The U.S.-Government Shutdown, STEM, and the Affective Turn
I cannot get the photo out of my head that presents a collage of twenty of the House Republicans responsible for shutting down the government since October 1, 2013. There are more than twenty of them but the photo shows those elected by wide margins. In other words, these twenty politicians “stand their ground” because they feel they are acting with great support from their electorates. They do not fear repercussions for taking the radical step of shutting down the U.S.-government. In fact, they are probably expecting large approval in their districts.
The reason why I cannot get the image out of my head is that nineteen of them are male and all twenty of them are white. The photo shows nineteen white males and one white woman, Michelle Bachmann from Minnesota. In short, the image documents that the government of the United States of America is held hostage by white mostly male politicians who insist on a right-wing socio-political and economic agenda.
Looking at the photo, I cannot help wondering: if we lived in the nineteenth century, would they also be among those defending slavery?
And yes, the constant TV talk shows on the shutdown of the government inform us that there is a fight going on within the Republican Party and a minority within it is attempting to dominate it. Yet we are also learning that grassroots support for this minority is considerable. Many of their constituents are actively calling this or that Republican Senator or House Representative. On top of it, Christian-right convictions nurture the ideological fervor, so we hear. Conservative Americans repeat again and again that, in their view, government is too big and so-called Obamacare just too much even though Americans have started to sign up for their new health insurance opportunities in record numbers.
I also wonder if a more diverse body of politicians in Washington would be able to pull off what this minority group of mostly white male conservative politicians is doing right now. Am I the only one who thinks that the racial and gendered social locations of those twenty-plus politicians, supported by their class location, enable them to do what they have been doing for the past few days?
But not many people seem to be talking about it. And how far right has this society drifted so that a film, entitled Inequality for All, featuring the former labor minister of the Bill Clinton Administration, Robert Reich, is seen as radical when he merely emphasizes “people first”?! That such a statement is perceived as leftist illustrates where we are right now when we debate the socio-political and economic future of the United States.
Meanwhile, the dominance of white males in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) is taken for granted and when it is discussed, it sounds as if we have not been there already for a very long time. The astute article, written by Eileen Pollack on “Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science?”, explains clearly that overwhelming androcentrism is the undisputed reason for the lack of women in the STEM fields and, one might add, the same holds true for racism. Culture, not biology, accounts for the lack of white women’s and people of color’s success in science careers. It is worth reading this article because most universities and colleges are driving investments in the STEM fields right now but not in the humanities and social sciences. Is it merely an accident that at the very moment when white women and people of color have gained access to careers in the humanities and the social sciences academic institutions invest in the STEM fields still mostly populated by white males?
Of course, the same pertains to theological and religious studies which are located in the humanities. And feminist theologies? Few would dispute that the field is institutionally marginalized even within theological and religious studies, no less within the humanities or college and university wide. Of course, religious institutions which would benefit from feminist theological research do not want to hear about feminist theological scholarship either.
Meanwhile, right-wing mostly white male dominance stares us right in the face, shutting down the U.S.-government and harming millions of women, children, men, and needy and poor people. And no end is in sight.
For sure, it is time to get angry again and to speak up, loudly, forcefully, and boldly, an appropriate response in our era of the affective turn.