Sunday, May 15, 2016


It has been demonstrated by Sernier (and others, although without violence) that the outer gaze alters the inner thing, that by looking at an object we destroy it with our desire, that for accurate vision to occur the thing must be trained to see itself, or otherwise perish in blindness, flawed. (Ben Marcus, The Age of Wire and String)

It looks like the Young Americans for Liberty at the University of Oregon found a way to maintain exactly the sort of order I've been talking about in my last few posts. They appear to have completely avoided the disruptive protests that have been marking Milo Yiannopoulos's talks on US college campuses. You can see the whole thing on YouTube. The most famous contrast case is, of course, the "triggering" of UMass Amherst students. While it is possible that Oregon students just have a much better sense of decorum than their Massachusetts counterparts, or are just more polite and reasonable, or, I guess, just hold more "offensive" opinions, I have a theory about what happened that I want to note down.

First of all, it must be kept in mind that the UMass protests reached a sort of high water mark of unreasonableness. I imagine many protesters lost the taste for the tactic of disrupting speaking events after that debacle. But the Oregon students apparently hit on a brilliant way of amplifying the threat of a similar embarrassment at their event. They put a camera at the front of the room pointed at the audience. This promised high quality, continuous footage of disruptive behavior and therefore set an impossibly high bar for maintaining one's dignity while protesting.

I've said that decorum is "the condition of the possibility" of rational debate. The Kantian language is deliberate, and I think we here see another sense in which I'm offering a "critique" of the protests. What was installed at the Oregon event, and not, it seems, at UMass, was a moment of "apperception": the act of perceiving oneself in the act of perceiving. It can be extended to catching oneself in the act of thinking, i.e., of applying a concept. Milo Yiannopoulos clearly has a high degree of self-awareness. The Oregon students found a way of distributing it to the audience. The effect was almost transcendental.

Protesting is a kind of theater. What has been so disappointing this past school year is that the "drama" has been so poor. It's been series of bad melodramas, not clever absurdist happenings. In a comment to my first post on this subject, Thomas Presskorn reminded us that there is much to appreciate in a good protest. In Oregon, I hope, we saw what happens when they are held to higher standard.

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