29 July 2011

Kee Hinckley - On Pseudonymity, Privacy, and Responsibility on Google+

Today's article is from Technosocial.

Kee Hinckley makes a really important argument here, and one to which I really connected in a lot of ways.

In reading this, I found myself thinking persistently about Ender's Game (partly because Hinckley makes a Demosthenes reference at one point) - perhaps, in some ways, being able to speak via a persona rather than via your physical body is the only way to let your ideas be judged fairly.

This is something that I have to deal with every day that I teach. My students are going to trust / believe in / give weight to my words more than they are their own or each others', just because of the position of power that I occupy in the classroom - which can be useful if, say, one student is verbally attacking another and I have to step in (this happens sometimes when you discuss controversial issues), but has also led, in a couple of instances, to my (quite unintentionally) killing a discussion that might have brought us to some quite provocative and interesting places.

Point is, there are always power dynamics at play; establishing a pseudonym is one way to level the playing field a little bit (though, as Lisa Nakamura and others have pointed out, it is itself a fraught move).

Useful, if utopian, quote from the article:
Persistent pseudonyms aren't ways to hide who you are. They provide a way to be who you are. You can finally talk about what you really believe; your real politics, your real problems, your real sexuality, your real family, your real self. Much of the support for "real names" comes from people who don't want to hear about controversy, but controversy is only a small part of the need for pseudonyms. For most of us, it's simply the desire to be able to talk openly about the things that matter to every one of us who uses the Internet. The desire to be judged—not by our birth, not by our sex, and not by who we work for—but by what we say.
I find that kind of a beautiful statement of what Hinckley is trying to say.

28 July 2011

Mandy van Deven - The Science Behind Disgust

Today's article is from Salon.com.

Today, we have a straightforward interview that is, I think, very much worth reading. Salon.com's Mandy van Deven sits down (or stands up, I don't know the exact geometry) to chat with Purdue University philosophy professor Daniel Kelly in advance of his upcoming book Yuck! The Nature and Moral Significance of Disgust.

One especially cogent quote from Kelly:
A practice people are disgusted by may or may not be immoral, but the fact that people are disgusted by it is totally irrelevant to that particular question. We shouldn't trust disgust to give us reliable information about morality.
This kind of thing might be old hat to some of y'all, but even if you've heard the argument before (any Steven Pinker fans out there?), it's worth a glance through - Kelly, at least as he's quoted here, is a clear and engaging speaker who lays out his points logically and with a little bit of humor, which is always welcome.

27 July 2011

Stuart Jeffries - A Life in Writing: Slavoj Zizek

Today's article is from The Guardian

So, slight change of pace (already? We're only three days in!) from the first two articles I posted. This is an interview/bio/relevance piece on Slavoj Zizek. I have mixed feelings about Zizek (as I do about most things), but I do find his work quite refreshing - in the way that a cold shower, or a Sex Pistols song, or a captioned picture of a cat, is refreshing - and often more appealing than your typical "academic" writing. It's certainly more approachable.

This article is worth reading if you're interested in seeing what one particular brand of radical politics looks like these days, reading what is perhaps a fresh take on Wikileaks, or encountering one particularly filthy joke (as a warning: Zizek isn't known for self-censorship. At all.).

The blurb for his new books says he has made philosophy relevant for a whole generation of politically committed readers. Žižek demurs. "A lot of what I write is blah, blah, bullshit, a diversion from the 700-page book on Hegel I should be writing."

Hope all y'all have a great day. With my coffee and doughnut achieved, it's time for me to plunge back into theory.

26 July 2011

Charles P. Pierce - The Bomb that Didn't Go Off

Today's article is from Esquire magazine.

I think this article is relevant and useful to think about in the context of the recent Oslo tragedies - but also (ethnocentrically) in the context of our ongoing national political debates.

Brief excerpt:

And when the gun goes off or the bomb explodes, the powerful will deplore the actions of the powerless, and they will reassure the rest of us that We are not like Them, who are violent and crazy and whose acts have no reason beyond unfathomable madness.

Pierce is making a familiar kind of point here, or at least a point that's familiar in the circles in which I tend to run - that there's a certain kind of violence inherent in our political narratives - but he's making it, for my money, pretty beautifully. This article appeals to me especially, I think, because, you know, Spokane is, if not my stomping grounds, one mountain pass away, just a couple of hours' drive. Definitely worth a read.

25 July 2011

Meghan O'Gieblyn - Sniffing Glue

This article is from Guernica magazine.

You might find it interesting if you:
- Grew up around CCM / in the Evangelical movement
- Picked up on the fact that a lot of MTV music seems to deal more honestly with spirituality than a lot of the so-called "Christian music you grew up with
- Wonder why the Church (capitalized) is losing youth

Brief excerpt:

This, by the way, is considered the ultimate sign of quality CCM, even amongst Christians: the ability to pass as secular. Every band’s goal was to have teenagers stop their grooving mid-song and exclaim, like a soda commercial actress who’s just realized she’s been drinking diet, “Wait, this is Christian?” The logic was that the more these bands fit in with what was playing on the radio, the more someone like me would feel comfortable passing their album on to my non-Christian friends (supposing I’d had any), giving them a chance to hear the gospel.

I don't know that I necessarily agree with O'Gieblyn's main argument - the churches I've seen that abandon or avoid the "cultural relevance" trend and try to keep a purist message don't seem, to me, any more efficacious than the ones that go straight to rock bands and Billy Madison - but she does a nice job of pointing out (one of) the major contradiction(s) in the Evangelical movement: it's an attempt to do something (in this case, music, but, more generally, image and brand creation) as well as the secular world does - but the image and the brand aren't supposed to be the most important aspects of what's being communicated, which means that they're always going to come up short.

Oh my God, we're back again.

So... this is now a space where I dump links for or excerpts from things that people should be reading. Because not all of you have Facebook, and I don't feel like continually cluttering up my wall.

I do a lot of reading. For one thing, it's my job. For another, I read fast. If you know me, you know this. I spend probably 10-12 hours a day reading either books (literary and political theory, novels, poetry, short stories) or articles on the internet (journal articles, magazines, newspaper articles, etcetera). This means that, every day (or at least every good day), I come across at least a couple of things that are either beautiful or terrible or insightful or infuriating or that speak to me or some combination of all of those things.

Not everybody has this luxury. So... I'm gonna start dumping stuff here for you to read. Some of it, you'll probably like; some of it, you'll probably hate. I speak here to an abstract "you" because I don't know exactly who "you" are, or if "you" even exist. When I was posting regularly on here - eight months ago now - I had between 500 and 600 people stopping by every day. Right now... not so much. Probably because I haven't been back here in eight months or so. Anyways... if you stop by and feel like reading, good on ya. If not, good on ya. I'll keep generating content. It is not the content that matters, but that it circulates, right?


p.s. - sorry for the Backstreet Boys post title.  Couldn't resist.