Smart people saying smart things (04.10.24)

Smart people saying smart things (04.10.24) April 10, 2024

Masha Gessen, “Comparison is the way we know the world”

His imagination changed. At the beginning, he didn’t know what was going to happen. He didn’t know that the Holocaust was possible.

We do. We are not any smarter, kinder, wiser, or more moral than people who lived ninety years ago. We are just as likely to needlessly give up our political power and to remain willfully ignorant of darkness as it’s dawning. But we know something they didn’t know: we know that the Holocaust is possible.

Naomi Klein, “The Zone of Interest is about the danger of ignoring atrocities”

No two genocides are identical: Gaza is not a factory deliberately designed for mass murder, nor are we close to the scale of the Nazi death toll. But the whole reason the postwar edifice of international humanitarian law was erected was so that we would have the tools to collectively identify patterns before history repeats at scale. And some of the patterns – the wall, the ghetto, the mass killing, the repeatedly stated eliminationist intent, the mass starvation, the pillaging, the joyful dehumanization, and the deliberate humiliation – are repeating.

Wendy Brown, “How Neoliberal Thinkers Spawned Monsters They Never Imagined”

Democracy is a practice, an ideal, an imaginary, a struggle, not an achieved state. It is always incomplete, or better, always aspirational. There is plenty of that aspiration afoot these days—in social movements and in statehouses big and small. This doesn’t make the future of democracy rosy. It is challenged from a dozen directions – divestment from public higher education, the trashing of truth and facticity, the unaccountability of media platforms, both corporate and social, external influence and trolling, active voter suppression and gerrymandering, and the neoliberal assault on the very value of democracy we’ve been discussing. So the winds are hardly at democracy’s back.

Eric K. Ward, “Skin in the Game: How Antisemitism Animates White Nationalism”

White nationalists in the United States perceive the country as having plunged into unending crisis since the social ruptures of the 1960s supposedly dispossessed White people of their very nation. The successes of the civil rights movement created a terrible problem for White supremacist ideology. White supremacism—inscribed de jure by the Jim Crow regime and upheld de facto outside the South—had been the law of the land, and a Black-led social movement had toppled the political regime that supported it. How could a race of inferiors have unseated this power structure through organizing alone? For that matter, how could feminists and LGBTQ people have upended traditional gender relations, leftists mounted a challenge to global capitalism, Muslims won billions of converts to Islam? How do you explain the boundary-crossing allure of hip hop? The election of a Black president? Some secret cabal, some mythological power, must be manipulating the social order behind the scenes. This diabolical evil must control television, banking, entertainment, education, and even Washington, D.C. It must be brainwashing White people, rendering them racially unconscious.

What is this arch-nemesis of the White race, whose machinations have prevented the natural and inevitable imposition of white supremacy? It is, of course, the Jews. Jews function for today’s White nationalists as they often have for antisemites through the centuries: as the demons stirring an otherwise changing and heterogeneous pot of lesser evils.

Adam Kotsko, “What if pro-lifers already are consistently ‘pro-life’?”

This political theology of life leads to a division among human beings between those who are on the side of God and life and those who are on the side of death — and a differential treatment such that those in the latter category are viewed as more readily killable, etc. Ultimately, as in every book of political theology these days, this winds up generating the modern concept of “race.” …

The relevant takeaway for the present context is that being in favor of abstract “life” does not mean cherishing each concrete individual human being equally. Instead, it introduces a cut within the human population and even within each individual — most dramatically in the case of pregnancy. It is no accident that the political theology of life has converged precisely on the womb as the site of the ultimate theological struggle, for it is only in the womb that we have abstract “life” as such. The fetus is sheer “life,” without personality, without agency, without responsibility, and without sin. To subject that ultimate innocence to death — especially to the whims of a sinful woman — is unthinkable. It must be preserved at all costs, even the cost of the concrete individual life of the human host. So radical is their commitment to life that even the certain death of the fetus does not warrant an abortion: if both the fetus and the woman are in mortal danger from continuing the pregnancy, the emerging Republican consensus is that both must die. Better to reduce the woman’s body to the graveyard of the fetus than to risk favoring the allies of death over sheer unmitigated life.

Jessica Valenti, “Calling nonviable pregnancies ‘disabled children'”

Anti-abortion groups trying to force patients to carry nonviable pregnancies to term need Americans to believe that it’s in women’s best interest. Voters are already horrified by what abortion bans have done to women. The only way anti-choice lawmakers and lobbyists can move forward with an initiative this extreme is by hiding the truth—not just with innocuous sounding language, but with fake studies.

Schuyler Bailar, “What I’ve Learned as the First Out Trans Division 1 Men’s Athlete”

Before every single speech, I wondered to myself, Why are they here? Why do they care? Only rarely, the answer was clear: I was talking to a group of swimmers or transgender folks like me; we were comrades. But most of the time, I spoke to people with whom I had little to nothing in common, or so it appeared. I tried to imagine the perspectives of the audience members—the students, coaches, administrators, teachers, mental health professionals, medical providers, or employees at a bank . . . How could I connect with them? Because, in the end, the inability to connect is what breeds hatred and bigotry. That is, connection is the essence of our humanity itself.

 

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