23 April 2014

The following offers the second part of an experimental harangue directed at the resurgence of popularity of the beard in US culture as a sign of a reactionary assertion of male power meant to respond to or counteract increasing female power. In vulgar terms, the gay slur “my balls on your chin” represents the flip side of “the hair on my chinny chin chin” as a sign of my balls potency, &c. I suggest reading the piece in a spirit of outrageous assertion but also very much as an experiment, if perhaps a failed one.

This is part II of VI (or more); you may find part I here.

Guns and Abraham (Mis-Fire)

Just as one cannot plausibly deny that guns afford intimidation (along with whatever else they afford), one also cannot plausibly deny that the religions of intolerant monotheism afford intimidation (along with whatever else they afford)—where religions of intolerant monotheism means, without being limited to, all manifestations of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; intimidation means “any act experienced in the public domain that threatens the presence of others in that public domain”; and public domain means “any time when two or more people are capable of impinging on one another.”

Now to unpack the above:

First, the parallel between “gun” and “religions of intolerant monotheism” may seem inappropriate; that is, while a gun does, by design, afford inflicting injury or death on others and thus also intimidation, by contrast, the religions of intolerant monotheism—despite a historical record and contemporary events that make clear that such intolerant monotheisms most assuredly do afford inflicting injury or death on others and thus intimidation as well—do not afford these things by design.

This objection amounts partly to a matter of taste. Prevailing social discourse merely provides less resistance to declaring guns afford intimidation than religions of intolerant monotheism afford intimidation, since according to the current prejudice and fashion in the United States people tend to express less fondness for guns than religion. We exhibit a similar prejudice when agreeing that religions of intolerant monotheism at a certain time or in a certain place have, did, or can afford intimidation but then insist this is not everywhere and always the case—particularly not for the time and place of one’s own sect of intolerant monotheism. De gustibus non est disputandum. But this objection also rings disingenuously, since religions of intolerant monotheism afford intimidation not only in the denial of the reality or the validity of others’ beliefs but also by acting and speaking about and toward those others who have different beliefs in terms of the (often horrific) consequences of those others’ unbelief. The intolerance of monotheism generally can be seen in the premise shared by all three: “There is one God from whom emanates one morality for all humanity”—the details of who this “god” is or the details of whatever morality applies to all humanity is non sequitur, of course; the disjunction lies in the fact of all three making the same mutually exclusive claim. Consequently, guns and religions of intolerant monotheism both afford intimidation by design.

Further objecting that, on this view, anyone could be intimidated by virtually anything misses two key points. (1) What something affords consists of the set of anticipated and discovered uses of that something as recognized by a particular individual or community of users. What something affords then is not merely or only whatever subset of those anticipated (designed or discovered) uses a particular individual or community of users make use of it for, since that subset cannot preclude, negate, or erase the other affordances that something might have. So, while different people may interface rather differently with the same artefact, none can claim to have privileged access to what the artefact ‘really’ is even when someone may consider one meaning of a subset of its affordances more important than another, even by settling on a definition for it. (2) Furthermore, not everything affords intimidation by design. A teddy bear affords suffocation; a steak-knife affords slitting someone’s throat; religion affords intolerant monotheism—but not by design, not as an (initially) anticipated use of those things as recognized by a particular individual or community of users. Certainly those who have been terrorized by teddy bears, steak-knives, or religion might or might not experience intimidation again in the presence of those things, but this does preclude, negate, or erase those things’ other affordances. Weapons and intolerant monotheism, however, do afford intimidation by design; consequently they afford intimidation regardless of any particular individual’s or community of user’s use of them. Or, in general, while a thing’s discovered affordances can only emerge over time as a cultural product or process persists throughout a culture, its anticipated affordances remain in play regardless of a person’s intended use of it—as a teddy bear’s anticipated affordance as a child’s toy remains in play even when it is being used to suffocate that child (were that not the case, it would seem less readily awful and ironic to murder a child with his own favourite stuffed bear), so a gun’s anticipated affordance as an implement of great personal injury remains in play even when it is being used as a hammer (for were that not the case, it would less readily seem inordinately stupid and ill-advised to use a gun that way). The two points above demonstrate the objection “on this view, anyone could be intimidated by virtually anything” non sequitur.

What matters now is not any precise historical or current detail about the specific theological nature of monotheism under Christianity, Islam, and Judaism (as three self-avowed religious monotheisms) but that all three mutually exclusively propose that “there is one God from whom emanates one morality for all humanity”.

From the distinctions derived above, we can say that the historical record and contemporary events around the world demonstrate unequivocally that Christianity, Islam, and Judaism (as three self-avowed religious monotheisms) at the very least reflect discovered affordances for inflicting major injury or death on people and thus intimidation. Moreover, whatever one might mean by an “intolerant monotheism,” its anticipated affordances would necessarily include, among other things, inflicting major injury or death on such people as might be identified as heretics (wrong believers), atheists (non-believers), or non-human, &c, and thus intimidation of those and other like types as well. The argument will run that the undeniable discovered affordances for intolerance in these three self-avowed religious monotheisms are contrary to their anticipated affordances, but this avowal already makes heretics (wrong-believers) of those Christian, Muslims, and Jews who mispractice their faiths. This argument (e.g., from a monotheist to another, “Monotheism: you’re doing it wrong”) gets more leeway intrareligiously than interreligiously; David Praeger writes of Islam, “The Quran has numerous verses that emphasize belief in the one universal God who judges people according to their behavior. Like all religions, however, Islam contains xenophobic elements and doctrines that are incompatible with ethical monotheism.” This imputes an anticipated (not a discovered) affordance for xenophobia, &c., to Islam (and in fact “all religions”); Muslims might take issue with a characterization of elements in the Quran as xenophobic and incompatible with ethical monotheism. More generally, all three self-avowed religious monotheisms cannot plausibly deny the following principle informs all three: “There is one God from whom emanates one morality for all humanity.” To put the matter another way:


A masquerade will not preserve a life from lies.
Out in the veldt and kilowatts of noon
a white Vole on a fallen log and sunning felt
then saw across its shuttered eyes a shadow move
and quick before it darted off or even flinched
was knocked down, pinned by massive lion paws.
It readied itself to die or die of fright
at least and squinched its tight eyes tighter. “Hi,”
the Lion mewed. “You’re new around here, right?”
The Vole was not inclined to chat with what would eat it;
it forced itself to shrug a shrugly shrug. “How nice,”
the Lion purred. “How nice to meet at last
another Lion. Friend, perhaps you know
where I might find a meal? I’m starved to death.”
The Vole unclenched its eyes and looked in its,
delirious for sure with salivation but
before the Vole could speak, the Lion babbled on,
“Silly me,” it laughed. “Just show me where.”
And so began their friendship, as it were,
the Lion self-convinced the Vole was cat.
The Vole could not believe its luck, but neither could
escape. No matter how it hid or ran or tried,
the cat would sniff it out, and only acting yes
before the Lion’s strange mistake was apt to dodge
the sure annihilation of its mouth or claws.


“Drag that carcass over here,” the Lion purred
and wandered off to hunt some more. The Vole
did what it could but failed. Exhausted by
the dead gazelle, the Vole collapsed, resigned
to what would come. “Forgive me, friend,” the Lion
begged when it returned. “I should’ve asked
if you could move it … what an ass,” it said,
its tail lashing its nose, “I promise I won’t ask
again.” But as they sat to eat, the Vole declined.
“Too good to share a meal with me?” the Lion teased.
The Vole could not eat flesh. “It’s not too dead,”
the Lion sniffed, then sniffed the carcass more.
“I’ll better serve your tastes come future meals,”
it growled, The Vole’s ears twitched. It gulped and tried
to look as innocent and well at ease as could be.
“Well anyway,” the Lion purred and yawned. “I’m full.
How good a good meal makes the day, nn yes? Come, sleep
with me.” The Vole slipped in-between the lion’s paws
against its fuzzy chest, hearing the great warm boom
the lion’s heart. “I feel your racing heart,” it purred,
and licked the Vole affectionately, grooming … mostly.
For days this went. The Vole snuck grains by day,
tried nibbling on dead meat, and barely slept,
its wide eyes full of moonlight white and slant,
the lion sleeping, dreaming, purring, calmly.


At last the cat turned amorous and said,
“I love you more than any Lion could.” The Vole’s
eyes widened more. “You don’t believe me? Watch.”
The Lion roared. Its voice rolled out across the veldt;
gazelle herds turned their heads and flock of birds
decamped in a black cloud as tawny lionesses
elsewhere perked their ears and dropped on all fours
waiting … “Now you show me,” the Lion shyly purred.
Vehemently, the quailed Vole shook its head, but when
the Lion’s eyes turned slits and growled, “Don’t you love me?”
the Vole took in its deepest breath and … squeaked.
The Lion looked aghast and half sat up, the fur
gone all athwart upon its chest. “You never said
you’re mute,” it cried and took it in a sympathetic hug.
And as the two crushed close, the heat and scent
of night between, the cat got all aroused and tried
to mount the Vole … and tried and tried. It couldn’t fit,
a fact of mathematics, set and subset, volume.
“Why do you refuse me?” growled the Lion, worked up.
“I cannot understand.” It tried again, again.
“You fuck,” it growled and tried again. “You bastard tease.”
Moonlight gleamed on its fangs then. Out its claws unfurled.
The Vole could see its end but could not fight or run away;
there was no way. With one snap it was done and, in disgust,
the Lion threw its carcass to the winds and left.


So no more vole. Uncompromising hopefulness
might swear it could at least have fought back, should have …
flown off… something—we swear these things because
the opposite is worse? If some are truly trapped …
no, better not to think that. That Vole chose. That is
the choicest view—so long as all the sleep we get
from lies that let the lions of the world go roam unchecked
remains unchecked by dreams or night-sweats long
after the fact. We’ll say it’s none of our concern;
that all men being equal—women too—may sink
or swim, build boats, play lifeguard, fish, or buy the beach
and build resorts on it—that’s on no account ours;
we each are captains of our shoals—in the same boat at least,
whoever owns or operates the thing. So if
we then assent to someone’s—let us say—illusion,
to flirt with that delusive world might buy some time,
might skirt a kind of death to detriment the life
more sooner lived—but to what point? No, let that go.
That those mislabel thous ‘s the greater menace, when its
misredd[i] by those and then just as traitors get delio-
nized as lice misread—it’s that misprision fuels
the lindane’s use. Whatever parasites remain,
despite its imprecision, those pick and rest imprison.
A masquerade will not preserve a life from lies.

So while, indeed, anyone might potentially be intimidated by something in the public domain, for any individual or group to say that the something is intimidating exposes a claim of privileged access to that artefact, which can only be maintained by violence outright or indirectly (by intimidation, by preventing access of some people to the social process of acknowledging the affordances of an artefact, &c).

To characterize public domain in this way disagrees with the property rights-based public vs. private distinction usually encountered; here, instead, an image of the public domain might be seen not only in the public area of a (privately owned) café but also in Tahrir Square, Zuccotti Park, or any site where police answered Occupy Chicago’s peaceful public protests with violence—times when two or more people who were capable of impinging on one another experienced promised or carried out threats to the presence of others in those places.[ii]

Keeping these illustrations in mind, attention then falls on those acts that, by design, afford intimidation (as threats to the presence of others) in the public domain.[iii] Such a threat to the presence of others in the public domain may take many forms of course. Overtly, this may be an enforced, classical get out! Or might manifest more subtly as someone leaving the area without explanation. More frequently, and more saliently, intimidation impinges on the activity of another, who then declines to act in some way otherwise afforded by the public domain. It is an act that, by design, rules out one of the alternatives another might choose from among the affordances available (even if on this day and at this time that alternative is not one you’re inclined to pick). Hopelessly abstract? Try this.

You are a person who finds racism distasteful and are enjoying a cup of something in your favourite café, characterized by a notable diversity of races. And one of the customers—perhaps a newcomer—makes some loud racial slur about the inferiority of some people. It doesn’t matter why the person said this; the discourse of supposed racial superiority of one over another has such long-standing and multifarious ties to physical acts of violence that its offensively absurd to pretend such a comment is not, by design (even if not by intent), intimidating. But split all the hairs we want, the fact that one almost never hears—from amongst all who heard such a depressing remark—any loud public rebuttal points to how intimidation suppresses the range of affordances in the public domain available to everyone listening at that moment. Most assuredly, the hearers will not reply for whatever “personal” or “subjective” reasons, but that’s a private matter that remains non sequitur for this public matter. The couple holding hands who approach protesters with “God hates fags” signs equally experience intimidation, whether they stop holding hands or not. After the mayor of Memphis, Tennessee declared segregation undesirable (at least in downtown Memphis lunch counters), it came to light that 80 per cent of the population surveyed opposed segregation at all—20 per cent had held a majority four times its size hostage and intimidated people into allowing segregation to continue.

Intimidation, as a threat to the presence of others in the public domain, is any act that by design affords inhibition of a person’s capacity to act as the public domain affords.

Immediately it must be said, the very fact of laws prohibiting certain activities in the public domain make clear already that the State practices some measure of coercion, when not intimidation outright, in the public domain. One might try to ignore this, arguing that since it is in effect for everyone in the public domain, it’s a kind of (cultural) default; the price of doing business in whatever where and when one lives. However, even in an ideal sense Laws do not apply equally to all people. Ignoring laws that have by design or by accident disparate impacts on people of colour, the racially variable operation of the judicial system (all the way from who gets arrested to the cost of affording legal representation to treatment on parole, &c) make the notion of pretending the Law is equal in effect to all people in the public domain. Moreover, to ignore the ever-present coercion or intimidation by the State swerves toward arguing for its necessity—and one can, in a certain kind of way, argue for the desirability of certain kinds of enlightened despotism.

Like wearing a gun in public, to wear in public symbols from the religious iconography of intolerant monotheisms affords intimidation as well. The objection that this is a personal expression of faith is non sequitur given that expressions of intolerant monotheism in public afford intimidation apart from the wearer’s intention in wearing it. Various objections here will fall once again under the category of popular prejudice. Consider the general lack of controversy surrounding a case where a woman—in a jurisdiction where openly carrying handguns is legal—is asked by an owner of a café to leave because the handgun she wears makes patrons uncomfortable compared to the controversy of asking a Jewish man wearing a yarmulke to leave a café on similar grounds. Or compare the uproar decrying the injustice and irrationality of asking a girl not to wear a cross at her high school and the rationales and justifications offered for prohibiting an Islamic girl from wearing a hijab at hers.


[i] misredd (simple past tense of “misrede”): misgoverned, misadvised, misprotected, misdiscussed, misinterpreted

[ii] An attentive reader may notice that this description of public domain makes a family a public space. Certainly for children growing up in that space, the sense of what they do as being at least analogous to “public” is apposite. The objection will be raised that construing “family” as in the public domain opens all kinds of dangerous floodgates to invasions of privacy. Once again, this deliberately misses a key point. This essay is about intimidation in the public domain, and so if there is any extension of “public domain” to family, then its concern in doing so is to oppose intimidation in the public domain of the family. Already the laws are arranged such that intimidation in the family (such as that resulting from domestic and child abuse) do already permit the State to step in and “meddle”. There is little doubt that if the State wants to infringe on rights to privacy even further, it will draft Laws to do so—and it may, precisely, construe the need for such legislation in light of preventing some alleged “intimidation’ going on in families (since we shall be hard-pressed to find someone in favor of intimidation in families). Such slippery moves by the State, as an eternal necessary gesture of Statehood under capitalism at least—modern capitalism begins, ironically, with the apotheosis and inviolability of property rights and then a subsequent history devoted in many ways precisely to rescinding that assurance—entails claims of privileged access to what something is and so must necessarily be enforced by violence, intimidation, and limiting people’s access to the process of legally acknowledging affordances for the item or issue under consideration. At the same time, it seems disingenuous to ignore the vastly more quantitative amounts of violence and intimidation committed every day in families by family members—particularly by husbands toward wives, by parents toward children, and by older children toward younger. The hierarchy of intimidation is obvious and a mirror of culture more broadly.

[iii] As human beings, we are always already in the public domain of these places; it is not a question of our being invited into or included in it. On this view, notions rooted in gestures to include someone or a group of people in the public domain, however well-intentioned, involve a fatal misunderstanding, insofar as all people already and always are members of that public domain. It is, then, rather a matter of recognizing presence and/or correcting those historical wrongs that have hitherto not recognized presence in the public domain. The brouhaha around the discourse of “gay marriage” points to this. Opponents of “gay marriage” have voiced the concern—for bigoted reasons or not—that “gay marriage” essentially asks that “gays” be given special rights (i.e., specifically the right of “gay” marriage, as opposed to standard marriage). Now, we can say that what the phrase “gay marriage” really means is, exactly, formal legal recognition of life-long (or temporary) partnerships formed by people who are same-sex identified, but by phrasing it as “gay marriage” there is indeed a distinction (between that and “regular” marriage) that is introduced, unwisely, into the discourse. What the phrase “gay marriage” points to is a misunderstanding rooted already in the notion that people who are same-sex identified have been excluded (or not included) in the benefits of marriage—as if someone failed to give us our entire rights. Rather, we have always already had those rights and it is a matter of those rights being recognized, not given. ¶ More precisely, visibility and presence are not proportional; that is, a person may in various degrees be present and visible, present and not visible, not present and visible, or not present and not visible in the public domain. On this view, the visible presence of Israeli soldiers in Palestine or US soldiers in Kabul and the visible absence of African-Americans at segregated lunch counters in Memphis, Tennessee circa 1962 make equally clear points. While the invisible presence of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s financial backers during the (still-ongoing) protests against his administration and the invisible absence of the subaltern in general will both easily be overlooked if attention is not paid. These various interactions of visibility and presence may or may not afford intimidation.


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