Category Archives: Undead sexist cliches

Undead Sexist Cliche: Men have to compete for mates, women just sit on their butts

The purpose of many Undead Sexist Cliches is to explain that male dominance isn’t in any way shape or form the result of sexism. It’s just that women want to make babies, not careers. Or that statistics prove the best in any field are men, therefore it’s logical to assume that male job candidates are the superior ones (it isn’t. I’ll come back to this cliche at some point). Or our genes haven’t advanced since the Paleolithic Age so we’re stuck with the same gender dynamics as our prehistoric ancestors (here’s an example of that kind of reasoning).

Marlene Zuk calls this a paleofantasy, speculations about Stone Age life when we know absolutely nothing about how our ancestors mated. Stephen Jay Gould has labeled similar tales Just So Stories, made up fantasies about how the world we see is perfectly natural. One such example is the idea men dominate because they’re more competitive. Why are they more competitive? Because evolution made them that way. Men won mates by aggressively competing to outperform other men and thereby impress women. Women had no need to compete: they could simply sit passively and wait for a superior male to offer them some mammoth meat.

Dr. Roy Baumeister, for instance, argues that “men much more than the women had to stand out and fight their way to the top, had to dominate some hierarchy.” Mating favored superior men willing to take great risks for great gains, so natural selection made competitiveness “more deeply rooted in the male than in the female psyche.” Pundit John Tierney has similarly claimed that “women don’t get as big a reproductive payoff by reaching the top.” Scientist RD Alexander similarly concluded from his research that women’s best reproductive strategy is to play it safe while men need “a higher risk, higher stakes adventure” (Cordelia Fine points out the flaws in this in her Testosterone Rex).

This argument is full of holes. If women played it safe, they wouldn’t have babies: it’s a high-risk endeavor that was frequently fatal in the centuries before modern medicine (and the U.S. is still number one in maternal mortality). Risk-taking isn’t the only path for men to attract mates: agriculture is low-risk compared to hunting or war, but farmers marry and produce children. There’s also the problem that unless the risk-taking gene is entirely sex-linked, daughters would inherit it too, just like sons would inherit mom’s Play It Safe chromosomes.

Another problem is that where most Just So Stories explain the world around us, this cliche imagines a world that’s nothing like reality. Women aren’t at all passive about finding love; they’re as active and aggressive in mate selection as men. It’s not as obvious because for much of my life social codes dictated that men make the first move. Women had to compete subtly, using ploys to get the man to ask her out, or “put themselves out there” where suitable guys could potentially spot them. They compete by looking good for men; just as men can use looks, wealth and status to impress a potential mate, women can use clothes, makeup and money to serve the same purpose.

Unlike a lot of species, both men and women make active mate selection. This shouldn’t be surprising because passivity in relationships is a bad strategy. Sitting and waiting doesn’t work if nobody shows up; accepting the first marriage/date offer you get may not work out well. Bad marriages can have lifelong negative consequences; actively hunting for a good partner makes good sense. As TYG says, if men weren’t selective, wouldn’t that make them the inferior sex? Who do we respect more, the college that takes only the top students or the l0w-ranked school that will admit anyone?


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Republicans hate Democrats voting even more than they love corporations?

The Republican stop-people-voting bill in Georgia is very bad. And despite Republican lies, it does indeed ban providing food or water to anyone standing in line to vote. Florida’s now imitating Georgia. I’m sure they won’t be the last Republican-led state to do so.

The remarkable thing is, they’re so committed to voter suppression they’re even turning on corporate America. Mitch McConnell’s suddenly decided corporations should stay out of politics. An interesting take for someone who supports Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that puts unlimited corporate money into play; Moscow Mitch is fine with corporations intervening in politics, just not when it clashes with his agenda. Accirdubg to the new right-wing buzzword the issue is corporate communism which apparently means “a corporation did something I don’t like!” Which is pretty much all communism means to these guys. But they’re all in on outrage of Major League Baseball pulling the All-Star game out of Atlanta: Texas Governor Abbott is refusing to throw out the first ball at the year’s first Rangers game and SC Rep. Jeff Duncan says if Major League Baseball pressures Georgia over its anti-voting bill, the Party will take away baseball’s antitrust exemption. Funny, that’s pretty much how the Communist Party ran the USSR: if you want your business to flourish, don’t piss off the party. It’s always projection with Republicans.

Fox News’ Kat Timpf is shocked that liberals have puritanical objections to Rep. Matt Gaetz allegedly committing statutory rape. I wonder what she thinks of Gaetz, when he was in the Florida legislature, playing a game of seducing women for points. Jonah Goldberg weighs in and gratuitously insults a woman he saw with Gaetz as a slut. The Washington Post points out that contrary to Gaetz’ statement his travel records prove his innocence there’s no way to do that. Oh, and would you believe Gaet fought against a revenge-porn ban when he was in the Florida legislature? And that he allegedly sought a blanket pre-emptive pardon from Trump for unspecified acts.

The judge in the Alex “Sandy Hook is a false flag” Jones defamation case sanctioned him a couple of years ago. The Supreme Court turned down Jones’ appeal. They also killed the suit over Trump’s right to block people on Twitter as moot — but Clarence Thomas threw in that Twitter, FB etc. should not be allowed to moderate content. I’m sure if Thomas ever gets his way he’ll next discover a constitutional exception for banning liberals from the Internet.

I am, however, sympathetic to Neil Gorsuch’s argument that employees’ religious rights deserve greater protection.

The Supreme Court also ruled for Google and against Oracle in a lawsuit over Google allegedly infringing Oracle’s Java copyright. Judging from this Twitter thread, it’s a fair use issue. The judges have also weighed in on a Kentucky abortion case though I’m unclear about the significance.

Mississippi pastor Shane Vaughn complains South Africa worked great until black kids started going to college — because of George Soros! So, both racist and anti-semitic.

Arkansas just made it legal for medical workers to refuse non-emergency treatment if they have moral objections to treating someone. This will not go well. And while the governor vetoed an anti-trans bill the legislature overrode him. And Montana’s governor is expected to sign a bill that gives anyone — including corporations — a right to discriminate if non-discrimination violates their religious beliefs. Misssippi’s governor is simply a liar, claiming the deficits under Trump were not because of tax cuts. Montana Senator Steve Daines insists he is totally not being racist when he says the reason Montana has a meth problem is that it’s Mexican meth.

North Carolina’s anti-trans bill includes a statement that “would also compel state employees to immediately notify parents in writing if their child displays “gender nonconformity” or expresses a desire to be treated in a way that is incompatible with the gender they were assigned at birth.” That sounds like an excuse to pick on gays or straight cis-kids who don’t conform to gender stereotypes. This is, after all, the state where the anti-trans bathroom bill led to cops hassling cis-women in women’s restrooms because they didn’t look feminine enough.

When Trump solicited campaign donations from his supporters last year, the fine print made the donations monthly.

These days academia is run like a business: less money for employees, lots for top administrators.

One of the Sedition Day traitors later allegedly said he wants to lynch the black cop who shot Ashli Babbitt on 1/6.

A Korean-American Republican insists if she says racist crap about China it’s totally not racist as she’s Asian too. And she’s suing the Texas Tribune for defamation for writing about it.

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Filed under copyright, economics, Politics, Undead sexist cliches

Some undead sexist links

“Consent – agreement to sex – should not be conflated with sexual desire, enjoyment or enthusiasm; not because we should be resigned to bad sex, but precisely because we should not be.

Online harassment of women journalists is increasingly vicious. Tucker Carlson thinks they should just shut up about it.

“The Met police warned women in Clapham not to go out alone, following the disappearance of Everard, but of course that places the blame on women, on those of us who are just trying to get from one place to another, especially when the person who is the main suspect is a cop.”

Biden is looking to unmake the Trump administration’s rules for handling sexual assault on campus.

“Several women told The Post the network was part of a larger culture in golf that sidelines women. That included multiple instances of women not being allowed in certain areas of private golf clubs with their male colleagues during shoots because club rules restricted where women could go. (Hughes said Golf Channel raised concerns with the clubs when the issue was brought to them.” — from a WaPo article about Golf Channel sexism.

The Family Research Council and other right-wing groups say they object to reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act because it includes transwomen. They’ve opposed it long before that was an issue.

Women have already experienced the damage deepfake photos can wreak.

In Ethiopia’s Tigray region, rape has become a weapon of war.

Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy says we shouldn’t assume the Atlanta shooter was mentally ill: maybe Asian women just turned him on too much. Which seems to fall into the tradition of “women made him do it” victim blaming.

How NCAA makes it look like women’s basketball loses money.

I take great delight that a group Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene blocked on Twitter won a court case against her, and will donate the settlement money to gun-law reform groups. That said, for all the hate she dishes out, she does not deserve death threats, threats against her children or gendered insults flung her way, no matter how horrible she is.

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The Kraken squeals like a stuck pig (and other links)

The Dominion voting-machine company has sued Sidney “the Kraken” Powell for accusing them of fraud. Powell protests that no reasonable person would take her statements seriously. Powell’s tortuous logic is that she wasn’t actually accusing, simply describing her court case, so totally different. The Georgia secretary of state gives Powell a sick burn.

While Powell and Trump’s other lawyers lost their various lawsuits, Mr. MyPillow and other activists are hoping to overturn Arizona’s Biden win. And the Georgia House just passed a bill making it easier to cheat next time: The legislature can appoint most of the state elections board and the board can take over from “underperforming” county boards. Yes, no way that could be abused (I’m sure if the Dems ever win a majority in the state legislature, there’ll be a lame duck session to change things back). And contrary to Ari Fleischer’s lies, the law does prevent providing water and food to anyone in line to vote. A Georgia Democrat vents.

The funny thing is, last year proved Republicans can do well even when voter turnout is high, but they still want fewer voters. One blogger suggests it’s not that they’re afraid, they simply see no reason not to cheat. In a relevant WaPo article, a Latino man discusses why so many Latinos (much fewer Latinos) voted Trump.

Oh, and when Governor Kemp signed the Georgia bill, state police arrested a black Democratic legislator for knocking on his door during the signing. Yet we have pundits arguing that Democrats expanding the vote is just the same as Republicans repressing it.

Rep. Madison Cawthorn condemned Biden for worrying about immigrants instead of homeless veterans. But the COVID relief bill includes help for veterans; Cawthron refused to vote for it.

Speaking of mental illness, a guy in Texas stops an (unarmed) National Guard COVID transport convoy and searches it at gunpoint for a kidnapped women. The cops later manage to take him into custody without shooting him (yes, he’s white). But that weirdness pales compared to the guy who claims he’s copyrighted Canada’s banking system.

Remember when right-wingers said government should be run like a business? As head of the Postal Service, Louis DeJoy thinks that means cutting hours, increasing prices and slowing delivery. Democrats in Congress are pushing back — though I will say DeJoy ending the requirement the USPS fund retirement benefits now for the next fifty years is part of his plan I hope goes through.

A black bakery salesclerk refused to serve a woman unless she wore a mask. So the customer drops the n-bomb.

Rents for the rich are dropping, while rents for the poor go up.

On the plus side, the COVID relief bill includes significant subsidies for families with kids. At the link, an explanation what that means for poor children.

What makes the Dallas suburbs a hotbed for insurrectionists?

Republicans’ prime directive: “owning” the liberals.

Anti-trans feminists and how they may hurt women’s rights.

Trump recently offered his thoughts on potential Republican candidates for president if he doesn’t run. No More Mr. Nice Blog looks at his conversation and thinks he’s not running.

Biden continues cutting away Trumpian deadwood.



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Writing, creativity, copyright: a smorgasbord of links

Turner Classics looks at classic films with problematic parts: Gunga Din, The Children’s Hour, The Searchers and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

Camestros Felapton looks back at a specfic flare-up online known as Racefail.

So perpetual lecher/harasser PePe LePew won’t appear in Space Jam 2. As I was never a fan of his one-note stories, I’m surprised anyone is up in arms about it. Though Laurie Penny says it’s a shame the scene where he gets his butt kicked for how he treats women won’t appear.

Conservatives are citing the Gannett chain dropping Mallard Fillmore by Bruce Tinsley as more cancel culture. As noted at the link, this isn’t new: lots of strips have been dropped by many papers over the years (Doonesbury, for instance). Personally I think the papers could legitimately drop Tinsley’s work for being crap; even allowing for my bias against a strip spouting right-wing cliches, it’s really poor work, visually and humorously.

Just what constitutes general knowledge for a crossword puzzle?

Amazon’s control of ebooks doesn’t work out well for libraries.

Does font influence how readers perceive our words and rate the truth of our arguments?

It seems John LeCarré is another writer who got unacknowledged help from his spouse.

Amazon says it’s no longer carrying books that portray LBGTQ people as mentally ill.

The right wing may complain about cancel culture, but conservative Christianity has been canceling people  and books for decades. As have gun-rights groups.

Doing nothing can benefit your creativity.

A good discussion about copyright on John Scalzi’s blog.

The author’s alliance weighs in on new copyright law proposals.

The long and somewhat unsuccessful struggle to create a pristine, perfect new master copy of Citizen Kane.

“The creator is rewarded for transcending expertise, and going beyond the standard repertoire.” — a look at why that 10,000 hours of practice metric doesn’t work as well for writing and other creative professions as other types of skill.

In the midst of Syria’s civil war, a forbidden library bloomed.

What happens to your brain when you’re invested in a story.

Trump says he’s going to launch his own social network. One blogger laughs.

Trump was right about one thing, without him in office, the news media have hit a slump.  It’s a fair trade-off for him not spouting bullshit, I think.

A judge says the media are biased against Republicans. Lawyers, Guns and Money responds that the “the prestige legacy media — are biased against Republicans, in the same way that climate scientists are biased against climate change denialists, astronomers and geologists are biased against the flourishing Flat Earth movement — this is really a thing by the way — historians are biased against Biblical literalists, economists are biased against the idea that tax cuts pay for themselves.”


Filed under copyright, Politics, Undead sexist cliches, Writing

They came for Dr. Seuss and I did not speak up …

Some Dr. Seuss books are being pulled from circulation due to racial stereotyping (Arabs riding camels in turbans, black figures in grass skirts). It was a decision by the copyright holder and doesn’t require the books be burned, pulled off library shelves, etc. Nevertheless the right wing is once again freaking out over cancel culture. Except, as others have noted, when conservatives try to ban LGBTQ books from library shelves — that’s totally different! Of course, it isn’t, but Republicans aren’t going to tell their voters that. For that matter conservatives have hated and sometimes tried to pull some of Seuss’s books from library shelves, such as The Lorax and The Butter Battle Book.

It’s okay to let women characters be evil without a redeeming backstory, one writer says.

Missing the point: The Handmaid’s Tale is not a warning against women’s liberation.

Along with Disney allegedly cheating writers of their royalties, they’re able to keep 80 percent of revenues from streaming material by claiming it’s just home video.

Disney’s Kevin Feige says moviegoers will be able to follow films even if they don’t catch the Disney+ streaming shows. The Mary Sue tries to argue that’s a mistake.

Bad research is never a good thing. But when you’re a serious scholar claiming Korean “comfort women” raped by Japan were voluntarily prostituting themselves, we’re talking seriously bad shit. From working on Undead Sexist Cliches, the researcher’s willingness to imagine consent where none exists is depressingly familiar.

A couple of women bought a small-town Alaskan paper. Then came COVID.

One of my fellow Atomic Junk Shop bloggers argues that no, Soul is not racist because it transforms the black protagonist.

A Star Wars enthusiast tries to find a copy of the original cinematic version without Lucas’ umpty-zillion changes. It’s nigh impossible.

A new online dictionary traces the history of science fiction terms.

Is coverage of the pandemic focusing too much on OMG New Strains! and not how well the vaccines work? More here.

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Everyone knew (and other undead sexist links)

“One of the worst things about experiencing gender discrimination, hostile work environments and sexual harassment over the many years of my career was that I was usually believed. ” — TV writer Marti Noxon on how the abusers she dealt with were an open secret on their TV shows but nobody did anything (I think this post of mine is relevant). Noxon doesn’t reference Joss Whedon in her column, but others have — including Michelle Trachtenberg, who was 15 when she was on the show (and says a rule developed never to let Whedon be alone with her). Eliza Dushku weighs in too.

Noxon also has some good suggestions for shows (I’d say any organization) dealing with problems of this sort. No alcohol or drugs on the set. Interview people who leave the show to find out if there were problems. Have a succession plan in place so that your star/show-runner isn’t indispensable. Because it’s not enough to take abusers and harassers down, we have to block whatever vulnerabilities in the system let them get away with it.

Here’s another system that let them get away with it. Allegedly the Lincoln Project did too (male/male in this case). Influential evangelical Ravi Zacharias got away with abuse for years, leaving some of his followers questioning what he taught. This is probably wise. For reasons why, Fred Clark discusses his admiration for abusive monster John Howard Yoder’s writing and having to ” try to separate the truths they taught me from the lies I might also have learned from them.”

Testosterone levels are not a practical way to screen out trans-women from women’s sports.

“I don’t get why, when I recently made an appointment with a pediatric ophthalmologist, the nice young woman who helped me had to ask — just “to be sure” — if I was indeed the policy holder for my daughter’s health insurance.” — Fernanda Santos on experiencing the way society treats single women.

Why do women have wide hips? According to an incel, hips are handles that make it easy for men to rape them, which proves rape is natural. Another incel advocates a twisted version of communism where men control the means of reproduction, which is to say women.

Sexist/racist writing advice: “Make your Latino family more Latino. Like have them make tamales for Christmas.” “Wrote a Desi character into my show and an exec said: ‘she seems too regular, I wanna see her be really fucking Indian'” “I once had someone outright tell me as a woman I couldn’t write realistic men and I was too young to write believable older women.”

According to his classmates at Patrick Henry College, newly elected NC congressman Madison Cawthorn was a notorious campus sexual predator.

“Mental health experts have recently begun to explore the connection between public acts of violence and misogyny, which is a connection many women already knew existed, and that is why their skin runs cold when they hear someone calling, Oh, Naaaaaaancy.” — Monica Hesse on the Jan. 6 men hunting Nancy Pelosi.

Support for the fossil fuel industry may be that it represents a performative masculinity.

The Pentagon delayed promoting female generals for fear of pushback from the Trump administration.

To wrap up with, Tennessee conservative Rep. Jerry Sexton has filed a bill that would give fathers the right to veto a woman’s abortion. They don’t have to present DNA, simply sign an affidavit that they’re the father and present it to a court; if the court accepts it, the woman faces penalties if she goes ahead. Reading the bill’s text and about paternity rights in Tennessee, it strikes me that there’s a)nothing that says a rapist can’t do this; b)the father’s name doesn’t automatically go on the birth certificate, which sounds as if it won’t, for example, obligate him to pay child support (I’m not an attorney so this is only a guess).

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Rush Limbaugh has passed beyond this vale of tears … which he helped make more miserable.

I won’t gloat over Rush Limbaugh’s death, but I have no qualms speaking ill of the dead.

J.D. Vance is shocked — shocked — that people are being cruel towards “a man who changed media forever,” but Limbaugh didn’t change it in good ways. He spread misogyny and racism and called tween Chelsea Clinton the White House dog. When Democrats were in power, government was a threat to American freedom. When Republicans were in power, anyone who said government was a threat to our rights was the real threat. He was an all-out Trump supporter. As Erik Loomis points out, his hypocrisy included being a drug user who denounced drug users and a sexual sleaze who slut-shamed (more on hat). He helped push America into a nation that could elect Trump.

And he had no qualms with being cruel towards the dead. He celebrated Kurt Cobain’s passing, mocked AIDS victims — so let him die as he lived.

The alternative is to allow people like Josh Hawley to paint Limbaugh as a champion of the oppressed rather than the oppressor. And as Fred Clark says, speaking ill of the dead is how we warn other people they’re on the wrong path: “To refuse to speak ill of the dead when that is what their lives deserve is, according to Dickens, to withhold grace from others who are still living as the Marleys and Limbaughs lived. To refrain from celebrating the death of Rush Limbaugh is to consign Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson to inexorable damnation.” Not that I think Carlson or Hannity will change, but the point still stands.

So here’s a few of Limbaugh’s deep thoughts that I included in Undead Sexist Cliches:

Rush Limbaugh claimed worrying about football players getting concussions is “chickifying” men.

Limbaugh blamed feminism for male violence and school shootings.

He claimed feminism only exists so ugly women can have power (not a new idea in antifeminism)

He argued that men are innately violent and therefore it’s women’s duty to put their lives on hold and tame them with marriage.

“You can do anything, the left will promote and understand and tolerate anything, so long as there is one element,” Rush Limbaugh said in 2016. “Do you know what it is? Consent. If there is consent on both or all three or all four, however many are involved in the sex act, it’s perfectly fine. Whatever it is. But if the left ever senses and smells that there’s no consent in part of the equation then here come the rape police.” He means this as a bad thing. He also claims that “no means yes if you know how to spot it. Seduction used to be an art, now of course it’s ‘brutish’ and ‘predatory'” adding that he’s fine with men doing whatever it takes to get laid.

He hates the idea of birth control allowing ““no responsibility, no consequences sex.”

When Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke said the university’s mandatory student health insurance should cover birth control, Limbaugh said “she wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex, she can’t afford the contraception,” ergo Fluke was a prostitute.

The world is not lessened by his passing, not one iota.


Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

Who they protect, who they let go

“Soon after he started he was quoted as saying women aren’t capable of writing cover stories. Facing considerable and deserved backlash, he then made a big show of hiring women, many of whom seem happy. I notice many of them tweet his praises. But since he’s taken the helm there’s a wake of women who are no longer there who have signed NDAs. Just last week a woman I once worked with at a different publication was added to that list, and the details I know show me that the men in charge will do everything in their power to save their own hides, usually at the expense of the women they claim to champion.” — Jennifer Barnett, former managing editor at Atlantic, on the current editor in chief, as well as the predecessor she worked under.

Particularly the predecessor: “I left because I blew the whistle on my boss for doing something unethical then abusing the staff and undermining the editorial process during which time I was assured he would be fired but instead he was promoted and after threatening me privately in his office, he marginalized me to the point of being completely invisible.” Barnett’s career ended at 44; her boss, James Bennett, went on to run the NYT, resigned after the Tom Cotton mess and then wound up as guest editor at The Economist for a year. “Why does it matter? Because the same men who continually fuck up are still in charge of the media. They shape the world. If you don’t think that’s true, take a look at the coverage of Hillary Clinton during my former boss’s tenure at the paper of record leading up to the 2016 election. Despite even major public failings, they keep coming back because they work behind the scenes to protect themselves and each other to stay in power and preserve the status quo.”

It’s a depressingly familiar story about men who make the company into a boys’ club, treat women like crap, promote buddies and exclude women from key decisions and meetings. And it’s known, but he sticks around, and he when does go, it’s to the New York Times and then to The Economist. He’s got the connections with enough key men that the glass floor kicks in and stops them falling: “not only are these guys shitty at their jobs, they keep each other and themselves in power so they can continue to be shitty at their jobs.”

It’s depressing how strong that glass floor is. Pixar kicked out John Lasseter over sexual harassment allegations; a year later, he became head of Skydance Animation (the harassment thing? He’s done a lot of work, it’s all behind him, honest!) Bill O’Reilly got a new contract at Fox right after a $32 million harassment-suit settlement. The Washington Football Team paid $1.6 million to settle one woman’s allegations against owner Daniel Snyder. No matter how big the payout or how often it happens, the people in charge (Snyder does have business partners) would sooner pay millions to preserve the status quo and keep the guys in the in-crowd in power (much as cities shell out millions for police misconduct rather than change the way policing is done). And if someone does suffer for their actions, even if it’s only a blow to their reputation, we’re supposed to show “himpathy” and let his life get back to normal fast (not that women can’t be harassers).

The victims who quit their jobs over harassment or sexist bosses? Or get fired for making a complaint? The people who defend “dude process” never care about them. No concerns about how they deserve to get back the normal they had before they were driven out. No sympathy for them. And as long as businesses and organizations protect the harassers, it’s not going to change.

And people wonder why some women are pissed.

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Books about politics that made me think

“The religious right showed no mercy and no charity toward these groups when it had the power to impose its will, but when it lost that power, it turned to invoking the importance of religious tolerance and pluralism in a democratic society.” Adam Serwer on how some on the right, having failed to win that way, now reject democracy.

Rereading THE POLITICS OF UNREASON: Right-Wing Extremism in America, 1790-1970 by Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab confirms my memory that rejecting democracy is not anything new in America. This history of extremist movements shows there’s nothing new about status anxiety, backlash, anti-immigrant paranoia, alliances between the down-and-out and rich elitists and fear of the Illuminati (there’s at least one book out already blaming them for the Satanic pedophile conspiracy QAnon is fighting against). Reading now, it feels depressingly prescient.

It does make me wonder how well QAnon will work out in the long run, given the authors argue that truly powerful conspiracy theoies require both a Shadowy Cabal and Vulnerable Targets (e.g., the Papacy and Irish Immigrants or the Elders of Zion and American Jews); does a conspiracy identifying prominent Democrats and Tom Hanks as the face of the Satanic Pedophile Cabal do the trick? I guess we’ll find out.

LICENSE TO HARASS: Law, Hierarchy and Offensive Public Speech by Laura Beth Nielsen looks at how the law handles panhandling, racist street harassment and sexual harassment, and how victims think it should be handled. Nielsen finds that even most victims aren’t in favor of restrictions for reasons ranging from freedom of speech to fear of being seen as a victim to cynicism about the law, favoring instead options such as not letting it get to you or talking back. Except, as she points out, harassment victims don’t talk back and do indeed let it get to you.

The point that stuck with me is that Nielsen’s surveys show targets of panhandlers feel much less harassed than if someone throws the n-word or a sexist come-on (regarding the undead sexist cliche that women are criminalizing harmless compliments, women report far more offensive than innocuous cat-calls) yet it’s much more widely regulated. If yelling “suck my dick” is free speech, if regulations have to be content-neutral (i.e., you can’t simply ban sexist or racist speech — as the book reminded me, you can’t even ban cross-burning completely) why is it okay to have content-specific bans on people saying “please give me money?” She concludes it’s because this is the type most likely to affect high-ranked white men, if not directly then by driving people away from businesses (women altering where they go and when to avoid harassment doesn’t trigger the same worries. Big surprise). Probably the best argument I’ve seen that unrestricted free speech works in favor of the established hierarchy.

THE POWER OF THE POWERLESS was a 1978 essay by Czech dissident, playwright, political prisoner and later president Vaclav Havel about the nature of dictatorship and the role of dissent. I read it last year hoping it would give me some insight into our current political moment (it did) and how to fight it (not much help). Havel argues that the Eastern Bloc dictatorships of his era are “post totalitarian,” a thing apart from the military dictatorships of the past. The old-school totalitarians simply seized power through brute force; their government had no real roots in the country or the culture, or any ideology beyond the will to power. The Communist states, by contrast, draw on their nations’ pasts — Russia’s pre-existing tendency to authoritarian government, for instance — and they’re rationalized by ideology that explains whatever they’re doing is justified and righteous. “The center of power,” Havel says, “is identical with the center of truth,” which does indeed sound like the Age of Trump.

In such a setting, and given the increased ability of the state to crush the opposition, Havel sees dissidents as the best shot at destabilizing the regime, not because they represent a rival political force (“Why was Solzhenitsyn driven out of his own country? Certainly not because he represented a unit of real power, that is, not because any of the regime’s representatives felt he might unseat them and take their place in government.”) but because simply by writing, saying and doing the things they want to do, they create cracks in the government’s vision of reality. While I can see how that works — just by walking around being normal people, gays undercut the myth that they’re some monstrous regiment of perverts — I’m not sure it translates into anything I can practice in my own life. An interesting essay, nonetheless.

All rights to cover image remain with current holder.


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