Archive for November, 2014
Is douchebag the white racial epithet we’ve all be waiting for?
The douchebag is someone—overwhelmingly white, rich, heterosexual males—who insists upon, nay, demands his white male privilege in every possible set and setting. The douchebag is equally douchey (that’s the adjectival version of the term) in public and in private. He is a douchebag waiting in line for coffee as well as in the bedroom.
So says Michael Mark Cohen in his splendid piece ondouchebaggery.
A douchebag is a subspecies of asshole, who, according to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ rumination on assholishness is “a person who demands that all social interaction happen on their terms.” The example Coates gives is of certain people who talk on the cell phones, play music, and even hold parties in the “quiet car” on Amtrak trains. In what could easily be an Augustinian example of the stain of original sin, Coates recognizes that it is not that the offenders don’t know the rules, but that they just don’t care. Indeed, although they could be loud in any other car, it is important for some reason (sin) that they be loud in the quiet car, because it is the quiet car.
But we’re not talking about general assholishness here, but rather more specifically douchebaggery. Cohen notes:
While anyone can be an asshole, though, the douchebag is always a white guy—and so much more than that. The douchebag is the demanding 1 percent, and the far more numerous class of white, heterosexist men who ape and aspire to be them. Wall Street guys are douchebags to be sure, but so is anyone looking to cash in on his own white male privilege.
This narrowness of categorization—perhaps unique in the history of America’s rich history of racial and sexual slurs—is what makes the word douchebag such a potentially useful political tool.
White people tend to be oblivious to white privilege. Indeed, that’s part of the privilege: to feel exempt from having to deal with your life in terms of race. To be a douchebag, though, is to somehow have a sense of one’s white (and male) privilege and to insist on exercising it wherever possible.
Not every white male is a douchebag, of course. It is not metaphysics but practice:
And if we needed further proof that the douchebag is a social construction, and a set of personal choices, rather than some form of white male essentialism, I give you the paradox of Michael J. Fox: Alex P. Keaton is a douchebag, but Marty McFly is not.
The point is you don’t have to be a douchebag. In order to help attain self-awareness, I warmly recommend you read Cohen’s essay.
Be advised: Despite my reservations about voting, I will definitely be voting (when eligible) for any candidate I can truly believe in to be a good public servant, for any candidate whose campaign I’d be willing to endorse personally. And, yes, in that case, I’d be urging you to do so, too. Those kinds of candidates will very likely be running at the local level, however. Any considerations about the efficacy of voting have to take into account context. Subsidiarists like myself like to keep things as local as possible. That kind of voting can mean something.
We hate too often. There is no shortage of things to hate for an anarchist, but we must never allow our hate to become a defining feature of our individual insurrections and revolutionary rhetoric. Hate can help us identify the enemy, but it can never destroy them. Hate will not empty the prisons, it will not burn down the corporate office space, it will not melt down the machinery of the military-industrial complex. If we are filled with hate, we will only accomplish the destruction of our current system for another system of walls. Because what is oppression but hatred for freedom? It is raw fear, terror and misery which ensnare us all in some way. It is the true fuel of military conquest, racism, xenophobia, sexism. Without hate, systems have no way of imposing themselves on us.
Yeah, you’re right. Fuck it: Why You Should (Probably) Not Be A Professor | Talking Philosophy.
(Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be a philosopher, though….)
Even though I am religated to our common reality—inescapably—I struggle to be free. Not free from it, but free for it. When we come upon obstacles to our apprehension of reality, to the real possibilities that it provides, to fulfilling the real demands it places upon us, then we need to be liberated from these obstacles. These obstacles are unreality. We need to liberate ourselves for reality.
What is the difference between an opinion and a belief? Let us say that a belief is an opinion with reasons. One of the objectives of public debate in a democracy should be to promote opinion into belief. We must demand reasons. But many Americans are not comfortable with this demand. “It’s just my opinion”: this bizarre American locution, which is supposed to provide an avenue of escape in a disputation, suggests that there is something illegitimate, even disrespectful, about insisting upon the defense of a proposition. Yet the respect we owe persons we do not owe their opinions. Political respect is axiomatic, but intellectual respect must be earned.
This is another snippet from the very quotable defense of reason by Leon Wieseltier I linked to earlier. The last point here is key: We could agree with Kant that we are obligated to respect persons for their inherent dignity and worth as persons. But no idea has inherent dignity or worth. Even though our identities are in large measure constituted by our ideas — our hopes, dreams, fears, aspirations, in short, our beliefs and opinions — we are not only our beliefs and opinions. To the extent we remember this, we are less likely to claim to be offended when we are simply disagreed with. Offense leads to fights; disagreement furthers both our arguments and may lead us both on to a clearer picture of the truth.
There are people who prefer ardent thought to clear thought, and loyal thought to strict thought. There are people who mistrust thought altogether and prefer the unarguable authenticities of the heart—the individual heart and the collective heart. There are people who regard thought […] as an activity of an elite…. Yet the ideal of ‘clear and intelligent thought,’ stripped of its condescension and its indifference to the non-rational dimensions of human life, deserves to be defended. We need not be a nation of intellectuals, but we must not be a nation of idiots.
Read the rest of Leon Wieseltier’s reflections: Reason and the Republic of Opinion.
Hearing criticisms of your own convictions and learning the beliefs of others are training for life in a multifaith society. Preventing open debate means that all believers, including atheists, remain in the prison of unconsidered opinion. The right to be offended, which is the other side of free speech, is therefore a genuine right. True belief and honest doubt are both impossible without it.
That’s from a well-argued an essay in the Wall Street Journal by John O’Sullivan. The essayist is a conservative (associated with the National Review), but his reasoning calls to mind the more classically liberal John Stuart Mill.
Mill-ian Reasons for Free Speech
In Mill’s essay On Liberty, he argues passionately and persuasively for an absolute prohibition of restrictions upon freedom of speech and conscience. Mill gives four basic reasons for his position:
- The view that is being silenced might be true, so to silence it implies our own infallibility. But we must admit that we are not infallible, and so we ought not to silence the offending view. If we were to silence it, we might be unjust not only to the persons holding the offending view but even to ourselves and to posterity. We might, in silencing that view, be cheating ourselves and generations to come of the opportunity to exchange error for truth.
The offending view will likely contain at least a kernel of truth. As philosopher Ken Wilber put it, “No one is smart enough to be wrong all the time.” [^1] the prevailing view is unlikely to be the whole truth. By preventing a clash between the offending view and the prevailing view we are denying ourselves the opportunity to come to a more complete truth.
If we don’t allow the prevailing view to be regularly and vigorously contested by exposure to contradictory opinions, that prevailing view will come to be held in the manner of a prejudice. In fact, as Mill puts it, it will become just one more superstition.
Views held in this latter manner become weakened and their meaning gets lost. People no longer really hold the view based on conviction and experience, but as a mere empty formula. We end up not even knowing what we believe or why we believe it. These prejudices stifle our opportunity to come to genuine convictions. In short, our chances to become authentic, free persons are at risk.
For all these reasons, all views ought to be open to being contested. In fact, says Mill, if we were ever to get to a point of full unanimity on a particular view (never fear!), we should consider appointing something like a “Devil’ Advocate” to serve as an official opponent of the unanimously held view just so people would know not only what they believe but why.
Now, as Mill would be first to admit, this argument itself is arguable, and today it has an increasing number of opponents. O’Sullivan’s piece offers a list of efforts to curb freedom of speech from all sides of the political spectrum, including initiatives on the part of his own conservative camp. Nat Hentoff wrote a book entitled, Free Speech for Me but Not for Thee (1992). It’s subtitle is: “How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other,” and that could also serve as a summary of O’Sullivan’s essay.
Sticks and Stones and Words
My mom used to tell me that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” On the other hand, the opponents of free speech tell us that “words hurt” and argue that hurtful uses of words ought to be prohibited. Who’s right? I think in fact that words can hurt very much. For instances, the messages that kids receive from parents, teachers, and clergy can stick with them through life, and many of those messages can be quite damaging. Bullies can be mean not only with their fists but with their tongues. Racist views, ethnic prejudices, and gender stereotypes congeal into unjust practices.
If words are the cause of these evils, should they not be prohibited?
Perhaps we should listen to the sage advice of Thomas Aquinas:
[H]uman law cannot punish or forbid all evil deeds: since while aiming at doing away with all evils, it would do away with many good things, and would hinder the advance of the common good, which is necessary for human intercourse. (Summa Theologiae I.II.91.4)
In other words, we have to weigh the cost and benefits of prohibiting speech with the aim eliminating certain evils, and the conclusion of that analysis shows that it is (almost?) always more beneficial to protect the freedom of speech at the risk of having someone suffer hurtful words. Free discourse and the right to disagree are conducive, on the whole, to the common good and are certainly necessary for the preservation and advancement of culture.
Indeed, we could apply the Pauline principle (Romans 3:8) that we ought never to do evil that good may result from it. Freedom of speech is a good, the suppression of it an evil.
Thus I say: Offend me! I take very seriously my right to be offended. So go ahead: take issue with my religious, philosophical, political, and aesthetic views. Show me the error of my ways! I am not going to complain you are “forcing your morality on me” (unless of course you try to get your view enacted into a law such that it may never be questioned again). What I hope you will do is argue with me, if in fact we disagree, and not just hurl epithets. We do not have to be mean spirited to have a spirited debate. But if you’re simply going to call me names, go ahead. One of us will end up looking more stupid and vulgar than the other (spoiler alert: it will be you).
And while we’re arguing about freedom of speech, we can argue about the hard cases. We can argue about whether only human persons have this right to free speech or whether fake, militarily defended corporate “persons” have this right, too. We can argue whether freedom of speech means we have to accept the money influence on elections. We can argue whether non-speech expressions of ideas are also protected (burning books and flags, for instance). There is a lot to argue about. I will assume that neither of us wants to be wrong. If so, then resist will all your might the temptation to silence your opponents.
Free speech for me AND for thee!!
Stanford business professor Chip Heath and his Aspen Institute-consultant brother Dan confirm from abundant research that the ideas that make the most immediate and lasting impact on people generally have qualities that have nothing to do with their veracity: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, a measure of credibility, emotional impact, and a vivid exemplifying narrative (Made to Stick). Thus contrary ideas that are more complex, banal, abstract, equally credible, dull, and bereft of a fascinating story cannot compete—even if they have the single quality that matters: truth. (See more at: http://blog.oup.com/2014/07/butterfly-matrix-christian-epistemology/#sthash.1V6CYviA.dpuf)
Does this mean that Sophists win? Does it mean that truth does not have a rhetorical force of its own, as it were?
I just this moment got a notification from WordPress that I started this blog 7 years ago today. Where does the time go?
It hasn’t always gone to blogging, that I can tell you. But I have been somewhat consistent over all these years in spouting off about this or that. Lately, as you might be able to tell, I’ve had the itch to put a lot more out there for your reading enjoyment and possible enlightenment (or, if I’ve messed up somewhere, endarkenment). I hope this little writing itch will continue, mainly because as I’ve preached to my students for decades, writing is not simply taking dictation from your head. We write to find out what we think, and I for one am certainly interested in finding out what I think. I hope that there might be something in that for you, too, but there are no guarantees.
If you have looked in from time to time, thanks! I hope all is well with you and continues to be so!