Sunday, December 14, 2014

Quitting Tobacco: The Risks

Sorry, Jack, not today . . . SOB SOB . . .

I’ve been smoking cigars since about 2000. Finally this week I decided to quit. Cold turkey. Today is my third day smoke free, and boy does it suck. How do people live this way?

It’s like I’m walking around with my head inside a kind of echoing glass bubble, I can’t concentrate on anything, there’s a floating rage coursing through me, and it seems like I’ve lost about a third of my IQ.

Now I know what it must feel like to be a Republican.

Christ, I hope I make it. But really--is it worth it?

Eric Mader

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Personal Manifesto


If our future is to be anything but a nightmare of war and despotism, we must put the genie of unregulated capitalism back in its bottle. And we must clamp the lid down tight. Given the grim facts on the ground, appeals to neoliberal theory (that the “free market” will somehow ultimately provide solutions) are not only misguided but suicidal.

The neoliberal capitalism which now holds sway is rapidly eroding our environment, and without a moderately stable natural environment, civilization is impossible. These facts are irrefutable; they are backed up by the community of scientists and by political thinkers alike.

The future to be hoped for is one in which certain liberties are upheld (cultural, religious, political) but others are seriously curtailed: 1) economic liberty, 2) the “liberty” of global free trade. Regarding the first, the individual’s right to own and manage property and capital is essential; even so, a responsible order will establish clear and enforced limits to the amounts of capital individuals may accumulate and control. For instance, in a sane and just social order it would be unthinkable that any individual could have a net worth thousands of times that of the average citizen. Rather than thousands of times, the number should be perhaps 27 times, or 17 times (the optimal ratio needed to maintain healthy competition while also maintaining a healthy democratic order would of course be subject to debate). Regarding global trade, it must be more rigorously regulated, if only because global business has no government to watch over it and thus is never answerable to citizens’ needs. “Free trade” is now just a euphemism for corporate predation in both developed and developing countries--those not part of the 1% are the prey.

If we are to avert the oligarchic dystopia we’re now sliding into, my generation and those younger will need to force the current capitalism off the throne. The markets will be there to serve the people, rather than people existing as raw material to be ground up in unchecked markets. I envision a social order strict in certain economic and environmental regulations, but promoting liberty in other areas. It is obviously possible; there is no inherent reason free speech and freedom of religion need coincide with unregulated capitalism.

Whether this order is brought about through reform or revolution, I personally would promote nonviolent political action as the most effective. Much can be learned from Marx and the rich tradition of interpretation of capitalism he gave rise to, much can be learned from Gandhi; personally I learn the most from the Christian tradition--still, as a Christian, I see no reason not to struggle along with those who are non-Christian or atheist. We’ve a political job to do here, and can respect our differences while working together.

In any case, the current order must go. It is utterly unsustainable; we will have no future as a civil society if we continue with it. It is also unjust to most of the people who currently labor to keep it standing (many of whom, of course, are not even citizens with us in our own nation).

A rough pathway forward is clear and has been for some time. If this is my “personal manifesto”, it is such in the sense that I commit to supporting and engaging in efforts toward the goals laid out. Without being a full-time activist, I must strategically decide where my efforts toward these ends will be made, and make some commitment of time, energy and resources. The problem for many of us is that we see the problems, we "weigh in" on the Internet in one form or another, we vote (for what that's worth), but we don't finally come around to much in the way of concrete action toward social change, or even in the way of concrete support for activists fighting directly. This personal manifesto is, then, a statement of a basic position, and a statement of commitment myself to choose more concrete ways to engage.

Eric Mader

David Graeber speaks in a recent debate “Is Capitalism Part of the Answer?” (next to Graeber is debate facilitator, Amiri Bhohi):


Sunday, November 30, 2014

In the Country of the Erics



Saturday students: Frances, Shawn, Anthony, Yoyo.

The following historical chronicle is being written by my student Shawn (莊崴翔). Shawn is a junior high school student here in Taipei, and English is a second language for him. I’d say he’s got a pretty good narrative flare and a good sense of snark besides. I’ve edited a little and provided some transitions and tweaks, but in general this is Shawn’s writing.

It’s now Sunday evening in Taipei. An hour ago, I woke from a nap and had a big cup of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee to get my wits about me. Then I decided to type out these chapters that Shawn had written and post them here, in hopes he will continue. Because I want to learn as much as I can about my people’s history.


Eric Mader

I.

In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, there is a large volcanic island about the size of Japan. With the clear water around the island, and the beautiful coral under the sea, the island would be one of the most amazing sights on earth, if we could visit it. But this island does not appear on any maps. Long ago world leaders agreed to keep it a secret.

In the 16th century, Captain Ericano Erannielcoric discovered the island. Soon he brought most of the Erics scattered over the world to live there. Thanks to Captain Erannielcoric, the dream of the Erics was fulfilled. The Country of the Erics was finally established.

Unfortunately, after the Captain died, the next king, Ericano Erannielcoric, Jr., stopped the country from communicating with the outside world. He threatened any countries that wanted to visit the island with a terrible vengeance: “We will send Erics to you.” It is for this reason that world leaders, to protect their own nations, agreed to erase the island from all maps.

The Country of the Erics is plentiful in natural resources, so that millions of people could live there. But after the centuries since its founding, still only Erics live in the country. People around the world have forgotten the island and the strange country founded of course.

People in the country of the Erics are all equal of course. That's because they’re all the same. With curly hair and fat bellies, which they swell out by drinking large quantities of coffee, the Erics have a population of millions, though exactly how many is unknown. First brought by Captain Erannielcoric, coffee plants are grown throughout the island. The Erics consider the coffee plant holy, and there are various important rituals they celebrate around it.

Even if the Country of the Erics sounds like a peaceful place, blood will soon flow over the land. The Erics will fight. With the hairy corpses left beside roads, the golden time of the country will never return.

II.

The COE’s trouble began with King Eric XXVII, who still rules the island today. How this king attained the throne and became such a hated ruler is told in the Story of the Glowing Crow. Collected by scholars in central Asia, the story is originally in the Uzbek language. It is translated here:
Long long ago there was a magical tree. It grew Magic. People around the world learned of the tree and went on journeys to find it. The search for the tree led to rumors and wars.

When the crow saw the tree, it decided to try to hide it so it could keep the magic to itself. The greedy crow disguised the tree with many other kinds of branches and learned the tree's magic powers. It got the power to defeat death and it acquired such magic that its feathers began to glow. Each feather could save a life.

Hundreds of years passed and the crow was still alive. One day an asshole discovered the glowing crow and learned something of its powers. The asshole tricked the crow and caught it. Knowing the feathers could save lives, he started to pluck them so that he could sell them.

Like all assholes, this asshole wanted to become rich.

But at the market nobody believed him. How could he prove that the feathers could save lives? Finally, as he was deciding to give up and try elsewhere, an Eric showed up.

In the Country of the Erics, where everyone is an Eric, it isn't easy to be king. Any Eric can easily overthrow the Eric on the throne because he is exactly the same. However, being the oldest of the Erics, looking much older and wiser than others, might make holding the throne easier. So Eric killed the asshole and took the crow.

Many years passed. The elder Eric, called Eric XXVII, was on the throne and the glowing crow had become the emblem of the Country of the Erics. Aging and weak, but impossible to kill, King Eric had become a total asshole. All the Erics wanted a new king, but they had no idea how to get rid of their current king because he had the power of eternal life. They didn't know the secret of the glowing crow.

And all this happened because of the greedy crow, the greedy asshole, and the natural greed of Erics.
This story, while providing information about King Eric XXVII, is also seen as evidence that Erics occasionally leave the Country of the Erics to visit other countries. For what purpose, no one knows.

III. A chapter from a history of the struggle against the evil King Eric XXVII:

“Eric!” Eric cried out. “Don’t do it!”

“You can’t stop me,” Eric said. “I’m going to kill Eric. I’ve already made up my mind. It’s for the country, for all the Erics who live under this hateful oppression.”

“But it is hopeless!” Eric said. “You’ll never succeed!”

“How has he been king for 117 years?” Eric replied. “How is it possible? I’m going to kill him and then we can build a republic.”

The cold wind blew over the darkness of the countryside. Eric disappeared into the shadows of the forest. Eric stood alone now. He’d just lost his best friend, Eric. What could he do next?

He heard someone standing behind him.

“Let him go, Eric,” the voice said. “You should trust him.”

“But . . . Eric, you know how many assassination attempts there have been. It’s hopeless! He’ll die like the others. We must stop him!”

“His mind is made up,” Eric said. “And if he doesn’t make it, he may still succeed in death. You know he is one of the most respected Erics among us. If he is killed, all the Erics will take up their weapons in revenge. . . . But now we need to rest. Tomorrow will be a day we’ll never forget.”
* * *

The sun rose over a turquoise sea. Another day was beginning in the island country. But now everything was different. The country had changed forever in the course the night.

“He’s dead,” said Eric, dropping the newspaper to the floor. His voice was full of sorrow. Eric looked at Eric. They both knew in that moment what they must do.



A page of Shawn's MS.


Friday, November 28, 2014

Post Office


住在台灣的外國人每天都要面對這種小誤會。我在郵局。一位小姐在幫我約我想寄出的包裹。

「裡面是什麼?」她問。

「書。」

「你要掛號嗎?」

「不用。」

「$273。你要報帳嗎?」

我沒聽清楚。她講話太小聲。

「我要爆炸嗎?」我問。「不要,謝謝。」

她開始笑。她的同事也大笑。

「我知道我的鼻子有點阿拉伯人的樣子」我正色地說。「可是我是天主教徒,而不是伊斯蘭教徒。」我想戲弄她一下。

「不是!不是你的鼻子,先生!」她說。「我沒有說爆炸,我說的是報帳:你要不要報帳?」

「喔。報帳嗎?也不用,謝謝。」

郵局裡的人都在笑。

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Laura Kipnis and the Feminist Mainstream



Hanna Rosin interviewing Laura Kipnis for Slate. Well said, Laura:

Do you think there’s a different direction feminism should be taking?

I tend to feel pretty distant from what people call feminism at the moment. It’s often about the moral high grounding of men, and that often means taking fairly conservative positions and not going for the radical politics. The most radical thing anyone could do now in terms of feminism is insisting on child care as a social entitlement. But instead we hear a lot about how men shouldn’t be allowed to use the word “boobs” in public.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Shirtstorm: Will American Feminist Hypocrisy Never End?



I’ve now read through much of the initial feminist commentary on the zany shirt Prof. Matt Taylor wore during the live stream of the Philae landing. I now understand why these women see the shirt as a major news story, and after reading their pieces, I’m ready to offer some new figures.

American feminists deserve to be ignored about 78% of the time. The number was 70% just a decade ago, so you see the trend.

I didn’t always rate the feminist movement this way. In terms of the feminism that insists women are equally capable to men and should be equally represented in companies, government, universities, etc., I’m still totally on board. But as for the newer feminism, or this neo-feminism, that focuses on the sexual politics of everyday life, I am like many people: I see little there beyond a deep and infantile hypocrisy.

Feminists have somehow come to insist that women can be sex goddesses and revel in their sexuality--they regularly champion those who are aggressively sexy--then in the next breath scream against men who react to them as sexy. (Well, not always: If it’s an unwanted man who shows some interest, that’s called “objectification”--“He’s a pig,” etc. But if it’s a guy they judge hot, then it’s not objectification, but “flirting”.)

Such feminism is a shallow hypocrisy, and should be called out as such. Those women who subscribe to it refuse to recognize that they can’t have it both ways: namely, they can’t both "celebrate" their sexuality in the public arena and then not be recognized as sexy when they'd prefer not to be. Because the public arena is just that: a public space, where people mix and intermingle in relative freedom.

For decades now, these women, in their writing and speaking and everyday behavior, have sought to impose an absurd double standard on those around them: "Notice me; worship me; don’t notice me--what are you looking at?” all at the same time. They are like a little girl at a birthday party who, when she is told she can have cake or ice cream, says she wants both, then cries and ruins the party because in fact she can’t have both.

As for Matt Taylor’s shirt, the irony is that the supposedly “objectifying” images on it are images of female sexual power that these very same feminists would celebrate--were they in a mood for celebration. But instead, since they see the shirt’s being worn by a bearded scientist, it suddenly becomes an offense more newsworthy than the scientific history Prof. Taylor just helped make.

Never mind that the shirt was designed by a woman friend of Taylor’s--such details aren’t likely to slow down these women when they're feeling righteous and have a portly male in their sights.

In fact such feminists have very nearly succeeded in making feminism a bad word through their endless pettiness and hypocritical posturing. The movement used to focus on substantial issues of women's equality, but somehow, beginning in the 1990s, we watched it devolve into a sort of non-stop tirade conducted by a clique of largely privileged Women's Studies grads who apparently could find nothing better to do than discover new ways men were offending them.

For years, the main conceptual tool wielded by these women has been "objectification"--which they now apply selectively to any kind of sexual attention that doesn't arise from their own deified personal libidos. If something turns them on, it's cool or liberating. If the same kind of thing appears, say, on the shirt of an overweight man like Matt Taylor, suddenly it's "objectifying women". Which means what exactly?

The concept of objectification is itself nearly useless. Why? Because every human in love or in normal social interaction shifts constantly between objectifying others and respecting/interacting with them as persons--indeed often with the very same person in the course of the same get-together. This comes with the fact that we are sexual beings; it is not something that will ever disappear as long as we are human.

And so: a man admires a woman’s legs from across the room, but then admires her wit and passion as they talk; then later, again, he’s looking at her legs; then they talk more, and he’s back to thinking about her character and ideas. Though in this way she has been "objectified" several times, his respect for her hasn't suffered because of it. She may in fact end up being someone he respects more than anyone else he knows. And of course women are also constantly doing the same thing: appreciating men’s physical charms without thinking any less of them; ogling men's abs and making sly comments barely out of earshot--without necessarily thinking the man is therefore just an object.

Yes, some of the sharper feminist theorists have tried to define the parameters of objectification more carefully, but even among them there are those who recognize the concept is inevitably subjective or undefinable. And that is precisely how it comes to be used by the thousands of card-carrying feminists who spend their time in a fury against the male gaze. They use it simply as a pseudo-theoretical slur to throw at anything they don't like (cf., again, men they don't find cool or sexy). This is why the whole concept “objectification”, as a basis for criticism of the desiring gaze, should have been junked years ago. In itself the term has virtually no conceptual meaning.

I could go on, about women's representation in the media (usually their own self-representation therein) but I think these are different topics. The key words here are "narcissism" and "childishness" and “hypocrisy”. As Glenn Harlan Reynolds wrote in a USA Today column, some women watching the science event unfold on their screens were apparently “overcome by the desire to feel important and powerful at others' expense”:

Thus, what should have been the greatest day in a man's life--accomplishing something never before done in the history of humanity--was instead derailed by people with their own axes to grind. As Chloe Price observed: “Imagine the . . . storm if the scientist had been a woman and everyone focused solely on her clothes and not her achievements."

The best thing intelligent women could do for the feminist movement is spend some time, as women, attacking the shrill "feminists" who regularly claim to speak for them in the press. They should attack those who made a big deal out of Matt Taylor’s shirt; those who think "objectification" is a useful concept and who use it almost to the exclusion of all other concepts; those who've managed to make feminism almost a dirty word through their nonstop shrill posturing.

I wish I were part of a society where I felt I could be proud to support most of the self-identified feminists around me. But it looks like I’ll have to wait. As long as the movement continues to demand both cake and ice cream, it shouldn’t be surprised if people consider it childish and irrelevant.

Eric Mader

Added 11/23:

Among the many feminist pieces online responding to Taylor's shirt, Nikita Ramkissoon's piece at Thought Leader provided a casebook example of the kind of thinking "objectification" theory leads to. I recommend reading it. As the reply I tried to post there at first didn't get posted, then got cut in half, I'll offer it here--for the record as it were:

If we reduce it to its basic premises, the argument you make here, Nikita, runs as follows:

1) Men in our society “own” women, so men’s attention to women’s beauty or sexuality is always an attempt to further consolidate this ownership and is thus always a matter of objectification.

2) Women in our society don’t own men, so women’s attention to male beauty or sexuality is never objectification, but rather a kind of worship of or awe at masculine power.

Really I don’t know what is more striking about this argument: the sheer obviousness of the double-standard or the fact that many so-called feminists still think such biased claims are worthy of any respect.

First, a few simple questions: Who showed you (or your feminist sisters) what is happening in men’s heads when they look at women? Human sexuality, after all, is a complicated phenomenon, with many levels. How would you know anything about the various levels or elements that make up male sexuality? How do you presume to define my sexuality, and that of other men, so precisely? Please show me your sources, if you have any, besides other feminist writers who’ve now been repeating this same worn-out urban legend for decades.

But second, and more importantly, the only even tentative logic your argument holds is based on your first premise, which is easily disproved: namely, your claim that men in modern societies “own” women.

I’m sorry, but I personally have never met a man who owns any women. As far as I can tell, there is no one around me who knows of such an institution either. As a modern Westerner, I see all the time how women are free to walk out on these men who supposedly “own” them. It’s called breaking up. And in such cases, if the man were to try to force her to remain under his “ownership”, that would be a crime and our justice system has statutes to deal with it.

So what society exactly do you live in? If you live a modern Western society as I do, the level of malice and possessiveness you project into the heads of men like me is simply offensive--those men you somehow imagine “own” you or are trying to own you. Or have I misunderstood your argument? Because to me it looks no more respectable as argument than it would be to claim that, say, “Black men are inherently violent” or “Jews will always try to cheat you.” Nobody who tried to foist off these kinds of unfounded racist generalizations would get a second hearing. Because such claims are not critical discourse, but merely bigotry. Yet this is just the kind of prejudiced assertion you’re promoting. This is the intellectual company you belong with. Like antisemitism or other forms of racist theory, your discourse is offensive starting from its very founding premises.

You write that: “We cannot lay back and make feminism comfortable for you. We refuse to work within your paradigm, because it’s your paradigm that is doing the oppressing.”

Okaaaay. Frankly, Nikita, I don’t care if you make it “comfortable” for me or not. I’m personally not interested in getting closer to people who themselves are comfortable living a prejudice that is nearly sociopathic in its extremity. But forget about me. Think of the women around you. The least you could do, for them, some of whom have posted comments here, is to make “feminism” a bit more respectable in terms of its intellectual rigor. Because at present, your discourse is shabby, offensive, and bankrupt.

Yes, there is still serious gender inequality in many world cultures, including Western ones, so I would think that you, as a feminist, would recognize the work that needs to be done. Why not begin by throwing out this transparently two-faced discourse of “objectification” and finding a different tack? Sure, it may not be as sexy or exciting as the man-hating mythology you currently spout, but it will almost certainly bear more fruit. After all, evidence suggests that even most Western women are getting tired of the spiel you currently have on offer.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

If You Ask Me

If you ask me, he looked a little bit shady. If you ask me, he’s getting balder. If you ask me, he knows they are not serious. If you ask me, he’s angling for some major gig in Hillary’s future administration. If you ask me, he is scared of your reaction when he tells you that he loves you or probably at least likes you. If you ask me, he’s a nasty sadistic git. If you ask me, he says he’s a tree surgeon but I don’t like the sound of it. If you ask me, he’s playing for something much grander. If you ask me, he’s been nothing but trouble since he got here. If you ask me, he’s simply reaching for a convoluted excuse to skirt the law. If you ask me, he’s not what you might call an expert on love. If you ask me, he’s ready to destroy pussy. If you ask me, it’s like that ad they have on TV. If you ask me, he was too protective of Theresa. If you ask me, he aha te mea. If you ask me, he’d be doing this team a favor. If you ask me, he has an overdeveloped sense of entitlement. If you ask me, he was drunk. If you ask me, he’s one step away from pushing a baby carriage filled with tin cans down the street. If you ask me, he has a rather extraordinary eye for visually embodying key aspects of projects just like yours. If you ask me, he went above and beyond his duties. If you ask me, he doesn’t sound any too pleased. If you ask me, he’s hardly better than a common criminal. If you ask me, he was right. Hakunamagata says so. If you ask me, he was the one who was nervous, not you. If you ask me, he’s just one example of the deep problems with that book, and indeed with Reynolds’s writing generally.

Cf.also Things She Took.