Og jeg stopper først

”Og jeg stopper først, når mænd stopper med at begå overgreb,” skriver Sille Kirketerp Berthelsen i en kronik i Information

Offerrollen er blevet så populær, at alle tilsyneladende drømmer om at påtage sig den. Kvinder og mænd, de fremmede, de syge, de arbejdsløse, de smukke, de tynde, de kloge og mindre kloge. Alle er de til tider ofre. For offeret er det altid den anden eller de andres skyld. 

I Berthelsens kronik er det mændenes skyld. De begår overgreb. Og det gør de. Jeg tvivler ikke på statistikkerne eller hendes oprigtighed. Men, modsat hendes spådom, er jeg ikke træt af #MeToo. Tværtimod. 

I Spanien, hvor jeg bor, dør der cirka to kvinder om ugen på grund af hustru- eller parvold. I alt for lang tid har holdningen været – helt forrykt – at lidt fysisk vold er okay. Heldigvis har #MeToo og andre vigtige kampagner igangsat en mentalitetsændring i Spanien (se også When Stupidty Rules).

Men kvinder begår også overgreb af den ikkedødelige karakter, som kronikøren nævner. Mange mænd har fået slynget en barm i ansigtet eller presset nogle hårde bryster mod sin ryg. Mange mænd er også blevet reduceret til objekter af kvinder. Mange mænd har oplevet at blive kysset mod deres vilje. Eller haft en hånd i skridtet efterfulgt af en enten såkaldt smigrende eller fornedrende kommentar om, at der er noget henholdsvis ikke noget at komme efter. Jeg har prøvet det hele. Jeg har også mødt en kvindelig blotter. 

Adfærd er altså ikke partout kønsbestemt, men snarere tegn på at en person er mere eller mindre velfungerende (se også All Women Are Not Angels).

Mine egne erfaringer til trods ser jeg ikke mig selv som offer. Jeg er snarere et menneske, der har erfaret livet på godt og ondt. 

Enkelte vil nok mene, at det skyldes, at jeg er en mand. Og sagen forholder sig unægtelig anderledes for mænd, idet manden ofte er fysisk stærkere og derfor kan virke mere truende (og manden fylder unægteligt væsentligt mere i statistikkerne). Alligevel gjorde den kvindelige blotter mig bange, da jeg mødte hende som niårig.

Jeg tror, at inderst inde i os alle befinder alle de andre sig. Vi former og formes af hinanden.

Stereotyper og generaliseringer er der nok af. De vokser som bekendt, hvor ignorancen trives.

Pointen er, at der findes smukke, respektfulde og tillidsvækkende mænd og kvinder, ligesom der findes mandlige svin og kvindelige orner. 

Af samme grund, så vil jeg gerne være en killjoy – noget typisk filosofisk og ikke partout feministisk – og ønske mig, at kronikøren først ville stoppe, når alle mennesker stopper med at begå overgreb. 

Dette vil kræve, at vi bevæger os udover denne dualistiske dans mellem offer og krænker, hvor positionerne hele tiden skifter, som i en tenniskamp. Når offeret føler trang til at hævne sig, som i kronikken, så kan jeg godt forstå det, ligesom jeg ofte finder vreden produktiv, men problemet er dog, at taktikken nemt kan ende med at bekæmpe had med had.

Det for småligt til at gøre verden mere rummelig. 

En mere frugtbar tilgang ville udspringe af kærlighed. Det vil sige, at i stedet for at gøre et regnskab op, som jo aldrig kan gøres op, når det er så attraktivt at være offer, kunne kræfterne bruges på at skabe et fundament, hvor fremtidens mennesker kan leve frit og kærligt sammen. Som den afroamerikanske feminist bell hooks har påpeget, er kærlighed ikke en naturlig menneskelige evne, men derimod noget vi må lære. Kærlighed forudsætter, at vi mødes med kærlighed, venlighed og medfølelse, hvorved vi også erfarer lighed mellem mennesker – dvs. mellem køn, racer, aldre og seksuelle præferencer. Kærligheden kræver tillid og respekt, hvilket er noget som kultiveres gennem tillidsvækkende og respektfulde handlinger.

At vedkende sig eksistensen af krænkelser og overgreb er første vigtige skridt. Næste skridt må være, at eliminere eller reducere muligheden for fremtidige krænkelser.

Dette projekt kræver, som nævnt, kærlighed, venlighed og respekt, ikke had.     

Denne kommentar blev bragt i en redigeret og forkortet version i Information

How far has the #MeToo movement progressed?

“Why treat women as children, regarding their “no” and “stop” as nothing but jaunty foreplay that only serves to test a man’s resolve?”

***

“Did he really do it? Did he ignore Kathryn Mayorga, who several times said “no” and “stop” while he penetrated her from behind? Yes, he did. ‘He’ being the Portuguese football (soccer) player Cristiano Ronaldo—one of the world’s most prominent athletes and, for the last three years, the world’s best football player.

Recently, the German news magazine Der Spiegel published a long, well-researched report dealing with what happened in a hotel room in Las Vegas in 2009 …”

In this essay, I use the accusations against Ronaldo as presented by Der Spiegel to reflect upon the question:  How far has the #MeToo progressed?

Read the essay in The Mindful Word.

A world of “alternative facts”?

In her essay, “Truth and Politics,” the philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote: “Freedom of opinion is a farce unless factual information is guaranteed and the facts themselves are not in dispute” (all quotes from Arendt are taken from Richard J. Bernstein’s brilliant book, Why Read Hannah Arendt Now).

Let me elaborate on that by referring to the #MeToo movement; the movement is, probably, one of the most interesting—and hopefully—sustainable movements of change in recent years. What concerns me here, however, is not who has the power to tell their story—although this is important as well—but how power shapes what any true story could possibly be. In other words, it’s obvious that most reasonable people welcome that women have both the courage and power to tell their stories, and yet, we should be careful not to let the label—#MeToo—paralyze the need for critical thinking regarding what is being said.

One way of blurring the distinction between fact-based truth (factual truth) and falsehood, as Arendt mentioned, is to claim that any factual truth is just another opinion. When dealing with abuse or violence is it enough to have an opinion about whether or not someone is being abusive? Without any sense of what is a so-called factual truth or facts, we too easily move into a fictional world of “alternative facts.”

Seen in this light, the accusation toward the writer Junot Diaz—to mention one recent example—might seem to neglect this distinction between falsehood and truth. Instead, the accusers tend to represent something Arendt would call propaganda. The issue here is not whether Diaz is a good guy or a bad guy, but how the accusers framed him as an abuser “under” the power of #MeToo, regardless of the factual truth of the matter. In doing so, the accusers have not only undermined the movement, but also showed—as Arendt also predicted—that they knew that many people don’t really care if they lie. Instead, many people will admire them (bandwagon mentality) for their tactical skills in accusing a well-known writer to gain publicity for themselves, or perhaps even to sell some books. As Bernstein writes: “Factual truth-telling is frequently powerless against image-making…”

Arendt also wrote: “The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lies will now be accepted as truth, and the truth defamed as lies, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world—and the category of truth vs. falsehood is among the mental means to this end—is being destroyed.”  The possibilities for lying become limitless and, far too often, are met with little resistance. Referring to the Junot Diaz case and #MeToo, one obvious reason for this little resistance against falsehood can be that no sane person wants to appear as if they are against equality and respect, which the #MeToo movement represents. Yet, quite paradoxically, the power of this movement comes from telling the truth; the truth that is powerful enough without being fictionalized.

Arendt noted: “What convinces the masses are not facts, not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably a part.” Assuming that #MeToo is such a system, then, like all systems, it is maintained by the culture that the users install. Here, I prefer people who play fair, that care about the truth, that are capable of putting personal agendas aside to cultivate trust, respect, and equality which, actually, is what #MeToo is all about. Following the Junot Diaz case, the accusers appear deliberately to be committing what looks like a character assassin. Why? Some suggest envy, greed, hate, and even racism as motives… I’ve no idea. All I know is that the opposite of factual truth is deliberate lying. (On a similar note, see #MeToo exists in an ethical twilight zone).

Also I know that literature can help us experience the difference between falsehood and truth, it has the potential to confront us with our moral limitations. It can stimulate our empathy and make us recognize our need for compassion. In many important ways, writers and other artists hold a mirror to society that allows it to see its ugliness and its beauty. I think, we need to keep the madness alive—through art. We need this for the sanity of humanity.

In other words, writers must dare not to follow the herd. This requires writers who doesn’t simply moralize but who risk asking the ugly, offensive questions (see e.g. All women are not angels). The artist creates, imagines, and enlarges—and sometimes that is not pretty.

What is far worse than immoral art is when people—citizens in democratic societies—don’t know the difference between falsehood or truth, or when some people don’t really care. The theme that runs through Arendt’s thinking, according to Bernstein, is “the need to take responsibility for our political lives.” Lying and responsibility, of course, doesn’t go hand in hand. It never has. Instead, Arendt showed that organized lying and fictional image-making are techniques perfected by totalitarian regimes, she showed that the banality of evil comes from our inability to think, that is to say, our inability to question, doubt, wonder, analyze, and constantly debate and clarify the relationship between power, truth, and lying. “Thinking is an activity that must be performed over and over again in order to keep it alive,” Bernstein writes in another book called Violence.

The Junot Diaz case shows that we still, all of us, have a long way to go before the world is a safer place full of trust, respect, compassion, and equality for all.

#MeToo exists in an ethical twilight zone

What do we think about when we think of the #MeToo movement? #MeToo is many things—it’s complex and conflicting; it addresses our collective memory (or lack thereof) and history; it touches upon social and economic class, religion, race, and, of course, most of all on gender. And it touches upon the glue of our society: trust.

A few weeks ago, I heard that the Boston Review had decided to keep the writer Junot Díaz on as a fiction editor. Yesterday, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) cleared Díaz of allegations of sexual misconduct and verbal abuse.

In many ways, the whole “Junot Diaz case” can be placed within the post-truth era of fake news, which again is one of ethics. For example, the journalist Ralph Keyes claims in The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life, “Deception has become commonplace at all levels of contemporary life.” He goes on to consider that we may have reached a stage in our social evolution that is “beyond honesty.”

The era of post-truth is also an era of moralism. Everything is too easily reduced to good and bad, as if no grey areas exist. This is also part of the rigid identity politics that characterize US politics today, which far too often produce a mindless label—as if only a black person can speak against racism, a homosexual against homophobia, a woman against male abusers. Such assumptions show a lack of imagination. They also avoid staring at all the grey areas. For example, the grey areas are probably the weakest points in the otherwise powerful and very welcome #MeToo movement, in which the Junot Díaz case can be placed since it deals with a man of power accused of behaving badly.

Morality typically deals with whether something is right or wrong. However, being moral is not always the same as being right. For example, a story isn’t true because its moral is, and vice versa. Furthermore, morality is not something unchangeable; rather, it’s a social artefact. Our moral norms change as a result of new knowledge. This knowledge, of course, should be convincing, valid, reliable, and trustworthy. Unfortunately, lack of trust seems to be the protagonist in this particular case.

“Post-truthfulness exists in an ethical twilight zone,” Keyes writes. “It allows us to dissemble without considering ourselves dishonest. When our behavior conflicts with our values, what we’re most likely to do is reconceive our values.” Keyes’ point is interesting. One of Díaz’s main accusers was the writer Carmen Maria Machado, who referred to a Q & A session she had with Díaz, where she claims he was “abusive”, “bullying” and “misogynist.” However, when confronted with a recording of this particular discussion, Machado was forced to admit she had been exaggerating, saying, “I’m not a victim of Junot Díaz. I’m a female writer who had a weird interaction with him.”

Weird, of course, is not necessarily misogynist.

Why did she lie? Did she deliberately stretch her wording to fit the #MeToo vocabulary? So far, Machado has not apologized—perhaps because she is afraid of people’s hate and judgment, or afraid of losing face, or afraid of being accused of lack of empathy. Or, maybe, she doesn’t care, maybe she distrust the institutions who cleared him… no one knows. However, what’s “interesting” is that Machado’s accusations violate trust, which we all need to coexist, regardless of age, gender, religion or sexual orientation, etc.

In an essay entitled “Truth and Politics“, the philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote, “Freedom of opinion is a farce unless factual information is guaranteed and that facts themselves are not in dispute.” Truth, therefore, is not the same as having an opinion. For example, Machado might have the opinion that the she was verbally abused, but in reality she is fictionalizing the truth, or creating “alternative facts” as we call it today.

***

The Danish philosopher K.E. Løgstrup said that trust is elementary or fundamental to human existence. Would I leave my three children at a public school every morning if I didn’t trust the teachers? Would I cross the street with them if I didn’t trust people to stop their cars at a red light?

Trust binds us together. It affects marriages, friendships, parents, and society, including politicians and scientists who inform us about the ecological disasters that humans are creating. Løgstrup emphasizes that human interdependence only works if we trust one another. Trust allows me to surrender myself into the hands of another, to make myself vulnerable, because I expect a respectful, compassionate, and trustful feedback.

Therefore, when Carmen Maria Machado lied about Díaz, it was not just a little white lie. Her words impacted everyone. Not only because she accused a well-known writer but because we trusted her. Some may have been skeptical of the validity of the accusations—thinking of sensationalism, etc., but, at the same time, #MeToo taught us the importance of believing the girls and women who had come forward so courageously. For too long, the victim has suffered unnecessarily because being a victim has been associated with shame. Shame is the reason why many women (and men) and children don’t tell about abuse.

When I discovered that Machado lied and didn’t correct her words until she was confronted a month later with an audio recording of the interview, she became less believable. When she was confronted with a recording, she appears annoyed and defensive but, surprisingly, she also appears to be angry for being exposed. “Stop lecturing!” she said. “That’s what’s so fucking weird. The level of condescension.”

And this is perhaps the saddest part. It may cause people to doubt the sincerity of #MeToo. Machado’s behavior perfectly fits with our cultural acceptance of lying. As Keyes notes in The Post-Truth Era regarding the rise in the use of euphemisms for deception: “We no longer tell lies. Instead we ‘misspeak.’ We ‘exaggerate.’ We ‘exercise poor judgment.’ ‘Mistakes were made,’ we say.” It’s as if we—many, at least—have become careless of what is true or not true.

If we want to change society into something better—a society based on equality, respect, and compassion—then we must trust one another. Trust is also the foundation of critical thinking because we assume that people say what they mean for the sake of the truth, not their own agenda (read: self-serving).

We become wiser by admitting our mistakes, that is to say be accountable for our actions and words, but also by acknowledging all the grey areas when it comes to human interaction, not just between men and women but between all kinds of identities—gender, race, age, culture, beliefs, etc. Let’s not forgot that all identities are prisons. They might make us see something more clearly from our own point of view but are often blind to a lot of other aspects. Let’s not forget that men and women should be able to discuss things without fearing being labeled misogynistic. Let’s not forget that nothing is ever completely black or white. Sometimes women lie, use their power; sometimes men are falsely accused.

The great writer Terry Tempest Williams once said that she wanted to bear witness to both the beauty and pain of our world in her writing. By “bearing witness,” she said, “the story told can provide a healing ground.” With regard to the case of Machado and Díaz, healing arises if their conflict is not used to draw a deeper ravine between genders but, instead, to acknowledge that all parties have suffered, and that trust is only gained through apology and change of actions that will make the grey areas less grey.

All women are not angels

Recently, Zoë Bossiere raised some questions regarding male writers. For example—while referring to a character in Junot Diaz’s two collections of short stories, Drown and This Is How You Lose Her—she asks: Could a sexist character like Yunior have been written if not for the abuse the women in these men’s lives suffered?

“Maybe not,” she answers.

Maybe not. But just as easily, maybe.

We tend to forget that imagination is a fundamental aspect of literature and art. I find it hard to believe that all the Scandinavian women writing crime literature are murderers. I doubt that Gillian Flynn, author of “Gone Girl,” has killed her old boyfriend, or wants to. Stephen King is probably not wildly evil, or even all that mean. And Han Kang, who wrote “The Vegetarian,” might not be a vegetarian, or like to be painted naked by her sister’s husband, or even have a sister.

Bossiere goes on and ask, “Some might argue that these works [by men]contribute to the greater canon of literature, but in the era of #MeToo, how much is ‘good’ art actually worth?”

I personally feel that it is not worth s–t if someone deliberately suffers in the process. By suffering I do not mean that, say, children might suffer due to parental distraction or absentmindedness. I mean suffering in a violent and abusive way.

Yet, I agree with the Norwegian novelist Karl Ove Knausgård who has defended writers who “run up against the limit of what cannot, shall not, should not or must not be written”, arguing that every time an author “refuses to shy away”, the arbitrary nature of such limits is revealed.

It may be difficult for many to distinguish the writer from his or her work, but it is important to do so. When we too quickly equate a person’s work of fiction with the person him or herself, it shows more a lack of imagination than moral reasoning.

Readers of course have every right to become political consumers and stop reading books by writers whose actions may be reprehensible. But I know that not everyone is Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama, and I can accept writers with flaws. I can read Jean Genet or Ulrike Meinhof (the brain behind the Baader-Meinhof Gang that operated in Germany in the 1970s), and not feel the urge to steal or kill. Sometimes the best literature can confuse us, nauseate us, show us our moral flaws as well as our ignorance.

Still, men should not be excused on the basis of their literary genius for what they do in real life. Never. The same goes for women. It is not chauvinistic in the slightest to state that all women are not angels, just as all men are not sexual predators. Writing this, however, feels like putting a rope around my neck, because gender issues, especially in the #MeToo era, have become so contentious. Today discussion of the topic is governed by a cowboy mentality, in which everyone shoots first and asks questions later.

For example, in today’s gender debate, some men and women treat one another as men and women—not as human beings. It’s as if gender gets in the way of an unbiased interpretation of what is happening. I think it’s important to acknowledge that all kinds of judgement—about right and wrong, true or false—require time, reflection, and analysis. Today, perhaps due to social media—especially Twitter—it’s easy to contribute blindly. There is a strong herd mentality on social media.

Do we take time to dwell, to reflect, to add perspective, to provide nuance? Or do we just blame? And when we blame, are we doing so out of instinct, out of some latent hatred? And do people—writers included—consider what kind of words they are using to blame other human beings? For example, the term misogynist has become so popular and broadly used that it soon will lose its meaning.

The philosopher Kate Manne defines misogyny as not about hatred toward women but about controlling and pushing women who challenge male dominance. The crucial aspect is how men and women challenge one another—that is, whether the dialogue conveys respect, trust, and equality. In the literary and academic world, people will often defend their ideas or positions. Sometimes people do this with respect and care, other times with hostility. Sometimes it’s women being hostile; sometimes it’s men. Sometimes hostility is due to vanity, arrogance, insecurity, or plain stupidity, and sometimes it’s due to men (or women) being afraid of losing their powerful positions to women—or other men.

A recent example is a recording of a Q and A session with writers Junot Diaz and Carmen Maria Machado, during which Machado describes Diaz as a misogynist and a bully. To me, this interpretation seems wrong, but according to Manne, it’s the potential victim who defines whether Diaz is securing his power or not. And then, of course, we can interpret Machado’s actions and words, words she probably—being a writer—chose deliberately. Nietzsche said thinking is interpretation. It’s an ongoing process, and I would be very careful about labeling Diaz misogynist only on this recording or Machado a liar. Which leaves us where? Perhaps we are witnessing a power game fueled by both historical and current frustration, irritation, and hate—a situation where fiction and nonfiction merge, a situation where we no longer read novels based on their literary qualities but morally on whether the character is a good human being.

In an essay published in The New Yorker, Toni Morrison writes: “The choices made by white men, who are prepared to abandon their humanity out of fear of black men and women, suggest the true horror of lost status.” In other words, perhaps many of the problems debated today are not only about gender but much more about power.

We tend to forget that all human beings are worth the same when we focus too much on gender, skin color, or socioeconomic status. I know there is good reason for doing so (cf. Morrison’s essay on white men); still, the challenge is to encounter the present moment with an open and neutral mind full of compassion.

In short, in this quest for living equally and respectfully together, I think it is crucial that we all keep our heads cool and our hearts warm.

We’re All Accountable

… From my essay on sexism, morality, identity politics, and compassion:

“I remember Rebecca Solnit saying something about men being the problem—not all men, but men. And she’s almost right. Because men, as philosopher Simone de Beauvoir said about women, aren’t born men; they become men. Weinstein didn’t come into this world as a sick misogynist. He, like all those like him, was formed by the culture in which he was brought up.

Luckily, I think, I spent a lot of time with my mother and my sister. Yet, many small boys spend time with their mothers, and less time with their fathers … or, at least, they used to. Does this mean that even women—some mothers—are favouring their sons? Encouraging them to see themselves as better than girls? Telling their daughters to passively obey?”

Read the entire essay here.

Meningens logik

Den franske filosof Gilles Deleuze er en original og kreativ tænker. Det er derfor glædeligt, at forlaget Klim har valg at oversætte Meningens logik til dansk. Bogen, der udkom på fransk i 1969 og engelsk i 1990, er – ifølge forfatteren selv –  ”et forsøg udi den logiske og psykoanalytiske roman.”

I dag er romanen heldigvis så fleksibel en betegnelse, at alt kan høre ind under denne genre, så lad os bare kalde Deleuze filosofiske bog for en roman. Det giver mening, når nu romanens hovedperson er Meningen. Og det er Meningens logik, altså dennes biografi, som forfatteren beskriver for læseren. Faktisk er det en roman, der viser psykoanalysens mangler, når det kommer til at forstå meningens kompleksitet.

”Det hører med til tilværelsens væsen at gå og pege i begge retninger på engang,” skriver Deleuze med reference til, hvordan meningen er udspændt mellem fortiden og fremtiden. Det er et sted her imellem, at den finder sted.

Den franske filosof går genealogisk og strukturelt til værks. Han fortæller, at antagelsen om at sandheden er en del af meningen, ikke er tilstrækkelig til at forstå meningens logik. Af samme grund spørger han, ganske pædagogisk: Hvordan bliver noget sandt?

Rent strukturelt (og traditionelt) hænger sandheden og meningen sammen. Logiske sætninger eller udsagn giver mening, fordi 1) de refererer til eller peger på noget eksternt, 2) de åbenbarer en overbevisning eller et begær, der passer sammen med sætningen, eller 3) de demonstrerer en sammenhæng mellem en historie og en anden. Det sagte passer ind, hvorfor det giver meningen.

Men hvad nu, hvis ord, handlinger, ting og dét, som sker, ikke hænger sammen? Tag for eksempel sætningen: ”Det regner.” Hvad er ”det” som regner, hvad refererer ”det” til? Eller, som Deleuze viser med hjælp af forfatteren Lewis Carroll, et sted siger Carrolls vidunderlige Alice fra eventyrlandet: ”hvis du kun talte, når du blev talt til, så ville ingen nogensinde sige noget.”

Meningen logik giver plads til vrøvlet, det opfindsomme og skabende.

Meningen, siger Deleuze, er udsagnets fjerde dimension (jf. de tre førnævnte: pegende, åbenbarende og manifesterende). Det er den stoikerne opdagede sammen med begivenheden. ”Meningen er det af udsagnet udtrykte, dette ulegemlige ved tingenes oveflade, irreduktibel kompleks entitet, ren begivenhed.”

Meningen er ikke et spørgsmål om dybde, da det ”der er dybere end enhver bund, er overfladen, huden.” Meningen eksisterer ikke engang, men den vedholder eller består. ”Til Alices kroningsmiddag, spiser man enten det, der bliver stillet frem, eller man bliver fremstillet for det, man spiser.” At spise og blive spist sameksisterer. Meningen er ”Noget, aliquid, på én gang yder-væsen og vedholden, dette mindstemål af væren, som passer til det vedholdende.”

Et sted i værket, der består af 34 serier, fastslår Deleuze: ”Begivenheden er selve meningen.” Hvad er så en begivenhed?

Det er et sæt af singulariteter, af særegne punkter, skriver filosoffen. ”Singulariteten er væsentligt set før-individuel, ikke personlig og a-begrebslig … Den er neutral.”

Begivenheden er et nøglebegreb i hele Deleuzes filosofiske værk. At begivenheden er selve meningen skyldes, at begivenhedens modus er det problematiske. Det betyder nu ikke, at der findes problematiske begivenheder. Snarere at begivenhederne ”angår problemerne, hvis betingelser de definerer.” Begivenheden i sig selv er problematisk og problematiserende. En begivenhed er ikke mere eller mindre meningsfuld, fordi dette ville forudsætte en reference, som begivenheden ville blive tolket i lyset af. Derimod fremsætter begivenheden de elementer, som kan blive meningsfulde.

Et problem bliver bestemt af de singulære punkter, som udtrykker dets betingelser. For eksempel, da Nietzsche sagde, at gud er død, så bestemte han et problem, der var betinget af at mennesket ikke længere kunne læne sig opad en ukrænkelig og hellig instans; en instans, der kunne fortælle mennesket, hvad der var værdifuldt. Hermed bestemte Nietzsche problemet. Og et problem har altid den løsning, ”der tilkommer det, ifølge de betingelser, der bestemmer det som problem.” Så, filosofi handler ikke om at finde en passende løsning, som eksisterede der allerede en løsning til ethvert problem. Tværtimod. Filosofi begynder med opfindelsen af et problem.

Måske kan læseren forestille sig Nietzsche, mens han kigger rundt og observerer mennesket; han ser, at det virker handlingslammet og vakkelvornt, hvorefter han formoder, at det skyldes at dets guide, dets gud, er død.

Inden filosoffen begynder at skabe begreber, hvilket Deleuze ser som filosofiens opgave, så må han eller hun bestemme et problem. Nietzsches begreb ”Vilje til magt” er et begreb, der overkommer problemets betingelser, nemlig den manglende sikkerhed qua guds død, hvorfor mennesket nu selv, ganske modigt, må skabe værdier.

”Meningen er aldrig princip eller oprindelse, den er frembragt,” skriver Deleuze. Den frembringes af nye maskinerier, det vil sige, nye forbindelser som når noget går i noget andet, tredje, fjerde … og pludselig går itu. Den rhizomatiske og horisontale tænkning, som Deleuze introducerer sammen med Félix Guattari i Tusind plateauer understreger, at meningen ikke er hierarkisk eller vertikal. Deleuze er stærkt uenig med Platons forestilling om, at filosoffen er en der render rundt med hovedet oppe i skyerne. Der er intet dybere end overfladen, intet dybere end sminken, tatoveringen; intet dybere end dét, som sker. Meningen er aldrig ”oprindelig, men altid forårsaget, afledt.”

Meningens logik er en fantastisk bog. En filosofisk roman for alle – inklusiv alle os som måske aldrig bliver andet end ikke-filosoffer. Bogen er lærd, men ikke tung; den er svær, men luftig, sjov og ganske klar. Den er fuld af smukke sætninger. Faktisk rummer bogen noget af det smukkeste, der nogensinde er blevet skrevet om etik. ”Enten har moral ingen mening eller også er det dette, den vil sige, og som er det eneste, den har at sige: Ikke at være uværdig til det, der indtræffer for os.”

Etik = at gøre sig værdig til at bære det, som sker.

”At blive værdig til det, der indtræffer os, altså at ville det og frisætte begivenheden deraf, at blive søn af sine egne begivenheder, og at blive genfødt derigennem, at få sig en ny fødsel, at bryde med sin kødelige fødsel. Søn af sine begivenheder og ikke af sine værker, for værket bliver selv kun frembragt af begivenhedens søn.”

Der er tale om en generøs og ydmyg filosofi, der ikke forfængeligt klamrer sig til sine værker, men erkender, og udlever, det faktum: at livet former os.

At filosofere kræver en opmærksom omgang med det, som sker, for at kunne give plads til det. Meningen er noget som bliver til i mødet med verden. At forstå meningens logik er at forstå, at ingen ejer hans eller hendes tanker. Dermed er det nu ikke alle forundt, at kunne frisætte begivenheden, problematisere og tænke med den.

Afsluttende er det måske passende at forsøge, at tænke med Deleuze. Hvordan finder man ind i #MeToo-bevægelsens kraftcenter? Følger vi Deleuze skal vi ikke lede efter en dybere og mere oprindelig mening. Hele bevægelsen er en maskine af forskellige forståelsesudsagn, der handler om køn, sex, magt, overgreb, kapitalisme, etc. Deleuze ville ikke fortolke bevægelsen, men følge den; give plads til dens forskellige eksperimenter, der nedbryder rigide og ofte diskriminerende strukturer. #MeToo handler om at en minoritet skaber et større sprog. Et sprog, som på sigt ikke kun vil omhandle bedrestillede kvinder fra den vestlige verden, men også kvinder der er stærkt undertrykt i religiøse samfund eller på grund af økonomisk ustabilitet. Det er en potentielt set altfavnende bevægelse, der kan fremme respekt, omsorg og lighed.

Meningen handler ikke om identitet, rødder eller hellige ydre reference. Meningens logik er derimod noget blivende, noget som befinder sig i mellemrummet, som når ”sundheden bekræfter sygdommen, når den gør sin afstand til sygdommen til en genstand for bekræftelse.” Meningen er ikke en dualistisk dans mellem det sunde og det syge, som noget fasttømret. Snarere fremkommer den, når vi kan begribe det, der relaterer sundheden og sygdommen til hinanden. Når vi tør placere os i mellemrummet, dér, hvor det hele finder sted.

Det sunde handler om at kunne bære ens egne sår, skavanker, mangler og middelmådighed. At ville begivenheden er, at ville livet – i al dets perversitet.

Det er meningens logik. Læs den.

 

Meningens logik, Gilles Deleuze. Oversættelse og efterskrift ved Christian Rud Skovgaard, Klim.

 

Are we thinking?

I’ve been unfairly slow in writing my review of Elizabeth Minnich’s book, The Evil of Banality: On the Life and Death Importance of Thinking. This is unfair because this is the kind of book everyone should read. It’s that good and that important. I may even use the cliché and say it’s timely. We live in a post-truth age, where fake news seems to manipulate everyone and keep them from acting responsibly, that is, from thinking.

Let me start with an example from my own backyard. I live in Barcelona in Catalonia, Spain, a place that has really been put on the map in the last few months. Here, Catalan separatist or nationalists play with people’s emotions and try to generate a certain belief, regardless of whether it’s true or not. For example, Spain is not a dictatorship; people are free in Catalonia to express their opinions. The Catalan language is not threatened; rather it’s spoken everywhere. All things the Catalan separatist claim. Furthermore, although I disagree with the imprisonment of certain Catalan politicians, they are not in prison for their ideas but for conducting illegal activities. While the Spanish government is not a perfect democracy, it is, nevertheless, still a democracy.

Thoughtlessness can also be related to the misuse of some concepts or ideas such as freedom of expression. Recently, a Catalan school teacher blamed one of his student in front of the whole class because the student’s father worked in the national police force. The teacher claimed that the police beat everyone and even killed someone. Afterwards, a Catalan politician said that, in Catalan schools, teachers have freedom to express themselves. That is, the teachers are free to say and act as they see fit. This is an extreme example, and not common, but I know that in Denmark such behavior would cause numerous problems and lead to scrutinizing the schools. In Catalonia, politicians seem to lack the capacity to reflect critically on their own behavior and ideas.

What does this have to do with Minnich’s book? Everything. She addresses how evil emerges when we “go along thoughtlessly—without paying attention, reflecting, questioning.” In other words, our lack of thinking, of critically evaluating what happens—including our own thoughts and behavior—can lead to many evils in this world. Thus, critical thinking is mandatory for all democracies. Minnich asks “What, how, are they thinking? Are we thinking? . . . How could they make sense of what they were doing?” These questions are alarming when put in a context like apartheid, Rwanda, or the sexual abuse of women and children.

The title of her book is an allusion to Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, where Arendt concluded that Nazi crimes against Jews were also crimes against humanity. She showed how a totalitarian government affects every bureaucracy by dehumanizing them and motivating people to act without questioning.  Arendt called this “sheer thoughtlessness.”

Minnich continues, “I found myself reversing her (in)famous phrase and, having done so, thinking that perhaps it would have helped had she spoken, as she did not, of ‘the evil of banality,’ rather than—or, as I now think, in addition to—‘the banality of evil.’ To think of evil as ‘banal’ was then altogether too difficult.” Here, Minnich stresses that when someone has done something wrong, we tend to ask them, “What were you thinking?”

The foundational thesis of her book is that people who are doing evil are not thinking.

Minnich offers many examples in her book: From fiction like Camus’ The Plague to Darfur and Rwanda. She also develops two key concepts to help us understand the relationship between evil and thoughtlessness: intensive versus extensive evil and intensive versus extensive good.

Extensive evil refers to horrific harm-doing that persists for months, even years. For example, genocide, slavery, apartheid, financial exploitation, mistreatment of workers, or, as has recently become evident, when “powerful” men exploit and abuse women. It’s tempting to see the kind of people who do these things as psychopaths or sick. (I can’t help but see Weinstein and his ilk as sick.) However, Minnich emphasizes that these activities are done by inconspicuous people like your quiet next-door neighbor. She mentions several alarming examples from South Africa and Rwanda. And here we must collectively take responsibility if we witness any kind of wrongdoing. For instance, this is happening right now through the #MeToo Campaign. Such campaigns can relieve some of the pain; they can help, encourage, and illustrate that another world is possible,  one of trust, respect, and equality. Similarly, I would argue that when a school system becomes political, promoting rigid nationalism and legitimizing hate, as in some cases in Catalonia, then we must look at this with care—even if we only speak of a handful of concrete examples. Ignorance should never be an option.

Minnich emphasizes that we should be careful not to confuse extensive evil with intensive evil. Intensive evils “are great harms done by one or a few people. In that sense, they are contained . . . When they burst into our lives, almost all of us are genuinely spectators, not participants, not enablers, not perpetrators.”

She says extensive evil spreads like a plague, whereas intensive evil is like a poison. The book is full of such precise literary and metaphorical examples that make it not only a pleasure to read but also easy to follow.

The problem, Minnich says, is that we think of extensive evil as intensive. That is, we may convince ourselves that only a few schools are indoctrinating their students, only a few men are raping women, only a few people are sexually abusing children, only a few organizations are over-stressing and discriminating against their workforce. “Thinking of all evils as if they were intensive—taboo, smacking of possession, shocking to still-functioning conventional society, hence readily felt to be anti-rational—blinds us to the on-the-ground realities especially of extensive evils that are enabled, instead, by such familiar motivators as careerism and greed . . .”

What to do? Well, we could all strengthen our vison. It’s a matter of “seeing, admitting, and thinking through the realization that there have been, and somewhere now are, times in which what ‘everyone is doing’ is morally, politically, deadly wrong.”

Luckily, we can also cultivate critical thinking. Through education, we can try to eradicate automatic thinking, like when some Catalan separatist always declare, “It’s Spain’s fault.” Automatic thinking is just confirming our default-setting without any reflection about what actually takes place.

In the last part of the book, Minnich offers a beautiful reminder of what philosophy is and what it can do. “Socrates was a practitioner and teacher of thinking and not knowledge.” That is, he was open, curious, and constantly questioning not only why and what people were thinking but also how they were living according to their thoughts or beliefs.

Like Arendt, Minnich stresses how stupidity and thoughtlessness are not the same thing. “Very smart people can be very thoughtless just like the rest of us.” This emphasizes that we need to be aware of how the system is nurturing a certain kind of behavior. Here, many studies in social psychology can inspire readers who wish to explore this further.

Still, some may ask, how can we really know if we are trying to critically and openly assess what is happening? Minnich says it clearly: “Self-respect is earned not by recognition, praise, status, net worth, power, influence or anything else externally conferred but by continuing to recognize ourselves as someone we can live with, and not be ashamed?”

I agree. I think of how some politicians seem incapable of being ashamed. They are determined to play the game well, to advance their career, and to achieve their objectives, regardless of the disagreement and suffering of the people they are supposed to govern. Is it arrogance? Minnich notes, “. . . Sometimes we do stop and think, and simply say, at the right moment, the No that is actually a profound Yes to what we will not violate because that is something we just cannot do and still live with ourselves.”

Yet, some people never seem to stop and think. How can some live with themselves?

Elizabeth Minnich’s The Evil of Banality merits a better and more thorough review than what I can provide here. Nevertheless, it deserves to be read. Recommend it to your friends, especially if you know someone who is in charge of other people’s destinies. It is well written, very well argued, full of good examples, and it is inspiring.

See also philosopher Skye Cleary’s interview with Elizabeth Minnich here.

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When Stupidity Rules

Most of the fathers in my six-year-old son’s class use an instant messaging service called WhatsApp. The idea was to share information regarding school issues, but in reality it became a way of passing on jokes and pictures of women. In the beginning, the pictures were harmless, that is to say, no nudity. However, the other day, a father, who by the way is the father of two girls, sent a photo that was pure porn. It’s not the first time. A few others have sent pictures like that, although the majority doesn’t. This time, I thought about writing something like: “In ten years, this could be your daughter”; “Is this your wife?”; “You’re that desperate?”

I didn’t.

Ok, some context is needed. I am a Dane who lives in Barcelona, Spain. Here, the men are much more machista, male chauvinist, than what I am used to. For example, between 2003 and 2010, 545 women died as victims of domestic violence in Spain—more than two per week.

I am choked; I am surprised, both with what I see and hear, but also with how I react. Silence is consent.

I don’t consent.

I am balancing between being polite versus honest; or rather, being far too polite to be honest.

Gender role, unfortunately, is one of those stiff identities that acts like an unchangeable norm, although all norms are social constructions. They change. We get smarter. Or am I just daydreaming? The identity we attach to being either a girl or a boy, in reality, is quite static.

The other day I was talking with my wife about having a fourth child. We have two boys, four and six years old, followed by a girl, who is now two. At one point, she said, “Smilla might like a new little baby. Girls are like that.”

”Yeah,” I said.

Then something happened. Why did I say “Yeah”?

I realized how many times a day I hear from other parents at the school, or in the park that boys are like that and girls are like this. It always irritates me because I don’t believe that girls or boys have one fixed gender identity. The French philosopher Voltaire once said, “to learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”

The problem that keeps me from saying something is that I don’t want to offend people. Perhaps, more from being a foreigner, I try to blend in. Also, I know from after more than eight years in Spain that it’s not okay to question the status quo. People are a bit more fragile here. The culture lacks open debate, not just about gender, but also identity, nationality, the civil war, etc. Spanish people shy away from conflicts. Apparently, I do the same. I am turning into glass. Call it integration.

I don’t want to.

So let me man up, as the cliché goes. My daughter is not a princess; I don’t even like the monarchy. My daughter, though, wears pink. Where did this need come from? One day, I woke up and she couldn’t drink or eat if the glass or spoon wasn’t pink. My boys love all the male superheroes, although my four-year-old also likes The Little Mermaid.

Fighting gender stereotypes is like Don Quixote’s fights with windmills. Gender identity doesn’t stand on anything solid, but only upon stupidity.

I have decided that from today onward, I will stop people if they uncritically put boys or girls into idiotic categories. I hope that people would stop me if I were doing the same. I refuse to be ruled by stupidity – or the monarchy. Men are not more ambitious and competitive than women, who are not more empathic or compassionate than men.

It is my ethical responsibility, not only as a father, but as a human being, to stop the spread of stupidity. I will not cultivate politeness when I unequivocally know that not all men dream about becoming a soldier and not all women dream of having their nude photos passed back and forth via WhatsApp. There is an inherent power balance here between men and women. It’s problematic. Often men define the “sexy” gender roles of women, whereas women less often, and less derogatorily, define the “strong” gender roles of men.

It stops here. The silence is over.

Published in The Transnational. A Literay Magazine, Vol. 3, 2015

 

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