Archive | moral nihilism RSS feed for this section

Infidelity and Me

7 Apr

This post is going to be ridiculously meta, because apparently that’s how the internet works now. So I’m going to be writing about someone’s input on someone’s opinion on someone else’s article, and how I relate to it all. META.

First up, this story got the wheels spinning in my head just because I recognized the situation from personal experience: http://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/7779961/bobby-petrino-arkansas-razorbacks-placed-paid-leave-apologizes-relationship

And then this blog post was published earlier this week, which called out an (admittedly boastful and bitchy) article about being The Other Woman: http://nataliaantonova.com/2012/03/24/lisa-taddeo-cheating-power-and-sexy-ladies/

The links to the links are all on Natalia’s blog, but if you don’t feel like diving too far into this clusterfuck, here’s a quick and dirty version: A woman named Lisa Taddeo wrote a fake-edgy, sophomoric, really mean-spirited article about what it’s like to be the woman that men cheat with, in which she blasted the wives of the men she screws and blames them for the actions of their cheating husbands. She does all this under the guise of laying bare “Why We Cheat,” when in reality, she just comes off like every stereotype of an ignorant, selfish homewrecker.

I thought I’d offer a little insight on what being The Other Woman is actually like.

Women are sort of conditioned to see other women as threats, competition, etc. As with society in general, the easiest way to absolve yourself of guilt when harming another person emotionally is to dehumanize them. We’ve succeed in making every aspect of human existence into a commodity – what we eat, who we fuck, what we listen to. There isn’t a single aspect of anyone’s so-called “identity” that isn’t constructed on some level by a capitalist system, one that idealizes the concept of ownership and makes us all into hyenas scrapping over pieces of meat. This is why you turn on Jerry Springer (or whatever trash the kids watch these days, Jersey Shore I guess) and hear women screaming at each other about “my man!”

You know, I can admit to really loathing women for a long time and completely being part of the problem. A Women’s Studies professor would definitely call me a “tool of the patriarchy” and in many senses, I was and still am. I saw women who lambasted men for nothing, for leaving their underwear on the floor, or for leaving the toilet seat up, and I would think, “What a stupid fucking thing to get worked up about. No wonder men whine about bitches.”

I’d like to think that I’m somehow above all of that crap, and that I avoided thinking “Oh, that bitch treats her husband like shit, so he’s justified in fucking me instead,” but I didn’t. I thought all of those things that Taddeo brags about in her piece. But they never really sat right with me, and there was always a nagging Pac-Man of guilt that chomped away from the very beginning. I wanted to believe that the wife of the man I was screwing somehow deserved what she got, that she brought it on herself by not being perfect for him the way I clearly was, etc. Man, did I want to believe that. I never could buy it, though, and the self-loathing started to aggregate.

And then…he did the same thing to me. Concocted a woe-is-me tale for yet another woman, only this time I was the bitch, the one who wasn’t good enough, the easily replaceable imported Chinese TV that you can just throw away when you decide to “upgrade” because this model has “better features” and “doesn’t require upkeep.” And I thought, shit, this is karma. This is what it’s like to be on the other side. And when that happened, I wanted to call the ex-wife of the man who had just made me into an “ex” and apologize to her. I very nearly did it, too. But I didn’t, because I didn’t want her to feel like she had to pity me. This is a story for another day, but – I loved her children. They were his children too, and I loved them. To this day, the thing that guts me the most is that I will never see those kids again.

And once, when that man’s ex-wife told me, “My kids are going to grow up without a father because of you,” I wanted to say, no, he’ll be their father, he’ll be there for them. I was wrong about that, but so was she – it’s not because of me that they may grow up without their dad.

You can go ahead and call me a whore, terrible human being, whatever. Get it all out. Any nasty name you can think of to call me, I guarantee you I called myself a long time ago. This self-hate train is long and it ran through my life for the entirety of my relationship. I never confronted the demons from making a choice to be complicit in the destruction of a family. I make a little bit of progress with this every day, but I may never truly forgive myself.

No one tells you this stuff when you become The Other Woman. It is not all fancy dresses and jewelry and secret bank accounts and road trips to the next town so no one sees you together. There is no “Mistress Handbook” that they give out down at Homewrecking Whore Junction.

I have myself convinced that I will never comply with a cheater’s insecurities again, but to be honest, I really don’t know. All I can do is keep morphing into a REAL feminist, the kind who loves men and loves women equally and doesn’t assign blame based on body parts. If this experience taught me anything, it’s that society loves to pit women against one another and make us all into “frenemies” (god I hate trendy portmanteaus) who only pretend to commiserate. We’re human beings first, and we should be treated as such.

I wrote this so that someone could perhaps learn something from it. Not seeking pity or comfort or anything – I’ve mostly made my peace with myself and with the situation. Learn from my mistakes, kids. And don’t let a man cheat on you. If he does, move on. Because if they do it once, they will do it again. I’ve lived that nightmare, and it would break my heart if someone I loved had to go through that same five-year emotional roller coaster.

Peace and blessings.

Back to your regularly scheduled dissident philosophy

15 Jan

With all this stupid ex drama over, I can focus on the actual purpose of this blog, which is to get the CIA to follow me around. Not really. But I am committed to writing and thinking about stuff that cuts against the grain. I wouldn’t be a dangerous liberal intellectual if I didn’t, right?

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is tomorrow. In one of those weird serendipitous moments that brings momentary order to a completely random universe, I stumbled across this essay in a book that was among the stuff my ex brought back to me. I’ve decided to reproduce it here, since it’s timely and also relevant to issues that are still making headlines. Well, the mainstream media has all but forgotten about the Occupy movement, but the problems that it addressed are never going to go away. This essay is from 1995.

***

“The Martin Luther King You Don’t See on TV,” by Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon, from You Are Being Lied To; Russ Kick, editor. Link: http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=2269

It’s become a TV ritual. Every year in mid-January, around the time of Martin Luther King’s birthday, we get perfunctory network news reports about “the slain civil rights leader.” The remarkable thing about this annual review of King’s life is that several years – his last years – are totally missing, as if flushed down a memory hole.

What TV viewers see is a closed loop of familiar file footage: King battling desegregation in Birmingham (1963), reciting his dream of racial harmony at the rally in Washington (1963), marching for voting rights in Selma, Alabama (1965), and finally, lying dead on the motel balcony in Memphis (1968).

An alert viewer might notice that the chronology jumps from 1965 to 1968. Yet King didn’t take a sabbatical near the end of his life. In fact, he was speaking and organizing as diligently as ever. Almost all of those speeches were filmed or taped. But they’re not shown today on TV.

Why?

It’s because national news media have never come to terms with what Martin Luther King, Jr. stood for during his final years.

In the early 1960s, when King focused his challenge on legalized racial discrimination in the South, most major media were his allies. Network TV and national publications graphically showed the police dogs and bullwhips and cattle prods used against Southern blacks who sought the right to vote or to eat at a public lunch counter.

But after passage of civil rights acts in 1964 and 1965, King began challenging the nation’s fundamental priorities. He maintained that civil rights laws were empty without “human rights” — including economic rights. For people too poor to eat at a restaurant or afford a decent home, King said, anti-discrimination laws were hollow.

Noting that a majority of Americans below the poverty line were white, King developed a class perspective. He decried the huge income gaps between rich and poor, and called for “radical changes in the structure of our society” to redistribute wealth and power.

“True compassion,” King declared, “is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

By 1967, King had also become the country’s most prominent opponent of the Vietnam War, and a staunch critic of overall U.S. foreign policy, which he deemed militaristic. In his “Beyond Vietnam” speech delivered at New York’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967 — a year to the day before he was murdered — King called the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

From Vietnam to South Africa to Latin America, King said, the U.S. was “on the wrong side of a world revolution.” King questioned “our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America,” and asked why the U.S. was suppressing revolutions “of the shirtless and barefoot people” in the Third World, instead of supporting them.

In foreign policy, King also offered an economic critique, complaining about “capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries.”

You haven’t heard the “Beyond Vietnam” speech on network news retrospectives, but national media heard it loud and clear back in 1967 — and loudly denounced it. Life magazine called it “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi.” The Washington Post patronized that “King has diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people.”

In his last months, King was organizing the most militant project of his life: the Poor People’s Campaign. He crisscrossed the country to assemble “a multiracial army of the poor” that would descend on Washington — engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience at the Capitol, if need be — until Congress enacted a poor people’s bill of rights. Reader’s Digest warned of an “insurrection.”

King’s economic bill of rights called for massive government jobs programs to rebuild America’s cities. He saw a crying need to confront a Congress that had demonstrated its “hostility to the poor” — appropriating “military funds with alacrity and generosity,” but providing “poverty funds with miserliness.”

How familiar that sounds today, more than a quarter-century after King’s efforts on behalf of the poor people’s mobilization were cut short by an assassin’s bullet.

As 1995 gets underway, in this nation of immense wealth, the White House and Congress continue to accept the perpetuation of poverty. And so do most mass media. Perhaps it’s no surprise that they tell us little about the last years of Martin Luther King’s life.

Off to save the world, BRB

20 Dec

This post has been a long time coming. It’s pretty personal, but what the hell. That’s what the internet is for, right? Also, this post is rated R. If you don’t want to know about my love life, don’t read it.

This is intended to be a focused discussion of certain attributes of the opposite sex, but apologies up front if it devolves into something else. I swear I’m not bitter. Maybe just a little bit.

My relations with men have been sort of bizarre as long as I can remember. By that I mean, I have almost exclusively cultivated a friendship base of men and have gagged at the idea of having “girl’s night.” It’s a character flaw – I just don’t get along with a lot of women. Maybe I’ve been brainwashed to believe that most women are the caricatures depicted in romantic comedies (*cough* Sex And the City *cough*) and therefore the notion of having to pretend to be interested in designer shoes and coveting wedding dresses before you’re even in a relationship sort of makes me ill.

(My rant on marriage as an antiquated notion is more appropriate for another time; however, it is possible to take that sort of relationship nihilism to an extreme.)

This being the case, I’ve yet to enter a relationship with a man who wasn’t a really close buddy first. I mean like drinking beers and watching football kind of buddy, not some neutered watered-down “nice guy” friendship where the chick strings the guy along and acts completely equivocal, and he stays on a short leash because he thinks she might eventually view him in a sexual light. Don’t tell me you don’t know the type. This one’s not completely a cliche, I’m afraid.

What this brings to mind is yet another form of cultural conditioning where we sort of fall into these prefabricated marketing categories of male-female relationships.  I blame Meg Ryan. Who made that bitch the be-all end-all of female idealism? Alas, I digress. This isn’t about chick flicks; it’s about the damage they inflict. Even people that claim to be totally immune to these sort of mores often wind up floundering in them.

I went through a pretty brutal breakup about 7 months ago – one that terminated a 4-year relationship that had admittedly been struggling with the distance between us. Still, it was so out of left field that I got whiplash. I think my back is still tweaked from getting the rug yanked out like that. In the same week, I received my Master’s degree and arrived home to a man who had decided to cultivate his “side project.”

By that I mean, it’s pretty shitty to cheat on your girlfriend while she’s living 2000 miles away and then wait until she moves back in with you to do the dumping so you can jump right in with the new flame. If karma is real, I have to hope that it acts quickly. But of course, it’s out of my hands. I have noticed, however, that actions like that have a way of coming back to haunt the actor.

It should not come as a surprise that I am a difficult human being to love. I am way too intellectual for my own good, often moody, incredibly passionate to a fault, and I’ve struggled with some health problems that have made me pretty unpredictable. It’s easy to lay excuses on the health issues, but the fact remains that I am now living a single life.

It kind of surprised me how much I enjoy the single thing. Women really get a shit deal when it comes to cultural conditioning regarding relationships. We’re nothing without a man to validate our existence, right? That’s really something of a non sequitur. This is why a lot of us turn into sluts. If we can’t get the emotional intimacy we’re supposed to desire, we may as well fuck our way to something resembling wholeness. Some of us don’t care how the hole gets filled, just that it does. (I’ll be here all week.)

After I came to embrace single life, I had an epiphany of sorts about this. I was in a committed relationship with a man who tenaciously encouraged me to sleep around. That was his kink. He didn’t get jealous – he got a kick out of the idea of me slutting it up.

Understandably (perhaps), this made me pretty uncomfortable. I don’t think I’m really wired for promiscuity. I like to have a good time as much as the next person, but I was having all of my physical and emotional needs met. Why was he so insistent that I sleep with other men? There is actually an entire subculture of men for whom this kink is a way of life. It got to the point where this encouragement had nothing to do with my personal satisfaction and had everything to do with me being his “property” that he was shopping around. He had always passed it off as the kink being about me, and about my personal pleasure. Nope.

When I had that lightbulb moment, it really made me think about how sadistic our society can be. Take porn and its addicts. Most mainstream porn isn’t about sex. It’s a graphic depiction of men wielding power over willing women in a pretty disturbing manner. There are some pretty shocking exposes of the porn industry that I’ve thumbed through in the past, and the stories those women tell will make your blood curdle. Because – at no time is there any meaningful physical intimacy taking place in porn. It’s psychological torture. It’s debased. It asks women how low they’re willing to stoop, and then demands that they go even lower. It reaches a point where it fails to be empowering to women, stops allowing women to take charge of their sexuality, and becomes instead patriarchy in sadistic action, forcing obedience and personal degradation from the women who participate.

Porn culture produces men who become enamored with the cult of the slut. It short-circuits the part of their brain that wants them to treat a woman as an equal (you know, as a human being and not an object) and instead turns her into a vector for his pleasure and dominance. It assigns value to sluts for their body parts and ability to shop said parts around.

I realize how man-hating this probably sounds. There’s probably not much I could do to convince the gentle reader that I am not, in fact, a man-hater. I would never generalize the entire species based on the actions of one. There is a bigger issue at work here. That issue is the reality that society itself has become completely devoid of compassion. You’d think this would be obvious the way American society has worked really hard to develop its “blame the victim” ethos, but a lot of people seem to think that this is a logical conclusion. Blame yourself for being poor! Clearly it’s something you did! Yep, because it’s my fault my $100,000 worth of degrees aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

This attitude has really taken root, I believe, in part because of the sadism of porn culture. Shit, we can’t even have healthy sexual relationships because the prevailing imagery depicts women getting their asses ripped open by hordes of men. I’ve sort of begun to think there’s something a bit wrong with someone who gets a rise out of that stuff.

My point with all this is how impactful these images that hit the mainstream can be. I really used to think porn was harmless; I did. I’ve begun to rethink that position a bit. Not that I’m ardently against it, but then again, this goes back to my ability to separate fact from fiction, fantasy from reality, glossy porn shoots from the actual awkward sweatiness of sex. As I’ve mentioned before, there are a lot of people who lack the ability to discern what is fantasy from how they should behave. I can see the fun in some of it; I’m a highly visual person, so I get that. But I also recognize it’s not the norm. We’ve effectively brainwashed our culture into believing this is real life.

Porn has contributed to this patriarchal idealism in the sense that men begin to think this is okay. I mean, there is nothing healthy about only getting it up if your girlfriend is off sacrificing her dignity to random strangers. Obviously a distinctly modern problem – a product of the imagery that we are incessantly bombarded with in the name of getting a few rocks off. We’ve come full-circle as a culture: so sexually repressed that sexual deviance is out in the open.

The only thing that is going to solve this is if people can learn to discern reality from the barrage of garbage that saturates their days. But the longer I take in the zeitgeist, the more depressed I get about the situation. I wish that we were free to openly acknowledge one another’s humanness. I wish that healthy sexual relationships were normal. I wish this freaking dialectical nightmare of a country would just realize there’s always more to the story, and not to just swallow everything you see wholesale.

Anyway, this one was long and opinionated. Thoughts?

Lining up at the trough

17 Dec

A few weeks ago, I walked into my class engaged in conversation with a colleague. We were discussing potential doctoral schools for him; places he could go to study early music. The conversation naturally (in our field, at least) turned to the Ivy League as not only the pinnacle of academic achievement but also a terrific place for that specialty.

Our professor overheard the tail end of our conversation, right as I was saying, “I thought about going to Yale, but sold myself short and never applied. Not that I lack the intellect.” She looked at me and said, “Be grateful you didn’t wind up in the Ivy League. They tell you how to think.”

At the time that seemed like an unusual statement. I mean, it’s the Ivy League. Aren’t we all indoctrinated to believe that achieving Ivy League admission is the pinnacle of academic achievement? That’s what teachers ram down our throats from the time we’re 6 years old – you have to get good grades so you get into a “good” school. “Good” schools are always implied to be places that carry serious weight on the piece of paper – Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc.

I was toiling under the impression that these schools were some sort of intellectual haven where the big thinking happens. But, puzzled by my professor’s comment, I did some research. Turns out the Ivy League is a great place to be – if you’re already on the inside. There’s an academic caste system in play here, and if you’re born into the wrong caste, tough shit.

I’ve been reading a book lately by a guy named Chris Hedges called “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.” This is the Amazon summary: We now live in two Americas. One—now the minority—functions in a print-based, literate world that can cope with complexity and can separate illusion from truth. The other—the majority—is retreating from a reality-based world into one of false certainty and magic. To this majority—which crosses social class lines, though the poor are overwhelmingly affected—presidential debate and political rhetoric is pitched at a sixth-grade reading level. In this “other America,” serious film and theater, as well as newspapers and books, are being pushed to the margins of society.

Hedges lays much of the blame for this phenomenon at the feet of the Ivy League machine, which produces elitists of mediocre academic caliber that work extremely hard to maintain the status quo. It is the illusion of an Ivy League education as accessible to anyone with the smarts that really incenses Hedges, and their ongoing effort to keep America complacent and stupid so they can keep walking all over the rest of us.

I mean, this seems somewhat shocking at first take. Really? The Ivy League schools stifle creativity and intellectual initiative? Yes, they do. They rig the system to box out common plebes, because they don’t want you and I knowing what goes on in their inner circles.

Because my professor was right: they tell you what to think, after they carefully cultivate their idea of who and who is not worthy of their prestige. It’s a self-sustaining system. They don’t want serious intellectual inquiry, because serious intellectual inquiry is usually subversive and tries to enlighten the populace about the shenanigans perpetrated by the upper classes. The Ivy League schools are almost entirely populated by people who are already members of these classes. So, shit, why think if you’re already on top?

These schools, writes Hedges, “do only a mediocre job of teaching students to question and think. They focus instead, through the filter of standardized tests, enrichment activities, AP classes, high-priced tutors, swanky private schools, entrance exams, and blind deference to authority, on creating hordes of competent systems managers (89).”

Damn, true that. Harvard MBAs run straight to Wall Street and make up fancy words for ponzi schemes to steal people’s money and gamble with the national economy. Their education is carefully crafted to produce this outcome every time. These universities, according to Hedges, “organize learning around minutely specialized disciplines, narrow answers, and rigid structures designed to produce such answers.” Wow, this sounds exactly like public school!

That’s because it is like public school. I’ve been there. You line up at the trough for your information, and when you’ve had your fill, you just cough it all back up and everyone’s happy. Don’t interpret it – for the love of god don’t do that! Just tell em what they want to hear. And if you can’t do that well, then perhaps you aren’t “college material.” I need several sets of hands to count how many times I was told that. I spent most of high school figuring I was too dumb for college. They’d indoctrinated me to develop a self-conception that was specifically designed to keep me from asking too many questions.

Keep the common rabble from asking questions by keeping them stupid; carefully parcel out the knowledge that they should have and control access to the rest. Teach them that asking questions is bad – just spit back the answer, damn it! Henry Giroux, a longtime critic of the American capitalist culture and the concurrent obliteration of public education, referred to the sad state of academic affairs after 9/11:

“Corporate and Pentagon money was now funding research projects, and increasingly knowledge was being militarized in the service of developing weapons of destruction, surveillance, and death. Couple this assault with the fact that faculty were becoming irrelevant as an oppositional force. Many disappeared into discourses that threatened no one, some simply were too scared to raise critical issues in their classrooms for fear of being fired, and many simply no longer had the conviction to uphold the university as a democratic public sphere.”

This is “moral nihilism,” in the words of Chris Hedges. It relegates voices of common sense and reason to the fringe, making extremism in the service of fat profit the norm. This extremism is the black-and-white version of events that is packaged and sold to the vast majority of Americans. Leave no gray area, no room for questions, and the stupid masses will never question the actions of the people at the top. The education system makes their trade in this approach, particularly in the wake of the disaster that is No Child Left Behind. To take government money, public schools have to tell their students what to think.

Theodor Adorno, ardent cultural critic, wrote in 1967:

“All political instruction finally should be centered upon the idea that Auschwitz should never happen again. This would be possible only when it devotes itself openly, without fear of offending any authorities, to this most important of problems. To do this, education must transform itself into sociology, that is, it must teach about the societal play of forces that operates beneath the surface of political forms.”

Adorno, the Prussian son of a Jew who converted to Protestantism, knew of what he spoke.

By Adorno’s reasoning, we are always one step away from another Auschwitz if we do not make the effort to allow everyone to have an understanding of the forces that move the world. Because institutions like the Ivy League are committed to locking out all but those individuals deemed worthy of being a part of the elite.

They really do teach you how to think and what to think. They really do run the world, from the “ivory tower” that only truly exists in their minds. True academic inquiry goes on at levels considered well “below” that of the vaunted Harvard and Yale addresses, but the dialectical nature of American culture has conditioned people to feel like failures if they wind up a state school. Make ’em feel worthless, knock their intellectual teeth out, and they’ll stay soft and complacent.

As a proud graduate of a low-tier state school, I’m going to try to preach Adorno’s truth to as many open minds as I can.