• Relocating from Los Angeles to Denver

    I presume that most who follow me here are connected through other forms of social media and will already know this, but for those who don’t, my fiancée and I are moving to Denver next month. We have loved Los Angeles and will be sad to leave, but we are excited about the change!

    If you follow me here and are in the area, send me a message so we can connect.

  • Scattered Thoughts on the Election

    It is important to feel sadness deeply and mourn for those who will be harmed in the years ahead. This will likely be the most heartbreaking and catastrophic election of my lifetime. The climate will continue to collapse, people will die in careless wars, even more will lose liberties, and many, many more will suffer.

    I saw so many friends last night wondering how they would tell their kids this today. I can’t imagine how you all do it. My fiancée left for work this morning to teach her fourth graders. The school she teaches at is 100% black and Latino. Many have spent the last year if their families will be split up. They wondered if white America could really despise them so deeply, and they heard the message.

    There has never been an election with more perfectly appropriate examples of Godwin’s Law. Today could have been the 27th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, but instead today is the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

    God is (nearly) dead. Last night was a last gasping breath of Christian America. Exit polling says over 4/5 white Evangelicals voted for Trump, which is higher than their support for Bush. Millennials will remember this, and the credibility will not be regained. 

    I like the phrase I keep seeing—“America deserves Trump"—but that’s not quite right. White men deserve Trump, but they are the only ones he will not hurt. Nobody else deserves this.

    Misogyny won, and it won in the most brutal contrast imaginable. An extremist with no experience but a tendency to brag about sexual assault beat a centrist who was the most qualified candidate to ever run.

    White supremacy won. According to my syllabus, I’ll talk to students tomorrow about white privilege and black liberation tomorrow morning. My writing project on anxiety, religion, and populism just became more horrifically real. I am a straight, white male and will not suffer like many of you, and all I can offer is my efforts to teach compassion and critical thinking. 

    Trump is a narcissist first, a fool second, and a cynical knave third. Interpret his actions in that order. His strategy is all anxiety and his tactics are all affect. He will be controlled by the GOP exactly as much as they were able to control him during the campaign.

    Hold those you love close, watch out for those who will be harmed, mourn today, and then we have work to do.

  • When Žižek Says He Would Vote Trump

    [post-election update: let us hope that Žižek was right]

    Since I keep getting asked about this video, and since Žižek knows his Laclau, let's think about the role of movement, ideology, and rhetoric in populism.


    I'll bet Lacan's students flipped out when he told them “Freud was in no way a progressive” too. Your thought leaders don’t need to agree with you on everything in order to have something to contribute. Here’s another one: while he clearly leaned left in theory, Lacan tried to position himself as a centrist liberal. Žižek is almost certainly (though not quite certainly) wrong about Trump victory leading to a rethinking within the GOP field, and I can’t agree with Žižek on this one, but he’s making a consistent argument with regard to class struggle in opposition to capitalism. 

    Contra Žižek, I don’t think a Trump victory leads to any immediate, fundamental rethinking for the GOP, because Trump is only an outlier in style, not substance. The roots of Trumpism do not simply trace to the Tea Party, the Recession, the Reagan era, etc. The roots go right back to the birth of the modern GOP after Civil Rights, to the Southern Strategy detailed in 1970 by Nixon’s strategist Kevin Phillips aimed at attracting southern whites. In this New York Times article, they openly acknowledged the GOP would never again get more than 1/5 African American votes (which is laughably high in retrospect), and this wouldn’t matter as long as they could mobilize an anti-black demographic. The modern GOP has always been about race, and various rhetorical devises (encoding racism into “welfare queen” or “war on drugs,” redefining conservatism with the qualifier “compassionate” or revising it as “libertarian,” or appeals to Christian family values) have never been anything other than tactical devices for the true goal, the support of capital interests. The rhetoric is pure bullshit, believed by constituents more than by the establishment, but it cannot be dismissed as merely bullshit.

    In America, we at the very least need to take race (and probably patriarchy/heterosexism) just seriously as class struggle, and I saw the Žižek video as a quick, yet significant, disagreement with Ernesto Laclau’s work on populism. In In Defense of Lost Causes, Žižek (a close reader of Laclau) argues that a post-politics, technocratic style of government management (Obama, Clinton) inevitably produces an “empty” populist backlash which actually feeds a need for technocratic style. He was writing while watching the rise of European nationalist movements and the beginning of the Tea Party, which we now have the research (Putnam & Campbell, American Grace) to conclude was much more about a desire for theocracy than about “smaller government” or views on debt/deficit. The classic “empty signifier” of populism is “the People!” which has been thoroughly eclipsed by “Real Americans!” since 2008. Populism can be divided into (1) movement, (2) ideology, and (3) rhetoric. They are often put precisely in this order: movement is the true thrust toward a goal, ideology is the framework reifying and sustaining a particular consciousness, and rhetoric then comes along to curate and reinforce cohesion. Laclau rightly counters this ranking to say we cannot dismiss rhetoric as a least important element. Rhetoric may be bullshit, but it is not simply bullshit; rhetoric is actively reconstructing ideology and vice versa. It is still a threat, and my interpretation is that Žižek sees Trump’s bullshit as simply that; an empty threat which will be abandoned without triggering waves of anti-black and anti-immigrant movement. Rhetoric really can get people killed, especially in an election that is all about race.

    Trump has a 1/3 chance of winning, but should he lose in a landslide, I think it more likely that the temporary end of the GOP as a viable party for Presidency leads to a split between Clinton centrists and the Sanders left, who will no longer face obvious, crushing defeat should they push slightly left. That may be a delusional dream, but I think it more likely than any immediate rethinking with the GOP establishment in the case of a Trump victory. The GOP wakes up on Wednesday and either says “Ryan/Romney was right: see 2012 autopsy report” or says “Trump was right: white nativism works.” In the case of a crushing Trump defeat, capital will need to shift its support more permanently toward the Democrats (which has already happened in this cycle), and that is precisely where Žižek could turn out to be horrifically prescient.  

  • Fact Checking Populism?

    Since the debate, fact checking sites seem to be every other post on my feed. I’m glad they exist, and I’m sure they serve some limited corrective purpose. But if we discovered that lists of knowledge (rather than desire and affect) play a primary role in counteracting patriarchal white nationalism, then my dissertation chapters on populist discourse would have been a tragic waste of time. The type of populism you are seeing right now is an exemplar of neoliberalism’s haphazardly curated consciousness. It’s the result of a whole array of ideological apparatuses built over the decades since the so-called Southern Strategy (largely to justify a series of catastrophic economic decisions). This populism is an outlet for anxiety, rage, aggressiveness, and turmoil, which are very real but generally misdirected against a false cause. You aren’t going to counter it much with facts, because this false consciousness is already doing exactly what it is supposed to do. Any decent teacher or therapist already knows this: mere information transfer has a very limited capacity to change much.

    As Deleuze and Guattari put it in Anti-Oedipus, “The fundamental problem of political philosophy is still…‘Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation?’ How can people possibly reach the point of shouting: ‘More taxes! Less bread!’” (or today, “More capital for the ultra-wealthy! Lower wages for the rest of us!”). The answers have to be more about desire than a simple lack of knowledge.

  • It is finished!

    Thanks to everyone who has reached out over the last week. It’s felt completely overwhelming to finally be a PhD, which has been six years in the works, so I’m trying to slow down and give myself space to celebrate a bit. 

    Those six years have included a cross-country move and learning about whole worlds of thought contained in however many hundreds and hundreds of books I’ve been assigned. Like most students of philosophy and religion, I ended up studying fields very different from what I expected. Those six years included an MA Theology, an MA Philosophy, and learning to translate Greek, Hebrew, German, and French. There were the six months I spent studying for qualifying exams, which was the most challenging thing I've ever done. Two chapters in edited volumes and a few articles in journals. Lots of new cities and new countries and the conference presentations we use to justify traveling to new places. I even got to pretend to do archaeology and see Israel, which I’ve wanted to do all my life. I published my first book, and I finished my second (which will go to print in the spring!) while writing a dissertation in a busy four months. I taught my first few courses with undergraduates. Most of the worst and best experiences of my life have fit inside those six years. I’ve met so many fantastic friends and professors, and I even met one really brilliant girl who dealt with the endless stress of academic life and who was with me when I finally heard the words “Congratulations on acquiring the degree of Doctor of Philosophy!” last week. It’s been overwhelming to reach the end of a long goal, but it has been good.

    Oh, and we got a puppy. He's adorable.

  • Online Reading Group

    There’s a online book group reading and discussing God Is Unconscious over the next few weeks. We’ll be doing a Google hangout to interact and engage questions, and looks like that will be on Wednesday evening, Sept. 28th. My favorite part of writing has been meeting so many new people, so I’m looking forward to it. Find info here.

    I’m have remarkably little intuition for spreading my work, but if this goes well, I’ll be looking forward to setting up another group when my next book comes out in the spring!

  • Audio: The Cynic and the Fool

    I’m excited to share this talk I gave a few weeks ago on my upcoming book, The Cynic & the Fool: The Unconscious in Theology & Politics. The book will release in spring 2017, but I’m starting to test this material out in public. This presentation format—not a prepared academic script nor a classroom lecture—still feels brand new to me, but I think it turned out really well.

    Find the podcast on iTunes, or download it here: Tad DeLay, The Cynic & the Fool (with Q_A).mp3

  • The Moral Psychology of Liberals and Conservatives

    A psychologist I’m briefly using in my new book is Jonathan Haidt, who explains the liberal/conservative communication impasse as a different number of moral categories. According to his research, responses seem to fit within six spheres of moral judgements:

    1. Care/Harm: Others should be protected even when they cannot or will not protect themselves.
    2. Fairness/Cheating: Rules should protect everyone equally and discourage unfair advantages. 
    3. Liberty/Oppression: Society should be organized to maximize freedom
    4. In-group Loyalty/Betrayal: Fidelity to the tribe and its traditions should be maintained, even if they err.
    5. Authority/Subversion: Those in power over us are to be respected and obeyed.
    6. Sanctity/Degradation: Certain objects or behaviors should be avoided.

    Liberals (and also the left) tend to only see the first three as distinctly moral issues, and they feel those values intensely. Conservatives tend to place a lower—but equally distributed—emphasis across all six. So a liberal ends up saying “Shouldn’t this policy (related to guns, healthcare, black lives matter, immigration, etc.) be obviously good if it saves lives, encourages equality, or expands liberties?” But to a conservative, it isn’t immediately obvious that harm-avoidance necessarily outweighs infractions against loyalty, authority, and sanctity. Conversely, a conservative argues for loyalty, authority, or sanctity (American or Confederate flags, blue lives matter, bathroom bills or anything related to sexuality) without realizing those three simply aren’t inherently moral issues for progressives. He uses the analogy of taste receptors to suggest liberal candidates have trouble communicating because they’re using three flavors (in an effort to transcend the darker aspects of groupish morality), while the rightwing candidates present a broader palate of six. 

    I’m not trying to equivocate (neither is Haidt) to suggest these are equally justifiable viewpoints, but I’ve found it helpful to understand differences. I grew up extremely far-right, so I feel I already intuitively get the mindset and understand why so many progressive arguments don’t work for the conservative mind, but Haidt’s research has been really refreshing to my understanding of moralities. His book is called The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Or you can watch his TED talk.

  • Hypocrisy is an unconscious virtue, not a vice

    Ever since Trump's recent meeting with the soldiers of the Religious Right, followed by Dobson claiming the presumptive nominee became a born again Christian, there’s been a never-ending stream of articles asking how Evangelicals could support such a decidedly anti-values type. These pieces always ring both true and yet somewhat hollow. The excess of “don’t judge, you aren’t perfect either” and “think of the Supreme Court vacancies” rhetoric already acknowledge the contradictions from which constituents must be (only slightly) distracted. Those contradictions have no effect. When he eventually quotes approvingly from that most infamous leader to which he is always compared, it won’t matter either. There is literally nothing he could say or do that would dissuade the loyalties of those who believe themselves in favor of family values and so-called common sense. I’d wager these types of articles always seem powerless as a critique, because they start with the assumption that hypocrisy is something most people desire to avoid. On the contrary, if you accept a working theory that hypocrisy produces significant pleasure and actually is a primary (if unconscious) value within conservative American Evangelicalism, not a side effect, then you get a more straightforward analysis. I wouldn’t at all say the American version of Evangelicalism is unique in valuing hypocrisy (after all, the ego is the source of error in all of us), but a number of doctrinal and, most of all, political requirements for group cohesion make the problem more pronounced.

    So when these articles point out such blatantly obvious hypocrisy in the hopes they will dissuade supporters, what they are actually doing is highlighting the exact qualities that trigger feelings of “Hey, he’s just like me!” Trump is popular among conservative religious leaders for the same reason their pastors are taken seriously even while preaching values totally at odds with the way they lived in the past; as long as one only sins in the past and swears it off in the present and future, this hypocrisy works as a tool for solidarity with co-religionists who get pleasure from feeling the leader is like them. Trump is remarkably effective at triggering several moral solidarity markers simultaneously, and even though he is almost certainly what a psychoanalyst would diagnose as a pervert, he is brilliantly intuitive with the use of phobic, hysterical, and psychotic language patterns to convince the public he is a well-adjusted neurotic just like them. There definitely isn’t anything necessarily bad about being diagnosed perverse, and it's definitely problematic to try psychoanalyzing from a distance, but if I’m right to suggest he's a pervert, his “split-ego” and dependence on disavowal and fantasy might suggest he truly does not experience the same type of cognitive dissonance most of us would feel at such constant contradictions. His personal beliefs aren’t all that important to them so long as his multi-vectored strategy of affect works to trigger a critical mass of moral indicators. I’m thinking here of Jonathan Haidt’s work, where he demonstrates how authority, sanctity, and in-group loyalty are actually considered moral values for conservatives, whereas these three generally aren’t considered a matter of morality for liberals or the left (who usually consider morality to be a matter limited to care/harm, liberty/oppression, and fairness/cheating). A populist doesn’t need to be consistent, wise, or good; he just needs to keep triggering authority, sanctity, and loyalty sentiments.

    I don't think articles pointing out hypocrisy are bad (I certainly enjoy reading them), and there are many other reasons people are supporting him. In Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, Freud describes the process of identification as a change from the leader-as-ideal (ideal ego) to the leader-as-superego (ego-ideal). To some extent, all identity works this way—we begin by valorizing a certain idea, command, or value and then it ends up being the voice in the back of our heads judging us and authorizing the worst. The problem is more pronounced for the populist who desires to emulate the most aggressively awful devil in the room. Knowledge has no effective function in a populist's discourse, and rage must find a target. When Lacan met Derrida, he told him “Your problem is that I’ve already said everything you want to say.” That’s how I’m starting to feel about Freud versus every new article on the 2016 election.

    Leftwing populist movements are fairly rare in America, so, according the the theory I’m developing in my dissertation with regard to a Populist’s discourse, all contemporary instances of theocratic and nativist populism in the US (Religious Right, Tea Party, Trump movement) seem to be ultra-rightwing movements aiming to reinforce a false-consciousness that will give up its labor and surplus back to the capitalist. Whatever other reasons for the Trump movement—anti-immigrant sentiments, desire for white supremacy, the failures of neoliberalism for the working class—they are all points of excess which, as a whole, serve to create a good laborer.

    I wrote this in God Is Unconscious about highly-controlling religion, but it could just as easily be about nativist populism.

    "I claim that we see this general pattern in religious communities: perversion pressures neurosis to reorient as obsessionalism via hysterical and/or psychotic language. The choice of hysterical or psychotic language is arbitrary and depends on the inclinations of the group, but the generally neurotic community tends to reward leaders or ideologies of knaves. The cynical leader able to co-opt the submissive tendencies of the neurotic public will experience remarkable success in building the collective, but the collective will begin to manifest problems based in inter-psychopathological difference that it will continuously mislabel as merely differences of opinion."