Zero Squared #89: Deplorables

NYU professor Michael Rectenwald is the guest this week. Rectenwald was recently at the center of a small controversy at NYU because, after being called out on Facebook for posting a link to an article mocking the need for alternative pronouns for all the various genders, he decided to create an alt-right persona and critique SJWs on twitter. When he announced the results of this “experiment” in an interview for the Washington Square News a slightly larger controversy erupted. His colleagues signed a collective letter criticizing his illogical rhetoric, finishing with the line “the cause of Professor Rectenwald’s guilt is certainly no, in our view, his identity as a cis, white, straight male. The cause of his guilt is the content and structure of his thinking.”
After this Rectenwald took a leave of absence from his University. With a little investigation it appears that he requested this leave of absence, but insinuated that the leave was not voluntary.

His story went somewhat viral. He was interviewed for various publications and penned an opinion piece for the Washington Post with the headline: “Here’s what happened when I challenged the PC campus culture at NYU.” He wrote, “I was strongly encouraged to take a paid leave of absence [and told] that it had nothing to do with my recent media posture. That’s not exactly how I see it.”
However, soon after this was published some of Rectenwald’s private emails were also published, namely a correspondence between NYU Dean Schwarzbach and Rectenwald. This correspondence made it clear that the leave of absence had been granted at Rectenwald’s request. The final email from Schwarzbach concludes.

“For us to be clear on your needs, we require you to state unequivocally and in a direct, unambiguous response whether you still need the leave you requested. I expect that answer—whichever you give—to be henceforth the same in all settings. If you cannot do that, at this point, I think I have no choice but to make a decision based on your public utterances, and the leave you requested—apparently under false pretenses—is withdrawn, and you are expected to meet your classes as assigned.”

I do not know if Rectenwald is now back at NYU and teaching or if his leave was extended, but I do know that all of this went on while the possibility of his promotion was being determined and that he eventually was promoted to the level of full professor.

From the outside, and with the facts that I have so far, it looks to me like Rectenwald pulled this stunt in order to create a context wherein his being passed over for promotion would have negative political consequences for the university. That isn’t a demonstrable fact, and if Rectenwald wants to return to the podcast in order to explain his side of the story more fully I’d be glad to talk to him again.

At the time this was recorded Trump had not been elected and I was very sympathetic to his cause.

I should take a moment to talk about that last fact. The fact that Donald Trump was elected is a game changer. The notion of safe spaces, for instance, has an entirely different connotation now that Stephen Bannon has been selected to be Trump’s chief of staff in the oval office. That said, the need for overcoming racial divides, for creating alliances and struggling together as a people regardless of race is the only way to amass enough political power to effectively fight back.

Rectenwald’s claim that identity politics on the left feeds and strengthens identity politics on the alt-right is worthy of consideration outside the context of Rectenwald’s shenanigans. Standing in solidarity with all the different people who Trump is scapegoating, making sure we protect and defend each other from attack, is necessary. Combating racism is an immediate priority even as we return to the task of changing the economic foundation that generates racism and divides us.

Zero Squared #73: Brexit and the Rise of the Right

Andrew Kliman, author of Reclaiming Marx’s Capital and The Failure of Capitalist Production returns this week to discuss the Brexit and the rise of the far right.

What might be unique about this discussion is that we start out by agreeing that, one way or another, the Brexit vote needs to be tied in to the economic crisis of 2007 and the Eurozone crisis that followed.

The big announcement this week is that a Zero Books membership site is in development. Our new line of interview books “Advancing Conversations” will be made available as audiobooks, we will offer workshops on critical theory, politics, and economics through the site, and we also introduce a member’s only podcast.

If you’re a fan of Zero Books please consider signing up for our monthly newsletter at the Zero Books website and find out about upcoming titles like Daniel Coffeen’s Reading the Way of Things, Jeff Bursey’s Centring the Margins and Eliot Fintushel’s Zen City. If you are a regular listener to the podcast I’d encourage you to follow us on Facebook and to consider leaving a review of the show on iTunes.

The music in this episode includes an instrumental version of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven as performed by the Vitamin String Quartet as well as sound clips from Nigel Farage and Donald Trump. You’ll also hear a short excerpt from Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd. The music you’re listening to right now is the Django Rock Band covering Pink Floyd’s In the Flesh but in just in a moment you’ll be listening to Andrew Kliman and I discuss Brexit and the danger of a Left/Right Convergence.