Friday, February 02, 2018

and on the motif of fake twitter followings, Richard Roeper suspended

Film critic Richard Roeper's reviews and columns will not be published by the Chicago Sun-Times as an investigation is conducted into his Twitter following, the paper announced Monday.

Roeper was one several prominent journalists, sports stars, politicians and celebrities who had paid to increase their Twitter followers with fake accounts, according to a New York Times report published over the weekend. Roeper's Twitter following currently numbers over 225,000, but it was not specified by the Times report how many of those followers were fake. 

In a statement, the Sun-Times editor-in-chief Chris Fusco said: “We became aware over the weekend of issues relating to Rich Roeper’s Twitter account. We’re investigating these issues. We will not be publishing any reviews or columns by Rich until this investigation is complete.”

A highly influential film critic, Roeper co-hosted the television series At the Movies with Roger Ebert from 2000 to 2008, succeeding Gene Siskel after his death. He has written for the Sun-Times, on a variety of topics, since 1982. 

I still don't really get why people would wish to use Twitter.  I mean, I get in the most generalized abstract way why people want to use a mass media social networking platform to promote brands and stuff ... but ... in an ironic twist I'm remembering that this guy who was a megachurch pastor in Seattle once said that once you start using a platform you have to keep providing it with content.

So in keeping with the previously noted article in which an author at The Atlantic said that social media is competition over attention more so than about ideas, it would seem that the easiest way to avoid the myriad landmines and pitfalls of social media use in a context such as Twitter is to just not use Twitter.  What do you have to say that is so important it needs to be tweeted?  If it's important enough to need to be tweeted why is it so short that it can be tweeted?  

Now if someone like Richard Roeper can be suspended from being published pending an investigation it might be worth asking how many preachers and celebrity Christians have fake followers.  It might be that fake followers are just part of using Twitter at all for all I don't know and admit I don't particularly even are to know about Twitter. I, obviously, like blogging just fine. 

Jeet Heer and Josephine Livingstone at The New Republic discuss A. O. Scott's turn on Wood Allen and, also, Barthes

Being so underwhelmed by A. O. Scott's Better Living Through Criticism I never finished it, I haven't read Scott much since.

A. O. Scott published an essay on Wednesday on “My Woody Allen Problem,” in which the New York Times film critic wrestled with his past defenses of the director, who is accused of sexually molesting his daughter Dylan Farrow long ago. Amid the #MeToo moment, Scott wrote, “The old defenses are being trotted out again. Like much else that used to sound like common sense, they have a tinny, clueless ring in present circumstances. The separation of art and artist is proclaimed—rather desperately, it seems to me—as if it were a philosophical principle, rather than a cultural habit buttressed by shopworn academic dogma.” Though he finds Allen’s work “ethically troubling,” Scott argued that it cannot be scrubbed from the canon because it’s “a part of the common artistic record, which is another way of saying that they inform the memories and experiences of a great many people.”

My impression of A. O. Scott's overall argument is that immersing yourself in the arts or in Art makes you a better person and since criticism is the Art of interacting with Art it is a higher and more metaphysical and more righteous form of art religion.  Woody Allen's films cannot and should not be scrubbed from the cinematic canon because ... well ... I suppose we could say that once something is canonized the known character flaws of the author have to be just overlooked enough to preclude the person's work from being shorn from whatever canon his or her work has been canonized into.

I've been playing with the idea here at this blog that arts criticism is a meta level amplification of an already existing tradition of art religion in the West.  Let's demonstrate that possibility by having a meta-critical riff on critics discussing another critic who has lately discussed a film-maker.

Jeet Heer: Since you’re a cultural critic, I’m wondering what you thought about Scott’s piece on Allen and the problem of separating the artist from the art. This is an ancient dilemma, but one that has particular salience in our #MeToo moment.

Scott is making the case against an old-fashioned academic formalism (best exemplified, I think, by the New Critics who dominated literary theory in mid-twentieth century America) that holds that the biography should have no bearing on how we view a work of art. It seems like Scott might have once held that formalist position, but not anymore. Artists like Allen (and not him alone) aren’t experienced in states of pure contemplation (the way, in certain science fiction stories, an alien robot might observe human society), Scott argues. Art is part of life and we experience it as such, especially with works done by our contemporaries, who are like friends who let us inside their minds.

Scott does a good job, I think, of evoking what it felt like to grow up with Woody Allen, to have enjoyed his movies in the 1970s and 1980s when he was a cultural hero (especially, of course, if you were a nerdy boy with cultural aspirations). Allen was, Scott says, “A mentor. A culture hero. A masculine ideal.” We would now have to add: Allen was also a monster. Even if we leave aside the unproven but disturbing allegation that he molested his daughter Dylan Farrow, there is the undisputed fact that he has a sexual fixation on teenage girls (an obsession that features in many of his films) and that he had an affair with Soon-Yi Previn, the daughter of his then-partner, Mia Farrow.

At the end of his essay, Scott does something really clever—perhaps too clever. He concludes that Allen’s odious behavior shouldn’t make us abandon his work but rather gives us an occasion to revisit it: “Reassessment is part of the ordinary work of culture, and in an extraordinary time, the work is especially vital and especially challenging. I will not blame you if you want to stop watching Woody Allen’s movies. But I also think that some of us have to start all over again.”

Part of me really likes this argument because I absolutely agree that challenging art that has aesthetic merit (which I think is true of some, though by no means all, of Allen’s movies) should not be abandoned. But part of me also thinks that ending on this note really just bolsters the status quo. Allen remains at the center of the film canon, this time not because he’s a “mentor” or “cultural hero” or “masculine ideal,” but because he’s a monster. [emphases added]

Were you also bothered by the final twist of Scott’s argument?

Since this is a back and forth in The New Republic that the status quo is always, and can only be, a bad thing has to be taken for granted despite the fact that it's often more or less directly and indirectly indicated.  Were the editors and authors of The New Republic to get everything they wanted we'd live in a world in which what they wanted would be the status quo and that would be the new oppressive norm. 

But even with that jocular observation here the concern is still serious, it does seem that once something in the arts is canonized you're stuck with everything to do with the people or person who created that canonical work, whether in terms of what is actually in the work; what is read into the work that is not defensibly in the work; or what is read into the work that is defensibly readable into the work.  This has been an issue that, to be blatantly obvious about all this, Christians have had to consider for millennia.  What is and isn't extractable or implied within the canonical texts?  What do we accept or reject in terms of plausible or implausible views that could be said to be held by the authors of scriptural documents?

In a sense what all these critics talking about critics talking about Woody Allen are getting at is a problem that will inhere in the art religion of art itself and arts criticism. 
So we get to Livingston:

Josephine Livingstone: I was a little bothered by it, but not for quite the same reasons. I feel great ambivalence around this Times article. Scott deserves praise as a human being for trying to own his flaws as a critic and his struggles as a man. But I think he really wobbles on his pedestal here, for two reasons.

First, I think that he misconstrues why the formalists and the reader-response folks wanted to separate the artist from the art: They wanted to undo the artist’s monopoly over the way we talk about their art. Not hand them a carte blanche to be monsters! It’s about power, not behavior. Second, I think that Scott misses something big, which is that he—and other critics who are letting the artist’s life dictate the meaning of their works—are, in every public “reassessment,” bolstering that contested artist’s monopoly over interpretation. Again, it’s about power (as Miriam Bale has wisely been tweeting). Their power to abuse, their power to dictate the terms of the conversation, their power to define what a field like moviemaking even is.

A misconception abounds that feminists who want to bring abusers to account don’t accept Roland Barthes’s “death of the author” principle. This is not really true, at least for me. I consider Woody Allen and Roman Polanski’s movies gifts, to me and to the culture—even when they’re bad—and I’m never giving them back. I don’t want Allen and Polanski to have control over their own legacies or even over their own works. If they don’t get to dictate how I interpret their films, then they don’t get to control anything about the film industry. We, the viewers, do.

It’s at this moment that Scott really loses the thread of the Barthes argument: “Part of the job of a critic—meaning anyone with a serious interest in movies, professional or otherwise—is judgment, and no judgment is ever without a moral dimension.” I think that Barthes would disagree that a critic’s assessment of a work of art has any moral dimension that touches on the author himself, because the critic is simply not concerned with the author of the work. Let’s go back and look at Barthes’s article, which is really very readable and helpful in these problems.

We haven't yet got to the point Livingston made that I thought was ... well ... actually interesting. Here we're looking at what I consider an important but, all the same, prosaic point, that artists and arts criticism tend to favor a monopoly in which the artist and the artist's work dictate the norms of reception ... assuming (which I'm not sure we even should) that the artist's work has somehow attained a canonic capacity.

So the idea that Allen and Polanski should not have control over the own legacies is, at one level, moot.  They only have legacies because people decided, by dint of giving their films attention and description and judgment via literature, legacies.   No one can really control what his or her legacy may turn out to be.

So ...

Let’s say that a filmmaker makes a film. “[Once] an action is recounted, for intransitive ends, and no longer in order to act directly upon reality—that is, finally external to any function but the very exercise of the symbol—this disjunction occurs, the voice loses its origin, the author enters his own death, writing begins.” (Intransitive here means that the artwork exists only in its own universe, not to deliberately produce some result in the world.) Once the artwork has entered the world, then the only way for us to really understand all its manifold meanings is to see that it “consists of multiple writings, issuing from several cultures and entering into dialogue with each other, into parody, into contestation; but there is one place where this multiplicity is collected, united, and this place is not the author ... but the reader.”

This makes perfect sense. Swap out author and reader for filmmaker and viewer. Only the viewer of a Woody Allen film can see how all the things that have come since Manhattan was made are now a part of the movie. Allen couldn’t. The viewer is the only person who can see all those messy and multiple and wonderfully infinite versions of the film. Of course Woody Allen has had intentions, but those intentions cannot be “personal: the reader is a man without history, without biography, without psychology; he is only that someone who holds gathered into a single field all the paths of which the text is constituted.” That’s us, that’s me, that’s you.

This is not what Scott is saying at all. Not only does criticism have a moral dimension, he thinks—thereby absolutely drawing a philosophical line which runs from critic through artwork to artist—he writes that criticism is never “without a personal interest.” The thing that he finds “most ethically troubling about Mr. Allen’s work at present is the extent to which [Scott] and so many of my colleagues have ignored or minimized its uglier aspects.” I think in focusing so much on the “personal interest” side of things, specifically the way that Allen was a role model for him while growing up, he falls into a trap that Allen and many authors throughout history have set for readers/viewers.
Generally underwhelmed or annoyed as I often am by A. O. Scott let's throw Scott a bone, it's possible to argue that an arts critic, who ideally never stops being a journalist, can feel a moral obligation to grasp that there's a moral dimension to all arts criticism as an applied field of journalism because you can't altogether separate your ethical ideals and norms from what you do as an arts critic, whether as a journalist or as an academic.

I'm going to skip the Barthes-quoting stuff and get to ... :
The problem with the way we talk about Woody Allen is not in accidentally saying he is good when he is bad, or bad when he is good—either as a man or as a filmmaker. No, the problem is in giving him the keys to the kingdom of moviemaking. The problem with Allen is his power. The same power that enables him to make artistic choices, and to remain the be-all-and-end-all of “what his movies mean,” also empowers him to do whatever he likes, including abuse vulnerable people. Does that make sense? It’s all the same power. And only recognizing that Woody Allen doesn’t get to control what Woody Allen movies mean can really take that power away. 
And Scott has power too. When he reviews a new Woody Allen movie he shores Allen’s power up. So the question he poses himself seems, while important to him, the wrong one to be talking through in public. and I'm going to skip ahead to something Heer wrote that is given a response by Livingston:


I agree that part of the problem is that Woody Allen has been allowed to control the meaning of his movies. To put it another way, some critics have been complicit in Allen’s work because they’ve watched the movies the way Allen wanted them to, without sufficient distance. I should add, though, that this doesn’t apply to all critics. Female film critics were early in spotting the dubious aspects of Allen’s work. In 1979, Joan Didion described Tracy (Mariel Hemingway) in Manhattan as “another kind of adolescent fantasy. Tracy actually is a high-school senior, at the Dalton School, and has perfect skin, perfect wisdom, perfect sex, and no visible family.” In a devastating review of Stardust Memories for The New Yorker, Pauline Kael asked, “What man in his forties but Woody Allen could pass off a predilection for teenagers as a quest for true values?” [emphasis added] The review destroyed the friendship Kael and Allen had enjoyed. But perhaps that’s a lesson, too: Dethroning male abusers means being willing to talk back to them.
I’m wondering, though, whether there isn’t a further question of what type of art gets made. Allen is generally a comedic filmmaker (despite his forays into Bergman-esque angst). Comedy is built on complicity: We share a laugh. So when a comedian turns out to be a monster, there’s a real impulse to question the work. The same applies to Bill Cosby and Louis CK, among others. But isn’t the situation different if we’re talking about an artist who deals with horror—say, a Lovecraft or a Polanski? In their case, being a horrible person doesn’t seem to damage the work in quite the same way, does it? [emphasis added]

Josephine: Diane Keaton is an artist, and so was Pauline Kael, and so is Mariel Hemingway. You hit upon an interesting genre issue here, the intersection of Allen as an auteur, which is what—a genre of celebrity? A type of artist that critics think is good? And then Allen as a comedic auteur, which is a genre of moviemaking. How do those bounce off one another in the culture?

Perhaps that’s the thing that Scott was trying to get at in his piece, the way that funny and non-good-looking men get to harness a type of social power denied them by their physical appearance. Think of the funniest boys you knew in high school. They all had a “victim” to their jokes, right? And then the question becomes, who is the butt of the joke? With Allen, a lot of his humor was subversive in that it made super-masculine guys look stupid, which was well-deserved (I’m thinking of Crimes and Misdemeanors). He also made himself look neurotic and foolish, but in a lothario-ish way that in the end placed the joke on whatever woman was willing to be with him. And because of the lack of distinction between Allen the person, the filmmaker, and the performer, he has infected the very identities of so many American men that his power spreads.
As I've written on the subject of why I think it can be best for pastors to refrain from employing humor in sermons, the reason for my concern about a proliferation of humor in preaching and teaching is simply that there are ultimately only two modes of humor: laughing with, and laughing at.  If it be suggested that some old Puritan with no sense of humor was the problem with America I'm going to respond to a bromide such as that with another bromide, which is to suggest that in the era of microaggressions it would seem that humorless Puritans should be granted at least this point, that if being a humorless moralist means you never make a mockery of anyone out of regard for the image of God within every human then maybe we need more of that and not less.

Often humor takes the form of "laugh with me as I laugh at myself" or some version of myself.  But there is also "laugh with me as I laugh at those people."  That particular mode of humor only works in a carefully calibrated set of contexts and circumstances.  There's a sense in which Christians should be grateful to be so bad at a kind of humor that involves "us" laughing at "them", because when you're good at the kind of humor could that make you a scoffer?  Alternately, if you try for that kind of humor as a form of satire then you get ... well ... I've never managed to find any of the would-be satires of Doug Wilson funny, and haven't been particularly awestruck by attempts at satire at Mere Orthodoxy.  Christian satire has had a very limited field of actual success, mainly confined to The Wittenburg Door, some Landover Baptist, and more recently The Babylon Bee. It's a niche but I digress. 

It's not surprising that if we were to scour the memories we have had of pastors telling jokes from the pulpit this former category is far more prevalent.  Humor is more disarming from the pulpit if the preacher is able to have a laugh at their own expense whereas if a preacher is laughing at the epese of someone else how does the preacher not fail to live by the admonition against "coarse jesting" that is within the scriptures themselves? 

In what's now known as the post-Weinstein moment it's turning out that Hollywood has had plenty of predation against men, women and children ... and it may turn out that as the film industry has made films about the evils hidden by the Roman Catholic Church there has yet to be a Spotlight made about the film industry itself.  It's turning out that even public radio and television isn't immune to scandals about the behavior of elder statesmen and power brokers, and that these scandals are in some sense stranger because of how egalitarian public radio tends to be in its aims and because women are more prominent as power brokers within that scene than inside Hollywood, or the music industry.
The Sandunsky/Paterno scandal has come and gone and more recently there has been a legal case involving gymnastics and systemic abuses.

So we're living in an era in which a whole lot of bad men are being seen as the bad men that, were we more thoroughly attentive to the things they were known for, we wouldn't have missed about them.  I don't really regard the films of Allen or Polanski as gifts and wouldn't really feel the world is worse off if we had none of those films, even if it's possible (or even likely) that filmmakers whose work I do enjoy could cite an Allen or a Polanski as an influence. 

What these cumulative moments of scandal and introspection seem to suggest is that we have a cultural moment of trying to grapple with the reality that many of those artists and entertainers who "we" thought of as having confronted the bad moralisms of "those people" were in some sense at least as bad as, if not even worse than, the dismissed moralizers of yore considered the scandalizing artists or entertainers to be.  It may be easier for critics to do some soul-searching than to grant that there might have been anyone against the artists in scandal from the beginning who could, at this moment, have anything close to being able to say "I told you so". 

Thursday, February 01, 2018

a postscript to some thoughts on "Against the Seminary Industrial Complex", Christian Smith's rant on BS in academia and a bill proposed in New Mexico that would require high schoolers to apply to at least one college

One of the things mentioned in that piece was the general unhappiness Cal has felt about academia in its current form.  Perhaps not totally unrelated is a rant published by Christian Smith about the BS in academia.

It seems a crisis of faith in the efficacy and viability of academia is not exactly "mainstream" but it's not exactly not normal at the moment.  We looked at Justin Stover's piece about how there was no real defense for the liberal arts aka the humanities.

Stover's case was that the crisis regarding the funding and legitimacy of the humanities is ultimately not about the humanities themselves but about the legitimacy of the class that is expected to both learn and teach the humanities as they have been understood.  There's more to the case than "just" that, to be sure, and there's more to be said about the matter , but it has been congruent with an idea I've been mulling over here in the last year or so, that one of the challenges academicians have struggled to face down is the possibility, or even the reality, that despite what they think about the top one percent the academic world nevertheless constitutes its own form of ruling class and caste of power-wielders.  The possibility that, should some kind of revolution take placein the United States toward a more populist or redistributivist goal be undertaken, that academics in America could or even would be regarded as "class enemies" is not something academics tend to think about, to go by the way academics have written about the formally less educated types of people who stereotypically voted for that one guy.

Enrollments have gone down and prices are still high.  While white collar labor has seen some results from unionization blue collar labor hasn't had the same kinds of success.  Even a person dedicated, in principle, to the value of lifelong education can start to get the impression that academia has become such a prestige racket that it's not worth getting kids in debt up to their eyeballs earning a degree that may net them no jobs. STEM is not necessarily an answer in itself because gluts are gluts.  For a while business and econ majors were oversaturating the job market, law schools are not necessarily the hot ticket now, either (maybe?  rusty on this one).  So with those various thoughts in mind ... Smith's piece.

Some might see the larger crisis as being a crisis in the nature of liberalism itself.  There are folks who see that as being the nature of the crisis.  Others seem to feel, if I'm understanding them, that the delicate balance of Western liberalism and humanism can be salvaged if we just get back to Enlightenment values (John Borstlap's take, as best I can tell); or if we just reinject an appropriate dose of Christendom back into Western liberalism, perhaps, things can be stabilized (which may or may not be a rough way to describe the tack taken by the red and blue partisans in the United States).

There's been some mumurings and rumblings to the effect that education has become a bubble, not unlike real estate was a decade ago.  Rod Dreher recently posted about a proposed law in New Mexico, asking if this might be proof of the existence of the bubble. 

by way of Rod Dreher's blog.

If there's no constraint on what school the kid applies to then a whole bunch of kids could apply to colleges that aren't even in New Mexico.  Let's pretend for sake of imagining things that New Mexico passes a bill and in compliance with the bill 80% of the students apply to some college in California, or Texas, or Washington, or Arizona or ... basically anywhere but New Mexico.  Unless there's a specific provision that high school students in New Mexico schools have to apply to at least one college in New Mexico there's no reason the enrollments would stop dropping, is there?

That's even "if" the thing passes.  If exceptions are made for apprenticing that gets back to the question of what the options are for that.  Ever since people decided to enforce child labor laws in the wake of the Depression there are a lot of things adolescents can't legally do because of child labor laws.  Merely imposing one legal requirement without accounting for its impact on all other associated enforceable policies and norms is just not the shrewdest way to play.  If a kid aims to apprentice then they'd best apprentice fast, I guess.  Whether or not this passes, it might open up some questions as to the extent to which adolescents have been restricted from fully joining the labor force on account of stuff like child labor laws.  Would a teenager who seeks to apprentice be allowed some legal clemency so that he/she and the prospective mentor don't run afoul of child labor laws?  It's certainly possible for people who advocate for this law, which seems like a bad idea since it compels rather than provides and because the goal of raising enrollments seems dubious, because "if" the goal is to go for a better educated workforce so as to lead companies into New Mexico perhaps there's more than one way to tackle that problem than by insisting that every high schooler apply for at least one college. 

And here is, roughly speaking, how this ties to what Cal described as the Seminary Industrial Complex, modeling a would be renaissance in Christian academics on the academic paradigms of the Anglo-American culture seems like it might be a ... not-so-great idea if the crises reported within academia and the liberal arts education in the US and UK have been what they've been. 

If Christian higher education wants to keep up the way things have been going in academia more generally it doesn't look like the present "norm" is all that inspiring. 

And apropos of tlak about Christian learning ... I dunno, it has me thinking about how places like The Gospel Coalition talk about Christian learning ... and yet even among the self-identify Calvinists and Reformed types there hasn't been an English language translation of very much by Bullinger, has there?  There's a market for marriage book s and a need for manliness but a more extensive English language translation of Bullinger?  Eh ... .

I could throw out the idea that maybe If someone in musicology wanted to do something fun they could translate all six of volumes of Anton Reicha's treatise on advanced composition into English.   If a music scholar with mastery of French were to do that I'd want a copy of that set.  Yet, as Kyle Gann has lamented, the musicology ladder has a prestige system and you get more points for doing the hundredth book on the big name composer than for doing pioneering scholarship on someone who isn't as high up on the prestige racket's list.  But as a matter of personal curiosity and interest Boehmian composers are one of my pet interests.  So Reicha's woodwind quintets are all fantastic and I have admired Matiegka's guitar sonatas since I first heard them five or six years ago or so. 

Whether or not the problems that beset academia are entirely due to neoliberalism or neo-Marxists thought seems doubtful ... it might well be that American educational culture has benefited from the worst tendencies of both sets of views. 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

a response at The Atlantic to the NYT's The Follower Factory, or a ruminating riff

The report exposes Twitter as willfully duplicitous to users, advertisers, and investors—revelations that could (and should) harm the company’s value and reputation. But it also takes for granted that “real” followers are valid and valuable. The problem with Twitter—and with social media in general—isn’t that the influence can be faked. It’s that it is seen to have so much significance in the first place.
That, in a nutshell is the argument of the piece, but for folks who want more, there is more.
In the aftermath of the Times exposé, the real influence of fake influence will likely decay, to some extent. Services like TwitterAudit, which can scan accounts for questionable followers and report a ratio of fakes, might become more widely used. That could make employers, influence networks, and ordinary people slightly more literate about the profligacy of internet companies. Professional influencers might be affected by such a change, but ordinary folk probably won’t be.
More likely, they will endure the disorder of knee-jerk reactions. The investor Mark Cuban called for a real-name policy on services like Twitter, arguing that “there needs to be a single human behind every individual account.” That’s a terrible idea: As the entrepreneur  Anil Dash has argued, it would endanger marginalized people without improving trust. But Cuban’s reform does square with the Times’ take on virtue and wickedness at Twitter. Just shine light upon the shadows of the black market to put an end to the corruption. Then ordinary folk can be freed from the lust for fame that would rob them of their true selves.

But this is a fairy-tale story about the internet. Fraud is not the ultimate problem with fake social-media activity. The hustle itself is the blight. It produces the racket that sucks so many into its orbit. Salle Ingle is stuck in the same rat race as Kathy Ireland, and you and me, too. We just encounter it at different scales.

The culprit is the numbers themselves, not the lies that augment them, nor the profits made in doing so. The only reason there can be a market, let alone a black market, for social-media engagement is because these services are marketplaces of attention, not of ideas, products, or services. [emphases added] That’s why Twitter counts followers, likes, retweets, and all the rest so prominently. If the numbers were less visible, or entirely hidden, everyone might live more meaningful, more productive lives online, using posts as means to ends rather than as circulations within the system. It’s hard to imagine such a change taking place while companies like Twitter rely on the aspiration of visible metrics as a compulsion to use their services. That compulsion produces the attention necessary to sell advertisers and satisfy investors.

People now want the marketplace of attention more than the outcomes the attention might be directed toward. They expect it. To take away the followers I won in the Twitter-onboarding lottery would feel like a loss or theft, even though some large number of them are not real and never were. [emphasis added] There is a pride in having built a platform for attention, and there is also a shame in feeling pride for it. To boast that one’s followers are all “real,” or to call for a near future in which that state of affairs is insured, is just to affirm the virtue of the system. This is the back that must be broken for anyone to feel free on social media.
Influence isa good thing, at least when we understand what the nature of influence is and how it may be used.  If we understand that in the end anyone who leads leads by example then how you respond to people is how you lead, regardless of whether or not you're officially recognized as a "leader". 
The follower factory of the NYT is a market that exists because people take the idea that having followers on Twitter or other social media as a proposition and a reality to be taken seriously.  Gone are the days when the internet is thought of so explicitly as virtual reality, its virtual reality is generally implicit, but it can be implicit in a way that can lead some to forget that it's still virtual. 
The marketplace of attention is not the marketplace of ideas, though people could also suggest that maybe the marketplace metaphor is a bit too pervasive these days, too. :)
If internet traffic could be likened to a kind of dining for the mind then there may be some value to the proverb that it's better to have a dry crust with peace and quiet than to have a feast in a house full of strife. 


Monday, January 29, 2018

a few extra thoughts on the Peterson interview and ways of reacting to it and to Peterson's presentation

The Peterson interview has gone viral and there area any number of fairly simple explanations for that.  When a journalist reveals themselves to be so adversarial, incompetent and biased in an interview conducted in front of a camera the botched attempt at gotcha journalism would sprout wings and take off, just on general principle.

This was something that was so obvious across the entire spectrum it was worth discussing.

My first introduction to Jordan B. Peterson, a University of Toronto clinical psychologist, came by way of an interview that began trending on social media last week. Peterson was pressed by the British journalist Cathy Newman to explain several of his controversial views. But what struck me, far more than any position he took, was the method his interviewer employed. It was the most prominent, striking example I’ve seen yet of an unfortunate trend in modern communication.
First, a person says something. Then, another person restates what they purportedly said so as to make it seem as if their view is as offensive, hostile, or absurd.

Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and various Fox News hosts all feature and reward this rhetorical technique. And the Peterson interview has so many moments of this kind that each successive example calls attention to itself until the attentive viewer can’t help but wonder what drives the interviewer to keep inflating the nature of Peterson’s claims, instead of addressing what he actually said.

Friedersdorf describes himself as a civil libertarian which, to many folks on the left might as well be either right or alt-right.

For someone who doesn't identify as any kind of right who, all the same, regards the recent Peterson interview as an example of how miserable the quality of certain things passed off as journalism have become:

My politics are very different from Jordan Peterson’s, but like many people I was engrossed by his recent interview with Channel 4’s Cathy Newman (the interview can also be found here). In my case, at least, it was less because of what was said than because of the nature of the encounter.
If comments under the interview suggest anything, the video went viral chiefly because the right believe it shows their man – Peterson – intellectually crushing a so-called “hard-left feminist” like Newman. In fact, it proves nothing of the sort – more the misogyny of some of Peterson’s fans.
Here is an ideological duel between a sophisticated brand of the libertarian right and a corporate – aka faux – left-liberalism, represented by Newman. The pair, in their commitment to an aggressive individualism within a neoliberal system, have far more in common with each other than they do with a real left. I suspect Peterson would have struggled considerably more to justify his positions had he come up against someone like Noam Chomsky rather than Newman.

Nonetheless, the interview revealed something deeply troubling about what passes today for a news interview, and about the role of journalists. Here were two people talking at each other. This was mostly shadow play, rarely moving beyond shallow ideological posturing.

That is the standard format for news interviews, and one of the main reasons why the news in western democracies is so unenlightening.

Peterson, one should remember, had no choice about the nature of the gladiatorial contest presented to him in Channel 4’s studio, and manages it as well as could be expected in the circumstances.
More importantly, at least from the audience’s point of view, he succeeds – much as does Glenn Greenwald in similar interviews – in stripping away the artifice and exposing the nature of the stitch-up that is the rationale for an interview like this. For once, this was not a wasted half-hour of airtime.
Both Peterson and Greenwald are clever and skilful enough interviewees to refuse to be dragged onto a field of battle that has been designed to mock them and their kinds of politics.
Then there's John Halle's riff:
A useful piece by the always excellent Jonathan Cook shows how the alt-right icon Jordon Peterson was able to make mincemeat of a typically clueless British channel 4 interviewer in much the same way that Glenn Greenwald does: by exposing the bankruptcy of the premises of corporate media which all on air personalities reflexively accept. Channel 4’s response to their humiliation was to retrospectively “no platform” Peterson by disappearing the clip from their site.

Interestingly, this mirrors the approach which much of the Marxist/authoritarian left here is pursuing with Peterson: those giving him a platform are shunned and marginalized, an apparent social media fatwa having been declared on those engaging with him. The reason is likely the same as that of Channel 4. Those who would have to confront him lack the intellectual capacity to address his arguments and they know it. Doing so does not require that much beyond the ability to deploy basic logic and a minimal knowledge of the facts: as Cook notes, Chomsky would easily dispense with Peterson’s more outrageous claims but so would many other lesser profile leftists (e.g. Norman Finkelstein and Nathan Robinson).

But as Angela Nagel points out, much of the left, while congratulating itself on its command of Hegelian dialectic and cult stud “theory”, is incapable of holding its own when its core assumptions are interrogated. And so they flee from the challenge, insuring that Peterson’s frat house Nietzscheanism will continue to gain an increasingly solid footing in popular culture.
This might be because within the left and right domains respectively we've had generations of reinforcing propaganda to the point where neither side in Anglo-American political thought is capable of confronting articulate arguments that side-step those assumptions the respective sides believes are necessary for orthodoxy and orthopraxy.  I am, admittedly, at a pretty bleak and cynical spot in what I think about American political thought and what often passes for journalism.  It's not that convictions or even bias all by itself is the problem, but that the ideal is that even with the convictions you have you don't let them so cloud your powers of observation you can't see what's in front of you.  The way Halle put it in another blog post was that the left was so busy fixating on its self-identifiable purity codes it's never stopped to bother doing something as simple as running for and keeping elected office. Given the way things have been playing out here in Seattle I would not suggest anyone regard what's happened up here as counting for much toward that end, but I digress.
And then, of course, there are Christians who could weigh in on Peterson and what Christians generally and pastors more specifically could learn from Peterson.
Take excerpts from this cyber mash note, for instance, from Alastair Roberts:
We live in a society that is cluttered with airy words, with glib evasions, with facile answers, with bullshitting, with self-serving lies, with obliging falsehoods, and with dishonest and careless construals of the world that merely serve to further our partisan agendas (‘truth’ merely becoming something that allows us to ‘destroy’ or ‘wipe the floor with’ our opponents in the culture). In such a context, a man committed to and burdened with the weight of truth and who speaks accordingly will grab people’s attention.
Peterson is, for a great many young men in particular, the father they never had. [emphasis added] He is someone prepared to speak into their situation with a compassionate authority. His authority is not an attempt to control them or to secure his own power over them, but functions to direct them towards life. He isn’t wagging his finger at them, but is helping lost young people to find their way. People instinctively respond to such authority. Such a fatherly authority is rare in our society, but many people are longing for it. This is the sort of authority that pastors can exemplify and by which they can give life and health to the lives committed to their care.
Peterson’s deep concern for the well-being of young men is transparently obvious. Where hardly anyone else seems to care for them, and they are constantly pathologized and stifled by the ascendant orthodoxies of the culture, Peterson is drawn out in compassion towards them. He observes that such young men in particular have been starved of compassion, encouragement, and support. There is a hunger there that the Church should be addressing.

However, Peterson’s compassion is not the flaccid empathy that pervades in our culture. He does not render young men a new victimhood class, feeding them a narrative of rights and ressentiment. Rather, he seeks to encourage struggling young people—to give them courage. He tells them that their effort matters; their rising to their full stature is something that the world needs. He helps them to establish their own agency and to find meaning in their labour.

People notice when others care about them and respond to them. However, far too often our empathy has left people weak and has allowed the weakness and dysfunctionality of wounded and stunted people to set the terms for the rest of society. Peterson represents a different approach: the compassionate authority of mature and wise persons can shepherd weak and lost persons towards strength, healthy selfhood, and meaning. Pastors can learn much from this.
That Peterson gets described as the father some young men never had might be more carefully reformulated--we could say that some young men perceive Peterson as the kind of father figure they felt they did not have, either because they did not have such a male role model at all or because the male role models they did have failed to live up to the ideal they see in someone like Peterson.  That's not merely a semantic distinction, of course, and it gets to my skepticism about these sorts of mas notes from Christians.
It's one thing to concede that you may have had a father who was ethically dubious at best or who was a loving but still all-too-human man, it's another thing to propose that a mediated-by-social-media persona is performatively compelling enough of an archetype to ill the lacuna that may exist in your soul because your dad wasn't as good a dad to you as you hoped he would have been.  A surrogate father needs to be a father not just a symbol and yet it can seem that what makes Peterson useful is his role as a symbol.  It's not even necessarily about whether he can meaningfully be a father figure to young men, I suppose he can be that like any other media-mediated figure.  It's just that it seems that this is still some variation of celebrity.  Celebrity and parenthood are not the same.  You can be hurt by, upset with, or even resent your parents. 
It's not that the aims Peterson has are necessarily bad ones or ones that a Christian might altogether disagree with, it's that after twenty odd years this particular script seems too easy to anticipate coming from a select strata of Anglo-American Christian social conservatives. 
As I noted briefly in an earlier post, these kinds of things Roberts expresses concern about were essentially all those things that Mark Driscoll and the other co-founders of Mars Hill Fellowship/Mars Hill Church were also concerned about.  Roberts may want to bear in mind, and I write this as someone who still lives in Seattle, that his whole approach will be pretty quickly christened alt-right regardless of how winsomely he phrases things.  I had a commenter comment about how it seemed like I was poisoning the well.  That's not exactly my aim, but I've seen how progressive and mainstream liberal press coverage translate what someone like Peterson is saying.  The most salient part of the Newman/Peterson pseudo-journalistic fiasco is that Newman gave us all a chance to see how journalists in mainstream "center" contexts attempt to present someone like Peterson. 
But, since Roberts took the trouble to write as he did, it's also not difficult to see how strains of Anglo-American socially conservative Christians lionize Peterson as if he were one of Arthur's knights. 
I'll admit to being jaded and cynical about this stuff.  People who take Doug Wilson seriously after his plagiarism situation with A Justice Primer or the way he handled a couple of cases in his scene make it hard for me to take him seriously. I still don't think his theory of "revenge of the beta males" regarding Mark Driscoll makes much sense apart from Wilson's own set of fixations.  I'm inclined to think that Mark Driscoll was completely sincere while also being susceptible to grandstanding and visions of grandeur; he managed to settle on believing in the sort of Jesus whose aims and interests usefully underwrote his own pre-existing ambitions and anxieties.   This is not to say, by any stretch of the imagination, that I don't think Mark Driscoll cannot be regarded as a believer.  While there is life there is hope, so there's time to repent. 
There are things that some men who turn out to be lightning rods want and hat they want is not necessarily the issue, it's the branding apparatus that I've developed concerns about. 
There's also a practical consideration, which is that even among the man-o-sphere there have been objections that there's such a thing as a Gospel for Alpha Males.  Peterson no doubt has a healthier variation of it but it doesn't mean it isn't a way to understand what he's getting at.  Talking about how we have a need for powerful men is still just that.  No one in a role like Peterson's is able to ultimately play the role of a surrogate father.  To imagine such a thing is possible is to impute to mass and social media and a classroom experience what these modes of experience cannot necessarily confer to young men with proverbial father wounds. 
Either these new modes of social media and mass media are shallow and unable to foment and reinforce meaningful human contact or they are but we need to redefine what we mean by that and be careful about how we define terms. 
I'm literally not buying it, not because there couldn't be any useful points in the whole thing, but because paying money to hear someone like Peterson isn't the same as paying the rent of bills on time.  It's possible to pass the threshold of functional adulthood without becoming "powerful". 
And in connection to Mere O writers more generally the tendency for these guys is to filter their understanding of growing up toward marriage.  It palls after a year or two and begins to seem positively flaccid and anodyne after a decade.  St. Paul did somehow conclude that it was better for the unmarried to remain as he was, without wishing to lay any binding decree on anyone on that matter.  Many Anglo-American social conservative Christian types nonetheless have a predictable track record of talking about how unless the Lord has called you to some life-threatening missions work overseas getting Bibles to non-white people ... you really should stop resisting God's will for your life to be married.
It's getting to a point where sometimes I think Anglo-American socially conservative Christians venerate Hera alongside Jesus.  Not so long ago I spent time with friends who had a wedding anniversary and it was great to spend time with them.  I'm also uncle to ... quite a number of nieces and nephews.  Not against marriage and family at all ... but I have grown skeptical about the veneration they've gotten. 
When Jesus said that no one has left house or spouse or children for the sake of Him would fail to gain many more in this life and the life to come of, there's an active element to that--to follow Jesus can involve leaving the kinds of family attachments that Anglo-American social conservative Christianity would tell us to embrace and ... also certain sorts of blue state religion that insist that all these amenities and vital relationships that should be accessible to anyone because love is love--following Jesus can mean you are called to give all of that sort of thing up. 
When I was younger I got the impression, and was told in direct and indirect ways, that the Social Gospel was a liberal mainline kind of thing that didn't correspond to true religion.  Now that I'm a few decades older and middle-aged there's another kind of Social Gospel, there's a red state and a blue state version of this thing.  I'm of the understanding that following Jesus and His teaching can mean that at some point you have to repudiate both of these Social Gospels for different reasons. 
The Newman/Peterson interview was an illuminating case study in incompetently executed gotcha journalism, but from the swath of things I've quoted above I don't think Christians need to be so gushing in their praise of Peterson.  Maybe in every era we need a wheel to be reinvented or rediscovered.  I get that, but having seen the last twenty odd years of what was once Mars Hill the kinds of men who make the points Peterson has been described as making are easy to find, they make a point of seeking a public platform, no matter how rare or brave some other men may say it is that these sorts of men do so.   A guy like Roberts may just be too young and naïve to know better.  I was young and idealistic about guys speaking boldly about how men should be responsible and I ended up at Mars Hill.  It can seem promising at fist and go downhill slowly and inexorably without you noticing it.
It isn't even necessarily the fault of a Driscoll or a Peterson that a personality cult forms around them, even if it is their fault how they choose to respond to such a cult. 

Sunday, January 28, 2018

a short (for me) thought on that Jordan Peterson interview

it's been popular enough with a stratum of some of the blogs and journalism I read that I'll get around to some thoughts about it but ...

my initial thought about the simultaneously combative and vapid interview is that all Jordon Peterson seems to have done is figured out how to make an upscale tweedy presentation of the basic ideas that Mark Driscoll formulated in his William Wallace II rant "Pussified Nation".  The Peterson version has more scholastic dignity in its aura, I suppose, but the gist of the ideas, to the extent that I could describe them as ideas, are basically the same as Mark Driscoll in "Pussified Nation" mode.  For that matter it's the same shtick Driscoll's selling now, reformulated as trying to address a "father wound".

It might be worth noting that twenty years ago when Driscoll was interviewed for a Mother Jones piece his take on things was that a generation of fathers sold out to the American Dream at the expense of the children they were raising and the marriages they were ostensibly cultivating.  Driscoll and the co-founders of Mars Hill said they were setting out to live out and promulgate a different example, one in which individualism a the expense of community could be explored.

Back in 2006 when Confessions of a Reformission Rev was published Driscoll was still willing to propose an idea, that Christendom was over and that it was good that it was over.  This meant people either had to genuinely embrace what biblically informed Christian life and discipline was or admit they wanted to capitulate to the surrounding culture.  It was back during that period that all sorts of signs were about that Driscoll had empire-building in mind but to try to describe what those of us who were still at least tentatively on board understand Driscoll to be saying, what I understood his aims to be, it was that Christendom had ended and that there was not only no point in Christians in America attempting to revive or revitalize Christendom as it was conventionally understood, but that to do so was to capitulate to an empire-building mentality that would end in moralizing legalism and nominalism. 

And ... six years later it seemed that was what Driscoll hoped to get back in A Call to Resurgence, the kind of Christendom that a mere six or ten years prior he had regarded as rightfully ended.  Some of us with enough Native American lineage to have heard a few tales from Native American Christians about just how brutal a lot of so-called Christendom was can't feel bad for the loss of a Christendom that is, not without cause, conflated with Manifest Destiny and colonial expansion. 

If evangelicals and socially conservatigve Christians fall for the PEterson shtick having felt that Mark Driscoll went off the rails then my hunch is that they want this Social Gospel for Worthy Alpha Males more than they want the Gospel.  I'm sure guys will come up with dignified ways of saying, no, these two things are ommensurate if you really understand Natural Law and so on ... but after a couple of decades of seeing what the long-term influence of the man shtick has been within the culture of Mars Hill I just don't see that Peterson is coming up with anything the least bit new, and it's not like he's necessarily saying it's new. 

The mere fact that an adversarial and incompetent journalist was made to look like an idiot by Peterson on air doesn't really say anything in favor of Peterson's ideas.  It's possible to watch that interview and regard both parties as selling something I don't think people should buy.  An archetype can still be a stereotype and a stereotype may be useful as a heuristic tool but surely at this point we have at least some appreciation of the real limits of heuristic shortcuts. 

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

That will probably suffice for a weekend musing for now. 

an educational-industrial complex, a piece on textbook prices, and a blog post with a rant about the way the system operates

For as often as I've heard people lament the negative effects of what Eisenhower called the military industrial establishment, I have come to the conclusion of the last twenty or thirty years that there is an educational industrial establishment.  We live in an era in which the possibilities for course work based on public domain resources would seem to be at a high ebb.  You could go to and download Taneyev's Convertible Counterpoint in Strict Style, if you wanted.  Not that you necessarily would ... but you get the idea.

But, of course, textbooks for college courses are still ridiculously expensive.

Now I've linked to stuff Kyle Gann has written about academia as a realm for the arts, and specifically music, in the past. He described "The Musicology Ladder" years ago.

I found it easy to sympathize with Gann's rant about the prestige racket of academic music analysis because for the most part I have not found significant long-form analyses of classical guitar literature, particularly the use of sonata forms in the literature, with the exception of some fun doctoral dissertations that have been made available online within the last ... basically five years.  Some of my blogging here has been an attempt to write some mid-length analytical writing about sonata forms in early 19th century guitar literature by ... the usual suspects but some of the neglected but still worthy subjects.  Whether I go through with an attempt to do more analysis of Molitor remains to be seen.  I like Matiegka an Sor and Giuliani a whole lot more, even Diabelli, too.  Molitor had some fun moments but ... not quite my cup of tea.  As so many scores that were previously available for free on IMSLP vanish the prospect of scholarly discuxsion of those vanishing works seems more acute to me.  But I digress.  Gann had something else to say about academia as a culture that seesm worth quoting:


In the meantime, I’ve come to understand academia better. I mistakenly thought, from my 1970s student’s perspective, that the problem was that a group of academic composers had gotten ensconced in music departments, and their stodginess and lack of creativity were preventing students from being exposed to the most exciting new music around. I have since learned that a college or university is a particular type of money-siphoning machine, and specifically a type that adheres to values foreign to the commercial world. The lack of creativity goes not from the faculty upward, but from the boards of trustees downward. Wealthy people keep the college system alive, and they do not do so disinterestedly. They want, in return on their investment, a kind of cultural prestige, and a kind that cannot be supported by any rabble-rousing populism among the faculty. [emphasis added] Arcane, difficult-to-follow academic work feeds that prestige. Sure, you can write about Laurie Anderson in that milieu – but only if you do so in jargon that talks about “postmodern modes of discourse” and “transgendering,” that makes it abstract and difficult to understand and therefore respectable – which means nonthreatening. Exciting young professors get hired (almost by mistake, it seems) and energize the students, but they eternally seem to have more trouble avoiding getting smashed by the edicts handed down from above than the punctilious ones who cloak their research in measured and arcane terminology. The sciences and social sciences in particular thrive in this environment, and they’re the backbone of the institution. Those professors are in their element, and live honest lives. Knowing them is a constant revelation. The artists, on the other hand, are at a permanent disadvantage. The most creative of them cannot present their work with the kind of empirical verifiability that translates as prestige going up the ladder – except by winning awards administrated by other universities. And those who aim for and achieve any kind of popular or commercial success virtually negate the explicit aims of the institution.

So with that kind of observation in mind, the prospect of spending years to find a way to synthesize the vocabulary of ragtime, blues, jazz and country into sonata forms and fugues would have no encouragement from academic cultures at all, let alone from the commercial side of things.  There may be those certain that such a venture is ultimately dubious because vernacular musical styles are inimical to the long-form modes of developmental argument that characterize sonatas and fugues and the like.  The people who make those assertions are completely wrong but I don't feel like belaboring that point in this particular post. 

No, we're shifting gears slightly ... because if conventional academia can be seen as a prestige racket that's something to keep in mind with the "Christian" version of the prestige racket known as Anglo-American academia.

For those who hadn't heard this or may have forgotten, there were no less than three attempts within the history of Mars Hill to start a Bible college or a seminary, or, barring that, to collaboratively make something like one.  For anyone who wants to review what I've blogged on that topic ... here's a set of tagged posts.

then there were the three attempts by people within Mars Hill Fellowship/Mars Hill Church to start a music label

Now given the failure rate of music labels and schools it would have seemed ill-advised for a church that wasn't even twenty years old to try so many times to both start a record label and some kind of Bible college or seminary but they kept trying, and the Corban collaboration was possibly in the works even during the final year. 

It may make no sense at a business level or a cultural level or even an educational level but do you want to know what level it does make sense at?  The level of prestige or status.

It's with that kind of thing in mind that a blog post by reader Cal caught my eye.

At the risk of merely touching upon the post and going in a different direction, the rise and fall of the now defunct Mars Hill Fellowship better known as Mars Hill Church might be instructive for the failures to establish either a music label or a Christian school.  Given that Mark Driscoll used to make fun of young seminarians interested in working at Mars Hill who had, so to speak, more degrees than Fahrenheit but no real world experience, it seems all the more ironic that his roughly twenty year stint at Mars Hill was punctuated by attempts to start a Bible college and that this was part of his vision from its inception.  When I was at Mars Hill and a supportive member I thought that a Christian school would be a great idea ... though I was convinced that this was going to be a second or even third generation challenge rather than something that the first generation of Mars Hill would have any business in or competency for establishing. 

It's relatively clear within the history of Mars Hill that the aim of the would-be seminary would have been to line up training for men to serve in ministry within the context of Mars Hill itself or an Acts 29 context and, to keep things rather brief, it seems that's how things played out for those who participated in Re:Train, while Re:Train lasted.  The reasons why it didn't last have never been explained in much detail for the public record.  Perhaps at some point an enterprising historian who can talk to people who were involved in the project and are both willing and able to speak for the record could tackle that ... but the most I could probably do is advocate for that kind of project.  It's not really within my range of resources, even if I've made a point of documenting things as best I can from the position I've had over the last decade or so.

But pertinent to Cal's recent musings, what could be said about the failed attempts by Mars Hill to create  a sustainable Bible college or seminary was that it was patently obvious to anyone within the Mars Hill community that the practical aim was to equip people to participate in paid ministry capacities within the Mars Hill community.  What kept it from being a mere diploma mill was the institutional connection and aim ... even if some people might have reason to feel it was ultimately a diploma mill anyway but I believe it's both charitable and responsible to propose that whatever disagreements any f us may have had with Mars HIll leadership they were really trying to create a school that had practical outcomes in mind.  In that sense the wildly toxic nature  f the leadership culture doesn't have to be what informs every last detail about that culture's efforts.  It's possible to grant an abstract positive to trying to start a record label or a school evenif there were all sorts of reasons to advise that Mars Hill lacked the resources to sustain these efforts and that these efforts were undertaken so soon within the life of a young organization that is now obviously, dead, to have been effective.

But if Anglo-American attempts at Christian schools are in thrall to the prestige racket described here and elsewhere then ... what's the point?  It's so often been said that the twelve were fishermen and people without formal education it's hardly something to make too much of, yet it's also valuable to not underestimate the obvious. 

I haven't been in an academic setting for decades and I don't miss the culture of jumping through hoops.  Soe of my favorite books to read in the last five years have been academic books.  Elements of Sonata Theory was a blast and I would say it's the most important book on sonata forms I've read since Charles Rosen's landmark monograph.  But what made it fun was that in so many ways it was an academic and necessarily theoretical exploration of ideas that I've been toying with on my own time outside an academic context steeping myself in the music of Haydn and Stevie Wonder and Ellington and a great swath of other musicians.  I find I agree with Gann about wanting music theory and the like to have a populist aim.  I feel you should be able and willing to share knowledge in a way where nobody has to charge you money for the gift of knowledge you share. 

For as often as he made fun of the nerds when it suited him, Mark Driscoll was swift to describe himself as a nerd when it suited a rhetorical moment and a practical aim.  He hasn't lost time sharing that he got a master's degree ... but it can seem that what he was in for was the status symbol aspect of the degree as distinct from the knowledge and the love of learning that can be acquired in a scholarly life.  Learning can be a source of evil as well as virtue so I hesitate to ever suggest that scholarship makes a person virtuous in itself ... and that is part of my concern about the prestige racket, that so often the prestige racket presents itself as a virtue racket when the two are not necessarily, if ever, things to be conflated in our history.  In a post Weinstein moment it would arguably be the case that a whole lot of men used their prestige, power and influence in academia in ways that were patently evil.

Which gets me to mulling over what Cal has written about how for Christians to want to emulate the prestige racket of Anglo-American academia should force people to ask why they want to emulate this culture as it has so obviously been in crisis mode over so many of its elements in the last decade and a half. 

HT Jim West a NYT feature discusses social media bots and purchasing the appearance of influence, The Follower Factory

First off, hat tip to Jim West.

Because he just linked to something recently that's been a topic we've looked at here at Wenatchee The Hatchet in connection to former leaders from Mars Hill such as Mark Driscoll (currently following 3 and having 529k followers) and Sutton Turner (currently following 42.9k and having 44k followers). 

We've looked at Twitter usage and follower counts connected to former executive elders of the former Mars Hill Church (also known initially as Mars Hill Fellowship) here at the blog in the past.

Two posts spring to mind:

the following of Sutton Turner on Twitter, a new short story in screencaps tells a story of a Turner in September 2014 that does not mention Mars Hill so much

The continual rise of Mark Driscoll's Twitter following, a short story in screen captures

Well, the New York Times has a feature about the business of buying and selling bots and the appearance of popularity on social media.

I never plan to be on Twitter or use the platform.  It was of no real value at all and it's only utility, in my experience as a blogger, was that it was partly through Twitter feeds and blog posts I managed to identify that James Noriega and his family as parties most likely connected to the disciplinary case of Andrew Lamb at Mars Hill in later 2011 that became the basis for headlines in early 2012.  While the official Mars Hill public relations response was to say they were not discussing details of the disciplinary case to protect the identities of parties involved, I eventually wrote an extensive series of posts named A Confluence of Situations discussing how social media use within the culture of Mars Hill made it easy to put together a basic timeline of what happened when in connection to the addition of James Noriega to the leadership culture of Mars Hill; how and why that leadership was significant not only for the counseling arm of the church but also, and arguably more crucially, it's real estate acquisition history in connection to its growth model; and how the social media use of the Noriega family in tandem with Mark Driscoll sermons and coverage from the Seattle P-I made it fairly straightforward to connect the dots as to their respective statements pointing to them as the most probable and plausible participants in what became one of the landmark controversies associated with Mars Hill leadership and membership in early 2012.

A more conventional understanding of how and why social media usage might be considered controversial in connection to pastors or churches would be that this is an appearance of influence that can be bought and sold. 

I admit I am simply not sold on the idea that people somehow need to use social media to be "engaged".  I'm particularly not sure I embrace the idea that Christians in church staff need to embrace social media.  They can if they wish to but there's book by Jacques Ellul I would recommend ... .

NYT coverage on Burns Strider inspires Megan Garber at The Atlantic to write about the gap between stated ideals and practice

WASHINGTON — A senior adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign who was accused of repeatedly sexually harassing a young subordinate was kept on the campaign at Mrs. Clinton’s request, according to four people familiar with what took place.
Mrs. Clinton’s campaign manager at the time recommended that she fire the adviser, Burns Strider. But Mrs. Clinton did not. Instead, Mr. Strider was docked several weeks of pay and ordered to undergo counseling, and the young woman was moved to a new job.
Mr. Strider, who was Mrs. Clinton’s faith adviser, was a founder of the American Values Network and sent the candidate scripture readings every morning for months during the campaign, was hired five years later to lead an independent group that supported Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 candidacy, Correct the Record, which was created by a close Clinton ally, David Brock.
He was fired after several months for workplace issues, including allegations that he harassed a young female aide, according to three people close to Correct the Record’s management.
Those familiar with the accounts said that, over the years, a number of advisers urged Mrs. Clinton to sever ties with Mr. Strider, and people familiar with what took place did not want to see Mrs. Clinton blamed for the misconduct of men she was close to.
The complaint from the young woman was initially brought to Jess O’Connell, who was the national director of operations for the Clinton campaign.
Ms. O’Connell, who is currently the chief executive officer of the Democratic National Committee, handled the investigation and advised the Clinton campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, that Mr. Strider should be fired, according to three people familiar with the events.
Ms. O’Connell told colleagues that she was concerned that the young woman making the allegations should not be demoted when she was moved from Mr. Strider’s supervision. The woman requested to have no more interactions with Mr. Strider, and she was moved to a different job within the campaign, reporting directly to Mike Henry, the deputy campaign manager.
The investigation into Mr. Strider’s conduct was described as brief, but it included a review of a number of emails he sent the young woman, who had shared an office with him.
For those already familiar with the news, Megan Garber wrote the following (with additional material) over at The Atlantic:

But Mrs. Clinton did not. Instead, The Times reports: Clinton kept the man who had been accused of sexual harassment—Strider, the co-founder of the American Values Network—on her staff, and in the role of her faith advisor; the woman who had made the accusation stayed on the campaign, as well, but she lost the role she had had before. (“Moved to a new job,” The Times puts it, euphemistically.) The man who, the young woman said, “rubbed her shoulders inappropriately, kissed her on the forehead, and sent her a string of suggestive emails,” remained in his place; the woman who had reported the wrongdoing was the one who was made to move. The circumstances outlined in the Times report, taking place as they did within the context of a historic campaign for the American presidency, are exceptional; the contours of it, however, are extremely familiar.
Here, though, in the story the Times is telling, is another extension of the Clintonian disconnect—one that is as much about the current #MeToo moment as it is about Clinton herself. Here is Hillary, the advocate of women in general, colliding awkwardly with Hillary, the advocate of women in particular. Here is the woman who, in 2008 and again in 2016, proposed to fight for all women—through political policy, and also through the more broadly symbolic fact of her own power—seemingly failing to fight for one of the women who was right in front of her, and directly under her management. Many observers have attributed the force and speed of this #MeToo moment, in a backhanded way, to Clinton herself: #MeToo, that logic goes, came about in part because of the outrage that simmered in many women who had watched the way Clinton, as both a soaring symbol and a vulnerable person, had been treated by Donald Trump. The way he mocked her appearance in his speeches. The way he hulked over her in debates. The way he defeated her in the election itself, grab ‘em by the pussy and all.
And yet. The Times story paints a picture of a Hillary Clinton who is, given her history, both a recipient of harassment and a passive enabler of it. A manager, in other words, like so many of the others who have been revealed in the journalism of the post-Weinstein months: one who learns of an accusation of harassment and addresses it by disrupting the life of the alleged victim, rather than the life of the alleged perpetrator. The boss who found enough evidence of Burns Strider’s wrongdoing to dock his pay and put him in counseling … but who kept him on staff—with all its many other young women—nonetheless. Here is Clinton serving, yet again, as a rich metaphor—this time, though, for complacency and complicity. For powerful people who are concerned, but not concerned enough.
So while it was Clinton, the manager, the Times report goes, who made the decision to keep Strider on her team, Clinton, the manager, is notably absent from today’s explanation of things. She has outsourced her own decision-making, it seems, to discussions of process and policies—the same anonymous structures that so many other managers have relied on for legal, and moral, insulation. What were the “processes” that kept Strider in his job and his accuser out of hers? You are not supposed to ask. “Processes” are meant to be the answers to their own questions. So are “policies.” Corporations-as-people, if you’d like, but the framework falls apart when organizations are able to deny that humanity as soon as it becomes a liability.
Presidential campaigns are, certainly, exceptional settings. They are simultaneously highly organized and ad-hoc; they are entrepreneurial efforts that are selling not products, but a single person as filtered through a set of ideas. And they revolve around that person, centrifugally, not just as the subject of their collective efforts, but also as a kind of CEO of the enterprise at large. In that sense, there’s a certain institutional logic to the “processes” here getting overridden, seemingly, by Clinton herself—by Clinton’s reported decision not to take her staff’s advice to dismiss Strider. And there’s a certain feminist logic, too: The woman at the top of the ticket should be in charge of her campaign’s staffing, and decision-making, just as a male candidate should be. The buck should stop with her. Even though—another sad irony of Hillary Clinton’s public life—that executive authority can put her in the position, once again, to be answering for the misbehavior of the men in her orbit.  
The choice Clinton ultimately made, however, in the sharpness of retrospect, was remarkably in line with many of the precise institutional biases #MeToo is attempting to fight against. Whatever Clinton’s reasons for the decision she made in 2008, the result of it today—the blunt, brute optics of it—amounted to the same thing: power protecting itself. The man keeping his job. The woman losing hers. The woman, too, muted through a nondisclosure agreement; the man silent because he chooses to make no comment. The powerful person prioritized; the less powerful one made to accommodate. And the presidential candidate who had embraced women’s humanity—the leader who had declared that “women’s rights are human rights,” in an age when the obvious still needed stating—doubling as a candidate who had also, in her own small way, compromised it. Here, in the person of Hillary Clinton—the rule-breaker, the ceiling-shatterer, the grandmother clad proudly in suffragette white—was, also, the specter of every boss who has heard a complaint and done nothing. Who has looked the other way, and turned the other cheek. Who has seen something, but chosen not to say anything.
And here, too, is another reminder of the challenges #MeToo will face as it struggles to transition from a “moment” to a “movement”: the human difficulties of marrying rhetoric and action, words and deeds. It’s easy—so easy, perhaps too easy—to talk about progress, and justice, and empowerment. It’s easy to say that we need “structural change.” It’s so much harder to live the words, to internalize them, to make them personal and actionable and real. Hillary Clinton has fought, for much of her life and for most of her career, for many of the ideas and ideals that #MeToo is talking about. Even she, though, hasn’t always lived up to her own soaring rhetoric. Even she, it seems, all those years ago, faced with a woman who said, “me too,” found a way to look away.

As the weight of allegations, let alone actions, go, last year's election was a choice between a perpetrator and an enabler of sexual harassment. 

That this was apparently the best we could get on offer wouldn't be the part that seems depressing, the part that seems depressing is that the partisans for the two respective candidates made it out as if voting for the one was voting for justice and voting for the other was voting for injustice.  Sometimes I've seen macabre jokes to the effect that we got to pick between Two-Face and the Joker, at other times between a bad head cold and cancer, or at other times between gonnorhea and syphilis.  Being the sort of downbeat temperament that I am about politics, the official show pony isn't the same as the implementing cabinet as it stands, and my pessimism about the status of the empire is more along the lines of suggesting that it's not a choice between gonnorhea and syphilis but simply between middle and late stage of the latter.  There is no point in attempting to make America great again, but neither is there much cause to believe that "America is already great" amounted to much, either.

As more stories come to light some blogging John Halle has done about the distinction between Clinton and Sanders supporters came to mind.

I couldn't find much to like or admire about either of last year's candidates.  I wasn't with him but "I'm with her" was also a trainwreck, mistakenly assuming that saying that America is already great was enough to make an argument against a push to make America great again.  I don't see that America needs to be made great again or that it is already great.  That greatness is probably the overarching problem.  Every empire dies at some point. 

Thirty some years ago when Alan Moore was putting out Watchmen and James Cameron was putting out The Terminator and Carpenter was putting out They Live! it wasn't hard to see people of a broadly liberal persuasion arguing that an addled show business president was going to get us all killed by way of nuclear annihilation or Skynet or something and that drastic measures needed to be taken.  Now my own interpretation of Moore's legendary comic book was that Ozymandias was a genocidal elitist who didn't realize he was the real villain or the story, partly because Moore didn't exactly want to concede that Veidt was entirely the real villain.  An alternate American history where Nixon was still President already weakened the plausibility of the dystopia, but at another level it seemed Moore could just barely detach himself from his own political ideals enough to establish that within the "current" timeline of Watchmen the only people who get killed were those killed by ... superheroes.  Whether it was Veidt or Kovacs or others the bulk of the murder and mayhem was being perpetrated within the story by the self-designated superheroes who were out to save the world.  Noah Berlatsky made what I thought was a compelling case that Rorschach ripping off his mask at the hour of his death showed that he was the only one of those costumed vigilantes who, at last ,never forgot that the reason he was doing these things was, in principle, to save innocent lives.  He died because he refused to endorse what the other superheroes were ultimately okay with, the slaughter of millions to give Veidt a pretext to save the world.  Of course the ending was ambiguous enough to suggest, for alert readers, that all that bloodshed and scheming and deceit didn't change anything at all in the long run. 

Proving the Comedian wrong didn't necessarily make anything Ozymandias said or did right. 

In Moore's story it's possible to make a case that Ozymandias' efforts made the world a more unstable place ... but ... thanks to comic book reader reasoning, which is as motivated as any other kind, there's a tapestry of foolishness in which it is asserted that if Veidt had not massacred all those people in New York the world was going to end up in nuclear war because ... Nixon, basically.

Except that Reagan was not Nixon and everyone knows that, especially thirty years on.  It's possible to propose that Moore, by making the POTUS in Watchmen Nixon, knew perfectly well this was not ultimately ever going to correspond to the real world.  It was a dehydrated satire of the kinds of moral reasoning that can be acceptable within the confines of a superhero genre but that come across as bloodthirsty and ruthless in the world we live in.  But Ozymandias was interesting because he highlighted how once someone believes only they can save the day what things can they excuse in themselves and others close to them on the basis of that belief.  When an Adrian Veidt considers it paramount that a Comedian be taken out even though it was arguable that there was nothing Blake really could have done to have stopped him, it invites a question as to what the effort was for.  After all, despite killing the Comedian, Ozymandias ends up bragging about his master plan (if after the fact) like any serialized villain does, the irony of his quips withstanding, indeed, underlining the ironic point.  Only Kovacs is able to immediately grasp what the others can't quite accept and then accept altogether too readily, that Veidt has been the villainous mastermind all along, ever since Blake made him into a punchline.

As we all know, Hillary Clinton lost the 2008 nomination to Obama two terms ago.  Last year she lost the electoral vote to Trump.  It's been strange to consider how over the last year so much only came to light about men like Weinstein and editors and others who, for decades, were allowed to operate fairly freely.  Whether the industries truly change going forward may depend upon what the reasons really have been that so many of these stories have come to light. 

Had Clinton secured an electoral victory would we even have gotten a "Weinstein moment"? 

We might have to ask whether the gap between ideals and actions hasn't shown us that the actions still speak louder than words, even when those actions can take the form of inaction.  If the Religious Right seems hypocritical for giving Trump a proverbial mulligan the Clintonian mainstream set an example over the last twenty-five years for the Religious Right to emulate.  The pot can certainly call the kettle black, but at this point it seems dubious to attempt to regard either of the teams as operating out of principle, unless the principle is blunt realpolitik and a quest for power.