Friday links! Two sides to every story edition

It’s funny how the controversies in American history invariably have two sides. Abolition versus slavery. Gold standard versus free silver. Stalwarts versus Mugwumps.1 It makes sense that our two-party system would lend itself to such dualities, but what if we ever ran into an issue that had more than two sides? For example, what if it were possible to believe these two contradictory statements?

  1. Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons on Syrian rebels was an unconscionable violation of both international and moral law.
  2. United States military intervention to remove him would not improve the lives of the Syrian people.

Obviously, this is just a thought experiment. You’re either against Assad or against military strikes; you’re for intervention or for chemical weapons. But what if there were some rupture in the fabric of American discourse that created a third dimension of argument?2 Come to think of it, what if there were a second political party? Today is Friday, and such are the flights of a fanciful mind: idle, useless, bound for a sharp reunion with the earth. Won’t you choose a side with me?

First, the good news: President Trump has an opportunity to distract from investigations into his campaign, prove he’s no stooge for Russia, probably raise his approval rating and definitely look tough and decisive. The bad news is that this opportunity involves cruise missiles. The United States fired about 50 Tomahawks3 at Al Shayrat airbase, from which we believe the Syrian government deployed Sarin gas strikes on civilians in the town of Khan Sheikhoun. Definitely, Assad should stop gassing civilians. Also definitely, we should not make Syria into the Serbia of World War III. I quote the Times:

Although Russia did not deploy its air defense system in Syria against the American cruise missiles, it flexed its military muscles after the attack. The minister of defense, Sergei K. Shoigu, said that Russia would bolster Syria’s air defense systems, and the Russian news agency Tass reported that a frigate would enter the Mediterranean Sea on Friday and would visit the logistics base at the Syrian port of Tartus.

What’s the Russian word for everybody chill the fuck out? You guys love this child-gassing butcher tyrant. We don’t. Your president’s a cynical power monger. Ours is a cynical narcissist. Maybe we can work something out, here. How would the Kremlin like to run a puppet state in Syria? Free oil, you guys. Free oil.

Speaking of forbidden ideas, have you read Sam Kriss’s borderline hallucinatory essay about staring at the sun? It’s probably art. Consider the connection he finds between the retina-destroying power of the sun and the admonition not to look at kings:

The command to not look directly into the sun is mirrored in what are termed “avoidance relationships” between humans: In general, it’s a mark of disrespect to look a social superior right in the face. Servants lower their gaze, and commoners bow before kings. In some Aboriginal Australian societies, as first documented by the 19th-century anthropologist A.W. Howitt, it’s expressly forbidden for you to make eye contact with your mother-in-law. The gaze, as psychoanalytical and feminist theory has long documented, is objectifying, and in certain circumstances pitiless. Anyone who remains under an unbroken gaze is reduced to an object of consciousness, something to be scrutinized as carelessly as if it were inanimate. It’s rude to stare.

If that doesn’t grab you, read it for the anecdote about Newton dilating his pupils in a dark room and then looking at the sun in a damn mirror, such that he couldn’t stop seeing it and kind of went insane. Tila Tequila seems to have done something similar, but without inventing calculus.

Meanwhile, among more sensible people, a Chicago man has published a book of street gang business cards from the 1970s and 80s. Personally, I like the Insane Pope’s [sic]. Also, one white gang active at the time was called The Almighty Gaylords, which…come on, guys. That’s not going to scare the Miniture [sic] Villa Lobos. They’re probably going to love on your lady.

White people are completely safe at The Federalist, though, where no ladies are loved on at any time. Guy from your philosophy seminar Hans Fiene has written this article about how men and women can’t be friends, and it is therefore incumbent on women to abolish the friend zone. I do not agree with him. I might even characterize this one as a hate read, were I not above such things. I will only say that he takes a novel approach to friendship, rooted in classical economics:

Imagine that friendship is a good that people acquire in exchange for the currency of their time. The average man lives in a competitive friendship market where some forms of friendship appeal to him more than others and therefore get his business. What then, is the average man looking for in a friend? By and large, something along these lines:

1) Someone who shares his interest in activities such as watching movies where things explode, playing video games where things explode, or putting fireworks in things so they’ll explode. Bonus points if you enjoy yelling at football players through the television set and laughing at noxious flatulence.

2) Someone who won’t pressure him to open up beyond his comfort level if his girlfriend breaks up with him, he loses his job, or his mom gets eaten by a yeti.

3) Someone who cherishes the man tradition of showing affection through insults and general jackassery.

If you are a lady who believes your dude friends are genuinely “just friends,” ask yourself this: Which of these things are you better at giving a man than another man is?

Okay, I’ll imagine that, but it sounds less like friendship and more like convenience. You want somebody who will consume entertainment with you and not push you beyond your comfort zone, even when you insult him? Sir, you might consider whether you can afford to cut the market for your friendship in half.

But he has his theory of friendship, and I have mine. There are two sides to every story, as Mik Awake reminds us in The Last Paragraph of a News Article on My Murder by a White Supremacist. It is at once funny and painful, which is how you know it’s probably true. “The victim was an adjunct professor,” it beings, “which is not tenure track.” We throw around a lot of working definitions of satire in these parts, but maybe satire is what makes funny things that aren’t. This one diverges from humor in its second half to more squarely address how the news tends to distinguish between dead people and dead black people. Once you notice that, you can’t really stop. Once you see the other side, you can’t come back.

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