Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Strategies Against Architecture

In my recent posts I՚ve given the impression that I view academic critical theory as somehow lightweight, airy-fairy, and impractical, at least when measured alongside the sturdy simple souls who do engineering. Well I take it all back. You can՚t get much more pragmatic than the IDF, and they are down with this stuff in a big way, apparently:
The attack conducted by units of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) on the city of Nablus in April 2002 was described by its commander, Brigadier-General Aviv Kokhavi, as ‘inverse geometry’, which he explained as ‘the reorganization of the urban syntax by means of a series of micro-tactical actions’....
Contemporary military theorists are now busy re-conceptualizing the urban domain. At stake are the underlying concepts, assumptions and principles that determine military strategies and tactics. The vast intellectual field that geographer Stephen Graham has called an international ‘shadow world’ of military urban research institutes and training centres that have been established to rethink military operations in cities could be understood as somewhat similar to the international matrix of élite architectural academies. …

There is a considerable overlap among the theoretical texts considered essential by military academies and architectural schools. Indeed, the reading lists of contemporary military institutions include works from around 1968 (with a special emphasis on the writings of Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari and Guy Debord), as well as more contemporary writings on urbanism, psychology, cybernetics, post-colonial and post-Structuralist theory. …
Naveh, a retired Brigadier-General, directs the Operational Theory Research Institute… ‘We are like the Jesuit Order. We attempt to teach and train soldiers to think. […] We read Christopher Alexander, can you imagine?; we read John Forester, and other architects. We are reading Gregory Bateson; we are reading Clifford Geertz. Not myself, but our soldiers, our generals are reflecting on these kinds of materials. We have established a school and developed a curriculum that trains “operational architects”.’ In a lecture Naveh showed a diagram resembling a ‘square of opposition’ that plots a set of logical relationships between certain propositions referring to military and guerrilla operations. Labelled with phrases such as ‘Difference and Repetition – The Dialectics of Structuring and Structure’, ‘Formless Rival Entities’, ‘Fractal Manoeuvre’, ‘Velocity vs. Rhythms’, ‘The Wahabi War Machine’, ‘Postmodern Anarchists’ and ‘Nomadic Terrorists’, they often reference the work of Deleuze and Guattari.… 
Indeed, as far as the military is concerned, urban warfare is the ultimate Postmodern form of conflict. Belief in a logically structured and single-track battle-plan is lost in the face of the complexity and ambiguity of the urban reality. Civilians become combatants, and combatants become civilians. Identity can be changed as quickly as gender can be feigned: the transformation of women into fighting men can occur at the speed that it takes an undercover ‘Arabized’ Israeli soldier or a camouflaged Palestinian fighter to pull a machine-gun out from under a dress.… 
Critical theory has become crucial for Naveh’s teaching and training. He explained: ‘we employ critical theory primarily in order to critique the military institution itself – its fixed and heavy conceptual foundations. Theory is important for us in order to articulate the gap between the existing paradigm and where we want to go. Without theory we could not make sense of the different events that happen around us and that would otherwise seem disconnected.… 
Naveh references such canonical elements of urban theory as the Situationist practices of dérive (a method of drifting through a city based on what the Situationists referred to as ‘psycho-geography’) and détournement (the adaptation of abandoned buildings for purposes other than those they were designed to perform). These ideas were, of course, conceived by Guy Debord and other members of the Situationist International to challenge the built hierarchy of the capitalist city and break down distinctions between private and public, inside and outside, use and function, replacing private space with a ‘borderless’ public surface. References to the work of Georges Bataille… also speak of a desire to attack architecture and to dismantle the rigid rationalism of a postwar order, to escape ‘the architectural strait-jacket’ and to liberate repressed human desires.
This is by far the weirdest thing I՚ve read recently. The whole article has a slightly unbelievable air to it, as if it was extracted from a Don Delillo or JG Ballard novel. The intrusion of a subfield of computer science that I have a tenuous connection to (swarm intelligence) adds to the unreality.

(h/t to Jordan Peacock, who has written a quite useful introduction to Deleuze and Guattari at Ribbonfarm)

[Addendum: some commenters missed the tone of the post and the cited article, which was awed but not exactly approving. And yeah, the use of radical philosophy (and even more so the work of the radically humanist Christopher Alexander) for the purposes of military occupation may be perverting it.]

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Software: Studied, World: Eaten

Well that was different. It՚s been a long time since I hung out in a real academic environment. The workshop was oriented around the organizer Warren Sack՚s book-in-progress, which is intended to connect the humanities and software in a variety of ways. The main goal was, I think, to explore and promote the idea that software is a bona fide medium of expression, which means at least (a) it is in some respects an extension of the unaided mind (b) and thus makes new forms of thinking possible, just as writing made new forms of art possible that were not available to the pre-literate, and (c) that software itself should be studied (and critiqued) as intellectual and artistic expression, just as we study and critique novels or paintings.

If this sounds too rarefied for what is usually thought of as an engineering discipline (and I admit that it does to me some of the time), the author is at least trying to ground his efforts in the works of certain famous and classic (and beyond dismissal) computer scientists, including Donald Knuth, Alan Kay, and Abelson and Sussman, all of whom were extremely technical but also accurately saw software and computation as important intellectual developments, not mere gadgetry.
The other important intellectual ground of the workshop was Marshall McLuhan and other media theorists, who emphasized the way in which media technologies have the power to reshape human thought and society.

Some secondary goals of the workshop:

(1) teasing out the non-technical intellectual roots of computational concepts, which are usually taken as givens that sprung fully-formed from the brow of Alan Turing. This is an entirely worthwhile project – somewhat more scholarly than the others – and it is one that connects to my own dissertation work. And it was the richest, newest, and best developed, in my inexpert opinion.

(2) trying to get humanists (artists, anthropologists, philosophers, etc) to understand software. Also a worthwhile project, but I wasn՚t sure the book՚s method, which consists of taking a few classic programs and attempting to step the reader through both their machinery and their intellectual background, was the best way to accomplish the goal. If I had a young arty, critique-y, politically intense young student who wanted to gain some understanding of the technological world, I՚d tell them to grab an Arduino and hang out in a hackerspace for a month and build a few things. Then they՚d have the necessary background to ask the right questions.

(3) trying to get technologists to think critically about the systems they build. This wasn՚t really a primary goal of the book, which seems to be strictly aimed at an academic market that is already open to interdisciplinary thought. But that idea is present in this community and from my outsider perspective seems to be one of the more important contributions it could make. As someone in industry, we build representations, abstraction, and systems all the time, and the ways we have for thinking about them are impoverished, we need all the help we can get.

So, combining all these goals sounds challenging; I think Warren is trying to do too many things at once. I empathize because I have the same problem when I try to write anything with more structure than a blog post – all the things I am interested in are connected and they all seem to want to be included.

A note on the workshop itself and interoperating with humanities types (cultural anthropologists, feminist studies people, etc): When I was in a 1-on-1 conversation or small circle, I had no problem at all in understanding these scholars and making myself understood. However, the larger-scale discussions seemed to devolve to a useless ritual of name dropping philosophers and flinging around trendy ideas (eg, yes, you can find racial or colonialist or militarist assumptions in software from the 60s/70s – so what? I know this, what I want to know is how to operate in the world even with all the racial and colonialist underpinnings that lie underneath it). This really grated on me; possibly it՚s because I am just not a native to this kind of discourse, but I suspect that something has gone wrong in academia. I՚m hardly the first to be unhappy with “critical theory” or whatever it is properly called, although I tend to be more sympathetic to it than your typical tech weenie (which is why I was there in the first place).

One of my right-wing trolls like to accuses academic critical theory as being symptoms of “cultural Marxism”, a program to subvert the West, but a real Marxist, if one could be found and dusted off, would scoff at this stuff because it is so goddamn inward. You can find coded racism all day long and not have any good ideas about what to do about it. And I think people in this world know it. The concepts of critical theory aren՚t that generative, and they don՚t fit naturally into the American mind. Phil Agre, my role model for this world, had the ability to digest this stuff, pull out key ideas, and express them in ways that were non-jargony and made technical sense. But he՚s not in the business any more, and I՚m not sure anybody else has really managed to move that particular ball further down the field.

Software on the other hand is eminently pragmatic: it gets stuff done. And the people who live inside it all day long tend to be gruff pragmatists themselves, without a lot of time or tolerance for the merely intellectual. This is a healthy attitude to some extent, but we are long past the point where software as a discipline has to grow up and acknowledge its connections to the rest of the human project. It is, of course, quickly infiltrating our social lives, our work lives, our political lives -- eating the world, in the celebratory/threatening tones of the industry. It hasn't yet interpenetrated very much with the world of ideas, which makes efforts like this workshop difficult, important, and exciting. We are in a revolutionary moment in history and it's eat or be eaten whether you are an anthropologist or an accountant.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Brothers in Arms

I was at a family event in Chicago recently, and so naturally had a couple of run-ins with my wingnut brother, the one who not only reads Ann Coulter but hangs out with her. In other words, he lives in a moral/political reality as opposite as possible to mine. I don՚t think we planned it that way, but as an outcome it is almost tiresomely cliched, like those old movies where one brother becomes a cop and the other a gangster.

It doesn՚t take much to set us off. Since he was in town for his step-son՚s graduation from Northwestern, I quite innocently asked him about the commencement speaker, which led us by some inexorable process to the closest current wingnut political brainworm, namely being outraged that several such speeches by Republican types had been cancelled due to the Stalinist fervor of the politically correct. Condoleeza Rice, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Christian Lagarde (head of the IMF) all have had their right to free speech gravely trampled on.

Natually I thought this was high-order bullshit, if only because people like that have absolutely no problem getting their views into the public sphere, whether or not a particular speaking gig is interfered with. Doesn՚t matter, because there is an infinite stock of equally lame reasons for frothing available to a member of the Fox News Borg. Soon after we had exhausted that topic, we somehow were onto how it was the fault of labor unions that the US economy was a basket case.

Later, a few minutes of Googling was enough to show that his whole spiel was even more bullshity than I had previously thought. Rice and Lagarde withdrew from speaking because they were faced with protests (that is, other people exercising their free speech rights). Ali՚s offer to be presented honorary degree at Brandeis was withdrawn when her remarks calling Islam “a nihilistic cult of death” came to light, but in the process of doing so the university extended her an offer to come be a speaker at any time, which was entirely proper, given that a commencement speech is an honor – universities should provide a place for controversial speakers to be heard, but not necessarily be granting them honoray degrees.

Well, despite severe temptation I didn՚t restart the argument when I saw him next. I didn՚t want to be the one to make a family gathering into a shouting match, and we managed to be relatively pleasant to each other for the rest of the trip. I don՚t regret that, but I do kind of regret not initiating the meta-conversation that might actually be interesting to me, if not him: how is that we have built for ourselves such entirely separate worlds of discourse? How is it that two people with the same background should fasten on such different understandings of how things are? This is what I wanted to say; and perhaps it would at least create a shared feeling of mutual incomprehension; allowing us to find common ground in our lack of common ground.

That did not happen, sadly. So I continue to think of him as a slave to crappy ideas that nobody with an ounce of an intelligence should take seriously, and he continues to think I՚m a boring member of (what he considers as) the establishment who doesn՚t have the courage to break with the mainstream. Our lives don't intersect very often, which may be for the best, since I can't imagine any way to reconcile our points of view.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Software Studies

Everyone I hope has read the classic and much-loved children՚s book The Phantom Tollbooth. But you may not remember that the plot revolves around a longstanding fraternal feud between the kings of two separate intellectual domains: Aziz, The King of Dictionopolis, ruler of the land of words, and the Mathemagician, whose domain is numbers. Until their conflict is reconciled, no peace can be found in the world of the mind. Like most wars, it seems almost senseless from the outside. What are these two kings fighting about? They each have their land and have no real use for the other՚s, so no material interest drives them. No, it must be some abstract war of pride and place, an eternal struggle for dominance between equal opponents. Certainly Milo, the protagonist (admittedly a bit dull) can՚t see the point of it.

This storybook war is quite obviously based on the real-world cultural disconnect between the humanities and the sciences. While this divide has been around forever and isn՚t going away anytime soon, fortunately there have always been plenty of people willing to be double agents and smugglers, engaging in valuable commerce between two realms that like to pretend that they have nothing to do with one another. I like to think that the computation is a major route for such intellectual vagabonds of uncertain loyalty, and certainly I՚ve always been drawn to those who expressly aim at transgressing the boundaries.

Computation was birthed by the sciences, and is in universities normally a branch of engineering or math departments, and computer people have always been mostly of that ilk. But there have always been other kinds of people involved: call them digital humanists, those who had deep roots in something more human than dry mathematics. Doug Engelbart, Alan Kay, Ted Nelson come to mind. The MIT Media Lab was initially created in the school՚s architecture department precisely to avoid being the narrow nerdish viewpoint of straight engineering. Marvin Minsky and Seymour Papert, who co-founded the Artificial Intelligence lab in earlier decades were key early players there as well. Both of the latter were accomplished mathematicians but were not satisfied to work within the strictures of that field, and sought to find deep connections between mathematics, mind, and culture.

Perhaps its the influence of the Phantom Tollbooth that drew me to them; I՚ve tried to follow these luminaries in various ways and done my own bit to tunnel underneath the borders, although I wasn՚t always thinking of it in that way. At the the Media Lab, I was part of a cabal that was trying to be even more interdisciplinary than the official line, and so we explored connections between largely technical areas like AI and some of the more rarefied products of the humanities. This was in early 90s, more or less, so just before computers started the process of taking over all of human culture. Since then there has been a small and refined explosion of work in what is apparently now called “digital humanities”.

So I have been (out of the blue, and somewhat unaccountably) been invited to an academic workshop at UC Santa Cruz in this area (whose goal is producing a book for this series). This is a field which I have only a tenuous and out-of-date connection to, but I can՚t turn down a chance to live the life of the mind, if only for a day. But I don't really know what the hell is going on in this field. This post represents a few days of light cramming; I may have a post-workshop followup.

So what is digital humanities? Well, people in the traditional humanities (literature, arts, philosophy, and of course “critical theory”) are not stupid and can see just like everyone else that the world is getting eaten up by software and digital technology. This includes both the everyday human world that is their subject, and the professional academic world of teaching and publishing. Naturally they want to get a foothold in the eating side of this revolution, lest they among the eaten.

That is the crass way to think about it though. There is actually interesting stuff going on!

Some branches of digital humanities (not counting people who are more like new media artists here, to limit myself to the scholarly):
  • applying computational techniques to traditional questions in the humanities (eg, doing large-scale textual analysis to learn how language and idioms change over time)
  • media theory: taking the approach of an art historian / social theorist to the new forms of human communication such as the web and Facebook (hero: Marshall McLuhan)
  • software studies: treating computational artifacts themselves as texts to be analyzed; thinking about the role of human values in their creation.
The latter is the most apt to induce spluttering from a mainstream technologist (and hence is the most interesting -- the other aspects seem like worthwhile academic pursuits but don't seem like they are likely to rock my world). While Moby Dick and the source code of the Emacs editor I am using right now are both “texts” in some very abstract sense, they are pretty different kinds of things and it is not immediately clear that they cast any useful light on each other.

They do, of course, meet at one point: the human reader and writer. That is to say, the same person may at different time interacting, creating, interpreting both kinds of texts, along with many others. And it՚s not too much of a stretch to say that some of the mental machinery used for both kinds of texts is the same: both require parsing into small chunks with formal relationships to each other, for instance. Both require creativity in their creation, although of fairly different sorts. Literature requires creativity in its reception as well; does software? Arguably yes, especially in the common case where one programmer is trying to understand another՚s code (for purposes of fixing or extending it).

But the real thing that the humanities brings to the software table is the idea of critique, or in other words, the idea that it is a perfectly proper and useful thing to do to take a cultural product (aka text) and dissect the ways in which it works, how it relates to its subject matter and its audience, what it tries to say about the society that produced it and what it actually says, what effects it has on that society, what values it embodies, and what values we should be applying when we sit in judgement. And techniques for doing so.

This is something that is almost entirely missing from the engineering culture that most software people are trained in, and it's pretty clearly desperately needed. Software is eating the world, very smart people and corporations are busily figuring out how to eat faster and more effectively, and there needs to be better ways to think about this process, to critique it and possibly even resist or redirect it. I՚m not sure these obscure academic fields will do it, but they are better than nothing.

And I՚m looking forward to the day when software critics become major cultural players, passionate minds on the order of Pauline Kael or Lester Bangs who can teach us new ways to read the latest releases on Github.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Steelmanning the homophobes

A few days ago the popular left blogger Atrios asked why in the world did opponents of gay marriage care about it so much? Opposition to abortion is understandable – the story about baby-killing is easy to get even if you disagree – but why should people get exercised to such an extent over granting some rights to others that don՚t affect them personally? The answers his commenters provided were not that impressive, they were all variations on: they are assholes, they are afraid of their own urges, they are worried that their social privileges are under attack. etc. An example:
Bearpaw01 • 2 days ago
They care because privilege.

Also, at least some of them care because they're so fucking deep in the closet that they furiously resent the happiness of anyone who isn't.
Those sort of explanations have a degree of validity – I have no particular objections to ad hominem – but they lack something: a sympathetic understanding of the other person՚s point of view. That is, they are descriptions from the outside, which may be quite accurate, but do not reflect the internal experience and thinking of the person in question. That is, they are not proper answers to the question of how homophobes justify their beliefs to themselves. If you find yourself sputtering that these people don՚t deserve to be understood because they or their opinions are awful, well, that is the problem I՚m talking about.

This attitude works fine if you have given up on actually communicating with these people, if you are willing to treat them as wholly other, as mere enemies. And pretty much we have, and by “we” I mean sane intelligent people generally. We are pretty much convinced that the right wing is comprised entirely of people who are insane, morons, corrupt, or some mixture of the three. There is plenty of evidence for this view, of course. But we still have to share a world with them. It feels naive (or more precisely – it violates my self-image as a cynic) but I do actually believe in dialog between enemies. If there is any value to politics at all, then it must be as the pragmatic art of figuring out how to live with people you consider awful, and if you aren't going to hold them at bay by force you have to talk with them.

One of the practices of the rationalist community that I like a lot (actually I figured it out as a principle for myself long ago, but never had a catchy name for it) is steelmanning, roughly, the opposite of employing straw-man tactics in an argument. Instead, you aim your attacks at the strongest arguments for an opponents position, and that way if and when you defeat him you know you have won a genuine intellectual victory, not a mere tactical skirmish.

What I՚m trying to talk myself into here is not exactly steelmanning, because I՚m not that much of a rationalist. I՚m not interested so much in comparing the strength of opponent՚s arguments with my own, because I don՚t really believe there is a common currency that would permit comparison. Both our worldviews are strong for us, but weak for each other. What I am advocating is something more like intellectual empathy, or the imaginative entry into the mind of someone whose values and background may be quite different from your own. This of course is challenging and possibly unpleasant.

Can this be applied to opponents of gay marriage? The standard Bay Area attitude, which I usually share, is that these people are simply jerks trying to interfere with other people՚s rights and happiness just because they are different. But I՚ve studied them a bit, and there are two arguments I have seen them make that seem worth taking a tiny bit seriously. One of them is actually a pretty good argument, although not nearly strong enough to sway the question in their favor. The other is a very bad argument, but it is bad in a way that interests me, since it bears on certain philosophical obsessions.

First, the good argument: Opponents of gay marriage complain that it attacks or “destroys” so-called “traditional marriage”. This mystifies people like Atrios, and me too when I՚m not in deliberate-empathy-for-the-enemy mode. I have quite a traditional marriage and I don՚t feel the slightest threat to it from letting gay people participate in the institution (why shouldn't they suffer along with the rest of us?). But the opponents are quite right, and I wrong, in one very specific sense: marriage is more than just an individual decision that has affects only the two participants. It՚s in part a public, social act, and as such it is an institution of society, and redefining what it means does in fact impact everyone in some way. It doesn՚t destroy the old institution, as opponents like to put it, but it does change it, and we should be honest and acknowledge the fact.

So if we are honest, and we should be, we are kidding ourselves by pretending that the question is merely one of individual rights, because that is a lie. And more specifically, it is a lie that works against the real interests of the left when we buy into it, because it denies the reality of the social.

Understanding the logic of this argument doesn՚t explain the passion that often lies behind it, which was what we were originally interested in. These people not only believe in society and its institutions, but they believe that they are fragile and in constant danger of collapse, or that they have indeed already collapsed. Nostalgia is a big thing on the right, for what are supposed to be simpler and more honest times (this lost golden age may be anything from the 1950s to the 15th century. Gay marriage is just another attack on the fundamental structures of society by its enemies. In short, they feel embattled and fearful. They sense quite rightly the slow but unstoppable shifts in the world, and change is scary, so they want to stop it. So much so that they think (consciously or not) that gay couples are getting married just to mess with them. This is absurdly self-centered of course, but that is how most human thought operates, most of the time. So rather than see gay people who just want to live their lives and be treated in the same way as anybody else, they seem them as primarily a threat to the order of society, and to the moral order of reality.

Well that was an interesting exercise (the second argument, the bad but philosophically resonant one, will have to wait for another time). I՚m trying to work up empathy for other people՚s lack of empathy. It may appear to be morally pretentious, but in my defense I can honestly claim to be largely motivated out of boredom with ossified ways of thinking, rather than some aspiration to sainthood.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day 2014

I have a tradition here on the blog of grappling with holidays that don՚t really work for me the way they are supposed to. It՚s not celebrating them exactly, but it is doing them a bit more honor than just going shopping or firing up the grill.

On Memorial Day, where we are supposed to be thinking of those who gave their lives for their country, I tend to think of those whose lives were impacted by war in all the other possible ways besides being a soldier – being a victim, for instance, or refusing to participate, or finding a larger cause to dedicate themselves to. I guess there is an element of snobbery there, for which I apologize. But it՚s also a function of my background – my father was a Czech Jew who served in the British Army during WWII, and I came of age during the Vietnam era, which did not inspire much patriotic war fever. So like many vaguely leftish people, I am in the position of trying to love my country while hating the larger part of what it does.

But the day is about the people who sacrificed, not the cause they sacrificed for. I think of them enlisting, with enthusiasm or trepidation or a simple sense of duty. It՚s an alien experience for me, and I admit to a surprising touch of envy: to immerse yourself so totally in a collective cause must be liberating in a way. We all must serve something greater than ourselves; how convenient to have that need packaged up in an institution for you. Us draft-dodger types have to work hard to figure out what we are fighting for and how to fight for it, and most of our efforts are dissipated by lack of effective institutions. The war against war involved some real risk too, and I՚m glad those who died in that struggle have a memorial. But on this holiday, let us forget the sides, the countries, the causes, the enmities, and think about what binds together all those who have risked themselves to fight for something they believed in.

Some of those beliefs may have been wrong, stupid, or evil, but I give the grunts the benefit of the doubt: they may have enlisted in a bad cause for good reasons. Finding yourself betrayed by your own bad judgement is one of the risks of war.

Here's a veteran describing with controlled anger his treatment at the hands of the VA. This issue has gotten plenty of airing lately; I don't have much to add. But it occurs to me that this country no longer has a functioning upper class. If I was a member of the aristocracy (say, a scion of an old WASP family like the Bushes) I think I'd take some pains to take care of veterans, given that I expect further generations of the working class to go risk their lives for my interests. Given that we treat them like dirt, I can only assume that either nobody is running the country, or the people who do feel that they don't have much need for soldiers. Or, and I think this is the most probable and most terrifying, there are people running the country but they have not got a clue about how to protect either their own or their country's real long-term interests.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

“Anarchist Conference Devolves Into Chaos”

Who could have predicted?

Watch more The Name videos on Frequency

More here. In fairness to the cause, I have been to plenty of anarchist events that did not devolve into chaos; that this one did and that that was notable says something.

In this particular case, I think the culprit is not anarchism per se as much as it is the culture of aggressive victimhood that seems to be taking hold among college-age youth. People seem to feel they have a right to not have their feelings hurt that trumps everything else. This is very broken and I hope it fixes itself, and I say this from a leftist position. This preoccupation with internal feelingns and symbolic action is the enemy of real political action.

It is completely unclear from the video and any associated links what the speaker, Kristian Williams, had done to merit being shouted down. As best as I can figure out it is stems from an article he wrote called The Politics of Denunciation where he dives into this exact issue. So of course the fact that he was shouted down is excellent evidence for his own thesis. He notes that attempts to police the movement for purity are counterproductive:
At issue here are strikingly different visions of what a political movement ought to be.

In one vision, a movement and the people who make it up should be in every respect beyond reproach, standing as an example, a shining city on a hill, apart from all the faults of our existing society. To achieve this perfection, we have to separate the sheep from the goats, the good people from the bad, the true feminists from everyone else. This outlook produces, almost automatically, a tendency to defer to the dogma of one's in-group. It is not enough simply to do the right things; one must also think the right thoughts and find favor with the right people.

In contrast, in the other vision, a movement should attract people to it, including damaged people, people who have done bad things, and those who are still in the process of figuring out their politics. It will require us, therefore, to address sexual assault and other abuse by actually engaging with the people who do such things. We have to struggle with them as much as we struggle against oppression.
Seems about right to me. Of course both Mr. Williams and I have (at least some subset of) white male straight cis privilege, so wtf do we know?

One more note: this whole fracas may seem ridiculous to anyone who is not involved in alternative politics or is over the age of 25. I don՚t think so, because: the world desperately needs some well-organized opposition to entrenched power. Episodes like this just means that the alternative cultures are just as fucked as the mainstream; both are fiddling to amuse themselves while the planet burns.