Humanities and Trump

In Catapult, Kristen Cardozo writes about the written word in the Age of Trump.

Some might say that studying the humanities in the twenty-first century was already a questionable choice before 2016 brought with it the vivid sight of a dystopian future running headlong to embrace us. The future is STEM, we were told. To major in English, many said, was to look backward, probably with unforgivable nostalgia, to a time when the written word was tangible, metal and ink warping paper. A man on the train, upon learning that I study Victorian literature, once told me, “No one has the attention span for that anymore. No one reads.”

But this is untrue. We read all the time. I read for grad school, and the rest of the time I’m reading on Twitter, or seeing texts on my phone, or devouring takes hot, cool, and tepid. Most people I know are similarly engaged with the written word, all day, every day. The STEM-dominated future we were promised is an open maw that needs content—words—and words, in turn, need interpretation and study. Words are only of use when they can be understood.

I’ve written about our era as both hyperlexic and hyperscribal, dominated by the written word in speed and quantities unthinkable at any other moment in human history.

So we better learn to work with text, huh? Study humanities. Save the world.

As always, READ THE WHOLE THING. Especially at the end where Cardozo talks about the use of passive voice and abstract verbs by SS officers describing murdering Jews.

Save the ADA!

The Americans with Disabilities Act is under attack. I co-wrote a piece for the Washington Post about H.R. 620. It’s serious. It has lots of co-sponsors. And it’s got to be stopped.

The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 is perhaps the most wide-ranging civil rights act in the world. After decades of political struggle by disability rights activists and their allies, the ADA gave new rights to one-fifth of the population. It was a proud bipartisan accomplishment, passed by huge majorities in a Democratic-led Congress and signed by a Republican president.
But now, in this era of extreme partisanship, the future of the ADA is under threat. On a strict party-line vote, the House Judiciary Committee recently advanced legislation that would essentially make the ADA optional.
The bill, misleadingly called the ADA Education and Reform Act, is about neither education nor reform. Instead, it would make the ADA much harder to enforce, taking away the major motivation that businesses had for complying: fear of being sued.

Much more to come on this bill.

There Ain’t No Normal: Hamilton and Headphones

I wrote about my son’s bright green hearing protectors for Pacific Standard. I hesitated to get them at first, badly swayed by the idea that they would more firmly mark him as different and cause isolation.

They do the opposite. They open up the world. Including Hamilton.

Here’s the takeaway:

I’m not alone. I know far too many people with disabilities, family members of people with disabilities, and other caregivers who hesitate to meet access needs if doing so involves revealing disability. Hearing aids are expensive because they try to be invisible while containing complex electronics. Some of the most interesting new hearing amplifiers are highly visible, giving the makers more room to embed computers to process sound.

On Twitter, AbbyLeigh C., a 23-year-old woman with Crohn’s disease and multiple forms of arthritis, wrote at length about her reluctance to use a wheelchair when in college. She exhausted herself walking, trying not to “give up” by using a chair, and eventually took a medical leave from school. Now working on her last few credits, she says, “Once I stopped hurting myself by pushing myself, and accepted having to use the wheelchair, and got out of bed—I started to get less sick.” She told me over direct message that her wheelchair allowed her to get back out into the world, which “was a crucial moment for me getting back to feeling like a real person.”

My son’s needs are specific, but they are neither special nor abnormal. Whenever any of us encounter disability, we must stop letting our sense of the “normal” shape the choices we make either for ourselves or for others. Best of all, my concerns about people staring at his headphones were completely unfounded. Everyone was too happy watching him dance.


Policing and Disability: Beyond Training

I wrote a piece for The Nation on people with disabilities killed by police over the last week, writing that the number was four. It was, however, actually at least 9 (the information wasn’t available when I filed).

My hope for this piece is to push back at the training and registry narrative that gets so much press, and direct attention (and funds! for the love of all that’s holy, funds!) to people in communities instead of police departments. There are shifts to training that would help, but they should be baseline, not “special.” I wrote:

So what do we do? When incidents like these happen, departments and some advocates often focus on two deeply troubling solutions: training and registries. Both are based on the idea that police just don’t recognize disability when they see it, or don’t know what to do if they recognize it. Instead, we need to reframe policing, decriminalize noncompliance, and remove police from as many situations as possible.


Free Speech is Messy

For Pacific Standard, I write about the free speech complexities of the upcoming “free speech week.” First, the organizers didn’t even ask the speakers or book the spaces before they started crying oppression. Second, “security concerns” forced the Anthropology department to cancel a long-planned talk.

I write:

“Thanks to “safety concerns,” the annual distinguished lecture of the Department of Anthropology at Berkeley was canceled. Dr. Anna Tsing, a leading anthropologist, was going to speak at the Morrison Library. Then administrators told the department that although this lecture had been scheduled many months in advance, the presence of Yiannopoulos on campus at the same time as this lecture would either need extra security (paid for by the department) or else a new venue at the last minute; failing that, they would have to reschedule.. In other words, Yiannopoulos’ potentially phony “Free Speech Week” abrogated the very real speech rights of a brilliant scholar. In a joint letter, Berkeley faculty wrote, “If this ‘Year of Free Speech’ is about giving an equal platform to all speakers, it would seem that it has already failed. Hate speech has taken precedence over academic discourse.”

Free speech is messy. One person yells. Another is silenced. These situations require deep thinking and careful investigation of how to defend a core American freedom. What we can’t do is promote simplistic, absolutist fealty to abstract rights without exception because that creates the potential for Yiannopoulos’ mischief.”


Deaf in Prison: Marshall Project covers HEARD

Glad to see this from The Marshall Project.

Right now, most deaf detainees and prisoners have absolutely no telecommunications access,” said Talila Lewis, volunteer director of the nonprofit Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of Deaf communities (HEARD), which has been working to improve conditions for deaf people in prison since 2011. “This completely violates federal disability laws left and right, all day every day.”

All day. Every day.

Milo and the “Livelier Style”

CONTENT NOTE: This post includes many quotes with slurs of all sorts. Please be advised.

Incredibly, there seems to be a debate among serious people about whether Milo Yiannopoulos is actually all that bad. It’s easy to forget that most folks aren’t spending that much time paying attention to online issues, so are unaware of how internet hate mobs, doxing, swating, rape and death threats, manifest. They don’t know what it means to target Milo at a fellow human.

As covered in Inside Higher Education, Dr. Rachel Fulton Brown has called on Milo and his followers as support in a debate about white supremacy. It is my belief that to do so is a solicitation for harassment, likely including violent threats. My belief is based on following Milo, 4chan, 8chan, and the harassment linked to that sub-culture of the internet, made most explicit during Gamergate.

In IHE, Fulton Brown said:

Fulton Brown, who is tenured, said she was confident in Yiannopoulos — whom she has said she considers a friend — and his supporters.
“They’re trying to write in a livelier style,” she said. “I trust Milo and his team, and I trust my Facebook followers.”

Let’s take a look at what a “livelier style” means with a few examples:



Jones was subjected to incredibly vicious attacks on Twitter, full of racist and misogynistic slurs against the actress, with some comparing her to an ape while others calling her a man.
Many of the attacks, known as “trolling,” came from anonymous users, but not all. Milo Yiannopoulos, one of the most infamous trolls on the internet, was one of them. He is an editor at Breitbart, the conservative news website.
“Trolling is very important,” Yiannopoulos told “Nightline.” “I like to think of myself as a virtuous troll, you know? I’m doing God’s work.”

Yiannopoulos proceeded to attack the student’s physical appearance, using an anti-transgender slur and adding, “The way you know he’s failed is I can still bang him.”

The thing about Milo is that he does not hide his racism, sexism, anti-semitism, incitement to harassment against trans and undocumented students, and other despicable actions. There’s no subtext here, just text.

I do not believe that this conduct is “a livelier style.” To endorse him is to endorse bigotry. To summon him into a dispute is to ask for escalation.

One can debate the extent to which medieval studies is implicated in white supremacy and what we should do about it. There’s lots of room for disagreement of opinion.

But can we agree that – cunt, faggot, media Jew, and tranny, harassing students and faculty from a stage before a large audience, using one’s followers to target black men and women with harassment, using one’s followers to target female game designers and journalists with rape and death threats – is not, in fact, livelier?

On the Media: Nazis and Medieval Studies

I spoke with On the Media about Taylor Swift and Medieval Studies and Nazis, in response to my Pacific Standard article.

There’s a lot going within medieval studies right now, but I don’t want us to forget this. White supremacist appropriation of medieval content is ongoing. We shoudn’t forget the students at University of Nevada Reno who saw their classmate holding a torch in Charlottesville.

We can debate what the right steps are to take in response, but not the existence of the problem. As Brooke Gladstone likes to say, “Holy cow!” Even medieval history …

In Support of Dr. Dorothy Kim

I will be sending the following email to the President of Vassar.

Dear President Bradley,

I am a medieval historian and a journalist, writing in support of Assistant Professor of English, Dr. Dorothy Kim. Dr. Kim is a brilliant scholar and one of the foremost leaders in ongoing efforts to confront both the shameful legacy of racism in medieval studies and the current appropriation of medieval symbols and stories by modern-day white supremacists. In Charlottesville, we saw Neo Nazis holding shields with images lifted from Templar and Holy Roman Empire history. In Europe, anti-immigrant rallies routinely feature people in medieval garb. The mass murderer, Anders Breivik, called himself a Templar. These are just a few of the most recent overt examples, a leading edge of hate that supports a massive and dangerous sub-culture. Dr. Kim has been urging medieval scholars to confront this head on. Our profession is better for it.

Of course, taking public stands comes with risks, especially for an untenured professor and one of the relatively few non-white medieval historians. This week, Dr. Rachel Fulton Brown, a tenured professor at the University of Chicago, launched an attack on Dr. Kim’s anti-racist work on her blog. Brown’s argument has been widely condemned by medievalists as both racist and, from an evidence standpoint, incoherent. Unfortunately, it attracted the attention of Milo Yiannopoulos and his followers, a group known for targeted harassment campaigns. Even now, I worry that Vassar is becoming inundated with calls and emails criticizing Kim, almost none of them from people familiar with her work. Alas, we have seen too many faculty who dare to take public positions criticized, censure, censored, or even dismissed in the wake of manufactured right-wing outrage. Vassar must do better.

I urge you not only to support Dr. Kim both publicly and within the Vassar community, but to take proactive steps to inure Vassar to the depredations of manufactured right-wing outrage. This is a moment in which your decisions will determine whether Vassar enables both its students and faculty to take public positions on the most important issues of the day. This is a moment that requires affirmative statements of support for academic freedom and public engagement.

Thank you for supporting your colleague.


David M. Perry, PhD

Bodily Autonomy

It started with a tweetstorm in May.

Grumpy at the “let’s stop with identity politics” takes, I offered my thoughts on how we might coalesce different agendas around the principle of bodily autonomy.

Yesterday, The Nation published an essay fleshing out my ideas:

As an advocate for disability rights, I’ve been seeking ways to link my core issues to those of other groups—people who prioritize reproductive justice, racial justice, decriminalization of narcotics, queer rights, antipoverty measures, and so much more. Each of us exists at specific intersections of needs and concerns. To win, we must find ways to unite our struggles without erasing our differences. One place they connect: the need to defend bodily autonomy.
“Bodily autonomy,” as an abstract philosophical principle, dates back at least to the ancient Greek philosophers. Over the centuries, legal scholars and political philosophers have thought hard about the relationship between rights and laws, the individual and the group, and the sovereign state and the autonomous individual. In American activist circles, bodily autonomy is most often invoked around the fight for reproductive rights. But what I haven’t seen is an effort to harness this principle in a way that binds our seemingly separate movements together.