Hypocrisy and the Language of Social Justice

Jeff is feeling triggered by your face. 

Social justice advocates place a great deal of emphasis on the importance of language and its relationship with culture, power, and moral agency. For this, the movement owes an intellectual debt to the thought of 20th century French philosopher Michel Foucault. Foucault developed a unique method of analyzing language called “discourse analysis,” which stressed the importance of power relationships in laying down boundaries within which words, phrases, and expressions can be meaningful. According to Foucault, language is a reflection of power, and power is the lens through which we are able to examine the health of a functioning society. What’s more, language reinforces the power dynamics that form the superstructure of society.

This approach to the study of language has found a welcoming home in the social justice movement, particularly in the halls of third-wave feminism. Members of this camp are fond of saying “language matters”, a truism so packed with implied meaning that it has become a feminist trope. In the vein of Foucauldian discourse analysis, language reinforces things like ableism and rape culture, which buttress the power dynamics that enable ableism and rape. Language can even be violent in this context. Feminists have applied Foucault’s theory so scrupulously that no passing phrase escapes critical analysis. They have taken a microscope to the dictionary and impeached each and every word of oppression, no matter how small.

TW: Clouds

TW: Clouds

It is a wonder then that this intellectual strain of the social justice movement is so poor at obeying its own rules of civil discourse. The activists that harp on every ableist metaphor and every verbal microaggression are downright hypocritical in the way that they use language, which makes dialoguing with social justice advocates especially frustrating.

One such example of this linguistic hypocrisy concerns the use of the word “triggered”. The social justice movement has adopted this term wholesale, and its use is both acceptable and widespread in conversation surrounding prejudice and oppression. In the context of the sphere of issues with which social justice advocates are concerned (racism, feminism, poverty, gender issues), the word denotes a feeling of severe emotional distress, often in reaction to written or spoken material that one finds deeply offensive or with which one sharply disagrees.

TW: Rainbows/Balloons

TW: Rainbows/Balloons

But the word “triggered” has real medical import. It is a psychological term used to characterize the effects of provocative phenomena on patients with post-traumatic stress disorder. It has a very specific meaning, and applies to a very specific audience, but its usage in social justice parlance extends far beyond its appropriate medical application. Students on college campuses have called for trigger warnings on material that cannot reasonably be expected to cause mental trauma. Oberlin College’s “Office of Equity Concerns” famously recommends trigger warnings for “racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression.” In my personal conversations about race and gender with white, male, and cisgender social justice advocates, I have been accused of triggering my interlocutor with privileged and oppressive language.

So how is all of this hypocritical? So what if “triggered” has a specific meaning? Can’t social justice advocates use the term “triggered” metaphorically, broadly, or originally?

Well, no. Social justice activists have taken it upon themselves to regulate the use of language related to mental illness. They have singled out words like “crazy”, “insane”, and “hysterical” and barred them from everyday use. The reason given is that these words, even used metaphorically or colloquially, serve to reinforce the stigmatization of the mentally ill. Metaphor and context don’t much matter to the language police. Characterizing an out-there idea as “crazy”, a joke as “hysterical”, and a basketball dunk as “insane” all fortify the power dynamics that divide the “normal” and the “abnormal” and subjugate the latter. But by using the term “triggered” in an expanded way, social justice activists are guilty of the crimes they’ve wrought. By calling to apply trigger warnings to everything under the sun, for example, they have appropriated the term inappropriately, which, by their own guidelines, reinforces the power dynamic they so thoroughly dislike.

TW: Unicorns

TW: Unicorns

There are many other examples of social justice communicators breaking the rules of their own game. Take the idea of “dialoguing”, a fundamental tenet of progressive discourse. Dialoguing is defined by Office of Multicultural Affairs as “’Communication that creates and recreates multiple understandings’; it is bidirectional, not zero‐sum and may or may not end in agreement; it can be emotional and uncomfortable, but is safe, respectful and has greater understanding as its goal.” In short, dialoguing is civil conversation with the aim of mutual learning. This is trumpeted as an important tenet of social justice, and yet there are other rules of the game that flatly contradict this precept. Consider the popular refrain, often used by the member of a marginalized class (or an ally) as a retort to the member of a privileged class, “It is not my job to educate you.” This shifting of responsibility from one interlocutor to the other clearly violates an important principle of social justice dialogue – greater understanding. Is the goal of dialoguing in the social justice world actually greater understanding through the cross-fertilization of ideas, ideas that are often in conflict with one another, or is it a space where the “enlightened” like-minded are welcome at the exclusion of the ignorant or other-minded?

But perhaps the most maddening semantic gymnastics performed by social justice advocates concerns the dual concepts of “racism” and “reverse racism”. According to the social justice playbook, “there is no such thing as reverse racism,” meaning that stereotypical, prejudicial, and even sometimes violent behavior by people of color (or other structurally oppressed groups) against white people (or other privileged groups) cannot be characterized as racist.

“Reverse Racism”

To this I say, well fine. If you choose to narrow the definition of racism to the behavioral outgrowth of “privilege + power”, then reverse racism is an incoherent concept. But that doesn’t mean that stereotyping, demonizing, or physically attacking a member of a structurally dominant group on the basis of a material group characteristic is a good thing! You might call it something else – “groupism” or “negative characterization of the member of a dominant group solely on the basis of a non-character feature”, for instance – but that doesn’t make that kind of behavior wise or just. Social justice advocates have become so concerned with who and what is racist that they have forgotten that other forms of injustice do exist. They have become so focused on winning a semantic war that they have, if I may understate, forgotten their manners.

Behind the linguistic and structural smokescreen fabricated by Foucault and sustained by modern-day feminists lies a fundamental worldview with a rich intellectual history, its roots in the works of John Rawls, John Dewey, and Louis Brandeis. If social justice advocates can’t obey the rules of their own semantic games or play fair with their opponents, they should quit policing language, remember their mission, and return to their intellectual roots.

White House Releases Statement on Barack vs. Bibi

In a statement released by the White House this morning, it appears that President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu are officially in a fight.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu has amply demonstrated that he is not interested in being friends with the President,” read the statement. “Until further notice, the President and Prime Minister are not talking, and he can look for allies elsewhere. I’m sure he’ll find some in Congress.”

In a follow up statement before the press, spokesperson Jen Psaki of the State Department clarified the release. “Barack is not happy with the mean things Bibi has done recently. His feelings are hurt, and he wants an apology.”

The statement has taken Israeli government officials by surprise, and some view the press release as an unwarranted escalation of an already tense situation. “It is safe to say that if Barack does not take it back, we are prepared to view this as a clear act of passive aggression,” remarked Mark Regev, chief Spokesman for and second best friend of the Prime Minister. “We will have no choice but to give Barack the unmitigated silent treatment.”

President Obama holding  back tears as he stares suspiciously at his "friend"

President Obama holding back tears as he stares suspiciously at his “friend”

It looks like the bad blood between the parties had been boiling over for quite some time. Rumor has it that it all began when Barack heard from Michelle who heard from Joe (Biden) who heard from John (Kerry) who heard from Chuck (Hagel) that Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon called Secretary Kerry names. Ya’alon was quoted as saying that Kerry was “messianic”, “obsessive”, “old”, and “shoe-faced” and that Heinz Ketchup was “overrated, anyway.” Joe and John then broke their promise to meet with Moshe when he came to visit, standing him up – in the rain – at the Department of State building. Later that year, a senior Obama official supposedly intensified the situation by calling Bibi a “chickenshit” and saying that Bibi has “awkwardly small woman hands”.

In a strategic and transparent tit-for-tat measure, Bibi threw a party in Congress earlier this month and didn’t invite the president. “If you-know-who wants to play games, that’s fine,” said a teary-eyed Barack at the time. “But if he has something to say, he can say it to my face. He doesn’t need to steal my friends and my pulpit.”

Bibi and Barack giving each other stink-eye at their latest in-person meeting.

Bibi and Barack giving each other stink-eye at their latest in-person meeting

“Whatever,” retorted Bibi soon thereafter. Rumor has it that Bibi even threw some shade at Barack at the Congress party, calling his negotiating skills “weaker than Drake’s latest album” and muttering “typical Hussein” when pressed for his opinion on US-Iran relations.

But the bubbling tension hadn’t reached “fight” status until the aftermath of the recent Israeli elections. Apparently, Barack didn’t call Bibi to congratulate him on his electoral victory. “Uch, what kind of friend doesn’t call when you win a crucial election?” complained Bibi.

Upon finally calling him, in true frienemy fashion, Barack proceeded to congratulate Bibi and then rebuke him for his “divisive” and “cynical” comments made about Arab voters on election day. “The Arabs are my friends,” said Barack. “And I don’t like it when my supposed friends are mean to my other friends. It’s not nice.” Bibi had a different perspective, “It’s like saying ‘I’m sorry BUT’. You don’t call to congratulate a friend and then say BUT.”

"Whatever," thinks Bibi as  he addresses an indifferent Barack

“Whatever,” thinks Bibi as he addresses an indifferent Barack

The future of US-Israel diplomatic relations are uncertain right now, but it’s safe to say that things haven’t been this chilly since Katy Perry called Taylor Swift a “Regina George in sheep’s clothing.”

The Reasons Behind the Rockets: Why Yossi Klein Halevi is Wrong about Hamas

An Iron Dome launcher fires an interceptor rocket in  Ashdod July 9, 2014. Photo by Reuters

An Iron Dome launcher fires an interceptor rocket in Ashdod July 9, 2014. Photo by Reuters

Jeff has a PSA: he will not be co-opted by some dubious Limey health-kick.

The thousands of rockets that plummeted into Israel this past summer must have had a grave psychological impact on the hearts and minds of Israeli citizens, even if their physical impact was somewhat more limited. Yossi Klein Halevi writes movingly of this psychological impact in his article “I Have Two Nightmares About a Palestinian State,” but he seriously misconstrues the psychology of Israel’s aggressors. Halevi’s piece, published in this past September’s New Republic, is profoundly reductive, even myopic, in its account of Hamas’ motivations in the latest Israel-Gaza conflict. His contention, that Hamas’ chief incentive was the breaking of Israel’s sprit, that “Hamas’ goal in this war isn’t military but psychological victory,” ignores the political and economic developments that fully explain why Hamas and Israel were driven to a new round of hostilities.

Halevi rightly points out that in “this last decade, Hamas has fired thousands of rockets at Israeli communities along the Gaza border,” but in 2013, the year following the last Israel-Hamas ceasefire in November 2012, fewer rockets were fired from Gaza than in any year since 2003. In other words, Hamas was upholding the ceasefire that ended Operation Pillar of Defense. The terms of the ceasefire ran roughly as follows: an end to attacks from Gaza in exchange for the same from Israel, plus a relaxation on border closings when it came to the transfer of people and goods. But, as Nathan Thrall reported in The London Review of Books, Israel did not hold up its end of the deal. The IDF infiltrated Gaza repeatedly, fired on Palestinian farmers and drove Palestinian fisherman away from the majority of Gaza’s waters. Nor did Israel relax its stranglehold on the border; imports and exports were limited and exit permits for Gazans wishing to travel were harder and harder to come by.

Meanwhile Hamas was becoming increasingly alienated abroad. Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were ousted from power in Egypt, depriving Hamas of an important ally and effectively sealing off its access to yet another crucial trading partner. As Gaza’s situation became desperate—electricity and fuel shortages, aquifer contamination, sanitation plant closings—Hamas turned to Fatah and agreed to enter into a unity government. This involved a number of significant concessions for Hamas, including the party’s tacit support for a government committed to non-violence, past agreements and the recognition of Israel.

The rubble of a home destroyed by Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip, Aug. 12, 2014.

The rubble of a home destroyed by Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip, Aug. 12, 2014.

Then came the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers. Netanyahu and his administration linked the kidnapping to Hamas, despite the dissent of several Israeli security officials. Indeed, The Forward’s J.J. Goldberg has made a persuasive case “that the kidnapping was a Qawasmeh family production from start to finish,” that is, plotted and executed by a renegade Hebron-based clan—not operating under the aegis of Hamas. But Hamas or no (some say with Hamas as a pretext), Israel launched its largest West Bank operation against Hamas since the Second Intifada, arresting hundreds of operatives. The raid and arrests sparked widespread protests and rockets from Gaza militants unaffiliated with Hamas. Emboldened, Hamas began encouraging a third intifada, and when the rockets grew more frequent they realized they couldn’t very well be seen as policing the attacks and calling for an uprising at the same time. Then, when an Israeli retaliation resulted in the death of seven Hamas militants, Hamas began taking credit for the attacks. It wasn’t long before Operation Protective Edge was announced.

If we want to have any real sense of what gave rise to the latest Israel-Gaza clash we must see Hamas’ involvement as determined by the foregoing narrative. The rocket fire did not stem from a wish to sow fear and despair, or at least, not solely from that wish. It emerged out of intractable political, and economic isolation, isolation exacerbated in part by Israeli intransigence.

Halevi recounts, stirringly, how his wife tells him, in the throes of the Second Intifada, that she finally understands what her “rabbis meant when they warned me I was risking the lives of my future children by [converting and] becoming a Jew.” But the anecdote tends, once again, to reduce a highly complex political predicament to a simplistic ideological contest: there are the Jews and the anti-Semites, and after, all how do you negotiate with anti-Semites? Certainly occluding large swaths of history and ignoring the political and economic grievances in play cannot be the way.

– Daniel Schwartz

Photo of three Israeli teenagers who were abducted and murdered by a group of Palestinians. Tel Aviv's Rabin Square June 30, 2014. (Reuters/Nir Elias)

Photo of the three Israeli teenagers who were abducted and murdered by Palestinians shortly before Protective Edge. Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square June 30, 2014. (Reuters/Nir Elias)

Third-world Adventures in Costa Rica

Jeff loves writing about things that are different than him 

I landed in San Jose, Costa Rica yesterday and was fascinated to learn that Costa Rica is home to cities called “San Jose”, “San Francisco”, and “San Diego”. Did the person who built Costa Rica just survey a map of California and think “these sound Spanish enough. Let’s go with that?” Quite possibly.

Everything is different in Costa Rica, so exotic, so third-world. It’s like a time warp has sucked me back to the 1800’s to give me a lesson in industrial development. Free-spirited children play football in the streets, their bare feet mixing an uncontrived palette of mud and rust. How lucky we are in America to live in a country free of mud and rust! Poor Spanish immigrants (are Spanish-speaking people ever indigenous?) holler at us from their storefronts, soliciting our business for a fresh plantain, mango, or t-shirt with a monkey on it. They can smell the American money tucked away in the deep recesses of our fanny packs, I just know it.

The national motto of Costa Rica is “Pura Vida” or “pure life”, which can serve in place of “hello”, “good bye”, or “peace”, just like “Shalom!” does in the other language I know. Spanish and Hebrew are so similar. It really is a beautiful phrase, so optimistic and Zen. It goes to show that Ticos (not a slur) are a happy people, free of the burdens of Western materialism and cynicism.

It rains a lot in Costa Rica, which is typical in a rainforest climate, I suppose. It’s amazing how the locals have become so used to it that they don’t even use umbrellas or ponchos. Not a pair of galoshes in sight! I guess when you grow up with 200 days of rain a year, you just become immune to it.

I did a lot of adventuring today – zip-lining, canyoneering, and rappelling through the rain forest. My guides, Sergio and Julio, traversed the treacherous terrain without so much as a burden or bruise. They navigated the swinging vines and slippery rocks, the waterfalls and narrow gorges, with Tarzanian elegance. I had the grace of George of the Jungle. I wonder if local Costa Ricans also go rappelling recreationally or only as a mode of travel. Does everyone own a harness and cables the way I own a Metro card?

My hotel [really, a cluster of villas (pueblos?)] is situated in the middle of a lush, verdant rain forest in La Fortuna, a sleepy little tourist town surrounding the 4-years-dormant volcano Arenal. Amenities include continental breakfast, static-y TV, a pool, and all-natural hot springs (owing itself to the volcano). Vegetation and wildlife abound on the premises. Wild white-faced monkeys play on their coconut jungle gyms and toucans take post-breakfast respites on the bare branches of milk trees. I peel the sweaty t-shirt off my moulting body and chance a dip in the molten springs.

Today is a beach day in Costa Rica, my chance to vegetate on the black sands of playa Manuel Antonio and ride the calm waves of the salty Pacific. I unfurl my first-world towel and rest it atop the third-world sand, feeling slightly ashamed of polluting the unsullied coastline with my pasty form and my privileged linens. Inevitable comparisons with the shores of New Jersey spring to mind. Where are the throngs of overweight men and the contrasting smells of saltwater and hot dogs? Where is the backdrop of wood and kitsch and the din of shrill Italian mothers? Serenity and taste are local commodities of which I eagerly partake with my new-world appetite. A local beach-goer does a somersault on the summer salt, a vendor peddles his fruity wares, and I gaze from a distance, admiring the unfailing joie de vivre (or should I say pura vida) of the native poor.

As I drive to San Jose in my rickety Chevrolet to catch my 1 pm flight home, I stare out the window at the rolling hills and the cotton forests, at the oily children and the road-side workers. “This is paradise”, I think to myself. I meditate on that deep thought as I commend myself for braving vacation among the noble savages and unpredictable jungles of the rich coast.

Kanye West Chimes in on Paper Spread, Admits to Being “More of a Boob Guy”

Amid the hysteria surrounding the recent 360° tour of Kim Kardashian’s body, one voice has remained conspicuously silent: husband Kanye West’s. But early Friday morning, Kanye joined the chorus of disapproval via Twitter, admitting that he wasn’t such a huge fan of his wife’s huge fanny.

“Don’t know what all the fuss is about. I like a big butt, but more of a boob guy. #twinpeaks #nottwincheeks”

The tweet comes as somewhat of a surprise, as many fans and critics of the power couple suspected that it was Kim’s monster tush that ht_paper_kim_k_undressed_FLOAT_kb_141112_16x9_992had, in fact, initially won Kanye’s affections. Kanye rejected that notion in an email to TMZ this afternoon: “No, man. It was never about Kim’s butt. It was her inner beauty…and her boobs. I don’t want people to think that I’m all about Kim for her butt. To be honest, I don’t even find it that sexy.”

He followed up with a scathing critique of the Paper backlash. “All you cultural critics and internet critics that come out of the woodwork when someone decides to show true beauty, y’all don’t know what true beauty is. I know what true beauty is. I’m Kanye West,” said Kanye West. “I wish people would stop being so shallow and realize that what’s truly beautiful about Kim is her strong personality and her chest.”

Israeli Chief Rabbinate Issues Ruling on Breast Cancer Awareness Month

After weeks of intense debate concerning the rising tide of breast cancer awareness, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel issued a statement yesterday condemning the month and all dedicated funding for the cause.

“It is the opinion of the Rabbinate that the worldwide focus on breasts is a contaminating influence not only on Jews and those who seek a spiritual lifestyle, but also on children,” said Ziv Maor, Spokesman of the Chief Rabbinate. “The breast is an erva (English: nakedness). It belongs in the home, not on a cereal box.”

Breast Cancer Awareness month is organized annually during the month of October by a combination of cancer-focused charities and major corporations to raise funds for breast cancer research and to encourage mammography. The movement also offers support to victims of breast cancer and their kin.

The pink ribbon symbolizing  B****t Cancer Awareness Month

The pink ribbon symbolizing B****t Cancer Awareness Month

“We fully appreciate the plight of any victims, and we offer our deepest sympathy to them,” claimed Maor. “The Rabbinate has encouraged kehilot (English: congregations) to add a mi shebeirach, a special prayer, for them during services. But with an increasing awareness of breast cancer comes an increasing awareness of breasts. And this we cannot abide.”

The decision has provoked outrage from Jewish communities around the world who look toward the Chief Rabbinate of Israel as a leading, if not supreme, authority, on matters of Jewish law and culture. “This decision is nothing if not closed-minded and insensitive,” proclaimed Rabbi Mark Ruskin, rabbi of Congregation Ohev Shadayim in Twin Peaks, MO. “We all have breasts, even the rabbis. Breasts and penises and vaginas and breasts, and we shouldn’t be ashamed of it.”

As part of the ruling, all charitable funding dedicated towards breast cancer awareness may no longer be counted as tzeddakah or meritorious giving according to Jewish legal and ethical standards.

A confiscated light fixture.

A confiscated light fixture.

All mastectomies performed in October are null and void. And in a display of rabbinic might and conservatism, all activities deemed to be in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month are subject to review and potential censure by the national religious court of law. These activities include: wearing pink, watching Thursday night football, being born in the month of July, eating dark meat, swimming on your chest whilst keeping your torso straight, discussing Iraq, installing noisemaking devices on your front door, milking a cow, experiencing an economic downturn, inflating decorative latex bags at parties, consuming any fruit in the cantaloupe family, chewing hard flavorless gum, eating coconut-flavored Hershey’s products, and keeping people in the loop.

“I am very, very upset by this news,” said Karin Gold, Israeli breast cancer survivor and proud mother of twins. “It’s time to give the Israeli Rabbinate a serious role reduction and to enlarge the authority of local clergymen.”

BREAKING: New Kosher D.C. Restaurant to Partner with McFadden’s Restaurant and Saloon

Washington D.C.’s newest Kosher restaurant, Char Bar and Eli’s Marketplace (formerly Eli’s Restaurant), has agreed to form a strategic partnership with McFadden’s Restaurant and Saloon, the popular Irish party pub located in D.C.’s West End. Char Bar will operate out of the pub’s kitchen on weekends, serving up its eclectic mix of BBQ and Kosher Deli to the hungry mobs. On weeknights, McFadden’s will lend its DJ, bartenders, and “wait staff” to the restaurant, bringing a youthful vibe to the classy eatery. The agreement was finalized Friday morning by Jewish restaurateur, Sina Soumekhian, and whoever the hell owns McFadden’s, probably an Irish pedophile.


Rabbi enjoying a “Sloppy Joel”

“This is a great day not only for Char Bar, but also for the D.C. Jewish Community,” said Soumekhian. “In the spirit of inclusion and outreach, we want to bring our delicious Kosher fare to the greater D.C. population. In the spirit of business growth, we want to leverage the unbelievable success of McFadden’s. And in the spirit of fun, we want our customers to grind with tanked, underage GW students.”

The partnership brings together two distinguished and longstanding D.C. establishments, each boasting a loyal and starkly homogeneous clientele. A new symbiosis will hopefully diversify each institution’s respective consumer base and garner new customer interest as well. “We really want more Kosher people at Faded Fridays and Super Sloshed Saturdays,” said McFadden’s event coordinator known only as “Ashley.” “We need some more brunettes in the crowd. The strawberry blonde can be blinding sometimes lol.” Soumekhian echoed that sentiment. “I want Char Bar to be a multicultural experience. I want it to be a place where Jews and Irish Catholics alike can enjoy a piece of schnitzel and the thumping beats of Trey Songz.”

Kosher club

Char Bar’s new slogan: “The Best Kosher Pickle in DC!”

The move has the overwhelming support of the D.C. Jewish community, with leaders and congregants of mainstay Jewish institutions offering their resolute seals of approval. “This is great news,” beamed Jacob Lisser, congregant at Georgetown’s Kesher Israel synagogue. “Where else can you enjoy a ‘Freundel’ while pinning a blackout 19-year-old against the wall?”

Inspired by the revelrous spirit of McFadden’s, Char Bar will release a menu of rager-themed appetizers and entrees. The “DTF (Down to Fleisch)” will feature a plate of young, lean meat just waiting, as the menu describes, “to get swallowed.” The “Sloppy Joel” promises to be a delicious BBQ option, a seasoned loose ground beef patty sandwiched between two pieces of lightly tanned white bread. And no matter how well done you order your steak, the “Convincing Fake” will always arrive severely undercooked. Char Bar will also offer a sizable takeout and catering menu, known playfully as the “Meat Market.”

The partnership is set to commence next week, August 12th, at 9:30pm., at which time representatives from the McFadden’s and Char Bar wait staff will clear the tables from the Char Bar floor and begin making rounds with test tube shots of Baron Herzog merlot. The crowd will break for Ma’ariv, the traditional Jewish evening prayer service at 10:00, after which time the hoards of sweaty bros, Irish chicks, and sweatier Jews will congeal into a bumpin’ mass of intercultural “dialogue.”