June 15th, 2022

The other day, my partner (who is nonbinary) shared with me a video clip that was making the rounds on twitter. The clip is from the documentary “What Is a Woman,” by conservative youtube personality (some might say “grifter”) Matt Walsh, in which he interviews Dr. Patrick Grzanka, a professor of Women, Gender and Sexuality studies at the University of Tennessee. If you don’t know who Matt Walsh is, Dr. Grzanka didn’t either, and the segment begins somewhat innocuously. The professor seems under the impression that this is a good-faith interview and that his counterpart is genuinely curious to understand contemporary academic theories of gender identity. It is quickly apparent, however, that Walsh is there with an agenda, as he edits Grzanka’s in-depth response to the question “are sex and gender the same thing” into a montage that makes the professor appear to drone on and on without arriving at a simple answer to the question. As the conversation continues, the professor clues in to the fact that his counterpart is not there in good faith at all; the interview turns hostile, and unfolds as one might expect.

Twitter user JudeWTH shared this clip with the tweet “Lol imagine you seek this discussion out, get absolutely rolled in the conversation, and then STILL put it in your movie,” followed by the clown face emoji. My partner, who shared the clip with me, did so with the initial sense that I would agree that Walsh had been bested by the gender studies professor; but that was not how I perceived it. On the contrary, I feel that Walsh got what he came for: he wanted to show how detached from reality liberal college professors and gender theorists are, and the professor’s impulse to go into the fascinating nuance of something as immaterial and subjective as ‘gender’ became perfect fodder for the narrative that says “these people can’t even answer a simple yes or no question”. When the question was “Are sex and gender the same thing,” Grzanka’s answer was long-winded enough for Walsh’s editors to squeeze in 3 slow fade cuts and make it look like hours of masturbatory liberal arts drivel. When the question was “What is a woman,” and the professor answered, “Whoever identifies as one,” it was easy for Walsh to point out that he could identify as African American and be incorrect, which the professor did not seem to agree with, further making him look like his perspective is detached from reality, or like he was afraid to speak the truth.

To be clear, I am not a gender essentialist (someone who believes that gender and sex are in lock-step with one another), but I do know how to think like one, because I am a white, cisgender man raised between 2 sets of parents, one of which is conservative and Christian. I have enough baseline understanding of the thought process going on here to see that Walsh was very much in control of this interview, and the segment serves his purposes and confirms all of the biases of the people his content is designed to please. On many levels, I understand exactly why these people are so frustrated by the academic discussion of gender; As a “red blooded man” (whatever that means) I have a deep and immediate intuition of “what a woman is” because on an animal level my understanding of the concept is not an academic theory but a visceral physical reaction to a certain thing that I have been socialized to understand as ‘woman’. When I am asked “what is a woman”, I don’t “feel” like the answer is complicated, because my body seems to know what a woman is, independent of whatever words and labels we use to describe ourselves. I have a knee-jerk association between the concept of ‘woman’ with the primal sense of desire and duty I have felt while relating to some women, and I imagine that there are many men who know precisely the physical and emotional response to which I am referring. We can split hairs, we can parse this down into some convoluted bundle of ten dollar words and reasons that I should feel

June 3rd, 2022

What do you think of when I say the words ‘Cancel Culture’?

You’ll feel some kind of way about it. You’ll either posit that it doesn’t exist (that the cultural practice of ‘cancelling’ is a form of accountability and consequences for bad behavior), that it does exist but isn’t that big of a deal, or that it is a huge cultural problem. At any rate, you have a neuronal pattern that lights up inside of your brain when you process the english word pairing ‘cancel’ and ‘culture’ in immediate succession. Let me extend that for you.

Whether or not ‘cancel culture’ exists does not change the fact that a pattern of consciousness has entered our awareness and we are attempting to name it. We don’t necessarily have clean lines and clear boundaries around what this thing is, but enough of us have bumped up against it in some capacity that there’s a collective ‘sense’ that something new is here. There’s some kind of force at work in people, for any number of reasons. Maybe it’s the way that social media incentives are designed; maybe it’s the way that our modes of production have systematically disempowered the vast majority of participants in ‘the market’ and made us feel like collective vitriol is our only recourse in moments of injustice; maybe it’s a general lack of emotional and intellectual maturity in the average user – myself included – leading us to quickly shout unkind hyperbole in the wake of ‘the latest drama’. It’s probably all of these things, but it’s also something deeper and more insidious than that.

Cancel Culture is an Egregore. Strap in.

May 26th, 2022

What do we want, and do we have the courage to demand it from the universe, or the cleverness and patience to construct it without permission?

There are a lot of people who don’t actually know what they want.

To be fair, it’s kind of a modern challenge, isn’t it? Used to be ‘wanting’ stuff was as simple as going and getting food, or building a fire. These days, you’re expected to invent an abstracted map of your life in the near, mid, and long term timescales, and then devote every waking minute to pursuit of it.

And it’s a bit grueling, and a bit depressing, when you realize that you’re giving up every moment of blissful presence so that you can ‘create value’ for one severely detached old capitalist standing at the top of a very, very tall pyramid. And that everyone else is, too. And that we’re all so used to it that, at this point, NOT living that way might lead you to feel less joy than living this way does. At least this way, you can feel like you’re being productive, and like the distributed face of society might be smiling down on you from somewhere. At least this way you can afford Disney+.