The Daily Nous blog asks people who want to comment to imagine themselves in a public discussion setting with a small child along who will be getting a lesson on how to discuss “controversial issues with strangers”. I think the idea is that there’s some sort of unspecified standard of civility that people naturally gravitate to in liberal debates and your role as a person engaging in such debates is to intuit that standard and adhere to it. And you don’t want to violate the standard in front of a child because you’d be setting a bad example.
Here there’s no need to imagine yourself educating children on how to engage in liberal debates. People just get that for free growing up in any imperialist country. And that strikes me as the wrong lesson to teach about here, since we want to engage discussion from the point of view of the victims of liberalism. But there is something else you can imagine before you comment that you don’t get for free if you’re the type that reads philosophy blogs in the first world: Imagine that you are a euro-american “white” person caught up in the middle of the de-segregation of racist institutions –things like the abolishing of slavery or the Jim Crow laws. By law, you are now going to suffer the experience of having to sit with Black people on a bus, drink from the same water fountains, work side-by side at the same jobs, live next to them as neighbors, etc. A lot of this makes you uncomfortable because you’re going to have to be doing things very differently than you’re used to. It’s not just that you frequently can’t understand the way Black people talk, their mannerisms and whole way of being strikes you as less than civil. You’re not just making this up ―don’t they have a reputation for being angry and violent? That’s why there’s been all that commotion and unrest. They’re also responsible for a lot of the crime around town, that’s why they’re always in and out of jail. It’s nothing personal, but you just don’t feel safe around them. That’s important. You don’t have anything PERSONALLY against them ―I mean, you’ve kept to yourself and apart from all the goings on, just doing your thing. Of course, in some sense, you think all people should have a chance at making a good life for themselves, you give to charity, and volunteer to help feed the hungry on holidays, but you’re just not convinced that changing the way things are in a big way, or one that involves you has anything to do with that. Live and let live you say.
But all these changes are happening around you and it’s out of your control. What’s worse, your neighborhood just picked you to represent their interests at a town hall meeting with the Blacks to discuss the de-segregation of the school district. They picked you because, they say, you’re intelligent and fair minded. But you wonder now with Blacks mixing in in the schools whether the schools will be recognizable as schools at all. You won’t stand for education becoming just about complaining about things Black people want. Isn’t it SUPPOSED to be about teaching the facts, and the type of culture and values that Black people just don’t have ―just look at how they live! Their neighborhoods are falling apart, and they’re unemployed and you don’t want any of that making its way into education. Besides, you don’t know of any great Black scholar or Black school that even comes close to having the good reputation and track record of excellence than the regular schools and “traditional” teachers have. These are the types of things good, fair-minded people have to look out for, right?
Imagine that’s you. If you think “Ha! I’m nothing like that. This doesn’t apply to me!”, then you’re just the person it applies to so pay attention. It looks like you have at least two choices. On the one hand you can struggle to give up your prejudices and attend the town hall meeting to engage discussion of the bigger plan like a person would who is committed to education for all people even if it means you and others like you will have to do things differently or in a way that is foreign and doesn’t come naturally to you. You can speak your mind and comment knowing full well that what comes naturally to you isn’t going to automatically be what’s right or even in the ballpark because what’s going on is precisely a matter of changing what’s “natural” to people with prejudices like yours. It’s not going to be easy for you.
On the other hand you can hang onto your prejudices, and treat this as “hostile territory” at which point you can either take it easy and do the minimum that’s required and that will openly pass for civility, play “devils’ advocate” once in a while just to see what happens, and do just enough to keep you from being accused by those people of something terrible, like being a chauvinist! Can you believe that?! You can share smiles, glances and expressions of incredulity and exasperation with like-minded people and wait for all this to blow over or just move to a different neighborhood where Black people aren’t causing these problems. Or you can just be open about your prejudices ―This isn’t education! These people wouldn’t know education if it hit them over the head like a Billy Club. They’re trying to undermine the values and culture that’s worked so well for me and people like me and I won’t let them.
Consider these scenarios and the spirit in which you will be commenting, then comment.
Having said that, here’s the comment’s policy: All comments are moderated and subject to approval before being published. Like guest posts and links, comments are subject to criticism and endorsement. There is no pretense here about “non-ideological” moderation. If a comment is published it most likely means that the person commenting is moving the discussion forward, constructively engaging the blog’s editor and the readership. At the very least it means the person making the comment is open to the criticism of bourgeois philosophy. While I don’t think that a moderated comments section on a blog on the internet is going to land any blows against the unjust use of power of groups of people over other groups of people, I’ll still be looking out for lies, bullying and further exploiting of unjust social structures of class, nation, and gender privilege whether it’s dressed in liberal civility or unfounded insults and baseless personal attacks. But, a comment may be published just because it’s a negative example or instance of something that deserves public criticism. That will be made clear.
The blog welcomes criticism but you won’t get very far here with criticism of the form: “Only AUTHORITARIANS (lol I went to college hurr durr) criticize liberalism!! Waaa!!” “Authoritarianism” is a scary sounding word liberals use to conceal the fact that authority is always wielded by the ruling class in a class society and make it seem like liberal society is about “freedom” and every other way of doing things is “tyranny”. If you can’t think seriously about these things and you’re arguing at the G.W. Bush level, do everyone a favor and go home.
The same goes for criticisms like: “There should not be a blog about western academic philosophy and imperialism”. It’s here yo, just like de-segregation. Pull yourself together and deal with it.
Everything else is fair game.
Bourgeois liberalism in philosophy is very concerned with tone and the type of language one uses in philosophical debates. Much of this just results in excluding people from the institutional practice of philosophy. There’s a good piece on tone over at the Geek Feminist Wiki, check it out to see how tone can be used to stifle discussion and leave people out of discussions who have just as much claim to the discussion as anyone else.
Most of the world’s people don’t talk like bourgeois scholars in the west or traffic in their concepts and ideas and limiting the discussion to things that liberal bourgeois scholars find comfortable and welcoming is counterproductive to doing philosophy in a new, and non-bourgeois way. Most institutions and places on the internet are places where liberal bourgeois philosophers can read and say things that are comfortable and familiar to them to the exclusion of most of the world’s people. This isn’t such a place so be ready to read things that aren’t going to fit nicely under the umbrella of liberal civility.
Besides, liberal civility just isn’t enough. It’s the bare minimum one can do while assuming and insisting that philosophy is something for the few and privileged so the blog has to do a lot more than that.