What a class we had last night! After a deliberative first half (“the best discussion” Bryan said he’s “ever had” in one of Stephen’s classes, grin), and a raucous second half, Stephen debated Viveca on the morality of Michael Moore’s filmmaking. He had been searching for an area of genuine disagreement that we could use to illustrate the prescriptive methodology in Gutman and Thomas’ form of deliberative democracy. It was tough (as the topic indicates) among our (apparently) fairly homogenous “leftist” group, which I think indicates less our lack of disagreement on important issues and more the intensity of taboo and risk-taking involved in airing genuine disagreements.
Scott must have zoned out because he asked at one point, “Is this for real?” 🙂 Stephen
(who does dislike Moore’s work) managed to perform a compelling moral critique for taking the higher ground rather than stooping to the manipulative techniques of “the enemy” and Viveca softened her position, although didn’t abdicate completely. However, as a couple of folk mentioned – no DECISION was made, only (perhaps) an increase in understanding and respect for the morality of the other side. (Viveca’s comeback was powerful too, that sacrificing starving children now in hopes of achieving a more just society later justified using the tools at hand.)
I discovered that I’ve got some work to do at maintaining focus on the moral dimension of an argument ~ which G&T maintain is at the core of disagreement and hence, will persist. (Hence Stephen’s example that he didn’t like Moore because “he’s fat and I used to be so I don’t like fat people.” Which was further clarified as “empirical” rather than “opinion.” Which was a further illustrationg of what would constitute a “fair” question within the confines of G&T’s mode.) I *think* we agreed with the premise of persistent differences in morality, but decided G&T’s prescription “looked good on paper” but didn’t seem practicable in the real world. Certainly not as a communicative form that would apply to any situation regardless of context.
I was fascinated by the flow of our discussion though, because there was such a distinct difference before and after break. I wonder if it has something to do with Leda’s presence? And I don’t mean this as an adverse effect of her being there, but as a dialectic between her sensitivity of not wanting to step on/into Stephen’s “territory” and both students’ and Stephen’s reactions (uncertainty?) to her presence and the “vibe” (if I can call it that) of her caution and concern.
It’s pure speculation, of course, but the fact that “we reproduced the form we were discussing” in the first half of the class, and shifted into a much more chaotic form in the second half, indicates that something changed. It could also have been the topic ~ we may in fact have had some “real” disagreement about Fish ~ or it appeared that we did, as Bryan and I engaged with what we found potentially appealing in his view and Viveca (in particular) was focused on all its faults.
Can I just say I am So Happy that Viveca is in this class! 🙂 I was really helped by her focus on “nailing down the argument” that G&T were making, and also her questioning of where the heck Fish was coming from in his attempt to put boundaries on the political. (And what a sigh of relief I breathed when I was confirmed in my guess that Fish is a proceduralist, not a constitionalist!) The English folk are also quite an addition, because their input comes from a different (if overlapping?) frame. While I’m on this tack, I sure hope Camille will keep popping in. 🙂 And Donna, all us Gentiles did notice your absence. 🙁 Hope your observance is going well.
I feel that I really learned some tangible things, and that’s gratifying. Some distinctions are becoming clear, and I’m thrilled with the easy familiarity of this group, carrying on more-or-less intact from last semester. I got the sense that we enacted a kind of everyday performativity together – we were ourselves in full, not just performing our academic selves. The best example? Someone (who’s anonymity I will protect!) exclaimed, after we’d essentially dismissed G&T’s form of deliberative democracy, “Maybe I don’t believe in democracy!” 🙂 An intellectually unguarded (?) moment ~ but what I would suggest (!) does enact the (or at least “a”) form of communication that CAN lead to real democracy. It was a statement of the current thought process which embodied the viscera of the struggle itself. At its core, “real” democracy means (to me!) not only that we “find ways to get along without killing each other” (Stephen’s reprise of Kenneth Burke) but ALSO that, “in that “getting along”, we are fully present. Hmmm. How does the aspiration for everyone to operate, or at least have the opportunity/choice to operate, at their full capacities fit into notions of democracy?