In Conversation with Hannah Ticoras on Radicalism

One of the best parts of coming out through social media for me has been getting to re-connect with people. With her permission, I’m sharing a great chat I got to have with a super smart, super funny lady I went to school with. [~2,700 words.]

 

Hannah:

Thank you so much for this >>>>[Link to On Sex & Gender on Satan’s Jacuzzi]

I’ve been in a long argument with a conservative (white) male coworker of mine (a U.S. history teacher, of all things) about how the entire system of America is set up to demarcate Otherness and about how his conservative bullshit that still lifts up capitalism as The Great Equalizer and advocates for self-actualization will never work for marginalized people because the system of capitalism and the “democratic republic” is set up to give agency to some and completely obliterate the thoughts and experiences of others. You know, typical radical shit. 🙂

So yesterday he brought up the Enlightenment as a period of neutrality to Otherness, as a period where we created new ideas to counter the “old” ideals of religion, which was really the oppressor. And I knew he was wrong, but I couldn’t figure out how exactly to phrase why he was wrong without just screaming that the Enlightenment was a movement of white straight men denouncing the ideas of other white straight men that still maintained the power of white straight men and that John Locke is a phony.

But your post very much helped me to focus my thoughts on the whole issue of science vs. religion and how even within that period, oppression of others was guaranteed and even continued in a much more vindictive way. So thank you for that. 😀

Also, hi — it’s great to be connected with you again! I hope Chicago is treating you well.

 

Lucy:

Chicago is great! I’m glad we’re able to keep in touch as well. And I’m especially glad to hear you’re still fighting the good fight!!!

You’re very right about the Enlightenment and the subsequent conflation of science and authority. It’s so interesting to me how, despite the conflict between science & religion in the Renaissance & Enlightenment eras, science was crafted in those early phases to very much speak with an authority that borders on the divine. I’m not sure why this is; it could be that only gods spoke with the authority of objective truth before science gave that power to man, or it might just be a byproduct of the inflated egos of early scientists, who (consciously or subconsciously) viewed themselves as playing God with their new knowledge.

It sounds like your co-worker insulated from struggle on quite a few fronts, and while there may be merit on a intellectual level to his claim that capitalism is a great equalizer and the Enlightenment was an Otherness neutralizer, it doesn’t take a historian to see that those theories have not been born out by the practice of either capitalism or Enlightenment values. I mean–the fact that these two systems, one of economy & the other of philosophy, could potentially enable equity for marginalized groups in theory doesn’t mean that they do so in practice.

Quite the contrary, the experiences of marginalized groups across America and much of what we consider the modern industrial west seem to speak to the reality that capitalism is used primarily to exploit those without the power to wield capital and that Enlightenment era values are used to defend against accusations of practical injustice with theoretical equality (which is like exactly what your co-worker is engaging in).

I find it particularly interesting that your co-worker is a historian, and, moreover, a teacher of history. I’ve always found it sort of tragic when historians (and especially history teachers) engage in the kind of scientific dogma of objective fact about their subject matter, especially given that they rarely bore witness to any of what they teach and, unlike in the hard sciences or even the more experimental social sciences, there are few ways to replicate the results they will hold up as absolute truths.

I hope that your insidious radicalism will at least inspire him to engage in more of a dialogue with his curriculum instead of accepting what the capitalist-fueled, Enlightenment-inspired organs of the state would have him fill young minds with. Because I think that’s the ultimate goal of an education–the ability to be critical of information presented. And I’m very happy to still be friends with bad-asses like you who know how to do exactly that. ❤

 

Hannah:

Omggggg. Everything you are saying I feel so much.

I think that it is incredibly ironic and saddening that he is a history teacher who teaches about the oppression of peoples, yet doesn’t recognize the genesis of that oppression. And it is totally an insulation. He grew up in rich New York (gross) and went to a fancy private school (lol) and so where would he encounter anything like this before? I can’t help but engage, and I feel like by engaging I am learning.

Honestly, I haven’t felt this connected to radical theory really ever–in college it was all so floaty, and my prof’s made me feel bad if I didn’t have answers (or maybe it was just me feeling bad, but whatever). I never felt comfortable applying it.

 

Lucy:

In my experience, the kind of insulation your co-worker grew up in is not totally unique to history teachers (although that profession does underscore the irony of the shallow relationship with history that an insulated life can bring). I’m also usually really compelled to engage with the people like this who I meet, partly just out of raw human curiosity and also partly out of learning about how blindspots operate so I can be better about my own.

Radicalism is something I engage with more now than in school. Getting out of school helped with that, because I have a lot more control over what I expose myself to in terms of literature and culture. The real world has so many more experiences to learn from than the classroom did.

It’s tricky because there’s radicalism for radicalism’s sake and that’s not always productive. But even when a kind of radicalism exists just to exist, it’s meaningful kind of by definition. What I mean is that radical actions, thoughts, beliefs–they’re really important cracks in the facade of objective truth, of the single narrative of the world that’s existence is an intellectual trap that’s very easy to fall into.

Not that avoiding the trap is really fun, but, for me, it’s necessary to keep pursuing a dialogue with the world. For me, it’s how I’ve learned and grown to the point I’m at now, and it’s how I see my path forward.

 

Hannah:

Totally agree. I was gonna make some comment about one of my high school history teachers…but then I remembered that we didn’t go to the same high school. But I imagine there are similarities between rural Ohio schools. I was really into Glenn Beck for a while thanks to my 10th grade history teacher. Just cause I was trying to figure out what I believed and that’s what I was given. My parents are conservative but not that conservative, so it felt foreign enough to be my own.

I think that being close to that feeling of trying to find something to believe in is really important as a teacher because it explains so many of the decisions and movements my students make. It helps inform my teaching.

I will always make the decision to have the conversation with insulated people. (I really like that term, by the way. It’s astoundingly neutral, and in the context of other ways I and people I know have talked about people with privilege, it’s also very compassionate. It takes the onus off of the person, stops making it their choice to be privileged and instead opens up a general conversation about what surrounds someone and how that affects them. It takes the negative connotation away from it).

 

Lucy:

There are definitely similarities between rural Ohio schools. I was lucky enough that most of my school’s history department, while conservative, had the wherewithal to separate their personal beliefs from what they taught in the classroom. (I’m thinking in particular of a Gulf War vet who I had in multiple years of high school. Definitely a military conservative, but one who brought a critical eye to the rhetoric of his own political allies.)

But your experience of seeking out Glenn Beck to find something you believed that inspired you specifically because it was something outside of the beliefs of the people you were compelled to rebel against is definitely something I can relate to. I think a lot of kids end up reaching out and latching on to things they don’t fully understand because it represents some kind of difference that feels radical from the rest of their surroundings. I’m glad to hear that, as a teacher, you are mindful of the fact that students doing this aren’t out to prove you wrong, but just searching for something outside of their mainstream.

Insulated people will always need to be engaged, so I’m glad to hear you’re willing to do that as well. I also prefer it to a term like privileged for the reasons you bring up. While there are certainly neofascist types who will proudly use their privilege to take a stand against marginalized groups, most people are just blind to the ways they’re protected from discrimination, hate, and violence.

It’s easy to see this in the neoconservative movements that would hold up old forms of discrimination as an exercise in religious liberty. But I see it, too, in a campaign like Clinton’s. When I dig beneath the wholesale misogyny (which she definitely faces), a lot of the legitimate criticism of her is about her insulation from struggle and how, like a lot of the neoliberal establishment, she comes to the aid of social justice causes as they become politically convenient. It makes her appear, depending on which rhetorical stance you choose to adopt, either pragmatic or unprincipled.

But it’s also exactly how Obama beat her in ’08; without really even attacking her, he was able to set himself up as more a people’s candidate than she could ever be due to her work history, last name, and socioeconomic status.

The Democrats like to sell themselves as the Party of equality, justice, and progress, but when all you have to do is prove you’re more egalitarian, just, and progressive than the current GOP, it’s a pretty low bar to get over.

That’s why I’ve been so fascinated by Sanders’ campaign. The things he’s campaigning for are common stances on the same issues in elections in much of Europe, Latin America, and other parts of the world where the left goes further from the center. But in an America that’s already skewed to the political right, he’s an outlier on a lot of policy. And even he struggles to win support from marginalized groups. (For a really interesting look at what insulation, privilege, & entitlement can lead to, look into people complaining about how the #BlackLivesMatter movement hasn’t embraced his campaign.)

My point in using the 2016 race as a case study is this: It’s very difficult (if not nearly impossible) for people from the margins to break into the current conversation at the highest levels. While we might view the election of a black man to the Presidency or the likelihood of Clinton’s nomination as progress, they are often more symbolic than material in how they help marginalized communities. The system is still far too entrenched in patriarchy, white supremacy, and various forms of queerphobia to give women, racial minorities, or LGBTQ+ people a seat at the table that lets them effectively address the issues they face.

Which is an idea that always brings me back around to the merits of radicalism. More than anything, it’s a way to address the system that foregoes the formality that institutions and culture otherwise dictate. (This, however, doesn’t mean that radicalism is inherently correct; there’s plenty of scary radicals out there.)

To put it imperfectly, it’s the Martin/Malcolm paradigm. Martin led a movement based on radical notions of love that fit neatly into the white culture of the 1960s. For his efforts, he is now often championed by the white majority as a symbol of how far we’ve come to end racism (which is a bittersweet sentiment for many African-Americans still struggling). Meanwhile, Malcolm argued for separatism that nullified the power of the cultural majority’s authority over his policies, and is still often demonized for his efforts.

It is, again, an imperfect categorization (as most false binaries are), but one that I find speaks volumes about the potential of radicalism in a society so deadset on conformity, even from those for whom conformity means some kind of sacrifice.

TL; DR: Stay radical. It’s a form of power. And like all forms of power, it carries the Spidermen’s Dilemma–i.e., “With great power comes great responsibility.”

 

Hannah:

Truly, I haven’t really been following the 2016 campaign closely because of the complications with Clinton you bring up. It gives me anxiety. Yes, I would lose my entire mind if we had a female president–but her femaleness, whatever that means, does not negate the other discomforts I have towards her politics and history.

I’m probably a fan of Bernie then? I know that I’m supposed to be based on the fact that I would rather vote for him than Clinton. But it’s all of these strange, false binaries. Like if you don’t 100% agree with Martin then you must 100% support and agree with Malcolm–because that’s what we have. When in reality, everything operates in the no-man’s land between and beyond what we know.

And that land is dark and scary and indefinite, but I think that really grappling with that space between and beyond is how we form ourselves and our beliefs. Not ricochetting between right and wrong, good and bad, but accepting that things are both and none, if that makes sense.

That is my own personal journey right now: Accepting and feeling the whirlwind of life and not trying to control it. It’s really hard. I don’t know how to form a country in this way, but I do believe in radicalism as a first step towards change.

I don’t really remember what we talked about when we talked last but I know it was 11 months ago exactly because it was the day before I graduated and I was in another galaxy. Lol. Yeah, so I don’t know what to say other than I’m very happy to meet you where you are. Also, I am glad I’m not where I was then because then time wouldn’t be doing its thing. But I love that alternate planet girl as much as I love me today.

I’m also typing this under the influence of insomnia so please forgive me if it makes absolutely no sense. I have too many thoughts to think during the day, so my body keeps me up very late, so I can think them. But right now they’re all running together a bit.

Also, here is a picture of a baby as a christmas tree because.

baby xmas tree

 

 

Lucy:

What a cutie!!!

Most of my time since graduation has been spent trying to navigate exactly what you’re talking about: The space between binaries of absolutes, the gray area where much of our reality actually exists. I don’t know that there’s really much to do other than survive there, but that in and of itself is a triumph worth celebrating.

I remember our last conversation, too. It was a strange night, and while I don’t remember the exact details of what we said, I do remember sensing that you were in a strange headspace, one that seemed defined by your impending graduation. I’m glad you’re not there anymore, as I remember a similar debilitating anxiety when faced with my graduation.

I’m not sure that I ever overcame it necessarily. It was more like I just moved past it as other concerns became more pressing. But it seems that’s what graduation really is; it’s not just the end of something. Like so many other endings, it’s the beginning of something else.

Also, here is a vampire kitten (also just because):

tumblr_m7tssm1eg01r6de9wo1_500

 


Not that it’s a contest, but Hannah Ticoras might be funnier & smarter than anyone you know. Follow her on Twitter or read her blog, Popcorn with Satan (no relation), for more wit and wisdom. You should also watch her episode of Tight Five with Drew Tonkovich, the nation’s #1 backyard talk show, where she played the literal starchild Lightness Omega.

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