaching kids to use and carry knives, and recreationally shoot guns isn’t exactly normal). He was a “nice kid.”

Exploring the “banality of evil” isn’t a new phenomenon. The phrase itself comes from Hannah Arendt, a Jewish social theorist and philosopher who covered the war crimes trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1962. Disturbed by the “normality” he seemed to present, Arendt proposed that we radically reassess our assumptions about moral responsibility, and understand evil itself as an inability to “think” – which is an exercise of intentionality, deliberative agency, and theo-ethical reflection. Not thinking is what’s normal. Because so few people think, evil becomes banal. And despite his friend’s and acquaintance’s accounts of Conditt being a “deep thinker,” it’s very clear that at the very least theo-ethical reflection, as a form of thinking, is conspicuously absent in the proceedings of these murders.

Maybe it’s time that we stark taking stock of the insight that “normal” and “nice” are themselves violent categories. It’s not just that what’s normal happens to lack theo-ethical reflection, but that a lack of theo-ethical reflection is exactly what makes something normal to begin with. Conditt was “normal,” as was Stephen Haddock, Brock Turner, Elliott Rodger, Craig Stephen Hicks, and Michael David Dunn, to name a few. They all had in common their race, sex, and an orientation toward the Other based on hostility and a self-assumed privilege. Hostility toward the Other has emerged as the greatest social pathology of our time, based on the fear that the Other is an existential threat to ourselves and our world. We have not only rejected love of neighbor, we have rejected our neighbor itself in a nihilistic, murderous mindset that sees only those close to oneself worth loving, that finds no basis or concern for caring about other people. We can call these murderous men “normal” because we share that underlying hostility and fail to see how it lies at the foundation of this violence itself.

The mindset that compelled Conditt and other murderously “normal” people arose from a complex set of social, ethical, cultural, and political realities that can take armies of scholars, clinicians, and social professionals to unravel. But in the end, our response to it shows that we’re just as implicated in that same mindset. While few of us are going to go out and bomb, shoot, or rape our neighbor, we are still beholden to the imagination by which our neighbor threatens our identity, existence, and integrity. And until we can take ourselves to task for this as communities and individuals, “nice kids” are going to continue murdering their neighbors.

My Weekend With Winter Guard: The Freak Flags and the Freaks That Fly Them

I’m an individual of a certain age and disposition that makes particular forms of cultural media a lens through which I see new cultural experiences. My cultural diet has over the years has consisted of parody mock-umentary films focused on social outliers, such Michael Patrick Jann’s 1999 teen comedy Drop Dead Gorgeous which easily ranks among my top 10 favorite movies (I said it was one of my favorites. I didn’t say it was exactly a cinematic masterpiece). I have a particular place in my heart for the entire oeuvre of Christopher Guest. These films are the anti-sports films, the anti-popular teen stories. For every the Rudy, there’s an Angus; for every Remember the Titans, there’s a Bad News Bears. While my more “in” peers gleefully consumed such fare as Clueless and the Bring it On franchise, I was obsessing over Welcome to the Dollhouse and anything starring Parker Posey. Teen comedies speak to particular themes relating the experience of growing up – one’s social self, one’s family and education, and even one’s socioeconomic experience and family life. For a kid such as myself who was a chronic “joiner” and whose college application resume included leadership positions in marching band, Business Professionals of America, Texas Association of Future Educators, Academic Decathlon, and theater – and who lived with both feet on the wrong side of the tracks – those teen films that featured an earnest, quirky social outlier were a natural source of appeal. And those films, and the constellation of quirky cult comedies that I grew to love, profoundly inform the way I understand social relationships and cultural practices.

Which brings me to the topic of Winter Guard.

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This last weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Southwest regional competition for Winter Guard, held here in town at the Coliseum at the University of North Texas. Before this weekend, I had no idea that Winter Guard even existed. I would come to understand it as a very unique blend of Color Guard (the team behind the flag and baton choreography in a marching band), theater, and staged choreography, all dressed in costumes reminiscent of Olympic figure skaters. The sheer amount of glitter, sequins, and spirit fingers involved is staggering. Each team performs a routine to a piece of recorded music, utilizing a sometimes-elaborate set of props, staging, and narrative. It can be light and fun, like routines set to popular Broadway hits, or it can be abstract and avant-garde featuring modernistic music and spoken word poetry in the style of Judy Funnie.

So.

At the risk of unintentionally or carelessly giving offense or insult to the persons dedicated to the impressive athleticism and artistry of Winter Guard, I’ve got to be real.

The entire affair struck me in a state of fierce ambivalence. My inner fag was rejoicing in ecstasy while my inner cool-kid critic was cringing (and yes, straightie, I get to use the word “fag,” and you don’t). Admittedly that says more about me than about Winter Guard, and I’m happy to dress down that inner critic and tell him to shut up and let people enjoy things. But there’s something more going on here, something that my socializing into the logic and mechanics of off-kilter social outlier movies teaches me to pay attention to that makes my experience of this fierce ambivalence utterly delightful, because had I been in an environment where this was a possibility, I would have done everything I could to have joined Winter Guard as a high school student.

There’s a social politics at work that makes Winter Guard a thing. These kids (and adults) are from the same crop that produce band nerds, drama kids, glee club singers, dancers, and a cappella choir singers – these are not your teen flick-style stereotypical “cool” kids, as cool as these kids may be. There aren’t football players or cheerleaders. Chapters of Winter Guard most often must invest enormous sums of money into costumes, props, set pieces, equipment, and travel, not to mention the countless hours of visualizing, choreographing, rehearsing, and performing the routines that make it to the competitions, meaning that these chapters arise out of schools and communities of at least relative affluence and leisure.

And I’m gonna say it.

It’s gay as fuck.

 

This isn’t just “Olympic figure skating” gay. This is what happens when all the Olympic figure skaters form an army and forcefully take control of the opening ceremonies. There is, quite simply, no heterosexual explanation for this.

Events like marching band and Winter Guard are outgrowths of military ceremonials. Some countries, in order to boost nationalist fervor, still utilize events involving elaborate performances of brass bands, flags, rifles, marching, and choreography. Understood in its historical context, Winter Guard makes perfect sense itself as a form of parody, which is why it so strikes my parodic imagination. Winter Guard is a queered form of nationalistic display, a ceremonial reflecting the destabilization of the social hierarchies that nationalism favors and promotes, and upon which it depends. The “cool” kids in high school are best understood as “normative,” because it is they whose lives and narratives construct the wider social system of “normal” and “deviant.” It is they to whom all that is “normal” belongs, including nationalist narratives and systems of social privilege. Without the “cool” kids, in high school or beyond, there is no nationalism. There would be no system of dominance of particular groups with particular characteristics over others. We struggle with thing like bullying and violence in schools, but we’re far too often blind to the insight that the reason we tolerate these things is because they’re social pedagogy. Bullying and school violence trains, forms, and disciplines kids into living in a society based on rigid social hierarchies and systems of dominance.

Something about Winter Guard, and the spirit behind it, disrupts the system of symbols used to legitimate nationalism. Rifles become wooden toys for tossing and spinning. Flags become flying steams of color and frivolity. Military-level precision, discipline, and physical exertion becomes, instead of an expression of power, an expression of play. Winter Guard replaces the stars and stripes with sequins and glitter, and the lethal force of an infantry brigade with the deft handling of a rifle toss with a behind-the-back catch. Ultimately, it represents a cloud of possibility: if these symbols can be turned around to frivolous ends, what about nationalism itself? What about militarism? What about social power systems?

For the many people who participate in Winter Guard, and its many fans, I’m sure very few of them don their tights, pick up their dummy rifles, and devote countless hours of practice and physical exertion for the sake of disrupting a power system. To them, it’s fun. It’s meaningful. It’s a way to work toward something with a group of other people, and to compete and strive for something beautiful and exciting. Their focus is on the thrill of perfecting that saber twirl and that coordinated hand off on the downbeat of the music, as the audience cheers when each rifle lands safely in the hands of the one who tossed it. Like the lion’s share of worthwhile endeavors, the magic of it can’t be intellectualized or summarized by a critic or an academic.

But for this raging homo whose academic streak dukes it out regularly with the kid who grew up watching dark teen satires, I like to think that maybe those brightly-colored freak flags are doing something more than just twirling in the air. I like to think of them as a form of blissful resistance and defiance, as they take these deadly serious trappings of nationalized, militarized power and turn them into something that would make most “cool,” “normal” kids cringe, as if to take the gun out of a soldier’s hands and, bedazzling it and using it as a parade baton, telling him, “Oh, yeah hunny, this isn’t for you anymore.”

Here’s to the freak flags, and the freaks that fly them.

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Why the Academy Hates Talking About Sex

Several years out of the closet and into the ivory tower has taught me at least one thing.

The academy hates talking about sex.

For all of the hysteria surrounding a supposed left-wing agenda corrupting the minds of youth and poisoning them with thoughts of libertinism and women’s and gender studies, academic departments across most universities tend to be very uncomfortable, regressive, and even prudish about sex. Sure, it comes up as a political topic. It arises in the study of cultural artifacts. But in the actual topics of analysis and dissemination, sex is conspicuously absent, suppressed even, as those who dare to broach the topic risk being devalued as “unprofessional,” “erratic,” “prurient,” or, perhaps most damaging of all, “unobjective.”

Right now, sex cannot arise as a genuine phenomenon of inquiry because the discourse of academic culture precludes it on the basis of its extreme personalism. Very few people can speak about sex merely objectively – our very bodies and the passions they house make that impossible. Thus, in order to discuss sex, we discuss sex-uality (the concept itself an abstraction), and invent ways to talk about sex while making sex itself – fucking, sucking, touching, tasting, writhing, convulsing, sweating, heaving, breathing, pulsing, thrusting, throbbing, flushing, nudity, genitals, pleasure, orgasms – invisible. But we run into a paradox with this censuring. By striving to shield our objectivity from the passions these issues stir, we become staunchly un-objective. Jean Baudrillard once noted that what we call “obscenity” – that which polite and civilized academic culture attempts to suppress – is itself actually an objectivity, in the visible. [1] Abstractions shield us from the visible, and let us pretend to be objective in the invisible.

This bothers me, not because of some pedantic concern about epistemology or some prurient desire to raunch up the classroom. It bothers me because this invisibility literally kills people, and the people it kills the most are women, queer people, and vulnerable minorities across the board.

It kills women daily when invisibility about the “visible” features of women’s sex lives, physiological realities, etc. takes over policy making decisions, leaving the public only abstract ways to deal with questions of women’s reproductive health, access to family planning, and abortion services.

It kills LGBTQ persons daily, even as it did in the 80’s, when forced invisibility about the sex lives of gay men led to silence, inaction, and the intense stigmatization of those dying from AIDS by the thousands. Even today, efforts to combat the spread of HIV through community outreach, PrEP, and educational programs find themselves stymied by social stigma, indecision, apathy, and even malice by those in government.

I could go on.

There’s this “gap” between sex as a topic and sex as a phenomenon. Sex as a topic talks about the biological and neurological aspects of sex, and gets into how sex forms identities, impacts communities, and even how it influences the way we relate to people. It even tells us how it affects the way we read a book. But what sex as a topic does not do is point us, teach us, and guide us into fuller ways of knowing – and experiencing – the realities that underwrite and give meaning to sex. This gap is the source of the endless disconnect between the theoretical, moral, and academic dimensions of sex, and the “real” dimensions of sex. This is why theology, philosophy, and the greater portion of the constructive humanities can only address “sexuality,” and rarely if ever the actual sex lives of actual people, and even more rarely, doing that well.

A 2002 documentary film about the late philosopher* Jacques Derrida, the founder of deconstruction, featured a seemingly mundane (in my opinion, inane) question concerning past philosophers: “If you were to watch a documentary about a philosopher – Heidegger, or Kant, or Hegel – what would you like to see in it?”

His response is revealing.

Their sex lives. Pourquoi? I’d love to hear about something they refuse to talk about. Why do these philosophers present themselves asexually in their work? Why have they erased their private lives from their work or never talked about anything personal? There is nothing more important in their private life than love. I’m not talking about making a porno film about Hegel or Heidegger. I want them to speak about the part that love plays in their lives. [2]

Derrida Hegel Heidegger

I don’t think anyone is, Jacques. I don’t think anyone is at all.

I may have gone into the ivory tower straight out of the closet, but in reality, the ivory tower is itself a form of closet. I cannot exist in the academy if I am visible in my reality. I must strive to appear (to simulate) an asexual frame of mind, placing the queerness of my own sex life – along with the queerness of actual asexual individuals – under erasure for the sake of “objectivity” that is really not an “objectivity” toward anything visible or real. This is what philosophers have done for centuries, and what philosophers do, so too will the rest of the academy follow.

What I seek to do is to do theory as a sexual person. I seek to embrace the so-called “obscenity” of the visible and real and totally fuck up the pretense between the distinction between objective and subjective. I want to talk about actual sex and the knowledge that it discloses. I want to begin a foundation for an actual sexual phenomenology that queers, that fucks, that shocks the so-called phenomenologies of straight white men and their so-called sex lives (and conspicuous lacks thereof).

I came out of the closet too many times to trap myself in the ivory tower.

Heidegger Hegel

The porno pairing that Jacques Derrida was allegedly not talking about

  • I have serious doubts that Derrida himself would have been comfortable or accepting of the title of “philosopher.” He has noted on several occasions the impossibility of doing philosophy, and the way that the term itself relates specifically to the tradition of metaphysics in the Western tradition. One may argue that he’s a Socratic anti-philosopher. In any case, one cannot do any semblance of justice to Derrida without making such a disclaimer.

Sources:

[1] Mike Gane, ed. Baudrillard Live: Selected Interviews. New York: Routledge, 1993. 60, 62.

[2] Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering. Derrida. Zeitgeist Films, 2002.

Why You Should Read My Blog (and Why You Shouldn’t)

You may be wondering why in the world you should start to read my blog. This is a good question, and I’d be remiss in my duties if I were to ignore this concern of yours. Before I answer that question though, I’d like to give you a little background into my blogging experience and what it means to me.

Scholar Bear

Bookish in the streets

In the past, I’ve had three semi-successful blogs, each of them very different, and each of them serving a different purpose for me at the time. Why now though? Why is this time special or different? This time, as much as I may talk about myself, it’s not about me. It’s about dialogue and dialectic. It’s about finding and building communities of inquiry and, in this day and age, socio-political resistance. It’s about queerness, theory, religion, and culture.

This time, it’s for real. I’m no longer a tentative-in-the-world twenty-something. I’m a few years down the road after my loss of faith, and I know now better ways to write and think about these very important issues than the impressionistic, somewhat fevered and scattered approach I’ve had to move beyond. I have more solid and established conceptual frameworks to use and a sensitivity to the complexities and personal realities behind the words, and I’m committed to growing even further in that sensitivity. How else do I learn the responsibilities of being a “public intellectual” (the very term irks me but I know no better alternative) than to simply begin to grow as one?

So, in no particular order, here is a list of why you should () and why you should not (X) read my blog:

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Bearish in the sheets

You should read my blog because the topics I write about are important to you: queerness, theory, religion, and culture.

X But you should not read my blog to find someone you agree with on everything, or even most things.

You should read my blog because you find what I have to say interesting, stimulating, provocative, or thought-provoking.

X You should not read my blog if you are ideologically and immutably opposed to the basic ethical foundation of what I write.

You should read my blog because you are interested in finding and building communities of inquiry and resistance, especially in the areas of queer sexuality, queer religion, and are comfortable with outward, explicit displays of queer sexuality and expression.

X You should not read my blog if you are squeamish about or opposed to outward expressions of queer identity and sexuality, including occasional posts featuring nudity, nontraditional sexual ethics (polyamory, alternative relationship structures, hookup culture, group sex, barebacking, bug chasing, etc.), or BDSM/kink-related content.

You should read my blog because you are interested in areas of tension and ambiguity, especially between LGBTQ persons and communities of faith.

X You should not read my blog if you are anti-queer, resist anti-racist efforts, or if you are militantly anti-religious – basically, you should not read my blog if you are accustomed to writing off entire groups of people without the precursor of dialogue, or are complicit with the Reddit/4chan/8chan culture of trolling, conversation, and online interaction.

You should read my blog if you delight in humor and enjoy occasional satire, parody, and farce mixed in with the serious and heavy.

X You should not read my blog if you are either too serious to enjoy humor, or can’t take anything seriously and make everything a joke.

You should read my blog if you are interested to see a dynamic, growing, evolving entity seeking new forms of expression and communication, including new types of post formats, different types of media content, and even a potential, eventual podcast.

X You should not read my blog if you are a stickler for doing things the same way forever, or become too comfortable with present or past formats of expression without room to grow.

If you think this blog is for you, move on over and hit that “Follow this blog” button! You can also follow on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for email alerts. If this is for you, then welcome to The Bookish Bear Blog, and make yourself at home!

Some Books, a Bear, and a Lot of Bemusement

Every mind is a hodgepodge.

You can quote me on that, because I’m a mess. Thirty-one years of sorting through my own mingled yarn of faults, virtues, and jumbled cogitation has left me with the conviction that there’s not a single person alive whose mental coherence can long withstand the pressure to produce a fully cogent image of itself. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – that’s just how we humans as a lot are. What it does mean is that our obsessive desire for certainty, rationality, and mastery most often proves our own undoing. This is as true for us as individuals as it is of entire civilizations; pushed past its own feeble limits, the compulsion for order and stability often leads to chaos and downfall. The art of living deliberately – Socrates’s noble “examined life” – consists in navigating the poles of order and chaos: never avoiding, while never fully embracing, one or the other.

So, as from the hodgepodge responsible for the creation of this blog, such an effort is what I promise. This blog is born from the twin desires to make sense of and to make chaos of an astoundingly weird, complex, and confusing world, while being an astoundingly weird, complex, and confusing person.

The reason I’m such a mess – the reason no one person can ever fully present themselves in a fully cogent image – is because we live between vacillating, opposing forces pulling us in different ways at different times. We aim for authenticity, and we aim for integrity, which is to say we aim to choose the “right” impulses that express the best of who we are, and we aim to do this consistently in every circumstance. Authentic self-expression is tricky when you have multiple authentic selves. I’m at once a philosophizing, scholarly, cerebral (and sometimes insufferable) know-it-all and a red-blooded, queer, passionate gay man with a penchant for food, leather, and the bear scene. I’m bookish, and I’m a bear. I’m a bookish bear.

And unless I put these two sides of myself in conversation with one another, I’m not likely to attain either authenticity or integrity. This is a challenge, as these two personas don’t always care for one another. The bookworm likes quiet, needs space to think, craves time enough to get lost in an inner world of solitude and ideals, whereas the bear loves the company of others, the more salacious side of life, subverting norms, and taking enjoyment in the present. In the bookworm’s space, the bear often has to hide in the closet; in the bear’s space, the bookworm has to hide in that same closet. I am my own odd couple.

This blog is by and about a bookish bear. At times reflective, discursive, and autobiographical, my aim is present my thoughts, my work, and life to the outer world.

This blog is, like my mind, a hodgepodge, but one that weaves (okay, maybe tangles) culture with religion and the humanities. I have no interest in being merely abstract, abstract as I may be. I believe in thought as a means of entering into deeper relationship with the outside world in the search for wisdom, insight, and meaning. I’m a phenomenologist in training, experienced in practical theology and social-political theory. I’m also a butch queen vers who looks damn good in a harness and combat boots and knows the precise length to cut a pair of jeans to make an enticing pair of cutoffs (hint: you’ve got to reveal enough to get their attention, but keep enough covered to leave them wanting more).

Whatever rhetorical device I use to present the apparent contradictions of myself, I am at heart one person.

 

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