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[xmca] critique of pure tolerance

On the ethics of engaging respectfully with positions you really strongly disagree with.

Recap: some of us are trying to figure out effective ways to challenge conservative/oppressive discourses about education and other matters in ways that are not as likely to be marginalized as many left rhetorical strategies have become in many places and for many audiences.

One strategy might be to see what the core values and discourses of those to whom our opponents appeal might say that is more to our way of thinking. For example, what Christian discourse may say that is in favor of critical thinking, or against the priority of decontextualized learning, or just against the "gospel of prosperity" (which, if you haven't seen recent news interest in this is an explicit movement in fundamentalist US christianity that says God wants you to get rich).

In doing so, however, we tread the slippery slope. Historically the Anglo-Saxon left has been rather purist, and its internal squabbles have mainly been over who is more perfectly marxist/democratic/etc. Leaving not much room to develop discourses that overlap or penetrate those of the non-left majority (who in the US are also mostly non-right). Something different happened in Latin America, where a fusion of Catholic populism and left communitarianism did a much better job of appealing to both rural populations and university intellectuals (Freire as a case in point, but he is part of a much larger discourse tradition). As I recall a few popes have actually condemned Latin American bishops for being too leftist. So they must have been getting something right. :-)

Nonetheless, the fear is that we might lend credibility to oppressive discourses by speaking partly within their discursive worlds. That is probably a justifiable concern, given Bakhtin's close linkage in the notion of heteroglossia (diversity of discursive worlds, or "social voices") of ways of describing the world and ways of valuing it. But to my mind communication is not about conversion, nor indeed even about being right. It is about establishing new cross-difference discourses that produce surprising ideas and values. I have always thought that there was rather too much missionary spirit in leftist discourse, that it remained uncomfortably close to christian messianic and evangelical models. The problem with this being that it assumes an end to history, that answers are known, and so there is no real incentive for a dialogue in which one is open to learn with one's interlocutors. 

So, yes, there is risk, but there is also much to gain. 

BTW, is there a good history of "critical thinking"? someone must believe it was invented in the Englightenment, or in the Renaissance, or by the 400 BC Greeks, by the Jews (when?), by the Chinese (when?). If we are going to claim that Jesus or Buddha exemplified critical thinking, are we also going to believe it's true?


Jay Lemke
Professor (Adjunct, 2009-2010)
Educational Studies
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Visiting Scholar
Laboratory for Comparative Human Communication
University of California -- San Diego
La Jolla, CA
USA 92093

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