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SAR V: Note from the Founding Editor & Publisher

Timeline of Irresponsibility: A Narrative — On Having No Idea What You're Doing — A Call for Texas Critical Theory

Published onSep 13, 2021
SAR V: Note from the Founding Editor & Publisher
key-enterThis Pub is a Supplement to

A Timeline of Irresponsibility: A Narrative

A timeline recounts nothing, writes scholar Byung-Chul Han in Psychopolitics. “It simply enumerates and adds up events or information.”[1]

Let me begin by adding one narrative my own to the preceding “Timeline of Irresponsibility” before more specifically addressing its creation and purpose.


Prepandemic, when we were still mainly concerned with the Democratic presidential primaries, I was sitting on the porch at Epoch Coffee on North Loop in Austin, as I normally do, when I overheard Wilson, a rotund, gray-haired lawyer who walks with a cane and frequented the shop to play chess and express his Trump support to whomever he was opposing (often silent college-age guys who nodded and focused on the game while Wilson ranted), tell the woman sitting across from him (sans chessboard) that he didn’t want to hear moral reasons for universal health care.

I was incredulous, to say the least. I thought, What else would he like to base it on? Efficiency? I mean, okay, we could do that — it is demonstrably more efficient and effective to have single-payer universal health care: it’s cheaper per capita and provides absolutely everyone with the care they need. But, somehow, I’m rather certain Wilson wouldn’t be interested in those arguments either — people often justify their personal opinions by reference to cost, I’ve often found.[2]

So, I started to think about what might convince him. Say I were to one day actually engage in conversation with him — an event that would undoubtedly devolve into an argument[3] — how could I persuade him (assuming he’s reasonable and, thus, persuadable) that, if we agree we’re all equal (which is sorta a foundation upon which liberal legal[4] doctrine is based), we should all have equal access to the necessary medical treatments. To be clear, I don’t intend to ever actually have this conversation with him.[5]

Then, of course, the novel coronavirus, SARS-Cov-2, which can cause COVID-19, washed onto U.S. shores and unprepared hospitals began to be flooded with the fatally ill, which gave even greater impetus to my search.

I started pondering what quality it is we all — abso-fucking-lutely every single being — have in common that I might base an assumption of fundamental equality on for Wilson.[6]

Because, beyond my lockdown-aided imagined conversation, I was also already in search of an alternative to the existing, widespread neoliberal perspective based on the Cold War-era[7] methamphetamine-[8] and testosterone-induced[9] belief in the fictitious rational autonomous chooser, homo economicus, I want to go farther than just posit human equality. I want to be open to the possibility of an equality recognizing and respecting all beings.[10] The best thing I could come up with is vulnerability.[11]

My methodology was necessarily limited — by the pandemic, by my full-time position as a marketer for a legal technology company, my family responsibilities and my perspective as a White male heterosexual living in the Global North (which in no way implies a more “civilized” existence than experienced elsewhere) and relative under-education and economic poverty. Of course, those limitations also provide(d) opportunities otherwise unavailable: as an already-remote worker, the shift to working away from the office was far less disruptive to me or my employer and also afforded me the time between tasks to attend last summer’s Critical Theory Workshop,[12] which was held virtually instead of in Paris in light of pandemic-inspired lockdowns and social distancing protocols.

My other method of investigation, as it has always been, was reading. Maggie Nelson puts it beautifully in The Argonauts when she quotes scholar Luce Irigay describing practicing radical feminist philosophy, “have[ing] a fling with the philosophers.”[13] And that’s just what I’ve done, though I might replace “philosophers” with “theorists,” specifically critical theorists. But my reading has been wide-ranging.[14] I read because it gives me the opportunity to see what others have said and, more important, what I’m missing. I like to come at problems from both an everyday perspective of what meshes with my experience and the considerations of others on the same or similar topics. 

I came to vulnerability after pondering the various obvious commonalities among beings. I started by thinking about birth and the complete dependency of babies on others.[15] I also considered the other end of life: old age. I’ve suggested elsewhere that the dependency needs of older people may once again become center of public attention (similar to the years prior to the establishment of Social Security) as Baby Boomers finally acknowledge their mortality. But dependency — despite being imbued with negative connotations by many on the right[16] — is an effect. What causes us to be dependent is our inherent vulnerability.

On the personal, day-to-day level, it’s difficult to love a domesticated pet without entertaining questions about just how solid the line separating humans and other beings truly is. My reasoning being similar to that Ursula K. Le Guin expressed at a conference resulting in the excellent Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet collection,

Skill in living, awareness of belonging to the world, delight in being part of the world, always tend to involve knowing our kindship as animals with animals. Darwin first gave that knowledge a scientific basis. And now, both poets and scientists are extending the rational aspect of our sense of relationship to creatures without nervous systems and to nonliving beings—our fellowship as creatures with out creatures, things with other things.

. . .

Descartes and the behaviorists willfully saw dogs as machines, without feeling. Is seeing plants as without feeling a similar arrogance?[17]

It is just this slow expansion of recognition/discovery/acknowledgment of the seemingly ever-enlarging sphere of what we consider worth conserving and respecting (and simply affording recognition as “human”) that makes me pause when I start to think I have a grasp on what is what. It’s also part of lived experience.

This becomes even more complicated when one acknowledges that, historically, the non-human has often included many who are clearly human. Elizabeth Grosz describes what I’m talking about well in Becoming Undone:

There is an intangible and elusive line that has divided the animal from the human since ancient Greece, if not long before, by creating a boundary, an oppositional structure, that denies to the animal what it grants to the human as a power or ability: whether it is reason, language, thought, consciousness, or the ability to dress, to bury, to mourn, to invent, to control fire, or one of the many other qualities that has divided man from animal. This division . . . has cast man on the other side of the animals. Philosophy has attributed to man a power that animals lack (and often that women, children, slaves, foreigners, and others also lack: the alignment of the most abjected others with animals is ubiquitous). What makes man human is the power of reason, of speech, of response, of shame, and so on that animals lack. Man must be understood as fundamentally different from and thus as other to the animal; an animal perhaps, but one with at least one added category a rational animal, an upright animal, an embarrassed animal that lifts it out of the categories of all other living beings and marks man’s separateness, his distance, his movement beyond the animal. As traditionally conceived, philosophy, from the time of Plato to that of Rene Desca1tes, affirmed man’s place as a rational animal, a speaking animal, a conscious animal, an animal perhaps in body but a being other and separated from animals through mind. These Greek and Cartesian roots have largely structured the ways in which contemporary philosophy functions through the relegation of the animal to man’s utter other, an other bereft of humanity. (Derrida affirms the continuity that links the Greeks and Descartes to the work of phenomenological and psychoanalytic theory running through the texts of Immanuel Kant, G.W.F. Hegel, Martin Heidegger, Emmanuel Levinas, and Jacques Lacan.) This more or less continuous tradition is sorely challenged and deeply compromised by the eruption of Darwinism in the second half of the nineteenth century. Philosophy has yet to recover from this eruption, has yet to recompose its concepts of man, reason, and consciousness to accommodate the Darwinian explosion that, according to Sigmund Freud, produced one of the three major assaults that science provided as antidote to man’s narcissism. The first, the Copernican revolution, demonstrated that the earth circulates the sun, and the third, the Freudian revolution, demonstrated that consciousness is not master of itself. But the second of these assaults, the Darwinian revolution, demonstrated that man descended from animals and remains still animal, and was perhaps a more profound insult to mankind’s sense of self than the other two. Derrida understands that Darwin’s is perhaps the greatest affront, the one that has been least accommodated in contemporary thought.[18]

Our entanglement with the nonhuman[19] was also brought to mind by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s argument — issued early on in the pandemic — that a species of spiders found only in a certain part of the state should not be protected by the federal Endangered Species Act because it doesn’t engage in interstate commerce. At the time, I called his statement out as an example of David Golumbia’s “fascist language” and what I call disingenuousness to the extreme. The last sentence in his press release read, “For such localized species, it is the state and county, not the federal government, which can best address conservation.”[20]

Now, a little over a year later, I find that Martha Fineman and others have done much of my work for me.[21] Fineman, a legal theorist working to construct and expound “vulnerability” theory,” founded and heads Emory University’s Mission for The Vulnerability and the Human Condition Initiative.[22] She recently defined it as:

Vulnerability theory is a legal/political theory and is shaped by the conventions of those disciplines. It is ultimately centered on the role and function of the state or governing authority as it uses law to construct and maintain the social institutions and relationships that govern everyday life. Viewing these institutions and relationships as central to the reproduction of society, vulnerability theory concedes the inevitability of some form of governing authority that is manifested through law. Vulnerability theory posits that given the innate human condition of vulnerability and dependency not only is there ample justification for the state (or system of governance), but a vigorous and responsive state is essential to individual and collective wellbeing. Beyond the necessity of governance and law, the theory also recognizes the positive potential that governing systems have to respond to and improve the human condition. The theory appreciates and builds upon the potential of the state as a unique mechanism for the construction of a just society, thus distinguishing it from other “progressive” approaches that seem unable to move beyond an oversimplistic notion of an inevitably abusive or punitive state.

. . .

Importantly, our corporeality has significant implications for what we basically require from our social institutions and relationships. Therefore, as a “practical” corrective, vulnerability theory argues that a universal concept — the embodied “vulnerable subject” — should replace the contingent rational man of economics, the reasonable man of law, the contracting man of political theory, as well as the exploited, subordinated, or oppressed man (or woman) of critical theory.[23]

If one sets up a Google alert for scholarly articles including the term “vulnerability,” one begins to notice the concept largely discussed in relation to technology (vulnerabilities to cyberattacks) and climate (vulnerabilities to its change). But a recent paper documenting results of a study projecting changes in vulnerability in Helsinki until 2050 offers a discussion of vulnerability that chimes well with Fineman and others’ approaches:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states with high confidence that various factors (e.g. wealth distribution across society, demographic factors, migration, employment, and governance) influence vulnerability and that the drivers interact. Current understanding of drivers, their interlinkages, as well as indirect and cascading effects of socio-economic changes on future vulnerability is limited and needs to be studied further. This presupposes acknowledging system complexity in the assessments, embedding vulnerability in a socio-economic context, and accounting for cross-scale interactions.[24]

The uncertainty and vulnerability laid bare by the pandemic and the disastrous response by many societies — referred to by some as a dress rehearsal for climate change[25] — only add to the urgency of our reconceiving of one another as fallible beings only able to create greatness by actively working, caring, looking out for each other, singularly and plurally. We are too entwined and entangled to continue to believe it’s every individual for itself. 


The timeline, initially published on March 18, 2021, and updated throughout the months of March, April, May, June, July, August and September of 2021, is meant to serve as a source near-contemporaneous with the events’ occurrences for those interested in learning about and further researching the conjuncture of events occurring in the particular time-space of the city of Austin and its environs in the state of Texas in the United States of America over the period roughly analogous to the onset of the novel coronavirus (SARS-Cov-2) pandemic through the end of the second-called special session. This encompassed the entirety of the Texas Legislature’s 87th Regular Session, which provided the first opportunity for legislative response in the state. The period offers a perhaps unique convergence of foreseeable disasters combined with inadequate and late (when not totally absent) responses by the leaders responsible[26] for “promot[ing] the general Welfare,” “establish[ing] Justice,” “insur[ing] domestic Tranquility,” “provid[ing] for the common defense,” and otherwise “secur[ing] the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”[27]

A few thoughts stemming from the compiling of the timeline:

  1. The developers of our MIT Media Lab-born digital publishing platform, PubPub, noted in late May that the timeline had over 40 updates since its initial publication in March. The version included in our print edition is the 60th or more. While some versions consisted only of slight corrections to typos, most added new information that came to light after the events. I found myself updating the timeline not only with officials’ (lack of) responses to events but also to better detail the effects and consequences of the events themselves. It’s useful to be reminded that the aftermaths of disasters are much longer than the clean-up of debris.[28] Oftentimes, we don’t even know the extent of the damage until much later, and that’s only if enough people are willing to pressure those with power to actually examine the events with a mind toward fixing and/or preventing them from reoccurring.

  2. Goddamn, Republicans and their allies are shameless. But really no less so than mainstream Democrats or their progressive neoliberal allies. While this timeline largely charts the inaction of Republican officials in Texas, we shouldn’t forget Democrats’ failures in New York and elsewhere. My favorite example of the latter is Austin’s progressive neoliberal mayor Steve Adler on national morning news shows calling for “incentivizing” energy companies to harden and weatherize energy infrastructure while most Texans’ power was out. “Incentivize.” How about we penalize them if they fail to?

Undoubtedly, others would highlight other events during this time period to make a similar point. I ultimately forgot to include most of the dates and information focusing on the civil and city response to continued police violence last year, such as the city council’s shift of funding and personnel from Austin Police Department oversight to departments not dedicated to achieving compliance through punitive measures. To be clear, that isn’t the “irresponsible” part. That instead falls on the Republican-led state legislature’s response, which requires shifting all that back to APD this year.

On Having No Idea What You’re Doing

I’ll admit I have no idea what I’m doing.

I started San Antonio Review with no history in publishing or journalism. I’m also not an academic. Though I may still be paying graduate school student loans, I never earned anything beyond a bachelor of arts from a small university in Austin.[29] I began San Antonio Review by simply putting my personal experiences publishing my own writing on the Internet since the late 1990s to work providing a platform for others’ work. One would think that would be simple enough. Like many things, it’s more complex than a glance reveals. I’ve joked that I took on a hobby that is really an industry — one that employes a great number of people.

I’ve had to learn a massive variety of tools and tasks to layout in digital and print, to fundraise, to market, to edit, to improve — from coding websites and print CSS to designing images and artwork for pages (print and digital) and so much in-between. San Antonio Review has taken over my life.

Nonetheless, we’ve had successes. Aside from the work we’ve published in the journal proper (online and in print), we’ve also released two short story collections: Mel Bay’s Book of the Dead by Harold Whit Williams and City Lights From the Upside Down by former SAR poetry editor Alex Z. Salinas. Some of our reading lists have been featured on We also won one of two $25,000 artAffect Community Grants from RJ Reynolds offered last year.

The winnings, after reimbursing my outstanding expenses from previous issues and thanking collective members, won’t go far in sustaining SAR. And, as the journal seems to be everyone’s last priority, I’ve decided to no longer obligate myself to producing a print issue on any regular timetable. Running this journal requires attention and care. We need more of that.

I appreciate the work Ash and Gianna have done to keep SAR afloat. Many of the pieces in this issue reflect their work. As I’ve long said, SAR is a seed. In fact, this entire publishing project — SAR and SAR Press — are just the tools we use to plant these seeds in hopes they may one day blossom for someone.

A Call for Texas Critical Theory

Traditional philosophy — or “theory” — is concerned with understanding the world. Critical theory, on the other hand, is concerned with changing the world in the direction of liberation, emancipation and lessening oppression for all. That is the basic definition of critical theory offered by one of its founders, Max Horkheimer.[30]

Much critical theory — at least that which I read — is concerned with providing context to what we think we already know. It’s also little use to discuss “critical theory” outside its Frankfurt School origins unless you include its application across disciplines. For instance, a few of the fields that most interest me are critical military studies, critical disability studies and critical geography.

Taking a critical view of things is many times just taking a second look and seeing what you missed at first glance.

I’m an advocate for reading critical theory for the very reason that it can destabilize one’s oft-unreflected-upon approach to a subject or concept or issue or idea. To argue there’s nothing to be learned from these discussions is just another method of shutting down conversation and the questions they can hold. Similarly, among the founding documents of the right’s war on critical theory, the pseudo-scholarly Ratio Christi essay essentially comes down to a definitional argument.[31] As oppressors are wont to do, they demand to be the ones allowed to define “oppression.”  Which is no different than the voice you can hear screaming between the lines in a comment from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and thirteen other states’ AGs on U.S. Department of Education antiracism program funding, That’s not traditional American history! And they demand the right to define what that tradition will be at any particular time and place.

It’s like their parenthetical — because it isn’t clear, clearly — that the U.S. was founded upon equality, despite Black people being reduced to less-than-human in the texts of our founding documents. Only an elected lawyer could split those hairs to mean the former. Maybe they all adhere to the same legal methodology as Chip Roy.

The right’s statements opposing and legislation banning the critical study of areas, beyond being just a continuation of their work at the State Board of Education and elsewhere to ensure public school textbooks perpetuate whitewashed and one-sided narratives, demands we who disagree with them continue to communicate all sides of our shared histories.

We are not an intelligent species.[32] Our hubris too often supplies the confidence any real attention would reveal to be founded mainly upon limited personal experiences, little-considered rules of thumb and incredibly short memories.

As I discuss in my review of the Refusing to Forget project’s latest collection from the University of Texas Press, taking the opportunities to better understand our world via the perspectives afforded by critically attending to them — by returning to them and looking again to see what we may have missed or was covered up by those before us who looked — and respecting what we find even if it doesn’t completely jibe with the way we’ve always considered things to be, it’s possible we may discover or recover new ways of being. So, I end with a call for more critical theory by Texans and about Texas in all its disciplinary and cultural shades and our entanglement and vulnerability with the larger planet in challenging and uncertain times in hopes we find better ways of being otherwise.


  1. Han, Byung-Chul. Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power. Verso, 2017.

  2. For instance, those who support the death penalty because they imagine it to be cheaper than imprisoning someone for life don't tend to change their stance on capital punishment when they are enlightened as to its much greater (and more acute) financial burden.

  3. Though I don't mean shouting match. More along the lines of:

    “In the Critique of Judgement, Kant writes: ‘The moral argument is not meant to provide any objective argument for the existence of God nor meant to prove to the doubter that there is a God; rather it is meant to prove that if his moral thinking is to be consistent, he must include the assumption of this proposition among the maxims of his practical reason.”

    As quoted in Assiter, A. (2013). "Kierkegaard and vulnerability." In A. Grear, & M. Fineman (Eds.), Vulnerability: Reflections on a New Ethical Foundation for Law and Politics, 29-40. Ashgate. Indeed, it was just such a "proposition" I was seeking.

  4. As he is a lawyer, I hazard assuming he's somewhat reasonable and would agree that, as Shami Chakrabarti writes in the foreword to Leading Works in Law and Social Justice,

    "[T]he law is not an inanimate rule book for some inherently fair or meritocratic game of individual chance, skill, or even ‘justice’. It can be a powerful engine for the progressive advancement of some or all people or the means of their repression. It is made by humans and so is never completely neutral. It has moral content and values, not only in its substance but in its linguistic framing, form, process, and priorities."

    As for equality being a core legal value, see the recent claims made by a number of the states' attorneys general discussed below.

  5. We could refer to this entire thought experiment and research project as an attempt to answer the meme: "I don't know how to explain to you that you should care about other people." Of course, I also didn't expect to confront the question of why I should continue post-vaccination to make an active effort — by masking up, limiting my movements and interactions and whatever else — to protect those unwilling to protect themselves or others by wearing a mask, getting vaccinated or staying home. They claim to care about "the economy," but it's their inaction and childish notions of "individual freedom" that force any business owner with a conscience and feel for customer service to sacrifice.

  6. I understand the danger and limits of seeking a universal on which to base my argument. It can easily become the ground on which lines are drawn excluding those not found inside it or holding enough of it. But I'm hoping maybe we’ve reached a time when precarity is once again widespread enough for the “robust” (neo)liberal conception of the modern subject to be reconsidered by more than just leftist academics. The best definition of fascism I've read is a commitment to violently maintaining inequalities. See Burley, Shane. Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It. AK Press, 2017.

  7. Amadae, S. M. Prisoners of Reason: Game Theory and Neoliberal Political Economy. Cambridge University Press, 2016.

  8. Daugherty, Tracy. Leaving the Gay Place: Billy Lee Brammer and the Great Society. United States, University of Texas Press.

  9. Shields, Charles J. The Man Who Wrote the Perfect Novel: John Williams, Stoner, and the Writing Life. United States, University of Texas Press, 2018.

  10. I'm writing "beings" here to leave an opening for the inclusion of everything currently accepted as "human" and "living" and the pick-your-own-terminology "nonhuman," "post-human," "inhuman," "animal," "nature," "plant," etc. to allow for the "human" to encompass whatever we may come to value under that term in the future as well

  11. "Our condition is that of corporeal, unique, vulnerable human beings, dependent on one another and reciprocally exposed." Cavarero

  12. “Critical Theory Workshop / Atelier de Théorie Critique.” Critical Theory Workshop / Atelier de Théorie Critique, Accessed 3 Sept. 2021.

  13. Nelson, Maggie. The Argonauts. First Graywolf paperback, Graywolf Press, 2016. Irigaray, Luce. This Sex Which Is Not One. Cornell University Press, 1985.

  14. You can sort of follow my wandering readings at

  15. Alison Stone. “Philosophy: We Obsess about Death, so Why Don’t We Think More about Being Born?” The Conversation US, 10 Jan. 2019,

  16. Ferguson, James. Give a Man a Fish: Reflections on the New Politics of Distribution. Duke University Press, 2015.

  17. "Deep in Admiration," Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene. United States, University of Minnesota Press, 2017.

  18. Grosz, Elizabeth. Becoming Undone: Darwinian Reflections on Life, Politics, and Art. United Kingdom, Duke University Press, 2011.

  19. The most obvious entanglement, of course, is that the initial human infection of this coronavirus is thought to have been transmitted from a bat in China.

  20. William O. Pate II. “Ken Paxton’s Fascist Language.” an examination of free will, 30 Apr. 2020,

  21. See Martha A. Fineman, The Vulnerable Subject: Anchoring Equality in the Human Condition, 20 Yale J.L. & Feminism (2008). Available at: Leading Works in Law and Social Justice. United Kingdom, Taylor & Francis, 2021. For what is essentially the beginning of a reconceptualization of the neoliberal subject as a vulnerable subject, see Gordon-Bouvier, Ellen. Relational Vulnerability: Theory, Law and the Private Family. Gordon-Bouvier, Ellen (2019). "Relational Vulnerability: The Legal Status of Cohabiting Carers." Feminist Legal Studies 27 (2):163-187.

  22. “About | Mission for The Vulnerability and the Human Condition Initiative | Emory University.” Vulnerability and the Human Condition Initiative | Emory University, n.d.,

  23. Martha Albertson Fineman. “Populations, Pandemics, and Politics.” International Journal of Discrimination and the Law, Sept. 2021, pp. 1–7,

  24. Internal citations omitted. Jurgilevich, Alexandra, et al. “Assessing the Dynamics of Urban Vulnerability to Climate Change: Case of Helsinki, Finland.” Environmental Science & Policy, vol. 125, Nov. 2021, pp. 32–43. (Crossref),

  25. Ana María Archila, et al. “Coronavirus Is a Dress Rehearsal for Climate Change.” The Nation, Apr. 2020, James Allen. Coronavirus: A CEO’s Dress Rehearsal for the New World. Bain & Company, Accessed 8 Sept. 2021.

    Nicholas Goldberg. “Column: COVID Was a Dress Rehearsal for Global Climate Change. And It Didn’t Go Well.” Los Angeles Times, 9 Aug. 2021,

  26. Let me emphasize the voluntary aspect of this responsibility. The elected and appointed officials mentioned in the timeline chose to run for office to assume these responsibilities, which are included in their oaths of office.

  27. “The Constitution of the United States: A Transcription.” National Archives, 4 Nov. 2015, 

  28. See also my review of Reverberations of Racial Violence in this issue.

  29. Though I am proud to learn that the Congregation of Holy Cross, the congregation of Catholic brothers who founded my alma mater, gave up their university in Chile rather than take part in Pinochet's University of Chicago-informed neoliberal overthrow of that country. See Connelly, James T. The History of the Congregation of Holy Cross. 1st ed., University of Notre Dame Press, 2020. Valdés, Juan J. Pinochet’s Economists: The Chicago School in Chile. Cambridge University Press, 2008.

  30. Horkheimer, Max. Critical Theory: Selected Essays. Continuum Pub. Corp, 1982. 

  31. Neil Shenvi and Pat Sawyer. "Engaging Critical Theory and the Social Justice Movement." Ratio Christi, 20 Nov. 2019,

  32. Until recently, we didn't even know turtles eat birds. ‘Horrifying and Amazing’: Giant Tortoise Filmed Attacking and Eating Baby Bird | Wildlife | The Guardian. Accessed 13 Sept. 2021.

William O. Pate II is the founding editor and publisher of San Antonio Review.

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