Risus et bellum

MILO really needs to put this motto on a t-shirt: “Laughter and war.” It is what he called for back in November, when accepting the prize for courage in journalism from David Horowitz’s Freedom
Center:
So let us fight, but let our motto be Risus et bellum, Laughter and war. Because nothing stings our foes, foreign and domestic, more than our hearty laughter at their lies and nonsense. And also because nothing will better remind us what we’re fighting for than the laughter of Chesterton, of Chaucer and of Shakespeare, and of course the God who inspired them all.
I have to confess, I am quite weary today. It is taxing withstanding a SJW attack. My colleagues in academia have, over the past week, used every weapon in the standard arsenal: long-running Facebook threads in which they talk about how deplorable I am; an open letter passed round the internet at the speed of light, garnering (at an estimate) some 1,400 signatures from colleagues at large to be sent to my Social Sciences Dean; an open letter just posted to be signed by colleagues at my university, although, to be fair, the call for signatures does not mention me, only advises (I paraphrase) “if you don’t know why this is important right now, Google it”*; Tweets declaring that I deserve to be raped (for advocating chivalry, mind you); alarmed articles in the Huffington Post and elsewhere; and hints of plans for protesting a talk that I was scheduled to give in New York, withdrawn after the fact with the insistence that my critics should not give me the attention I so clearly crave.

You gotta laugh. I’m serious. There is nothing else for it. Just now, as I am writing, a friend on Facebook is messaging me, asking about a comment I made on my Facebook page (which you can see, even if you are just visiting; my Facebook salon is bathed in sunlight, unlike those of the colleagues who have spent the past week defaming me; they also seem to have a habit of taking posts and threads down, as well as deleting comments from friends who come into support me). I had posted the link to the open letter, with the observation that it was too bad the signatories were not including their academic fields, just their institutional affiliations, as including the former would have made “an interesting list to parse.” By which I meant, I recognize some but very few of the names, making me suspicious of how many of the signatories are in any way affiliated with medieval studies. If the signatories had described themselves more fully, it would provide interesting data for a network analysis of how these kinds of lists spread.

But of course that is not what Twitter is now saying I meant. They took it as a threat to unleash my Twitter trolls (which I don’t have; I barely use Twitter myself). Meanwhile, my friends on my Facebook feed are talking about cowboy boots. That’s the problem with conservatives: we just don’t care, even when our enemies are coming for us. We want to get on with our scholarship, raising our children, making art, clothing, homes, textiles, toys, all of the wonderful things that human beings have invented to make the world a more comfortable, enjoyable, and beautiful place in which to live. They want to compose death threats about a woman whom they have never met.

My favorite Tweet of the several I have seen (I don’t go looking for the most part; I am relying on friends to relay things to me) has been this one:
I posted this screenshot to my Facebook page with the comment:
ROTFLMAO. He's talking about YOU GUYS!!! I have the best friends. All my friends are the best.
Professor Steel subsequently Tweeted that I had called him an elitist. My friends are now designing name tags and t-shirts.


Of course what my academic colleagues who are distressed by my blog post answering Dorothy Kim’s blog post about proving ourselves in medieval studies against advocating white supremacy are upset about is that they believe Milo is a white supremacist, although they are being careful to dodge round that in the most recent screenshots I have seen.
But to clarify [one colleague wrote in her explanation about why she had de-friended a colleague who is senior to us both and who was trying to organize some kind of conference session at which we could talk about the issues my blog post had raised], I don’t actually think RFB [I’m “RFB”! Or as my friends call me, “The Notorious RFB”] is a “white nationalist” (that’s an extreme position that even Milo Y. refuses to be affiliated with, and that’s important to note, because so many of these terms are *not* interchangeable, and as good scholars, we need to get as firm a handle as possible on the different groups jostling alongside, and sometimes in conflict, with each other under the umbrella term “alt-Right”).
So that’s a relief! Maybe she actually read Milo and Allum’s Guide! Or maybe not. She continues:
So, to recap, are RFB and her “friends” [a.k.a. “Random Laypersons”] white nationalists (in the vein of Hitler-worshipping neo-fascists?) [sic] Um, no. But are they (primarily) white, primarily (male) ethnocentrists? Um, yeah. And that characterization *will* hold up in the scrutiny of FRB’s [not sure who that is, I’m RFB!] writings (public and more scholarly), interviews, and the like. It’s called intellectual history.
So that’s me told. Although not quite: the post goes on for some four-and-a-half screenshot pages, getting gloomier and gloomier. Somehow blaming me and all my non-SJW colleagues (there are still a few of us, especially in medieval studies, as my critical colleague makes sure to say – that takes nearly a full page, blasting us for believing in things like chivalry, the crusades as initially a defensive campaign, medieval Catholic ideals of celibacy as not in fact directly responsible for the recent pedophilia scandals, you know) for making her miserable, when, as she concludes, she and her colleagues in “Uppity Killjoy Medieval Studies” refuse to be bowed by “this racist, sexist, misogynist, homophobic, etc., Medieval Studies as Usual.” (My guess is, she has been reading Mary Daly; if not, I have a guinea pig-chewed first-edition copy of Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy that she can borrow.) (I had guinea pigs in grad school and not enough shelf space higher than they could reach.)

I want to go shopping for cowboy boots. Seriously, who has time for this kind of lamentation? I get it, they’re upset. I used a rude word to make my point about what the real answer is to the anxiety about white supremacists taking over our field. (To coin a phrase, “Learn some f*cking medieval history!” My friends are working on the t-shirt design.) I posted a nice photo of the colleague whose post I was criticizing, to illustrate her point about her body being the proof that simply by being herself she is waving a “‘highly ridiculously unlikely-to-be-a-white supremacist’ flag in the classroom.” I pointed somewhat mischievously to the fact that one of the most senior historians in medieval studies for the past several decades is black and yet studies exactly the fields they say (political and crusade history) are most overrun by “white ethnocentrism.” (New catch phrase; note how “white supremacist” doesn’t work anymore). And I made an argument from my own scholarship about how studying some “f*cking medieval history” makes it ridiculous to try to claim that medieval Christians – or myself – were as focused on race as contemporary uses of Christian symbols by actual white supremacist groups would have us believe. (I am dependent on my colleagues for this information. I have never met a white supremacist; I have no idea what symbols they use.)

And for my pains, I have 1,400 colleagues in academia at large who think I am out to harm them.

(There was the small matter of an image that MILO’s team used to illustrate the article they did about me, which the authors of the open letter claimed to be a death threat against Asians. The image was meant to be a play on my avatar as Fencing Bear, using the Game of Thrones character Maege Mormont, known as “She-Bear.” I need to do another post on the problems of interpretation at stake. I am quite sure by now someone has figured out a way to make my desire for cowboy boots sinister.)

We talked about this whole furore in the Three Kraters Symposium last Friday, and Josh had something really important to say about laughter.
Laughter is the most readily available source of courage that a person has in the face of their own demise. What are you going to do? You’re worm-food. You might as well just give up. What’s the point? Everything you touch will be gone in a hundred years. Well, fuck it! (laughs) That’s the readiest source of courage in the face of the inevitable. And it trickles down into every little tiny thing. You know. Like what’s the deal with airplane food? What is the deal with airplane food? Why can’t we fix this? We can land probes on comets but we can’t fix airplane food. It’s funny! It’s absurd!
The random laypersons who have friended me in their hundreds over the past six months seem to get it. Why can’t my academic colleagues? Milo makes jokes. I have been writing about his jokes for now over a year. He is not threatening anyone (except Dylan Roof and Islamic terrorists), although his jokes may certainly make some people uncomfortable. (Ben Shapiro, Leslie Jones, Amy Schumer, and Lena Dunham spring to mind.) But the point of his jokes is not to make people uncomfortable. They already are. The point of his jokes is to make people free.

Milo recorded the first episode of his podcast this week as a kind of interview with Chadwick Moore, his Director of Research. I say “kind of interview” because sometimes it was hard to tell who was interviewing whom. The premise was that Chadwick had invited Milo over to his hotel room and they were drinking champagne, which wasn’t champagne, but blanc de blanc, which Milo said was not real champagne. It didn’t matter. They got tipsy and giggly and, at one point in the conversation, they couldn’t stop laughing for a good minute or more, kinda like I was when I first read Karl Steel’s Tweet.


On Sunday, Milo and his team are going to attempt to walk onto Berkeley campus and put on a four-day Free Speech extravaganza. It is, as Milo likes to say, war. But it is war on the pearl-clutchers who would insist nice grandmotherly professors like me should not use naughty words. It is war on my academic colleagues who willfully misrepresent or misinterpret images or phrases to make it seem as if calls not to harass someone (“Be gentle, she’s young”) should be read as threats of rape. It is war on the nannying professors at Berkeley who are planning on cancelling classes rather than having their students risk walking through campus on a day when speakers are talking about why feminism hurts women, the problems with not taking Islam seriously as a religion governed by its own system of laws, the threats to our access to information with the politicization of Silicon Valley, and the very real demise that we are witnessing to the First Amendment culture of freedom of speech.

It is far from clear whether the speeches are even going to happen. And yet there are Milo and Chadwick in the podcast, laughing and laughing and laughing, till the tears come. What was it that Josh said?
Laughter is the most readily available source of courage that a person has in the face of their own demise.
My friends in my Facebook salon know how to laugh. I wonder why my colleagues in academia are so dour.

*If you do not know what I am talking about, I recommend going here. You can tell that this is a well-balanced article from what Twitter is saying about it: “Epic fail.”

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