Being Contentious

I am contentious and contrarian by nature. I was brought up to see this as part of my Jewish identity. In the Soviet Union, Jews were not allowed to practice any aspect of our religion, language, or culture. We had to forget the very word “Jewish” in return for the removal of the pale of settlement. Anti-Semitism was completely absent during the first few decades of the USSR’s existence. After the Soviet Union defeated Nazism, though, it paradoxically (not that paradoxically, of course, but this is a topic for a separate post) became institutionalized. Still, Jewish identity persisted and was transmitted from one generation to another. One part of our identity* consisted in always being a thorn in the side of every reigning ideology.

Once, when I was twelve, I saw a program on television where a famous poet was being interviewed. “I completely agree with what this guy says,” I commented.

My Jewish father was a huge fan of this poet’s writing. Still, he was horrified with my reaction. He gave me a four-hour lecture delivered in an outraged whisper (so as to avoid exposing my mother to the horror of my compliance) on why it was wrong for me to agree with what the famous poet said.

“You are a Jew,” my father told me. “We have survived for thousands of years in alien cultures and have been able to preserve our identity because we have a goal. Our ultimate aim is to be the a thorn in the side of every authority imaginable. Whenever we hear an accepted opinion our first, completely automatic response should be to disagree. When you hear something on television or read it in a book – even one written by your favorite writer, even when expressed by your parents – you first impulse should be to voice disagreement.”

“Well then, Dad, I think you are wrong,” I said just to bug him.

“Now I hear my daughter speak,” he responded. “Whenever some old fart tells you what to do, just say you think he is wrong.”

This lesson was crucial in setting me on the path of becoming a literary critic. It also defines everything I do as a blogger. Often, I say things aimed at shocking people  on purpose and try to get them to think about daily realities in unconventional ways. I like to believe that this is what has helped me become a popular blogger in no amount of time. I keep losing faithful readers because of this strategy. They write me impassioned emails trying to convince me that wording my ideas in a milder way will gain me more followers. However, I don’t  want to gain followers at the cost of diluting my message. I want to preserve my identity of an outspoken, shocking, contrarian Jewish feminist autistic academic who doesn’t mince words and doesn’t care about not hurting anybody’s sensibilities. The Internet is a free space (still) where people can wander in and out of blogs whenever they feel like it. People keep coming back to mine, though, which makes me think that my way of approaching things has some relevance to others.

When I first started blogging, I was convinced that only the four people I forwarded the link to would ever read the blog. (One of them never even checked it out, which tells you a lot about my social life). I was terrified when I first realized that, in spite of the horrible writing skills, people still wanted to read me. I still remember the terror I felt when my blog started getting indexed by Google and I got my first seven unsolicited visitors in one day.

The funny thing, though, is that I regularly participate on conservative, Republican, Libertarian, Chicago School of economy, MRA, PUA, “Sarah Palin For President”, “Sarah Palin Is Evil”, anti-feminist, anti-public education, anti-Ukrainian, “Academics are evil”, and anti-blogging blogs. I love generating controversy and I go to those blogs to voice dissent – always in a very respectful way, of course. And on none of them have I been insulted, excoriated, banned, shut up, accused of really outlandish things and asked to leave as I have been on feminist blogs. At this point – and just two years into blogging – I have been banned or asked to leave from pretty much every feminist blog I tried participating in. I still leave my links at Feministe’s Self-Promotions Sundays from time to time, even though I have been asked by a regular participant why I bother since I “never agree.” (Apparently, there is an agreement every reader is expected to reach before saying anything on the blog.) They haven’t banned me yet, so kudos to them. Other than that, I’m not welcome at any other feminist blog I have been able to discover. That really makes me very sad.

* This was just one part of it, of course. If people are interested, I can blog later about how people preserved their Jewishness in completely non-religious ways.

17 thoughts on “Being Contentious”

  1. The question, though, is whether you believe in the things you say to shock people. I’m asking seriously. I don’t mind the language (I’m Argentine and Jew, hey), but I have abandoned debates on your site when I felt that I was not able to have a dialogue because it looked to me, as a reader, that you were not taking into consideration whatever I was saying but just repeating things for its shock value.

    I am a faithful reader, and I keep coming back. I don’t mind the heated arguments, the language, etc. But I need to feel that I have a person that will engage with me, taking my arguments into consideration, for me to participate in a thread. Otherwise, I just get bored.

    Of course, it’s your blog and you can do whatever the heck you want with it. It’s just my two cents as an individual reader of how I perceive certain threads.

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    1. I believe their content passionately. The form, however, is the way it is on purpose. 🙂

      “I felt that I was not able to have a dialogue because it looked to me, as a reader, that you were not taking into consideration whatever I was saying but just repeating things for its shock value”

      -Interesting. I feel the same about you. 🙂

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  2. After the Soviet Union defeated Nazism, though, it paradoxically (not that paradoxically, of course, but this is a topic for a separate post) became institutionalized.
    Please, do blog or, at least, give a sentence about it. I can only think of Stalin’s antisemitism (as this author claims) and the totalitarian regime’s constant need to search for enemies and exploit their labour.

    If people are interested, I can blog later about how people preserved their Jewishness in completely non-religious ways.
    Very interested, especially since I can’t think of anything, except WW2 stories and my grandmother baking mazot (not kasher ones) once a year on Pesah. May be even not every year, but I remember at least once.

    that you were not taking into consideration whatever I was saying but just repeating things for its shock value.
    I sometimes got the impression too. (Not necessary to me, in general).

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    1. OK, then, by huge popular demand, two posts will appear tomorrow on:

      1. The trajectory of Soviet anti-semitism.
      2. Maintaining Jewish identity in non-religious ways.

      I hope more people than one find this interesting. 🙂

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  3. Also, I’ve never heard of the Jewish goal of “be the a thorn in the side of every authority imaginable”. I think it was more your father’s approach than Jewish approach?

    I understand how being aware and not trusting could be developed by some Jews during centuries of living in danger under discrimination, when they couldn’t trust neither authorities nor their not Jewish neighbors. I do. However, I’ve never heard of thorn worldview in my family. My grandmother was a passionate communist too.

    Forgot to mention what helped most of all to not make me forget totally of being a Jew – anti-Semitism suffered by my relatives and once a seller on the market using on my grandmother this bad word for a Jew. I remember it to this day, even if I was spared from seeing any more discrimination or hate on myself. Like in a poem:
    http://allpoetry.com/poem/8497385-Incident-by-Countee_Cullen

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  4. I wish I had a feminist blog that I could not ban you from. (Long time lurker, by the way….hi!)

    We don’t agree about every aspect of feminist thought, but you consistently make arguments that are compelling and thoughtful. But that’s the frustration of feminism, right? There seem to be quite a few wrong ways to do it… but there don’t seem to be any right ones either.

    In any case, keep being contentious. I’m trying to break into academia-land right now and I’m excited at the prospect that people like you occupy it.

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    1. “I wish I had a feminist blog that I could not ban you from”

      -This is the nicest thing anybody could have said to me. 🙂 Thank you! Good luck with your academic plans!

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  5. That one could have been a problem because I am fighting against positive, magical thinking and Magnetism : https://clarissasblog.com/2011/07/11/why-bad-things-happen/.

    But you said it applied to you and did not present it as a general law that explain all human life.

    I am not speaking anymore to the wife of my best friend because of that issue. Promoting, working hard and everything will turn out good for you in a magical way, wich mean I must be a lazy person, considering my life is a mess. Kick me in the face when I am down. That’s why I want some friends!

    Anne Archet and David Gendron can both get on my nerves and I just ignore them when it happens. At least I try to.

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  6. I must be Jewish too because I love controversy. But I don’t tend to disagree here because I either agree with you, or disagree about something that I don’t care about too much.

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  7. “Whenever we hear an accepted opinion our first, completely automatic response should be to disagree.”

    The difference between your family and the Bengali stereotype is that our first reaction is supposed to be to insistently question and passionately debate, not necessarily disagree. Even when we don’t wholly disagree we love nothing better than to sit around taking sides anyway, dissecting why one would either agree or disagree with the matter under discussion. Amartya Sen captures the essence of it in his introduction to “The Argumentative Indian”, which you might enjoy reading.

    Personally, I feel this far more fruitful a methodology of dissent and talking back to power, but then I’m culturally biased.

    It’s true that your bombastic blogging style has made your blog very popular — I said as much in a recent comment, perhaps it subconsciously influenced this post — but I sometimes wonder whether if you enjoy having someone as overtly critical (and equally overtly appreciative) as me in your comments. I ask because I notice you tend not to respond to my more critical comments (and when you do I feel the way Spanish Prof does about most of those responses). Of course, you have a very full schedule and full rights to selectively address whatever you wish on your own blog. I am merely curious.

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    1. Thank you for the reading recommendation, Rimi. I really enjoy having you around because your way of being argumentative reminds me of me. 🙂

      The comments of yours that I don’t respond to are not the ones that annoy me or anything. It’s the ones that I don’t fully understand. Like the first and the 2nd comments in the thread on prostitution. I read both of them twice but I’m still not sure what the position expressed there is and how it differs from what I said in the post.

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