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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Prayers for the Precariat

Tonight, on Facebook and Twitter, I posted that I was "praying" for Minneapolis, for Chicago, for #BlackLivesMatters, for refugees fleeing violence and seeking safety and, more generically, for anyone and everyone who loves justice, defends and protects the most vulnerable among us, who is under assault, in danger and in need of not only our supportive solidarity, but our active advocacy. This was an uncommon, if not entirely idiosyncratic, expression on my part, as I am not "religious" in what might be called any meaningful sense (though I am a PK and was raised in a religious household). I suspect that many who were brought up in "the (Christian) church" or in some other observant faith opted for divergent paths in their adulthood, as I did, for many different reasons.  My particular reason, as unsatisfying as it is unaccountable for, even to myself, is simply that I was never capable of forcing my own mind to accede to certain fundamental requirements of the the most basic articles of theistic "faith." For that reason, I hardly ever claim to "pray" for anyone or anything because it seems to me to be, if not outright duplicitous, at the very least disrespectful.

That said, I do pray.  I pray for friends and strangers, for the virtuous and the vicious. I pray for them by their proper names and, much more often, anonymously.  I pray for them, for you, for all of us, frequently, passionately and sincerely.

Not that I am ever called upon to do so, but I sometimes wonder how I might explain what I mean when I say that "I pray" to those who would insist that prayer requires, first, a resolute belief in the effective power of prayer or, in what amounts to the same thing, a confidence in the effective power of some supernatural Being to make real the events, things or states of affairs that my prayers solicit, become actual. What follows are some brief, incomplete reflections on what I might say.

Why do I pray?  Why do we, why ought we-- all of us, believers and unbelievers alike-- pray? Especially now, when the the solicitations of many prayers are so dangerous, in fact deadly, and when the confidence of believers in the power of prayer ought rightly to be doubted, if not also condemned. what is left that is worth preserving in this bizarre human practice of prayer?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Everybody's Damaged By Something: On "Room" (2015)

I read Emma Donoghue's novel Room somewhat by accident shortly after it was released in 2010  No one recommended it to me and I didn't know anything about it in advance. Rather, I found myself stuck in an airport waiting on an indefinitely delayed connection, my attention-span for grading papers was exhausted, and so I wandered into the bookstore to find some "pleasure" reading to kill time. (Must be fiction, contemporary, and less than 200 pages, i,e,, finishable in the time I will be in transit. This is my Airport Reading Rule.) In an instance of literally judging a book by its cover, I picked up Donoghue's Room because of its minimalist crayon-scrawled dust jacket and, confirming the worst voyeuristic tendencies of humankind, I bought it after reading the backside blurb, which promised a horrific story of abduction and abuse, told from the point of view of a five-year-old child.

Donoghue's novel is now the fastest Airport Book I've ever read (displacing Marie Phillips' Gods Behaving Badly, which remains a close second.) I finished Room before I deboarded the plane at my final destination.

Then, I had nightmares about it for weeks.

Despite this experience with the novel, I was nevertheless (perhaps pathologically) curious to see the recently released film adaption of Room, which I saw yesterday.  Room, the film, is masterfully directed by Lenny Abrahamson, and the strong performances by Brie Larson (as Ma/Joy) and Jacob Tremblay (as Jack) are of the sort that ought be credited as much to an assiduously prudent and sensitive director as to its talented actors.  Even still, these are incredibly talented actors,  In fact, I really cannot say enough about Larson and Tremblay-- especially Tremblay, who is only 9 years old in real life. Their performances are complex, nuanced, intimate, intense and yet still, given the events depicted, surprisingly reserved. Room is the kind of story that our contemporary infotainment "newscasters" wet-dream about, drool over, in fact desire so desperately that they often accessorize stories with the tragedy and trauma of Room when they cannot find it IRL. Would that it were only fiction, where it might motivate the imaginations and serve to develop the characters of Freshman Lit students, but Room is not that.  It is, both in its details and thematically, a fictional re-presentation of what is an all-too-common reality: the abduction, incarceration, coercion and debasement of female agency.  It's the kind of story that practically begs for hyperbolic, sensationalist exploitation. But if you're looking for hyperbolic, sensationalist exploitation of human vice and vulnerability -- and there is definitely some part of us, all of us, that is looking for that when we shell out $10 to see this film-- you won't find it in Abrahamson's Room.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Handy Guide to Tone-Policing

I won't even bother with summarizing or linking to the most recent debacle in the Philosophy blogosphere.  Instead, I'll just note that, commensurate with the rest of the nation, the discipline of Philosophy has a real problem determining between when one ought and ought not "tone-police."

I've said my peace (here) before about tone-policing and/or other insistences of codified civility and collegiality norms, which I think disproportionately advantage the already-advantaged.  I just want to note here that I do not think that what gets called "tone-policing" is always out of order. Like everything else in this world, and most of all policing, it's a matter of being sensitive to the power-dynamics at work between those regulating/policing norms and those challenging the norms that are being regulated/policed.

So, here's a handy infographic I put together as guide to policing one's own tendency to tone-police. You're free to download it here if you like.




Saturday, November 14, 2015

Closed Borders, Open Doors

Paris was ambushed by seven separate terrorist actions last night, a horrific set of events eerily reminiscent of both the Charlie Hebdo massacre less than a year ago and the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Any one of them-- the mass shootings in various restaurants and bars, the suicide bombing outside of a soccer match at the Stade de France, the hostage-taking and massacre at the Bataclan concert venue-- would have been sufficient to frighten and horrify, but it was the simultaneity of their occurrence that truly terrorized.

Today, with so many non-state actors and organizations effectively in control of the world's state of affairs, coordinated attacks on civilians may shock and sadden nation-states, but it does not paralyze them. President Hollande almost immediately declared a state of emergency, closed France's borders, and mobilized 1,500 troops to send into Paris..Such responses are, regrettably, "textbook" now. As were the responses of various world leaders, including U.S. President Obama, each of whom ventriloquized the judgments and avowals of some unknown, unnamed security analyst who wrote that script 14 years ago, has been rewriting it with slight, situation-specific modifications since, and who passes it up the chain of command to be repeated by some Authority each time.

As I write this, President Hollande has just promised, only a few hours ago, "to lead a war which will be pitiless" in retaliation for last night's terror. And, for reasons both admirable and condemnable, the Western world has emblazoned its support-- by, quite literally, enlightening the monuments, halls, and houses of democratic sovereign power-- of Hollande and of France, its endorsement of a war without pity, doubling-down its three-century-year-long bet on the nation-state as the Archimedean point of the modern moral, political and social world.