Another Week Ends

1) One of the books on the Mockingbird bookshelf right now is Violence Unveiled, by […]

Ethan Richardson / 6.5.15

1) One of the books on the Mockingbird bookshelf right now is Violence Unveiled, by Gil Bailie, which looks into the philosophy of René Girard. A prime focus of the book stems from Girard’s “Violence and the Sacred,” where Girard looks at the cross of Christ as the origin of human concern for ‘the victim.’ This cruciform concern, since then, has headlined much of history. Bailie writes:

“However savagely we behave, and however wickedly and selectively we wield this moral gavel, protecting or rescuing innocent victims has become the cultural imperative everywhere the biblical influence has been felt. Both our Mother Teresa and our John Wayne impersonations are based on it.”

In other words, alongside some of the most heroic acts of reconciliation and kindness, some of history’s most violent coups and mass murders have also been done under the guise of protecting a victim. The “cultural imperative” of modern history—surely this is true of today’s headlines—is to give a voice to the voiceless. David Brooks’ op-ed this past week talks about this in a similar vein. He talks about the many movements and justice initiatives that have sprouted from recent acts of discrimination. While Brooks applauds the nobility of these efforts, he also points out that a level purity has been deigned by culture on culture’s victims—and this victim purity has led to an increasing fear of saying much of anything at all.


Today’s campus activists are not only going after actual acts of discrimination — which is admirable. They are also going after incorrect thought — impiety and blasphemy. They are going after people for simply failing to show sufficient deference to and respect for the etiquette they hold dear. They sometimes conflate ideas with actions and regard controversial ideas as forms of violence.

Some of their targets have been deliberately impious. Laura Kipnis is a feminist film professor at Northwestern University who wrote a provocative piece on sexual mores on campus that was published in February. She was hit with two Title IX charges on the grounds, without evidence, that her words might have a “chilling effect” on those who might need to report sexual assaults.

Other targets of this crusade had no idea what they were getting into. A student at George Washington wrote an essay on the pre-Nazi history of the swastika. A professor at Brandeis mentioned a historic slur against Hispanics in order to criticize it. The scholar Wendy Kaminer mentioned the N-word at a Smith College alumni event in a clearly nonracist discussion of euphemism and free speech.

All of these people were targeted for purging merely for bringing unacceptable words into the public square. As Powers describes it in “The Silencing,” Kaminer was accused of racial violence and hate speech. The university president was pilloried for tolerating an environment that had been made “hostile” and “unsafe.”

We’re now in a position in which the students and the professors and peers they target are talking past each other. The students feeling others don’t understand the trauma they’ve survived; the professors feeling as though they are victims in a modern Salem witch trial. Everybody walks on egg shells.

Here we see the Law of Impartiality at work. And while its intent is benevolent (the protection of victims), its fruits are silence, resentment, appeasement, and fear. This is not unique to college campuses—it is certainly the primary Law at work on Capitol Hill and on news platforms everywhere. The difficulty of this Law is that it is a continually moving target—because the target is always moving, and because no one can ever be sure their words won’t miss, we become very good at saying quite a lot and meaning nothing at all.


2) Speaking of moving targets, the Huffington Post got a raking over the coals in this Gawker piece, entitled, “Hell is Working at the Huffington Post.” Written by an anonymous ex-employee, much of the article is a skewering of the leadership style of Arianna Huffington, who is notorious for being very personal about her staffing decisions; but the most interesting part focuses on employees trying to stay afloat aboard a news source that is all about garnering more and more traffic (ahem). It sounds like an episode of Silicon Valley:

Bureaucracy lays atop the organization like a frozen snow. People are foisted into strange and meaningless positions, usually involving things like “strategy” or “innovation” or “mobile,” for no reason other than that they need something to do. (HuffPost is so whacked out that it makes up worthless jobs both to punish and reward people.) If you get one of these jobs, you will be told to make up a title for yourself. A place that had sensible leadership structures and actually gave staffers a meaningful path up the ladder wouldn’t need to resort to this just to give restless staffers something to fill the hours, but there you are.

Shockingly, this process—in which hundreds of relatively inexperienced people are asked to produce bucketloads of content at top speed with next to no proper editorial supervision, all while living with ever-present dread about putting a foot wrong—does not always lead to excellence. Unshockingly, it makes people crazy. Staffers at HuffPost walk around scared all of the time. Everyone is seemingly one day away from a nervous breakdown.

7KeFcSXLet’s round off the negativity, though. The Huffington Post may not be Oz, and sure, they may be becoming an amoebic content clickbox, but this story is amazing! It comes from HuffPo, a story about Seed Restaurant in Hawaii, which hires the unhired and gives them a second chance. A modern re-rendering of The Workers in the Vineyard, if ever there was one. Mary Nelson works at Seed and was a prostitute for 29 years.

When Nelson’s birthday came around, for example, she invited her friends — many of whom were still actively working on the streets of Waikiki — to join her at Seed for dinner and meet her coworkers. She wanted them to see that there are people in the world who won’t judge them. “I wanted to let these girls know that there are options,” she said. “That if grandma can do it, they can too.”

Nelson has been known to remind her fellow staffers that what she makes in a month at Seed, she used to make in one night on the streets. She had it all, she tells them: new cars, jewelry, travel, nice condos — though, sometimes, beatings, rape and “so much horror” came with the price.

“[Y]ou can’t buy what I’m going through right now. I’m on cloud nine,” she says. “I never thought that I’d be in Hawaii and be this person I am now.”

3) Lots of great reading to do on the tv/movie front. Brad Bird’s new movie Tomorrowland has gotten mixed reviews and yet this review from the Atlantic makes some sense of the director’s fascination with the genius behind closed doors that seem to always make it into his movies.

Another great Mad Men article, if not you’re not sick of them already, from Books and Culture: Don Draper, Mad Men, and the Pursuit of Loneliness.

And some interesting, if not overly critical, insight into HBO’s recipe for success, and what it’s done to entertainment.

4) This week’s Onion gem: “Man Honestly Thought Breakdown Would Be More Obvious to People.”

MAPLEWOOD, MN—Explaining that he had assumed the deterioration of his physical and psychological state would be readily apparent, 3M sales associate Mark Uhler told reporters Wednesday he honestly thought his ongoing breakdown would be more obvious to everyone around him. “Given how many times in the past month I’ve showed up to work on two hours of sleep and just stared at my computer in total silence, I’d kind of expected someone to ask me if everything’s all right at home or at least tell me I look tired lately, but so far I haven’t heard a thing,” said Uhler, adding that he thought the frequency with which he places his face in his hands and mutters morosely to himself would have been a clear indication that he was completely unraveling and prompted somebody at some point to stop by his cubicle.

And then there’s this:


5) In the Religion Department, The Week takes a look at the (not-so-new-and-not-so-surprising) downfall of the CCM industry. A choice quote from Derek Webb says it all, reminiscing on the Caedmon’s Call days:

“The way I could describe it for our band is this: You’re doing something,” he says. “It’s meaningful and it’s real and it’s observable and it’s organic. That becomes your bio. But then two years in, that bio is the most real, organic, meaningful thing about you. And all you’re trying to do is maintain the elements of that bio, in hope that you might one day achieve it again. You find yourself making a lot of compromises, but you’re still not receiving the nominations or the sales awards. You don’t even need anyone to tell you things are dropping off. You put the idea in your own head. You just keep asking yourself the same question: ‘How do we get back to that?'”

And Molly Worthen questions the solidity of the Sunday Church of the secular. Another compendium piece to the Pew Research we’ve been referencing of late, and another facet to Will’s article this week on secularism. Besides singing, “Lean on Me” together, what does a church of the unbelieving believe? And how can a community without a philosophy have anything to offer? Worthen points out that there is an implicit philosophy at work, and it is best to look at what that philosophy entails.

Oh, and the BBC interviewed Nadia!

6) Last but not least, Ginger’s amazing article last week on Japanese minimalism and clutter-fear has got a companion! This came out in the New York Times this week about the neurosis of de-cluttering, how this pathology of cleanliness seems to cycle back into our mind, and how trendy it is that this time it has an ‘artistic’ sensibility appended to it. Dominique Browning’s article comes across as a winsome confessional—I like my things!

I would like to submit an entirely different agenda, one that is built on love, cherishing and timelessness. One that acknowledges that in living, we accumulate. We admire. We desire. We love. We collect. We display.

And over the course of a lifetime, we forage, root and rummage around in our stuff, because that is part of what it means to be human. We treasure.

Why on earth would we get rid of our wonderful things?

It is time to celebrate the gentle art of clutter. We live, and we pick up things along the way: the detritus of adventure; the vessels of mealtimes; the books and music of a life of the mind; the pleasures of our daily romps through the senses.

In accumulating, we honor the art of the potter, sitting at a wheel; we appreciate the art of the writer, sitting at a desk; we cherish the art of the painter, standing in front of an easel. (By this litany ye shall know that I have many books, many paintings, many pots — and many more things I love.)