[Phil. Ed.] Anger, Playfulness, and Masculinity: a Lugonesian Critique

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I’m ready to tell you all about something that happened to me just last year. An event that regretfully led to drastic consequences that included my strong distrust in others and having to put things I loved on hold. You know how I keep saying that I’m going to do more anime reviews and end up, well, not doing as many as I promise? This was one of the side effects that –irrationally– resulted from the following trauma; and for that, I do sincerely apologize to my fans.

Spring 2017. I started my first set of classes in a post-baccalaureate program that would earn me a teaching credential, something that I am still working on. Of the four courses that I took and the observations that were required of me, most of it went relatively smooth. Most of my peers know me as a relatively nice and jovial guy, so long as they understand that I’m not here to make friends with all of them. I believe that trust is something that is earned, not given. Sadly, there are situations where trust has to be rushed rather than established organically, and no simulation has ever made that more clear to me than in a single group project.

To spare you the details of what happened, I was placed in a group with two other teacher colleagues: one man, one woman, both of which were white. Seeing how I am Asian, I would be the token ethnic minority of the group to discuss the topic of stereotype threat. In the subsequent meetings that followed for how we would present the reading and data that we were given on the study, things didn’t go so well for me, especially when it came to interacting with the white guy of our group. Activating microaggressions, gaslighting, playing devil’s advocate to what he admittedly called “egging me on,” I learned very quickly that this guy was not going to be someone that I would associate with any time after this is all over. And yet, I made the stupid decision to tell the professor that even if I felt under pressure by the group positioning we had, I still needed the practice in realizing the harsh truth: I am going to confront people like him for the rest of my life. She agreed. So as punishment, our project was pushed back from the beginning of the semester to the bitter end, on the very last week. And as weeks passed from trying to “small talk” (which let’s face it, I have never liked to do in the first place), avoiding a conversation about my positionality on the autistic spectrum, getting called out by my professor for being the disruption as I yelled in the middle of class in reaction to my group partner’s blatant ignorance to issues of the oppressed (it was probably transphobia that day), shouting on and off at my parents when I tried to come home and debrief only to be blamed for my actions, and finally ending with a call to a suicide hotline just days before we were supposed to present, I realized that even if I was right, I made a huge mistake.

Simply getting angry in a time when everyone is against you only makes you look like the bad guy, especially when a power struggle is in play. And yes, even after a year, this same shit happened to me across multiple instances, over and over again.

Brief Introduction to Lugones

So now that you readers have humored me by reading some of that heavy backstory foolery (you did read it, right?) let’s get to the philosophical stuff. Maria Lugones is one of my favorite contemporary philosophers, and much of my applied philosophy actually comes from her. Lugones is originally from Argentina and graduated magna cum laude at the University of California, Los Angeles with a BA in philosophy and received her MA in philosophy at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (so to those who even bother to question whether or not she’s a philosopher, that’s good enough credentials to me). Lugones specializes in feminist philosophy, liberation philosophy, and decolonial theory. A collection of her essays has been published in Peregrinajes/Pilgrimages: Theorizing Coalition Against Multiple Oppressions (2003), among other writings. Whatever critiques I have for her comes largely from that book.

One thing that should be noted is that Lugones makes it very clear in her theory that she is a queer woman of color, and the vast majority of her critiques are largely for people who identify closest to her. Now for those of you who are more than likely questioning how closely you fit with any of your identities, you’re in luck because Lugones doesn’t seem to question your experience as someone who’s half-POC or questioning their sexuality or whatever. Lugones is well known in social justice circles as a defender of the marginalized. That being said, she probably wouldn’t take it lightly that I give her that level of praise, considering that the groups she has the most problems with tend to be white women and men of color (and if you have to be that guy and ask “what about white men?” let it be known that you guys are hardly worth her time, in part because she shares the least in common with you community-wise). So as you could probably tell from the headline for this post, I’m already adding some problematic details to her theory simply by being cisgender male (my POC-ness and asexual queerness notwithstanding). Back when I studied her work in undergrad, I had a whole conversation with my professor about whether or not I had Mestiza consciousness as Lugones would have put it, only to get really odd looks from the whole class because clearly I had missed the point!

But perhaps the most important feature of a Lugonesian critique is “world”-travel, which –to summarize in the briefest and oversimplified way possible– is an acknowledgement that

  1. Multiple social realities exist,
  2. We exist in all of them, and
  3. Our ability to “travel” across these social realities (“worlds”) will enable us to build coalitions against multiple oppressions.

This feature of “world”-traveling is a Lugonesian spin on the Hegelian dialectic, which I will be talking about through the central themes that I listed on the headline of this post. Is it possible for a man to be both a feminist and misogynistic? Is it possible for the United States to be defenders of freedom yet also uphold fascist ideologies? Is it possible for you to be both oppressed and oppressor? If you answered “yes” to any or all 3 of these examples, then congratulations! You understand Hegel. However, if you think that any of the dichotomies that I had just listed have equal weights to them (i.e. you believe that both worldviews effectively have the same value in identifying the whole) then you’re doing yourself a disfavor because you’re not recognizing the powers at play.

And of course, since we’re on the topic of Hegel, I imagine the spirit of Lugones is now mad at me for going straight for the antagonizing interpretation, which is definitely the one feature of the Hegelian dialectic that Lugones doesn’t like at all! So on that note, let’s just get this out of my system now before I get to the hopeful, “healing” side of a Lugonesian critique, and the revelation that I came to when it comes to solving some of my own shortcomings with toxic masculinity.

Two Levels of Anger

So to no one’s surprise, if there is any emotion that I have never had any real control over as of late, it’s anger. Strong distrust in other people as a result from past trauma, social construction that males expressing anger is most acceptable than anything else, millennial angst in a late capitalist era, pick your theory. The fact remains that I do come across to friends and family as someone with a very short fuse, and to be brutally, brutally honest, I’ve never been comfortable with being extraordinarily angry all the time.

I suppose the quick liberal answer to my problem is “okay then, don’t be angry.” And you would ignore my history with clinical depression, because not everyone can solve their problems simply by “not being angry.” And let’s be honest here, there are things that happen in our universe that we as human beings will (and probably should) be angry about, whether we like it or not.

The question now is: how do we manage that anger? Lugones doesn’t exactly offer a solution, but she does provide a description for what we mean by anger in the context of social realities.

Lugones postulates two orders, or levels, by which we can analyze anger. The first order of anger is most recognizable and covers the majority of instances of anger: expressions of disgust, heavy criticisms of blog personalities we don’t like, inconveniences that your brother and sister don’t answer their phones when you want to talk to them. These expressions of anger are (for the most part) socially acceptable and are used to… gently… explain a problem in your world. I use “gently” in this context only by comparison, because Lugones’s second order of anger is not nearly as kind.

The second order of anger is, for a really, really unfortunate lack of a better term, is what I would describe as the order of hysteria. At this level, it is more common for one to express it while screaming, attacking the other side, and bringing wanton destruction not just on your opposition, but on that entire world, that social reality. I’ve been consciously doing my best to keep my anger in the first order while writing this post so far to help explain these matters. However, when the world tells me that things will get better someday, that we should live in peace and hold hands and sing “Kumbaya,” that I should forgive oppressors for they have done nothing wrong –even if that were true– then TO HELL WITH THIS WORLD!

Perhaps I have a better explanation for how a second order would play out. If you’ve been following my blog enough, you’d know that I am also an anime critic, so let’s segue into what I believe is one of the most recognizable acts of second order anger to most anime fans: how Naruto reacts when Gaara dies (Sorry. Spoilers?)

In this scene, Naruto does more than just grieve over the loss of his fallen comrade, he lashes out at the entire system that brought upon Gaara’s fate, a system that treated him the same way. It’s no secret to anyone who has even remotely followed Naruto that he acts like a menace only because he was branded literally with a demon inside of him, and everyone else around him treated him like a monster because of that. Naruto’s perpetual bond with Gaara becomes special because Gaara, too, met a similar fate. To be feared, to be controlled, to be considered a special, unique person in their respective societies with effective targets on their backs without ever asking for them in the first place. Naruto had to do “world”-traveling of his own to earn the respect of his peers and mentors, yet in doing so, also understood that their entire way of life had automatically set him up against them. And at this breaking point, Naruto would have none of it, even from highly respected elders like Chiyo, to express the anger that was built up inside of him all along. A second order anger.

There is a reason why this one scene makes it to many fan lists as one of the most emotionally charged scenes across any anime. Naruto is a boy whom a lot of fans –boy, girl, or otherwise– identify with whether they like it or not, and watching him scream in rejection of his entire world over the loss of a friend is meant to be incredibly unsettling. But one thing that I don’t think goes appreciated nearly as much as it should is that Naruto is more than just angry in his reaction. He’s also sad, knowing full well that the only other person who would ever understand his anger was dead.

I say this in a conversation about anger and masculinity, because as far as I’m concerned, there is no shame in this anger. It is possible to express anger without toxicity.

Anger and Playfulness

A common practice in Hegelian discourse is to focus on the antagonizing feature of the dialectic. I touched upon this half of the theory in my reflection on my earliest memory, part 1. In short, the position of the “other” acknowledges the burden of being posited in two clashing worlds, or in Lugones’ case, social realities. This is because the two social realities are meant to be separated and distinct from one another, and to be aware of the contradictions is one’s agony. This becomes most true of those who are posited in the position of the oppressed, feeling powerless and sometimes silent in a world that is actively against them. W.E.B. Dubois refers to this as the burden of double consciousness.

This is why it’s much harder for those of the marginally oppressed (in Dubois’s case, black people) to separate their positionality as the other from their autonomous selves as a regular, normal human being. By contrast, this burden is not placed on those who are in positions of privilege (e.g. white males in a system that is historically eurocentric and patriarchal). Denying this in American society is not erasing that history, but simply ignoring it, and arguing over what to do in understanding the problems with educating or even critiquing that history is at the forefront of the antagonistic Hegelian dialectic.

While she does acknowledge that this can be a problem, Lugones actually disagrees with Dubois’s interpretation of double consciousness, by targeting the other feature of the Hegelian dialectic: the one that builds communities, rather than divides them. And in addition to the antagonizing narrative that guys like Hegel and Gadamer like so much, Lugones offers playfulness.

Now I will admit. I don’t have a very solid grasp of what Lugones really means in terms of applying playfulness to the dialectic, but I’ll do my best to interpret what I make of it here.

It’s important to understand that part of playfulness is recognizing that because multiple social realities exist, there is wiggle room for contradictions in social reality (I have to emphasize this because Lugones is more of a realist that does not try to extend her theory to abstract “possible worlds”). In its simplest terms, it is possible to express anger and happiness, among other emotions, at the same time.

I find this to be incredibly important to emphasize for men, because a lot of us have grown up believing that it wasn’t okay to cry, that anger is the only emotion we have to legitimize our position, and egging others on is our way of “being friendly.” It’s not. And given the handful of reactions I get from the posts that I have made on this blog, most of my readers respond better to the ones where I conclude feeling happy or hopeful as opposed to the ones where I end feeling much more miserable in the end.

Let’s be honest. The majority of you like it better when I’m not antagonizing others, even if they are my enemy. I think that’s telling enough from a Lugonesian critique that playfulness in discourse does matter.

Now this part of the theory begs the question for me: what happens when I’m legitimately angry in a situation when I’m not supposed to be? Honestly, this is the biggest challenge especially for marginalized persons who get in situations where those around them are egging them on, are unaware of their privilege in a dominant social reality, or simply do not care that their position is antagonizing to the oppressed.

This is literally the situation I found myself in while I was staffing at Anime Expo this past week. And as much as I can easily call out the guys who are probably reading this public post wondering what I might say about them, the truth is that I would rather keep Anime Expo as a joyous, positive experience in my memory rather than an antagonizing, suffocating one. So let me spell out all the things that I can recall as playfully as possible.

“Yes. I love flower arranging. It is an art form that was once entirely practiced by samurai of the Edo period. To prepare buds and cut stems requires more strength and dexterity in one’s arms, and it’s common for practitioners of the art to have callouses.

“Yes. I know how to put on a yukata. Men’s style is traditionally expressed in sharp, solid colors and are designed with abstract shapes or mountains. For the boldest of us, I suppose fish patterns are also all the rage for us. To say that we are “ladies” simply because it looks like a dress where we had to tie a tiny bow contrary to the larger feminine one is rather ignorant to say about Japanese culture.

“As a matter of fact, I am asexual. I masturbate. No big deal. I’ve had acute attraction to other people, mostly girls, but sometimes guys too. I had a whole fan fiction series about it. But I wasn’t always asexual. I fell in love many times before. The things I usually find most appealing about others is their intellect and openly complex mind. Like I said, they’re usually women. Most people I meet have very ugly, fragmented minds, but the few whom I find most beautiful I will let them know that I love them. To me, expressing my love is an oath that I trust them, and I will protect them. With my life, if I have to. And I don’t give my love that easily, not even to my own family.

“My favorite moments as a staffer for live programming were getting to see premiers that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise, had I been working somewhere else. Liz and the Bluebird and Kase-san and Morning Glories are two anime movie reviews that I have slated on my ever-growing list of anime that I would be writing reviews for, had I found the time and energy to write them, so long as I can keep that pressing feeling of depression under control.

“I don’t mind working with all of you, but I can’t imagine hanging out with some of you as friends outside of our work. It’s okay. I don’t have to be reminded that there’s homophobia, transphobia, and racism, even in a space that promotes an art form that more times than not bridges cultural exchange rather than divides them, and I still think that your ability to work for such venues is important enough for me to overlook that systems of oppression will continue to exist indefinitely.

“You don’t have to accommodate for me. I’m very much happy with who I am, and I hope that, perhaps, you will be too. Sometimes though I can’t really tell, because you show vulnerabilities in places you try to hide by exasperating your disgusts in the form of humor. I can’t really get mad at that, because I admit, I was like that at one point, too. Why did I change? I guess because I felt like it. I wanted people to understand that I was more than just a bookish nerd, and that I do legitimately care about the well-being of others from my community. But oh well. I guess I fuck up every now and then because I’m human. Must be an Asperger’s Syndrome thing.

“I don’t mind working with you all again, but I am considering my options for next year. It’s nice to have two families at Anime Expo: one in Ticketing, and one more in AV/Live Programming. Choosing one over the other isn’t going to be easy for me in the next couple of months when the departments start recruiting again, so I’ll have to weigh my options. I guess in the meantime, I’ll be watching some more anime. I’ve forgotten the joy I used to get from sitting down and critiquing a world drawn to life when I have also considered the problems that get swept under the rug in the industry as a whole. It reminded me that there is still a lot of work to be done to make things better, but at the very least, the work on my end is tolerable. Coming back to AX this year revived some of that joy I get.

“I’ve found a method where I could translate my thoughts on anime into a philosophical discourse. I like to credit the fact that I was a critic in my most recent undergrad years as a part of my journey to graduate cum laude in what many consider to be the hardest discipline to study. I suppose my next challenge will be how I can apply what I have learned from critiquing anime into the classroom. Most people say it can’t be done, and perhaps, they might be right. At least, not directly, anyway. This 30-year-old blogger still has a few tricks up his sleeve to translate critical thinking into a soft skill that is necessary for a pedagogical curriculum. Anime is no different.”

Thank you all for keeping up with me on my 5-year journey as a blogger. Whether you are some of my oldest readers or you just like to see my thoughts pop up on your subscription feed every now and then, I’m happy to know that my words are reaching out to someone. My goal for the next couple of weeks is to maintain at least some relevance to the work that I have already placed into this blog, before I start my next semester in the teaching credential program.

Until then, I’ve been The True Lystria. Signing out.

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