I Think, Therefore I Know: San Francisco Edition

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Yves here. I had wanted to treat the insanity of the San Francisco decision to destroy a mural that was clearly critical of early American history as a local pathology. Sadly, it appears to be widespread. But it is hard to fathom how any collective decisions can be made if subjective beliefs are treated as tantamount to fact. Why should the views of people in San Francisco be any more valid than those of, say, Youngstown, Ohio? Why do they know better? Just because being a denizen of a coastal city or an elite organization is the contemporary version of might makes right?

Peter Dorman discusses this “dogmatic subjectivism” below. It sounds a lot like the logic of cults. Even though I didn’t watch Game of Thrones, I have looked at some of the key clips. I’m reminded of this one (starting here at 5:14):

Danerys: It’s not easy to see something that’s never been before. A good world.

Jon Snow: How do you know? How do you know it’ll be good?

Danerys: Because I know what is good. And so do you.

Jon Snow: I don’t.

Danerys: You do. You do. You’ve always known.

Jon Snow: What about everyone else? All the other people who think they know what’s good?

Danerys: They don’t get to choose.

By Peter Dorman, Professor of Economics, The Evergreen State College. Originally published at Econospeak

Strange as it may seem, the biggest stumbling block on much of the left may be a crude philosophical error, dogmatic subjectivism. This is a position that holds that subjective experience is the highest form of knowledge, whose claims can’t be challenged by “lesser” criteria like logical analysis or empirical observation. To the extreme subjectivist, if I feel something to be true there is no legitimate counterargument: I think (or feel), therefore I know.

This is at the heart of the current blowup over the mural at George Washington High School in San Francisco. It was painted in the 1930s by Victor Arnautoff, a member of the Communist Party and acolyte of Diego Rivera, under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration. To make his point about the centrality of racism and oppression in American history, he portrayed Washington as the slaveowner he was, with a group of slaves toiling away to make him rich. He also showed pioneers headed westward past the body of a dead Indian. Not surprisingly, Arnautoff got into trouble during the McCarthy era and was effectively hounded out of the world of public art.

But several groups and individuals who claim to speak for today’s oppressed think the mural glorifies racist violence and makes the high school an “unsafe” environment. The San Francisco School Board’s advisory group, The Reflection and Action Working Group, deemed Arnautoff “glorifies slavery, genocide, colonization, Manifest Destiny, white supremacy, oppression, etc.” One of the Board members said that efforts to save the mural from being painted over were reflective of “white supremacy”, since the artwork some want to save is “white property”, while its effects are harmful to “Black and Brown ppl [people]”. The head of the high school’s Indian Education Program asserts this and other Arnautoff murals “glorify the white man’s role and dismiss the humanity of other people who are still alive….” Others bring up the triggering effect of images that remind us of the brutality that permeates American history.

What interests me is that none of these arguments draw in any way from an analysis of the impact of art on its viewers or empirical evidence of any sort; they are simply assertions from personal feeling. This is not to say that feelings don’t matter—of course they do—but surely they are not the only thing that matters.

There are two fundamental problems with the subjectivism on display in San Francisco. One is the obvious point that humans are not omniscient and infallible. Our subjective judgments are often wrong, and as they go through life sensible people are constantly revising their reactions to the things around them and rethinking what they thought they knew. “This is how I feel” is simply a self-report of how one feels; it has no additional value as a basis for judgment. Even as a self-report it may be wrong, since there is a lot of evidence that people misconstrue their own perceptions and emotions. So, not only are the claims about what the mural means dubious in light of its actual history and content, but even the claims about the feelings it engenders can’t be taken at face value. And to go one level deeper, if people knew more about the history of the mural and the ways in which it had been viewed across the decades since its creation, perhaps their emotional response might be different.

The second problem is that subjectivities collide. I may feel something deeply and be absolutely sure of it, and you may feel something else in exactly the same way. If our feelings contradict each other, how do we decide who’s right? This is even more vexing when the subjectivity in question is collectively attributed to a social group, like a racial, gender, national or other identity. If I say that, as an older person, I know that a comment, idea or work of art makes older people feel unsafe, and another older person disagrees, subjectivity alone is not sufficient to resolve the issue; we would have to appeal to some other form of knowledge—you know, like looking at evidence—to determine who’s right. If you are committed to the primacy of subjectivity as the bedrock of your outlook on the world, however, that solution is disallowed. The only alternative is to propose a “true” identity, a collective subjectivity, that includes me and excludes you, or vice versa. And this is how it actually plays out: the real members of an oppressed group know in their bones what the score is, and if other ostensible members disagree, this just shows they aren’t really part of it. I’m sure, for instance, that if you polled all the Black or Indian students at George Washington High School, some would be upset by the mural and others not. One way to deal with the situation would be to consider the reasons for these feelings to see which make sense and fit the objective evidence, but that is out of bounds if subjectivity can’t be questioned. The alternative is to say that students who are really part of this identity share a common subjectivity, which eludes those who take a different side.

What I don’t get is why dogmatic subjectivism is so central to the outlook of some people. Where did it come from? Why is it embraced so unquestioningly? What purpose does it serve?

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  1. kimyo

    What purpose does it serve?

    it serves to disunite. the apparatus seeks to prevent the citizens from realizing that 80% of us agree on 80% of the issues (safe drinking water, opportunity for our children, a world where an industrious person can earn a secure living).

    the apparatus threatens abortion rights, why? not for any moral reason, but because there’s no better way to get people into voting booths.

    all the trigger issues are constantly exploited to provoke maximum outrage, why? to get people into voting booths to vote for ‘change’.

    the incredible amount of effort expended by the apparatus leads me to believe that they have an achilles heel.

    boycott 2020.

    1. jefemt

      Logical extension of boycott 2020- Trump wins with 30% turnout?
      The evident thing here- I am letting my subjective world view be viewed like my heart on my sleeve…

      As mi amigo Pedro often quips,

      “Be careful what you think!”

    2. marym

      It’s divisive, and divisiveness serves the “apparatus” but the apparatus already doesn’t care that 1/3 of eligible voters don’t vote. The Republican wing openly supports voter suppression, and establishment Democrats rather whine about Russia than register voters and get them to the polls.

      Change that serves the many, not the few, requires building a movement. Voting can be a tactic in that endeavor. Not voting may sometimes seem like an option to be considered when faced with bad alternatives, but I would caution against promoting it as a tactic in itself.

      1. Oh

        I agree that we should build a movement with long term goals in mind. Mercans are used to getting instant gratification and they think that just by voting they can change things. When the two parties (two sides of the same coin) serve up the same type of neoliberals who only care for themselves voting is a big waste of time and only helps in the false understanding that we approve the positions of the elected. And they they do a 180 on their positions to our detriment. When you do participate in a movement to change the duopoly, the two parties infiltrate, marginalize and destroy the movement. Why vote?

      2. Svante

        Funny: the areas that experienced the greatest “voter suppression” during the NY and Acela primaties, are STILL yapping away about RussiaRussiaRussian™ interference (especially blaming their victims) who’s votes were simply thrown out by their slumlord, criminal lawyer or K Street shill superdelegates? This divisiveness, we’ve repeatedly seen in the Women’s & Pride marches, local DSA infighting, various Jewish organizations & all sorts of other ethnic, community, gender or religious oganizations; now mysteriously set at each other’s throats by fractious cliques or supercilious reactionaries. Exactly, who benefits?


    3. Jonathan Holland Becnel


      Gotta have a play to entertain the 10% Professionals gatekeeping poor workers. A de facto Urban Army.

    4. Darius

      Dogmatic subjectivity is the basis for much of our foreign policy. Or at least how it is sold. The Iran derangement comes to mind.

    5. drumlin woodchuckles

      It is also feeding a brain-chemistry-based power trip thrill ride for the Social Justice Retards of the San Francisco School Board who are indulging themselves in it.

      They probably plan to destroy the mural as soon as possible . . . within days if they can achieve it.

      Are there enough Friends of Art History and Friends of WPA Murals beyond San Francisco who could achieve an economically crippling or even exterminating boycott against San Francisco so fast and so hard and so furiously total that the City Owners were terrorised into putting the Social Justice Retards of the School Board back into their cages before the mural is destroyed? If there are not, then the mural will be destroyed.

      Because Social Justice filth-scum-garbage are so deeply beneath any common humanity as to be utterly unreachable by any kind of argument or appeal. If the mural is to be saved, San Francisco will have to be tortured and terrorised into saving it . . . while there is still time to save it.

    6. Wat Stearns

      Well, as previous posts here at NC have documented and clarified, typically the fewer votes cast, the better Republicans do. The biggest unspoken problem with that analysis, unfortunately, is the DNC has been overtaken by Republican moles, often referred to as “Blue Dogs”. I wish I could say I would completely trust Sanders to preside independently if he were to be elected, but I can’t. I’d be glad if he were, though, or Warren, or Gabbard, for that matter. I might like Gabbard best.

      But in the end, I don’t really know what to say, except that we surely have a problem, and I don’t know what the solution would be.

  2. Quentin

    Evidently the San Franciscans who orchestrated this act of iconoclastic barbarism fail to understand that the murals are visual criticism of exactly what they’re doing: oppressing, appropriating, demanding power? Maybe they can instead put their energy to better use by organizing walking tours of the homeless encampments in their town and offering volunteer services. This may be the purpose the whole filthy affair serves: divert attention from the failings of SF to (and LA, etc.) to implement humane, civilized policies, from the failings of the Democratic Party in particular. Maybe the San Franciscan Ms Pelosi as an art lover will rally to the murals’ defence at the last minute.

    1. Neil

      Amen Quentin…perhaps an additional education for the students re Rivera’s murals in Mexico and the US as a historical reference point followed by the Art department asking for a commission to paint a mural for the homeless that reflects today’s reality…or is the safe space for the homeless too twee.

      1. Eureka Springs

        Rivera’s work is all over San Francisco. That’s part of what makes this so perplexing.

        This is, after all, the week Mad Magazine died.

        Yesterday on twit, a photo posted of a woman with a sign in D.C.:

        And exactly what Yves is talking about here took hold among some liberals.

        And if I think of what’s called a debate on TV these days, the potential leaders of the country and media are determined not to have an instant of diverse consideration. It’s a sickness. After all these years (decades) most Americans still don’t know how much better at health care a few dozen countries have long been. As much because they have never asked or allowed the answers to sink in when they find out. Even those who do so often aim to be like Canada rather than those who are much better than that.

        There is No Time – Lou Reed


        1. Alex Cox

          Who says MAD magazine has died?
          Their website is still up and running (MAD has joined the mainstream media, and is pushing the Russiagate fantasy just as hard as the NYT, it seems), and accepting subscriptions.


            1. Alex Cox

              Just read the shocking news. Well, MAD was at its best when Wally Wood and Will Elder were drawing the pictures… And zat waz a long time ago…

    2. Chris Hargens

      This passage caught my attention: “The San Francisco School Board’s advisory group, The Reflection and Action Working Group, deemed Arnautoff “glorifies slavery, genocide, colonization, Manifest Destiny, white supremacy, oppression, etc.”” Isn’t it immediately apparent, given the context of his work, that Arnautoff was doing just the opposite? You’d think that at least some of the people involved in this process would be celebrating his work. The only argument — a very weak argument — I can see for destroying the mural is its supposed “triggering effect.” But here a seemingly omnipotent (in fact, wholly emotional) subjective response of perhaps only a few people has the power to determine the fate of a work of art.

      1. jrs

        Well it’s in a high school, and so I could easily see it being misinterpreted by a bunch of high schoolers. Bullying etc. are often a part of the high school experience, but nuance not so much. So yea I could see it being taken the wrong way by it’s actual audience which is high schoolers not us. The solution would be to to educate them about the actual meaning of the mural. The only thing worse would be junior high – than all reasoning truly would be hopeless.

    3. jrs

      It costs a city 1.9 billion a year to house the homeless, based on NYC which for the most part does. If cities aren’t willing to spend the 1.9 billion then they have nothing to add to the matter. L.A. for instance spends only 500 million a year on homelessness and so of course the homeless aren’t sheltered as they aren’t willing to pay for it.

      Also anyone who thinks there are solutions that don’t involve ponying up the money are free to demonstrate it, but I doubt it. They are all talk I suspect.

      A lot of people just like to point fingers, there’s homeless here, homeless there etc. (even in South Bend I guess), but very few cities have this figured out so time to look at those who do, NYC I think, Utah some say but I don’t know.

  3. PlutoniumKun

    When I first read about that SF school, I honestly thought it was one of those made-up right wing stories, or at least, a more innocuous story deliberately hyped up. But it does seem to be true. What gets me is that an educational establishment behaves in such an ignorant manner. I know very little about early 20th Century North American art, but even I know about Diego Rivera and the context of that type of iconography. This is one step away from book burning.

    It is one thing I’ve noticed recently about that type of sensitivity – there is a refusal to look at context. The article puts it correctly, its all about the persons ‘feelings’, not reality, whether objective or subjective. I first encountered this years ago in an film club I participated in. One person (who I had respected as a very knowledgeable participant) argued that a particular scene in a 1950’s Japanese film constituted ‘date rape’ and she expressed her revulsion of the character and the film on this basis. I argued – reasonably I thought – that in the context of a film from the time and genre that this was not the intention of the writer/director and shouldn’t be interpreted that way, and I offered other examples. I then found myself attacked for ‘dismissing women’s fears and concerns’. I was both fascinated and horrified to find very intelligent and educated people insisting on arguing from ‘their feelings’ rather than look at the context and regarding a counter argument as some sort of personal attack rather than a genuine opinion. At the time I thought I’d just hit a raw nerve accidentally, but I’ve encountered this often enough since then to see that this is a growing feature of the ID Pol left.

    The irony of course is that the insistence of subdividing people into racial/cultural ‘groups’ and insisting on their differences arose originally among reactionaries and the right wing in the 19th Century. I find it very disturbing that its so common now among the so-called left, who seem completely unaware of the irony.

    1. GramSci

      My first encounter with this subjectivism was with a friend’s mother, a survivor of the H*l*caust. She was traumatized by N*zi marches in Skokie, somewhere back in the 80’s. I tried to reassure her that in the US they were not to be feared by J*ws because in the US their anger was and would be directed against bl@cks. But my attempt at reassurance caused me to be accused of being a N@zi, and it cost me a friendship.

      My wife has been r@ped, and now she suffers from Trump Derangement Syndrome to the point that she is willing to believe whatever the CIA, the FBI, and Rachel Maddow feed her.  

      A single friend of my wife was r@ped by her father. When I speculated that perhaps her father had also been ab_sed as a child, she launched into a tirade accusing me of saying that all ab^sed children become ab^sers and that I was labeling her as a potential child ab_ser. I only saved a semblance of friendship by immediately recognizing her fear, apologizing, and conceding her argument that there are absolutely no impartial scientific studies supporting my proposition.

      Experiences such as these remind me of Göring (“Tell the people they are being attacked”) and Jay Gould’s recommendation to “hire one-half the working class to k|ll the other half.”

      Idpol is the logical result of this strategy: divide all ethnicities, religions, and group identities by fomenting deep irrational fears, each against the other.  This is why I support Bernie (and FDR’s) campaign against fear and the fear-mongers.

      1. GramSci

        Sigh. All the asterisks and underscores notwithstanding, Akismet still sent the above comment to moderation :-(. Maybe if I spell fonetikly?

        1. Anon

          Moderation at times can be random, at other times not. ALL of my comments go there; take heart. (I’m not bothered, as they eventually arrive here (and probably annoy some people).

        2. lordkoos

          I’ve noticed that my shorter comments post instantly, whereas longer spiels seem to go to moderation. I wouldn’t take it personally.

      2. orange cats

        “She was traumatized by N*zi marches in Skokie, somewhere back in the 80’s. I tried to reassure her that in the US they were not to be feared by J*ws because in the US their anger was and would be directed against bl@cks.”…..”A single friend of my wife was r@ped by her father. When I speculated that perhaps her father had also been ab_sed as a child….Experiences such as these remind me of Göring (“Tell the people they are being attacked”) and Jay Gould’s recommendation to “hire one-half the working class to k|ll the other half.”

        Rationally and objectively, I would have thought your experiences taught you the value of “recognizing someone’s fear” and refraining from insensitive “speculation”.

    2. flora

      an aside:
      I was both fascinated and horrified to find very intelligent and educated people insisting on arguing from ‘their feelings’ rather than look at the context and regarding a counter argument as some sort of personal attack rather than a genuine opinion.

      That, in essence, is how mobs are whipped up. In your example the emotionally whipped up mob (of normally reasonable and fine people) limited its attack to verbal assault.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Yes, exactly. One of the features of this type of behaviour is I think that it is a form of bullying. Instead of rational argument you have emotional pressure to conform to a new consensus. So certain new ‘norms’ are developed, and those who are a little behind the curve on whatever the new form of behaviour or language is becomes immediately labeled as a bigot of one form or another.

        I can understand how someone in an aggrieved minority can relish the power this can give them, but it doesn’t matter where it comes from, bullying behaviour is unacceptable.

        1. Pespi

          This is an emperor’s new clothes power play by a member of San Franciscos black misleadership class.

          Either agree with lunacy or be made outcast

    3. Retired

      “The irony of course is that the insistence of subdividing people into racial/cultural ‘groups’ and insisting on their differences arose originally among reactionaries and the right wing in the 19th Century. I find it very disturbing that its so common now among the so-called left, who seem completely unaware of the irony.”

      It’s all about getting votes as sad as that is.

    4. Jonathan Holland Becnel

      Didnt it originally start in the 1400s with the Spanish Inquisition and the pontification of ‘Civilized Europe?’

  4. jeremyharrison

    Living in San Francisco, this is the norm in politics. It’s been one-party rule for decades, and politicians here climb the ladder and make their bones by one-upping each other with their virtue-signaling, no matter how insane it is.

    In most places, dogmatic subjectivity IS divisive. Here, where there isn’t really division, it’s just a greater and greater spiral into Crazyland.

    Most any SF politician who would read this article, would immediately declare Yves to be a racist, Trump-loving, White Supremacist. Those who nod in agreement get to stay in the club. Anyone who objected would get the same label, and could never possibly get the endorsements of the local in-crowd that are needed to win an election here.

    I don’t know if the School Board members are True Believers, or just basic politicians looking ahead to the next promotion.

    1. flora

      an aside:

      dogmatic subjectivity IS divisive

      Dogmatic subjectivity is a basis of demagoguery, imo.

    2. shinola

      Shame on you jeremy! Your comment is offensive to SF politicians and therefore should be deleted at once!

      We are witnessing the death of irony.

      1. John Wright

        Indeed, the SF people may not have seen their convergence with the Rockefeller family and its suppression of a Diego Rivera artwork circa 1934.


        Why in the world doesn’t SF simply cover over the artwork with removable panels and then paint on the panels?

        If there are subsequent regrets about the action, then the work could be restored.

        1. Gary

          John Wright is correct. Why can’t they cover the murals up with panels? What amazes me is the lack of response from art professionals; curators, historians, dealers, scholars, working artists. The stated cost of concealing them seems easily raised by crowd sourcing and similar methods. To simply destroy murals intended by their creator to expose the horrors of injustice? I am dumbfounded.

          1. c_heale

            I think murals aren’t seen as art by many curators, historians, dealers, and scholars, because they are too close to graffiti, too much like people’s art. They can’t be easily sold or put into a conventional great artists narrative.

        2. Acacia

          Why in the world doesn’t SF simply cover over the artwork with removable panels and then paint on the panels?

          Because the objective is to destroy something that, in their dogmatically subjective opinion, is simply wrong. Covering it would not be a sufficient action to destroy it. They are motivated by a kind of sadism, evidently.

    3. Ignim Brites

      “It’s been one-party rule for decades, and politicians here climb the ladder and make their bones by one-upping each other with their virtue-signaling, no matter how insane it is.” This is the most perceptive, or at least the most interesting, comment. It could be added though, that the virtue signaling involved is a ritualistic, quasi religious, driving out of demons. It is not working at a soup kitchen, for example. It is a manifestation of indivudual power but also an augmentation of the power of the (party) elite. Until, of course, it isn’t. Or to put it another way, there will be blowback. I wonder if this whole controvery is aimed at Senator Harris.

  5. Alfred

    Where did it come from? I’d say it traces back to the sweeping success of deconstruction in the 1980s, and especially of its bizarre Americanized version that devolved into not much more than the celebration of ‘the competing narrative’.

    1. Anarcissie

      Dogmatic subjectivity is the consequence of the priesthood of all believers, that is, at least to the beginnings of the (individualist) Protestant revolution. Prior to that time, dogma (that which is to be taught and believed) was social and institutional: the prince knew he was right because he was the prince, and everyone else knew it, too; if they professed a different belief they were rebels and heretics, and subject to the prince’s powers to command obedience.

      Complaining that people do not think logically or investigate evidence may be reasonable for the reasonable, but a very large majority of people do not evidence original thought or concern themselves with evidence. The processes of emotion and intuition are much too powerful and efficient to be opposed much by mere reason without some kind of cultural backing. Thus far that does not seem to have evolved. Ironically, those who can and do reason have willingly given very powerful means of destruction and coercion to the unreasonable.

      1. wilroncanada

        Thanks Anarcissie
        Ironically, I think, the (individualist) Protestant reformation split into thousands of exclusivist sects, cults and splinters, each demanding the priesthood of all believers believe just like them.

    2. animalogic

      You are completely correct Alfred — all this foolishness goes back to deconstruction & Post Modernism (PM) in general.
      Most first year philosophy students could repudiate this crude “subjectivity” as a basis for knowledge & reality, let alone, action.
      Of course, PM was not the result of professional philosophers but of various people in the humanities & social scientists.
      What caused PM? Partially it was a logical step from Structionalism. Also, it was a means of being “radical” in an entirely establishment (ie career safe) way. And it was “industry driven” — put crudely, it opened up a new world of potential PhD theses in the Humanities etc.
      And we come to today & a mural that in its day boldly challenged the historical orthodoxy. It’s to become a non-entity because it mightoffend someones’ feelings.
      Well — it’s insanity — but it’s useful insanity.
      As a number of commentators have noted, it’s all very decisive — which is why it is useful.
      The Culture wars & Identity politics keep people from questioning the Class basis of today’s society. It also divides people — Black Lives Matter rather than ALL lives matter. No job for new Grad’s? But at least we’ve sorted out those micro-aggressions.
      (Poor kids — if they ever manage to get good jobs, they’ll have to swallow far more than “micro” aggressions) TPTB have been using these divide & rule tactics since Class became a social factor. These tactics work.

    3. m sam

      They are painting over the mural because… deconstruction? That’s a curious thing to pin this to. Particularly in light of the fact that deconstruction’s strength is in showing faults in logic that make “solutions” such as painting over the mural seem reasonable.

      No, I think caution should be taken in casting about for something to blame here. You might end up simply painting over another mural that is being grossly misunderstood, and in that case there is nothing learned.

  6. John

    Dogmatic self-assurance. I have a right to my opinion. Self-righteous certainty. That horrid term, “present-ism.” San Francisco will now outdo the McCarthyites by not only disapproving of the artist but destroying his work. Better to teach your children to understand the world view of the 1930s that gave birth to the mural than to join the “book-burners.”

    1. flora

      That mural depicts the entire southern economy as riding on the back of enslaved workers. The railroad line runs across the backs of field workers, it’s held up by field workers. Pretty radical. (And a nod to the progressive era cartoons showing the robber barons’ wealth resting on the work of underpaid employees and cheated small businessmen.)

      How anyone could see this as anything other than condemnation of slavery is surprising. Destroying history instead of teaching history isn’t a good idea. (Although, destroying history might seems like good idea for today’s robber barons, lest today’s badly paid might get ideas…)

      1. flora

        adding: Everytime I visit an art museum and see all the nek’ed lady paintings , see women presented as objects not subjects, I get triggered! Triggered I tell you! Shut down the museums! /big snark

        1. flora

          adding, to be clear: the above snark isn’t meant to dismiss the very real issue of ptsd. However, I think using a term – ‘triggered’ – from ptsd treatment in this context of erasing or destroying history or shutting down reasoned argument is a dishonest use of the term.

          The above snark is meant to show the dishonest use of the term for idpol or selfish purposes.

          1. CarlH

            I agree wholeheartedly with your thoughts on the use of the word “triggered”. Being triggered by a real world stimulus is a very, very real thing and in therapy is one of the big obstacles (for want of a better word) to overcome. Everyone’s triggers will be different, tailored for each individual by the trauma the person experienced. My trauma was military and explosion related, so I am triggered by certain deep, rolling, loud sounds like loud Harley type motorcycles or your average loud bang or thump. The smell of burning rubber or metal is another of my triggers. They are myriad, and I occasionally discover new ones. With therapy, they become manageable, but they still are there. My point is not to tell a personal story that in normal circumstances I would keep to myself, but your comments on the misuse of “triggered” really spoke to me and I thought I would share why. It is really annoying to hear it misused and I wish it weren’t, but I guess this is the nature of language. Like most things, eventually corrupted.

        2. Anon

          Sometimes one has to look at the art product itself, and not the “subject”. By that I mean, the techniques used to present the “subject” (portrait art). Creating visual effects through brush stroke, color juxtaposition, dimensional depth, and illusion is part of the art. (See: Mona Lisa’s “smile”.) Pictorial composition is a whole other matter. The evolution of artistic skill and composition can be seen in the development of “landscape painting” and in portraits/still lifes (where you and me can assess/compare the work with other artwork, as well as, real life experience).

          Murals are visual poems that take time to fully understand. Providing context (words) to the viewer is best presented after visual contemplation. (Better to assess one’s perceptions– the ultimate goal of art?)

          1. Anon

            Addendum / modification:

            Change that last line to: Better to challenge one’s perceptions…

  7. a different chris

    > I may feel something deeply and be absolutely sure of it, and you may feel something else in exactly the same way. If our feelings contradict each other, how do we decide who’s right?

    Simple. That’s why they invented politics. And courts. Basically government itself. What does everybody else think is how we decide, life isn’t just you and me.

    Unfortunately I’m using a definition of “right” which is more along the lines of “who wins”. And the idiots are mostly winning nowadays. But that’s life, stand up and turn the tide. Really not sure how kimyo’s Underpants Gnomes theory would make anybody but TPTB even more entrenched.

  8. rob

    dogmatic subjectivism is as old as being a parent…. or on the receiving end; a child.
    “it’s older than them thar hills”

    like water flowing to a lower level,
    it expresses itself when positions of authority are present in any relationship.
    they do it because they can.
    others have to bear it because they are prevented by social construct from being heard or listened to.

    What I don’t get is when this happens in our politics.
    It seems that under the direction of basic civic action, “those who govern” ought not be allowed to be so callous and indifferent to what are factual realistic viewpoints and arguments. Yet congress can’t seem to remember it is a co-equal branch…The trump can do anything… it seems. The national security state can trample everyone all the time… many people feel the second amendment needs protection….. but screw the fourth…. why is that?
    the predatory healthcare system. the predatory criminal justice system…. the federal reserve and our monetary system funding our own demise.
    The things that hurt us the most, are the things that we can do the least about…. because some people in positions of power “feel” things are either fine.. or will be fine with a series of tweaks to the status quo…
    Everyone I can think of who thinks things are fine, are comfortably well off. Funny how a “viewpoint” can be so manufactured by just adding financial security to ones list of “haves”

    This is why we live in ,”Bizzarro world”,
    The US is so far from OK…. yet so many people don’t want to hear about it… and march on on their merry way….

    1. funemployed

      It surprises me not at all that it’s educated “education” “leaders” making this call.

      Our educational system has gotten more authoritarian than ever at the same time that it has encountered a cultural and political imperative to appear more democratic and equitable. What you wind up with is the bizarre phenomenon of authoritarian “multiculturalism.” I can state for a fact that the majority of people out there struggling for justice think this sort of thing is absolute nonsense (or at least a waste of time), but in an authoritarian system, the biggest bullies and shrewdest con artists are always the ones who gain and hold power – regardless of ideology.

      To put it another way, the educational system is one that uses coercion and bribes to generate a sense of superiority among those who can best embody the “real” ruling ideology (hint: it ain’t democracy, truth, and justice) and both have the ambition and lack the scruples to try to dominate others (they need not be self-aware about this – in fact, they very rarely are – a sense of inherent superiority does that to people). In everyone else, the system works to create self-doubt and feelings of inferiority, and negate the ability to speak truth to power, and even to engage in moral dialogue.

      To put it another way, the educational system is stuck in an impossible paradox. Its primary social function is to sort people into an increasingly unequal, rigid, and cruel society while training children to accept their assigned roles as natural and deserved. Its secondary (and ostensible) function, however, is actual education, which, properly done, accomplishes the precise opposite thing by bolstering knowledge, collaborative skills, moral reasoning capacity, and historical and social awareness. The primary function is deeply embedded in literally every aspect of child rearing, culture, and our economic life. Belief that the secondary function is in fact the primary and only function is utterly necessary to the legitimacy of the system (and thus the real primary function).

      There is literally only one way for the system to accomplish its actual function while appearing to accomplish the ostensible one. It sorts for ruthless authoritarian leaders who think they are actually the exact opposite. This person, by definition, cannot be a very good listener, open-minded, humble, or self-aware, or, frankly, very bright.

      IMNSHO, the real problem with the mural being in the school is that it threatens the system by pulling back the curtain on the fundamentally violent nature of our society and unjustness of any hierarchy where some few inherit the power to dominate many (which is precisely what most schools are, if you ask any half-aware student).

      This is not to bash education generally, and the countless wonderful people who knowingly labor in this system to, at least at the margins, provide genuine education. Only to point out that the primary social function of education needs to change so the best people can do the best possible educating.

      1. Jerry B

        Great comment. It reminds me of the writings of John Taylor Gatto, Ivan Illich, Paolo Friere, and others.

      2. marym


        Thank you for this comment.

        Acknowledging that Washington was a slave owner, the settling of the country involved genocide, New Deal public art projects were good, and McCarthyism was bad would serve the “secondary function,” liberating ourselves from the top-down the history and culture of the elite.

        It’s unlikely that a 21st century SF school board advisory group can’t tell the difference between portraying slavery or genocide and promoting it. They’re co-opting and thus discrediting concepts of identity awareness and respect for personal feelings to justify destroying something that’s both a record and an artifact of the people’s history.

        This is serves the conservative project to suppress the people’s history, and the neoliberal project to destroy the commons..

      3. ChiGal in Carolina

        so all this talk of triggering is a smokescreen manufactured by TPTB to ensure the continuation of the oppressive status quo

        ironic, that the oh so radical project of deconstruction should have come to this. but there is something fundamentally regressive in elevating subjective experience to the point that objective reality is besides the point. context is everything!

  9. Nameful

    It seems to me that thinking should be more than a simple triggered emotional response. Otherwise no one ever should be able to think about, and analyze, uncomfortable things. Or play chess. I tend to think of this kind of behavior not as “I think, therefore I know” but rather as “I know, therefore I don’t have to think.” Reacting by bringing up trained responses is always so much easier than engaging the thinking part of the brain. And it’s a pity, the brain is capable of much more, but this identity conditioning makes it look like a poorly-trained neural network. I suppose one way of encouraging one to engage one’s thinking brain is to reframe things in an unexpected way. But I’m not sure how well it would come across if one would ask something like ‘how does you wanting to destroy some piece of history that makes you uncomfortable differ from ISIS destroying Palmyra?’

    1. Jesper

      I agree, I’ve found this bit very true:

      I tend to think of this kind of behavior not as “I think, therefore I know” but rather as “I know, therefore I don’t have to think.”

      Thinking is work, work uses energy and most forms in nature are optimising energy use.

  10. human

    “What I don’t get is when this happens in our politics.”

    Because the great majority of those inclined to seek political ambitions have not matured. They still require feedback and approval by others.

    “When everybody is thinking the same thing, nobody is thinking.”

  11. Greg Gerner

    There is a more telling, more apropos movie to reference vis-a-vis the nihilism of the San Francisco Board of Education’s decision to destroy the irreplaceable WPA era mural and the larger state of civil discourse in Trump’s America:

    The frighteningly prophetic “Imperial Me” scene from the 1964 made for TV movie, Carol For Another Christmas.


  12. jeremyharrison

    For what it’s worth – the student body at George Washington High School (where the mural rests) has the following ethnic makeup:

    Asian – 64%
    Hispanic – 18%
    White – 8%
    Black – 4%
    Native American – 0.3%

    1. Quentin

      ‘White’ and ‘Black’ look more like skin colors than so-called ethnicities whatever they are. I suppose the colors might refer to European and African or US Blacks and US Whites. Aren’t ‘Whites’ Caucasian anyway? How many Hispanics might consider themselves ‘white’, certainly not ‘black’. Is your ‘race’ still requested on Customs forms when entering the US? This identity crap has a long, long history.

      1. ChiGal in Carolina

        yes, the naive use of the terms white and black perpetuate the false notion that there is such a thing as race. ethnicities are more to the point, and following the Black Socialists, I have started using European-Americans, African-Americans, and Black (for those brought here as slaves centuries ago who subsequently developed a unique culture), and if I ever used the term “white” I do so in quotes.


    2. Svante

      Cool, thanks for adding this information. President Washington and wealthy friends, might actually had some affect on international ginseng, hemp, sugar & tobacco trade? I wonder what havoc this unleashed on China, Malaysia and the entire sub-continent, as the British and Dutch corporations had to deal with a febrile new trade competitor? Extirpate those trade partners you can’t enslave, replace them with indentured serfs. Distraction by divisive agitprop IS ‘Murika!

    3. lordkoos

      From the NY Times piece: “Of 49 freshmen asked to write about the murals, according to The Times, only four supported their removal. John M. Strain, an English teacher, told The Times’s Carol Pogash that his students “feel bad about offending people but they almost universally don’t think the answer is to erase it.”

      I view the mentality of those who, not content with covering up the mural, but insisting it must be destroyed, as akin to the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddhas in Afghanistan.

  13. Carolinian

    As one of NC’s San Francisco commenters said the other day the school board wants to do this as an expression of power. All that subjectivism is simply a rationalization for what they are really saying to their opponents which is, per Yves above, “they don’t get to choose.”

    Perhaps a higher power–i.e.the courts–could have a say here. Is a legal challenge to save the mural possible?

    1. The Rev Kev

      Now that is a good point. Is art work entitled to legal protection, especially if it is public art? Are government institutions authorized to destroy the art of earlier times?

    2. Alfred

      Best I can imagine is that the Dept. of the Interior could sue the City of SF, on the theory that the murals belong to the people of the USA. They are national cultural property; they were paid for with Federal funds. It would help if they are on the National Register. It might help if the $600,000 are a Federal grant that has strings attached. But I’m no lawyer; I have no idea whether the above makes any sense in law. I could also imagine groups of SF school parents, or just plain citizens, suing the Board to prevent misuse of public funds. Some group might have standing to sue to force the drafting of an Environmental Impact Statement.
      Not sure whether such a suit would get off the ground either. Such tactics might yield delay even if not an injunction. Just brainstorming here. Interesting to speculate whether Trump’s Interior might be opposed to tearing up pictures of George Washington. I cannot imagine this act will play well to the so-called Trump base. I have a feeling that the Board is angling for a suit, as it would generate huge publicity for the IdPol enthusiasts. This could be Charlottesville all over again….

  14. Krystyn Walnetka

    Objectivity is a spiritual practice, because it is a denial the self.

    Neoliberalism is a CULTure of the self.

    1. Anarcissie

      Liberalism in general. Locke, for example. The Self was interesting to the nascent bourgeoisie because they had stuff they wanted to keep, yet they were not princes who held it by Divine Right. Hence, a near-anarchistic (leaderless) state or at least a republic above, slavery for their wives, children, employees, servants, and the poor below, with the sacred Individual at the center.

      1. Krystyn Walnetka

        Just when I think no one understands me… :)

        Exactly, everyone is their own king under liberalism.

        Thanks Anarcissie, and I appreciate your pseudonym.

    2. anon y'mouse

      in the west coast u.s., you have many, many people who have spent a lifetime conflating the two until there is no difference apparent to them. they actually think they are “bucking the system”. narcissism has become a spiritual art there. move there from elsewhere, and you quickly pick it up, but it is inherent in the natives.

      1. CarlH

        Maybe a certain percentage of natives, but like everywhere else, the majority of the people here in the Bay Area are still members of the bottom 90% and have all the problems that go along with it and none of the pretension you describe. I would agree that our “betters” certainly fit your bill. To call a whole area narcissist is a bit much, but I get where you are coming from.

        1. lordkoos

          I find it curious and interesting that very liberal cities such as Berkeley and Seattle have some of the worst homelessness. Liberals seem unable or unwilling to solve this problem.

          1. JBird4049

            When someone often reaches a level of professional, social, and (especially in America) all too often they ascribe their success to their innate qualities and personal hard work. The intangibles like family connections, books, support for going to college, good schools, a stable and safe environment are discounted or simply ignored. So if they succeeded supposedly by their own hard work, anybody living on the street in this Land of Opportunity is an addict, or mentally ill, or just lazy and a loser. Facts are ignored and really this is true of both “liberals” and “conservatives.”

            I put the quote marks in because having known people from socialist to nearly reactionary, I know it is not ideology but willful ignorance. If we have 12,000 homeless just in San Francisco and lot more elsewhere in the Bay Area, it probably is not all their fault. The socialist and the conservative might disagree on the right solutions, but would not go and blame the homeless.

            Heck many of the people ostensibly liberal or conservative say they are but their words and actions are not that. The effects of both Blue States and Red States policies all to have the same ending. More poverty. More corruption. More police brutality. More suicide.

            The supposedly really pressing issue of our time, according to our leaders, are abortion, guns, addiction, racism, LGBTQ rights, God, and terrorism. Really? The fact that I can see oodles of homeless whenever I want, where there is housing there are no jobs and vice versa, the cracking economy, the permanent wars, the growing unrest, and the probable end of the planetary civilization are apparently unimportant.

            Strange is it not, that had the American economy grown with the same fairly equal distribution of the wealth and with gains in civil rights and the end of redlining in the early 1970s the hot button issues like poverty, homelessness, guns, addiction, abortion, and maybe civil rights would not be hot button issues. They would all be greatly reduced.

            But actually spending money especially on the bottom 90% is bad, so we will just go woe is us! And blather on about identity politics or deny women abortions because hot air is cheaper than money and often very effective in getting money.

  15. Off The Street

    Muh Feelz!
    San Francisco embodies that with its dogmatic approach arising from too much unchallenged rule.
    Visualize yourself in the City by the Bay. You are driving up a one-way street on a steep hill, coming to a stop sign. When you arrive, you notice that the other streets at that four-way stop are also one-way. Your car’s clutch is slipping, the brakes are fading and it hits you that there is a different meaning altogether to intersectionality.

  16. ds

    Interesting. In my town, there was a WPA mural in the middle school entitled “Winter Sports”. It depicts children skating, sledding, etc. The problem is that back in the 1930s our town was all white, and now it is not. Some members of the school’s Social Justice Club complained and the school promptly removed the mural.

    1. Louis Fyne

      I know of the town you’re mentioned….why not fundraise for a new mural to reflect the present.

      I don’t get it. people are just getting insane these days and others just can’t say “no, you’re being unreasonable” for fear of being ad hominem labeled as a _____-ist on social media.

  17. JacobiteInTraining

    Wonder what the good citizens of San Francisco would make of this: https://www.sealaskaheritage.org/node/553

    Assuming it did not lead to enough brain cells collapsing in upon themselves to cause a singularity, the knee-jerk reaction would probably be to burn down the Lincoln Pole.

  18. The Rev Kev

    I wonder what San Francisco would say if the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People or The National Congress of American Indians asked to buy this mural so that it could be displayed in their lobbies? Would there be mental gears grinding? It is such a comforting thing to know that you are absolutely right. Sort of like those priests who burnt the Mayan libraries because they could only contain works of the devil. Sad to say that this sort of thing happens again and again over the ages – sometimes mild, sometimes fierce – but always destructive.
    Girolamo Savonarola to the white courtesy phone, please.

  19. jake

    Maybe there’s a simpler explanation: Americans don’t understand art. It’s not literal enough for them, even in a form as obvious and ponderous as these murals which — let’s be frank — are more important as historical artifacts than autonomous works of art.

    Mindless identity politics and “virtue signaling” don’t help, but the fools making this decision are products of the American educational system, which grants college degrees to persons who don’t know the difference between Dickens and Sophocles or Rembrandt and Andrew Wyeth.

    1. Joe Well

      You are accusing 330 million people of lacking a sense of nuance. That is some kind of infinite loop of irony.

      1. jake

        If you you believe the American people, in aggregate, have a well-developed sense of nuance, how do you account for American popular culture? And our political system?

        What other evidence do you require? Shall we administer tests?

        1. Joe Well

          >>If you you believe the American people, in aggregate, have a well-developed sense of nuance, how do you account for American popular culture

          In all seriousness, then, explain Eurovision to me. Or K-pop. Please. I’m waiting.

          1. jake

            They (in this context, college educated Americans) either do or they don’t. How does Eurovision or K-pop answer that question?

            More to the point, I never said anything about “nuance” — that’s entirely your inference. I said such people are ignorant of the arts, and “of art”, a factual question, which is easily measured, if the present instance isn’t sufficient proof.

      2. Jonathan Holland Becnel

        Pretty sure the American Public would know enough nuance to vote Bernie over Trump.

        We must not waver in our full faith and support of the Public when its presented with an actual choice for better.

        Poor People know whats up. AND THEY MOST CERTAINLY UNDERSTAND NUANCE.

        1. Svante

          Seems like a pretty small number, capable of acknowledging: The overwhelming majority of voters knew (if only subliminally) Bernie wasn’t there to actually vote for? It’s a cruel joke, considering the policies most of his purpoted opponents now mimic, but unlike him, are running to forestall or oppose. Bernie’s candidacy is just another cynical subterfuge of our tag team kleptocracy. So, nu?


  20. dk

    I notice that the author offers “logical analysis” as an alternative to dogmatic subjectivism, but logic is only a matter of the consistency of the analysis, not the factual basis of its premises. Rational analysis is called for.

  21. Nancy Boyd

    It is under this extreme privileging of subjectivity that the “left” in all of the Anglophone countries are now supporting males competing as females in sports, in some cases based on nothing other than a man saying he is a woman, as well as the imprisonment of males in women’s prisons, where already the predictable has happened.

    (Regarding Labour’s problem’s in the UK, it’s interesting to me how much the press ignores how many women have left the party or spoiled their ballots rather than vote Labour because of their policy of allowing men onto All Women Shortlists as well as the extreme misogyny spoken to women protesting by certain Labour Party officials There is right now a very large battle taking place over this issue in the UK, most recently in Scotland where it’s threatening the SNP.)

    That the United Nations considers imprisoning men with women a human rights violation doesn’t matter. Men are women if they say they are, material reality be damned.

    This fight will come to the US if the Equality Act is taken up by the Senate, as that proposed legislation redefines “sex” in law as meaning “gender identity,” something that has no objective verifiability at all. It’s important to note that under these new proposed laws, a man’s gender identity as a woman requires he make no changes whatsoever, and in fact the law could not demand that, because if a woman is not defined by biology, then the only other criteria available are stereotypes. Therefore, under these laws, “woman” becomes no more than “a feeling” a man has that he is one.

    Given that the initial founding premise of the modern left was Marx’s insistence on grounding politics in material reality as opposed to Young Hegelian subjectivity, this reversal on the part of the left is as reactionary as it gets.

    I blame postmodernism, where literary theory is seen as more applicable to politics than economics and class-based analysis is non-existent.

    1. Randy G

      Nancy Boyd — +++++ Great summation!
      The reason I read NC almost every morning is because of the quality of the comments, which is almost always more illuminating than the original articles. It’s educational, of course, but also psychologically helpful as I don’t feel so isolated — and bonkers — for thinking along similar lines.
      I am not aware of any other blog on economics and politics where the exchanges are this informed and thoughtful, and I greatly appreciate the time and effort the regulars put in to these discussions.

      1. flora

        I haven’t heard about Jones until now. Thanks for the link.

        The ‘Episode 1’ part made me laugh. As an academic at a large uni I’ve run into this sort of … I won’t call it arguments from a greenhouse (hothouse) , it’s more narrowed and delicate than that, it’s more like arguments from a bell jar … argumentum ad ignorantiam.

      2. NancyBoyd

        Yes! I love Jane Clare Jones! Sharp, down to earth, funny as all hell.

        As far as I can see, the only left publication giving this issue the attention it deserves is the Morningstar, which has consistently called out the anti-materialist, anti-class nature of the battle over gender in the U.K. Other “left” publications have swallowed subjectivism whole.

        Of the literary theorists, Terry Eagleton was early in recognizing the reactionary nature of postmodernism. To my mind, postmodernism completely dovetails with neoliberalism; the two work hand-in-glove.

    2. Anon

      It is under this extreme privileging of subjectivity that the “left” in all of the Anglophone countries are now supporting males competing as females in sports, in some cases based on nothing other than a man saying he is a woman

      Well, elite level competition oversight (IAAF) isn’t so cavalier. (See: Caster Semenya). Deciding when a person has the physical advantages of being a male in women’s athletic event is not simple. But having gone through puberty as a male and eventually saying your actually “a woman” doesn’t cut it.

      The male flood of testosterone at puberty affects more than just the ability to grow fast twitch muscle fiber; a potentially distinct advantage in athletic events that advantage explosive musculature. And morphological appearance (vagina or penis) is not definitive, as there is the story of a woman who competed in the 1932 Olympics (LA) who appeared female (vagina) but during an autopsy (years later) was observed to have a under-developed penis, no uterus, and likely experienced the higher testosterone flood of a male at some point in her life (a hermaphrodite?). She was treated as and identified as female during her lifetime.

      Genetic recombination and the development of the human fetus can create “outliers” (Semenya, 7′-5″ basketball players, etc.) that give them a physical advantage in some sporting events (especially if they are competing against others in the XX gene pool). These are tougher questions than whom one “identifies” as.

      1. flora

        However, the US liberal cognoscente approach to the issue appears to come close to the sort of libertinism William Safire described in the WWI-WW2 interregnum — ‘The Rise and Fall~ — in post-WWI Germany; the old socially understood ways (aristocratic rule) were replaced with no preparation or guidance by a sort of social anything-goes democratic rule.

      2. NancyBoyd

        The IOC now permits males to compete as females provided that for one year they have lowered their testosterone level to below 10nmol/liter, a level which is within the low-normal range for males ans is 5 standard deviations above the mean level for females. No permanent physical alteration is required. The athlete must commit to living “as a woman” for five years; after that, the athlete is free to revert.

        So far, male athletes are planning to compete as women in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in several sports, including vollyball, where a male holds the Brazilian national women’s record for points scored in a single game; possibly weightlifting, where a male holds the women’s gold medal from the Commonwealth Games; and most likely women’s handball, where a former male professional handball player now competes on the Australian women’s team. There are also males looking to compete in women’s cycling and women’s track & field.

        Females may compete in male competition without restriction, which tells you all you need to know.

        The IAAF decision on Semenya was over a rule applicable ONLY to athletes competing with Disorders of Sexual Development in which they are phenotypically male but genetically male — XY chromosomes. Semenya is male and is at least partially sensitive to endogenous testosterone, since times increase when testosterone is artificially limited. To understand this fully, you MUST read the IAAf decision; the press reports were incomplete.

          1. Anon

            Excellent response, NB.

            The point of my initial comment, was to NOT glide past the issue of males competing as females. I agree with you. As my comment stated, if you are a male (XY chromosomes) and have experienced puberty, there is no way to mitigate the advantage of being physically male. The IOC plan is simply mitigation of male physical advantage; these competitors are NOT female and should not compete against those with XX chromosomes.

            Genetics provides both genders with physical characteristics that provide competitive advantages. But is has been shown that the physical sporting capabilities (jumping, running, power, etc.) are ~10% higher in men than women.

            I have read the IAAF report. Semenya is one of several athletes with the Disorder and the IAAF is trying to make a rule that accounts for the “outliers” I mentioned in my initial comment.

            My test for inclusion in female elite competition by those with XY chromosomes would be childbirth :)

        1. Aileen

          Thank you Nancy. Most people don’t understand how gender self-ID is, literally, the death knell for women’s and girl’s sports.

          Fortunately, as the sports issue gets more coverage, more people are waking up to the implications of not only allowing males access to female sports, but all other female spaces such as changing rooms, shelters, prisons, medical care, youth groups, etc. It’s a race against time, though, as governments are moving rapidly to secure “gender identity” as a protected class on par with biological sex.

          To be sure, no one should be discriminated against on the basis of their gender identity: however, elevating gender identity to an equal basis as biological sex will cause immense harm to female people. It’s not benign to accede to the claim that transwomen are literally women: “woman” means adult human female. If transwomen are “women,” then what do we call humans who have XX chromosomes, posses ovaries and uterii, and bear babies? What happens when we cannot legally identify these types of humans as distinct from humans who have XY chromosomes, posses testes, and produce spermatozoa?

          1. Lee

            Comedian Bill Maher likened sports competition between self-identified female but phenotypically male, versus female athletes to wife beating. He made reference to Judo, IIRC. Are there combat sports that are making similar allowances as are those mentioned above? Political correctness has gone off the rails on this issue.

  22. HomoSapiensWannaBe

    I agree these murals are honest, powerful works of art and social commentary that should be preserved.
    However, if I were a student or employee at this school, I probably wouldn’t want to see them every day!

    Perhaps some group will raise money to have the cinder blocks (?) they are painted on removed and preserved.

    I am only trying to present an alternative that shows respect for history, the artist, and the sentiments of people who may not want to look at these murals every day.

    1. flora

      They could just cover the murals. That way if in future attitudes change toward historic artifacts in public places the murals will still exist. But they want to make their choice permanent and irreversible. Any art museums, artist groups, or collectors in SF willing to protest this destruction of a noted WPA artist’s work?

      (Does the SF school board ban Mark Twain’s books?)

    2. jrs

      yea I think there is something about actually living in that context, which is not a museum but an actual living context, even if interpreted as intended, visualizing one’s oppression every day … yea sure it’s subjective.

      And I do wonder what those who actually live with the murals (not their “betters”) think of them.

    3. orange cats

      I am only trying to present an alternative that shows respect for history, the artist, and the sentiments of people who may not want to look at these murals every day.

      This is so reasonable and succinct it’s going to bother the crap out of people.

  23. David H.

    This always my question: Why do social justice warriors get to decide what the right answer is? And any answers diverging from their groupthink is wrong and worthy of being labeled “racist, misogynist, homophobe, etc. Why? I think critical thinking is or is rapidly becoming a lost skill. Of coarse, I also say that once the social justice warriors finish screwing up the country, they too will have to live here and can enjoy the “As you sew, so shall you reap” consequences of their depravity.

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      this is the kind of thing that drove me away from faceborg and then all other “social media”, except for NC.
      I was once naive enough to believe that the purpose of “social media” was discourse…the parts of FB i gravitated to were political, philosophical, etc…
      but it’s not…or it evolved to not be(?).
      10 years ago,maybe, there was a woman(friend of friendx3 degrees) who was on an anti-Thomas Jefferson tear…how we should never quote him, etc because he owned people.
      I waded in with Gandhi “testing his celibacy” by sleeping naked with nubile young women….Gene Roddenberry being a notorious womanizer…and Miles Davis being a horrible, misogynist…”shall we erase them from history, too?”
      she went ballistic…”all men are rapists”, etc.
      people have their quirks, of course…i don’t know her life story…but she had supporters in this tirade…and in the eventual attempt to erase me,lol.:first time i got a “time out” from the FB robot moderators. I used a different profile to lurk and watch what happened after she and her minions got me banned: triumphant crowing, as well as the ugliest language regarding me i’ve witnessed outside of east texas sheriff’s deputies and baseball bat-wielding rednecks.
      it’s sad as hell that this has become almost mainstream….something i didn’t expect.

  24. Susan the other`

    I don’t know what the word is – I don’t want to get cliche and call this the D word – but the dictionary is full of definitions which are diametrically opposite – for a single word. That is how our brains work and probably why we are always contradicting ourselves in what seem to be logical ways. That is how language evolves. Always needing to be redefined and rationalized. So it would logically hold true for images as well. An image of racism that was once humane could come to be seen in the future as offensive and too difficult to look at. It means the image isn’t current. It has lost its original meaning. Images live in context just like words. This is the perfect opportunity to look at the WPA and the history of social progress in the US. But it is hard to break into that conversation. I felt horrified when they were threatening to tear down the statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville. Because he was a man of his time and history does not reveal him to be particularly shameful or immoral. Rather, history depicts him caught in tragedy and confronting it with courage and acceptance. But Lee was shrouded because he offended people who don’t want to look into that reality. Their reality competes for the greater tragedy. Nobody is right. But everyone should try to understand. Which leaves us all flexible enough to evolve. San Francisco should turn this into a lecture on the history of the WPA. And if they remove the mural they should replace it with one that is historically current. In fact, they could paint it.

    1. Elizabeth

      Susan the Other – excellent comment. It seems to me that certain groups are trying to erase history by removing statues, murals, and other works that depict our history as a country. These works are presented to remind us all of our history (inhumane and cruel) as it was – not to glorify it. We cannot erase our history. I believe this is what the Soviet Union did also – tear down statues and pretend their history didn’t exist. To me, this is extremely divisive – pitting one group against another – and we wonder why our country is so divided (not because of the Russians). I had a thought that perhaps another reason (unstated) to remove the mural in SF is because the painter was Russian – don’t know, but, just wondering. When will the book burning start?

      1. Susan the other`

        And also to think that history is the account of our civil evolution. Now, as everything evolves, we are looking long and hard at the native American civilization for answers to cure our devastation of the environment… that’s only fitting, and it should go down in the history books – highlighting our hubris and mistakes.

  25. Jeremy Grimm

    Once the wall is cleared it might make a wonderful canvas for the works of ‘midnight’ muralists, children of Banksy, and the Sad Panda.

  26. PKMKII

    This strikes me as anti-wokeness masquerading as wokeness. Per the post World War II liberal revisionism of re-imagining the Founding Fathers as being purely motivated by abstract ideas about freedom and liberty, and not seizing native land to be worked by chattel slaves, any reminder of the reality of the FF threatens that revisionism and hence the patriotic mythos. So, under the guise of offense, they wish to remove the mural not so that students will remain unoffended, but so they will remain unaware.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      If the mural has not already been destroyed, then the question arises: should the mural be saved? If it should be saved, then the “reason” the SF School Board wants to destroy it does not even matter. What matters is gathering so much force and power so fast against the SF School Board, that Defenders of the WPA Mural are able to shove the SF School Boardmembers’ hands down the garbage disposal before the SF School Boardmembers are able to achieve their goal of destroying the mural.

    2. ChiGal in Carolina

      So, under the guise of offense, they wish to remove the mural not so that students will remain unoffended, but so they will remain unaware.

      exactly so, as stated above (in different words) by funemployed.

  27. David in Santa Cruz

    While “dogmatic subjectivism” has always been a part of the human condition, social interactions historically kept it somewhat in check by forcing us to acknowledge both objective fact and the experiences of others. This post is very important, but my thoughts here are off-the-cuff:

    What seems to have changed in today’s society is the unchecked and non-mutual emotional manipulation by television and the internet, which have elevated subjective and anomic emotional experience to the only emotional life that many people experience. The emotional “hit” from being manipulated via these one-sided devices is far more satisfying than engaging in the mutuality of dialog via actual social relations, which challenge one’s subjective emotional experience and require one to acknowledge objective facts.

    I spent many important developmental years, approximately age 18 to 24, without access to a television set (there was no Internet back then). It has always amazed me how people who were “raised by television sets” lack the facility for critical thinking, empathy, and mutuality — and how they have the ability to simply deny objective facts. Young people “raised by the Internet” are even worse. They simply ping-pong around inside their “dogmatic subjectivism” and are easily manipulated through their “feelings” rather than by facts.

    1. Jonathan Holland Becnel

      Smart Phones and Ipads are raising children today. The rural youth flock to Cities to worship in its Temples of IdPol…

    2. Geof

      I watched Marty last night. It’s a wonderful film. I wonder whether it would get in trouble today. There’s a moment when Marty tries to kiss Clara, and gets angry because she won’t. It seemed to me a discordant moment for such a sweet character. But it’s real, and I think that’s why it’s there: to acknowledge the truth of our imperfections. Right afterwards, Marty sits down and apologizes: “I’m old enough to know better.”

      When I was a kid, I thought American TV and film was sentimental and moralizing. Much of it was. I wanted complexity, pain, the dark side of human nature – and I got it in masterpieces like The Wire and Deadwood.

      But the simple stories of good people have disappeared. It’s all power fantasies, violence and degradation, or aimed at children. (I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones: I loved the politics, but cut out before the blood wedding because the violence was too sickening. Folks online boasted their moral superiority for enduring the “reality” of torture porn.) The decent, ordinary, even boring adults are gone, except perhaps as targets of mockery. A movie like Marty, about something as simple as a Saturday night when two good people fall in love, would never get made today.

      How do we expect anyone to learn how to be an adult? Reading top-ten “adulting” tips on Medium? Watching Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton? Playing Arthur Morgan in Red Dead Redemption 2? Growing up in a hot-house with only others the same age? From working parents struggling to make a go of it, or shuttling the kids from soccer to piano to tutoring? On the Internet? In school?

      I don’t mean to talk down to anyone, or suggest that we have a generation who haven’t grown up. But a shift of only a few percent can have large social impacts. Though honestly, I see a lot of grown-ups, of all ages, who aren’t adults at all.

      I have no desire to return to the days when everything had to pass the Motion Picture Production code, but I’ sick of every story being about powerful people hurting damaged people (one or the other of whom is the “hero”). The ancient role of stories is not just entertainment: it is to teach us how to live. But where are the Martys, the High Noons, the 12 Angry Mens, the Our Towns? Are any of our stories who we want to be?

      1. The Rev Kev

        I can see what you mean. Would it be possible to make the film “The Long Weekend” again? Or maybe “Genteman’s Agreement”? Certainly the film “Marty” was just about the problems faced by an average guy but you would only see that in an Indy film these days – or not.

  28. Jonathan Holland Becnel

    This sounds like an episode of Big Little Lies, a show about elite school moms on HBO.

    Perhaps, you chose the wrong show, Yves ;-)

  29. orange cats

    What a lot of sound and fury. It’s the kids who have to see the dead Indian and slave auction every day, not us. Let them vote on it. If a majority think it’s a drag– thanks we get it, now get it outta my face” take it down and put it in an art museum.

    1. Jonathan Holland Becnel

      Excellent Idea, comrade. Im ashamed i didnt think of this first. This seems like an issue the High School kids could radicalize around.

    2. Anarcissie

      I read above (in this discussion) that the students were in favor of leaving the wall as is.

    3. katiebird

      It still shouldn’t be destroyed. It could be moved or covered or something. But why destroy it?

  30. eg

    Thinking is hard. So it is mostly avoided.

    Engaging the outrage of others is politically useful, so it keeps happening.

    So it goes …

    1. Sushi

      Math is hard.
      That phrase got banished from talking dolls, so what comes next when thinking is under attack?

  31. Aileen

    I grew up in the Bay Area in the 60’s and 70’s. San Francisco has been Crazy Town for a long, long while. I don’t think this mural situation can be traced to a single set of ideas, rather as the path of a culture. Here are a few choice highlights:

    –The ethnic cleansing of California natives was one of the most brutal campaigns in a long line of brutal campaigns, beginning with Spanish missionaries and largely completed under the San Francisco-based Gold Rush Americans.

    –The California Empire was built upon slave labor of natives and migrants, and its wealth continues to be built on the backs of migrant people.

    –SF has long been the financial powerhouse of the West Coast, built by and ruled by east coast elites–and these same powerful families still wield immense influence in California politics.

    –Post-WWII development was supercharged with federal money flowing into the military-industrial complex: the genesis of Silicon Valley is military research and contracts. The military soul of Silicon Valley is most on evidence in the modern surveillance state; its heartlessness is clear in the industry’s role in creating the conditions for the thousands of homeless crowding its gentrifying streets.

    –Northern California was a hotbed of cults in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and many of California’s powerful tech and financial figures have been directly or indirectly influenced by est, Landmark, etc.–cults that celebrated groupthink and derided the idea of individual agency and responsibility.

    –Post-structuralism, Queer Theory, etc. have found fertile ground in SF’s so-called “tolerant” culture. (I won’t go into this philosophical background, because I’m not a philosopher–but trust me, it’s incredibly pertinent: see below for a link.)

    So I see quite a bit of moral over-compensation going on here… SF considers itself morally superior to all other global city-states, yet refuses to acknowledge, let alone address, its brutal history and sources of its current wealth and power.

    Add this all up, add in a splash of self-righteous power-seeking, and one gets a particularly toxic brand of liberal totalitarianism.

    Disclaimer: I used to consider myself politically liberal. Now, I no longer believe that liberal philosophy will inexorably lead to liberty and justice for all. What’s next?

    Extra credit: Check out this two-part essay by the brilliant feminist philosopher Jane Clare Jones, which I think is quite relevant to understanding the virtue-signaling that has produced this decision by the SF School Board.

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      i like Jane a lot.
      and this– https://janeclarejones.com/2018/11/13/the-annals-of-the-terf-wars/ —had me scaring the cat.
      my boys have a saying: “you do you”. I don’t know where it came from…i first heard them use it in the early, terrifying phase of wife’s cancer…when i was with Momma in hospital all week, and would come home and be evasive(since we didn’t have a clear prognosis and everything was up in the air still). first weekend i came home i got hammered, and i was apologising for that.
      “you do you” seems rather applicable to the terfwar combatants.
      all of this…the language policing, the pronoun policing, the checked boxes and the weaponisation of intersectionality—feels like an op.
      like it’s no accident at all…
      seems useful for undermining any class consciousness, let alone solidarity, that may arise as we circle the drain.
      i almost long for the days when my opponents were all right wingers and randian libertarians. fighting the Big Center totalitarianists is gonna be a hard row….like our “foreign policy” these last 20+ years, it appears that chaos is the purpose, not some unfortunate accident.

      1. Aileen

        @Amfortas, yup. “Annals of the terf wars” is a fantastic look at the way the modern left invites toxic ideology to destroy people’s lives. I see young people being coerced into accepting what any rational person would consider self-harming behaviors in the pursuit of perfect wokeness. Young women are bullied into being “sex-positive” and pro-porn, to the point that setting any personal boundaries whatsoever is considered literal violence against some marginalized group. To do otherwise is to be branded a heretic and ostracized from polite society.

        I also see people of my generation getting more soft-witted by the day–it seems the more education a person has, the more ignorant they are about the lives of real people. I find myself hitting a brick wall whenever I try to point out to my liberal friends and acquaintances that the US political system has been effed up for a long long time, and simply removing trumph isn’t really going to change anything. But they won’t listen, and instead spend all their time sharing stupid nasty memes about the prez and his witless family.

        It’s crazy-making.

        On a personal note–I’m so sorry about your wife’s diagnosis. My hubby was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer three years ago. He’s still here, and making the most of every day–I’m learning how to do the same. My best wishes for you, your wife, and children. Living with cancer is its own special reality. May you both be strong and find joy in your life together. Every day is a gift!

  32. lordkoos

    The other thing is the concept of “safe spaces” in schools and universities. Since the world is most certainly not a “safe space”, I fail to see how removing everything that may make students feel uncomfortable, in any way prepares them for the real world. I get that some marginalized groups such as LGBT etc might need an area where they feel safe, especially in public schools, but the concept seems to have been taken to ridiculous extremes.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      It isn’t the students who were uncomfortable. It is the Social Justice Retards who run the School District who are uncomfortable.

      If San Francisco doesn’t have enough citizens willing to defend the mural with force and violence to get the mural saved from the Social Justice Retards, then that says something about the Basic and Essential Barbarism of San Francisco itself.

  33. Lee

    Applying similarly warped subjective fee-fees, next slated for destruction: all Holocaust museums and memorials. The kinetic iconography of the Taliban and and ISIS are brought to mind by these SF dimwits.

  34. Thasiet

    But how can we tell what is objectively true? Well what cultural petri dish are you trapped in?

    Progressives: The only truth I know is the look in your eyes
    Liberals: Trust us, you big dummies; we’re professionals.
    Republicans: Trump tweeted it, I believe it, that settles it.
    Conservatives: Markets are the way, the truth, and the light. Also, umm, Jesus.

    Speaking of whom, what did his judge have to say? Oh yeah.

    Pontius Pilate: “What is truth?”

    Call me crazy, but #I’mWithPilate.

  35. Watt4Bob

    I’ve been considering lately, whether we may all be, each and every one of us, evidence for the existence of parallel universes.

    I think it would be much better if we just focused more on trying to communicate with each other, rather than focusing on receiving credit for creating ‘evidence’ of the possibility of our being at sometime in the future, able to communicate with those in the next identity-silo if only they would apologize for scaring us so badly the first time we met.

  36. drumlin woodchuckles

    Doesn’t San Francisco have any Historical Preservation Societies? Doesn’t San Francisco have any “Friends of the New Deal”?

    Well . . . probably not. This is the city which loves its Nancy Pelosi, after all.

    But what about the rest of California? What about some neighboring Western states? Aren’t there enough arms-bearing citizens beyond San Francisco itself that they can come out in force to protect the historic WPA mural till the Social Justice Retards at the San Francisco Board of Education can be thoroughly crushed and broken and the mural saved from their Woke selves?

  37. Michael Hudson

    What amazes me is that it is GOOD HISTORICAL thing to show that Washington was a slaveowner, and that he fought Native Americans.
    That isn’t anti-black or anti-Indian. It shows how the times were.

    My solution: Save the mural, destroy the building but cart the mural off to an art museum — perhaps a wing (even in Europe or Asia) of censorship.

  38. Grayce

    Time to revisit Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) for his view of nonlogical actions. In his book “The Mind and Society” Pareto ovserves that we are driven by certain “residues” and by “derivations” from these residues. He explains that much social action is nonlogical. He adds that much personal action is designed to give spurious logicality to non-rational actions. Before anyone hangs a tag on Pareto, it may be important to report that Pareto was a lifelong opponent of Marxism.

  39. Tim

    To be honest, having personally swung between liberalism and conservatism over the years I have to say this is more an affliction of the liberal mind. Sometimes conservatives do come bearing relevant facts and the liberals will have none of it.

    Again I’m not trying to pick sides, because conservatives have their own massive functional blind spots too.

    But the number one reason conservatives don’t trust socialistic policies is they fear this know it all attitude running amok and ruining everything. There has been lot’s of little cases like what is presented here that provide all the fodder necessary for conservatives to run for the hills.

  40. Bernalkid

    There are a handful of these pieces in SF as far as I know. 3 Rivera-City College, City Club and SF Art Institute. Coit Tower, signiture collaborative piece. Beach Chalet, Rincon post office, Washington HS. Weep at the stupidity.

  41. pricklyone

    While I, of course, do not agree with the actions of the school officials, and would very much like to see the mural preserved in some fashion, it strikes me as strange to present this as a case against subjectivity.
    This is a piece of social commentary, presented as a work of art, and interpreted as such. How can it be objectively considered?
    If we were to consider “just the facts, maam”, what would that entail?

    In my OPINION, the mural speaks for itself, and was likely intended to provoke a certain UNCOMFORTABLE feeling in those who view it. Isn’t that the point?
    History? If actual historians, and those who teach history, were doing their jobs, a mural such as this would have no power to trigger anyone, as it would be like stating “the sky is blue”.

    The only objective thing here, is the school board controls the building, and can destroy the work, barring some legal wrangling as noted above. I hope someone is doing some detailed photography at the site, to document what they will destroy. It is not a substitute, but any historical significance does not have to die with the mural, only the work itself dies…

    I can agree (subjectively :)) that the interpretation of the school board is 180 degrees out from what seems to be the obvious intent of the artist, but that is an interpretation, as well.
    I will await some objective analysis, as I cannot see how that is possible, in these cases.

  42. Plenue

    One could argue that San Francisco up to Seattle, along the coast anyway, constitutes a more or less single coherent cultural block. One that is proudly, arrogantly Liberal, and loves to show off how ‘progressive’ it is. The type of American Liberalism that is perfectly encapsulated by ‘Keep Portland Weird’ bumper-stickers. That’s what ‘progressivism’ is to these people: gay marriage and bikes and microbrews. It’s hipster aesthetics.

    Meanwhile they couldn’t give less of a crap about the large and growing homeless populations of all three of these cities, other than that they find the homeless offensive and off-putting and wish the police would just run them off to somewhere else.

    There is no depth, nuance, or actual principle to this type of Liberalism. It just becomes ever more insular and navel-gazing, and inevitably enters into death spirals where it starts cannibalizing itself. So now we need to censor an accurate portrayal of an ugly past because its ugliness might ‘offend’ someone, or we need to get rid of the lesbian women only bars because that would exclude trans-‘women’.

  43. drumlin woodchuckles

    Are any digitally knowledgeable digital warriors figuring out how to enter and attack the San Francisco School Board’s computer systems and keep attacking them until they are forced to cancel this decision?

    San Francisco has boards of tourism and stuff. Is anyone thinking about how to hack and paralyze the San Francisco Board of Tourism computers until the SF Board of Tourism is tortured and terrorised into intervening in this decision?

    Is anyone thinking of Doxing every one of these School Board Members and showing all their personal data to all the digital warriors of the Nation and the World . . . so that they can be digitally tortured and terrorised until they reverse their decision? And if they can’t be prevented from destroying the mural, can they be Doxed so that their lives can be as destroyed for decades to come as the mural is destroyed by them?

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Has anyone even bothered to create a Twitter hashtag along the lines of #SaveTheMural or some such thing? Has anyone even bothered to see if any of the Social Justice Retards on the San Francisco School Board have a Facebook Account and/or a Twitter Account? And if so, reveal those accounts to millions of people worldwide so that Friends of the Mural can destroy these Social Justice Retards’ twitter-lives and facebook-lives?

  44. dk

    What I don’t get is why dogmatic subjectivism is so central to the outlook of some people. Where did it come from? Why is it embraced so unquestioningly? What purpose does it serve?

    It’s the eventual product of the operative behavior of beliefs. Beliefs are substitutes for comprehensive knowledge. A common invocation of belief is when we feel we must make a decision immediately, but lack the needed empirical information required for logical analysis.

    As long as the subjective convictions seem to match perceived reality and received information, we can fail to notice that we are doing it, that we are acting on conviction and belief rather than on empirical observations and rational evaluations of them.

    Once the divergence from more rigorous method of thought becomes habit, we become disinclined to deal with the matter, or even acknowledge it to ourselves, especially since we have now developed the facility of self confidence without rational basis.

    It’s so easy! And it feels great! The self-confirmation can trigger an endorphin feedback loop; this is how our minds and bodies work, if left untended by our will to confirm our own precision empirically, or at least weigh it rationally. When our minds signal confidence, our bodies respond more readily to our intentions.

    And if we can find support for our selected convictions among others, we find a community of like-minded and self-satisfied fellows, we feel that we belong, in a way that more rigorous reasoning doesn’t provide as easily or rapidly. We can also acquire convictions from others. Or we can manufacture them to ease our own acceptance of circumstances, as well as to convince others and gain their trust. The enthusiasm, the physical expression of our confidence, is conveyed posturally, through vocal nuance, through uses of syntactic constructions and special phrases.

    But that fact that this mechanism produces vivid experience does not mean its conclusions are accurate, since we didn’t confirm them.

    TL;DR Beliefs are substitutes for knowledge and comprehension. Mixing beliefs with rational reasoning distorts the reasoning. +
    and occludes unwelcome conclusions by

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