Saturday, January 28, 2012


Feluccas on the Nile
source: CIA World Factbook
Goldblog recently linked an article by Eric Trager regretting the recent trajectory of the Egyptian uprising. He regrets that
...a befuddled Obama administration has failed to do anything to stop the coming disaster.
Considering the billions of dollars in aid the United States poured into Mubarak's Egypt, I have to wonder what more Eric Trager or anyone else thinks the Obama Administration could have done. President Obama, after all, represented a country which had enabled the abuses of the Egyptian government under Mubarak for thirty years. Americans had to expect the voices of their government would not carry a lot of weight when the dictatorship crumbled.

Mr Trager makes his perception of the extent of the "disaster" clear:

...their photogenic faces carried the promise of a more democratic, friendly Egypt.
But the activists were never who we hoped they were. Far from being liberal, their ranks were... an alliance of convenience for opposing Mubarak and, later, for denouncing the U.S.
Thus, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Egypt in March 2011, a group of leading activists refused to meet with her.
 In his desire for "a more democratic and friendly Egypt", Mr. Trager joins a long line of writers on American foreign policy who misunderstand the consequences of American policies at a basic level. Rightly or wrongly, American policy in Western Asia conflicts at a basic level with the hopes and priorities of millions of people who live there. In many countries in the region, the more the government follows the popular will, the less it will support American policies.

The article concludes on a gloomy note:
ONE YEAR after Egypt’s heroic revolt, Washington has no heroes in Cairo, only headaches.... a year after the ebullience of Tahrir, an alliance between military autocrats and radical theocrats is viewed, sadly, as a best-case scenario. 

Slaves exposed for sale
source: Library of Congress Collection
 Whether or not you agree with Eric Trager's assessments here, some perspective might help. American independence served to extend slavery for at least a generation, and led to increasing and increasingly brutal encroachment into territories of North American aboriginal peoples. If Americans, despite all the bad consequences of American independence, claim the founding of their country as a step forward for human freedom, on what basis do they denounce the Egyptians for the ways they have used their new-found freedom?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Observing a web controversy...

In December, I posted about Hugo Schwyzer's resignation from the Good Men Project. At that time I said I saw his resignation as an act of integrity; I still believe that. I also mentioned, in passing, that his self-exposure made me uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable for two reasons: he has exposed other people while talking about his own history, particularly in the details he posted about his second marriage, and he has discussed past conduct he now rightly considers highly unethical. He has written about violating his trust as a professor with "consensual" sexual relationships with students, and last year he revealed that when he hit bottom as an addict he tried to kill both himself and a girlfriend. After Clarisse Thorn interviewed him for the web site Feministe via an interview by the controversy blew up into three posts (here, here and here), generating over a thousand comments. The discussion has echoed around web logs since.
A great many people have good reasons to feel anger at Hugo.  But as the discussion has developed, an increasing amount of the rhetoric has come to address Hugo's whole personality and presence, rather than his actions. The discussion started with an important issue of principle: should a man with Hugo's past have a role teaching feminism, or the kind of visible leadership role he played when he spoke at the "slutwalk" in LA, or indeed a role of any kind in the feminist movement? A good number of people have answered this with very clear, and very angry "no". As happens to often on the internet, the rhetoric and the combativeness have escalated: Hugo has collected men and women partisans who have made  outrageous comments about his critics, and put up a series of crude "sock puppet" comments on Feministe. Hugo himself has failed to make any moves to reconcile with the racialized women web-loggers he has offended. His critics, on the other hand, have escalated their rhetoric, from demands that Hugo withdraw from feminist organising and teaching to "let’s make sure to get Hugo where it hurts." [*], "We really despise Hugo Schwyzer. That's basically it. " [*] and "like that isn't exactly what hugo does - posts a picture of his supposedly handsome smug face all over everything to distract people." [*]

It seems clear that some feminist spaces that welcomed or tolerated Hugo won't welcome or tolerate him any longer, at least for the forseeable future. But I have to wonder how much Hugo really minds that. If you read his web log, which I have from time to time, he clearly lays considerable emphasis on moving on and not turning back. He quotes a poem called "Men at forty" fairly often on the subject. If he has concluded, at some level, that the time had come for him to move on from his stance as a feminist supporter or "male feminist", he has some compelling reasons. For one thing, teaching history, with or without a womens' studies or gender studies component, at a small community college does not carry the economic certainty it used to. A revolution in education led by online providers has jeopardized the future of entry-level colleges such as Hugo's employer. Moving away from feminism, and indeed moving away from college teaching, lets him avoid the coming dislocations and look for something else.

Consider his current pattern of highly provocative self-exposure shown by his posting articles on Jezebel and the Good Men Project (before he left it), as well as the post on his second marriage and, of course, the posts on his unethical behaviour. That  may simply mean he's shown bad judgment; certainly I think he's made some very bad choices in the past. But it may also mean partly that he has chosen, whether consciously or not, to close a door behind him. Ironically, this whole discussion may have opened another door for him: as the discussion of Maia's article at Alas shows, a substantial addiction/recovery community views matters such as Hugo's conduct in a very different light than the people at Feministe and associated web logs do. By denouncing him in such public and at times in such an extravagant way, Hugo's strongest detractors may have given him a boost with a new audience.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

One good movie

In my case, I picked The Descendants. The movie had good reviews, I really like most of the actors. And the subject interests me: as I understand it, ultimately, the movie deals with the fallout from colonialism. In this case, colonialism meant the American missionaries who brought God and the Stars and Stripes to Hawaii, and whose children and grandchildren stayed and did very well for themselves. I had heard a little about this story, and I would have liked to see a movie about it.

But I did not. I haven't gone to see The Descendants. I almost certainly won't go. I may well not even rent the DVD.

I did not see this movie because I wanted to see it. I refuse go on buying cultural products from the bankers who finance films, and the artists who make them, even as those bankers and some of the artists undermine the freedom of the Internet that I depend on. So I picked one film and stayed away from it.

The Internet matters to me. It matters as a symbol of a new way of doing things, and as proof we can do things in a new way. It matters as an engine of commerce, and an engine of change. It matters as a repository of a vast array of beautiful, wonderful, brilliant, strange art and science and knowledge. It matters because this storehouse offers everyone on this planet, from the wealthiest to the most humble, access to the heritage of knowledge and beauty that belongs to every person as their birthright. For eons through our history, great men and women made art, and discoveries and innovations, and only a few people had access to their work. The Internet has changed that. I do not want to see this tool damaged or destroyed at the behest of the minority that make a living, often a very very good living, performing and promoting and selling the arts.