Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

The things I worry about

As I've often complained about the hegemonic discourse in various (often worthwhile) movements, it might be worth talking a bit about that because people might easily misunderstand what I'm saying when I'm saying it.

First, a hegemonic discourse is the set of arguments, casual reasoning, and terms that belong to a community. Society itself has one. Movements have them. I am wary of them, but recognise that we can't decide not to have them any more than we can communicate without language. As a philosopher, I suggest that people have many commitments and learn to see the workd through many eyes, so they can see beyond the blinders of having only one set of commitments and one lens through which to evaluate people and injustice and the world. I do not trust people who only seem to have one issue or commitment they care about, even if I like that issue/commitment; they become shrill and alienating.

I have committed to disrupting and loosening hegemonic discourse; to throw wrenches in the works whenever those around me seem to have bought into one entirely. I don't mind some commitment, but I am hostile to total commitment. I also am happy to contribute elements of my own to hegemonic discourses, as other ways of thinking about things (when I saw "property is privilege and privilege is provisional", this is an example; yes, I do actually believe it, but I also can understand the world in terms of how others see it and my crusade for socialism doesn't lead me to condemn people crusade-style).

One particular thing I suggest those of you in any movement, whatever it is, is to keep asking yourself, "are the rules of this designed to shut down discussions or enable really pushy people?". The more a discourse is designed to do those things, the more likely it is you're in a movement (or a faction of one) that's become rotten and needs to be replaced. If it condemns, presumes to "teach", "calls out", or otherwise spits upon good-natured people who agree with its basic tenets but might disagree with its specific conclusions, it needs to be put down. If it cannot bear dissent or anything more than wholehearted commitment to deeply specific ideas, it is flawed. If it celebrates the fanatic whose (possibly righteous) anger causes them to lash out at others or otherwise misbehave, the broad brush that dehumanises the neutral or the opponents rather than converts them, and the shout over the discussion, apply a tourniquet and remove that limb of the movement; you may lose some committed people, but you'll be better off for it. Reasonable pluralism is the basis of any worthwhile movement, and the parts of the movement close to the mainstream of society that tug it in the right direction are doing the most good.

I am happy to be an unorthodox person who cares about many things but treat cautiously with the kinds of condemnation that others toss about so freely. This is, I think, the right way to be. I recognise the valid concerns driving these movements, share many of them, and aim to solve these problems, but often in a different way that sees me in conflict with the louder voices in these spheres. In a more ideal world, I think, I would not have been shown the door at those socialist meetings for rejecting dialectical materialism. It is only an abstract theory, but they insisted on it and had grown so used to those few that agreed with them en toto that any disagreement felt like a mark of an enemy to them. This stuff happens all the time.

To those in movements: develop your theories and care about them, but please only apply them as strongly as their nuances are actually important, and please try to be in many movements that will force you to compromise a lot between your commitments to each one. Be a troublemaker when people get too stuck up on respect or unity or dignity. Compromise is good for you, it's good for the others, and it's good for your movements.

Tags: philosophy

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