In the West, at least, everyone has become massively aware of the extent of coercion and exploitation in sexual relations.- Slavoj Zizek, "Sign a contract before sex? Political correctness could destroy passion"
However, we should bear in mind also the (no less significant) fact that millions of people on a daily basis flirt and play the game of seduction, with the clear aim of finding a partner for making love. The result of the modern Western culture is that both sexes are expected to play an active role in this game.
When women dress provocatively to attract the male gaze or when they “objectify” themselves to seduce them, they don’t do it offering themselves as passive objects: instead they are the active agents of their own “objectification,” manipulating men, playing ambiguous games, including reserving the full right to step out of the game at any moment even if, to the male gaze, this appears in contradiction with previous “signals.”
This freedom women enjoy bothers all kinds of fundamentalists, from Muslims who recently prohibited women touching and playing with bananas and other fruit which resembles the penis to our own ordinary male chauvinist who explodes in violence against a woman who first “provokes” him and then rejects his advances.
Female sexual liberation is not just a puritan withdrawal from being “objectivized” (as a sexual object for men) but the right to actively play with self-objectivization, offering herself and withdrawing at will. But will it be still possible to proclaim these simple facts, or will the politically-correct pressure compel us to accompany all these games with some formal-legal proclamation (of consensuality, etc.)?
A recent, politically-correct idea is the so-called “Consent Conscious Kit,” currently on sale in the US: a small bag with a condom, a pen, some breath mints, and a simple contract stating that both participants freely consent to a shared sexual act. The suggestion is that a couple ready to have sex either takes a photo holding in their hands the contract, or that they both date and sign it.
Yet, although the “Consent Conscious Kit” addresses a very real problem, it does it in a way which is not only silly but directly counter-productive – and why is that?
The underlying idea is how a sex act, if it to be cleansed of any suspicion of coercion, has to be declared, in advance, as a freely-made conscious decision of both participants – to put it in Lacanian terms, it has to be registered by the big Other, and inscribed into the symbolic order.
As such, the “Consent Conscious Kit” is just an extreme expression of an attitude that grows all around the US – for example, the state of California passed a law requiring all colleges that accept state funding to adopt policies requiring their students to obtain affirmative consent — which it defines as “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity” that is “ongoing” and not given when too drunk, before engaging in sexual activity, or else risk punishment for sexual assault.
“Affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement” – by whom? The first thing to do here is to mobilize the Freudian triad of Ego, Superego, and Id (in a simplified version: my conscious self-awareness, the agency of moral responsibility enforcing norms on me, and my deepest half-disavowed passions).
What if there is a conflict between the three? If, under the pressure of the Superego, my Ego say NO, but my Id resists and clings to the denied desire? Or (a much more interesting case) the opposite: I say YES to the sexual invitation, surrendering to my Id passion, but in the midst of performing the act, my Superego triggers an unbearable guilt feeling?
Thus, to bring things to the absurd, should the contract be signed by the Ego, Superego, and Id of each party, so that it is valid only if all three say YES? Plus, what if the male partner also uses his contractual right to step back and cancel the agreement at any moment in the sexual activity? Imagine that, after obtaining the woman’s consent, when the prospective lovers find themselves naked in bed, some tiny bodily detail (an unpleasant sound like a vulgar belching) dispels the erotic charm and makes the man withdraw? Is this not in itself an extreme humiliation for the woman?
The ideology that sustains this promotion of “sexual respect” deserves a closer look. The basic formula is: “Yes means yes!” – it has to be an explicit yes, not just the absence of a no. “No no” does not automatically amount to a “yes”: because if a woman who is being seduced does not actively resist it, this still leaves the space open for different forms of coercion.
Here, however, problems multiply: what if a woman passionately desires it but is too embarrassed to openly declare it? What if, for both partners, ironically playing coercion is part of the erotic game? And a yes to what, precisely, to what types of sexual activity, is a declared yes? Should then the contract form be more detailed, so that the principal consent is specified: a yes to vaginal but not anal intercourse, a yes to fellatio but not swallowing the sperm, a yes to light spanking but not harsh blows, etc.etc.
One can easily imagine a long bureaucratic negotiation, which can kill all desire for the act, but it can also get libidinally invested on its own. These problems are far from secondary, they concern the very core of erotic interplay from which one cannot withdraw into a neutral position and declare one's readiness (or unreadiness) to do it: every such act is part of the interplay and either de-eroticizes the situation or gets eroticized on its own.
The “yes means yes’ sexual rule is an exemplary case of the narcissistic notion of subjectivity that predominates today. A subject is experienced as something vulnerable, something that has to be protected by a complex set of rules, warned in advance about all possible intrusions that may disturb him/her.
Remember how, upon its release, ET was prohibited in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark: because it’s non-sympathetic portrayal of adults was considered dangerous for relations between children and their parents. (An ingenious detail confirms this accusation: in the first 10 minutes of the film, all adults are seen only below their belts, like the adults in cartoons who threaten Tom and Jerry…)
From today’s perspective, we can see this prohibition as an early sign of the politically-correct obsession with protecting individuals from any experience that may hurt them in any way. And the list can go on indefinitely – recall the proposal to digitally delete smoking from Hollywood classics…
Yes, sex is traversed by power games, violent obscenities, etc., but the difficult thing to admit is that it’s inherent to it. Some perspicuous observers have already noticed how the only form of sexual relation that fully meets the politically correct criteria would have been a contract drawn between sadomasochist partners.
Thus, the rise of Political Correctness and the rise of violence are two sides of the same coin: insofar as the basic premise of Political Correctness is the reduction of sexuality to contractual mutual consent. And the French linguist Jean-Claude Milner was right to point out how the anti-harassment movement unavoidably reaches its climax in contracts which stipulate extreme forms of sadomasochist sex (treating a person like a dog on a collar, slave trading, torture, up to consented killing).
In such forms of consensual slavery, the market freedom of the contract negates itself: and slave trade becomes the ultimate assertion of freedom. It is as if Jacques Lacan’s motif “Kant with Sade” (Marquis de Sade’s brutal hedonism as the truth of Kant’s rigorous ethics) becomes reality in an unexpected way. But, before we dismiss this motif as just a provocative paradox, we should reflect upon how this paradox is at work in our social reality itself.
Sunday, December 31, 2017
Saturday, December 30, 2017
Today the Washington Post published a piece by Maryland state legislator Ariana B. Kelly who writes that there has long been a problem with sexual harassment in Maryland politics:Before I was elected to the state legislature, I worked as an advocate in Annapolis. I knew there was a certain “old boys club” culture that women worked around to get their jobs done. There were offices you didn’t enter without a buddy and committees that had a reputation for being hostile to women. The women legislators I admired were all tough as nails. To do their jobs well, they had to be…The same power dynamics exist in politics that exist in Hollywood. It’s all about relationships and some people have the power to hurt (or help) other people’s careers. Also, like Hollywood, Maryland’s House of Delegates has long been dominated by progressives. Democrats have run the chamber since 1992, long before Kelly was elected in 2010. Kelly doesn’t identify the person who harassed her by name or party. Was she worried about embarrassing a senior member of her own party or about creating a backlash from Republicans? It’s not clear.
The first time a married senior colleague grabbed my rear end, I was shocked. It was my first legislative session, and I was still getting to know people. Two of my male colleagues witnessed this sustained and shameless public groping. I was utterly humiliated. The next morning I went into a female legislator’s office, closed the door and cried.
We talked about reporting the incident but concluded it would publicly embarrass a senior colleague, his allies might rush to his defense and I could be accused of making a big deal out of nothing. If politics is all about relationships, that would not help my career.
Instead, I had a direct conversation with the member and told him, “I look forward to a long productive working relationship with you. Please don’t ever grab my ass again.” Until his retirement, our relationship was always awkward, and I suspect I lost opportunities to work on certain issues as a result. That’s the thing about sexual harassment: Women are never sure exactly how much of their professional potential it limits.
Kelly goes on to say that in the wake of the Access Hollywood tape, she met with the House Speaker to discuss her experiences and those of other women she has spoken to. She’s clearly capitalizing on the moment but the overall effort sounds worthwhile and maybe long overdue. Earlier this month the legislature announced it was updating its sexual harassment policy to track harassment allegations against lawmakers. Governing reports:Maryland will track allegations of sexual harassment made against state lawmakers, and politicians who violate the state’s code of conduct can be expelled from the legislature.Lawmakers in California have been trying to deal with a similar problem in their legislature.
Leaders of the General Assembly voted unanimously Tuesday to update the guidelines for reporting and tracking complaints against state lawmakers — though the identity of the accused wrongdoer will remain confidential.
The new policies come amid a national conversation about holding accountable people accused of sexual misconduct, and they follow a tide of allegations of impropriety by high-profile men in Hollywood, the media and politics.
Sunday, December 24, 2017
Friday, December 15, 2017
The flood of Chinese imports into the U.S. does not just cost jobs. It shuts down factories and businesses altogether, with devastating consequences for the communities where they are located.
After years of denial, it is now widely known that the opening of the U.S. market to Chinese imports was devastating, inflicting deep and lasting damage to many areas in the U.S. Regions most exposed to competition from China not only lost manufacturing jobs, they saw overall employment decline and never recovered. Areas with higher exposure have also been shown to have more people relying on food stamps and disability payments, more people addicted to opioids, lower rates of marriage, higher rates of political polarization, and higher rates of incarceration.
New research suggests that one of the main reasons the damage has been so deep and lasting is that the jobs lost from Chinese imports were not just from companies downsizing or becoming more efficient but from closing manufacturing plants altogether. The paper by four economists — Brian Asquith of the National Bureau of Economic Research and University of California at Irvine’s Sajana Goswami, David Neumark, and Antonio Rodriguez-Lopez — finds that the so-called “China shock” operated mainly through “deaths of establishments.”
This makes the job losses from the China shock fundamentally different from other adverse shocks, such as recessions, that can hit the U.S. labor market. In those situations, job losses are primarily from contractions of the number of people employed at a plant, rather than the outright closing of a plant.
“From a local-labor markets point of view, regional economies are likely to suffer more from deaths than from contractions (which tend to be one-off events or cyclical) because closed establishments can more permanently reduce local employment,” the authors write.
The economists say that many of the workers thrown out of work because of “establishment deaths” are later “reabsorbed” into the “nontradeable” sector, mainly through the births of new establishments. What is not explored in the paper is that many of these nontradeable sector jobs, however, a likely to be lower-paying service sector jobs.
Sunday, December 10, 2017
“America Has a Monopoly Problem — and It’s Huge,” ran a headline in The Nation recently. The piece by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz lamented that “If we don’t like our Internet company or our cable TV we either have no place to turn, or the alternative is no better.”
If you spend any time with left-of-center commentary these days (and everyone should — especially people on the right), you’ll find this is a common theme of late. The New Republic writes about “How Democrats Can Wage a War on Monopolies — and Win.” In The Week, Jeff Spross tells us “What Beer Reveals About Monopoly Power.” (Cliff’s Notes version: nothing good!) At The Huffington Post, Zach Carter and Paul Blumenthal consider the proposed merger of AT&T and Time Warner “intolerable. ... No single entity should have that much power.”
In recent months Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has warned repeatedly about how “a handful of corporations” have “seized power in this country” through economic consolidation. Her colleague Al Franken wants to know “How did big tech come to control so many aspects of our lives?”
Proponents of net neutrality warn that “in a future without net neutrality, instead of being able to watch whatever is being produced by anyone, you’ll either just have to submit to whatever the local monopoly is willing to provide, or pay through the nose for universal service.” Editors at Talking Points Memo discuss “Our Problem With Monopolies.” The New York Times asks, “Is Google a Harmful Monopoly?” And so on.
You could argue that this concern over monopolies, real or alleged, is overwrought. The “gales of creative destruction,” as Joseph Schumpeter called them, do not discriminate: Today’s economic colossus is tomorrow’s kitschy relic (see: Philco radios, Pullman railway cars).
As Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute pointed out not long ago, only 60 of the companies listed on the Fortune 500 in 1955 remain on the list today. The rest went bankrupt, were acquired by or merged with another company, or have been outrun by other firms.
But let’s assume the monopoly alarmists are right: that more consumer choice is better, that the concentration of power is bad, that gaining market share though non-market (and especially political) means is inherently suspect, and that allowing large, impersonal, unaccountable institutions to control the smallest details of our lives is simply wrong. Those points do seem reasonable enough, after all.
Why, then, are so many progressives so enamored of the worst monopolist of all — government?
Take Warren. In one breath, she condemns the lack of consumer options. In the next, she blasts Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for supporting school choice. “Your history of support for policies that would drain valuable taxpayer resources from our public schools and funnel those funds to unaccountable private and for-profit education operators may well disqualify you from such a central role in public education,” she wrote back when DeVos was first nominated.
(Warren wasn’t always opposed to school choice, incidentally. Before running for office, she supported vouchers as a means to produce “schools that offer a variety of programs that parents want for their children, regardless of the geographic boundaries.”)
Speaking of consumer freedom, shouldn’t consumers be able to choose their own health insurance — and even no insurance at all? Apparently not: Warren supports Obamacare, with its individual mandate forcing people to buy coverage regardless of whether they actually want it. What’s more, she has pledged to support Bernie Sanders’ single-payer proposal — under which a single government agency would control health care financing for everybody.
Let that marinate for a minute. If Aetna were to gain monopoly control of the health insurance market by merging with its rivals — or even simply by winning over their customers — Warren would find this abhorrent. But she wants the federal government to do precisely the same thing by edict.
Like Warren, Franken also opposes school vouchers and supports single-payer health care. While generalizations are risky, it’s probably a good bet that many progressives with similar views on corporate monopoly power are perfectly fine with government monopoly power.
Many Democratic politicians are concerned about the power of Facebook and other tech companies to control what political viewpoints people can hear. And yet they rail against the Citizens United decision, in which the Supreme Court said government may not control what political viewpoints people can hear. (For those with dusty memories, the case concerned whether the government could ban distribution of a movie about Hillary Clinton during the closing days of an election.)
In a speech about the dangers of monopoly power, Warren said: “Giant corporations crush competition. They shut out small rivals and they kill young startups. ... Giant corporations jack up prices and cut corners on quality. ... Many giant corporations don’t win in the marketplace because they’re better. They win because they are big.”
For all the power corporations have, though, even the biggest lack a monopoly exercised by government: the monopoly over the legitimate use of force. Facebook can’t compel you to join its social network — but the federal government has the power to make you join the Army. Apple can’t force you buy an iPod at the point of a gun, but governments oblige you to purchase services you don’t want all the time. Strange, isn’t it, that Warren and others who rail about the danger of monopoly are so eager to wield the power of the biggest monopoly of all?
Saturday, December 2, 2017
The Senate passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on Saturday, which serves as one of the final steps for Congress to pass historic tax legislation.So the corporatists have been given one more chance to spread the wealth to the American workers. When this fails to yield a prosperous Middle Class, perhaps we'll get back to the original Trumpian idea. Eliminate corporate privileges and return to Small Business equitable playing field, where over-capitalized firms can no longer afford "robot" workers.
The Senate passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act 51-49, almost entirely along party lines, with Vice President Mike Pence presiding over the vote. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) voted against the bill, and 48 Democrats voted against the tax reform legislation as well.
Reluctant Republican senators such as Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) voted for the bill after last-minute changes were made. Flake received a commitment from Republican leadership and the White House that they would pursue a permanent solution for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) illegal aliens, while Collins received a provision that would keep the deduction for state and local taxes (SALT).
The Senate agreed earlier this month to move forward on the motion, 52-48, to proceed on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The Senate Budget Committee passed tax reform legislation on Tuesday, even after Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) expressed skepticism about the bill’s current form. Corker reported that he was reassured about the Senate bill including a “fiscal trigger” that will dial back the tax cuts should the tax bill fall short of revenue projections.
The Senate bill retains the current income tax system’s seven brackets, while the House version collapses the seven brackets into four. The wealthiest Americans would have their income tax fall to 38.5 percent, while the lowest tax bracket will fall to ten percent. Similar to the House tax bill, the Senate version will double the standard deduction for individuals to $12,000, and $24,000 for married couples. The Senate bill also raises the child tax credit from $1,000 per child to $1,650.
Unlike the House draft, the Senate tax bill eliminates Obamacare’s individual mandate to purchase health insurance.
The House passed their version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act earlier in November.
Now that the Senate passed their version of the tax reform legislation, the House and Senate will have to convene a conference committee to reconcile the differences between the two bills. Once the two chambers of Congress draft a unified bill, the House and Senate will have to pass the same bill to send the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to President Donald Trump’s desk to sign the bill into law.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is desperate to pass tax reform legislation after failing on multiple occasions to repeal Obamacare. Breitbart News reported that Mitch McConnell’s future rides on passing tax reform in the face of a populist-nationalist uprising in the 2018 midterm elections.
President Donald Trump said that passing the tax reform bill would ensure a “Merry Christmas” for the country.
Trump declared, “This week’s vote can be the beginning of the next great chapter for the American worker.”