Watch Richard Linklater’s Anti-Ted Cruz Political Ads: The Texas Director Versus the Texas Senator

If you think of Texas filmmakers, Richard Linklater surely comes to mind right away. Despite the success and acclaim he has steadily garnered over the past three decades, the director of Slacker, Dazed and Confused, Boyhood, and the Before trilogy remains resolutely based in Austin, and even continues to set many of his movies in his home state. If you think of Texas politicians, can you possibly keep Ted Cruz from coming to mind? The state's junior senator has remained a fixture on the highest-profile American political scene since at least his candidacy in the Republican presidential primaries of 2016. Linklater and Cruz's fan bases might not overlap much, and given Texas' famously enormous size, the men themselves may never have run into each other before. But now, in the form of political advertisements, their worlds have collided.

Since his rise to prominence, Cruz has suffered something of an image problem. ("Cruz may be unique among politicians anywhere in that every mention of his name is always accompanied by remarks on his loathesomeness," as essayist Eliot Weinberger puts it.) His campaign in the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections has attempted to correct that problem with the slogan "Tough as Texas," but not every Texan has accepted its portrayal of the candidate as a macho, no-nonsense son of the Lone Star State.

Certainly Linklater seems to have had trouble swallowing it, seeing as he's directed a couple of video ads for the unambiguously named political action committee Fire Ted Cruz. Both feature actor Sonny Carl Davis, seemingly staying in the character he played in Bernie, one of Linklater's most thoroughly Texan pictures. In them he airs the kind of criticisms of Cruz one might imagine coming from the mouth of the straight-talking and somewhat ornery Texas everyman.

In Linklater's first anti-Cruz spot, Davis questions whether someone who so publicly allies himself with a president who insulted him so viciously during the last election has truly demonstrated a Texas-grade toughness (not that he puts it quite that way). The second moves on to a territory even more suited to fightin' words: cheeseburgers. It seems that Cruz recently called his election rival Beto O'Rourke a "Triple Meat Whataburger liberal who is out of touch with Texas values." But to the mind of Davis' character, such a tone-deaf insult to as beloved a Texas institution as Whataburger — especially from a man who has also praised the "little burgers" of White Castle — cannot stand. Can the power of such ridicule, harnessed to the power of cinema, unseat a senator? We'll have to wait until November to find out, but if I were Cruz, I wouldn't exactly be looking forward to what Linklater comes up with next.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A New Academic Hoax–Complete with Fake Articles Published in Academic Journals–Ventures to Show the “Corruption” of Cultural Studies

We should be suspicious when researchers assume their conclusion; when the results of an academic study merely confirm the author’s pre-existing biases. Humans are wired to seek confirmation, a cognitive deficit so deeply engrained that it can be exploited among laypeople and specialists alike. Art historians have been fooled by forgeries, historians by fake manuscripts, and paleontologists by phony fossils. Physicist Steven Weinberg referenced such high-level hoaxes in a 1996 essay in The New York Review of Books, and he placed that year’s academic scandal—known as the “Sokal Hoax”—among them.

The gist of the Sokal affair runs as follows: NYU mathematical physicist Alan Sokal suspected that post-structuralist-influenced cultural studies was jargon-laden, obfuscating BS, and he set out to prove it by authoring his own “postmodernist” text, an article full of misused terminology from quantum physics. He sent it off to the journal Social Text, who published it in their Spring/Summer issue. Sokal then revealed in another journal, Lingua Franca, that the article had been a fraud, “liberally salted with nonsense,” and had only been accepted because “(a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editor’s ideological preconceptions.”




Sokal’s hoax, it was roundly claimed, demonstrated that certain fashionable quarters of the academic humanities had deteriorated into babble, signifying nothing more than rigid ideological commitments and a general disregard for the actual meanings of words and concepts. Weinberg wasn’t so sure. At most, perhaps, it showed the editorial failings of Social Text. And while humanists may abuse scientific ideas, Weinberg points out that scientists of the stature of Werner Heisenberg have also been prone to slipshod, quasi-mystical thinking.

But the Sokal hoax did expose to the wider public a tendency among a coterie of academics to indulge in mystifying language, including the misuse of jargon from other fields of study, usually in imitation of French theorists like Jacques Lacan, Julia Kristeva, or Jacques Derrida—whom, it must be said, all wrote in a very different intellectual culture (one that expects, Michel Foucault once admitted, at least “ten percent incomprehensible”). For a good many people in the academic humanities, this wasn’t much of a revelation. (Sokal has since published a more thoroughly critical book with the apt title Beyond the Hoax.)

Part of the problem with his hoax as a serious critique is that it began with its conclusion. Cultural studies are rife with crap arguments, ideology, and incomprehensible nonsense, Sokal believed. And so, when his paper was accepted, he simply rested his case, making no effort to engage charitably with good scholarship while he ridiculed the bad. Which brings us to the current state of the academic humanities, and to a contemporary, Sokal-like attack on them by a trio of writers who rest their case on a slightly broader base of evidence—20 fraudulent articles sent out to various niche cultural studies journals over a year: four published (since retracted), three accepted but not published, seven under review, and six rejected.

The authors—academic philosopher Peter Boghossian and writers Helen Pluckrose and James A. Lindsay—revealed the hoax this week in an article published at the Pluckrose-edited Areo magazine. One needn’t read past the title to understand the authors’ take on cultural studies in general: “Academic Grievance Studies and the Corruption of Scholarship.” While all three hoaxers identify as left-leaning liberals, the broad-brush characterization of whole fields as “grievance studies” reveals a prejudicial degree of contempt that seems unwarranted. In the article, they reveal their motivations and methods, outline the successes of the project, and post the comments of the articles’ referees, along with a video of themselves having a good laugh at the whole thing.

This last bit is unnecessary and obnoxious, but does the new hoax—“Sokal Squared” as it’s been called—genuinely undermine the credibility of cultural studies as a whole? Is it “’hilarious and delightful,’” asks Alexander C. Kafka at The Chronicle of Higher Education, or “an ugly example of dishonesty and bad faith?” Harvard political scientist Yascha Mounk tactfully finds in it a serious case for concern: “Some academic emperors—the ones who supposedly have the most to say about these crucial topics [discrimination, racism, sexism]—have no clothes.”

This is a point worth pursuing, and certain recent scandals should give everyone pause to consider how bullying and groupthink manifest on the academic left at the highest level of prestige. But the great majority of academics are not "emperors" and have very little social or economic power. And Mounk is careful not to overstate the case. He points out how the hoax has unfortunately given welcome “ammunition” to right-wing conservative axe-grinders:

Many conservatives who are deeply hostile to the science of climate change, and who dismiss out of hand the studies that attest to deep injustices in our society, are using Sokal Squared to smear all academics as biased culture warriors. The Federalist, a right-wing news and commentary site, went so far as to spread the apparent ideological bias of a few journals in one particular corner of academia to most professors, the mainstream media, and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Federalist specializes in irresponsible conspiracy-mongering, the kind of thing that sells ads and wins elections but doesn’t belong in academic debate. The question Mounk doesn’t ask is whether the hoaxers’ own attitudes encourage and share in such hostility, an issue raised by several of their critics. As physicist Sean Carroll wrote on Twitter, “What strikes me about stunts like this is their fundamental meanness. No attempt to intellectually engage with ideas you disagree with; just trolling for the lulz.” McGill University political theorist Jacob T. Levy expressed similar reservations in an interview, notes The New York Times, saying

even some colleagues who are not fans of identity-oriented scholarship are looking at the hoax and saying ‘this is potentially unethical and doesn’t show what they think it is showing.’ Besides, he added, “We all recognized that this kind of thing could also be done in our disciplines if people were willing to dedicate a year to do it.”

Therein lies another problem with Sokal Squared. Hoaxes have been perpetuated by smart, dedicated forgers, con-artists, and pranksters in nearly every field, showing up all sorts of experts as potential dupes. The singling out of cultural studies for particular ridicule—the characterization of studies of race, gender, disability, etc. as “grievance studies”—reveals an aggrieved agenda all its own, one that ignores the serious problems corrupting other disciplines (e.g. industry funding in academic sciences, or the gross overuse of undergraduate students as the main subjects of studies—groups that hardly represent the general population.)

Some, but not all, of the successfully-published hoax papers sound ludicrous and terrible. Some, in fact, do not, as Justin Weinberg shows at Daily Nous, and should not shame the editors who published them. Some of the journals have much higher editorial standards than others. (An early hoax attempt by Boghossian targeted an ill-reputed, pay-to-play publication.) The whole affair may speak to broader failures in academic publishing that go beyond a tiny corner of the humanities. In part, those failures may stem from a general trend toward overworked, underpaid, increasingly precarious scholars whose disciplines, and funding, have been under relentless political attack since at least the 1990s and who must keep grinding out publications, sometimes of dubious merit, as part of the overall drive toward sheer productivity as the sole measure of success.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Designer Creates a 3D-Printed Stamp That Replaces Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman on the $20 Bill

Above we have a very short video of a hand stamping the face of freedom fighter and abolitionist Harriet Tubman, aka Araminta Ross, over the stony mug of Andrew Jackson, aka Old Hickory, “Indian Killer,” and slaveholding seventh president of the United States who presided over the Indian Removal Act that inaugurated the Trail of Tears with a speech to Congress in which he concluded the only alternative to forcing native people off their land might be “utter annihilation.”

Hero to America Firsters, Jackson has featured on the U.S. twenty-dollar bill since 1928. Ironically, he was bestowed this honor under Calvin Coolidge, a progressive Republican president when it came to Civil Rights, who in 1924 signed the Indian Citizenship Act into law, granting all Indigenous people dual tribal and U.S. citizenship.




Anyway, you’ll recall that in 2016, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew announced “the most sweeping and historically symbolic makeover of the American currency in a century,” as The New York Times reported, “proposing to replace the slaveholding Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with Harriet Tubman.”

Furthermore, Lew planned to add historic feminist and Civil Rights figures to the five and ten dollar bills, an idea that did not come to fruition. But as we awaited the replacement of Jackson with Tubman, well… you know what happened. Andrew Jackson again became a figurehead of American racism and violence, and the brutal new administration walked back the new twenty. So designer Dano Wall decided to take matters into his own hands with the creation of the 3D-printed Tubman stamp. As he shows in the short clip above, the transformed bills still spend when loaded into vending and smart card machines.

Of course you might never do such a thing (maybe you just want to print Harriet Tubman faces on plain paper at home?), but you could, if you downloaded the print files from Thingiverse and made your own Tubman stamp. Wall refers to an extensive argument for the legality of making Tubman twenties. It perhaps holds water, though the Treasury Department may see things differently. In the British Museum “Curator’s Corner” video above, numismatist Tom Hockenhull shows us a precedent for defacing currency from shortly before World War I, when British suffragists used a hammer and die to stamp “Votes for Women” over the face of Edward VII.

The “deliberate targeting of the king,” writes the British Museum Blog, “could be likened to iconoclasm, a direct assault on the male authority figures that were perceived to be upholding the laws of the country.” It’s a practice supposedly derived from an even earlier act of vandalism in which anarchists stamped “Vive l’Anarchie” on coins. The process would have been difficult and time-consuming, “probably carried out by a single person using just one set of individual alphabet stamps.” Thus it is unlikely that many of these coins were made, though historians have no idea how many.

But the symbolic protest did not stand alone. The defaced currency spread the message of a broad egalitarian movement. The ease of making Tubman twenties could spread a contemporary message even farther.

via Kottke

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Tom Waits Releases a Timely Cover of the Italian Anti-Fascist Anthem “Bella Ciao,” His First New Song in Two Years

La Complaine du Partisan,” a song about the French Resistance written in 1943 by Emmanuel d’Astier de la Vigerie with music by Anna Marly, was adapted into English as “The Partisan” by Hy Zaret, author of the Righteous Brother’s “Unchained Melody.” Covered by artists like Joan Baez and, most famously, Leonard Cohen, the song’s folk melody and melancholy lyricism have become so closely associated with Cohen that it has often been credited to him. Even Cohen himself remarked “I kind of re-introduced ["The Partisan"] into the world of popular music. I feel I wrote it, but I actually didn’t.”

Now another artist of Cohen’s stature, Tom Waits, may do the same for those who have never heard the World War II Italian anti-fascist song, “Bella Ciao,” which has been covered for decades in many languages and now appears as the first release on guitarist and composer Marc Ribot’s Songs of Resistance: 1942-2018, an album of protest music that comes out today and features guest vocals by Waits, Steve Earle, Meshell Ndegeocello, Justin Vivian Bond, and more. You can stream and buy the album here at Ribot’s Bandcamp page. Waits’ track is the first song he has released in two years, and it’s a helluva return.




The song comes from an old Italian folk ballad that was “revised and re-written during World War II for the Italian anti-fascist resistance fighters,” notes Sam Barsanti at The Onion’s A.V. Club. It has "since become an anthem of sorts for anyone looking to stick it to fascists.” Ribot and his collaborators fit the description. Waits' “Bella Ciao” was released with a video, directed by Jem Cohen, “that makes its parallels with modern life very explicit,” Barsanti writes, “pairing Waits’ vocals with footage of police and soldiers guarding barricades at anti-Trump protests. It may sound heavy-handed, but fuck it, nobody said fighting fascists had to be subtle.”

Subtle it isn’t, but neither is the banning of Muslim refugees, the kidnapping and detention in camps of hundreds of migrant children, the transfer of $169 million dollars from other programs—including FEMA and the Coast Guard during yet another fatal hurricane season—for even more camps and ICE raids, the lying denial that thousands were left to die in Puerto Rico last year, and so on and so on.

Other songs on the album draw from the U.S. civil rights movement and Mexican protest ballads. At his site, Ribot acknowledges the perennial problem of the protest song. “There’s a lot of contradiction in doing any kind of political music, how to act against something without becoming it, without resembling what you detest… I imagine we’ll make mistakes,” he avows, but says the stakes are too high not to speak out. “From the moment Donald Trump was elected,” he decided “I’m not going to play downtown scene Furtwangler to any orange-comb-over dictator wannabe.” (The reference is to Wilhelm Furtwängler, leading classical conductor in Germany under the Nazi regime.)

Like so many folk songs, “Bella Ciao” has a complex and murky history: the original version, a peasant work song, may have a Yiddish origin, or in any case—explains the blog Poemas del rio wang—emerged from a region “where Jews, Romanians, Rusyns, Gypsies, Ukranians, Hungarians, Italians, Russians, Slovakians, Polish, Czech, Armenians, [and] Taters lived together” and where “melodies did not remain the exclusive property of only one ethnic group.” This submerged background gives the re-written “Bella Ciao” an even deeper resonance with the anti-fascism of the 1940s and that of today.

See the video and hear Waits and Ribot’s haggard yet determined “Bella Ciao (Goodbye Beautiful)” at the top; hear Italian singer Giovanna Daffini’s recording above (hear her version of the original folk song here); read more about the song’s long history here; and read Waits’ lyrics, slightly revised from earlier versions to be even more explicitly anti-fascist, below. All proceeds from Ribot’s album will be donated to the Indivisible Project.

One fine morning
I woke up early
o bella ciao, bella ciao
bella ciao, ciao, ciao
One fine morning
I woke up early
to find the fascists at my door

Oh partigiano
take me with you
bella ciao, bella ciao
goodbye, beautiful
oh partigiano
please take me with you
I’m not afraid anymore

And if I die
a partigiano
bella ciao, bella ciao
goodbye, beautiful
Bury me
up on that mountain
beneath the shadow of the flower

So all the people
the people passing
bella ciao, bella ciao
goodbye, beautiful
So all the people
the people passing
will say: “What a beautiful flower”

This is the flower
of the partisan
bella ciao, bella ciao
bella ciao
this is the flower
of the partisan
who died for freedom

this is the flower
of the partisan
who died for freedom

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Noam Chomsky Defines The Real Responsibility of Intellectuals: “To Speak the Truth and to Expose Lies” (1967)

Image by Andrew Rusk, via Wikimedia Commons

The novel medium of social media—and the novel use of Twitter as the official PR platform for public figures—allows not only for endless amounts of noise and disinformation to permeate our newsfeeds; it also allows readers the opportunity to refute statements in real time. Whether corrections register or simply get drowned in the sea of information is perhaps a question for a 21st century Marshall McLuhan to ponder.

Another prominent theorist of older forms of media, Noam Chomsky, might also have an opinion on the matter. In his 1988 book Manufacturing Consent, written with Edward Herman, Chomsky details the ways in which governments and media collude to deliberately mislead the public and socially engineer support for wars that kill millions and enrich a handful of profiteers.

Moreover, in mass media communications, those wars, invasions, “police actions,” regime changes, etc. get conveniently erased from historical memory by public intellectuals who serve the interests of state power. In one recent example on the social medium of record, Twitter, Richard N. Haas, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, expressed dismay about the disturbingly cozy state of affairs between the U.S. Administration and Putin’s Russia by claiming that “International order for 4 centuries has been based on non-interference in the international affairs of others and respect for sovereignty.”




One recent critique of foreign policy bodies like CFR would beg to differ, as would the history of hundreds of years of colonialism. In a very Chomsky-like rejoinder to Haas, journalist Nick Turse wrote, “This might be news to Iraqis and Afghans and Libyans and Yemenis and Vietnamese and Cambodians and Laotians and Koreans and Iranians and Guatemalans and Chileans and Nicaraguans and Mexicans and Cubans and Dominicans and Haitians and Filipinos and Congolese and Russians and….”

Genuine concerns about Russian election tampering notwithstanding, the list of U.S. interventions in the “affairs of others” could go on and on. Haas’ initial statement offers an almost perfect example of what Chomsky identified in another essay, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” as not only a “lack of concern for truth” but also “a real or feigned naiveté about American actions that reaches startling proportions.”

“It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies,” wrote Chomsky in his 1967 essay. “This, at least, may seem enough of a truism to pass over without comment. Not so, however. For the modern intellectual, it is not at all obvious.” Chomsky proceeds from the pro-Nazi statements of Martin Heidegger to the distortions and outright falsehoods issued routinely by such thinkers and shapers of foreign policy as Arthur Schlesinger, economist Walt Rostow, and Henry Kissinger in their defense of the disastrous Vietnam War.

The background for all of these figures’ distortions of fact, Chomsky argues, is the perpetual presumption of innocence on the part of the U.S., a feature of the doctrine of exceptionalism under which “it is an article of faith that American motives are pure, and not subject to analysis.” We have seen this article of faith invoked in hagiographies of past Administrations whose domestic and international crimes are conveniently forgotten in order to turn them into foils, stock figures for an order to which many would like to return. (As one former Presidential candidate put it, “America is great, because America is good.”)

Chomsky would include the rhetorical appeal to a nobler past in the category of “imperialist apologia”—a presumption of innocence that “becomes increasingly distasteful as the power it serves grows more dominant in world affairs, and more capable, therefore, of the unconstrained viciousness that the mass media present to us each day.”

We are hardly the first power in history to combine material interests, great technological capacity, and an utter disregard for the suffering and misery of the lower orders. The long tradition of naiveté and self-righteousness that disfigures our intellectual history, however, must serve as a warning to the third world, if such a warning is needed, as to how our protestations of sincerity and benign intent are to be interpreted.

For those who well recall the events of even fifteen years ago, when the U.S. government, with the aid of a compliant press, lied its way into the second Iraq war, condoning torture and the “extraordinary rendition” of supposed hostiles to black sites in the name of liberating the Iraqi people, Chomsky’s Vietnam-era critiques may sound just as fresh as they did in the mid-sixties. Are we already in danger of misremembering that recent history? “When we consider the responsibility of intellectuals,” Chomsky writes, the issue at hand is not solely individual morality; “our basic concern must be their role in the creation and analysis of ideology.”

What are the ideological features of U.S. self-understanding that allow it to recreate past errors again and again, then deny that history and sink again into complacency, perpetuating crimes against humanity from the Cambodian bombings and My Lai massacre, to the grotesque scenes at Abu Ghraib and the drone bombings of hospitals and weddings, to supporting mass killings in Yemen and murder of unarmed Palestinian protestors, to the kidnapping and caging of children at the Mexican border?

The current ruling party in the U.S. presents an existential threat, Chomsky recently opined, on a world historical scale, displaying "a level of criminality that is almost hard to find words to describe." It is the responsibility of intellectuals, Chomsky argues in his essay—including journalists, academics, and policy makers and shapers—to tell the truth about events past and present, no matter how inconvenient those truths may be.

Read Chomsky’s full essay, "The Responsibility of Intellectuals," at The New York Review of Books.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

George Orwell Identifies the Main Enemy of the Free Press: It’s the “Intellectual Cowardice” of the Press Itself

Image by BBC, via Wikimedia Commons

Tucked away in the style section of yesterday’s Washington Post—after the President of the United States basically declared allegiance to a hostile dictator, again, after issuing yet more denunciations of the U.S. press as “enemies of the people”—was an admonition from Margaret Sullivan to the “reality-based press.” “The job will require clarity and moral force,” writes Sullivan, “in ways we’re not always all that comfortable with.”

Many have exhausted themselves in asking, what makes it so hard for journalists to tell the truth with “clarity and moral force”? Answers range from the conspiratorial—journalists and editors are bought off or coerced—to the mundane: they normalize aberrant behavior in order to relieve cognitive dissonance and maintain a comfortable status quo. While the former explanation can’t be dismissed out of hand in the sense that most journalists ultimately work for media megaconglomerates with their own vested interests, the latter is just as often offered by critics like NYU’s Jay Rosen.




Established journalists “want things to be normal,” writes Rosen, which includes preserving access to high-level sources. The press maintains a pretense to objectivity and even-handedness, even when doing so avoids obvious truths about the mendacity of their subjects. Mainstream journalists place “protecting themselves against criticism,” Rosen wrote in 2016, “before serving their readers. This is troubling because that kind of self-protection has far less legitimacy than the duties of journalism, especially when the criticism itself is barely valid.”

As is far too often the case these days, the questions we grapple with now are the same that vexed George Orwell over fifty years ago in his many literary confrontations with totalitarianism in its varying forms. Orwell faced what he construed as a kind of censorship when he finished his satirical novel Animal Farm. The manuscript was rejected by four publishers, Orwell noted, in a preface intended to accompany the book called “The Freedom of the Press.” The preface was "not included in the first edition of the work," the British Library points out, "and it remained undiscovered until 1971."

“Only one of these” publishers “had any ideological motive,” writes Orwell. “Two had been publishing anti-Russian books for years, and the other had no noticeable political colour. One publisher actually started by accepting the book, but after making preliminary arrangements he decided to consult the Ministry of Information, who appear to have warned him, or at any rate strongly advised him, against publishing it.” While Orwell finds this development troubling, “the chief danger to freedom of thought and speech,” he writes, was not government censorship.

If publishers and editors exert themselves to keep certain topics out of print, it is not because they are frightened of prosecution but because they are frightened of public opinion. In this country intellectual cowardice is the worst enemy a writer or journalist has to face, and that fact does not seem to me to have had the discussion it deserves.

The “discomfort” of intellectual honesty, Orwell writes, meant that even during wartime, with the Ministry of Information’s often ham-fisted attempts at press censorship, “the sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary.” Self-censorship came down to matters of decorum, Orwell argues—or as we would put it today, “civility.” Obedience to “an orthodoxy” meant that while “it is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other… it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was ‘not done’ to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness," not by government agents, but by a critical backlash aimed at preserving a sense of “normalcy” at all costs.

At stake for Orwell is no less than the fundamental liberal principle of free speech, in defense of which he invokes the famous quote from Voltaire as well as Rosa Luxembourg’s definition of freedom as “freedom for the other fellow.” “Liberty of speech and of the press,” he writes, does not demand “absolute liberty”—though he stops short of defining its limits. But it does demand the courage to tell uncomfortable truths, even such truths as are, perhaps, politically inexpedient or detrimental to the prospects of a lucrative career. “If liberty means anything at all,” Orwell concludes, "it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

Read his complete essay, "Freedom of the Press," here.

via Brainpickings

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Teaching Tolerance to Activists: A Free Course Syllabus & Anthology

The waters of academia have grown choppy of late, and many veteran sailors have found themselves ill-equipped to navigate the brave new world student activists are forging at a breakneck pace.

Trigger warnings. Safe spaces. Curricula restructured with an eye toward identity. Swift judgments for those who fail to comply.

Admissions brochures and campus tours make frequent mention of their institution’s commitment to social justice. They have to—many high schoolers share the undergrads' beliefs.

Those of us whose college years are but a distant memory shouldn't depend on our school’s alumni mag to paint an accurate picture of the battles that may be raging within. Sustainability, preferred pronouns, and inclusive bathroom facilities may get a mention, but the official organ's unlikely to peek into the abyss where tolerance goes to die.

Cultural scholar Frances Lee, a queer trans person of color recovering from a forced conversion to evangelical Christianity, took a hard look at the problem of intolerance within activist circles as a second year Masters student in Cultural Studies at the University of Washington.

Published exactly one year ago, their essay, Kin Aesthetics: Excommunicate Me from the Church of Social Justice, was plainspoken about the negative side effects of social progress in activist circles, and by extension, on campus:

Telling people what to do and how to live out their lives is endemic to religious and to dogmatic activism. It’s not that my comrades are the bosses of me, but that dogmatic activism creates an environment that encourages people to tell other people what to do. This is especially prominent on Facebook. Scrolling through my news feed sometimes feels Iike sliding into a pew to be blasted by a fragmented, frenzied sermon. I know that much of the media posted there means to discipline me to be a better activist and community member. But when dictates aren’t followed, a common procedure of punishment ensues. Punishments for saying/doing/believing the wrong thing include shaming, scolding, calling out, isolating, or eviscerating someone’s social standing. Discipline and punishment have been used for all of history to control and destroy people. Why is it being used in movements meant to liberate all of us? We all have made serious mistakes and hurt other people, intentionally or not. We get a chance to learn from them when those around us respond with kindness and patience. Where is our humility when examining the mistakes of others? Why do we position ourselves as morally superior to the lowly un-woke?

The essay’s viral success gives extra oomph to "Woker Than Thou: Leftist Activist Identity Formations," a community course Lee designed and taught earlier this year.

Intended for community leaders, political activists, and organizers, Lee welcomed anyone with any interest in the subject, provided they were willing “to stay open to dissenting or unpopular ideas for the sake of discussion, instead of foreclosing certain topics or ideas by judging them as not worthy of attention.”

The 10-week syllabus delved into such relevant topics as Call-out Culture, the False Promises of Empathy, and of course “wokeness,” a term Lee takes care to attribute to Black culture.

While not all of the required readings can be found online, Lee provides a wealth of links to those that can.

Titles include University of San Francisco Professor Rhonda Magee’s "Addressing Social Injustice with Compassion," author Andrea Smith’s "The Problem with Privilege," Trauma Stewardship Institute founder Laura van Dernoot Lipsky’s TEDx Talk on systematic oppression and liberation theory.

There’s even a Sufjan Stevens song that evolved from cheap shots at skater Tonya Harding’s expense to something that considered the “wholeness of the person… with dignity and grace.”

Following Lee’s course materials seems a much more rational way to confront the current social climate than binging on confessional essays by liberal arts professors who feel hamstrung by not-unfounded fears that their students could cost them their jobs … and the good reputation required to secure another.

For further reading, Lee offers free downloads of Toward An Ethics of Activism: A Community Investigation of Humility, Grace and Compassion in Movements for Justice, an anthology that “seeks to disrupt dogmatic, exclusionary activist culture with kindness and connection.”

Find Frances Lee’s "Woker Than Thou" syllabus here.

Download a PDF of the anthology Toward An Ethics of Activism here. (A screen reader accessible version is also available.)

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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