On: Grouphome work.

I left the grouphome for the last time this morning. The staff (most of whom I had never had the privilege to meet) pitched in and got me $40 in Tim Horton’s gift certificates (which was sweet, if not random). This gesture just makes me feel even guiltier about leaving (seeing as how they have yet to find a replacement for me). The tricky part is that most of my co-workers are immigrants with young families; filling in sleep shifts (when they are already working 70+ hours a week just to cover a skeleton crew) is impossible.

In Calgary, you can make more money working at Tim Horton’s than you can working in a grouphome. The result is that these homes are often dangerously understaffed. Who wants to deal with that shit (literally)? Who wants to deal with the low pay, the long hours, and never knowing how your day is going to go?

I’ve been doing this kind of work now for nine years, and probably 98% of that time has been incident free (the 2% occurring in the last year). I wrote my MA thesis while working in a grouphome. I have lasting friendships, with both staff and clients from working in grouphomes. I read a lot of books, watched a lot of tv. Though I have mostly posted my horror stories, the truth is that most of the nights I spent there were fine. Sometimes uncomfortable, but it gave me a homebase, complete with a shower, Internet connection and a nice bed.

I leave feeling conflicted and guilty about my privelege.

Western Ontario Gazette are Pro-Rape

I leave that as a statement.

This is from my friend Melanie Thomas‘s blog, and is directed at all of you who claim to be feminists,  but with the qualifier that “you know, not the kind that hate men.” AKA: being part of the problem.

From Anita:

The IDIOTS at the Gazette at the University of Western Ontario think that they are smart enough to come up with political satire on their own … yet, like spineless and unintellegent fools, this year their spoof has gone WAY to fucking far. Their spoof “Labia Majora Carnage” (a disgusting title in itself) make light of rape, women and challenges the idea that University’s might actually be centres of higher learning …

There has been outrage across Universities in Canada. Yet, these assholes’ (at the UWO Gazette) response was a not-so-articulate “get over yourselves” – because they actually think that this is good satire.

I have attached the original text, their response and a very well written facebook comment in response…

Labia Majora Carnage
by “Xavier”
Gazette Staff

Last night, local women hit the streets for the first ever Take Back the Nightie march.
The march was led by members of Western’s Women’s Issues Network, who, for the first time all year, left their circle in the University Community Centre, where witnesses claim they perform tribal dances and yell alienating slurs about pussies and cunts.
The march was organized because women were sick of wearing uncomfortable, soul-crushing lingerie for their boyfriends, lesbian lovers and partners whose gender aren’t identifiable.
“My vagina told me she hates thongs… they’re far too restrictive,” said Jennifer Ostrich, a vocal WIN member. “And what my vagina wants, my vagina gets. Nighties are far more comfortable and practical. They let my vagina be free to the world so she can speak out and say whatever she wants.”
Katie Conservative, another WIN member, said the march also aims to reclaim nighties from cross-dressing men who have bogarted white, crocheted, old-fashioned nighties for far too long.
“My vagina told me that for too long, men have taken things that are rightfully ours,” Conservative said. “Tonight we take back nighties just like we took back hairy armpits and stilettos, even though trannies are still trying to steal them too.”
Near the end of the march, chaos broke out when Ostrich’s vagina crawled from under flowing white nightie, stole a loudspeaker and went on a rampage.
“How dare you act like you know what I have to say,” the vagina screamed down Richmond Row.
“You don’t know me, bee-otch,” it squealed. “You can’t even see me through all this hair you’ve let over-grow. Think of me. I can’t even breathe down here!”
Upon seeing the chaos, London Police Chief Murray Faulkner stopped greasing his nightstick and intervened.
He grabbed the loudspeaker from Ostrich’s wild vagina and took it into a dark alley to teach it a lesson.
To Ostrich’s dismay, the vagina followed, giggling as it said, “I love it when a man in uniform takes control.”
Women were delighted to see groups of men standing on the sidewalks in support.
“It was so great to see men supporting us in our nighties and helping us to spread vagina peace and love,” Conservative said.
One man held a sign that read, “Yeah baby, I’ll take back your nightie anytime!”
What the marchers couldn’t see was that the men were using their penises as the beat off to the women in their long, flowing garbs.
“It takes a little imagination, but once you picture them without the nasty dreadlocks, the hideous piercings, the hairy pits and the beards, some of them are actually kinda hot,” said Cocky McFratboy, while taking a break from masturbating.
The event ended when a man sent WIN into a screaming, tribal frenzy by yelling, “You want an opinion! With a push-up bra, you could actually have a nice rack of lamb going on there!”

Talkin’ satire and the spoof issue

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

It has come to our attention that some of the Western community is disappointed or even furious with last Friday’s Spoof Issue. Debate is occurring on some campus message boards and a protest is supposedly happening Thursday in the University Community Centre atrium at 1:30 p.m.

Some of these students, who belong to campus minority groups, feel they were negatively portrayed or were outright attacked in the Spoof Issue. Our response? Get over yourself.

Ninety per cent of satire will offend somebody. For the most part, jokes inherently involve making fun of something. Indeed, there’s a time and place for jokes. We believe The Gazette Spoof Issue is one of them.

The only thing more absurd than the Spoof Issue itself is the notion it was some convoluted scheme to indoctrinate Western with our heterosexual, misogynist, homophobic, racist, zombie-hating ideology.

Were we homophobic when publishing a story documenting different students’ sexual orientations and the stigmas they face in the university environment (Feb. 14, 2007)? Were we racist when covering Black History Month (Feb. 9, 2007)? Did we impede religious freedom when reporting on Islam Awareness Day (Feb. 7, 2007)? Were we sexist when tackling female professors’ struggles to shatter the glass ceiling (March 8, 2007)?

As is often the case in this extremely PC era, there’s a knee-jerk reaction to the first sign of something “negative.” It doesn’t matter how out of context the supposedly detrimental pieces are from the paper’s mission; it’s easier to strike quickly while charged with emotion than to thoughtfully consider the circumstances. Who cares what The Gazette publishes in 99 of its issues — it’s the one that looks like it should be sold in grocery store checkout lines that really matters, right?

Of course, even if our work is entirely in jest, critics say, we’re promoting a negative message for Western to blindly gobble up. But please don’t insult our readers’ intelligence.

Our readers will notice, for example, that there were social commentaries or criticisms of Western culture beneath some of the barbs tossed on Friday’s pages. Conversely, they’re smart enough to realize that, in many cases, there’s simply no point besides the absolute absurdity of the situation (if the zombie gracing the front page didn’t tip you off, perhaps the swarm of bees exploding from former University Students’ Council presidential candidate Josh Safer’s mouth did).

We’ve yet to receive a single letter to the editor bashing Friday’s Spoof Issue. Maybe, as it’s been written on a message board, most Western students “have become so jaded in terms of both The Gazette and the administration’s lack of action that few students are willing to even come forward to speak up against this any longer.”

Or maybe it’s just that most of Western’s religions, women, homosexuals, babies, god-like dictators, cyclists, student politicians, police, librarians, help groups, administration, squirrels, geese and zombies know a joke when they see one.


I should, for the sake of academic self-preservation, be working furiously on an essay of still-uncertain argument or getting a decent night’s sleep so I’ll be fresh for tomorrow’s slog, but Facebook procrastination has led me here and now I’m too angry to think about anything but the stupidity and callousness and cowardice of the UWO Gazette’s anonymous rape satirist and his defenders on the paper’s editorial board. I haven’t come close to reading everything that’s been written about the article in question or the editors’ response to the outcry against it, here or elsewhere. Excuse me if I repeat what others have already said. I apologize, also, if this reads a too much like a stuffy English paper: I’ve been working on stuffy English papers all day, every day for so long that I find myself using formal prose to order pizza and writing love letters in MLA style.

Let’s set aside “Labia Majora Carnage” (I feel gross just typing that title) itself for a moment and consider the paper’s response to its detractors. The Gazette’s editors, in their letter of April 4, try to have it both ways. On one hand, they defend their offensiveness by stating, more or less accurately, that “ninety per cent of satire will offend somebody” as it “inherently involve[s] making fun of something”, and puff themselves up as serious social commentators in noting the “criticisms of Western culture beneath some of the barbs tossed” in the April Fools’ issue. On the other hand, they suggest that everybody knows the issue is a silly romp and claim that “Labia Majora” is so obviously a playful exercise in pure “absurdity” that the “PC” killjoys who take their “joke” seriously “insult [their] readers’ intelligence”. How disingenuous. How slimy. Any halfway attentive reader sees that the article is intended as social commentary. Ugly, idiotic, utterly wrongheaded social commentary. I might find the paper’s reluctance to stand by it as such a little bit encouraging if I thought for a moment that they were feeling ashamed of what “Xavier” was saying about Western culture in their pages, rather than just scrambling to do damage control.

The editors do get one thing right: satire is about making fun of things. It is a form of discourse, a way of saying something. That it uses irony and humour is no reason not to take what it says seriously.

So what, then, does the author of “Labia Majora Carnage” seem to be saying?

1. That “Take Back the Night” (and, presumably, similar events that aim to raise awareness of sexual assault and violence against women) are silly and, by implication, that the problems they address aren’t as big a deal as feminists and others make them out to be.

2. That feminists (or, at the very least, feminist groups on the UWO campus) are cultish, contemptuous of men, and obsessed with their genitalia. Also, that their frank talk about their reproductive systems is “alienating”.

3. That women form irrational commitments because they’re women (“My vagina told me that…”, “What my vagina wants, my vagina gets”, etc.) Note–if it’s humanly possible to miss it–the author’s fixation on, and apparent revulsion at, the vagina.

4. That feminism (or, to give the author the benefit of the doubt, some form of radical feminism prevalent enough to be represented by a substantial campus group) aims to entrench a definite gender role (involving, in an unconventional mix of stereotypes, lacy nighties and stiletto heels as well as hairy armpits and pudenda) at the expense of gay and transsexual play with gender.

5. That the crazy, rampaging man-haters “Xavier” associates with anti-rape protests are in some sense out of control. (The editors’ complaints about excessively “PC” “minority groups” spoiling their fun make the same suggestion more subtly than the author’s personification of a protester’s vagina as a terrorist does.)

6. That male violence or the sexual domination of women or assertive masculinity–or anything that could conceivably be represented satirically as rape by an authority figure–is a desirable or at least satisfyingly amusing response to the above ‘problem’.

7. That jokes at the expense of rape victims are potentially funny. (This flippancy is related to the implication of 1. that the seriousness of rape, as a social problem if not as a crime, is overstated.)

8. That, much as women complain about rape, deep down some of them (most of them? all of them?) like it.

9. That men advocating feminist causes (or, anyway, male university students doing so) are mainly out to get laid. (Admittedly, this isn’t unheard of.)

10. That frat boys objectify women, masturbate lots, and can be really disgusting. (As a generalization, this seems fair enough.)

11. That deep down, women, even bushy-armpitted feminist activist types, not only appreciate but are sexually excited by displays of fratboyish objectification. (A less baldly misogynistic, but still pretty baldly misogynistic, echo of 8.)

With the exception of 10. and maybe 9., all of the above points are patently wrong, to varying degrees hateful of women, and for the most part inflammatory to victims of sexual assault. That they are made in series of (badly written, painfully unfunny) jokes makes them no less worthy of protest.

It’s not that I don’t get the joke. I get it all too well.

It’s not that I think rape or anything else ought to be off limits for satire. The failure of men in and out of power to recognize the enormity of rape as a social problem, for instance, and the effect that their routine trivialization of it as a mere “woman’s issue” or, worse, a punch line, likely plays in perpetuating the problem is a ripe and worthy target for satirists. I only reserve the right to call out boors or bigots when they use satire to say something contemptible.

It’s not that I take “Xavier” or the Gazette editorial board for cowards because they couch their views in satire. That’s fine. Rather, I’m convinced of their cowardice by the author’s decision to publish “Labia Majora” anonymously and the editors’ unwillingness to defend the article’s “criticisms of Western culture”, though they saw fit to publish it.

Serious people sign their names and say what they mean.

James Phelan
Procrastinator, feminist, guy who’s mad as hell and loath to take it anymore
Liberal Arts College, Concordia University

Vonnegut, RIP *

Kurt Vonnegut, Writer of Classics of the American Counterculture, Dies at 84 “His death was reported by Morgan Entrekin, a longtime family friend, who said Mr. Vonnegut suffered brain injuries as a result of a fall several weeks ago. Mr. Vonnegut wrote plays, essays and short fiction. But it was his novels that became classics of the American counterculture, making him a literary idol, particularly to students in the 1960s and ’70s. Dog-eared paperback copies of his books could be found in the back pockets of blue jeans and in dorm rooms on campuses throughout the United States.”

Pouring my watercolours into the ocean…

Is there anything more demoralizing than “Heavy Snowfall Warning” in mid-April?

I quit my group-home job. After next week, I no longer need to spend time in what was turning into an increasingly putrid sleeping environment. One of the newer clients has this thing where he dips towels/face cloths/clothing/stolen baby diapers etc. in urine, then stretches it over his heating vent (after sneakily turning the heat as far as it will go).
His reason for doing this? He likes the smell.

I don’t like the smell.

I came on my shift last night and immediately threw up in my mouth a little, and ended up sleeping in the unfinished basement on an old couch they have down there to avoid the smell. I have four more shifts of that. I’m hoping to be gone before they release one of the other clients (the one that tried to punch a cop) from the asylum, as that adjustment is not going to go well.

Live Blogging: Seminar in Sociological Theory #13 – FIN

Last class of the semester!

Positive and critical program in Sociology.


Sociology is often uncomfortably seated between two poles of self awareness. One pole is consious self awareness that gives rise to a sense of control (“I am seeing the world”). Consiousness is the determining factor. “Master of the Ship” – “Seize your own fate!” The other pole is being determined by outside factors. You really don’t have a lot of control, and are acting out a shadowplay. Free Will / Self Determination vs. Outside determination.

Darwin, Marx and Freud are our masters of deception. Darwin: uniqueness of human species. Freud: Uncionsiousness – you think you know what you want, but you really don’t. Marx and false consiousness, what we know is infiltrated and we don’t see things correctly.

One of the constant themes in human culture are the gods that are always messing with gods, and then the humans who are able to transgress this boundaries (Demi-gods etc). In the 19th Century.

The conflict between the structure of minds (Levi-Strauss) that is re-enacted in the world vs. Sartre who believed in extistential freedom. We are finally free, at the cost of extistential lonliness. We are cast into the world. Found in the writings of Homans, and his conflict with Marx and coming up with the first in a series of attempts of seeing the human being as a rational character, social action being the product of economic calculations that people make as they weight costs and benefits. Consiousness being able to note. Surface theory because consciousness is not, in fact, false. Homans sees Marx as being smoke in mirrors. Some people want more than others, so lets divide it up like honest men. Homans – self determination. The version of Marx he is reacting against is the determined individual .

Parsons: we are acting out roles, as we are to fill the functions of society. The whole problem (to Durkheim): how do you get people to do the things that society needs to get done, and convince them that they want to do it (“motivated compliance”). Foucault – governmentality – how do you get people to want to be conducted this way.

Finally, we get to Bourdieu’s “Unchosen choices” – yes we are choosing (Bloomer is right!), but many of their choices are unchosen because they can’t choose them. Few of us are able to put into place principles of vision and dividsion. We inherit those principles.

For Foucault, these things are historically contingent. On the other hand, they go both ways; good and evil. At the end of his life, you get truth of the truth teller (“Fearless speach”). There is no problematic of the truth tellers perspective. It is holy untroubled.


Other way of summarizing:

(p.197) Latour: “if there is one social theory mistake, it would be to ask if baboons would be able to find roles within a structure.”

Its not our fault we were born into a dysfunctional family!


Lets spend the rest of the time talking about Tolstoy.

Foucauldian moment: the mob rule before Napoleon gets there : “All the horrors of the reign of terror in France were based on a need to keep the peace”

Predicts Bourdieu: Prince Vasselay “but influence in society is capital ” _those who get ahead, will be because their fathers advanced someone else. Not a sure thing.

Habitus: Prince Andre, riding his horse onto Hillside, playing toy soldiers with his army: thinking of it like a chess game: “This was his way of thinking” – while we, the readers were caught up in thinking along, we were also thinking that way. Important in not what we were not seeing. Habitus: each of us has or ways of thinking. As sociologists, we have a responsible to see how this excludes other ways of seeing. If there is a vocation for Sociology with an awareness of what you are not doing, and what the cost is, and are willing to pay the full cost, and therefore, the only way of seein

Anatole: What am I doing wrong? Its the way I have always been doing things. The embodyment of habitus – “every fiber of his being” – and how can what I need be wrong? Napoleon – extrodinary achievement/horrible destruction.

Pierre: absorbed in what lay ahead. The thing is impossible, not in an intrinsic difficulty, but because they have to work out of character, working out of habitus. It is agonizing,

Vasselay: Not planning ahead. Man of the world, turned success into habit (“Feel for the game”).

Rostov: “Couldn’t have said how or why he did it” – he “knew” that this would be their moment. This is feel for the game.

Illusio: the “good commander” needs to be narrow minded. Otherwise he would never have enought staying power, only then would he become a great commander. Knowing the stakes of the game: no one is as dangerous or productive.
Latour: Habitus is fine once we liberate it from Social Theory.


How is Tolstoy an ANT?

Descriptions of causes….explanations require that things have causes.

“Incalcuable multiplicity of causes…”

This is like Elias – the civilizing process. All of these causes come together with no single cause – they are bound to happen because… they are bound to happen. The human mind cannot grasp the full number of causes.

What do we do? One approach is reductionism.

There are some laws that we can comprehend, and others that are beyond our grasp. TO stop believing in the earth as a fixed entity. It means we understand anything as multiple, depending on how they are enacted.

Events that are always over-determined for Tolstoy, what kind of science can there be, that no-one can know in advance. Whatever happens depends on a range of conditions that no one can know… Hinterland? So many possibilities. You don’t know what is going to carry forward.

Each man gets what he wants; feels with every fibre of his being that he is free to do what he feels.

There are two sides of life for every individual: A personal life… and an “elemental life within the swarm of humanity” –

For Tolstoy, there is a balance: Neither is more important. Out of all this, we get emergence. No one ever predicted Napoleon, and no one worked it out ahead of time. It came about step by step (emergence), moment by moment. Emerging from unimaginably difference circumstances.

What sociology likes to do is postulate ideal types of actors, and attribute them to finite sets of possibilities. Instead of seeing them emerge moment by moment. Only then does it come to be what it was. Tolstoy renders much Sociology impossible, because you can’t know in advance. Follow entities, see how they come together. Go in, see what emerges.

The strongest case for emergence is the truth: the world wasn’t invented so sociologists can get their papers out on time. Pretend like the world was designed for us.

It is only when the army got there that people had convinced themselves as this is what they wanted all along. If we have to re-jig our notions, we understand it Its only looking back at Naziism, and say “it had to happen that way” – which is neither true nor false.

There is also a strong notion of leadership in W&P.

Neither experiences anything like the begining of event. General is always in the midst of events as they unfold… contemplate the significance as they take place. At any point in the carving out of events, the CEO FIND themselves in the midst of a complex interplay if intrigue and worry…. threats and trickery…. endless flow of contradictory commands…. the problem is that the stakes are high (life depends on it), you know the events are carving their own significance….

P.46 in Latour – moving target… swarming towards it. Gives us the courage to actually be able to see the entities swarming towards us at any moment…. the illusion of stabalization is the feeling that we have risen above, suggest there is some platform that can take us up there… What we should be doing is not reinforcing this notion of rising above, but to give people the courage to LIVE IN IT!!

Time and events will not wait.

Infestesimle elements. ..

Not yet covered….

Sociological Imagination: denial of the astronomical size of life. Wants to put up walls…

Even though Tolstoy insists there are knowable things… thousands of minor causes….colluding and coinciding with each other. What can you do?

Tolstoy treats War and Peace as a historical edifice….   If you read it as an ANT Study of the invasion of Napoleon in Russia… he is keeping it “flat” – refusing to posit any shortcuts which would be  explanations. Exploring all of the rest of London in all of this.

We decided what the interest is in advance, and that is all we see. We don’t see the personal concerns; No one who takes part in his

Live Blogging: Seminar in Sociological Theory #12

Burger and Luckmann – by Agamben (p. 66). All societies are built in the face of chaos.

A lot of Parsonian theory hangs on the assumption that if you don’t stay within the functional boundaries…

Agamben feels that Durkheim had succumbed to the “psychologization of religious experience” characteristic of the “European bourgeoisie” of the time (78). It is not clear whether Agamben is suggesting that Durkheim was blindly imbedded in this mode of thought (a function of the hang-over from the long 19th century perhaps), and therefore unable to see the material and experiential aspects of religious ambiguity, or whether Durkheim was merely pandering to the dominant trends that did not take the sacred as a serious category of material experience and intelligibility.

What is the sphere of the political?

For Agamben, the sacred has become bound with ‘the political.’ In this way, he seems to be reading Schmitt as a theological thinker as much as a political theorist.

For deconstructionism: IT is the odd occurrence that gives the truth. If you want to understand the US, you have to look at Guantanimo Bay. How the system works is by understanding what it needs to marginalize.

The exception sustains the whole.

The Mobius strip.

Homo Saver: Leagally dead, biologically alive.

Knight of the Living Dead

By Slavoj Zizek

1023 words

24 March 2007

The New York Times

LONDON — SINCE the release of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s dramatic confessions, moral outrage at the extent of his crimes has been mixed with doubts. Can his claims be trusted? What if he confessed to more than he really did, either because of a vain desire to be remembered as the big terrorist mastermind, or because he was ready to confess anything in order to stop the water boarding and other ”enhanced interrogation techniques”?If there was one surprising aspect to this situation it has less to do with the confessions themselves than with the fact that for the first time in a great many years, torture was normalized — presented as something acceptable. The ethical consequences of it should worry us all.

While the scope of Mr. Mohammed’s crimes is clear and horrifying, it is worth noting that the United States seems incapable of treating him even as it would the hardest criminal — in the civilized Western world, even the most depraved child murderer gets judged and punished. But any legal trial and punishment of Mr. Mohammed is now impossible — no court that operates within the frames of Western legal systems can deal with illegal detentions, confessions obtained by torture and the like. (And this conforms, perversely, to Mr. Mohammed’s desire to be treated as an enemy rather than a criminal.)

It is as if not only the terrorists themselves, but also the fight against them, now has to proceed in a gray zone of legality. We thus have de facto ”legal” and ”illegal” criminals: those who are to be treated with legal procedures (using lawyers and the like), and those who are outside legality, subject to military tribunals or seemingly endless incarceration.

Mr. Mohammed has become what the Italian political philosopher Giorgio Agamben calls ”homo sacer”: a creature legally dead while biologically still alive. And he’s not the only one living in an in-between world. The American authorities who deal with detainees have become a sort of counterpart to homo sacer: acting as a legal power, they operate in an empty space that is sustained by the law and yet not regulated by the rule of law.

Some don’t find this troubling. The realistic counterargument goes: The war on terrorism is dirty, one is put in situations where the lives of thousands may depend on information we can get from our prisoners, and one must take extreme steps. As Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School puts it: ”I’m not in favor of torture, but if you’re going to have it, it should damn well have court approval.” Well, if this is ”honesty,” I think I’ll stick with hypocrisy.

Yes, most of us can imagine a singular situation in which we might resort to torture — to save a loved one from immediate, unspeakable harm perhaps. I can. In such a case, however, it is crucial that I do not elevate this desperate choice into a universal principle. In the unavoidable brutal urgency of the moment, I should simply do it. But it cannot become an acceptable standard; I must retain the proper sense of the horror of what I did. And when torture becomes just another in the list of counterterrorism techniques, all sense of horror is lost.

When, in the fifth season of the TV show ”24,” it became clear that the mastermind behind the terrorist plot was none other than the president himself, many of us were eagerly waiting to see whether Jack Bauer would apply to the ”leader of the free world” his standard technique in dealing with terrorists who do not want to divulge a secret that may save thousands. Will he torture the president?

Reality has now surpassed TV. What ”24” still had the decency to present as Jack Bauer’s disturbing and desperate choice is now rendered business as usual.

In a way, those who refuse to advocate torture outright but still accept it as a legitimate topic of debate are more dangerous than those who explicitly endorse it. Morality is never just a matter of individual conscience. It thrives only if it is sustained by what Hegel called ”objective spirit,” the set of unwritten rules that form the background of every individual’s activity, telling us what is acceptable and what is unacceptable.

For example, a clear sign of progress in Western society is that one does not need to argue against rape: it is ”dogmatically” clear to everyone that rape is wrong. If someone were to advocate the legitimacy of rape, he would appear so ridiculous as to disqualify himself from any further consideration. And the same should hold for torture.

Are we aware what lies at the end of the road opened up by the normalization of torture? A significant detail of Mr. Mohammed’s confession gives a hint. It was reported that the interrogators submitted to waterboarding and were able to endure it for less than 15 seconds on average before being ready to confess anything and everything. Mr. Mohammed, however, gained their grudging admiration by enduring it for two and a half minutes.

Are we aware that the last time such things were part of public discourse was back in the late Middle Ages, when torture was still a public spectacle, an honorable way to test a captured enemy who might gain the admiration of the crowd if he bore the pain with dignity? Do we really want to return to this kind of primitive warrior ethics?

This is why, in the end, the greatest victims of torture-as-usual are the rest of us, the informed public. A precious part of our collective identity has been irretrievably lost. We are in the middle of a process of moral corruption: those in power are literally trying to break a part of our ethical backbone, to dampen and undo what is arguably our civilization’s greatest achievement, the growth of our spontaneous moral sensitivity.

Terri Schiavo and
the State of Exception

Eric L. Santner

Eric L. Santner reflects on the Terri Schiavo case in light of two new Chicago books on political theology: Giorgio Agamben’s The State of Exception and Julia Reinhard Lupton’s Citizen Saints.

When a series of news items grip the national imagination within a short period of time, one rightly wonders whether there might be connections between them, whether an underlying set of issues animates them. I am thinking of two stories: the Abu Ghraib prison tortures and the Terri Schiavo case. Let us forget for a moment that both stories involve powerful images that don’t simply illustrate the subject matter but actually co-constitute it (the taking of photographs was a tool of humiliation at Abu Ghraib; the images of Terri Schiavo have led many—among them members of Congress—to believe that they know something about her medical condition). What interests me more is how in each story human life is positioned with respect to law and political power.

It is now clear that at Abu Ghraib as well as numerous other detention centers, the problem of prisoner abuse—including clear cases of torture and murder—has not simply been the consequence of a handful of rogue soldiers living out sadistic fantasies on helpless victims. But nor has the problem been one of isolated and contingent miscommunications down the chain of command. The real problem has to do with the legal status of the prisoners themselves and of the sites where they are being detained. With respect to Guantanamo Bay, to cite the most obvious example, the Bush administration has argued that the detention centers there effectively occupy a lawless zone, a site where a permanent (if undeclared) state of exception or emergency is in force. The prisoners have been stripped of all legal protections and stand exposed to the pure force of American military and political power. They have ceased to count as recognizable agents bearing a symbolic status covered by law. They effectively stand at the threshold where biological life and political power intersect. That is why it is fundamentally unclear whether anything those in power do to them is actually illegal.

If places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay represent sites where life, lacking all legal status and protection, stands in maximal exposure to pure political power, then the case of Terri Schiavo—and here I am thinking of the law passed by Congress that was intended to keep her alive—offers us a strange reversal. We find here the paradox of an intrusive excess of legal “protection” that effectively serves to suspend the law (the judicial process running its course in the Florida courts) and take direct hold of human life. A law designed to lift a single individual out of an ongoing judicial process is essentially a form or caprice, law in its state of exception (a sanctioned suspension of legality). This paradox reaches its greatest intensity where the law attempts to take charge of the pure biological life of the human being in question. At this point Terri Schiavo’s life assumes a “biopolitical” dimension in which life and politics can no longer be fully distinguished. To put it simply, if an act of Congress were to lead to the reinsertion of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube, it will not be only water and chemical nutrients that enter her system; it will also be the invasive force of political power. This, of course, says nothing about the cynicism at play in this political power. (Many of the most prominent sponsors of the legislation in question have exhibited a shameless disregard for human life in countless other areas of public policy.)

Another way of thinking about the two faces of the state of exception in which political power takes a direct hold of human life is to note the two modes of reduction/amplification at play in each instance. In Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and other such places, the prisoners are fully sentient beings who in some sense no longer exist in the “book of life”; their legal and symbolic status has been nullified, they have been reduced to a pure point of application of state power (again, how could those in charge of such beings not be confused as to what constitutes abuse?). Terri Schiavo, by contrast, is a no longer sentient being who is having a symbolic status imposed on her (she has become, among other things, the name of a Cause). In the one case we have human life violently stripped of the cover of a symbolic status/value, in the other, the intrusive imposition a symbolic status/value in the absence of sentient life. The results, however, are uncannily similar: the radical exposure of the body to the pure caprice of political power.

With respect to the latter case, one might ask why it matters at all whether Mrs. Schiavo is kept alive by a feeding tube. That is, if it is true that she is in a persistent vegetative state without awareness, without access to pleasure and pain, joy and sadness—and no credible evidence has been brought forward that would cast any doubt on this diagnosis—why should anyone care if her parents take her home and keep her alive artificially? Whom does it harm if this makes her parents happy? I think that many would respond that it harms the soul of Terri Schiavo to be so totally subjected to the will of others even if those others are her parents who no doubt love her (or politicians who at least claim to speak on her behalf). And what greater form of subjection is there than to have the will of others impinge directly on our life substance, our existence as living tissue? Those pleading for state intervention into Terri Schiavo’s persistence as living tissue are pleading for the most radical form of domination one can imagine. And domination does damage to the human soul. I am tempted to say that the effort to keep Terri Schiavo alive is a kind of soul murder.

Of course, the Terri Schiavo case would never have entered the national awareness were it not for certain Christian groups that adopted it as a battleground in the larger cause of defending so-called innocent life. There is much to say about this phrase, “innocent life.” Given the fact that many who oppose abortion also condone capital punishment, one has good reason to wonder whether what is really at stake here is not innocent life but rather living innocence, that is, a fantasy of protecting not a human life but a condition of purity and innocence that can, in turn, only be truly embodied by non-sentient life. Indeed, one cannot help but wonder whether what President Bush has referred to as the “culture of life” only refers to non-sentient life; as soon as one acquires feeling, perception, and awareness one is more or less abandoned to the minimally regulated vagaries of the market place.

Be that as it may, one of the real theological peculiarities at the heart of the Terri Schiavo case pertains to the concepts of creation and creaturely life. As Julia Lupton notes in a wonderful book chapter on Shakespeare’s The Tempest entitled “Creature Caliban,” the word “creature” comes from the future-active participle of the Latin creare, meaning that the “creatura is a thing always in the process of undergoing creation; the creature is actively passive or, better, passionate, perpetually becoming-created, subject to transformation at the behest of the arbitrary commands of an Other.” In its theological sense, then, “creature” isn’t so much the name of a determinate state of being or essence as that of an ongoing exposure, of being caught up in the process of becoming creature through the dictates of divine authority. This dimension of radical subjection—of created thing to Creator God—has induced, in the history of the concept, a series of further articulations, ultimately becoming generalized to signify, as Lupton puts it, “anyone or anything that is produced or controlled by an agent, author, master, or tyrant.” At the end of such a trajectory it makes sense that a word that once denoted the entire domain of nature qua God’s creation comes to be “increasingly applied to those created things that warp the proper canons of creation.” Perhaps the most famous literary example of such a creature is Frankenstein’s monster, itself in many ways an embodiment of an inability to countenance death in modernity, which is no doubt a central feature of the Terri Schiavo case. (Is it not particularly strange that among those who seem to lose all bearings in the face of death, all sense of compassion and reverence, are people who claim deep religious faith?)

What ultimately underwrites this paradoxical passage from the natural to the unnatural in the semantic field of creaturely life is that feature of the “master” I have referred to as the state of exception or emergency. That is, it is not the mere fact of being in a relation of subject to law that generates creaturely “non-nature” but rather the exposure to an “outlaw” dimension of law internal to state authority. Governmental authority in the state of exception marks a sanctioned suspension of law, an outside of law included within the law. Creaturely life emerges precisely at such strange thresholds where the subject is touched by this force of law in excess of law. The decision to categorize the prisoners taken in the “war on terrorism” as enemy combatants without legal status and Congress’s attempt to intervene into the Terri Schiavo case are two instances in which life has been rendered creaturely in this sense.

What is especially disturbing in the Schiavo case is that this process is being performed in the name of a “culture of life” ostensibly consonant with Christian morality. What we find instead is a radical perversion of the order of creation and the theological status of the creature, its conversion, that is, into a purely biopolitical entity. Christianity is being used, in other words, to give cover to the radical intrusion of political power into the sphere of life. A theology that might have provided the resources for deep compassion for a woman in her dying and for the family of this woman, has become instead an ideological tool of political power in a state of exception


Have guns (and helicopters), will travel (review by SCOTT TAYLOR)

Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army

By Jeremy Scahill

Since 2003, Blackwater has expanded rapidly, adding helicopters and aircraft to the corporation’s impressive arsenal and hiring foreign mercenaries on an unprecedented scale. Defining the exact role of these legions of private security contractors on the modern battlefield has not been easy. Scahill uses the court proceedings of two separate incidents — the Fallujah ambush and a Blackwater aircraft crash in Afghanistan — to illustrate the blurred line between actual military units and gun-for-hire corporations.

In defending Blackwater from lawsuits filed by the victims’ families, its lawyers argue that the company should be immune from any liability since it is part of a “U.S. Total Force that includes contractors.” Since these mercenaries are not subject to U.S. military law and have been granted immunity from prosecution in both Iraq and Afghanistan, they literally operate outside the law, with a licence to kill.

The rapid increase in the demand for Blackwater’s services and the corporation’s profit-driven mandate has also led to contractual disputes with a number of foreign recruits. One group of Chileans was promised $6,000 per month, contracted for $2,700 and then told upon their arrival in Iraq that they would only receive $34 per day ($1,000 per month). If they didn’t like the terms, the Chileans were free to head to downtown Baghdad and pay for their own return flights.

The book also profiles a number of the key players who have helped to elevate Blackwater to its present prominence. The former head of the CIA counter-terrorism centre, J. Cofer Black, and ex-inspector-general Joseph Schmitz share Erik Prince’s right-wing religious beliefs, and since joining the company’s executive team, describe themselves as modern-day knights.

For those who think that the deployment of Blackwater’s mercenaries to far-off war zones is of no domestic concern, think again. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Erik Prince’s operatives were dispatched into the storm-ravaged, chaotic streets of New Orleans. While U.S. Coast Guard officials dispute Blackwater’s claims of rescuing victims, local law officials expressed concern over these guns-for-hire engaging in firefights with looters and “gangbangers.”


Sociology of exception:

Exemption, where people claim an exemption, for whatever reason. Connection between Guantanimo Bay and file sharing.

Dowloading, individuals take a stance of necessity or “it doesn’t matter anyways.” Products that are legal, but use of them forces you to do the illegal.

It’s all just equiptment in the amusement park.

These are all in between. They all have to do with a similar problem – people being claimed as, or claiming for themselves, exception. It does’nt count for “me” – I need, I want – over the nomos.


One doesn’t need to become more plugged in. There can be moments when you become less plugged in. Alot of the dynamics of illness involved becoming less plugged in.

Until you work out where the plug ins are added and withdrawn, you are in trouble.

Durkeim -> some deviance is functional. The nomos is being held by the anomic. (see the boundaries of societies).

Not modern: intensively equipt.

Two features of Sociology: 1. Positivism – facts about how things are and how things could be. Informed based on findings/facts. We’ve forgotten about the “fact-ories” (Latour). It forgets it is trading on mediator (confused with intermediaries). The engineers forget they are becoming actors 2. Critical – demystification. Suggests that however you see things, you don’t understand what is really going on. The false consiousness. Point out the ways in which the doxic version supresses the heterodoxa. The job of social sciences is to demistify.

Dorothy is still a critical sociology – ruling relations is part of the projects (seperating the project with ANT). There is this emmanent relation among ruling agencies that multiplies their forces that will relate to each other and multiply their effects.

IE wants to keep things local as well.

If most work falls in one of these two projects. If both of these are suspect: on what basis do you continue to justify a sociology department?  What about branch planting them around. Sociology teaches a set of skills. People pursue their careers in other departments.