Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Review: Blue Collar Intellectuals: When the Enlightened and the Everyman Elevated America

Blue Collar Intellectuals: When the Enlightened and the Everyman Elevated America Blue Collar Intellectuals: When the Enlightened and the Everyman Elevated America by Daniel J. Flynn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have neither the patience, nor the political fixation really, to view C-SPAN on any regular sort of basis, but I am a frequent viewer of their cultural programming, in particular BOOKTV, television for serious readers, which they generally air on CSPAN2 during the weekend. It was here that I was first introduced to Daniel J. Flynn, as I watched him give a talk to George Washington University’s Tocqueville Forum on the Roots of American Democracy, one night while I was drunk.
Don’t ask me why I was drunk. I was simply in the habit at the time of drinking late into the night and watching pre-recorded lectures I had saved to the DVR. I don’t why I enjoyed this practice as much as I did or why I had to be drinking when I did it, but I did find it extremely pleasurable and I learned a great deal because of it. You might also say that, because of this peculiar habit, I represent Flynn’s target audience to a tee.
In this thin volume, Flynn tells of an era that, if not exactly prelapsarian, was a time at least when a fair number of regular, walking-around Americans showed interest in the intellectual traditions of the West, and how a small number of artists and thinkers, many from working-class backgrounds, aspired to bring high culture to the Everyman.
In the book Flynn chronicles the stories of six such intellectuals. Will and Ariel Durant, the husband-and-wife team who were the distillers of Western civilization, and who’s books made the best-seller lists for decades, Mortimer Adler, the manic philosopher who put the best of what has been written and said into the hands of ordinary men through his Great Books project, Milton Friedman, who is perhaps the twentieth-century’s most influential economist, Eric Hoffer, the “Stevedore Socrates” of San Francisco who remains as refreshingly counter-cultural today as he was in his own time, and finally Ray Bradbury, the seemingly tireless fiction writer whose truth-telling tales of dystopia and fantasy intelligent readers have never found tiresome. These blue-collar intellectuals all spoke to the educated laymen without also talking down to them and in the process, uplifted the masses and rescued ideas from the academic ghetto.
Twentieth-century America was actually a time that witnessed a democratization of education that has been unparalleled anywhere in human history. Aided by cheap printing, technological innovations in communications, and a wider dissemination of wealth, strivers bettered themselves through the G.I. Bill and adult continuing education programs; National
Educational Television and university-of-the-air style radio programs; Little Blue Books, the Book-of-the-Month Club, the advent of paperbacks, and broad “outline” books; popular middlebrow magazines such as Saturday Review and The New Yorker, and social outlets such as community book clubs, museums, Andrew Carnegie-funded libraries, and the Great Books programs.
Such sins were not easily forgiven however, as blue-collar intellectuals proved to be as unsettling to the intellectual elites as the nouveau rich had been to old money. Worse still, they replicated their numbers through evangelization. The elite dismissed the democratization of knowledge and wisdom as an invasion of their turf by undesirables. Rather than welcoming the massive attempt at intellectual uplift, elite intellectuals heaped scorn upon it. “The Great Books Movement, for better or worse, offered education minus the middleman. It is no wonder the middleman objected so vociferously,” writes Flynn. In response, established intellectuals began to adopt a vocabulary to demarcate intellectual class---“lowbrow,” “middlebrow,” “highbrow”---with “middlebrow” becoming a slur akin to “bourgeois” in the Marxian vernacular. Which was a direct attempt to marginalize popular culture in favor of high culture. Postmodernism however, more readily perceived the advantages of the middlebrow cultural-position that, while aware of high culture, was also able to balance aesthetic claims with the claims of the everyday world. Which is also part of what forms Flynn’s rather astute premise for the book.
But what’s really exceptional about each of these thinkers, to me at least, is that they all shared one common denominator, they were people who gained much of their education on their own, through books.
Ray Bradbury, the poet of the pulps, for example, didn’t study creative writing or literature at a top university. He was unable to afford college. He grew up in extreme poverty, having to share his parents pull out couch along with his brother, even into adulthood. Instead he went to the library three days a week, later proudly claiming the Los Angeles Public Library as his alma mater. The wannabe author read and wrote, and wrote, and wrote. Immersing himself in books made him an intellectual; doing so at the public library made him a blue-collar intellectual. Bradbury valued an education over a degree.
Which makes this book about far more than a few blue-collar intellectuals. It’s really about the value of an education. A real education, not just the attainment of some degree, which is essentially a paper note of recognition that you attended a particular school at a particular with your name printed in calligraphy. “We are increasingly ignorant, but we do not know enough to be properly ashamed,” lamented W. A. Pannapacker, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Much of our K-12 schooling now involves educating to a standardized test, superficial learning that does to the mind what Botox, steroids, and plastic surgery do to the body. Our current educational system has a tendency to simply reduce education to mechanical skills, all the while undermining creativity and independence. Anyone who doesn’t fit into this mold is cast aside. The status quo has no use for them. This type of education is also predominant in colleges where we have a system that only allows for professional training that prepares cogs to fit into the economy rather than liberally educated citizens who will be ready for the responsibilities of freedom. People are instead pushed into diploma mills, which is really a sort of University of Phoenix model of education. Institutions that shun broad knowledge graduate shallow people with narrow interests.
So part of the question is, how do we disable an educational system that is uniformizing people across the socioeconomic spectrum in order to remind ourselves that the hotel maid who makes up our bed may in fact be an amateur painter? The accountant who does our taxes may well have a screenplay that he works on after the midnight hour? I think what is less clear, to many people, is just how much talent and creativity exists through all walks of life. Which is why books like this one is so important, because there is more genius in the working-class than anyone cares to notice. Blue-collar intellectuals have ideas that are vibrant, rooted in the everyday lives of real people. They are in a word, pragmatic. Which harkens back to something Eric Hoffer, once said, “America is the working man’s country.”
I ended up identifying with each of these thinkers in very different and yet profound ways, and I believe that the average reader will also. This is a book for anyone who believes that a life of the mind is best lived while living life in the real world, rather than chasing rainbows down rabbit holes.
However, the lack of blue-collar intellectuals today does much, I think, to explain the suffering of both the economy and blue-collar workers themselves. We are surrounded today by passive and meaningless entertainments that not only debases but detaches us from the great ideas and our common heritage. The real threat to the life of the mind today, as I see it, comes not from the people who burn or ban books, but so often, from the people who refuse to read them. To loosely paraphrase working-class heroes Archie and Edith Bunker, Mister we could really use a man like Milton Friedman again.

View all my reviews

Monday, March 25, 2019

Review: The War on Normal People: The Truth About America's Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future

The War on Normal People: The Truth About America's Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future The War on Normal People: The Truth About America's Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future by Andrew Yang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It seems that the world that we have all been preparing for, is on the verge of no longer existing. Technology is changing our economy now in ways that we aren’t fully equipped to understand, let alone control, and as technology continues to consistently advance, the shift of work activities now performed by humans and those performed by machines is going to change also and the shape the future of humanity will take will be the result of complex, changing, challenging and competing technological, political, social and economic forces. While some of these forces are known, there is a lot that is still unknown and the speed at which the unknowns will unfold are difficult to predict. But unless we make a strong effort to make the unknowns, known, the outcome of this emerging battle between technological singularity and economic singularity seems to be just the beginning of social unrest and turmoil. As Eric Weinstein, managing director of Thiel Capital, has stressed, “...we never really saw that capitalism might be defeated by its own child — technology.”
In the book Andrew Yang argues that the sectors where most people tend to work, administration, retail, food service, transportation, and manufacturing, have profound levels of repetitiveness which makes them highly susceptible to automation. Meaning that many of America’s “Normal People” will soon be supplanted by AI software and robotics. Since competition in these sectors is quite fierce, companies are sooner or later, going to be forced to automate to keep up with the competition. Once a single competitor automates, the others will follow by necessity. In many cases, automation is not only cheaper, but also produces better products and services. The natural result is, as Yang relates through conversations he’s had with people in the tech industry, a race to make “Normal” people redundant.
And it’s already happening. Millions of jobs have already begun to be automated away, especially in the manufacturing sector.
A recent White House report has even predicted that 83 percent of jobs where people make less than $20 an hour will be subject to automation or replacement. And according to Wall Street the retail sector is already becoming almost completely uninvestable, in what’s being dubbed the “retail apocalypse,” partly due to in-store self-service and partly due to e-commerce. Next on the chopping block is transportation, as self-driving technology is replacing millions of truck drivers. The food service and administration sectors are likewise just as vulnerable. Even many white-collar jobs will likely disappear.
The fact that Yang doesn’t just focus all of his attention on blue-collar jobs when discussing the looming employment crisis, is something I really appreciated, pointing out that 44 percent of the total jobs, according to the Fed, can be categorized as “routine” which includes high-skilled medical and legal work that students go to college for years to master. For example, Yang relates of a recent demonstration held by General Electric, in which some of the country’s best doctors were pitted against a computer to see which could better identify tumors on radiology films. The computer outperformed the doctors with ease. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. New software allows computers to see shades of grey that the human eye can’t, and they can reference films against data sets more numerous than any individual could ever hope to possess.
This all may sound like science fiction, but as Yang says, “We are living in unprecedented times. The future without jobs will come to resemble either the cultivated benevolence of Star Trek or the desperate scramble for resources of Mad Max. Unless there is a dramatic course correction, I fear we are heading toward the latter.” If this doesn’t make you concerned for the future, you are either stupid, wealthy, or both.
Yang’s fundamental message, of course, is that we are already on the verge of this dystopian future, with hundreds of thousands of families and communities being pushed into oblivion, and that Americans are already dealing with the lack of meaningful job opportunities, by getting married less and becoming less and less functional overall. Social mobility has declined, inequality has widened, and precarious employment has become the norm and these sweeping technological changes threaten to undermine what little stability people have left.
But we must also understand that once the pace of these technological advances and automation changes goes from linear to exponential, becoming self-improving, self-replicating and distributed, the old business models, governance models, management and technology models are likewise going to be crushed under the weight of an outdated economics of efficiency.
Over the past 40 years, the US government has done precious little to invest in our future. Instead of spending money on things that might make a difference in people’s lives, our politicians would rather spend the majority of their time shutting down the government over some petty political dispute. Time and again difficult decisions have been pushed off for later, and any complicated social issues that have arisen over the years have simply been relegated to the unforgiving "invisible hand of the free market" to resolve. It would appear as if Washington is as bereft of new ideas in social terms as it is of new technological ones.
But Yang not only draws our attention to these current socioeconomic issues, he goes one step further by proposing genuinely concrete measures to face them, and ends up making one of the more noteworthy and pragmatic arguments in favor of a universal basic income (UBI) that I’ve heard so far, which is the very centerpiece of his platform as a presidential candidate.
Yang’s unwavering support of a universal basic income (UBI) is just one aspect of his platform however. In the book he outlines three main solutions. First, a UBI of $1,000 a month for every U.S. citizen, over the age of 18, paid for by a 10% value-added tax on all goods and services. Which will be a dramatic expansion of the social safety net that will guarantee tens of millions of Americans at least a $12,000 annual income. Second, by establishing a new, secondary economy based on time rather than money. And third, instituting a tougher and more vigilant and yet dynamic government.
It should also be noted however, that the idea of a universal basic income (UBI) isn’t a recent one. It has been floating around now for decades, and was almost passed in the US by the Nixon administration in the early 1970s. And currently, there’s more incentive than ever to roll out something just like it as support for a universal basic income (UBI) is higher than ever right now, particularly among the millennial crowd, which should amaze no one as millennials have had to deal with, not only a crumbling economy, but also increasing amounts of debt. People over the age of fifty however, are much more likely to be hostile to the idea. Older generations are also much more likely to blame millennials for our current economic problems. We either got the wrong degree. We still haven’t learned to code. We killed department stores and even chain restaurants. But what millennial-bashing really reveals is the very precariousness of our current economic model that Yang is talking about. A model that is no longer sustainable. It’s already starting to burn out and it threatens far more: a new Great Depression. The first Great Depression was caused because rampant inequality meant that consumers had no money. The engines of industry kept spinning, kept churning out new products, but there was nobody who could afford to purchase them. Right now we are heading for round two.
Yet despite the books tagline, this isn’t fundamentally a book about universal basic income (UBI). It’s more about markets, and our attitudes surrounding them. As Yang says, “If we insist on seeing ourselves as inputs into the economic machine we are doomed. We have to make this economy work for people as fast as possible.” Markets should be a tool that society uses to its advantage, not something it must be a slave to and in this new emerging economy we will have no choice but to rethink what we label as ‘work’, or more to the point, what we label as ‘valuable.’
As Yang rightfully points our current metric, gross domestic product (GDP) is a useless metric for measuring our progress as a society. Our market currently doesn’t value things that are vital to human existence, i.e. family, creativity, meaning and purpose.
Right now the market is overrunning everything and we must get past the idea that unless the market says that what you contribute to society is valuable, then it must be worthless. We have no choice but to rethink what it means to be a contributing member of society. The stay at home mom, or dad increasingly, who may not have a job, but who still nevertheless, gets up every morning and gets the kids ready for school, helps with homework, cleans the house, and still finds time to fix dinner, and even volunteer at the local shelter, still contributes to society. Even though the market doesn’t recognize these contributions as valuable. As Yang says in the book, “Our economic system must shift to focus on bettering the lot of the average person. Capitalism has to be made to serve human ends and goals, rather than have our humanity subverted to serve the marketplace. We shape the system. We own it, not the other way around.”
The War on Normal People also comes to stand as a serious rebuttal to some of the more optimistic thinkers, such as Thomas Friedman and futurist Ray Kurzweil, who believe that Americans can just simply be transformed into lifelong learners, and thus keep pace with changes in the workplace. But as Yang points out, “Some liberals imagine that we might be able to retrain hundreds of thousands of truckers as software engineers or some other occupation. But the reality is that federally funded retraining programs have an effectiveness rate of between zero and 15% when applied to manufacturing workers, and fewer than 10% of workers qualify for retraining programs as are currently offered anyway.” Adding, “We need to invest in education, job training and placement, apprenticeships, relocation, entrepreneurship, and tax incentives - anything to help make hiring and retaining workers appealing. And then we should acknowledge that, for millions of people, it’s still not going to work.” The oncoming wave of technological unemployment is going to be severe and the challenge we currently face, as Yang writes, “is that humans need work more than work needs us.”
However, it’s not just that the future is going to be a place where people can’t find work but that it’s going to be a place where people will no longer need to work.
Scott Santens, a writer and UBI activist, has written that, “Human labor is increasingly unnecessary and even economically unviable compared to machine labor. And yet we still insist on money to pay for what our machines are making for us. As long as this remains true, we must begin providing ourselves the money required to purchase what the machines are producing.
Without a technological dividend, the engine that is our economy will seize, or we will fight against technological progress itself in the same way some once destroyed their machine replacements. Without non-work income, we will actually fight to keep from being replaced by the technology we built to replace us. To allow this to happen would be truly foolish, for what is the entire purpose of technology but to free us to pursue all we wish to pursue? Fearing the loss of jobs shouldn’t be a fear at all. It should be welcomed. It should be freeing. No one should be asking what we’re going to do if computers take our jobs. We should all be asking what we get to do once freed from them.”
Never in the history of the United States would there be anything more conducive to freedom and independence than a universal basic income (UBI). Without economic freedom, liberty is a useless and callous abstract notion that lacks any real meaning for real people.
Just think for a moment about all the talent and creativity that is squandered, and has been squandered over the centuries, due to the necessity of work. Think about the hopes that are dashed when we tell our children that they can’t pursue what they’re passionate about, simply because they will need to earn a living. Think about this. We tell our children that they must earn their right to live. We are born into a world that wasn’t of our choosing and then forced into wage slavery if we want to stay alive. Fifty years from now, people will look back in embarrassment that we allowed an economic system to use the fear of not being able to eat as a way to incentivize people to work. It’s appalling and anyone who would advocate for such an arrangement should rightfully be labeled a monster. This, as far as I’m concerned, is why a universal basic income (UBI) is so important and so needed. People would finally be able to exist without having to tolerate a job they hate, and consequently, a life they hate. It would allow people to go home and do something useful with their lives. What’s the number one death bed regret? That we didn’t spend more time with the people we love the most. A universal basic income (UBI) would finally give us that time.
A universal basic income (UBI) would also have the added benefit of putting power back into the hands of the working class. In other words, it would right the power imbalances that are inherent in our current economic system, leading to a more egalitarian society overall. It would even improve the bargaining power of millions of low-wage workers forcing employers to increase wages, add benefits and improve conditions in order to retain employees.
In addition, if a universal basic income (UBI) replaced specific programs for the poor, it would have the added benefit of reducing government bureaucracy, minimizing government interference in people’s lives and it would allow people to avoid the social stigma that so often accompanies government assistance programs. By virtue of being available to everyone, a universal basic income (UBI) would not only guarantee the material existence of everyone in our society; it would establish a baseline for what membership in that society really means.
Mark Zuckerberg, in a commencement address at Harvard said, “Every generation expands its definition of equality. Now it’s time for our generation to define a new social contract. We should have a society that measures progress not by economic metrics like GDP but by how many of us have a role we find meaningful. We should explore ideas like universal basic income to give everyone a cushion to try new things.”
This book has proven to be an eye-opening and insightful analysis concerning our present situation and Yang has done a very effective job at highlighting our upcoming, and fast approaching, employment crisis. He also brings a very unique credibility to the subject, given his entrepreneurship as founder of the nonprofit Venture for America. But more importantly what Yang’s book has done, for me at least, is that it has provided me with a renewed sense of hope. Whether or not he is correct in either his assessments or his prescriptions. Our ability to hope is what will drive us forward into the future. Without it, we will go nowhere and we’ve been without it for sometime now.

View all my reviews

Friday, March 15, 2019

Let Alone a Father

The change was gradual.
At first he didn’t want to believe it. But now he was unrecognizable even to himself.
He had what appeared to be a fungal network of hives growing just underneath the skin and his body had become amorphous, almost translucent.
Already his vision was beginning to blur. He could barely make out the shape of his own daughter as she stood before him.
He could feel his mind beginning to go as well. He was having trouble remembering things. At odd times he would become aware of being in a room he didn't know how he got into or why. Large chunks of time would even go missing altogether.
His daughter had been supportive in the beginning but she also knew that before long he couldn't be trusted. He wouldn’t even know her. He would only know hunger. He would be left with only the most basic of instincts. Survival would be all that mattered then.
He too knew that eventually he would become a danger to her. He knew he would be a creature that would only wish to consume that which is smaller than itself. 
And then one day it happened.
Her father was gone.
At the time she couldn't have known the danger she was in as she entered her fathers room to help him greet the day as she had done so many mornings before. But there she found him slithering up the wall near the window. 
"Dad?" She whispered.
Suddenly, as if based on sound alone, it noticed her in the room and came after her before she had time to articulate a response.
It wrapped itself around her like folded paper and began to digest what was contained between the folds.
Soon she would become nothing but a green pool of liquid spilled out onto the floor of her fathers bedroom. Sooner still, would what remained of her father, make its way out into the world. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

A Short Primer on Gossip in the Workplace

It is not now, nor has it ever been the case, a bad idea to listen to gossip. Quite the contrary actually, in fact all gossip is worth listening to if you can determine its source.
Generally it's easy to determine where gossip originates, you just need to pay attention to who gave you the information. By observing who talks to whom, on coffee breaks, at lunch, or even who commutes together, you can easily map the system. Doing this will allow you to determine how the information was acquired and judge how it may have been distorted as it passed along different channels. If you can’t determine the geography of the system however, then all gossip becomes meaningless.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that since most organizations lack any sort of official espionage system most successful organizations must therefore rely on these informal channels to find out what those on the bottom are up to. Gossip serves this function perfectly. As a matter of fact a lot of the time gossip is a means by which those at the top use to disseminate information in order to gauge the reaction to any new proposals, be it raises, layoffs, personnel changes, or the feasibility of a plan of action before it roles out. Not so much because they need or want the support of those below them but because they generally aren't always sure what to do and are in no position to solicit advice from their subordinates, since that would undermine their own authority. This gives management an excellent technique to employ in order to save face. It can also be used to deliberately leak information to soften the blow of bad news. Making the eventual announcement less painful. For example let's say there's a rumor that there will be no Christmas bonuses this year unlike the previous year which amounted to $500, this is the leak. Now management lets their employees stew for about a week or two and then when it finally comes time to have their one on one personal exchanges with each employee they announce that a $200 Christmas bonus will be handed out this year, which was their intention all along. Employees will easily accept this “new” bonus and will even be made to feel grateful at having been offered such a generous contribution after having assumed that they would receive nothing. This technique is a great way to get your employees to accept a lesser amount without argument or ill will. Understand, good news is almost always kept secret until the very last minute because senior officers naturally enjoy announcing it.
In much the same way, this informal system can be used to warn someone that they’re going to be fired in order to facilitate the task of the executive who has to do the firing, and it also serves as a means of warning people whose performance may be unsatisfactory.
Furthermore, gossip can even be a mechanism for influence, making gossip a functional tool for low power people because it allows them to gather information they otherwise would not have had access to.
Gossip also serves to make undesirable behavior difficult to hide from others and allows people to observe what consequences different behaviors may have in an organization, without experiencing everything first-hand. For instance, let’s say you start a new job. You’re getting to know your co-workers, sizing them up, learning everyone’s roles and positions at the company. You’re figuring out who you jive with, who you may butt heads with, who the office clown is, but then a co-worker makes a comment to you, outside the presence of other employees, about one of your other co-workers. This is as much of a test as anything. You’re co-worker is wanting to see how you will respond. To see if you know how to handle yourself in this type of situation. In other words, to see if you can be trusted, but also, and most importantly, to check that this informal system is still working.
As you can see gossip can be a very multifaceted tool, which can be employed to establish the unspoken rules of the workplace or even as a way for employees who lack power in an organization to gain informal influence over their peers. Which is why it is so useful, and also why it is so wide spread.
It should be noted however, that anyone interested in advancing within an organization must acknowledge the existence of this system of alternative management. Realizing that this system is both stronger and more effective than traditional forms of management would lead you to believe, as anyone who has ever worked in an office environment will be able to attest to.
In short, once you know the sources of gossip, and how it functions within an organization, you will be in a sensational position that will allow you to predict the actions of upper management as well as the maneuverings of your fellow peers, which is a very good position to be in.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Review: Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture

Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture by Roxane Gay
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In an article for The Irish Times, Fionola Meredith, wrote, “It has become a feminist article of faith to believe in the existence of “rape culture”: the notion that sexual violence exists on a continuum, from low-level instances such as leering, wolf-whistling or cat-calling, right up to the most extreme: sexual assault and rape. Well, if that’s the orthodoxy, then I am a feminist heretic. I think “rape culture” is a myth, lacking in logic, which seriously disempowers women and teaches them to be victims. By that logic, a mildly bawdy text message from a colleague, or an unwanted wolf-whistle in the street, is part of the same spectrum that ends in forced sex. Rape culture, as a philosophical construct, simply doesn’t make sense. The span is too broad to be useful. Would we talk about “murder culture”, with nipping or pinching at one end of the scale, and homicide at the other end? What’s worse, conflating the most borderline instances of sexist behaviour with genuine sexual harassment or assault only serves to trivialise these much more serious attacks on women’s agency and dignity. If they’re all part and parcel of the same thing, how do we distinguish between outrageous acts of molestation and minor infringements of the social code?”
On many college campuses today the current rhetoric concerning sexual assault routinely conflates consensual drunk sex with rape, especially given that students are encouraged to see every bad sexual decision as assault. Which is where this flawed notion of “rape culture” really begins to break down, it fails to discriminate between the relatively trivial and the most severe. The majority of campus incidents that have been carelessly described as sexual assault are not even felonious rape, involving force or drugs, but oafish hookup melodramas, arising from mixed signals and imprudence on both sides. In most cases of reported rape where “incapacitation” was the “tactic,” 88% of victims were drinking alcohol and another 4% were using drugs, voluntarily. Judging by this data what we have is not a sex problem or an assault problem or even a lack of respect for women problem. What we have is a drinking problem.
Most states now, due to the hysterical propaganda surrounding “rape culture,” have even begun to enact laws asserting that consent is impossible when a person “knew or should have known” their partner was unable to give informed consent because they were drinking. The reality is that, virtually always, the woman is seen as the victim and the male as the perp. The laws focus now is all about finding who’s to blame for what was, in hindsight, unwanted sex. But there is a defect in this way of thinking that becomes evident when we consider the law regarding drunk driving. When a woman is too drunk to give informed consent, then she is not responsible for her decision to have sex. When that same woman climbs in her car to drive home and then kills a family of four, she is completely responsible for her choice to drive while impaired, and the law will hold her responsible for these tragic deaths. Drunk driving? That’s on her. Drunk sex? Thats totally the man’s fault. This way of thinking does both men and women a complete disservice. With drunk driving, both genders are held to a gender-neutral standard, and both are treated as responsible adults. With sex, men, either drunk or not, are held responsible for their sexual behaviors, while women are treated as if they were children.
Christina Hoff Sommers has commented that, “It appears we are in the throes of one of those panics where paranoia, censorship, and false accusations flourish—and otherwise sensible people abandon their critical facilities. We are not facing anything as extreme as the Salem Witch Trials or the McCarthy inquisitions. But today’s rape culture movement bears some striking similarities to a panic that gripped daycare centers in the 1980s. Today’s college rape panic is an eerie recapitulation of the daycare abuse panic. Just as the mythical “50,000 abducted children” fueled paranoia about child safety in the 1980s, so today’s hysteria is incited by the constantly repeated, equally fictitious “one-in-five women on campus is a victim of rape.” “Believe the children,” said the ritual abuse experts during the day care scare. “Believe the survivors,” say today’s rape culturalists. To not believe an alleged victim is to risk being called a rape apologist.”
However, many feminists will still naively claim that reform is urgent given that one in five women will be raped during her time at college and you will be hard pressed to find an article lamenting campus “rape culture” that does not contain some iteration of this often repeated statistic. But it’s inaccurate. Statistics surrounding sexual assault are notoriously unreliable and inconsistent, primarily because of vague and expansive definitions of what exactly qualifies as sexual assault.
While more sober voices have said that the moral panic surrounding “rape culture,” while perhaps a bit overblown, has at least called attention to some serious problems. The reality however, is that it has done nothing but confuse and discredit genuine cases of abuse and violence. Molestation and rape are horrific crimes that warrant serious attention and vigorous response. Panics such as these, only breed chaos and mob justice. They claim innocent victims, undermine social trust, and teach us to doubt the evidence of our own experience.
Most of the essays in this anthology are also linked, in some way or another, to the now prominent #MeToo movement, which is a movement that, while making clear the insidiousness and prevalence of sexual harassment and assault, has also, unfortunately, and this aspect has been greatly overlooked, been eerily centered mostly on the experiences of affluent women. Just who is able to participate in such activism has a lot to do with economic agency. You can pretty much bet that most photos of marchers wearing pink “pussy” hats during the Women’s March, for example, earlier this year, document middle or upper class women able to take time away from work, obtain transportation to a protest site or afford a babysitter. It is a movement that has quite clearly been reappropriated by the upper middle classes. Even the founder of the movement, Tarana Burke, has said that the movement itself has become, "unrecognizable" and that it, “risks losing its original purpose.”
Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Žižek, who views the #MeToo movement as revolutionary, has also cautioned that, as in every revolutionary upheaval, there will be numerous injustices and ironies. Thus, for Žižek, the movement runs the risk of turning into just another case where political legitimization is based on the subject's victimhood status. It is precisely this notion of "victimhood as a form of empowerment" that is, for Žižek, one of the two main dangers posed by the #MeToo movement. Which echoes what Arthur Koestler once said, “If power corrupts, the reverse is also true; persecution corrupts the victims, though perhaps in subtler and more tragic ways.” The other is that it remains too obsessively focused on the realm of sexual exploitation within a very narrowly defined milieu, with little or no relevance for, or impact on, the lives of real women in the real world.
Despite all the remarkable advances we have made in the realm of gender equality, the idea that all men are the enemy of all women has been given a new lease on life, due now, to the erroneous belief in “rape culture.” Which is really a return to the misandry prevalent during the 1960s, only now much closer to the mainstream than it was some fifty years ago. The most recent instantiation of which is the bogus term known as “toxic masculinity.” However, if we again look at statistics we come to find that some 43% of boys are raised by single mothers and roughly 78% of teachers are female. Which means that almost 50% of boys have an almost 100% chance of having a feminine influence while at home and while at school. “Toxic masculinity” doesn’t really seem to be a problem. A lack of masculinity however, might be.
Mothers are often venerated as faultless parents, irrespective of the ways many of them screw up their kids’ lives. Yet they are only held responsible for the positive aspects that show up in their children. For example, if a young man becomes an investment banker or lawyer after being solely raised by his mother, she is lauded as a superb role model, even a saint. But if that same young man becomes a rapist? Rather than blaming the mother for failing to instill proper values in her son, it’s men, all across the United States and the Western world as a group, who are instead held collectively responsible for his heinous actions. Whenever the specter of criminal behavior comes up, most notably rape, responsibility that might normally flow to a mother’s parenting can be conveniently offloaded onto the cab driver in Chicago, the window-washer in Seattle, or the policeman in small-town Maine, none of whom will ever meet her son. If this is how society approaches the causal factors of rape, motherhood has to be the most impotent biological and social construct known to humankind.
The ideas of thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau are the source of most of today’s feminist theories, which attempts to identify society as somehow being responsible for every social ill. However, feminist thinker Camille Paglia, has rejected Rousseau throughout much of her work in favor of thinkers and writers such as Freud and Sade, who weren’t afraid to acknowledge the aggression inherent in humanity and, ultimately, nature itself.
Regularly misled by the naive optimism and the “You go, girl!” boosterism of their upbringing, young women today do not seem to see the animal eyes glowing at them in the dark. They assume that bared flesh and sexy clothes are just a fashion statement containing no messages that might be misread and twisted by a psychotic. They do not understand the fragility of human civilization and the constant nearness of savage nature. Too many young women today, raised far from urban environments, seem to expect adult life to be an extension of their comfortable, overprotected homes. But the world remains a wilderness and the price of women’s modern freedoms is personal responsibility for vigilance and self-defense.
Any intelligent person knows, almost intuitively, that society does not teach young men in any way, shape or form, what this book asserts that it does, and if we forget that there are real differences between violent and non-violent conduct, no one is safe. Yes, grabbing a girl’s breasts and sending her a dick pic are both bad, but they’re not equally bad and they’re not bad in the same way. For many feminists, any unwelcome sexual advance is “assault.” But you can get past bad sexual experiences, just as you're expected to get past a bad car accident. But this book doesn't want you to believe that for a second. It insists that men are demons, and that any attempt or expression of sexual desire is dirty and bad, and that a foul experience between a drunken stupid man and a drunken stupid woman inevitably consigns women to chronic anxiety that therapy doesn't seem to help. It’s time we stop pretending that everyone is guilty instead of a few real criminals, otherwise rapists win. No longer will they be just a group of very bad and dangerous people, they’ll just be men. It's utterly painful to read something so monolithic and so lacking in courage as this book. As Paglia, herself, again has argued, “Society is not the enemy, as feminism ignorantly claims. Society is woman’s protection against rape.” In other words, the real rape in this book is the toxic narrative in which it is written.

View all my reviews