Thursday, July 14, 2011

Blogosphere on Fire

Yesterday saw me in two confrontations on two blogs.  

Since I quickly bowed out of those conversations,  I wish to say a few words here as I could not do so there, especially since the issues are so important.  I apologize to members of the first audience, for I never intended to cause a firestorm, as I was ignorant of how my views would be received.

On one side--and I never realized it would be a confrontation--I defended the view that philosophic traditions have communities of interpretation that educate and normalize certain interpretations and that this was not bad, but necessary.  I recommended that we philosophers become "multi-lingual" and learn these, e.g., learn more than one mainstream tradition whether continental, analytic, American, the various Asian traditions, or the new traditions emerging as critical race theory, etc., as I have done.  However, it is not as simple as picking up their texts, because without the background knowledge, the root metaphors, etc., then one will interpret in a manner not consistent with the community; it requires apprenticeship or uncommon dedication.  Keep in mind that "being scholarly" is in part being consistent with the scholarly community at large, and that picking up Hegel, Heidegger, Kierkegaard, or any historic text is non-trivial.  Moreover, I noted that a properly trained historically-informed scholar should often be able to detect if an author of an article or longer work has read and digested the history of philosophy of a continental text--I choose that because in that tradition such familiarity is often assumed--and I implied that lack of such indications was prima facie a mark against that scholar if the text in question should be historically-informed.  Likewise, one can usually detect what tradition of interpretation one comes from, although this ability requires careful and wide reading.  This is no different that recognizing what political ideology one comes from by their diction if not their claims.

This view did not go over well.  I do not know what to say, really, other than that I respectfully disagree and never expected the venom that came from it.  I was understood to be saying that traditions should not read each other, at some point, and I have no idea how that idea came about except, as I later begged pardon, that acknowledging a continental/analytic divide meant not reading both to that audience.  My insistence at being "multi-lingual" was lost, but I hope that it is not lost to this audience.

I also made comments about how elite schools (predominately analytic) in the US strongly tend to hire their own graduates, and that this was not likely to change, which set off another firestorm.  Honestly, I wish I would have known about this situation when choosing graduate schools, because I would have "sold out" and accepted the offers from the elite schools, since I was not then aware that attending the "wrong" school was a mark of Cain in the academic community.  I know of many others in similar situations, and now we are regarded as not making the cut rather than, in truth, not being in the know.  But bearing the mark of Cain presents few opportunities to correct that preconception.  Being a first-generation student, I already had one mark against me that no amount of intelligence or study could erase, and that very few could see clearly since I eliminated all outward signs in order to survive academia, yet I was constantly not in the know on various "obvious" topics.

On the other side--and I did realize this would be a confrontation--I defended a friend against hasty anti-religious comments.  The comments appear to have been taken back, but there is a lesson here.  One must call people on inappropriate behavior, especially when you know that they will retract or deny it, because then the person--unwittingly or not--will continue pushing the envelope.

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