Swamping the Drain

Michael Walzer’s admiration for American pluralism, always more than a bit romantic, turns out to have a dark side different from the one usually noted. The latter stresses the wages of abstract universalism: marginal groups are compelled to assimilate or face overt or tacit oppression. But there is a risk stemming directly from pluralism itself: […]

Real News Won’t Save Us

All the handwringing about waning trust in journalism obscures a crucial fact. Sure, the profit motive, the changing political economy of media, and lots of other factors are in play. But suppose journalism could live up to its ideal. What would this mean? The normative benchmark in the profession is investigative reporting. Think “Spotlight.” This […]

The Truth of Trump

In “Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious,” Freud writes: Two Jews met in a railway carriage at a station in Galicia. “Where are you going?” asked one. “To Cracow,” was the answer. “What a liar you are!” broke out the other. “If you say you’re going to Cracow, you want me to believe you’re […]

The Rule of Cynicism

In the age of cynical reason, one of the ruling tropes is the presumed self-interest and sovereign indifference of institutions. A certain vulgar version of Foucault is the default assumption: institutions exist to reproduce themselves and their authority, and they do so by generating the very problems and conflicts that they propose to solve. Ironically, […]

Trigger Warning: Discussion of Trigger Warnings

It often strikes me that the contretemps around TW is miscast in crucial ways. The business of whether or not students are “coddled” and the like entirely misses the sort of discomfort many of us feel about the perfectly reasonable impulse to extend sympathy to students. It’s not only the equally reasonable intuition that education, […]

Misreading Trump(ism)

As I keep tediously insisting, there is a basic problem with the prevailing postulate of two competing alternatives: 1) Trumpism (and politics generally) is driven by economic factors masquerading as cultural ones (racism, xenophobia) or 2) it’s virulent political resentment, and economic factors supply a reassuring fiction that blinds us to this fact. The problem […]

Culture As Politics

“We need to change the culture.” So begins the prevailing script for political reflection and criticism of almost every sort today. Is the problem homophobia? We need to change the culture of masculinity. Is it financial malfeasance? We need to change the culture of Wall Street—or greed, or neoliberalism, or capitalism. Is it militarism? We […]