Diversity/Madness

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It struck me that we conceive of cultural difference, or difference in general, primarily in aesthetic terms: we use this drum and this beat, they use that drum and that beat, we use these lines and colors, they use those lines and colors, etc. As is the plague of all aesthetics, it can be superficial. These differences are real, and do have real meanings and implications, but to be talked about and conceived in terms of the aesthetic makes them susceptible to the all-encompassing whims of the market. It may feel like all things are equal, but they’re just dispensed into discrete market niches.

To talk of difference-as-aesthetics de-fangs difference itself. At this point you could talk of the ethical and Levinas-ian obligation to the face of the Other, but it seems even Levinas sidesteps the question of horror. What if alterity isn’t just something new, what if it’s something terrifying?

Even when considering Levinas, the face of the Other is thought of in terms of appearance: a black face, a Jewish face, an Hispanic face, etc. What happens when you consider mental states? Isn’t it harder to come to terms with the schizophrenic face? The psychopathic face? The clinically depressed face? Are we not horrified and disturbed by these faces?

In Nick Land’s essay “Circuitries” he remarks that schizophrenics are POWs from the future, that what we’re dealing with is not necessarily a personal defect, but a new mode of consciousness/cognition that the present sociopolitical order can’t adequately deal with. The reaction is horror, unknowing. We sedate the schizophrenic with potent psychoactive drugs, warehouse her in the mental hospital. Capitalism has no use for the schizophrenic, because she cannot produce or effectively reproduce.

To truly meet and reconcile difference is no longer a matter of appearance (aesthetics) , but of radical interiority. Perhaps true resistance occurs when we can think of mental illness unshackled from the burdens of efficiency/productivity, even the nuclear family, “normativity”.

Christian Higher-Ed at The Dawn of the MOOC

Higher education is perma-crisis, but the prevailing winds issuing forth from the coffers of venture capitalists are twisting it towards the demonic. Tressie McMillan Cottom’s article at Slate shows just how insidious the effects of market logic on secondary education are. Cottom bluntly states that when colleges are businesses and students are customers, racism and sexism are the norm. Her article is in response to recent events at the Minneapolis Technical and Community college, where English and African diaspora studies professor Shannon Gibney has  been formally disciplined due to complaints lodged by three white students who were made uncomfortable by professor Gibney’s in-class discussion of structural racism.

This is, of course, asinine, but totally consistent with the college-as-business outlook. As Cottom tells it, treating students as customers not only aids and abets structural prejudice, but completely undermines education itself. Students will effectively pay for a few trivial skills and the maintenance of their pet ignorances.

In the midst of all of this, it’s interesting to compare my own experience in private religious higher-ed to the trends of mainstream institutions. While right-leaning Evangelical colleges undeniably suck on the capitalist teat with fervor, there is at least a pretension of submission to the community, a recognition that education is not wholly pleasant. This, of course, represents the area of sharpest critique for these institutions. While the students aren’t treated like customers, this idea of submission is expressed at best as a partial denial of total student agency, where the consumer status is simply transferred to parents (as was my experience), and at worst the sort of nigh-fascistic disciplinarian policy of the dreaded BJU.

But, there’s a kernel of truth in there. Paradoxically, the Christian institution’s downfall might be it’s greatest strength. While there’s no denying that such institutions have even more of a structural prejudice problem than others, these ideas that education isn’t always pleasant or wholly contingent upon the whims of a fickle student body are worth resurrecting elsewhere.

Life on Hiatus OR: How to be a Communist in the Rural Midwest

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I majored in philosophy. What the fuck do I do now?

For a significant portion of my friends, the fall semester is drawing to a close, a two-week dead sprint to rake up stray assignments and study for finals (skills I never truly mastered, for all of love I bear for scholarship). Though torturous, it’s a ritual I miss, an end-of-year festival that sets up if not outright rivals the yuletide season. And this is the first year out of the last five that I’m not caught up in it.

Last summer was a drastic departure from what could be referred to loosely as The Plan. As my time as an undergraduate wound down, I set my heart on academia, the next step the master’s degree, for which I’d already been accepted. Upon graduation, it was quite clear I’d exhausted my resources. I’d taken out too many loans. I hadn’t held a proper job for almost three years, and had developed a slight phobia of employment. Like so many people my age, I was moving  back in with my parents.

This was a double mark of shame. Not only was I failing to be “independent” or “start my life”, I was abandoning friends. Unlike what seems to be the majority of cases, the dreaded Move was not a matter of a few hours, a trivial retreat from metropole to hometown, compensated for with frequent weekend excursions. I was packing up an existence I’d established over 5 years and raking it across 3 states’ worth of interstate highway.

And here I am, back in my rural Minnesotan hometown, the robust social network of my high school years whittled down to the few who decided to settle here permanently (not a slight/insult, dudes).

The first month and half or so were marked by depression, a sense of profound loss, and anxiety. I barely left the house. I couldn’t bring myself to fill out job applications. I watched the entire run of The West Wing in around 2 weeks.

My parents grew frustrated, and in an extremely rare show of naked hostility, outright ordered me to look for work.

People don’t realize how hard this is when you haven’t drawn a paycheck for a few years and filled that time with a steady diet of Marxism and muckraking reports about how exploitative temp positions are. This was amplified by self-awareness. My degree is in philosophy; not even universities want to pay people to do philosophy. Before I even tried, I felt unwanted, even scorned by the world for my passions and decisions. Grudgingly, painfully, I filled out some apps and posted my resume on internet job boards. To my surprise, I got a few calls.

3 months on, I’m rockin’ a temp position at an optics lab. I aid in the process of polishing lenses for eyeglasses, basically. So far, my acute anxieties were unwarranted. I have a supervisor who actually gives a shit about people, my co-workers are civil, and I make just about as much money as regular employees. It’s better than slapping up lattes or selling insurance (sorry, Kenny.). I have lucked out. Hard.

So, my anxieties have been thoroughly assuaged, but it’s made room for a more positive agitation. I’m not comfortable, and my ambitions aren’t unrealistic, yet.

It seems that the idealism acquired at college usually gets stamped out around this time. We graduate, all of a sudden we’re expected to be functioning members of society, hold down a job, pay rent, be independent. Liberal virtues and revolutionary politics don’t weather the storms of rent checks and student loan statements very well. This is understandable.

The path I’ve wandered on to is one of dependence, a path mostly scorned and derided, symbolic of failure. But, it’s one that allows me to tend to my small flame of idealism. This is to say, though I’m not able to fully act on the radical ideas I espouse, I’m still able to espouse them.  Things could be a lot worse.

10 more months. With some hard work and a lot of luck, I’ll be able to throw some gasoline on this campfire.