Saturday, April 25, 2009

JuanMa Lopez is a Terror. Gerry Penalosa is a Machine

Juan Manuel Lopez is simply terrifying in the ring. But Gerry Penalosa showed an unbelievable will, and every person watching that fight had to give a hand to his heart and his courage, even in a losing effort.

My hat is off to both.

So That's Who My Friends Were

It's really interesting that Charles Johnson, who really was one of the doyens of far-right extremist blogging through his Little Green Footballs site, has taken a decided turn against his former compatriots.
“I don’t think there is an anti-jihadist movement anymore,” Johnson said. “It’s all a bunch of kooks. I’ve watch some people who I thought were reputable, and who I trusted, hook up with racists and Nazis. I see a lot of them promoting stories and causes that I think are completely nuts.”

Johnson, if I recall correctly, identified as a Democrat prior to 9/11, so maybe his defection isn't as unexpected as one might think. His disciples, for their part, are not happy:
When they talk about Johnson today, the rest of the terrorism-focused bloggers alternate between anger and regret. He has smeared them, they say, and according to Dymphna he’s “destroyed a lot of networking that was beginning to emerge” between American and European critics of Islamic extremism. “He’s really gone off the deep end,” Geller said, pointing to Johnson’s more and more frequent criticisms of creationists, such as the attack on the anti-evolution, Glenn Beck-inspired event, which made the host angry enough to lash out at LGF on his show. “He’s a leftist blogger now.”

Yeah, evolution. That's really wild stuff, that is.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Why Israel?

It is a professional ambition of mine to one day do work at the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism, which is one of the leading ferments for cutting edge work on this particular form of invidious prejudice. One paper hosted by their site, by British academic and Engage heavyweight David Hirsch, gives one the better overviews on the linkages between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. I highly recommend it.

One of the questions which has engaged me for quite some time is this "why Israel" question. Why is anti-Zionism -- defined as the opposition to the idea and existence of Israel as a Jewish state -- the focus of so much seemingly disproportionate attention and hatred by those who claim to part of the broadly-defined "left"?

Several answers present themselves. The first is simply that the speakers are motivated by anti-Semitism. That might be true for some, but I highly doubt it is true for all. Hirsch very clearly disclaims that he is not inquiring as to what various "critics" or condemners have inside their heads, and I agree that I simply have no way of knowing the state of mind of these persons. I also agree with Hirsch that this is in many ways an irrelevant question: Whether or not someone conceptualizes themselves as a hater of the Jewish people matters quite little if their actual words and actions act to perpetuate anti-Semitic subordination.

Hirsch implies that part of the answer lies in the continued failure of Marxist and socialist predictions as to the imminent collapse of the bourgeois capitalist system, and the need for an explanation. Since there is a deep well of anti-Jewish literature which is predicated on the ability of Jews to control the world through, inter alia, the financial, media, and entertainment industries, the continued existence of capitalist structures can best be explained by the transcendental and ahistoric power of these Jewish institutions who seem to operate unconstrained by the rules of time and space (much less morality). I don't know enough about Marxist political behavior to evaluate this statement, but as a general description it seems reasonable enough: If X "has to happen", and X persistently refuses to happen, the temptation to resort to conspiracy-mongering in order to explain why X isn't occurring must be mighty tempting.

Nonetheless, a large part of me suspects that the answer is much more simple: Extreme opposition to Zionism is the path of least resistance for a substantial portion of relatively marginalized "progressive" ambitions. Least defensible is the desire for a psychological balm for the wounds of Western colonial and imperialist endeavors. Even assuming Israel is reasonably associated with these practices (which I don't believe, but am putting aside for now), the motives of the critics are far from pure. Seeking guilt release for these actions, but not wanting to threaten the privileges and benefits they maintain from the outcroppings of these endeavors, leftists find that attacking Israel brings with it all the self-righteousness of being an "anti-imperialist" without seriously threatening the benefits the speakers get from the status quo. As Shulamit Volkov put it, Anti-Semitism is a "convenient way of attacking the existing order without demanding its total overthrow and without having to offer a comprehensive alternative." Put simply, while anti-Zionist ideology is couched as being resistance to the Western program and thus (when advanced by Western academics) selfless moral sacrifice, if Israel was destroyed, the social position of the Western academics and speakers who propounded the policies would not change in the least. All the rewards, none of the risks.

But many leftists will say that the various political ideologies which they claim motivate their anti-Zionism are quite genuine -- not simply a way to disassociate themselves from "bad" Western acts. And perhaps I believe them. And there is a reasonable account for why such persons focus so much of their energy on Israel compared to other institutions which seem equally or more violative of their political commitments. Simply put it: It's a battle they feel they can win.

Suppose you oppose the entire idea of nation-states -- or, to go further, states in general. Unfortunately for you, you're part of a rather fringe minority, and one whose political program appears rather distant: China does not seem to be going anywhere. By and large, the notion of the "state" seems pretty well entrenched in the international system.

Israel, however, is not so entrenched. China is huge, Israel is rather small. China has broadly accepted social legitimacy, Israel does not. There is no political constituency to abolish China, there is a large political constituency advocating the abolishment of Israel. Leftists thirsting for a reachable victory understandably see Israel as their best shot. If all the people working to destroy Israel just lock arms and push, they might manage to bring down at least this part of the modernist edifice.

The problem, though, is that these leftists don't sufficiently analyze why Israel is so vulnerable. Happily locking arms, they don't bother to look and see who is on their left and right. As it turns out, Israel is vulnerable because it is the target of several massively reactionary organizations whose stated political agenda is the subjugation (if not extermination) of the Jewish people, combined with the fact that this agenda is not considered to be of major concern to their Western allies. The relationship is symbiotic: Israel is vulnerable because those who wish to kill Jews know that "anti-Zionism" is a rallying flag from which they can gain international support -- even if the supporters of the latter don't see themselves (and would actively disclaim) that they personally wish to see harm to the Jews.

When Hamas lobs a rocket into Ashkelon, their leftist supporters say they are "resisting occupation". Perhaps so. But firing rockets also and equally forwards Hamas' agenda of slaughtering Jews. One cannot sever these two ambitions (supporting one but not the other) when the same act so clearly advances both causes. By locking arms with Hamas, one is complicit in the world they wish to construct after the collectivity succeeds in bringing Israel down.

To be sure, there is significant cognitive dissonance that occurs in the leftist mind when the motive for political action is predicated on the peculiar vulnerability of a marginalized group. Hence, the effort at casting the Jews as hyper-powerful. By constructing the Jew as an entity that is inherently empowered, leftists can avoid the implication that they are merely preying on the weak. Alternatively, they represent Israel is the epitome of modern evil -- exceeding that of, say, China, Sudan, Zimbabwe, North Korea, or Russia -- which is the true motivation of the disproportionate backlash (not that many social actors see attacking Jews as legitimate in a way that attacking other social groups is not). Notwithstanding the psychological usefulness of this maneuver, it still represents a fundamental sublimation of the actual status of Jews worldwide, and likely position of Jewish communities in the event that social program aided by these leftists comes to pass.

None of these defenses require that we think that leftists actively seek out harm for Jews, though they do imply that they are somewhat indifferent to it or at least are willing to gamble recklessly with Jewish lives. The leftist motivations here do not stem, in other words, from the personal anti-Semitism of the authors. But I am not interested in the whether or not these persons are good at heart, and both the upshot of their political machinations and the political tactics the use to achieve their ends have vicious implications for the legal, political, and social equality (not to mention security) of Jews. That's enough to make the question of anti-Semitism salient.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Kind of a Greenish, Brownish Color

Former U.S. Rep. and Green Party Presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney cements her Green-Brown alliance by extensively citing far-right anti-Semitic extremist Matthias Chang. Adam Holland gives a run down of Chang's delightful contributions to civilized discourse.

You Can Do That?

An Egyptian MP is urging that Muslims begin mass pilgrimages to Jerusalem in order to demonstrate "that Jerusalem is for Muslims". The MP hastily rejected the idea that this should be interpreted as normalizing relations with Israel, even though he did say that visitors should even get Israeli visas, if that's what it takes.

Jerusalem is a very important city in Islamic history and theology, and I don't want to deny that -- though I suspect that this MP would not reciprocate in acknowledging that Jerusalem is if anything more important in the Jewish tradition.* At the same time, I'm not sure one can claim legitimate rights to a place by ramping up its religious significance (or at least, making its significance more prominent) ex post facto. Can Jews do the same thing with Hebron? Jews make pilgrimages to New York City for bagels all the time -- can we claim it as a "Jewish city"?

* Simply because Jerusalem is Judaism's holiest city, whereas it ranks third in Islam behind Mecca and Medina.

More Texas Traitors

A new poll indicates that half of Texas Republicans would prefer that their state be an independent nation rather than part of America. And a majority approve of Gov. Rick Perry's indication that Texas may one day secede from the union. The Fix has more.

Remind me who hates America again?

Another Stunner

Who could have possibly guessed that a Tea Party would promote itself with anti-Semitic flyers? Me, that's who!

The California GOP slaps the organizers a bit, and complains that "some who espouse fringe views are attempting to use the taxpayer movement to promote their own cause." A fringe movement has fringe followers? Hold the mustard and pickles!

The organizers, for their part, don't really seem to be backing down, and (of course) resort to the classic "anti-Semitism is really serious. So serious it can never actually be alleged," dodge.

Brief Roundup

Hey that's a pun! You say, the brief I have due on Monday is keeping me unbelievably busy, hence the paucity of blogging. Which, as you know, means roundup time!

So everyone is hating on Ahmadinejad's speech, and that's good. But why can't anyone use the "a" word (I thought we were all too trigger happy with it)?

Well, the Socialist Worker can -- but it takes great pains to distance it from Ahmadinejad himself. Indeed, as Harry's Place points out, the thrust of SW's complaint is that world leaders did repudiate Ahmadinejad while not simultaneously engaging in some wish fulfillment.

Deborah Hellman, one of the premier scholars working on the subject, has a fabulous post on the upcoming New Haven fire department civil rights case. Danielle Cintron has the skinnier version.

A guilty verdict has been handed down in the landmark Colorado case marking the first time a man has been convicted of a hate crime for killing a transgender person.

Ruling that FDA restrictions were not made in "good faith" due to (Bush admin) White House interference, a federal judge has ruled that Plan B must be made immediately available over the counter for 17 year olds.

LGM is skeptical the Supreme Court will do the right thing and say strip searching 13 year old girls based on unwarranted suspicions they might have some ibuprofen is, maybe, you know, not okay. Sandy Levinson goes a step further and remarks that this sort of shaming nudity was one of the things that shocked -- shocked -- us about Abu Gharib.

The Austrian extreme right gets in on the anti-Semitism act (not that they ever left, I suspect).

The Ghetto Ghetto?

Ta-Nehisi Coates hits back -- hard -- at the essentialization of folks who hail from the "ghetto".
What I know about "inner city blacks," of those who "act ghetto," is the same as what I lately came to know about about suburban whites, about Puerto-Rican New Yorkers, about Ivy Leauge graduates, about gay conservatives, and Israeli-Americans. That they are all different from us all and from each other, that they deserve to be treated with the same nuance, with the same soft touch, with the same eye for complexity and dimension that you'd want for your own family in friends.

My partner Kenyatta says that one of the things that convinced her to go to Howard was a habit she observed among some of her white friends. She was a smart girl, well-spoken and kind. Sometimes when she'd gotten close to a white girl at her school, the girl would make some casually prejudice remark about black people and then say, "But you're not black." The point being that, despite Kenyatta darkness, what they saw as "black" was everything that she was not. She talks about jhow she initially took this as a compliment, and then she realized the true insidiousness within it--that had they exchanged no words, said white friend would have drawn the same conclusions about her.

In that same spirit, I think people who meet and talk to me, who read this blog don't think of me as "ghetto." But I'm not sure they'd think the same if they saw me at 8 A.M. on Lenox Ave, rocking the black hoodie and grey New Balance, on my way to the Associated. Ghetto, in its most unironic usage, is a word for people you don't know. It's word that allows you to erase individuals and create boxes. It's true that I was different than most of my friends--but most of my friends were different from my friends. All people, at their core, ultimately are.

PostBourgie weighs in as well. Two excellent posts.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Kill Word

I had always thought myself reasonably proficient in Microsoft Word. I could usually keep its auto-correct functions from getting out of hand. I could make outlines in a style I liked. I knew how to move the "small caps" style selection to the tool bar. I even knew the secrets to the "soft-cite" cross-referencing so I could auto-update my footnotes. I was so happy with it that I deliberately refused to load up Microsoft Word 2007, because I felt like I was too well established in 2003.

And then today rolled around, where I tried to learn how to format a table of contents and a table of authorities. And that's when I discovered that beyond the pitiable surface features I had accessed, Microsoft Word is a 900 lbs hellbeast which eats students like me for breakfast and spits them out for pleasure.

Another Workshop

Several top law reviews, among them the University of Chicago's, have teamed up to produce The Legal Workshop, which will publish truncated and accessible versions of their published articles. Alexander Volokh's short-form version of Choosing Interpretive Methods: A Positive Theory of Judges and Everyone Else is a good example of what they're trying to achieve.

The commentary -- by Larry Solum, Brian Leiter, Orin Kerr, and Nate Oman -- seems largely positive. I agree that the degree to which the site will make it more likely that the lay public will read legal scholarship is likely minimal, though it might have influence at the margin. But even professors can't read everything, and I do think that the site will make it easier for academics to keep abreast regarding new developments in their field and others.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What a Despicable Fuck

Iranian delegate to the Durban Review Conference accosts Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, calls him a "Zio-Nazi".

There should be a special resolution at the end of this conference specifically condemning that delegate, for embodying the viciousness, bigotry, and hate that this conference is (purportedly) warring against.

Bizzaro Land

Well here's a dynamic you don't get every day: Left-wing pro-Israel organization praises Arab writer for calling out a Jewish writer for anti-Semitic "hate speech" published in an Arab newspaper.

The dovish Israel Policy Forum praises a letter to the editor written by Hussein Ibish, 
Senior Fellow, 
American Task Force 
on Palestine. The letter was written in response to an editorial by one Karin Friedemann, which talked about a "corrupt network" of Jewish activists which was conspiring to destroy the world economy for their own personal gain. Friedemann went so far as to say that Larry Summers (apparently part of the network) "dumped his Christian wife" and replaced her with a Jewish professor of Holocaust Literature in order to "improve his Jewish credentials." The entire article is one massive anti-Semitic conspiracy binge -- one of the worst I've ever seen in fact.

Friedemann is "ethnically Jewish", which I know because she links to the "The very sweet Professor Kevin MacDonald" saying so. Prof. MacDonald, for those who you who don't know, is one of the foremost academic proponents of anti-Semitic eugenicist theories, specifically arguing that Judaism is genetically ethnocentrist. The particular piece Friedemann links to opens by arguing that:
American Jews are actually being trained since childhood to interact with non-Jews in a deceitful and arrogant manner, in coordination with each other, to emotionally destroy Gentiles and Israel critics in addition to wrecking their careers and interfering with their social relationships.

There is simply no question that Friedemann is actively promoting anti-Semitism, and she doesn't get a pass on it because she's "ethnically Jewish". If there ever was a justifiable usage of "self-hating Jew" (and a brief search of my blog archives indicates that I've never used the phrase), this would be it.

But let's not focus on the negative. There is equally no question that Mr. Ibish is worthy of praise for countering Ms. Friedemann's hateful words. His efforts at trying to break the hold of racism and anti-Semitism on the global sphere is welcome and appreciated, and I thank him for his contribution to my safety and security.

Whom Do You Represent?

The WaPo (via Kevin Drum) reports that Chrysler turned down a federal loan because its senior executives weren't willing to adhere to pay restrictions.
Top officials at Chrysler Financial turned away a government loan because executives didn't want to abide by new federal limits on pay, according to new findings by a federal watchdog agency.

The government had offered a $750 million loan earlier this month as part of its efforts to prop up the ailing auto industry, including Chrysler, which is racing to avoid bankruptcy. Chrysler Financial is a major lender to Chrysler dealerships and customers.

In forgoing the loan, Chrysler Financial opted to use more expensive financing from private banks, adding to the burden on the already fragile automaker and its financing company.

This gets at an observation I've long had about capitalist economics. Capitalism assumes that corporations will behave in the ways that maximize their profits. But that's not quite right. Corporations will behave in the way that maximizes the interests of their elite decision makers (e.g., the top executives). These overlap considerably, but they aren't the same thing, as this case indicates. To take another example, if the Board of Directors of X-Co, Inc., found that they could save a net hundred million dollars by out-sourcing their own jobs to India, they still wouldn't do it, because executives obviously aren't going to eliminate their own jobs, only other people's jobs.

The Power of Words

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC): Not all that bright.
Senator Richard Burr took a bit of a jab at President Barack Obama Friday night. Burr said he does not need a teleprompter to speak as he travels from city to city, unlike the president. Nor did Burr need one to talk about an economic turnaround in southeastern North Carolina.

"You can begin to see growth in this community, you see life, you see tourism back,” said Senator Burr. “It's just a matter of time before this economy turns around and we see pricing stabilized and we forget about the economic downtime and we look forward to the opportunities."

That's not all that bad though, compared to Rep. John Boehner (R-OH):
STEPHANOPOULOS: So what is the responsible way? That’s my question. What is the Republican plan to deal with carbon emissions, which every major scientific organization has said is contributing to climate change?

BOEHNER: George, the idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical. Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide. Every cow in the world, you know, when they do what they do, you’ve got more carbon dioxide.

Much like bullets, CO2 does not cause cancer. Hence, we don't have to worry about it.

Total Eclipse of the Heart

My friend and former coworker Antoine Morris is twittering from Geneva. Antoine, I know, was a strong proponent of the US participating in the Durban Review Conference and was bitterly disappointed when the US didn't attend. Still, reading his twitter feed doesn't do anything to assuage my cynicism (cf. Ta-Nehisi Coates). These sorts of conversations are so obviously tied up in global power politics that their value rapidly converges towards zero. Hence, his comment: "Me thinks Israel/Palestine question has eclipsed other global discussions of racial discrimination."

No kidding.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Yet Another Tendril Extended

Now that the first post is up, I guess I can break the news. I have been hired (that's right -- it comes with coin) by the University of Chicago as a student blogger for the UChicago Law Faculty blog. My portfolio is the American Legal History Workshop. Basically, there is a talk every other Thursday by some illustrious academic, for which I give a summary and commentary. Rinse, wash, repeat.

For your purposes, this is meaningless -- the stuff I'm writing is material that I wouldn't be doing on my blog anyway. But for those of you interested in some of the most fascinating scholarship being developed in the field of legal history, I'll let you know when a new post is up.

The first post is on USC Professor Mary Dudziak's ongoing project "Law, War, and the History of Time", and can be found here.

Moon's Full Statement

Mark Goldberg of the UN Dispatch has the full text of Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon's response to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech opening the UN anti-racism conference:
Statement by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the remarks by the President of Iran at the Durban Review Conference

I deplore the use of this platform by the Iranian President to accuse, divide and even incite. This is the opposite of what this Conference seeks to achieve. This makes it significantly more difficult to build constructive solutions to the very real problem of racism.

It is deeply regrettable that my plea to look to the future of unity was not heeded by the Iranian President. At my earlier meeting with him, I stressed the importance of the Conference to galvanize the will of the international community toward the common cause of fight against racism.

I further stressed the need to look to the future, not to the past of divisiveness. In this regard, I reminded the President that the UN General Assembly had adopted the resolutions to revoke the equation of Zionism with racism and to reaffirm the historical facts of the Holocaust respectively.

We must all turn away from such a message in both form and substance. We must join hands and work together to achieve a constructive, substantive agenda to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Goldberg verifies my intuition that -- when adjusted for diplomatese -- Moon's reaction was the equivalent of apoplectic rage. It is extremely rare that a head of state gets called out so explicitly by the Secretary General.

No More Free Passes

Showing determination not repeat the racist fiasco that was Durban I, a mass walkout by mostly European delegates (the AJC reports that Morocco was among the nations that left) to the UN anti-racism conference in Geneva occurred during Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech (specifically, the parts where he goes off on a vicious anti-Zionist rant). Zvika Krieger, live-blogging the speech, captures the excitement as a beautiful message was sent to one of the world's foremost purveyors of hatred and extremism.

Ahmadinejad also had to deal with hecklers and cat-callers yelling that "a racist can't fight racism". And following Ahmadinejad's remarks, the Foreign Minister of Norway took the floor to say that his comments "run counter to the very spirit of dignity of the conference," and that Iran was "the odd man out".

And it wasn't over. After he left the stage to give a press conference, Ahmadinejad was greeted to sight of hundreds of protesters blocking the way, indicting him for his suppression of the Ba'hai and other oppressive acts. Included in the crowd was none other than Elie Wiesel (who, I suppose Ahmadinejad believes, simply had a really bad nightmare for eight years). At the conference, one journalist asked why Ahmadinejad devotes so much energy to savaging Israeli actions against the Palestinians, but virtually none to Muslim-on-Muslim violence. He answered that such activities, at root, were the fault of Western interference in Muslim affairs. Shocking.

UPDATE: HuffPo has a list of all the countries which either walked out or are boycotting the conference altogether (Morocco was not listed as a "walk-out" country):
Boycotted altogether: Germany, Australia, Canada, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland and the United States

Walked out: Austria, Belgium, Britain, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic (has left the conference for good), Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, , Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, St. Kitts and Nevis

YNet reports that Jordan also left the hall.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has joined the chorus condemning Ahmadinejad's speech, saying the goal was "to accuse, divide and even incite."

Sunday, April 19, 2009


UN Watch ambushes Libya at the UN Durban Review Conference preparatory meeting. Libya, for reasons that, depending on your perspective, are either inexplicable or all too explicable, was chosen to chair the chair the preparatory committee, was presiding when it recognized UN Watch, an NGO which "monitors the performance of the United Nations by the yardstick of its own Charter."

Normally, it seems to spend its time getting abused by the authoritarian regime of the week for actually caring about human rights. But here they turned the tables beautifully, turning the microphone over to a victim of Libyan torture who demanded to know how that nation's country could claim to lead the fight against discrimination when it had, he claimed, targeted him simply to scapegoat foreigners (the doctor was Palestinian).

Unsurprisingly, the Libyan ambassador eventually succeeded in shutting down the discussion. But still, it made for a nice spectacle. And since UN Watch tipped off the local media, it even got everything filmed.

So score one point for the good guys; and for suppressed victims of violence having their voices heard (if only for a little while).

A New Princess

Disney is finally giving us its first Black princess -- a big development in the history of the American entertainment culture.

Agonism, Debate, and Blood Sports

Linking to Happy Bodies only when I agreed with them would be lazy. Finding times when I disagree is a far more challenging endeavor. A certain author on that fine blog writes against the "blood sport" conception of academic discussion, which she analogizes to a "whip it out and measure it" approach. She also links to a post by Mandolin at AAB entitled "Debate", which claims (among other things) that debate is characterized by "power games, attempts at manipulation, and a confrontational mindset." My disagreement here isn't actually that deep, as much of it boils down to what I take to be a mistaken view on what a "blood sport" approach to academics means. As someone who has used the "blood sport" metaphor in a relatively positive context, and has "debate" right in his blog's name, I want to distinguish the "blood sport" approach from the type of abusive practices Jill and Mandolin identify (which I agree are all too prevalent), because I think the latter is in actuality a serious distortion of what a true "blood sport" academic discussion should be trying to accomplish.

Jill writes:
[I]n this “academics as blood sport” model, the goal is not to grow. The goal is not to reach a consensus, or to get to the bottom of a thorny problem in the text, or to hash out a controversial point. The goal is to make the other person look as stupid as possible. The goal is to, as a friend once put it, “whip it out and measure it.” Women play at it sometimes, but this is a game for men.

Ideally speaking: No, probably yes, yes, maybe, no, and no. Let me explain.

The "blood sport" model, at its heart, is an articulation of the belief that academic discussion is most fruitful when proponents of particular positions are willing to "let their hands go" (to adopt language from my favorite blood sport, boxing). We should press weaknesses, probe implications, attack shoddy reasoning, all in pursuit of making each participant present their best possible case. We develop intellectually by challenging and being challenged as strongly as possible; what remains at the end is indubitably stronger than what came before. I often say that one of the reasons I wanted to attend the University of Chicago for law school was because I wanted to "put myself through the fire"; that is, I wanted to be placed in an environment where I knew I would be challenged to the greatest possible extent, knowing that I could only develop by facing the most advanced and vocal advocates of alternative positions. J.A. Hodnicki gives similar advice to junior faculty members deciding where to present their works in progress.

Though I don't think it's bound to it, I also think the "blood sport" approach is tied intricately to the position of philosophical agonism expounded by writers like Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau. Agonists believe that, at root, disagreement will never be expunged from democratic societies. Mouffe, in a quote I've referenced before, claims that holding out "consensus" as a paramount goal in a pluralist democracy actually threatens democracy itself:
To believe that a final resolution of conflicts is eventually possible...far from providing the necessary horizon of the democratic project, is something that puts it at risk. Indeed, such an illusion implicitly carries the desire for a reconciled society where pluralism would be superseded. When pluralist democracy is conceived in such a way, it becomes a self-refuting ideal because the very moment of its realization coincides with its disintegration.[Chantal Mouffe, Democracy and Pluralism: A Critique of the Rationalist Approach, 16 Cardozo L. Rev. 1533, 1544 (1995)]

Consensus, in this view, is a trap: it means consensus on grounds acceptable to the empowered classes. There is not always a true consensus to be had, no "bottom" to get down to. Collaborativeness is another word for exclusivity, because we're not all just trying to achieve the same thing. I concur with Mouffe and others in that I believe that many value disputes are fundamentally irreducible, and that this is something we simply have to accept as members of the deliberative community.* Even Iris Marion Young, queen of the deliberative democrats, believes that "rational" discourse only requires that the parties come in with an aim, rather than a guarantee, of agreement. I agree with this as well -- I don't think we should pick fights just for their own sake -- but Young certainly is keenly aware of the illiberal risks in demanding agreement when disagreement still lingers.

But this is getting far afield. The point is that, believing that political conflict is inevitable and indeed desirable, the agonist political project is centered around managing it so that there still exists a basic framing of mutual respect. Since we can't ground mutual respect on some form of "we're all really working for the same thing" (because we're not -- at least not necessarily), it must be located elsewhere. And in this, agonists find the "blood sport" metaphor to be very helpful. Samuel Chambers writes:
Agonism implies a deep respect and concern for the other; indeed, the Greek agon refers most directly to an athletic contest oriented not merely toward victory or defeat, but emphasizing the importance of the struggle itself-a struggle that cannot exist without the opponent. Victory through forfeit or default, or over an unworthy opponent, comes up short compared to a defeat at the hands of a worthy opponent-a defeat that still brings honor. An agonistic discourse will therefore be one marked not merely by conflict but just as importantly, by mutual admiration.

I think this is tremendously illuminating. There is a considerable amount of literature on the different discussion styles of men and women, including how men often simply try and bludgeon their way to "victory" by blunt verbal force. This is an example of "victory by default", and it is not truly legitimate. The true agonist does not wish to claim victory simply because he's rigged the discursive rules in his favor. The struggle is only valid when everyone is in a position where they can participate as strongly and ably as they are capable of. Consequently, persons who conceive of themselves as participants in a "blood sport" view of academics should work actively to insure a level playing field amongst the participants; not taking advantage of structural or contingent advantages (think Inigo Montoya's sword fight with Wesley in The Princess Bride). That means avoiding, not reinforcing, gendered modes of silencing or shutting down alternative perspectives.

There is an (unfortunately, mostly liberal) conceit that the participants in blood sports are all ruthless, cutthroat savages, and a consequent conflation of "blood sport" with "win at all costs". This is quite far from the truth. In most blood sports, one observes an important dynamic of respect between the players; and disrespect for those who care only about winning but do not respect their adversary. Boxers often talk a lot of trash before the fight begins to sell tickets, but nearly invariably they will embrace afterward and have naught but high praise for each other. I still remember Bernard Hopkins -- immediately after handing Kelly Pavlik the first loss of his career -- going to the younger man's corner and giving him some fighting advice, promising him that he would one day become the best in the world. The agonist debater should likewise see his or her project as facilitating the mutual development of themselves and their interlocutor as advocates.

The ethos of the "blood sport" is one steeped in language of glory and honor. But the persons who engage in self-aggrandizing pugnaciousness to prove that they're the smartest guy in the room are running quite far afield from this ideal.** They are not behaving honorably. They are fighting for themselves, when they should be fighting for the greater ideal of illumination and elucidation, or at the very least making all participants the best they can be as advocates and proponents of their causes. Moreover, agonist struggle implies a willing and eager partner: forcing someone who does not wish to fight into a debate context is as incompatible with agonist ideals as a boxer picking a random guy out at a bar and pummeling him senseless. The agonist does hold -- properly in my view -- that if one does wish to enter the fora of public deliberation, then one can't demand that everyone put aside their difference and "collaborate" together.*** But not everyone wants to be in the fora all the time, or on all subjects.

I do believe that the best academic discussions are ones in which eager and talented participants are trading their best shots at one another. But not everyone is in a position to do that. Some people aren't eager. Some people don't know enough to be thrown in with the sharks yet. Predators seek out these persons because they want another notch in their "W" column, but there is no true honor in that. There are, after all, models of combat which are premised on building someone up rather than taking them down (e.g., a sparring session), and this too ought be (and I believe is) incorporated into a true agonist frame. In this way, conflict and collaboration are reconciled.

Debate ought to be an honorable activity. Many persons, unfortunately, do not practice it in this way. They relish victory for its own sake, with no regard for their partner and with no purpose other than victory. But whatever else it is, that sort of behavior is not consistent with the ethos of the blood sport.


* Even if disputes over values can't always be dissolved, this doesn't mean that debate is futile. There are still several important functions debate can serve. First, it can solve factual disagreements masquerading as value disputes (e.g., what tax policy is most beneficial to the nation's poorest?). Second, it can reveal the reasons advocates have for their position and the passion with which they hold them, which may be important to people who base their decisions in part on the opinions of others. Third, it can clarify the interplay between various disconsonent values which may be implicated in any given dispute, forcing people to reveal what values they are giving up or sublimating in order to adhere to their position.

** There are actually two distinct problems here. On the one hand, there is the guy who doesn't know a lot, and masks it by being unreasonable aggressive and belligerent. This is obnoxious if for no other reason than it forces more advanced participants in a discussion to continually hash out basic 101 material. But sometimes, the best response to the sort of person really is just to crack his skull a bit. A systematic evisceration of his "analysis" may inspire more humility next time.

On the other hand, there is the person who really does know a lot about the subject at hand, but uses that knowledge to crush the more incipient or inchoate ideas of his less knowledgeable or confident fellows. The violation here is the one I focus on above -- it is preying on less experienced or willing adversaries, before they can pose any serious challenge or threat. Eventually, the student may become the master, but only if the master doesn't systematically squash all his students as babes.

*** Consider how White feminists used this line of argument to silence dissident voices of women of color; arguing that those differences should be pushed aside precisely because they would threaten the collaborative nature of the women's movement -- "coming together as women". I'm not sure why, faced with White feminist leaders who claimed to care about racism but systematically ignored it in word and deed, women of color should not have attempted to draw some blood in response.