Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Identity Politics and the Art of Confession

Matt Bruenig has written a fantastic piece on leftist identitarian politics, who gets to speak, and the pressure to "confesss" when marginalized identities are invisible:
If you want to command ID for yourself on topics related to your invisible identities, there simply is no other way to do it than confess about your life. This is a problem because it puts people like King in really bad situations. It’s also a problem because those who are not willing to hash out their personal life to establish their identities can be locked out of the discourse altogether.
I'm not a "confessor." A quick once-though of my blog and it's pretty apparent where my sympathies lie, but I'm not about to vomit details of my personal life just to credential myself. If this makes people uncomfortable, I'm okay with that. Confessionalism always carries with it an undercurrent of guilt.
ID’s theory of political knowledge is that people who belong to identities that are most proximate to a particular issue have the most knowledge about that issue. It is thus a theory of expertise. It differs from other theories of expertise in the way that it determines what makes someone an expert, but it is similar to those other theories in that it ultimately concludes that those with lesser expertise should defer to those with greater expertise.
This is the foundation on which contemporary activists communities are built, but in recent years it's filtered into the arts in a way that's disconcerting. Who is allowed to created characters of color, trans characters, women. As I mentioned a few months ago, some have even gone as far as to suggest that straight male writers should submit less to give others a chance. The onus should be on producers and editors to seek out work made by POC or queer people, not individual artists.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


  • But are they as bad as Hannah's?
  • Matter of contention: Kanye is not a millennial. Kanye is only a few years younger than I am, which puts him at the ass-end of Generation-X.
  • Speaking of generational nonsense, I always thought Obama was the first X'er president. I mean, we get to claim him, right? But everyone tells me his just a "young baby boomer." Someone who tweets his VP pick and has Jay-Z on his iPod is no boomer. Our next president (before Yeezus) will most certainly be another boomer. Our generation got the shaft. Whatever. We invented Google and stuff. And made heroin fashionable again for a while.
  • Remember when Tom Petty's song "You Don't Know How It Feels" had to be censored because of the line, "Let's get to the point, let's role another joint." Yeah. Now a former teen star can openly profess her love for marijuana (among other things). Don't get me wrong, I love it, but, uh, this is progress?

Monday, August 31, 2015

Quoted: Alice Flaherty on the medicalization of normal traits

A second reason why people fear thinking of problems with creativity as neurobiological problems is that they disapprove of what they see as medical attempts to enhance or pathologize normal traits. This argument, which groups medical treatment of writer's block with Ritalin for rowdy boys and nose for girls depends on the definition of "normal." In this context, normal certainly has nothing to do with actual population averages. For instance, many upper-middle class parents panic if their child performs at the school's average level. They demand every educational resource available to them. That they are eager to enhance their child's normal performance through education, even though they might fear doing so with a pill, shows that a fear of enhancement is to an extent not a fear of manipulating normal traits, but primarily a fear of medical technology. People who have no objection to using education, meditation, exercise, megavitamins, even "herbal"" drugs to enhance normal characteristics are often horrified to take a pill approved by the Food and Drug Administration. -- Alice Flahtery from The Midnight Disease
In the next paragraph, she compared the side-effects of  behavioral work (using an example of an liberal arts student who inadvertently picks up the values of a stockbroker) with the actual physical side-effects from psychotropic medication, which I thought was a little irresponsible and odd. Liver toxicity isn't exactly the same as a sudden interest in Keynesian economics. I appreciate that she did, at least, give a nod to class, and how it factors into what's deemed "normal." I do like this book, and wholeheartedly recommend it for anyone suffering from writer's block. It's quite "thinky" instead of "feely," which I also appreciate. My greatest reservation -- and this goes for any exploration into the link between genius and madness -- is the danger of confusing sickness with talent. Genius may be touched with madness, but the inverse isn't usually true.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

R.I.P. Oliver Sacks

From NY Times:
As a medical doctor and a writer, Dr. Sacks achieved a level of popular renown rare among scientists. More than a million copies of his books are in print in the United States, his work was adapted for film and stage, and he received about 10,000 letters a year. (“I invariably reply to people under 10, over 90 or in prison,” he once said.)
Dr. Sacks variously described his books and essays as case histories, pathographies, clinical tales or “neurological novels.” His subjects included Madeleine J., a blind woman who perceived her hands only as useless “lumps of dough”; Jimmie G., a submarine radio operator whose amnesia stranded him for more than three decades in 1945; and Dr. P. — the man who mistook his wife for a hat — whose brain lost the ability to decipher what his eyes were seeing.
He was 82-years-old.

Saturday, August 29, 2015


  • I'm a moderate when it comes to gun control. Yes, I'm one of those "my family had guns" kind of liberals, but after a shooting like the one that happened in Virginia, liberals and lefties are too quick to jump on gun control as the sole solution, and conveniently ignore the issue when there hasn't been a high-profile shooting. I'm not saying everyone should have absolute access to firearms, no checks, no standards (and there's no reason for civilians to own assault weapons, period), but "keeping the guns away from the crazies!" won't solve gun violence. Mentally ill people are more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators, but I do think we need to talk about men and mental illness, since the link among all theses shootings is men. Men are less likely to seek treatment, and when they do, more likely to present as angry rather than depressed.
  • I have a great Skip Gates quote I want to share but he uses the n-word. Writer brain says post quote in full, no editing, no apologies, and for fuck's sake, no TW. Practical brains says, eh, most people disagree -- at least, most of the people I'm writing for will disagree, but I'm unsure who my audience is anymore. I hate sanitizing a writer's words, particularly one as well-respected as Skip Gates who is, oh yeah, fucking allowed to use that word. And I should be able to quote him properly.
  • Not that anyone should rely on an online test for a diagnosis (of course!), but I took one for ADHD and scored off the charts (which doesn't at all shock me). One of the questions roughly asked, "When you read, do you impatiently skip ahead?" People read books word-for-word, in chapter order? Amazing!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Links & Bits: 8/28/15

Christian students at Duke refuse to read Fun Home because lesbians.

Why we should be wary of stories that link mental illness with creativity

Are more girls now presenting with gender dysphoria than boys?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The left and free speech, redux, redux, redux

Jonathan Chait has written another piece for NY Magazine on the left and free speech. I expect the reaction will be the same as that of his last foray into the speech wars (mumble mumble privileged white guy mumble mumble maybe he has a point). The problem, I think, with the left and its critics -- and he touches on this -- is constructing this as a "free speech" issue when it's not in the legal sense, and that can be used to disprove any argument that says "the left is destroying free speech." It's more overcorrection and a lot of empty signaling.