Posters for your March For Our Lives event

by Eszter Hargittai on March 20, 2018

Are you participating in a March For Our Lives event this coming Saturday, March 24th? There are hundreds of events taking place across the world. And now you don’t even have to worry about what sign to carry. Members of Action Together Zurich have created March For Our Lives posters, 89 of them (plus two to carry up front for some context). Each one is unique, with the front listing a common-sense gun bill that Congress has failed to act on, and the back listing the names of gun violence victims. The idea is for folks to print out the posters for marchers to carry at their local March For Our Lives event. Please spread the word. Bit.ly/mfolposters is the link to share.

Scalded Chait

by Henry on March 20, 2018

I want to write about other things on Crooked Timber than Jonathan Chait. Really, I do. I have a half-finished essay on The Globalists that is going to be so much more worth your time (if only because the book itself is so good). But since he’s written again today to defend the proposition that we should too be bagging on Political Correctness Gone Mad, it’s worth spending a few minutes pointing out quite how bizarre his understanding of the threat actually is.

Chait’s quite straightforward claim is that if the true awful force of political correctness were unconstrained, it would whisk us all up and deposit us in the gulag.

all illiberal left-wing ideologies, Marxist and otherwise, follow the same basic structure. These critiques reject the liberal notion of free speech as a positive good enjoyed by all citizens. They categorize political ideas as being made on behalf of either the oppressor class or the oppressed class. (Traditional Marxism defines these classes in economic terms; more modern variants replace or add race and gender identities.) From that premise, they proceed to their conclusion that political advocacy on behalf of the oppressed enhances freedom, and political advocacy on behalf of the oppressor diminishes it.

It does not take much imagination to draw a link between this idea and the Gulag. The gap between Marxist political theory and the observed behavior of Marxist regimes is tissue-thin. Their theory of free speech gives license to any party identifying itself as the authentic representative of the oppressed to shut down all opposition (which, by definition, opposes the rights of the oppressed). When Marxists reserve for themselves the right to decide “which forms of expression deserve protection and which don’t,” the result of the deliberation is perfectly obvious.

In the contemporary United States, these ideas are confined by the fact that only in certain communities (like college campuses) does the illiberal left have the power to implement its vision, and even there it is constrained by the U.S. Constitution. If illiberal ideas were to gain more power, the scale of their abuses would widen.

Since this quote is not quite Gulag-y enough for some of our commenters, here’s Chait again, making the point even more explicit:

The upsurge of political correctness is not just greasy-kid stuff, and it’s not just a bunch of weird, unfortunate events that somehow keep happening over and over. It’s the expression of a political culture with consistent norms, and philosophical premises that happen to be incompatible with liberalism. The reason every Marxist government in the history of the world turned massively repressive is not because they all had the misfortune of being hijacked by murderous thugs. It’s that the ideology itself prioritizes class justice over individual rights and makes no allowance for legitimate disagreement. (For those inclined to defend p.c. on the grounds that racism and sexism are important, bear in mind that the forms of repression Marxist government set out to eradicate were hardly imaginary.)

American political correctness has obviously never perpetrated the brutality of a communist government, but it has also never acquired the powers that come with full control of the machinery of the state.

Now I think that it’s perfectly fair to argue with and against student activists. They can be idiots (as can every human being; as can the professors and administrators who they are railing against). But even when they are idiots, they are not a Gestapo in the making. The notion that when the Political Correctness Police come to power, people like Chait are going to be hauled off to the camps for compulsory gender reassignment surgery (after having been convicted in mass show trials of Gross Heteronormativity in the First Degree) is … well, actually, it’s quite mad.

Furthermore, it’s politically toxic. On the one hand, Chait holds himself out as the practitioner of a liberalism devoted to “permeability, [and] openness to evidence and diverse perspectives.” On the other, he wants to make out that the people who are to his left on race and gender are a crowd of neo-authoritarians in the making, who will kulakize the lot of us if they are ever let anywhere near “the machinery of the state.” One is left with the impression that Chait’s proposed coalition for taking on the right consists of a few middle aged white guys, all former staff writers or contributing editors to The New Republic When It Was Really The New Republic, who alone are both intelligent enough to understand the true commitment to liberalism at the heart of the American dream, and brave enough to defend it against the zealots to their left and to their right. Likely, that is a quite unfair summation of what Chait wants. But if Chait continues to insist on demonizing everyone from Ta-Nehisi Coates on leftwards, it’s what he is going to get.

Weird Questions

by John Holbo on March 20, 2018

Having grumped about Annihilation, based on Jeff VanderMeer’s novel [amazon], I’d like to make a post in praise of that author’s anthology work.

A couple years back, while working up a syllabus for my ‘Science Fiction and Philosophy’ class, I considered The Big Book of Science Fiction (edited by the VanderMeers) [amazon]. I didn’t adopt it. I went for this one [amazon]. But I liked it. It achieves escape velocity from the Anglosphere, as it were. Stuff from around the world, not just usual suspects. For teaching purposes I wanted more usual suspects but, as a reader who has read all that, I discovered new stuff and enjoyed it. (It’s not that the usual suspects are excluded. But even the choices of stories by the big names seem uncanonical. That’s fine.)

I just got another big book edited by the VanderMeers, The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories [amazon]. It looks great! Like Big Book they’ve worked to achieve global coverage, not just the usual English language, mostly American/British names. I’m looking forward to expanded horizons. I am a bit puzzled by the decision to exclude titles from before the 20th Century. This is stated in the Introduction, not on the cover. I feel one should get a bit of The King In Yellow in there, since it is of a piece with 20th Century stuff they’ve included. The earliest here is Alfred Kubin and Algernon Blackwood. I don’t mind. I can roll my own LeFanu, thank you. (LeFanu coined ‘weird fiction’, I think, so there would be a logic to starting with him?) But, like I said, it’s huge. 750,000 words. 20th Century will do fine, thanks.

While I’m on the subject I have two weird questions for you. (I did a joke survey about Annihilation, so I’ll do a semi-serious one this time.)

1) Do you think at least some Lovecraft stuff is SF?
2) Do you think of ‘weird’ tales as being distinct from ‘supernatural’ stuff, on the one hand, and ‘horror’ on the other?

Kindly take 10 seconds to record your responses here. (Feel free to leave qualitative critiques of my survey design in comments!)

A few of my own thoughts about these questions under the fold. (But I don’t want to pollute your responses unduly, so maybe respond first?) [click to continue…]

The Persistence of Mummery?

by John Holbo on March 20, 2018

Our Corey has a good piece in Harpers, “Forget About It”. He concludes by reflecting on how and why his ‘continuity-of-Trump-with-conservative-tradition’ thesis rubs people wrong:

My wife explained it to me recently: in making the case for continuity between past and present, I sound complacent about the now. I sound like I’m saying that nothing is wrong with Trump, that everything will work out.

It seems rhetorically effective – even obligatory – to treat an urgent problem as exceptional. But:

The truth is that we’re captives, not captains, of this strategy. We think the contrast of a burnished past allows us to see the burning present, but all it does is keep the fire going, and growing. Confronting the indecent Nixon, Roth imagines a better McCarthy. Confronting the indecent Trump, he imagines a better Nixon. At no point does he recognize that he’s been fighting the same monster all along — and losing. Overwhelmed by the monster he’s currently facing, sure that it is different from the monster no longer in view, Roth loses sight of the surrounding terrain. He doesn’t see how the rehabilitation of the last monster allows the front line to move rightward, the new monster to get closer to the territory being defended.

Speaking of monsters, this is a great line, regarding the famous Welch/McCarthy confrontation:

Welch’s broadside was less an announcement of McCarthy’s indecency, about which nobody had any doubt, than a signal of his diminished utility, a report of his weakness and isolation. Declarations of indecency are like that: they don’t slay monsters; they’re an all-clear signal, a statement that the monster is dying or dead.

Let me note: there are two theses here, one about what is effective; one about the truth. Is it rhetorically more effective to frame Trump as exceptional, or does this mean a short-term gain in focus but a long-term drain in overall awareness? Two, is it true that Trump is exceptional?

I’m of two minds about both. On the one hand, Corey demonstrates an amnesiac absurdity to some presentist alarmism. That’s most definitely a thing. But it’s possible that a-mnemonic mummery accompanies exceptional developments. People may be surprised, wrongly, when they ought to be surprised, rightly. As to the purely rhetorical point, it’s a real rock-and-hard-place problem, to which I’m not sure there is any steady solution. But it’s a really good piece, very well-written, too.