Digest, 7/10/2021: Make Me New

the eleventh digest post

Let me say upfront that the audio is too low and I need to move the mic closer when I’m recording something in the future. (My brothers don’t seem to complain about my volume when we game.) I feel like there’s a slight sync issue? But this is probably an issue with the Logitech capture software I’m using, not my hardware. The curtain will help a lot. Never let it be said that I don’t listen to my readers.

This Week’s Posts

Monday, 7/5/2021 - A Materialist Alternative to Antiracism

Here I articulate my great dissatisfaction with the current state of America’s “conversation about race,” in particular its relentless focus on the emotional, linguistic, and symbolic to the detriment of the material, the concrete, the real. I am much, much more interested in putting money in the pockets of Black people than I am in trying to make all white people nice to them.

Wednesday, 7/7/2021 - Stop Debating Definition

I would like it very much if people spent less time insisting that a particular argument is the wrong argument and more time proving that an argument is wrong - that is, I think our debates would be a lot more constructive if people didn’t spend so much time saying some version of “this is the illegitimate version of this argument, the argument is actually defined in a different way, and you can only debate according to that other definition.” For what it’s worth, Carl Beijer disagrees.

Thursday, 7/8/2021 - Max Isn’t Marginalized, Matriarchy Isn’t Feminist

Mad Max: Fury Road is a great film, and like so many others it has inspired a whole cottage industry of bad takes on the internet. In particular, there is a widespread claim that Max is “replaced” by Furiosa in this film, that he is unimportant in his own movie and that his heroic tasks are taken by his female counterpart. In this post I articulate why this is bullshit in plot terms and deeply wrongheaded in terms of theme. For those who complain about the pop culture posts and say they want more substance - this post is substance. It’s just a particular way to engage with substance, in particular my affection for an old-school vision of diversity that serves unity rather than the other way around.

Friday, 7/9/2021 - Things I Read

That’s “read,” past tense, although perhaps it’s cooler if it’s ambiguous. This is a list of things that I’ve read that have influenced me, have meant something to me. It’s an excuse to write about reading, one of the true joys in my life, and the few people who read it seem to have loved it.

From the Archives

Here’s my piece “Good Wars, Real or Imagined” for Jacobin, I think from 2016. The contemporary issue I was considering was the American intervention in Libya against the Qaddafi government, which I think is a problematically forgotten misadventure. Pushed for, of course, by Samantha Power, this intervention was sold as a lifesaving measure, as they all are. But post-Qaddafi Libya is not a liberal democratic state of the type that Barack Obama and his crew must have been hoping for. Instead it’s a hive of slavery, civil war, Islamic extremism, and racism against sub-Saharan Africans. Who could have predicted, in 2011, that a military intervention against dictatorship and for humanitarian causes could instead result in chaos and violence! I go on in the piece to discuss everyone’s hypothetical intervention, the one we didn’t undertake, to stop genocide in Rwanda. The problem with the standard story is that it always presumes we could have stopped genocide in Rwanda when we wanted to. But one of the explicit war aims of the 2003 Iraq invasion was to keep the peace, we had 150,000 troops in the country at one point, and yet Iraqis died by the hundreds of thousands nevertheless. Because good intentions don’t ensure good outcomes. They never have.

Song of the Week

My very favorite New Order song, and not one I see mentioned very often.

Substack of the Week

Spiritual Soap by Salomé Sibonex

I confess that I don’t quite know what Spiritual Soap is, really. Nor can I easily categorize its creator, Salomé Sibonex. And I can’t say that she’d appreciate my politics if she was aware of them. But I really do enjoy her newsletter, precisely because it’s so uncategorizable and strange. (Her About section identifies a potential reader by saying “You enjoy complexity, nuance, messy parts and messy sums, too,” which I certainly do.) Here’s an example of something that’s a little more straightforward:

The disdain America draws for its crass and brash culture isn’t new. For most of its history, an innate distrust of the man who could do nothing with his hands but only with his words was closely tied to a distrust of the very class of people early Americans fled.

Yet today, that upper class whose hands are never dirtied are home-grown.

In other words, American celebration of the working man - and, less rosily, American anti-intellectualism - stems in part from our origins in an anti-aristocratic revolution, but as time has passed and we have left behind much of that lingering concern with dynastic elitism, we have replaced the old masters with new ones that draw their privilege from education, affluence, and the correct liberal morals.

She continues

Anti-intellectualism is one of those sneaky, shape-shifting rhetorical devices that can be called upon to tarnish any opponent. The term is used so broadly and in such bad faith that the accusation itself is meaningless mud-throwing.

Yet, one truth that comes out of the history of anti-intellectualism doesn’t take a college degree to see:

Obstructing and condemning the free pursuit of truth and the exchange of ideas is the only definition of anti-intellectualism that remains constant across time and politics.

Obviously, this is speaking my language, though with Sibonex I’m never quite sure if I agree with her on the whole or if I’m just taken by her verve. Here’s something a little more opaque and quite fun, on statelessness, which epitomizes what I like about the project - it’s aphoristic and expressed in an imperative and unrelenting style and draws out interesting facets of well-worn territory. I think the whole think is well worth
checking out.

Book Recommendation

The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro, 2015

This is another of my “why isn’t this widely considered a classic?” picks. An achingly poignant portrayal of aging love, generational loss, and our universal vulnerability to the fickleness of memory. Some find the book’s protagonists annoyingly naïve, but I find them a convincing and affecting portrayal of old age and all it costs us. The central adventure story is compelling enough - the ancient Arthurian knight is a highlight for me - and while I don’t know enough about the Saxons and the Normans for the genocide theme to resonate with me, ultimately for me it mainly sets the table for a mature and bittersweet exploration of how the past recedes away from us relentlessly despite our greatest efforts to remember. As someone whose medication creates serious memory and other cognitive problems, it’s especially touching; everything I experience these days feels like grains of sands slipping constantly through my fingers. And god, those last few pages….

Also, there’s a goddamn dragon. Can’t argue with that.

Comment of the Week

Saramago was the child of a landless peasant who became a reader at the public library. And a mechanic. And he won the Nobel Prize. - Kathleen McCook

That’s a wrap for the week! Post on how to write reviews coming next week, I promise this time.