moved by energy

The woman writing this storm blog explains: “The way I post, is also the way I show up in the world – I just go where my energy moves me.”
Yeah.


Got myself going as busy as I’ve ever been, but been thinking lots about blogging in and about the community I interact with just about every day. We’re all being watched, all the time. Seems I say more about that than many, or at least, do it more publicly than most. To what end? This was the challenge I was presented with during the first get-together of the year this past Tuesday night.
I don’t know. Certainly I have some ideals regarding how we could interact, but I’m not sure how to operationalize them nor what it would be like if we did.
I also have some criticisms, mostly of the silences – how we don’t talk about latent racism or warped ways competition plays out. These are kept unspoken on the basis of socially-constructed agreements which (I argue) develop first as coping mechanisms and then become habitualized such that bringing them up is construed as violation.
The challenge, though, was (I think) about the risks of upsetting the fragile balance of agreements that keep the department feeling more collegial, friendly, and supportive for most members of it. That there might be value in this as an achievement which I have underestimated. I concede the point. :-/
And – the costs for those who feel the sting of the silences are still awfully high.

2 thoughts on “moved by energy”

  1. Well, it has been a while since the post I’m responding to had appeared on the blog. I take the liberty to respond since the criticism mentioned in the post came from me after having consumed just a bit more beer than what I’m used to these days. (I have really been out of practice since Anna, my daughter, was born.)
    I don’t regret having been critical of your ways of resistance, Steph, and I’m glad you don’t want to kick my butt for it either. (You said you won’t kick my butt, remember? At the bowling alley? Remember? Please remember… 🙂
    Let me start out by saying that I truly believe that the points of resistance you raise are perfectly legit. Some members of the department do in fact experience a racist atmosphere, and some of us are indeed confronted with situations that we deem unjust or unfair. Undoubtedly, resistance in these situations is a morally defensible act. I am saying this in spite of the fact that I do enjoy and take advantage of the “fragile balance of agreements” that is carefully kept alive in our department.
    Here’s my problem, though. Oftentimes when you raise your voice of resistance you raise it in the name of two things: a) unnamed others who, you argue, share your point of view; and/or b) a universally applicable moral code. Both of these moves are problematic.
    First, are you sure that the claim that you represent unnamed others (who will not name themselves for fear of potential retaliation from the more powerful, i.e. the faculty) is not seen as a weak claim from the point of view of those whose measures you are resisting? Since you have already been cast as a troublemaker of sorts in the department (a role that in my opinion is essential to any form of democracy) wouldn’t it be more expedient to organize people who take issue with this or that departmental measure into ‘resistance groups’ who can voice their complaints themselves?
    Second, are you sure that the code in the name of which you voice your resistance are indeed universally shared? I am asking this question while being inspired by one of my personal heroes, Stanley Fish, who makes a very strong argument against acting upon alleged universal moral principles (see “Boutique multiculturalism, or why liberals are incapable of thinking about hate speech,” 1997). Fish argues that action motivated by universal moral principles leads one into the dead-end street of multiculturalism, a system of thought that since its conception hasn’t been able to resolve the dilemma of (cultural) tolerance vs. (moral) uprightness. What is to replace multiculturalism is what Fish refers to as “inspired adhoccery” or the ability to apply temporary solutions to temporary problems in the name of a strongly held personal ethic. It follows, on the one hand, that one cannot expect others to rectify their ways in the name of an abstract ethic (be it the ethic of ‘anti-racism’ or ‘anti-exploitation’ or any other potent moral system). On the other hand, one has every right to forge the best conceivable strategy to eradicate racism or exploitation if that is what their personal ethic calls for.
    I’m saying all this because I have seen you being abandoned by those who you thought you were representing, and I have seen you almost horrified by the possibility that those who you resisted (with the hope of causing them to see things as you and as those who you represent do) may not be able to appraise the injustice they are perpetuating. Fish’s answer to this is ‘strategize, strategize, strategize’. A failure points to the weakness of strategy, not to the weakness of people or personal principle. There are no universals, there are only local fights that may need to be dirty – or they may not. It depends completely on the situation.But one thing is for sure: I don’t think anyone ever will change just because you say they are wrong, unless you have already won them over.

  2. While you, David, were consuming more beer than usual, I didn’t drink that night so perhaps that made me more receptive to the criticism. 😉
    Let me address both of the moves you identify as “problematic”, and a third issue as well &emdash; the labeling of me as a “troublemaker.” My intent in responding is to adopt your recommendation to “strategize strategize strategize”, which I understand as a necessarily collective process and prefer to exercise in a public manner.
    The first problematic move, in which I refer to an unnamed assortment of individuals who have experienced marginalization from/within the department, is, I agree, a problem. But let’s be honest, most of us know at least some of the members of this potentially-aligned ‘group’ by your own admission: “Some members of the department do in fact experience a racist atmosphere, and some of us are indeed confronted with situations that we deem unjust or unfair.” Indeed, in various ways &emdash; individually, institutionally &emdash; others besides me have spoken up or otherwise expressed their critiques and concerns &emdash; if not with their voices then with their (absent) bodies. Indeed, I would be surprised if you (and other comm-grads) haven’t had direct personal communication from peers about experiences presented (experienced) under the sign of an ism.
    One alternative would be to state this potential collectivity as a “we.” It would be interesting for someone to deny the ways in which I’ve been marginalized, ignored, excluded, and/or ‘othered’ for my epistemology. But to say “we” would assume that “those unnamed others” want an alliance with me &emdash; a choice or strategy that carries its own risks, risks that there may be many reasons not to add to whatever already-existing factors with which folks deal.
    And, if I say, “I”, then I collude with the problematic norm of individualization of ‘problems’, not to mention provide (more?!) evidence of narcissism. :-/
    Within this frame, there appears to be no unproblematic way of addressing these group-level concerns. Group can be read here as the current configuration of persons ‘bound’ by our affiliations to the COM department, and simultaneously as the institutionalized structure of social/cultural norms established via the department’s particular history/ies.
    The second move you describe as problematic has to do with the perception that I am trying to impose “a universally applicable moral code”. In fact, I am quite sure that my preferred ethics are not shared by everyone and herein lies the dilemma: how do we engage and address the need for pluralism in a social setting that negatively sanctions the overt expression of difference? My language may be limiting because it does reflect my belief that there must be a better way, however the assertion that there must be another way does not (have to) carry the valence that I *know* what ‘that way’ is! Indeed, I do not. I do not think any one person can. Such solutions are only achieved through joint action (enter Shotter, smile). I add the (have to) in parens above because it is on this point that I feel most misunderstood. I recognize that my mode of engagement enacts basic assumptions (as is true for everyone, yes?), but I dearly hope not to preserve them unchanged!
    Which brings me to my third point, a point in your account that pokes a nerve. 🙂 There is a difference between being teased by friends about being “a troublemaker” and being categorically labeled one. I appreciate your phrasing, that I have been “cast” into this role, implying that it is not an inherent feature of my personality/character. Thanks. (No ass-kicking today, smile.)
    I have been “horrified” in many ways, it’s true. I have been stunned by interpersonal violence from persons whom I respect. I suspect that some of my actions have been received as ‘interpersonally violent’ (because of directness, unexpectedness, poor rhetorical skill, all of the above and more?) &emdash; otherwise the only frame I have to understand some of the particularly mean things is sheer maliciousness. I think people’s decisions are more pragmatic than that, and probably based on a code or codes that are different from mine in important ways. I’d like to learn more about these views, which is a major reason I persist.
    At the risk of offering a pedantic scapegoating 101 &emdash; no single individual “makes” “trouble.” “Trouble” is a function or effect of group and institutional structure. I obviously have a valence for finding and trying to name it. (The effort or presentation of naming seems to be the crux of things, eh?) These attempted acts of free will do not mean, however, that I personally self-generate and individually inflict “trouble” on or into the group.
    Thank you for thinking some of this through. 🙂

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