The Politiconomist

Where Politics and Economics Hang Out

Hipster Objections and the Ice Bucket Challenge

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Ah, yes. The Ice Bucket Challenge has gotten popular so now people are coming out in droves decrying it as bad. For reasons. Mostly reasons that are racist and wrong.

I have some reservations myself, but this piece isn’t about that. The ALS Association seems to have committed no major not-for-profit sins and treating and curing ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) is a goal that isn’t worthy of your derision. Whether or not it’s the best charity or even cause for you to scrape together some cash for I leave to other writers. We’ll be working from the premise that unlike, say, Kony 2012, this charity is going to do good things with the money from their viral campaign.

I want to look at three things here today. First, I want to explain to you why the Ice Bucket Challenge is, from a not-for-profit standpoint, AWESOME! Second, I want to debunk that stupid “but it wastes water” objection. Third, want to talk about what I’ve come to call Hipster Objections, the practice of injecting disprivileged people into conversation to make yourself look better somehow.

Cool Fundraiser!

I used to be a caller for IU’s Telefund, which was as awful as you think. It never stops being awkward to call people and ask them to give money to a cause. It doesn’t matter if you’re good at it, if the other person is nice about it, and if the cause is the most worthy thing in the world. Our norms are such that money and causes are charged, and it’s awkward to talk about them with strangers.

A “normal” fundraiser goes like this: the group approach people through their chose means, asks for money, and accepts what you get. The Ice Bucket Challenge has donors challenge other people to give, presumably people they already have the kind of relationship where talking about money and charitable organizations will be less contentious. The one hitch of asking for donations is that people sometimes want to give but can’t. The Ice Bucket Challenge lets those people get in on it too: you can dump ice over yourself and post it. It makes would-be donors into ambassadors as well!

This is the laudable “give what you can” ethos. Indeed, once the novelty of this challenge wears off, we’ll be left with a few lessons:

  • If you care about a cause, it may be just as productive encourage people to give as to give yourself. Obviously both are better.
  • Not-for-profits would do well to find things that committed non-donors can do, even if not as dramatic and viral as this.
  • Making giving into a social event may make people more willing to give.

Just Shut Up about the Water

Ah, yes, a bucket of ice water. Surely someone else could use that!

I dealt with the issue of "avoiding" above. Advocating for a cause and asking other people to give can be more effective than what you have.  Further, lots of people are doing both; against the "rules", but in the spirit.

I dealt with the issue of “avoiding” above. Advocating for a cause and asking other people to give can be more effective than what you have. Further, lots of people are doing both; against the “rules”, but in the spirit.

Maybe poor people in Africa?

Does this end with The Politiconomist talking about racism?  Stay tuned to find out!

Does this end with The Politiconomist talking about racism? Stay tuned to find out!

Ah, yes, whenver you talk about charities someone will smugly remind you that that money could be using to save poor black people.

First of all, unless you were planning on bottling that up and shipping to “poor people”, your water consumption has nothing to do with most other places. Water is complicated and there are several sources in any given place. One such source is aquifers, underground reservoirs, which usually serve small regions. If I leave the water running where I’m writing in Valparaiso IN, readers in Bloomington IN have a different water source. (And, in both cases, it’s actually surface water from lakes. Michigan in my case, Monroe in Bloomington’s.)

The point being, whatever your local water conditions are matters to wisdom of the challenge. Parts of California should not be doing the ALS challenge. We’re good in about all of the Midwest. This isn’t permission to waste water, but taking a charity challenge with a few gallons is probably less wasteful than a lot of your day-to-day practices. Still worried? Google for better water habits.

The Hipster White Savior

The other half of these objections are much more pernicious.

There is a tendency among a certain, cynical wing of the internet to interject themselves into conversations about developing countries, and to inject disprivileged people into conversations about themselves.

We see it when people decry that “the mainstream media” isn’t covering such and such an issue, usually in the developing world, but occasionally elsewhere. First of all, a Google search will usually reveal that’s wrong. But topically, the subtext is usually, “I read real news that let’s me be up on world events.”

The same phenomena occurs when people lament that, “This is the most important issue no one is talking about.” Again, a Google search reveals this is wrong. In turn, this genre is usually about the developing world. And again, the subtext often is, “Except, of course, enlightened people like me.”

And this sort of Hipster Objection is being raised with the water challenge. I believe that some people are well intentioned (though, hang on), but the smarmy, smug tone many people are taking is such that I can only think that they feel at some level, “Oh, I thought of the poor, suffering African children and all the people thinking about people with a degenerative nerve disorder (!!!) didn’t.”

All that besides, let’s say it’s in good faith. It’s still usually just using the suffering of “African children” to push your own point. They are rarely humanized at all, and reduced down to simply their alleged suffering. Bitching about using a few gallons of water in The United States—to help people with ALS, I can’t stress enough—doesn’t help “African children” or anyone else.


If you don’t think the ALS challenge is the best use of your resources, you may be onto something. The association behind it is getting oodles of money and visibility; other charities could use the love too. In general, I have some questions about the efficacy of using viralness to decide where to allocate our money to even good causes, and I’m not sure everyone taking the challenge has done their homework.

Still, this simply isn’t a threat to global water security, but let’s say you’re genuinely convinced that’s an issue in it’s own right. (You’d be right!) Find a worthy organization and give to that instead. And if you see someone complaining about the wasted water? Tell them to put their money where their mouth is. Tell them to use the lessons of the Ice Challenge and tell people they gave and encourage others to give too. Come up with your own social giving to raise awareness about domestic and global water security.

But don’t use dehumanized “African Children” to make yourself look better while detracting from a cause to earn money to fight an awful, degenerative disease.

Written by Rick Stark

August 21, 2014 at 12:52 PM

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Militarization is Occupation

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The time has come yet again for me to take Benjamin Studebaker to task for a piece. His piece, Demilitarization of the Police Requires Demilitarization of Civilians is, frankly, chilling. A different piece with what he believes to be his core point—that so long as our citizens are unusually well-armed, so too must our police be—has some merit. If this were a piece about how military tools and tactics these fit into a rational police strategy in this country, I might have shared it.

It’s not. It’s a radical call for a shift to the policies of occupation. If any paragraph summarizes his denunciation of your basic rights, it is this one:

For a police for to be effective, it needs a large advantage in military power over the population it is policing. When citizens contemplate committing crimes, they need to know that they are not going to be able to defeat the police in combat, and when police officers contemplate engaging with dangerous criminals, they need to believe that they are very likely to succeed and to survive.

I would, as you will see, object to this as a conclusion, but what’s so especially troubling to me is that it is taken as a starting point. This is militarization, given only a cursory justification. This is what people are worried about—a shift towards this mentality. By taking it as a starting point, he assumes away the core objection many of us are raising against the erosion of the beat-police model.

Serve and Protect?

Military power is the ability to kill or incapacitate your enemy while at once achieving strategic goals. Charitably, Mr. Studebaker may have conceived of it differently and simply be unaware of the concerns being raised by groups like the ACLU.

Regardless of his conception, the issue at hand is the question if tactics and tools designed to kill and incapacitate insurgents in countries we’re occupying are appropriate for daily use by police officers. Still, there is reason to believe that Mr. Studebaker narrowly conceives of military power as the armaments provided by the Federal government:

In the United States, militarization of the police began with the formation of SWAT teams (Special Weapons and Tactics). These teams were created during the 1960’s to oppose paramilitary organizations like the Black Panthers or the Symbionese Liberation Army. By equipping SWAT teams with military-grade weapons and training, police forces were able to raise the confidence of officers when engaging with heavily armed threats.

This escalated after the September 11th attacks. Police forces feared a nightmare scenario in which heavily armed, organized terrorists staged assaults on major cities. And with the increased incidence of mass shootings in the United States, police forces have become increasingly fearful of extraordinarily heavily armed individual killers.

Framing this in terms of arms is an expedition in missing the forest for the trees. That T in SWAT stands for Tactics, and refers to the special training centered around a more militaristic approach to dealing with threats. It’s something that those for demilitarization need to keep our eyes on too. The APCs with high caliber cannons loaded on them are symbolic, but much more dangerous is the training and tactics that go with them. And it’s not wise to separate the training from the weapons; you can’t give police military equipment and not train them to use it, which almost always means military-esque training. Therefore, militarization is first and foremost a change in methodology, albeit one currently driven by the munitions the Federal government is unwisely unloading.

Unsurprisingly, once the police have special weapons and tactics, they are like the proverbial man with a hammer–everything starts to look like a nail. And so we have seen a tremendous rise in the incidence of police forces using military tactics in seemingly trivial situations, such as no-knock searches of suspects homes for drugs and other contraband, or containing peaceful demonstrators. Yet police defend these operations on the grounds that they cannot know if the suspects or demonstrators are heavily armed. They claim they are taking precautions for the safety of officers and for the surrounding community. As long as there is a substantive chance that criminals or demonstrators will be heavily armed, police forces will want to be armed yet more heavily so that they can sustain an intimidating power advantage over potential perpetrators and remain confident in their ability to defeat them in combat without sustaining losses.

One must ask: How common are combat situations in the United States? The write-up I linked above gave some startling statistics: 4 out of 5 of the deployments of SWAT were to serve search warrants, which are rarely active threats nor known to have weapons. Indeed, closer to 7 in 100 was for the justifications Mr. Studebaker gives.

Whether or not that remaining 7% even meets the standards for full “combat” is a semantic issue I’d prefer not to agonize over. But if we take it in a military context—supposedly the issue today—then it is doubtful that all of even those cases would meet a reasonable standard of combat. How often is the person they are taking on trained and trying to kill or incapacitate with wider strategic goals?

The specific answer to the question will determine how appropriate cross-training a small number of officers to handle these situations is. Further, before militarization, it was the Feds and National Guard who handled these sorts of things. It was an interlocking check and balance. Local authorities had a lot of latitude about when to intervene, but were limited in what they could do. State and National authorities had more power, but were restrained in when they could wield it. Certainly it wasn’t perfect, and certainly large municipalities which need these resources are capable of creating internal checks. But the exceptions proves the rule.

That our police want more power and get it because they believe they need it sets us up for gross violations of liberty, property, and life like we’ve seen from militarized departments.

The tradeoff of safety is somewhat dubious here as well. The foregoing statistics alone prove that, but so does experience. It’s almost comical to read that in Ferguson, “Three female police officers on bicycles stood by during the gathering, which remained peaceful and lasted just over an hour.” When your response to a grieving community isn’t escalation, things don’t escalate.

No surprise: When our police act as occupiers, our people act as the occupied. And let me pull something else from DeCarlo’s interview:


(emphasis original)

I would be remiss to not discuss the racial coding of this. If the population of Ferguson is military threat to be killed or incapacitated—and was before the police shot Brown multiple times in broad daylight—then let us fully appropriate the language of colonization and occupation to describe policing. The white military force is failing to suppress the black locals. The locals have begun a revolution, and we should gun them down on the streets for the good of our occupation and the safety of our soldiers.

I don’t believe for a second Mr. Studebaker would take it this far. But one must merely turn on the news to see that’s where militarization leads. “Bring it on, animals!” Supposedly, that man was a fellow citizen of the animals he was ready to take on. But of course, in the United States, we all know that black people aren’t really citizens. So let us dispense with the nice words about peace, police safety, and order so we don’t have to discuss the unpleasant truth: We are occupying our own people.

There’s a lot more to be said, and a lot of people saying it very well. John Oliver managed to balance a laugh-so-you-don’t-cry piece while still conveying the anger and rage the community rightfully feels at the police occupation.

But perhaps it was the meme that got going early that summed it up most for me. I give the last words to Admiral Adama:

Of course, he then proved his own point by making that mistake later.

Written by Rick Stark

August 18, 2014 at 12:36 PM

A Delightful Differential Deduction

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I’ll be upfront: Most of you don’t have the math to appreciate this. This post is for those who’ve taken differential equations, and is a bit indulgent. (Sorry/not sorry.)

The first-order differential equation:


can be solved through all sorts of means, but one I don’t recall covering in my class links it up to second-order differential equations. If you take the dirivative of the foregoing, you get:


You can set these equations equal to each other!


In turn, you get a simple equation:


If you took differential equations, this solves fairly easily to:

y=c_1 e^t+c_2 e^{-t}.

Now, a first order differential equation shouldn’t have two parameters like that, so we have to put it back into the first:

c_1 e^t-c_2 e^{-t}+c_1 e^t+c_2 e^{-t}=e^t.

Simplification drops one of the parameters:

2c_1 e^t=e^t.

This implies that c1 is one half! Or:

y=.5 e^t+ce^t

It’s somewhere between a first and second order linear equation, which just tickles me. (Well, strictly it is a first-order differential equation, but you can feel an almostness in the et term.)

I at least find it delightful.

Written by Rick Stark

August 11, 2014 at 12:00 PM

Suing Obama and Federalist 47

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Just a quick bit today. A friend of mine sent me a link to Fox Insider where they, among other things, have a video with an ominous reading of Federalist 47:

The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, selfappointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.

The context is suing Obama over not implementing the employer mandate on Congress’s schedule. If you’re curious, Vox has a piece about how this has only a tiny chance of succeeding. (It removes only one of several of the historical hurdles.) Conservatives are citing Federalist 47—the broad argument for separation of powers—as to why this is so grave. Ironically, Federalist 47 lays out exactly why the courts are slow to side with Congress.

No, really, think about it! Congress is butthurt that Obama isn’t executing the law they want and is asking the Courts to force a particular execution. If any powers are being mixed, it is that Congress is asking for greater say in how the executive implements its will! The Courts have repeatedly held in line with the principles in Federalist 47 that the Executive has some prerogative when implementing a Congressional mandate. The Courts have held that it is not their place to tell the Executive when to roll out laws, and that Congress’s power to do so is limited by not being the ones with the power to roll them out.

The Courts have found that executives are dragging their feet, which if we’re being honest, is not an unfounded charge. Provided The House can overcome the standing problems detailed in the Vox piece, that may well be the finding of the Courts.

But it’s hardly that anything has changed; the Executive still gets to execute on their schedule, not on the Legislative Branch’s.

Written by Rick Stark

August 2, 2014 at 11:44 AM

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PSA: Gay Street-Harassment Happens in Bloomington

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Confession: I’m an occasional stress-eater. Not so much the archetypal unhealthy stress-makes-me-binge-eat-every-time stress-eater, but when under pressure I occasionally cave and have fried chicken or a pair of donuts. And right now, I’m in the middle of a move. The stress is killing me and I was hungry to begin with and my apartment is a pleasant walk from an around the clock donut place. So I went for donuts.

I was enjoying the walk when crossing a nearly-deserted intersection someone yelled, “Faggot!”

I wheeled around to see my every stereotype confirmed. A 20-something I can only describe as a “douche-bro*” was leaning out of red, moving pickup truck. My mouth dropped open. I was genuinely surprised.

First off, I have passing privilege! Folks on the street don’t peg me as gay so long as I don’t, you know, talk. I have only twice had this kind of drive-by harassment in Bloomington. Once it was truly a surprise, the other time I was holding my then-boyfriend’s hand. I know LGBT folks in Bloomington get street-harassed, but I have the privilege of “passing” as straight and usually don’t. It’s always jarring to lose it.

But also—this is Bloomington!

That’s why I’m putting this down. This happens to less “straight-seeming” folks than me on a regular basis. (Those who feel comfortable, please, please consider testifying to that fact in the comments either here or on Facebook.) It’s easy to sit back and think, “Ah, Bloomington! A place where gays can be gay!” But it’s not so simple.

Homophobia, both casual and aggressive, still permeate many spaces. This is just one facet. It spans from micro-aggressions and tokenization to outright violence. One must still be careful in some bars, mind what they say to some professors, and in general worry about things straight folks still don’t have to.

Don’t mistake me. Bloomington has been very good to me, as a gay man and beyond. I feel a bit guilty that these will be among my parting words. But if I learned anything here, it is the importance of Justice and calling out these sorts of things.

So to everyone, Bloomington’s great. Gay friendly. I’ve told younger LGBT folks that, if the University is a good fit academically, they needn’t worry too much about being out and proud in this town. My boss here endorsed me giving my number to a flirty costumer. If I have a complaint, it’s that the gay men here are a little too comfortable with the status quo.

But to those who are still going to be here, and those of you who’ve left, we have work to do. Bloomington isn’t perfect. Whether we’re talking about what to do moving forward or thinking back to what Bloomington did right we want to carry elsewhere, we should remember that.

Because, dammit! I know most of you want to make it all the better.

P.S. For those who might be worried, I’ll be fine. I’m well past the point that a little street-harassment will do more than unsettle me for a few minutes. I post because not everyone is as confident as I feel.

*Yes, “douche-bro” is hardly a term that shows grace on my part, but I’m not going to apologize for this either.

Written by Rick Stark

July 22, 2014 at 9:44 PM

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Dear Kansas: We Teach Freshman Not to Cut Taxes Like You Did

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Kansas cut taxes hoping it would get enough growth. It hasn’t happened, and we shouldn’t expect it to have.

We Bore the Freshmen With This

The concept Kansas is working with is called The Laffer Curve. In theory it’s a sound idea, but it’s a good example of wishful thinking all the same.

The intuition is easy enough. The higher the tax, the lower consumption. When the tax is zero, the state makes no money. At some point, the tax will be so high that the thing in question won’t be sold, and the revenue will also be zero. (Well, legal sales, anyway, but modeling the black market is unnecessary. If you have properly estimated the legal market, the black market is implicitly accounted for in your curves.) That means that state revenue as a function of the tax rate will have a characteristic “hump” shape. This curve is called the Laffer Curve.

This is one of those things that is true for most markets. It’s possible to mathematically contrive situations where the Laffer Curve won’t have that hump, but those goods would be extraordinary. They’d violate the laws of supply or demand! So, Laffer isn’t wrong and those who follow him make a fair point.

But that dries up fast.

An Elementary Example

Most intro classes put supply and demand down as lines a plane. This stylization is just that—so we must keep in mind that any results we derive from this are limited by our model’s assumptions. Still, this graph will look familiar:

The size of each box corresponds to the revenue for the tax used to derive it.  While not rigorously derived here, it can be shown that the green box is the largest possible box you could draw.  Notice that both a higher and lower tax has lower revenue.

The size of each box corresponds to the revenue for the tax used to derive it. While not rigorously derived here, it can be shown that the green box is the largest possible box you could draw. Notice that both a higher and lower tax has lower revenue.

What you find is that state can increase its revenue only to a point, as suggested by the Laffer intuition I detailed above. That point happens to be a 300% tax rate! The state can tax up to 300% before increasing it further costs it money!

Granted, the state may have other goals besides revenue collection. After all, by sheer numeric coincidence, the deadweight of this policy happens to be half of the taxes being collected. Whether or not its worth it to collect those taxes is open to debate, but it will never be worth it to collect more than 300%.

Pretty much whatever models you use, you get a large turn-around point. Without getting to much into the technical details, the simple models give positive results more often when you are measuring over smaller intervals; it may be a bit hasty to suggest that we have data to estimate the turn-around point. Still, Kansas should hardly have assumed itself near it!

Now Comes the Ass-Covering

The economist Stephen Moore was a proponent of this model. Cut taxes, increase revenue. As a testable proposition, even he concedes he failed. He’s written a piece for The Kansas City Star. I’m not here to take the piece to task, but it’s full of factual inaccuracies. (Krugman and the President are pretty far apart on economic strategies, for example.) What I am here to point out is that he’s engaging in some pretty simple misdirection:

As for Kansas, the tax cut has been in effect a mere 18 months—not a lot of time to measure the impact.

You’re kidding, right?. The Laffer argument is based on conditions on the ground. If you have have to appeal to long-term changes, you’re not doing a Laffer analysis! People should be aware that if they cut taxes, their state will likely move towards the red. In the long-run, those states might recover—though if you’re running a deficit, it’s hard to argue your state is attractive.

Taking the piece at face value, there may be pseudo-Laffer effect whereby cutting taxes leads to an increase in population. Two things must be noted. The piece takes data from sustainable cases; the states in question aren’t in the red. Second, this may still imply a per-capita falling of welfare—welfare here in the economic sense of GDP per person. If you double GDP but triple population, the average person is worse off. By the same token, if you double population but keep government spending the same, it has effectively fallen.

There’s a lot more to parse in that piece—and one might reasonably support sustainable cuts to government—but don’t fall for the misdirection: Kansas’s government was not able to make up the difference from growth.

Well, Did It Create Growth?


Tax cuts are expected to create more consumption on net, and so more jobs. A good deal of the difference is lost to rearrangement. Cutting a 5% tax rate in half in the above example increases the amount of money in the economy by a mere quarter of a percent.

But this assumes the markets being intervened in are unaffected by the tax cut—which is likely wrong. If government intervention is correcting an imbalance there, then it will eat that small margin. People like Laffer and Moore are optimistic that those interventions are inefficient as well, and so the margin might be bigger than a quarter of a percent.

This is notoriously hard to measure. It’s why a good policy mix isn’t just a matter of empirical fact. (Though, yes, that matters.) A good rule of thumb, then, is to consider what’s being lost when we make the tax cut.

In Conclusion

Laffer was wrong, again. Cutting taxes, when taxes are not exorbitant, will not lead to an increase in government revenue.

Freshmen in college are shown these models. There is simply no reason for Governors and economists to misunderstand them. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. That lowering the rate you collect revenue should raise the amount of revenue is extraordinary.

Don’t fall for it.

Written by Rick Stark

July 12, 2014 at 4:16 PM

Thought Dump: “You Are Triggering Me!”

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CW: Readers should be advised that I follow the original piece in that I will be discussing a specific transphobic slur.

The latest broadsiding of Social Justice that is making its way through my social circles is Jack Halberstam’s “You Are Triggering Me! The Neo-Liberal Rhetoric of Harm, Danger and Trauma”. I will be answering the underlying concerns of that are fueling the shares in a separate post. (Soon, I hope? It’s a slow birth, as it were.) For now, I want to put down some thoughts about the piece which are important, but do not necessarily fit into what I’m working on.

  • The piece is terribly structured and delivered. The first two-thirds are an unorganized rambling replete with historical inacuracies and internal contradictions. The last third is a name-checking of some neo-Freudians wherein he doesn’t talk about what they believe. Of course, the messenger isn’t the message…but bless me! The messenger is awful!
  • You probably disagree with Halberstam. He is not arguing against social justice, per se. Rather, he’s taking a neo-Freudian stance. The tip-off is when he says, “And so, while in the past, we turned to Freud’s mystic writing pad to think of memory as a palimpsest, burying material under layers of inscription, now we see a memory as a live wire sitting in the psyche waiting for a spark.” You might think this an unfavorable comparison, but actually, if you dig into the people he name-checks (particularly Anna Cheng) you might be surprised by the arguments there.
  • At this point I’ve split open the “What’s the value of Freud” debate. I defer to better minds on the details, but I bring it up because this isn’t just something we ought to be exasperated about. Few people are up on the details of the neo-Freudian theories of grief, and many people with informed opinions on Freud would judge this body of scholarship harshly if they examined it. My point here is more to remind everyone that sentiments like, “There are complex discourses on trauma readily available as a consequence of decades of work on memory, political violence and abuse,” carry more weight when those discourses are well-regarded. We don’t know them because they’re not mainstream thoughts in Social Justice. Granted, this may be in error but…?
  • Neo-Liberal is one of those terms which can be slippery if you don’t know how the author means it. Undefined and jettisoned into wider discussion, it could mean anything from “the moderate capitalism proposed by Keynes et al”, to the resurging libertarian (á là Nozick) left. Important regardless is the primacy of the individual and the culture of individual experience.
  • We can probably understand Neo-Liberalism in this piece as the system that prioritizes individual mental health over collective organizing. If you’re finding that jarring, well, yeah, I’m not bailing Halberstad out of proclamations like: “Instead of realizing, as Moten and Hearny put it in The Undercommons, that ‘we owe each other everything,’ we enact punishments on one another and stalk away from projects that should unite us, and huddle in small groups feeling erotically bonded through our self-righteousness.”
  • An example of both the contradictions and silencing in this piece can be found in the politics of the word “tranny”.
  • To get our feet wet: If Justin Vivian Bond finds this to be so “trifling”, perhaps then she should consider not bothering with it and instead not use the slur in the first place. But I doubt she means this is some small matter, as she’s digging her heels in and kicking up a fuss. If you are committed to an issue being unimportant and division being minimized, it is your burden to concede the point. Those of us who give enough of a damn to raise the issue in the first place obviously don’t find this “trifling”.
  • There’s an actual wrinkle in the politics of the word “tranny”. Some people use it as an identifier. There are a lot of complexities in evaluating this. (How to figure in-group, present connotations, mental health ramifications of slurs…) So, Halberstad isn’t off-base when for suggesting that “tranny” has reclamation potential.
  • Where I lose him is when he starts suggesting the problem here is that we’re not taking the possible harms to those who identify that way seriously. “Indeed, it is becoming difficult to speak, to perform, to offer up work nowadays without someone, somewhere claiming to feel hurt, or re-traumatized by a cultural event, a painting, a play, a speech, a casual use of slang, a characterization, a caricature and so on whether or not the ‘damaging’ speech/characterization occurs within a complex aesthetic work.” He ignores the neo-liberal justification for this: namely that a lot of things are hurtful to individuals and we have a lot of work to do to amend that.
  • Nowhere is this clearly than this example: “Another piece at this performance conference that featured a “fortune teller” character was accused of orientalist stereotyping.” Without seeing the piece, can we agree that fortune tellers are often awkwardly orientalist? Or perhaps Asian folks should put justice for themselves through representation on hold so that your conference goes uninterrupted? (See also: “At one conference, a play that foregrounded the mutilation of the female body in the 17th century was cast as trans-phobic and became the occasion for multiple public meetings to discuss the damage it wreaked upon trans people present at the performance.”
  • In summary, you’d think the politics of the word “tranny” are such that there’d be no problem if only the unnamed critics of the usage would stop their damn whining! You can see why it becomes necessary for Halberstad to deny the validity of the individual’s mental health—if only implicitly—in favor of a stylized conception of social psychoanalysis. Of course, he forgets to make the case for why we ought to privilege the feelings of individuals who want to reclaim words, but at least he doesn’t have to worry about hurt?
  • This bit takes on the ageism at work. (And makes a few other good points.) I must have missed how Halberstad turned my high school into a paradise to grow up gay in, but I for one am super grateful he did! “And then, once they ‘age out’ of their youth groups, those same LGBT youth become hypersensitive to all signs and evidence of the abuse about which they have learned.” Not only was talking about a youth group labeled as not-school-appropriate, I put up with death threats, hostile teachers, and the usual micro-aggressions. Halberstad’s generation did a lot for mine, but I will tolerate the bullshit suggestion that he handed off a fixed world.
  • There’s a lot more to say, and even I’ll be adding more. But let’s end this by answering this: “Is this the way the world ends? When groups that share common cause, utopian dreams and a joined mission find fault with each other instead of tearing down the banks and the bankers, the politicians and the parliaments, the university presidents and the CEOs?” I can’t tell the deeper difference between someone who asks trans women to just take this one for the team—you probably just learned that hurt in a support group anyway!—and economic injustice. Both are ways of taking power away from classes of people to further the ends of those in power. Oh, but right, I’m supposed to dehumanize bankers and view trans women as my natural allies who will help me with what I think. Because that’s justice, I take it?

Written by Rick Stark

July 11, 2014 at 8:40 PM


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