Browsed by
Category: Human Rights

VirusHead in the year of COVID-19

VirusHead in the year of COVID-19

Now that I am fully vaccinated, I can look at this blog without feeling the creepies.

My dissertation was on the figure of the virus in fiction. I suspected that we were long overdue for a new pandemic, and worried about the militarized uses as well. The end of the century came and went.

I was super careful. Stayed home. Took precautions. Watched the country go through a lot of insanity, and it’s not over yet.

But I had already been thinking about various sorts of the deaths, I was determined not to die of this virus.

Logically, I know that I have to go sometime, but each time I have gotten kissing distance from death, there was a simple refusing reason.

I can’t die *this* way.

I can’t die from my own stupidity, or as a result of the violent malevolence of others, because if there were an afterlife, I would never forgive myself. I can’t die from choking on a hot dog, because some people would never stop laughing about it. I can’t die from an ectopic pregnancy, because my little boy needs me to live. I can’t die of despair in this place, so I must leave.

And I can’t die of Covid-19 because I thought too much about viruses, and I have already paid far too many prices for to die of a virus, too. That would be some kind of cosmic joke of the worst sort.

I got married again in the year of the virus. So I snuggled in with my honey. I also seemed to have worked through some issues about which I had deep, painful feelings. So this last year, overall, was good for me. There were a few things that I wished could have been different, but I’m still alive, and protected to some extent. I still even have a hope that maybe the country will continue to move into a healthier zone (in so many ways). We can hope.

“Me Too” Thoughts

“Me Too” Thoughts

For the confused: Sexual harassment and assault have nothing to do with the erotic. They are the core expressions of a pure power dynamic, a form of bullying and manipulation by immature and weak people who can sometimes become very dangerous, even violent.

If you do not consent, do not enjoy, that is harassment and often assault. The harasser, the stalker, the abuser, the rapist, the murderer – they persist despite (and often because of) resistance and lack of consent. They don’t take “no” for an answer. They are wielding power aggressively to intimidate you because they think they can. They are not paying attention to you as a full human being, but only to their own internal dynamics. You are then just an object, not another person with their own boundaries and thoughts and feelings and rights.

Mutual seduction is NOT that. Flirting is NOT that. An expression of interest, or even a sexual advance, is NOT that, in most cases, unless it creates a fearful toxic situation where you are somehow trapped. If you move away, or say “hey” or “no thanks” and they still won’t leave you alone – and the culture supports that in thousands of ways – then that is what is being addressed by “me, too.”

Awareness is a small step, easily rationalized, denied, and rejected.
With awareness, pay attention.
With growth, discard previous assumptions and construct better questions.
With better understanding, understand and disrupt toxic behavior.
With more insight, communicate to others when you see similiar inappropriate behavior and structures (whenever you can).
Navigate as best you can with what you know, and hold yourself accountable in the mirror.
Know thyself, and listen to others.
Know your friends, family and tribes.
Name what you know, in the active tense.

Ask more questions.

See where toxic things structurally and institutionally intersect.

Find allies. Be an ally.

The way forward is like this.

 

Notes on the US Student Loan Crisis

Notes on the US Student Loan Crisis

This is just to capture some initial thoughts about a very complex problem.

I think it’s difficult for people to understand how much education costs now. The situation has changed so very much over a generation that costs and priorities do deserve some analysis. Our parents’ generation could earn enough over the summer job to pay for college, and no-one had to accrue substantial debt. Housing was much less exensive, too. Sometimes the loan is more for room and board than anything else, but who can really live on $10k a year anyway?

At the same time colleges are not paying adjuncts (who are more and more of the teaching resources, not full time professors) a living wage. There are fewer paths to a career in higher education. College presidents and upper administrators can make millions, as do football coaches, but not the people who have actually earned their status as world experts in their fields. There’s always enough money for the campus landscaping, but maybe not so much for the faculty.

The nation as a whole suffers in terms of our brain trust against the world stage, and some of our best and brightest are fleeing. Skills training is fine, but it is insufficient – even for business. Occasionally some higher levels of discernment – the kind that come from a well-rounded education – are needed.

The student loan program as it exists is without any consumer rights at all. What few forgiveness programs are in place count any forgiveness amount as taxable income. We’re at a point now where federal money in later life is impacted – loans can be taken out of social security first. If you’re not yet retired, you’d better be doing very well indeed to pay your loan and your children’s loans too (as is now required, at least in part).

The way the loans are designed, most of the payment is toward revolving interest (accrues daily) not principal. Hardly any of my payment goes toward the balance. 8 years paying, not much of a drop.

Currently national student loan debt exceeds even credit card debt. For many, there is no escape from it in a lifetime. At this point, most would need to send their children out of the country to get an advanced degree.

College only for the rich … all the gains for education since WWII thrown away so, so easily.

Thinking Through Hans-Georg Gadamer’s Truth and Method

Thinking Through Hans-Georg Gadamer’s Truth and Method

Found essay from 1988, when I was immersed in the academic study of religion. This was not the only tool in the toolbox, of course, but it’s funny for me to see the way I thought about things from that perspective. It was during my first year of graduate school, and I always tried to find something of value in everything I read, always tried to rescue something from a text even if I disagreed with many of its points. I was struggling to situate my thoughts in a context that was still very strange to me. There are a couple of good bits but it’s hilarious how ungrounded this really was, and how I floundered with the idea of understanding itself. It’s also interesting the way I sidestepped the issues of gender, race, class, and even geography. Still, there’s something from that time that does live on in me. I was perhaps kinder then, and more curious.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Scientific methodology in the human sciences, including the study of religion, is shaped by a scientific ideal that excludes the observer from that which is observed. The use of objective methodological tools to analyze and control key texts places the interpreter above the realm of the examined. The participatory aspect of humanity and tradition is often not taken into account, and so a dead representation of the original meaning, wrenched from its rightful place, is transmitted in a rehashed form inappropriate to the experience of the time. Gadamer, in Truth and Method, outlines an ontological shift which seeks the reintegration of “belongingness” as a way to vitalize and reunify the truth obscured by the alienating “distanciation” of method.

“Effective-historical consciousness” allows us to recognize our present reality as part of a tradition that cannot be done away with. We cannot wish it away (although we may sometimes ignore it and assume an ivory-tower stance). We stand in a context in which we pose questions of a text that may have contributed to the context in which we are standing to ask the question. The sphere of understanding shown within texts from the past (or even of a different and contemporary community) has a different “horizon” from the one in which we are asking questions. Likewise, professors in an academic context provide the shape (to some extent) of the horizons of students and other colleagues. The interpreter, through a creative and responsible interpretation of texts, opens new horizons yet becomes part of a particular tradition.

A historical and reflexive consciousness is particularly appropriate for scholars who study religious and philosophical works, which have shaped the academic world in which we find ourselves. Individually, we play with academic traditions and we are played by them, but we must also find common ground to discuss the “something” called religion if we are to consider ourselves as composing a distinct discipline within a pluralistic society. An examination along the lines of methods and theories in the study of religion is one way to explore the ways discussion is currently proceeding.

In the study of religion, we consider important cultural texts, language captured by signs called words, wholly abstracted from a particular place and time and let loose on the world. If the text speaks in such a way as to expand the current horizons of the individual reader, it also speaks dialectically to and through the interpreter in the form of a dialogue of question and answer. The text may become (or may already be) part of a human tradition, and it may shape the questions and answers of the future in ways that were never intended by the author. Hermeneutics seeks to retain the unity of the original meaning while letting the text speak to the current constellations of meaning. The text has the possibility of becoming a hermeneutic event at any time, and–if it is published–for anyone who cares to read it. In addition, the text may have the power to shape the world view of a community.

Gadamer is often perceived as a conservative because his emphasis seems to assume the rightful authority of a present tradition. He is, after all, playing with and being played by his own context, which may be a privileged one. If the tradition of which Gadamer speaks must necessarily be limited to being for and about only a small portion of the human population (as critical theory would have it), then it is possible to see flaws in his philosophical-hermeneutical thought. However, if one applies Gadamer’s insights to Gadamer’s own work, it is possible to argue that his emphasis on a certain type of Western tradition (in which he lives, and must speak from) is not fundamental to his understanding of being and knowing. Rather, his hermeneutic approach is part of its own historical dialogue and opens the doors to a better understanding of our present consciousness.

In questioning institutional authority, one takes a stance against a certain type of prejudice as it is expressed by power, but to do so necessarily expresses another in relation to the opposed viewpoint. Gadamer may be a bit idealistic in presenting dialogue as a universal possibility–as though all sides would sit down amicably, discuss political ideology, agree on a plan of action, and peacefully change the world. However, one cannot criticize effectively without coming to a dialogic understanding of the claims being presented. To put this another way, you have to grok it somehow to be able to translate it at all into another context, even if it’s to critique the claim.

Without the language of experience expressed in the claims of the oppressed, critical theory could not exist. The interpreter of culture permits the subject matter to have its way, without losing a sense of hermeneutic validity. The claim of the text or artwork must be allowed to score its own points, and the interpreter tries to become as conscious as possible about how their own pre-understandings may be obscuring or cloaking their interpretation. Pulling in every kind of approach you can – existential, poetic, etymological, sociological – within and outside the text brings better questions to ask. Empathetic common ground, then interrogation. Gadamer does not go so far. He does reinscribe, so that his welcome is slightly cyborgian.

It is impossible to avoid the historical context; history and understanding proceed onwards and around–together. Gadamer’s reflective moment is in a continual dance with the historical one. Creativity and imagination are born of language that has its home in a particular place. Although Gadamer phenomenologically links authority, prejudice, and tradition, his elucidation of the interaction of these terms attempts to rehabilitate these terms from their negative connotations. Each individual voice–in becoming itself–decides what “authority” means before, through, and as one speaks in language in which we “articulate the experience of the world in so far as we are in agreement.”

The dismantling of barriers to understanding can be accomplished only through language based on hermeneutical experience. Social criticism and more importantly, cultural understanding, would only be supported by full and complete interpretations of key texts through an open (but careful) dialogue with them. Hermeneutic approaches encourage bridges of understanding in our pluralistic society by encouraging the voice of the alien, the voice of a stranger in our strange land, to become in some sense “at home.”

Situating human consciousness is a continuous dialogue that rests on an event of understanding that places the experience and the interpreter/participant within an interstructural world of language. The hermeneutical event is as much an ordeal as a subject for study. Religious thinkers and writers and artists deal with precisely these issues. The interpreter of art, culture, psychology, and religion must seek the self in the alien and become at home there, partaking of another worldview, which in turn informs a changed self, one that has reshaped its presuppositions, in order to begin to translate those claims into the continuing dialogue outside the self. This is the hermeneutical circle. Without a dialogue (language) based on both methodological approaches and grounds and subjects for discussion, no community of scholars could exist.

Careful attention to language is a way to create a keen understanding of this community. Whether it is specialized branch of academic study, or a global community, the group or individual projects possibilities for itself and reshapes its own presuppositions continually. For instance, memory as an idea has an history of its own. The concepts of remembering, forgetting, and recalling were formed in and into traditions of common use, they were not created in a cultural vacuum. Ideas, as expressed in words such as memory, fact, truth, God, and religion have histories which cannot be ignored if the words are to be employed. In addition to the history of ideas, the individual or group who “remembers” has to learn what it means to do so at roughly the same time as he/she/they are actually remembering. If the academic study of religion–in using memory as a tool, supposing facts to be self-evident, asserting truths, and describing previous and current ideas of humanity and God–forget the subject matter at hand in the manipulation of information, then the sometimes-present spirit of technocratic professionalism has played it pretty roughly. Without a sense of the history of ideas as well as the consciousness of historical dialogue, each scholar’s work can only become disconnected and airy, narcissistic and atemporal, leaving out too much of the lived experience and realities that can’t bow down to universal claims.

It is because scholars of religion must themselves wrestle with the “big” questions, (i.e., what it means to be human, how meaning and ultimate concerns are constructed and why) that they can be at all qualified to examine how others did and do so. Imagination and good scholarship, like a good poem, suppose a common ground, that of language as experience. When the history of the reception of ideas and their effects begins to obscure the claim of the idea, it is the scholar’s job to reconstruct what went wrong and present a new interpretation with the integrity appropriate to serious discussion.

The finitude of understanding is never overcome, but students of religion can re-perform or re-tell insights to give them better light. It is an art to learn to take a claim seriously and to restructure your presuppositions based on a recognition of the truth of that claim. It is not an art that is commonly taught, but it is an art indispensable to the study of religion. The opposition inherent in an exploration of the alien, especially as regards the normative claims made in religious texts, requires a way to create bonds that become productive and constructive of new meaning that better “speaks” to an audience that can be very culturally removed from an original text. Hermeneutic understanding does not stipulate the end of imaginative endeavors in the interest of consensus. Rather, it is a way to bring some measure of consensus of meaning into scholarship, despite its ever-incompleteness.

References:

Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method
Paul Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and the Social Sciences

Please, J.K. Rowling, More Stories

Please, J.K. Rowling, More Stories

The current Harry Potter moviefest that I’m enjoying with my son has inspired me to make a request of J.K. Rowling. I love these stores – we’ve read all the books multiple times – because they give me hope. It’s just that simple. They give me hope.

So, I navigated over to her website at http://www.jkrowling.com and – sure, why not? – clicked on the contact link.

The Blair Partnership represents J.K. Rowling internationally and across all media. Please direct any queries to info@theblairpartnership.com and a member of the team will be in touch directly. J.K. Rowling very rarely does interviews or public speaking, and when she does they are usually around a new project or charitable commitment. Please note that she does not undertake fee-paying public speaking engagements. Because of the huge volume of requests coming in, J.K. Rowling also regrets she is unable to…

Yada yada yada. Well, ok, fair enough. I sent the following email, but just in case there isn’t any analysis or reporting of the communications, I’m also posting it here. You never know, maybe they do some version of web analytics, social media harvest, or even a Net Promoter Score (put me in the “I would definitively recommend” bucket).

To Whom it May Concern:

I am aware that the illustrious J.K. Rowling could not possibly respond to the billions of her readers, but I am hoping that you maintain some sort of thematic statistics for her.

If so, may I add to the numbers of those who pray that she considers creating more stories that work at multiple levels for children and adults alike? I pray for very few things.

There are so very few such nourishing narratives that do (or can) burst into our mainstream cultures as they exist today. In the Potter books (and films – one must include the films) human complexity is better grasped in these contexts that show how important existential choices are (whether or not someone has quite enough information, whether or not situations are fair, whether or not you think anything you do will make a difference to yourself or anyone else). The stories allow us to feel (with the very deepest of empathy and intuition) compassion and pity and courage and friendship and trust and even alienation. That they do so with a marvelous reinvention of all the long-standing traditions of literature, fairy tale, and even institutional satire gives incredible depth to the world she crafted and creates the speculative but nuanced expansion of imagination that used to be the basis of all liberal education.

In short, the Potter stories give me hope during what I consider to be rather dark times.

My son Ben (now 12) has grown up with the Potter story. It has given us so many opportunities to discuss life’s issues and mysteries in a common language. I can tell you – definitively – that navigating the terrain of the characters and story have made a significant difference to his own evolving character and intellectual/creative/spiritual development. He understands being true to himself, and the meaning of friendship, and the gifts of love, awareness, grace, support. He has internal reference points for things that are difficult to articulate, but can be recognized. And he doesn’t simplify into simple dualities and sound bites. He learns to ask better questions. Thank you for this gift to my son, and to me, and to all the others, everywhere.

I love the woman of her personal history and of her effects in the world, but please – more stories. The world so desperately needs them.

End of a Friendship

End of a Friendship

I’m rather down today after formally ending a friendship that went all the way back to childhood. Normally, I would feel it was better to simply fade away, but in this case I felt I had to draw a very clear line. After a couple of attempts to try to maintain the friendship despite our deepening differences, there was a online conversation back and forth about a news story that troubled me. The way the comments were framed, the information that had to be ignored to do so, the transparent rhetorical strategy – all of it illustrated a deeply problematic character in her husband. My intuition was screaming alert.

I did some research. In doing so, I came across a truckload of information that made the friendship impossible to continue, and even made me wonder if there had ever really been a friend there at all. Just following the thread of this one person through the maze brought a deeper level of understanding about how certain things are structured right now in this country of ours. I feel like I had a brush with the-opposite-of-greatness. Horrible. It’s not that I didn’t already have some indication that her husband was a bit of a jerk, but I was able to put it off to differences in political opinion and in “I guess you had to be there” allowances – for as long as I didn’t have too many details. As a last gesture of honor toward our shared past, I won’t illustrate with all the links, and funding sources, and results. Over time, I’m sure others will do so, and in ways more effective (I hope) than anything that I could do. History will be the judge.

I have no idea what could have possessed the person I thought I knew to drink the kool-aid on these matters, not only politically but also in terms of some rather basic ethics. I’m bewildered and deeply disappointed. The girl I knew could have chosen any path. What an incredible waste. How could she have sunk so low?

Dear X – This isn’t about the back and forth on the dueling couple, but the responses I saw troubled me in a number of different ways. I’ve had a bad feeling for a while, really ever since I saw your husband disallow you from eating some dish at the reunion. I knew he was a right-wing academic, but I also knew that you guys had supported Y in his music – and figured that he must have another side to him. Yes, we disagree on politics, but our friendship is more important – I let it go.

Until now, I really didn’t understand the level of corruption that was possible to maintain while still claiming an academic position. It would be one thing if the problem were merely a set of political differences, as I thought. Unfortunately what I’m seeing is much, much more than that. It’s amazing what you can find when you have a thread to follow. I wrote about seven pages last night detailing it, but you’re an intelligent woman and I have to conclude that you not only know but also approve.

I actually believe in intellectual integrity, and don’t think that universities should be the location for sham research, paid-for-comment faculty, and political think-tanks – but rather for independent research that is peer-reviewed. I have no idea how you could have married someone who actually specializes in undermining academic integrity and in the distortion of public information, and who is part of the corruption of the political process for private gain (regardless of citizen/consumer rights or protections, regardless of casualties). I’m not just theoretically opposed to the content, but I actually consider this to be unethical – even criminal – behavior, and want nothing to do with it in any way.

I can’t see a way to justify trying to maintain a friendship with someone who obviously participates in – and approves of – all the corrupt practices and money trails I’ve discovered. I hope that at least your chosen path has brought you something that you wanted badly enough to justify it to yourself.

I’ll just remember you as the talented, intelligent and graceful girl I once knew, and grieve for her. Further communications from either of you are not welcome.

Goodbye, X.

So now it’s done, and I feel like it was just the first step in a process of disentanglement for me. Do I have any white sage? I actually feel – somehow – tainted. I know that people change, and that there are always existential choices to be made. I’ve made mistakes myself. Perhaps I’m still making them. I try to have a caring center and to offer compassion to others. But there’s a limit, and this is toxic at a level that I haven’t been this close to before.

I don’t hate my old friend. I don’t even hate her horrible and corrupt husband. But I won’t allow that kind of thing to be part of my life, nor part of my personal set of friends and associates. I can’t live with this knowledge and still call her “friend.”

Corruption and fraud in the cause of greed can succeed for a while, but it will always be discovered and judged, even if it takes a hundred years. Those who participate in it still have to live with the knowledge of the hurt they’ve caused, the casualties of their destructiveness. Deep down, we all know the truth of it. I see the causes, the studies for hire, the interests behind all this. It sickens me.

So long, farewell, Auf wiedersehen… good-bye.

Recent Posts: