Friday, September 27, 2013

This post is boring and long and kinda hard to relate to

I've mentioned before that I think that crowd-sourced reviews of old books may signal the end of civilization. This was in response to reviews of Emile, which tend to say, in summarized paraphrase: "I read the part about Sophie and promptly lit this book on fire." Now, admittedly, we might be relieved that at least the modern, non-academic reader had a response it, and that it was not overly technical. Most early modern texts produce one of two kinds of crowd-sourced reviews - those written by technicians who outline the entire argument for you, and those written by lazers who wish to inform you that this book was very long, difficult, and boring. Mostly boring. Some reviewers of the latter party do admit that the book is "important," but this consideration does not apparently move them to work harder at it.

For example, Locke's Essay:
"Okay, I like philosophy, but everything has limits! I had to read this book for an assignment I have, and well, it was...weird? John Locke kept on saying something and after some pages going all against to what he previously said. His opinions? I don't know if I agree, I was too absorbed trying to make sense of what he was actually saying. And I had to keep notes, so yeah..."

Grotius's On the Rights of War and Peace:
"This is a painful read, but there's worthwhile information in there. I don't know. I'm very ambivalent toward it."

There are, in addition, a plural number of reviews of More's Utopia accusing More of being a Marxist propagandist. A reviewer of Mill's Autobiography seems to be under the impression that Mill was "admittedly not very smart, but diligent," and also that he was an American. And it goes on. Allan Bloom wrote in The Closing of the American Mind that he was charmed by the habit of American students to take great books at face value, naively assuming they are just regular books and their authors just the folks next door, like "Mr. Aristotle." Well, here is the flipside of this democratic leveling. Mr. More is a Marxist, and his book "more an insight into the minds of Renaissance-era Englishmen than anything useful today as a philosophical statement."

But, I have decided that I will not stand idly by as civilization is destroyed by careless democratic readers. No, I will fight them with my own brand of careless democratic reviews, beginning with Grotius. What follows is a review of On the Rights of War and Peace, by Miss Self-Important, democrat:
De Jure Belli ac Pacis means On the Justice of War and Peace in Greek. This is a kinda weird book, as far as books go, but pretty worthwhile in the end. The plot starts out real slow at first, and the characters are distant and hard to relate to. You really have to get used to Grotius' style, which is a little outdated because he was a Roman, and he references tons of Roman and other examples to bolster his arguments, sometimes even like 20 pages of examples, and by the end, you're like, OK I get it dude, Jesus said it was ok to have wars, or whatever. This book is really long, but I feel like in olden times, people maybe just wrote longer books, and you have to be patient about that because they say a lot of good stuff when you give them a chance.
Grotius' main point is that there is a natural law in the world which governs even how countries have wars with each other, even though while they're having the war, it seems like they might not be governed by any laws at all, so many people have argued that there is no such law. But this natural law is not based on God or anything subjective or controversial like that (although God is cool with it). It's based on two things: the universally observable human impulse to defend himselves when he is under attack, and the equally universal fact that humans are sociable and want to live together. The first part justifies why war is justified in the first place, because we have a right to defend ourselves when we're attacked. But the second is really cool, because it limits the extent to which we can do the first part, so that we can't just do whatever we want in self-defense, like Mr. Tom Hobbes says thousands of years later, but we can only defend ourself to the degree that our defense promotes sociability, or maintains our society as a whole. That still means we can do a lot of badass stuff in war though.
I'm not sure if I buy Grotius ultimately, because it's really hard to make countries follow laws when they are in wars and there is no way to hold them to the laws, or they feel existential about a particular war and conclude that they have to do whatever it takes to win it or be totally crushed, like what happened to the land of Carthage in Grotius' time. But for the most part, I feel like Grotius is really good to read when you get tired of some of the edgier authors in this genre like Bodin and Hobbes, because he has a more moderate idea about what a country's self-interest is, and thinks that laws about contract and property can be extrapolated from within a country to govern relations among countries. Especially for people who care about international law and human rights nowadays, it's really important for them to justify that without relying on different subjective religions, and if you think that Grotius' justifications are not that good, you need to think about whether you have any better ones.
True, it's not very comprehensive. But, by posting such reviews, can I persuade democrats that, since other democrats, even outright idiots, managed to read and digest the books they were so bored by and pre-emptively jaded about, they can do it too? That the baseline expectation for even writing a review is reading the book and having at least three thoughts about it, one of which can be descriptive? It's kind of deceitful, sure, but could it be effective? Or is making these books seem easy and accessible only going to exacerbate the turpitude?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sex and Consequences

It is well-known that Yale was founded as an orthodox Puritan alternative to dissipated, heretical Harvard, and I am pleased to see that this founding impulse remains strong there. First, there was the blanket ban on faculty-student relations, and now, this wonderfully detailed guide to ways one might go about having sex there, to which are appended the variety of punishments one will face afterwards. Gawker has already pointed out many of the things that make this guide so useful, and also how it might be improved with the addition of more potential scenarios for the serious student of college sex, the one who desires a synoptic understanding of the subject. However, I'm a little disappointed to discover that all these scenarios frame "sexual misconduct" exclusively as a matter of discerning the nature of consent. Are there not other forms of "sexual misconduct" following from consent that we could also punish, if only we first elaborated them clearly?

For example [Ed. note - advance reading of Yale's scenarios will greatly assist in the understanding of these essential additions]:

Jib and Twizzle meet at an organic chemistry study group and experience immediate and undeniable...chemistry. Jib invites Twizzle upstairs afterwards, and they mutually and consensually throw themselves into one another's arms. So great is their passion for one another however, that as they press up against one of the centuries-old windows in Jib's dormitory room, the hinges give way, and both Jib and Twizzle are defenestrated.
This is malicious destruction of university property: although Jib and Twizzle reached positive, voluntary, unambiguous agreement to engage in sexual conduct together, they failed to gain the window's consent to these proceedings. Since the steam generated by their conduct makes it difficult for the UWC to determine which of the two was the presser and which the pressee at the time of the defenestration, the spirit of gender equity that animates the UWC's policies requires that both be charged with felony vandalism after they have recovered from injuries sustained in their mutually consensual fall. 

Oatmeal and Cholera are classmates who meet at a party, flirt, dance closely, kiss, spin around in concentric circles, exchange a series of primal mating calls, lick each other's faces, and agree to go home together. On the walk to Oatmeal's room, they send a few texts, letting Cholera's friends know not to be jealous, and asking Oatmeal's roommate to please sleep somewhere else. Once in the room, they discover that Oatmeal's roommate, Pest, does not want to sleep somewhere else. "It's my damn room," Pest remonstrates, and Oatmeal and Cholera "can go to a motel or screw on the lawn for all I care, but I have a physics exam tomorrow and I'm going to sleep in my own dorm." Oatmeal and Cholera look at one another, then at Pest, then at one another again. Using only their eyes, they mutually consent to and execute a plan to place Pest in a large trash receptacle, affix the receptacle's lid tightly with duct tape, and leave it in one of the closets overnight. Oatmeal and Cholera then proceed to have undisturbed sex all night long, and release Pest the following morning in time for his exam.
This is consensual sex: Oatmeal and Cholera reached positive, voluntary, unambiguous, even telepathic agreement to engage in sexual conduct together. They go out of their way to honor Pest's request to "sleep in my own dorm," ensuring that he has a quiet space to rest in preparation for his exam. However, Pest's disrespectful language and effort to disrupt the mutually consensual sexual congress of Oatmeal and Cholera is in violation of the UWC's policies on "cockblocking." The UWC penalty would likely be mandatory sensitivity training for Pest.

Clap and Harpie are strangers who have arranged to meet for sex, an activity neither of them has had time to attempt earlier due to heavy academic commitments, but which both are anxious to initiate because each has heard many positive things about it from the university. Having carefully reviewed the theoretical gender and sexuality literature available in Sterling Library in advance, they have already exchanged signed statements of mutual consent to sexual conduct which include detailed lists of activities to which they are amenable. They meet in Clap's room, and after a preliminary discussion of their preferred gender pronouns and mutual commitment to subverting the paradigmatic norm of patriarchal repression which is reified in the present hegemonic form of the genital-dependent sex act, they proceed to disrobe. But when they move to engage each other, they discover that neither of them knows how to proceed. Having renounced the gender binary and its social construction of genital difference, they find that basic forms of instruction available in books and on the internet are inapplicable to their situation. They agree to turn to Yale's sexual scenarios memo for guidance, recalling that it shares their commitment to gender non-specificity. After applying themselves to a close reading of the document, Clap and Harpie derive a series of steps to follow, including rubbing each other's shoulders, crying and embracing, looking up at one another questioningly, and pulling each other close and then hesitating. They follow this progression, but remain unable to initiate the sex act. They become increasingly frustrated as the night wears on and sex continues to elude them, and after exchanging a series of recriminating remarks about one another's intelligence, appearance, and sexual function, Harpie throws a shoe at Clap's head, and marches out of the room, slamming the door and waking other students residing on that floor.
Although Clap and Harpie demonstrated a strong commitment to positive, voluntary, unambiguous agreement to engage in sexual conduct together, they failed to engage in the conduct. Initial consent was followed by ambiguity as Clap's and Harpie's expectations from each other diverged. In the process of attempting to engage in the conduct, Harpie transgressed Clap's stated limits of acceptable sexual activity. In this case, there was no consent to receive a blow to the cranium from projectile footwear. The UWC penalty for Harpie would likely be expulsion, and it would likely counsel Clap to get counseling.


In the benighted past, it was difficult to pursue simultaneous careers in writing pornography and academic administration, but thanks in large part to the pioneering efforts of places like Yale, it is now possible to combine these interests into a single post, charged with the composition of administrative porn. Perhaps you can think of other incidents to be included in a second edition of this important memo? 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Mysteries of the universe, explained: LinkedIn

A few months ago, I asked what the purpose of LinkedIn was. Now, there is a thorough explanation (via TNA). There are many deep truths embedded in this essay, including this description of what could well be every institutional happy hour ever held in DC:
LinkedIn merely digitizes the core, and frequently cruel, paradox of networking events and conferences. You show up at such gatherings because you want to know more important people in your line of work—but the only people mingling are those who, like you, don’t seem to know anyone important. You just end up talking to the sad sacks you already know.
Or worse, the army of unpaid interns for whom you, as a low-level but nonetheless salaried employee, are simultaneously the rival and the only social hope in the room.

And, on a practical note, after reading that, “You can add up to 50 relevant skills and areas of expertise (like ballet, iPhone and global business development),” I tried to enter "none to speak of" in the "skills" box of my own LinkedIn profile, and the website experienced a fatal error in response to my effort. Evidently, it is actually impossible to be unskilled. Only unemployed.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Populism in journalism, part 2

You know what's better journalism than covering the news? Publishing an accusatory article on "cultural" topics (Harvard, gender) that you know will generate a flood of indignant web comments, and then making news out of those comments. Front page news, even. Once again, who needs reporting when you can just copy and paste unattributed, unverified reader responses?

Also excellent in this piece is the assertion that,
Even though Section X is hard to pin down — some students said they did not believe it existed at all — it causes enormous resentment on campus, starting with its name. Every Harvard Business School class is organized into 10 sections labeled A through J, and the name Section X implies a pulling away from the wider community.
Advice to Section X-ers from the HBS student body: Just rename yourselves "Section K," and all will be forgiven.