Note: I can’t call this a review, cause I couldn’t finish the book, even 1/4th of it!
This will go to show me that you need to read more book reviews before you order something. I thought Schulman’s book would be an insightful, nuanced and carefully crafted book about the dangers of call-out culture (which are real and important to talk about!) but instead, almost 50 pages in, I’m exhausted. Exhausted with Schulman’s lack of self-awareness, lack of cogent writing, with her lack of ability to make any particular argument enticing, much less not maddening. I’m exhausted with her petty examples from life that strike me as diminishing real abuse and conflict for that matter. I’m just exhausted with this book.
Schulman’s thesis is a fairly simple one and almost inane in how non-controversial it is: People in today’s world tend to overstate the nature of harm when it’s really just normal conflict, people resisting injustice or they’re just doing nothing at all. Her examples leave a lot to be desired however as they get us into some very big discussions of politics through the cases of Michael Brown, domestic abuse and weirdly, the violence at the Gaza Strip between Palestine and Israel.
Warning: I am very uncultured when it comes to this particular topic and I’ve done that rather intentionally. I have no real stake in the question (I’m not Jewish) and the issue constantly perplexes me with its terms and sides and so forth. Suffice it to say, I’m against nation-states and violence against peaceful people, which nation-states tend to perpetuate. That should be enough, hopefully.
All these issues are (as you might notice) wildly different in terms of scope, content and the sorts of discussions they might engender. Yet Schulman is convinced that they are all connected because of one simple thing: The conflation between conflict and abuse. In making their her central thesis she horribly (and offensively) waters down these situations by leaving out systems of patriarchy, white supremacy, and, Jesus, just the whole history of Israel and that whole mess. It’s complicated as fuck.
But no, these situations can all be reduced to Schulman’s thesis. You know what else can? Schulman seems to think the AIDS crisis is also comparable to the horrors on the Gaza Strip because of similar reasons. You can (hopefully) see the issues starting to pile up in this book already: Namely that Schulman has no sense of scale.
She has no sense of how to compare one thing to another without going from 0 to 100 in a minute flat. It’s amazing how she can start talking about emails and how awful they are and “artificial” but then rant and rave about how great phone calls are (aren’t they “artificial” too?). And then she shames people for not picking up her phone calls because what reason could there be? God forbid people have phone anxiety right? Or maybe they just don’t like your sense of entitlement?
There’s also a gross section about a woman talking about her g-spot and it’s not gross because of that but because Schulman decides it’s necessary to fill my head with thoughts of her penetrating this same woman. Why did I, as the reader, need to explicitly know about this emotion? It’s not gross because it’s queer, it’s gross because it’s inappropriate in this book. I don’t need to know about your unfulfilled sex life, this book is (supposedly) about the intricacies of conflict.
One of the running themes I noticed in the start quotes is that they all mention some sort of “facing” or “confronting”, which, as far as I’m concerned, just reinforces this patriarchal notion that all emotions must be dealt with. You have to be a man and face your emotions and you need to get a hold of them/yourself. There’s no living with your emotions or trying to work through them, there’s only “facing” or having the “will” to keep them in check or make them disappear.
The larger problem with Schulman’s book is that she presumes just because we can make peace with our friends online, over email or in our day to day interactions, that somehow the situation in Gaza or between a rich football player and the wife he beat in an elevator are even remotely similar. She takes the “starting from smallest principles” thing to its logical (fallacious) conclusion and presumes since the tiniest drop of oppression makes up the largest, the same tools must apply!
But solving a conflict with a friend is not necessary for establishing larger efforts for peace. Although working at the small scale is assuredly helpful for getting started, neither guarantees the success of the other. Trying to solve a conflict between a friend and between a cop and a friend are, by themselves, very different. Forget about the Gaza strip or the power struggles of a wealthy football player and their wife, the small scale and the large scale are not the same thing.
These are not even remotely similar cases. And while we need small-scale repairing skills to help with the larger social context, they are again very different circumstances. The tools we need to fix the conflict between our friends and a bad email and the tools we need to solve things like domestic violence among the wealthy, police brutality and violence on the Gaza strip may appear similar and in some ways they have core things in common such as dispute resolution.
But they are on such different scales that the tools we used for one are not likely to be effective in the bigger scale. We’ll need new and better and more refined tools, not just the ones we keep for personal and small-scale community use. Solving an entire nation’s dispute with another nation that dates back hundreds of years, requires a very different strategy than dealing with an errant email between friends.
More than anything, this book is just exhausting and the worst part is I’m not even 1/4 of the way through the book. I haven’t even mentioned Schulman’s comparison to slavery, her little note on “people of the wrong age” and her comparisons of white folks falsely accusing black men of harassing white women with her desire of another woman. We haven’t even touched on her entitlement that runs throughout so much of the book that at even 1/4th in I’m sick of it.
So nope, I’m done.
I don’t owe anyone anything and I doubt many people read these blogs anyways. I did my best to slog through this book and I wanted to finish it, but I just don’t have it in me to finish a book that constantly minimizes conflict and abuse.
I’m doing these reviews as bibliotherapy and it’s not especially therapeutic to constantly read a book that makes me want to tear out its pages and yell at the author for their nonsense. I’m doing this series because I want to try to be a better person and, less than 50 pages in, I’m convinced this book won’t do that for me.
Lastly, on the book, it’s not always possible to communicate or repair (as Schulman herself has admitted ) relationships once they are broken. Sometimes the best thing you can do to someone who is seemingly unwilling to do better or be better is to kick them out of the community. Is it a total solution? No. Is it always the most helpful thing to do for everyone? Also no. But sometimes it’s the necessary thing to do for the survivors. And that’s enough of a reason (often enough) to do it.
Apparently there’s a “way” to read this according to one GoodReads reviewer, but if your book can’t stand up to the way it was meant to be read, then you’ve got bigger problems (c.f. The Machete Order for Star Wars which tries to grapple with the fact that the prequels exist). Here’s a handful of reviews I like that I feel would sum up my attitude (had I finished), 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
Up next is The Revolution Starts at Home!