Here Let Me Give You an Example, Composing, 24/07/2017

So I've drafted an introduction and an outline to an essay I’ve been meaning to write for the SERRC since the end of May.

Between a busier than expected schedule at my new job, a documentary to arrange (and now finance), my work with the local New Democrats designing a policy survey for members, and actually being able to relax and have a life once in a while . . . I’m sorry, but what was I supposed to be doing again?

You get the idea. But I pitched an idea to Jim the coordinator of the SERRC, and he said bring it to me whenever you want. So I’m going to bring it to him by early August. Still less time for a response paper than the average academic journal would take to process.

I think the story of Rachel Dolezal blew up as big as it did because it
was a surreal, deranged kaleidoscope of fractal and fractured concepts
at the intersection of so many different contours of the most
polarizing ideas of our time. But it was so messed up that very few
people could actually understand it. Especially since the form of
most of our media means that people rarely get more than a sentence
at a time to argue for or against any idea or perspective at all.
So I’m writing a piece that responds to a short and fascinating essay Robert Frodeman published back in May. It probed, from another angle, the major theme in his work – the critique of disciplinary structures in the academic university system.

This time, he was looking at the tradition of philosophy, its academic and punk styles. There’s the tradition of Western philosophy – dominant in university circles – that it’s a knowledge discipline with particular ranges and subordinate ranges of expertise.

At the same time, there’s the conception of philosophy as a tradition of free-thinking rebels against the authoritarianism of thoughtless conformity. Think of the Sophists as the experts teaching lessons and Socrates as the freethinker critiquing all that received, common-sense wisdom.

The example that inspired him on this reflection was the dustup earlier this year over Rebecca Tuvel’s essay in Hypatia on the possibility of being transracial. Frodeman focussed on the aspect of the debate where everyone was fighting over who had the proper expertise to make the calls they did.

He was primarily concerned to fill in an alternate perspective on arguments like that. He asks whether philosophical knowledge can also be for provocation as well as instruction. For asking important and (therefore) uncomfortable questions as well as providing answers to inquiries.

My response to Frodeman will be, essentially, to tell him that there’s still more to be done – the duality of answers/expertise v questions/provocation isn’t enough to describe all that philosophy can do.

I wonder how many people who watched Eddie Murphy's old "Black
Like Me" sketch on Saturday Night Live understood that it was also
a brutal mockery of white fears of the black people who can pass as
white. I wonder how many of those people who didn't get it were
themselves white. You have to think of yourself as an identity to
conceive of your identity as under threat. Of course it's much more
fun to conceive of yourself as an identity and practice
miscegenation anyway. Miscegenation is fun, and the way of the
I’ll do that with a deeper example of Tuvel’s essay. Oddly enough, reading it provoked a question in me that made me understand that her essay and the controversy surrounding it* as an even better example to show the transformation that our boring, decadent academic establishment needs.

* And surrounding Rachel Dolezal, the woman whose demented appearance in the spectacular freak show of Western media provoked a popular conversation about the nature of transracial identity in the first place.

See, unlike most of the critics of Rebecca Tuvel’s essay about transracial identity, I actually read the whole thing. And it was dry, turgid, uninteresting prose. It examined the arguments about the possibility and morality of transracial identity in a didactic tone, and from a perspective completely detached from the visceral nature of reality.

Tuvel’s essay did everything in an academician’s playbook to suck the vitality from an intense, multifaceted political conflict. I contrast this with the most illuminating piece of writing I’ve ever read on Dolezal and her perspective itself, Ijeoma Oluo’s article in The Stranger based on their conversation.

You could call it the difference between armchair and field philosophy, to run with another of Frodeman’s terms. Tuvel produced a bloodless, tone-deaf consideration of fiery concepts from a position of total abstraction. Oluo analyzed what concepts Dolezal’s own personality and sense of mission expressed.

Oluo was a truly empirical philosopher. My own creative argument flows from this point.

Anything more would be telling.

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