Friday, February 13, 2015

We have a book.

Praise the Lord, and thanks to everyone who had a hand in it, directly and indirectly.  You are far too numerous to count.



Borderline, my book on gender, war, and church, rolled off the press today for the first time.   It is a behemoth, numbering 472 pages, so the unit cost is $52 (with an online discount from Cascade Books down to $41.60).

A little about the book, so you'll know whether you or anyone you know might want to buy it and help me buy dog food, vegetable seeds, and caramel corn.

The book has 34 chapters, which I will list below and give a mini-excerpt from each.  It is partly autobiographical as a way of giving concrete accounts of the association between masculinity and violence, and how that association has been constructed and modified through history.  It is written from my perspective as a Christian, and as a Christian who is very critical of the way Christians have fallen for the okey-doke of war and maintained the subjugation of women.  The book argues that these are not separate phenomena.

The book incorporates a great deal of feminist scholarship, gender theory as it pertains to constructions of masculinity, and virtue ethics as an alternative to both Kantian and Benthamite orientations to ethics.  So there are some seemingly unlikely conversation partners, e.g., Alasdair MacIntyre and Carole Pateman.

The Foreword is written by Amy Laura Hall, a feminist theologian who teaches ethics at Duke Divinity School.  Amy Laura and I have in common a deep suspicion of the "myth of progress," and the book itself spills a fair amount of ink criticizing philosophical liberalism.

There is a great deal of history for a so-called autobiography, because neither I nor anyone else just popped into the world absent a culture and a history.  There are also excursions into theories of learning and psychoanalysis, because just as we don't enter the world without a cultural-historical context, we are neither formed nor motivated by easily explained or readily accessible dynamics.

So here are a few people who might be interested in the book:

  • Christians who have questions about war, peace, and gendered power.
  • Christians who are interested in how feminism might be important to us.
  • Anyone who has questions about war, peace, and gendered power.
  • Anyone who is interested in how feminism might be important.
  • Anyone who is teaching courses on war, peace, or gender.
  • People who are teaching theology and-or ethics.
  • Combat veterans who are confused about their own experiences.
  • Women who wonder why men can be such shits.
  • Men who want to reflect on why we can be such shits, and would like to do better.
  • Anyone who wonders why sex is so often tangled up with hostility and domination.
  • Anyone who wants to get a book as a gift for any of the above.
  • Libraries and bookstores.
  • Book clubs who don't mind long books.
  • Church study groups who don't mind long books.
  • People who have really eclectic reading habits.
  • People who want to read about war without having it idealized and sanitized.
  • People who want to give a book to a man who is eaten up with a quest for masculinity rather than argue with him.
  • Feminists who might be interested in what this Christian is thinking.

The book is written at a level that ought to be accessible to a sharp college freshman, with plenty of explanatory, same-page footnotes where there are ideas that are not encountered on TV or in the mall or at Starbucks.

Chapters:

1 Introduction | 1

MINI-EXCERPT:  The reason that feminist scholarship, emerging within a liberal milieu, is important is not on account of its variable relationship with liberalism, but on account of the ways that these works, often highly critical of liberalism, have described and affirmed the standpoints of women, as women. I use the plural to avoid the idea that there is a single woman’s standpoint.  The standpoint of a peasant woman in Oaxaca and the standpoint of a well-to-do, professional white woman in Chicago are necessarily and decidedly different.

2 My Acquaintance with a Christian Soldier and Serial Rapist | 8


MINI-EXCERPT: We were psychologically tested during Selection. We were administered the aforementioned battery of diagnostic assistance tests, with names like Thematic Apperception Test, Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, and the like. The day after the “forty(-six) miler,” we were queued up to have a conversation with the unit psychologist who had reviewed our answers as to whether we had black tarry stools, liked tall women, minded putting worms on hooks, or felt that people understood us.

3 Forest Troop | 28

MINI-EXCERPT:  In 1993, Sapolsky and Share returned to Kenya and rejoined Forest Troop. What they found was that, while the ratio of female to male was more than two to one respectively just after the dominant-male die-off, the ratio had returned to approximately half and half. That was no particular surprise. Pubescent male baboons migrate into new troops. The surprise was how pacific the troop remained, long after the loss of the former dominant males. The troop was highly cooperative and generally nonaggressive, more so than another troop they observed during this period, a kind of control group that hadn’t undergone the mass death of males.

4 Body Counts | 32

MINI-EXCERPT:  The objective of studying masculinity and femininity for our purposes is to de-naturalize them. “Naturalization” treats the existing order of things as if it were decreed by nature. We are familiar with the conventional wisdom that “men are naturally more aggressive than women.” This appeal to “the natural” attempts to place relations of power beyond critical analysis. It’s just nature, so there’s nothing we can do about it” implies something akin to natural law.


5 Ontology of the Witch Hunt | 42

MINI-EXCERPT:  For the first four centuries of Christianity, Christians themselves were emphatically opposed to executing witches. That opposition continued into the time of Charlemagne. The Lombard Code stated, “Let nobody presume to kill a foreign serving maid or female servant as a witch, for it is not possible, nor ought to be believed by Christian minds.”


6 Ecologies of Power | 47

MINI-EXCERPT:  After Justinian, the church had stopped putting people to death for heresy, resuming capital punishment in 1022, six centuries later. This moderation was abandoned in response to the threat of Protestantism, and by the fifteenth century capital punishment had also become a weapon against Jews and Muslims, especially in Spain.


7 The Rise of the Lawyers | 54

MINI-EXCERPT:  Rodrigo de Borgia, a.k.a. Pope Alexander VI, was a lawyer. To understand the co-emergence of the Enlightenment, the warring nation-state, and witch persecutions, one must also understand the influence of lawyers in a European ruling mindset that was increasingly juridical. Criminalizing sin required the interpretation of law, and this is where Kors and Peters’s assertion that the solidifying ontology of Scholasticism underwrote the witch hunts has merit.


8 Misbegotten Man | 63

MINI-EXCERPT:  Jesus’s life and teachings ran against the practices of violence that were seen then and now as the province of males; yet nothing, aside from perhaps money, has been more consistently subversive of the Gospels than dominator masculinity. The most transhistorically consistent and formative practice that underwrites dominator masculinity is war, acting in every society as an incubator for violence that penetrates society in every fissure. Does war-masculinity always require for its existence a subjected femininity? Or does the subjugation of women provide men with a model for the subjugation of others? In either case, we know that a subjected femininity must be despised.


9 Eros and War | 71

MINI-EXCERPT:  War is both attractive and addictive because of its intensity. War offers up a smorgasbord of “Holy shit! Did you fucking see that?” experiences. The stuff boys learn to like early in their lives, the stuff of “male bonding.” War offers up transgression with all its thrills. I can burn a house. I can blow up a vehicle or a bridge. I can kill. I can slip away to an exotic whorehouse and smoke opium, drop a grenade into a well. I can mutilate corpses.


10 Practice Makes Perfect | 77

MINI-EXCERPT:  Mimetic learning, according to Wulf, is simultaneously the “appropriation of the world and the constitution of the subject.” There is no functional separation between self and surrounding world. The subject is constituted directly through that appropriation, and that appropriation is aimed at belonging. Belonging is a particular and crucial kind of recognition. Linda Kintz says that each of these formative experiences, mimetic and supra-mimetic, is associated with the belongingness of the home and the affirmation and nurturing that took place there from infancy. In this, the formative behaviors and attitudes of any subject are accompanied by a deep emotional or, as Kintz calls it, affective resonance.


11 The Masculine Fortress | 86

MINI-EXCERPT:  The de Certeauan tactic is the way persons take things given by institutions and culture, and then make them their own by creatively re-employing them or by going around them. These tactics, which de Certeau collectively calls bricolage, are actually subversive of institutions because they undermine the meanings attached to institutional imperatives. Bricolage is not a strategy for de Certeau, but an anthropology—the real way of the world of human beings that stands as a contradiction to strategy, which always seeks not only to bend people to a purpose not their own, but to control the emergent unpredictability of space-time. Bricolage is itemized resistance or adaptation against the norm.


12 Torture and Redemption | 92

MINI-EXCERPT: Film participates in meaning-making, and the audience participates in the film. Linda Kintz renames the social imaginary the “national popular . . . based not on content but effects.” We recognize and embrace the formula for male revenge fantasy, one of the most popular film genres, the theme of which is redemption through violence.

13 The Pope’s Army | 100

MINI-EXCERPT:  That’s right: the Vicar of Christ told members of the Roman Catholic Church that if they fought, they would receive a free pass to heaven. So begins Christopher Tyerman’s 1,024-page account of the Crusades, God’s War. Church historian Diarmaid MacCulloch calls the Crusades “the bizarre centuries-long episode in which Western Christianity willfully ignored its Master’s principles of love and forgiveness.” The Crusades were that, but they were also the church being swallowed whole by the politics of secular power, and by the logic of power being seen through the lens of war. In this logic, the enemy is never loved, but destroyed.

14 Sleepwalking | 111

MINI-EXCERPT:  Fanon, himself a proponent of a form of anticolonial, masculine violence, said that violence breaks the colonial mirror, because the colonizer sees in his victim his own degraded self.


15 Genealogy | 119

MINI-EXCERPT:  Rather than fight interminable wars near home, the merchant state discovered the financial military expedition—distant expeditions targeting profitable resources to fuel the local economy. The locus of military violence shifted from proximate neighbor to colony. This colonization was consciously tied to the expansion of the national economy, in the search for material feedstocks and foreign slaves, as opposed to the mere plunder of rulers that marked early European expeditions to the Americas.


16 Bodies and Objects | 126

MINI-EXCERPT:  Illich’s focus on embodiment, and consequently on the histories of physical perception, is animated by his concern that modernity and postmodernity have led to the trivialization of the Gospels and the trivialization of the significance of the Incarnation. Illich believed that our epoch is not "secular”—as in the opposite of that other anthropological category, "religious”—but a profound perversion of the Christian Gospels’ “good news.” This disembodiment and a consequent trivialization of Christian belief has some key historical and philosophical turning points. One of them is the work of René Descartes (1596–1650).


17 Contagious Prefix | 139

MINI-EXCERPT:  Barbara Duden, in her history of the perception of the pregnant female body, describes a corresponding uprootedness through the professional mediation of embodied experience. Modern technology that looks directly into the expectant mother’s womb has changed women’s experience of themselves during pregnancy. The direct bodily (“haptic”) experience (proprioception) of the past is now mediated by an optical technology (e.g., ultrasound) which makes the pregnant woman a kind of outside observer of her own insides. A pregnant woman now attends first to the image in the ultrasound, and only secondarily to how she feels (which is now itself a decentered evaluation of one’s own body in the search for symptoms and dangers). Her experience has become professionally mediated and optic, instead of direct and haptic. She is outside herself, literally looking in. Duden calls this a “skinning” of the woman by medical technology.


18 Just, Civil, and Total War—Sanctification of State | 150

MINI-EXCERPT:  The Civil War incorporated mass media into the public-private war partnership. Steam presses that printed penny papers sprouted like mushrooms, especially in the North. What had been micro-enterprises with limited demand, thanks to “wars and rumors of war,” started selling out on the streets. For big papers like the New York Herald and the New York Tribune, war was very big business. The more strident (and manly) the papers’ voices in support of war, the more copy they sold.

19 A Bodyguard of Lies: Girl Story and Boy Story | 176

MINI-EXCERPT:  Jeffords focused her studies on war films as an ideological transmission belt for war, but I want to focus on how the actual military now tries to tell war stories in ways that are consistent with familiar war-film conventions. It is a peculiarity of our time that the spectator society, infinitely reflexive, not only creates art, whereupon life imitates art, but that the two are becoming less and less distinguishable. Embedded “reporters” carry cameras as they accompany troops, and we can all pretend that the cameras themselves are immune to Heisenberg: that in the very act of observing, the observer changes the character of that which is observed. Troops, like everyone else, behave differently in front of cameras. Hervé Juvin writes that “self-reflexivity makes every individual his own producer/director, his own eavesdropping audience, generalizing telereality with everyone his own star on his own screen.”


20 Origin Myths | 205

MINI-EXCERPT:  Robert Nozick has a different story. His is named “The Original Act of Acquisition.” In this story, a man is walking on the beach (men again). The beach is covered with pretty shells. The man takes one and carries it home. It is legitimately his, because he picked it up in the open, on no one’s property, and no one else had yet claimed the shell. There were plenty of shells, so the shell is rightly his. If someone takes the shell from him without permission, that is wrongful, but if he sells the shell to someone voluntarily, then the ownership of the shell is rightly transferred. Obviously, Nozick is preoccupied with property, and so the original rightful act is used to explain where property came from, which in fact is every bit as “historically baseless” as the story liberals reject about Eve’s chat with a perfidious snake and Rawls’s story of collective amnesia. Yet these stories support the edifice of liberal humanism.


21 Paradox of Domination | 230

MINI-EXCERPT:  Stoller said that people also defend their sexual identities in their sexual lives through perversion. By this he did not mean our colloquial meaning of deviance from the norm or sexual crime, but the transformation of the sex act into something different than fusion or attunement when that permeability of boundaries is experienced as a threat (for example, to male autonomy). In Latin, the term pervertere means “to turn away from.” This can take the form of hostility, revenge, degradation, dehumanization, fetishization, or any number of strategies that create a bulwark against fusion, that permeability which is to be feared.


22 Disgust, Transgression, and Sex | 251

MINI-EXCERPT:  The “core disgust,” the one that establishes the coordinates for other forms of disgust, is offense at certain oral incorporations—disgust at the fact or idea of certain things entering the body through the mouth. Evolutionary biologists would be quick to tell us that this capacity for disgust and its association with putting things in the mouth probably had an adaptive function. Promiscuous eating can threaten one’s survival. Rozin developed a schema for disgust based on core disgust, in which core disgust is metaphorically extrapolated into “sociomoral disgust” and “animal-reminder disgust.”


23 Respectability | 261

MINI-EXCERPT:  Hegel would come to lament that the urban lifestyle of the business class was so genteel that men would lack a transcendent purpose, and that urbane life might become an effeminate “bog” in which nothing transcends individual interests; and, of course, that transcendent purpose was the state itself—Hobbes’s Leviathan. Military conscription became the practice that legally embodied a reorientation of the sacred from God to the state. Imperial war and nation-worship complemented gentility and served as the antidote to its threats of feminization.


24 Progress and Fear of the Feminine | 271

MINI-EXCERPT:  Roosevelt was an emblematic leader when “a fear about the softness of American society raised doubts about the capacity of the United States to carry out its imperial destiny.” Continental expansion had ceased, and with it the basis of the national myth of frontier masculinity. There was a fear that the loss of masculinity constructed as conquest would lead to national impotence. Churches spread this fear as well, along with the fear that urban life would bring about a “moral softening.” Immigration had increased, and this discourse included talk about “race suicide.”

25 Shell Shock | 289

MINI-EXCERPT:  Meanwhile, the imagination of war was being confronted by its new reality. Machine guns, artillery, and poison gas confronted the old symbols, and they began to lose their meanings. With the loss of meaning, men and masculinity were confronted with a new crisis, which Nietzsche had already named—the death of God. The God of the univocal metaphysic was, for many participants and observers, nowhere to be found in the trenches, and the name of God seemed to many a kind of obscenity on the lips of the war’s apologists.


26 Nation, Race, and Hygiene | 299

MINI-EXCERPT:  The story of this baby, this hygienic baby, is specifically a white American baby “of the proper sort.” The story, however, begins with a vagina, or even more functionally, a “birth canal.” In this narrative, the woman has been reduced to an incubator for a new citizen, her body providing a “birth canal” to facilitate production. This poster was part of a campaign for better hygiene. This hygiene extended from the microcosm inside the baby itself to the hazardous social macrocosm, where hygienic babies and unhygienic babies had to be kept separate to prevent cross-border contamination, the infection of the desirable infant.

27 The Art of Depression | 313

MINI-EXCERPT:  Film and pop culture representations are where Bigger and his buddies see white models of masculinity, especially the hard-boiled characters, that are both out of reach and dangerously attractive. They do not have in their own lives the kind of control that movie characters do, so they affect tough-guy roles as compensation for their own social impotence. Their affectations are cover for their fear. This lack of a fixed standpoint, this “double-consciousness,” in Wright’s novel was described by the African American social critic W. E. B. Du Bois and by the Martiniquan social critic Frantz Fanon. It is the experience of having to see oneself at all times, from a lower position on the gradient of social power, from the standpoint of one’s own experience, constantly attending to the perceptions of oneself by the more powerful.


28 Homos and Harlots | 328

MINI-EXCERPT:  The study of the somatic landscape for clues to sexual predisposition began with the study of the bodies—living and dead—of African women. Comparative anatomists claimed from the mid-nineteenth century until World War II that black women had differing sexual anatomies from white women—specifically, larger clitorises. This claim was used to support the idea that black women were naturally more lascivious than their white counterparts, who, it was also claimed, had tiny, well-hooded (modest?) clitorises. This symbolism mapped perfectly onto notions of a chaste “white womanhood” and the un-rape-ability of black women; but it was also transferred to the idea of sexual inversion—later called homosexuality—when the claim was made that same-sex attraction in females could be identified by the presence of a prominent clitoris. This claim was made in medical journals well into the twentieth century.

29 Second World War | 340

MINI-EXCERPT:  Even as recently as my own tenure with special operations in the military, where I worked alongside Latinos and Pacific Islanders in substantial numbers within mostly “white” units (true of Special Forces, Rangers, SEALs, and the more secretive counterterrorism outfits), negrophobia exerted a cohesive effect between nonblack ethnicities and “whites.” Expressions of dislike or disdain for African Americans were common among these nonblack members, and validated the nonblack nonwhites as normative, as honorary white men.


30 Bombs, Babies, and ’Burbs | 356

MINI-EXCERPT:  Male “defense intellectuals” also appropriate motherhood for themselves in what Cohn calls “male birth” tropes. This is a time-honored patriarchal tradition dating to prehistory, when we think about women “carrying” a man’s baby—this transfer of the power of generation from women to men. At Los Alamos, the first atomic bomb was referred to as “Oppenheimer’s baby.” The first hydrogen bomb was called “Edward Teller’s baby,” though others disputed this, claiming that Teller was just the mother and the true father was Stanislaw Ulam, who had “inseminated” Teller with the idea. During the first nuclear tests, scientists said they hoped for a “boy” (a successful explosion) and not a “girl” (a dud). The first successful test of the hydrogen bomb at Enewetak Atoll was announced with the message to Los Alamos, “It’s a boy.”


31 The Herd | 376

MINI-EXCERPT:  “It don’t mean nuthin.”

I learned that phrase in Vietnam. We said it when someone was killed. We said it when the mail didn’t come out on the resupply bird. We said it when we got busted. We said it when we were shriveled up with four days of ceaseless rain. We said it when we watched the ARVNs beating the shit out of a prisoner. We said it when we got jungle rot. We said it while the house burned after we set the roof thatch on fire. We said it when we smoked opium in a whorehouse. We said it if we killed a child. We said it when we were just tired and it was a long way to our DEROS date.

“Fuck it. Don’t mean nuthin’.”

Postmodern philosophy in the boonies.


32 Taboo | 386

MINI-EXCERPT:  Sue was directly to my right, armed with an M-16 for this excursion. Sue was within arm’s reach of me when the Somali machine gun engaged us. I was the first person on the strongpoint to return fire, and I killed one, maybe two, of our assailants. The muzzle flash from the machine gun was directly across the street from me, no more than fifty feet away.


33 Consent | 390

MINI-EXCERPT:  Choice, in the real world, is never reducible to an instant. If one is honest, one can begin to see how this business of consent is not intelligible by law, which in liberal society is forced to reduce consent to a decontextualized episode—something with a beginning, a middle, and an end broken off from history, divorced from anticipated consequences. That’s why rape is defined by law as a particular kind of force and a particular kind of sex (yes, rape is sex!), and determined in a voyeuristic, after-the-fact, and detailed re-living of the episode that forces the victim of a rape to revisit the pain, fear, and humiliation several times over.

34 Clarifications | 398

MINI-EXCERPT: Instead, gender constructed by the hoary norms of male power expressed as sexual desire has been concentrated in product lines to make men appear bigger, more confident, and more muscular, and women more silent, demobilized, infantilized, and sexually receptive. I note as one example that in recent years there has been increasing pressure on women not just to eliminate the naturally occurring hair on their legs and armpits, but now to get rid of the hair on their mons pubis—which makes them appear (to sexual partners) more like prepubescent girls than women. Much of the sexual pressure on women now, both in appearance and sexual performance, is being driven by the explosion of Internet pornography, which more men are demanding that their female partners imitate.

***

So there it is, folks... please spread the word.  The dog is almost out of food.

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2 comments:

  1. I've gotten as far as the Crusades history lesson & lawyers, and I now listen to and read the daily news with a totally different perspective. Everything seems to read (or sound like) a legal complaint and/or police procedural report. For a long time, myself and others could only get angry about it. Now I know why we get angry. Good God, it seems like we're totally trapped in this "rational", dualistic, legalistic mindset. And it's taken centuries to get there---our parents, grandparents, back a dozen generations.

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