“New York is something awful, something monstrous. I like to walk the streets, lost, but I recognize that New York is the world’s greatest lie. New York is Senegal with machines.” – Frederico Garcia Lorca
Here’s a great piece by Laurie Penny at The New Statesman about the Elliot Rodger shooting spree: Let’s call the Isla Vista killings what they were: misogynist extremism. She writes:
We have allowed ourselves to believe, for a long time, that the misogynist subcultures flourishing on- and offline in the past half-decade, the vengeful sexism seeding in resentment in a time of rage and austerity, is best ignored. We have allowed ourselves to believe that those fetid currents aren’t really real, that they don’t matter, that they have no relation to “real-world” violence. But if the Isla Vista massacre is the first confirmed incident of an incident of gross and bloody violence directly linked to the culture of ‘Men’s Rights’ activism and Pickup Artist (PUA) ideology, an ideology that preys on lost, angry men, then it cannot be ignored or dismissed any more.
We like to think that violent misogyny – not sexism, but misogyny, woman-hatred as ideology and practice, weaponised contempt for one half of the human race – isn’t something that really happens in the so-called West. No matter how many wives and girlfriends are murdered by their husbands, no matter how many rapists are let off because of their “promising careers”, violence against women is something that happens elsewhere, somewhere foreign, or historical, or both. So anxious are we to retain this convenient delusion that any person, particularly any female person, who attempts to raise a counter argument can expect to be harassed and shouted down.
As soon as women began to speak about the massacre, a curious thing happened. Men all over the world – not all men, but enough men – began to push back, to demand that we qualify our anger and mitigate our fear. Not all men are violent misogynists.
This kind of dismissal of someone carrying out the logical conclusion of an ideology as one who’s deranged, twisted, or ill reminds me a lot of what religious apologists say when people take the literal word of their chosen holy book and commit acts of unspeakable cruelty. “But not all religious people are like that!” they cry, when its the cultural cover provided by the ideology—and the idea that it’s sacred and thus beyond earthly scrutiny—that breeds and shelters those who simply take the ideas one step further.
Of course, I think all religious thought stems from a hatred of life, and all organized religion comes from a desire to use that self-hatred to control people and centralize power and wealth. You can say that “moderate” religious people are doing no harm, but they prop up a system that does do harm—real, constant, and atrocious harm—and therefore criticizing the ideology is of utmost urgency.
I think Penny is similarly correct about “moderate” misogynist ideology: it breeds the occasional shooting spree (between the constant and widespread domestic violence). No, not all men want to shoot women who don’t want to have sex with them, but thinking that a woman owes a man sex didn’t just come out of thin air, it’s ingrained in the larger cultural landscape. So Rodger’s actions weren’t so much an anomaly as exactly what you’d expect given the perpetual messaging that the patriarchy provides.
I’m torn on this whole V.A. scandal thing. On one hand, it’s an all-too familiar story about the failure of a large institution to fulfill its promises. Of course V.A. administrators are going to fudge the numbers to keep their money flowing, and of course they’re going to leave people high and dry, since more and more people are in need of services in an era of perpetual international “intervention.”
Over-extension and the inability to pay or care for its soldiers is the hallmark of an empire on the verge of implosion (Rome, anyone?). So from the macro view, this failure is predictable enough to be considered part of doing business: just another write-off for the global corporate elite. More and more of us are being left out in the cold, as there is less pie to go around. Why would poor soldiers be any different?
On the other hand, it could be considered something of an outrage that politicians who claim to love the troops (or, politicians, full stop) drone on and on, no pun intended, about freedom and liberty and American exceptionalism, and yet they enjoy socialized health care while the people who do the dirty work die while waiting in line. But again, back to my first point: knowing what we know about oligarchy and global resource extraction, why should this be surprising to anyone? Politicians and their corporate masters don’t give a shit about you! The sooner you realize that the better.
On still another hand, if you’ll grant me an extra one, what have these soldiers done for their country? Yes, they’ve sacrificed, and sure, they’ve suffered, and they’ve fought the occasional religious zealot bent on harming others (unlike political charlatans, I don’t profess to care more about American life than about any other). But they’ve also done horrible things, not only to already marginalized groups but to those in their own ranks. There might be more racism and sexism within the US Army than within any other terrorist organization. While it’s obvious why soldiers returning home would be strung out (and why the suicide rate among returning vets continues to climb), what about the people they maimed—or the whole towns they scorched?
The best response, given the many facets to this problem, would be not to glorify the troops or to question why an over-inflated bureaucracy is acting like, well, an over-inflated bureaucracy (and isn’t the definition of a bureaucracy really a system to deflect accountability?), but rather to ask what this story is really intended to achieve—or, rather, who it’s intended to help.
One of the main unstated assumptions that this whole episode perpetuates is the idea that one must do something—and something drastic, like go to a foreign country and attempt to kill strangers—in order to earn medicine. Who do you think that kind of idea serves?
Another unstated assumption this fallout has reinforced is the notion that health care is expensive and complicated and scarce: that there’s just not enough of this commodity called “health care” for everybody—even our mythologized veterans. Gosh, I guess I should be happy—nay, proud—to wait in line for my next medical procedure, which will put me under crushing debt indefinitely, if even people who agree to go shoot people in distant lands, showing their ultimate loyalty to the upper caste, are waiting in line for theirs.
And I guess we should use the term “medicine” loosely, since apparently the V.A. wasn’t so much treating post traumatic stress as drugging it, turning depression and anxiety into full-scale addiction. So marijuana is the impetus for filling the for-profit prison system, but a federal health care administration dolls out opioids. (“Opium is the opiate of the masses,” as my favorite political philosophy professor loved to say.)
Which part is the scandal?
Instead of my usual Wednesday poem, today I offer a little window into the animal world, lest you forget that whatever you’re currently doing at your desk really isn’t that important in the long-run.
Here’s a live webcam of peregrine falcons who have nested for the past 12 years at the W.E.B. Du Bois Library at UMass Amherst. It’s fun to see the fastest animal in the world just hanging out, occasionally preening and letting the wind ride through its feathers.
“Writing denies itself to me. Hence the plan for autobiographical investigations. Not biography but investigation and detection of the smallest possible component parts. Out of these I will then construct myself, as one whose house is unsafe wants to build a safe one next to it, if possible out of the material of the old one.” – Franz Kafka
When one thinks of Nietzsche, the first image the probably comes to mind is that of the much-used profile: with the mustached and quaffed philosopher resting his head in his arm, peering off into the distance and also out of a sort of heavy-tweed-coat shell. What people probably imagine, when animating this picture in their mind, is a firebrand: an ebullient, cantankerous brute, slamming down coffee cups to punctuate shrieks, while preaching to those fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to be within earshot about the “superman” and the need to cull the weak in order to perfect the glorious Reich—made so by the “will to power” of a deserving elite, and the transformation to seeing themselves not as men but as gods on earth.
In this dramatization we see Nietzsche, the proto-Nazi, encouraging German colonialism abroad and eugenics at home—all made possible by death of god and the superiority of humans in their rightful place at the top of the hierarchy. Sound familiar?
The problem with this dramatization, however, is that it’s just that: a sensationalized (and downright crude) caricature of the real man and his real ideas. But because of many factors—from intellectual laziness on the part of translators and philosophers and thus an ignorance of the actual text, especially in its original German, to deliberate attempts to misconstrue Nietzsche’s concepts, starting during his lifetime with his own sister—the first modern free-thinker (the first and last existential philosopher you’ll ever need, in my opinion) is still burdened with the (Sisyphean?) boulder of this character assassination.
Maybe the force of his ideas is transposed into physical, human force; how could a person who assaulted the old intellectual guard with so many conceptual bombshells not be a kind of human howitzer: big, loud, imposing?
But as with most conventional ideas, the opposite is indeed more accurate. Consider the fact that “superman” is a mistranslation (and even taken at its incorrect face value, super man is singular, thus not the call for a superior race), Nietzsche never wrote a work called “The Will to Power” (his sister did, though), and he was actually very private and quiet (and didn’t drink coffee or beer or whiskey—only mild tea, as he had a bad stomach).* And then consider that he not only didn’t believe in a master race, but he didn’t even believe all that much in the German imperial project, or in any state, for that matter—and, in fact, didn’t think that humans in general were all that exceptional, in the grand scheme of the cosmos.
To begin On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense, Nietzsche wrote:
In some remote corner of the universe, poured out and glittering in innumerable solar systems, there once was a star on which clever animals invented knowledge. That was the haughtiest and most mendacious minute of “world history”—yet only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths the star grew cold, and the clever animals had to die.
One might invent such a fable and still not have illustrated sufficiently how wretched, how shadowy and flighty, how aimless and arbitrary, the human intellect appears in nature. There have been eternities when it did not exist; and when it is down for again, nothing will have happened.
Could someone who considered himself to be the center of the universe show such humility?
* Walter Kaufmann dispels many myths and rumors about Nietzsche in his introduction to “Zarathustra” in his collection of translations, The Portable Nietzsche:
He is shy, about five-foot-eight, but a little stooped, almost blind, reserved, unaffected, and especially polite; he lives in modest boarding houses in Sils Maria, Nizza, Mentone, Rome, Turin. This is how Stefan Zweig brings him to life for us: “Carefully the myopic man sits down to a table, carefully, the man with the sensitive stomach considers every item on the menu: whether the tea is not too strong, the food not spiced too much, for every mistake in his diet upsets his sensitive digestion, and every transgression in his nourishment wreaks havoc with his quivering nerves for days. No glass of wine, no glass of beer, no alcohol, no coffee at his place, no cigar and no cigarette after his meal, nothing that stimulates, refreshes, or rests him: only the short meager meal and a little urbane, unprofound conversation in a soft voice with an occasional neighbor (as a man speaks who for years has been used to talking and is afraid of being asked too much).
And up again into the small, narrow, modest, coldly furnished chambre garnie, where innumerable notes, pages, writings, and proofs are piled up on the table, but no flower, no decoration, scarcely a book and rarely a letter.
…Wrapped in his overcoat and a woolen scarf (for the wretched stove smokes only and does not give warmth), his fingers freezing, his double glasses pressed close to the paper, his hurried hand writes for hours—words the dim eyes can hardly decipher. For hours he sits like this and writes until his eyes burn.