What Is the Question “What Are Women For?” For?
February 18, 2012

Creation of the Sun and Moon by Michelangelo, ...

The Dude (via Wikipedia)

Now that everyone’s gotten in their shots at James Poulos (including my friend Lisa McIntire, who I think wins the award for both aplomb and bile), I’d like to skip ahead to his follow-up column and zero in on what seems like one of the more toxic premises undergirding this whole exercise (emphasis mine):

Women are largely freer than ever to pursue their life plans without the burden of a moral obligation to center their activity and their ambitions around exercising their unique reproductive capabilities.

Yet the story doesn’t end there. We still argue and wonder about which life plans to choose in a civilization that has greatly and productively loosened the once-intense moral link between women’s fecundity and women’s lives as unique individuals. And one area in which patriarchal dominance has persisted is in privileging some kinds of human pursuits over others. Philosophers from Plato to Rousseau to Heidegger have disapprovingly warned of the apparently natural propensity of men to fill up the world with stuff — machines, weapons, ideologies, and so on — that often objectifies and instrumentalizes people, and often distracts us from its own sterility as regards fruitful human living.

Difference doesn’t presume or ordain inequality. I’m not alone in thinking that women are uniquely able to help humanity avoid becoming enthralled to the more sterile cultural creations of men. But this sort of insight is far more circumspect and modest than the central principles of virtually all social conservatives.

While I was in Israel, I heard a Hasidic rabbi — new Hasidic, mind you, with an acoustic guitar and all the affectations of a totally chillaxed SoCal beach bro — make a very similar argument. His intention was to demonstrate to us that the convention of identifying God with the male pronoun “He” wasn’t really sexist or patriarchal, because all it did was link God to the male creator energy. The universe, he argued, had a distinctly female creation energy, which was great for women, because it meant that they were intrinsically closer to their creator — God — than us guys, who don’t hold within ourselves as much of the female creation energy.

According to Rabbi Jack Johnson, the reason why men observe Shabbat — during which time Jews are forbidden from participating in any act of creation — is to become, in a sense, more female, and therefore more receptive to God’s male creation energy. Women don’t have as difficult a time doing this, because they’re already predisposed, but — unfortunately, says the good Rabbi at this point — modern women have absorbed more of the male creator energy in recent years as they’ve taken a greater participatory role in politics, business, and other profane worldly affairs.

I don’t think I’m quite doing justice to how well the Rabbi framed this fundamentally conservative argument in the liberal-values-friendly vocabulary of hippie-dippie-dom. Lucky for us, he betrayed himself by blurting out the word “unfortunately,” thereby disclosing what the real implications of this worldview were. If women want to stay close to God all week — the way men try to get close to God from Friday evening through Saturday afternoon — then they need to abstain from icky male creator acts. You leave all the politicking, horse trading, art-making and craft-working to us menfolk, sweetie. That way it won’t soil your special connection with The Ultimate Manfolkperson.

Thus we see closeness to God become a consolation prize to be awarded to that underclass which Rabbi Duderino wishes barred — either by social convention or other means — from having any direct agency in worldly affairs. Poulos, along with the philosophers he enlists in his cause, appears to be making the same argument. Difference may not presume or ordain inequality, but I’d love to hear what makes this preferred state of affairs anything but deeply unequal.

UPDATE: Elias Isquith (whose blog you should be reading, if you aren’t already) tweets:

some men think if they turn up the “Madonna” and down the “Whore” in their Madonna/Whore complex, they’re feminists

Enhanced by Zemanta

Back in the Diaspora
February 6, 2012

Tel Aviv

At around 6 AM this morning my plane touched down at JFK, and I resumed life in the real world. It will take some time before my thoughts are organized enough — and I’ve caught up on sleep enough — to make sense of the ten days I spent Birthrighting through Israel, but I thought I’d jot down some preliminary thoughts and assure you all that I hadn’t gone native.

For the last couple of weeks before I took off for the Holy Land, my mantra was: “Even if it’s terrible, it’s gonna be awesome.” Turns out I was being uncharacteristically prescient. The last ten days have been both sababa (Hebrew for awesome) and very much a balagan (loosely translated: a total clusterfuck). Never before I have felt so exhausted, exhilarated, inspired, dispirited, connected, and alone in such a compressed span of time. You might say it was a rich experience. Certainly an educational one.

Which is not to say that it was educational in the way I believe Birthright’s administration intended it to be. I have no interest in moving to Israel, nor in financially supporting the Israeli state, nor in becoming a mouthpiece for the Likkud Party. I stand by my pre-Birthright conviction that my Jewish heritage gives me no right or claim on the land of Israel, and that I would reject such a claim were it offered to me. My sentiments regarding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (which are — surprise! — significantly to the left of Birthright’s) remain more or less what they were, though I’ve managed to add just a little bit more nuance.

So my relationship with Israel remains more or less unchanged. But the personal relationships I formed in that week and a half have affected me deeply, and my relationship to Judaism writ large has altered in ways I’m still trying to parse. That’s not to say I’ve found God — far from it. But I may have found a suitable (which is to say, humanistic and godless) entry point back into the Jewish philosophy and theology I abandoned nearly a decade ago.

The tricky part is untangling all these separate threads — the personal, political, and (for lack of a better word) spiritual — and weaving something coherent out of them. Once I can do that, I’ll have a lot — a lot – more to write, either here or elsewhere, about what a Birthright trip can do to your brain. Or mostly my brain, I suppose.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Nietzsche and the Jews
August 27, 2010

Portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche, 1882; One of ...
Image via Wikipedia

It was inevitable that we were going to have to talk about Nietzsche’s supposed anti-Semitism at some point, so I’m happy to get it out of the way relatively early on. In aphorism 475 of Human, All-Too-Human, the philosopher describes his vision for the future of all the different European ethnic groups, including the Jews. By 19th-century standards, I’d call it fairly progressive, but there is no getting around the fact that it is, by modern standards, pretty damn racist.

The problem for modern readers is that Nietzsche uncritically accepts the notion that racial bloodlines play some huge deterministic role in character, intelligence, and moral fortitude. So after predicting that “as a consequence of continual intermarriage there must develop a mixed race, that of the European man,” he concludes that the best way to deal with this is by doing everything to ensure that the right mixture of ingredients go into the stew.

That’s where the Jews come in. Nietzsche says “unpleasant, even dangerous qualities can be found in every nation and every individual,” and concedes to anti-Semites the possibility that “these qualities may even be dangerous and revolting to an unusual degree” in the European Jew, but nonetheless insists that “the Jew is just as useful and desirable an ingredient as any other national remnant.” After all: “One owes to them the noblest man (Christ), the purest sage (Spinoza), the most powerful book, and the most effective moral law in the world.”

It’s possible to condemn Nietzsche’s proto-eugenics while also acknowledging that he is far from the “prophet of Nazism” some of his modern detractors claim him to be. If anything, his views on Asia are far more troubling than his attitude towards the Jews—in his view, one of the great accomplishments of Judaism has been its defense of European values against eastern influence.

Enhanced by Zemanta

A Question For the ADL
July 30, 2010

Your organization was presumably founded to combat anti-Semitism. So let me ask you this: What happens to anti-Semitism when an organization claiming to represent the American Jewish community endorses a policy founded on anti-Muslim bigotry?

At this point, it’s hard to avoid the impression that the Anti-Defamation League is bad for the Jews. But more the point, it’s just plain bad. And it sure as shit doesn’t speak for me.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 77 other followers

%d bloggers like this: