Political Correctness; the death of Satire and critical thought

“What are the effects of this new protectiveness on the students themselves? Does it benefit the people it is supposed to help? What exactly are students learning when they spend four years or more in a community that polices unintentional slights, places warning labels on works of classic literature, and in many other ways conveys the sense that words can be forms of violence that require strict control by campus authorities, who are expected to act as both protectors and prosecutors?”

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“There’s a saying common in education circles: Don’t teach students what to think; teach them how to think. The idea goes back at least as far as Socrates. Today, what we call the Socratic method is a way of teaching that fosters critical thinking, in part by encouraging students to question their own unexamined beliefs, as well as the received wisdom of those around them. Such questioning sometimes leads to discomfort, and even to anger, on the way to understanding.

But vindictive protectiveness teaches students to think in a very different way. It prepares them poorly for professional life, which often demands intellectual engagement with people and ideas one might find uncongenial or wrong. The harm may be more immediate, too. A campus culture devoted to policing speech and punishing speakers is likely to engender patterns of thought that are surprisingly similar to those long identified by cognitive behavioral therapists as causes of depression and anxiety. The new protectiveness may be teaching students to think pathologically.”

 

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Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Educationdescribing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.

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[VIDEO] A SLAVOJ ZIZEK RAPE JOKE

“In the good old days of Really-Existing Socialism, a joke was popular among dissidents, used to illustrate the futility of their protests. In the 15th century Russia occupied by Mongols, a farmer and his wife walk along a dusty country road; a Mongol warrior on a horse stops at their side and tells the farmer that he will now rape his wife; he then adds: “But since there is a lot of dust on the ground, you should hold my testicles while I’m raping your wife, so that they will not get dirty!” After the Mongol finishes his job and rides away, the farmer starts to laugh and jump with joy; the surprised wife asks him: “how can you be jumping with joy when I was just brutally raped in your presence?” The farmer answers: “But I got him! His balls are full of dust!” This sad joke tells of the predicament of dissidents: they thought they are dealing serious blows to the party nomenklatura, but all they were doing was getting a little bit of dust on the nomenklatura’s testicles, while the nomenklatura went on raping the people… Is today’s critical Left not in a similar position? Our task is to discover how to make a step further – our thesis 11 should be: in our societies, critical Leftists have hitherto only dirtied with dust the balls of those in power, the point is to cut them off”

–Slavoj Fuckin Zizek

MORE ZIZEK POSTS

The Dalai Lama of Mountain Goats

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The above quote may or may not be authentic. It really does not matter.  Most feel-good kumbayaa (m’lawwwd) clap-trap does not really need to prove its provenance…as the masses nod along, hug and feel ‘inspired’ to another juicy apocryphal morsel.

…But, I used to wonder about Mountain Goats.

Do THEY know that life could be easier on flat ground?  Were they meant to just wander on 75 degree sloped surfaces eternally; with 1 or 2 kids falling to their deaths every now and then?

I decided, on the latter; that was indeed just their experience, their reality, their ‘nature’…and then they die–perhaps never realizing life was easier grazing on a prairie–perhaps even only a few hundred metres away– as other ‘prairie’ goats.

So perhaps homo sapien sapiens are just supposed to live the way we always have lived–and evolved–for millennia?  Our worry and stress and lack of vision involving complex internal chemistry…our very own ‘nature’…and billions of us (in every corner of the world) are the same way about these things…most of which, only in hindsight do we realize to have been for nought.

But maybe that just IS life.

When death or illness comes close, we ponder things, but otherwise we go back to our perceptual myopism–very much as mountain goats…but there be no mountain goat dalai lama.

Our ‘not having lived’ IS life.

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[VIDEO] SAM HARRIS DOESN’T TALK ABOUT THE DALAI LAMA OF MOUNTAIN GOATS AT ALL

[VIDEO] Ze Frank’s ‘Invocation for Beginnings’ – FUCK IT, LET’S DO IT – “Life isn’t just a sequence of waiting for things to be done.”

“Don’t call it a comb-back; I’ll have hair for years.

I’m scared. I’m scared that my abilities are gone.

I’m scared that I’m going to fuck this up.

And I’m scared of you.

I don’t want to start, but I will.

This is an invocation for anyone who hasn’t begun, who’s stuck in a terrible place between zero and one.

Let me realize that my past failures at follow-through are no indication of my future performance.

They’re just healthy little fires that are going to warm up my ass.

If my FILDI (fuck it let’s do it) is strong, let me keep him in a velvet box until I really, really need him.

If my FILDI is weak let me feed him oranges and not let him gorge himself on ego and arrogance.

Let me not hit up my Facebook like it’s a crack pipe Keep the browser closed.

If I catch myself wearing a too-too (too fat, too late, too old) let me shake it off like a donkey would shake off something it doesn’t like.

And when I get that feeling in my stomach — you know the feeling when all of a sudden you get a ball of energy and it shoots down into your legs and up into your arms and tells you to get up and stand up and go to the refrigerator and get a cheese sandwich — that’s my cheese monster talking.

And my cheese monster will never be satisfied by cheddar, only the cheese of accomplishment.

Let me think about the people who I care about the most, and how when they fail or disappoint me… I still love them, I still give them chances, and I still see the best in them.

Let me extend that generosity to myself.

Let me find and use metaphors to help me understand the world around me and give me the strength to get rid of them when it’s apparent they no longer work.

Let me thank the parts of me that I don’t understand or are outside of my rational control like my creativity and my courage.

And let me remember that my courage is a wild dog. It won’t just come when I call it, I have to chase it down and hold on as tight as I can.

Let me not be so vain to think that I’m the sole author of my victories and a victim of my defeats.

Let me remember that the unintended meaning that people project onto what I do is neither my fault or something I can take credit for.

Perfectionism may look good in his shiny shoes but he’s a little bit of an asshole and no one invites him to their pool parties.

Let me remember that the impact of criticism is often not the intent of the critic, but when the intent is evil, that’s what the block button’s for.

And when I eat my critique, let me be able to separate out the good advice from the bitter herbs.

(There are few people who won’t be disarmed by a genuine smile A big impact on a few can be worth more than a small impact)

Let me not think of my work only as a stepping stone to something else, and if it is, let me become fascinated with the shape of the stone.

Let me take the idea that has gotten me this far and put it to bed.

What I am about to do will not be that, but it will be something.

There is no need to sharpen my pencils anymore. My pencils are sharp enough.

Even the dull ones will make a mark. Warts and all.

Let’s start this shit up. And god let me enjoy this.

Life isn’t just a sequence of waiting for things to be done.” 

Ze Frank is an American online performance artist, composer, humorist and public speaker based inLos Angeles, California. He is currently the EVP of Video at BuzzFeed.

[AUDIO] ‘Descending’ – by Thomas M. Disch: “It’s so much easier to go… down”

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Click to the right to hear the 1964 short story by Thomas M. Disch.

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“Descending” by Thomas M. Disch: An Appreciation by John Schoffstall

Gentle reader beyond the screen: if you have not read this story, do so before reading on, for here there be spoilers.“Descending” is a horror story. Superficially, it is about a man who takes the ‘Down’ escalator in a department store and finds he can’t get off. More deeply, it is about credit and debt, and the lure of jam, jam, jam today. Credit cards, second mortgages and other easy ways to leverage ourselves into trouble are common nowadays. But in the early 1960’s, when “Descending” was written, many people didn’t even have one credit card. Easy ‘revolving credit’ was a new element in the interface between the individual and the world of commerce and consumption. Like the psychological manipulation by advertising that Kornbluth and Pohl explored in the 1950’s, and the intellectual property, privacy, and bioscience issues that crop up in sf stories today, easy consumer credit was an interesting and potentially dangerous new social force in the early 1960’s. In this sense, “Descending” can be seen as social science fiction. It is significant that the protagonist reads Thackeray’s Vanity Fair through much of the story, a novel whose anti-heroine, Becky Sharp, is also an unprincipled exploiter of credit, much to the damage of those around her.But on its deepest level, the theme of “Descending” is more general than social criticism: it is tragedy, the story of a fall, of an individual who tumbles out of society for any reason, and the lies he tells himself to ease the pain of falling. The protagonist’s descent, first socially and economically, later physically, down the endless escalators, mirrors any behavior that has escaped from our control: alcohol or drug abuse, sexual or gambling addiction, pathological collecting, and so forth. Like the addicted individual who loses friends, jobs, alienates his family and ultimately may wind up homeless, the protagonist of “Descending” has exploited others to maintain a dysfunctional existence, and now finds his links with the rest of humanity broken beyond repair. His own brother won’t return his letters; he is unable to find employment: “He had been a grasshopper for years. The ants were on to his tricks.” Every contact with other human beings he has in the course of the story 
is purely economic. He is the economic man gone awry, and he meets his doom in the temple at which he has worshiped, a department store.The prose is flawless. Often it is simple and transparent, but sometimes it rises to elegance: “He whitened the sepulchre of his unwashed torso with a fresh, starched shirt and chose his somberest tie from the rack.” This sort of bold wordplay is typical of Disch, and one of the things that makes his prose, as well as his storytelling, so enjoyable. The storytelling is relentless. First strangeness, then menace, then fear, then horror, no let-up, no relief, no requiem, no cavalry at the end. Disch tramps all over the motherhood statement. The emotion of ‘hope’, as a response to crisis, is frequently lauded in popular media; Disch shoots it dead. At the end we find the protagonist, near death, still lying to himself that he might have escaped.One of the reasons for this story’s impact is that Disch always takes his protagonist seriously, and always respects him. This does not mean he likes him or admires him. Disch makes it clear the protagonist is an awful failure, who has made bad, self-indulgent life choices. But Disch never makes fun of him for it. Fate is cruel to the protagonist, but the author never is. This reduces the distance between the reader and the protagonist. We are not led to sneer at him, but to sympathize with him, and perhaps see aspects of ourselves in him, disturbing as that may be to us. “Descending” can be taken as a morality tale, a series of Hogarth paintings of the Spendthrift’s Progress, in which the true horror is that with little effort we may imagine ourselves in the Spendthrift’s place.“Descending,” published in 1964, was among Disch’s first professionally published stories. For the product of a writer in his early years, it is astonishing in the excellence of its prose and structure. Its unrelieved bleakness is typical of Disch’s early work. His later stories and novels would find at least a few rays of light in the world, but in the clarity and cleverness of this story’s prose, its lack of sentimentality, its clear-sighted, unblinking look into character, “Descending” is a fine specimen of Disch’s work, and points the way towards the future of his writing.

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Descending
by Thomas M. Disch
Catsup, mustard, pickle, relish, mayonnaise, two kinds of salad dressing,
bacon grease, and a lemon. Oh yes, two trays of ice cubes. In the cupboard it
wasn’t much better: jars and boxes of spices, flour, sugar, salt—and a box of
raisins!
An empty box of raisins. Continue reading