“What are you, a gay wrestler?”

~ by Eli Lichtenstein

 

Elliot Morales murdered Mark Carson last Friday night in New York City’s West Village. Encountering Carson and his partner on Sixth Avenue, Morales spit a string of antigay slurs before shooting Carson, a gay man of color, in the head.

 

The violence which saturates our society and ourselves is a targeted violence; there is nothing random about it; a hate crime consists of the assault on what the perpetrator takes to be a non-human object. Mark Carson was murdered because he was gay and as such, an object. A dear friend of mine was raped because she is a woman and as such, an object. Any deviation from the societal definition of the human must be abruptly eradicated or punished, or at least sadistically enjoyed.

 

A German philosopher once wrote that fascism is signified by “the miracle of integration, the permanent benevolence of those in command, who admit the unresisting subject while he chokes down his unruliness.” Fascist logic is consistent: the utter subordination of the individual—the other—to the group. Yet fascism appears in multiple guises. We can locate it in Nazism, which demands the genocidal removal of every instance of difference. But fascism also appears in the expectation, nearly unavoidable, that every individual shall willingly carve her psychology and her body into the particular form required for her integration into the community. The inability to accept this coercion mandates banishment from the group, whether by violent social ostracization or by death.

 

Fascism, here, has metaphorical value. It describes a social relationship predicated on coercion, in which to belong, the subject must swallow her misgivings and her anger and her searing pain, must express complete gratitude and happiness merely to have been allowed in.

 

An alumnus writes, “No women making a fuss in my day. Be happy we let you in.”

 

The same logic appears in a video posted last week by a group calling itself #OurDartmouth. At a first viewing, the video appears, at best, entirely vapid. While smooth piano-lounge softly plays, students of rainbowed racial and gender identities pronounce one-word descriptions of Dartmouth: opportunity, hope, amazing, unique. The video presents a collage of triumphant multiculturalism. Perhaps the group’s mission is well intentioned: according to the video, #OurDartmouth aims to “reunite our community” and to “start a conversation,” apparently about Dartmouth’s epidemic of violence. A speaker in the video claims that the school is complex, and that “the strength of our community is rooted in its complexity.” Yet the problem with a campaign which reduces complexity to the semantic difference between “exploration” and “transformative” is that it effectively elides all substantive difference, all true complexity which cannot be expressed by a few faces articulating their love for Dartmouth in remarkably similar terms.

 

Thus, what begins as a call to share stories ends as a strict provisioning of the narrow range of the stories to be shared. One student talks about playing soccer on the Green, another speaks excitedly of her upcoming trip to Malaysia where she’ll be “studying a hunter-gatherer population.” Another student categorically states that “everyone here just wants you to feel at home and is very sensitive to making you feel like Dartmouth is the place for you.” In this definition of conversation as the collective affirmation of the college, there is no space to say, simply, that Dartmouth has a problem. Consequently, Dartmouth doesn’t have a problem. In this denial of conflict, our smiling and benevolent peers implicitly insist that Dartmouth’s only problem lies in those who don’t agree. But the video doesn’t stop at the total erasure of difference. Instead it demands subordination to the ideal, to the ghostly image of the imagined community. “We hope,” the main speaker asserts, to “reunite our community by reflecting on the unique and much loved traditions and experiences here in Hanover.” The primary referent of social reconciliation thus becomes the exhausted narrative of Dartmouth tradition. Ultimately it is these constructed experiences that will serve to pacify real, human antagonism. Thus, social inclusion is defined in terms of an exclusionary institutional identity. The form of the college subsumes its content, and in so doing, violently eradicates it.

 

The subject is forced to cut her soul, already disfigured by the violence of our society, into the increasingly grotesque shapes demanded by this form. Within a self-declared community, one would hope that the simple assertion, “I have been attacked; I am unsafe here; something needs to fundamentally change” would not be met with ridicule or aggression but instead with the profound concern that it merits. Yet such was not its reception after the April 19th protest. And in this sense—in the complete suppression of the individual at Dartmouth—fascism lives on. It lives on in a college hostile to the concerns of its students; in the brutality of our rape culture; in a technocratic administrative apparatus that absorbs substantive problems in endless formal procedures. It lives on in an economy that demands self-prostitution for the smallest of paychecks; and in our own movements, among ourselves, among our supposed allies, as those voices speaking of other tragedies and other struggles are summarily silenced.

 

Every day a deafening imperative demands our absolute conformity to structures of power. Resistance to this imperative has become a matter of life and death.

 

The human being is now either a technical apparatus or is engaged in a bitter struggle for all that is still human within it.

 

 

3 comments

  1. in agreement · · Reply

    intelligently written

  2. Chris Schons · · Reply

    Excellent piece.

  3. Bill Gottesman · · Reply

    Eli, what message would you have preferred the OurDartmouth video say? I would really like to know.

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