Friday, June 15, 2012

When A Charge of Antisemitism Is A Tactical Smear

The subject of this post is the underside of identity politics,  the possibility to game those for personal advantage by self-centered jerks, regardless of justification or reason.    It was motivated from a personal experience of the past several months.

I will make no apology for defending myself in a way that anyone has the right to do.  I take a repeated accusation of antisemitism made against me quite seriously.

First,  the blog exchange on Eschaton that began my thinking about this.   I will note that anger at the stylishly acceptable  bigotry of  Steve Simels' snark about Roma was my motive in my first response, though it was, sincerely, what I thought.  I include the identity of the person who commented about Florida because Simels did in his original comment and I don't want to be accused of editing the record.

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Steve Simels:



R. McGeddon, futilitarian  My solution has always been to move Israel to Florida. 

And while we're at it, the Gypsies need a homeland too.

I think there's an abandoned shopping mall in Jersey they could have.

Anthony McCarthy:

I'd love to have more Jews living in the United States. I wish they'd offered emigration here as an alternative to the disaster that putting Israel in Palestine has caused. Taking a piece out some place like Arizona if a state was desired would have been a better idea.
Only the ideological ancestors of the End Timers would have prevented that happening.

Steve Simels:
Oh, I'm sure the Jews would have been welcomed in Arizona with open arms.
Anthony McCarthy:
Unlike they were in Palestine, you mean?
Steve Simels:
See, now you're actually starting to piss me off.
Anthony McCarthy:
Seriously, I'd love to have a few million more Jews in the United States, one of the most progressive constituencies in the country, great philanthropists, brilliant disuptationists. Living here in relative safety and security. What could possibly be objectionable to that? The Likudniks would come to, or maybe not if those with a history of terrorism were excluded.

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Apparently Steve Simels is unaware of Jewish communities in Arizona and the presence of Jewish settlers in the old American West.  In passing, there was also our exchange on Aaron Copland, the music laureate of the American west, without whom film scores of classic westerns would be quite a bit more boring since studio composers would have had to steal from a lesser composer.   As Simels likes to present himself as a cineaste, it was one of his most desperately clueless moments in our duel.  
Also apparent is the disparity in permitted articulation between a snarky assertion of ethnic characterization and what I said.  What could be trashier and more keeping with anti-Roma stereotyping than proposing a "Gypsy" homeland" in an abandoned mall?   Proposing Florida as a "Jewish homeland" is certainly permitted as no objection was raised to it, though I'd think it was borderline.   But I address that kind of fashionable expression later in this post.  


This exchange has set off months of attacks against me. most but not all of them of them on Eschaton, by Steve Simels, a pop-music critic and blog presence on some of the leftish blogs I frequent.  He has been attacking me with strong implications of anti-Semitism since that exchage, though we'd clashed on other things before that.   He usually forms his accusations as demands that I apologize for the "Jew stuff",  secure in the knowledge, it seems,  that most of those who read what he said didn't have any idea what he referrs to.   After he did that a few times I went back and copied the exchange and the url where it  can be found for anyone who was curious to see what my offense consisted of, though I'm sure most couldn't have been bothered to find out.   In more recent incidents I challenged Simels to tell everyone just what he meant by "Jew stuff" which he hasn't done yet.  


You can see the substance of my comment that Simels found so offensive.  I regretted that either Jews hadn't been admitted into the United States,  where Simels apparently lives in such contentment that he hasn't left it,  or that land hadn't been provided for a homeland in North America as opposed to Palestine where the state of Israel has been in a state of constant warfare and under threat of terrorism since its founding.   And, as opposed to snarkily proposing a "homeland" for "Gypsies"  in "an abandoned shopping mall in Jersey" what I said can be successfully presented as an antisemitic statement.  As it continued,  in the original comment thread, and Simels asserted it was absurd to think that Jews could survive in Arizona (a point that he has harped on continually since then)  I said other things:
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Anthony McCarthy: 
OK, how about the North West. Or California. Or, hey, I'd really love to have lots of Jews in Northern Maine, we might actually turn into the liberal state that so many believe we are.  
And:
Anthony McCarthy:
With papers, of course. (snark from a relatively innocent bystander who I will not name)
Nope, full citizenship.
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It's my long experience as a gay man that, under the rare occasions when when conditions allow it, an asshole who happens to be a gay man will use his identity to attack and intimidate straight people who don't deserve it.   Assholes are called that for a reason and one of those is that they will use anything to manipulate people to achieve their ends.   I've seen other assholes use other aspects of identity to do the same,  some more successfully because conditions allow it.  I'm sure that is what Steve Simels has depended on in this instance.  Antisemtism is among the most successfully lodged accusations in the United States today.  As Arthur  Berger* said when his friend and colleague Virgil Thomson was accused of antisemitism, it's an easy accusation to make today.  That situation is so obviously the case that it is a charge that is frequently made in the most obviously absurd and inflammatory language against Jews.   In that use, the charge of antisemitism is used to silence criticisms of Israeli policy and to discredit the critics.  Clearly related to that is the way it was used against me, though, in a decidedly more modest and frivolous context.   
One of the little known parts of the little known gay history in the United States was a period in the late 1970s when it was fashionable among some gay men to spout explicit racism, sexism and bigotry.   Most of those I know of lived in New York City.  One person to whom I described it as a "flood of bigotry" corrected me by saying it was more like a tidal wave.  I couldn't help but thinking of those men as being assholes.   On one of the occasions when I pointed out that one of them was being an asshole he excused himself by saying he was the victim of bigotry all his life as a  gay man, as if he was telling me something I didn't know.   It was no excuse, it was the opposite of an excuse, my answer to him. 
After that there came the rise of Andrew Dice Clay and the beginning of the counterattack on "political correctness".    I was surprised to find out during his short reign as the king of fashionable racism, that Clay was Jewish.   Of course when you come across a member of a targeted minority group who freely expresses bigotry against others who are members of  beleaguered groups,  you wonder how can they be such an asshole.    Clay seems to have found his rightful place on the junk pile of pop-culture but the particular variety of bigotry he practiced is still with us, a feature of what sadly passes as hipster identity these days.   As I watch the spectacle of books and, I'd imagine plays,  turning Anne Frank into a stock character to be used satirically and the Holocaust, itself, becoming a similar prop in junk lit  -  can it be far behind, the movies -  I wouldn't count on real antisemitism not becoming far more mainstream.  That's what has happened with other forms of bigotry that were very briefly suppressed in the decade spanning the 60s and 70s.   Assholes will use anything if they think it might get them what they want, including hip, transgressively  bigoted remarks made to gain the cachet of coolitiude.  It would be among the stupidest things possible to allow the frivolous, dishonest use of accusations of bigotry to render legitimate accusations ineffective in present circumstances.
The reaction on the blog comment threads when I challenged Simels on his false charge of antisemitism was irritation with me.  Even when I was able to prove it was false and in face of his repeated failure to back it up when challenged.  As the accusation was made against me, I don't really care if people think defending myself is irritating.  It's something I'm familiar with as a gay man growing up in the 50s and 60s, defending yourself was never taken seriously.   That is something that has told me a lot about the real nature of blogging and, even more, commenting.   It's taught me something about the failure of liberal discourse and, with that, the failure of liberalism to win power and change laws to make life better.  A goal which I'm sure would be mocked in the the fashionable cynicism that goes hand in hand with the kind of pseudo-liberal gaming that is manifest in too many places today. 
* Steve Simels apparently googled or wikied  the late Arthur Berger, a composer, eminent music critic, theorist, professor at Brandeis University,  who he knows I  greatly admire,  and found a description of him as a serialist composer.  He has frequently used that to attack Arthur Berger and my taste in music.   If he knew Berger's music he'd know that much of it, perhaps most of it, is, actually, quite tonal.   In the future I may add a note about Simels' derision of Berger, Stefan Wolpe, Milton Babbitt and other composers I like in the context of this brawl.  

UPDATE:

You might compare the content of my comment that has set off many months of accusations of antisemitism made by Steve Simels  and others and this more recent exchange started by a comment by the Eschaton regular, "Macacawitz".

Macacawitz:

Religion and sexual dysfunction do go hand in hand, don't they?  All started when Teh Joos told us to start sawing off the tips of our willy's.  It's been all down hill from there.  Pedophilia, female circumcision, polygamy, general vagina paranoia, purity balls....the list goes on and on.

Anthony McCarthy:

Being a human being and sexual dysfunction go hand and hand.  

Anthony McCarthy:

Look at Freud. 

Macacawitz:

Do you think people would be sawing off the ends of their willy's if not for an imaginary sky daddy telling them to do it?  There are pros and cons to circumcision but doing it for "faith based" reasons is just nuts.

Anthony McCarthy:

Being circumcised is associated with decreased AIDS transmission.  
Hey, Simels,  get a load of this. 

Steve Simels:

Anthony McCarthy Collapse 
Being circumcised is associated with decreased AIDS transmission.   
Hey, Simels,  get a load of this.


And this has been yet another episode of Non Sequitur Theatre. Tune in again in a couple of minutes to witness Anthony trying to discern a difference between three and soup.

Macacawitz:


Steve.  I think he's trying to paint me as an antisemite, which of course I'm not.  When discussing the difference between 3 and soup, it's not far down the slippery slope before you're comparing  foreskin to marmalade.  

Anthony McCarthy:


You're the one dissing one of the most  well known  practices of Judaism in religious terms, Macacawitz.


Anthony McCarthy:


I'm finding it pretty funny to find out how many people in the mutual admiration club don't know what a non sequitur is. 

Simels, not to mention many other Eschaton regulars, made comments between those I've posted here.  Macacawitz' first comment was:

"Religion and sexual dysfunction do go hand in hand, don't they?  All started when Teh Joos told us to start sawing off the tips of our willy's.  It's been all down hill from there.  Pedophilia, female circumcision, polygamy, general vagina paranoia, purity balls....the list goes on and on."

Beginning with "Teh Joos" and continuing to attribute "pedophilia, female circumcision, polygamy, general vagina paranoia, purity balls.... " to one of the most foundational,  distinctive practices that distinguished Jews as a distinct population for thousands of years was insufficient to trigger the charge of antisemitism among those present.   Even explicitly saying that is what was meant.

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