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Re: [xmca] critique of pure tolerance
Nancy and all,
Dialogue is both the most natural form of communication and also an improvable art. It does easily degenerate into binary, partisan polarization, and I think we know that historically this tends to lead to violence and to long-lasting, even multi-generational conflicts. It is also a favorite tool of politicians, especially those who wish to move from being the representatives of a small minority to building their one-issue, or one-enemy coalitions of the uncritical.
But it can, on the other hand, become the art of reciprocal perspectives and dialectic advance of ways of seeing the world and acting in it, if we can find ways to re-enunciate the words of Others, to re-adjust the scope of common ground, to do what majority politicians usually aim for, "bringing us all together". Of course that is a somewhat unrealistic ideal, and it too degenerates into pushing majority views onto everybody, so learning nothing.
Pluralist societies seem to require a certain kind of general cultural ethos, and I am not sure that the US really has it. Interestingly, a frequently cited example of a genuinely successful pluralist culture/society is Hawai'i, Obama's home. I don't know what specifically the elements of a genuinely pluralist culture are. What cultural values or habits predispose people to tolerance? to curiosity about the viewpoints of Others? to a desire to learn across differences? to a disinclination towards simplistic analyses and polarizations?
Most historical societies seem to contain both tendencies, towards pluralism and toward monologism. Times of prosperity seem to favor tolerance, times of scarcity feed intolerance.
What else do we know about the conditions for productive pluralism?
Professor (Adjunct, 2009-2010)
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Laboratory for Comparative Human Communication
University of California -- San Diego
La Jolla, CA
On Dec 29, 2009, at 5:39 AM, Nancy Mack wrote:
> I like your emphasis on the Bakhtinian cross-difference discourse.
> I am alarmed by the over emphasis on argument in first year composition courses and the new language arts core standards.
> The emphasis on argument:
> Eliminates narratives of individuals.
> Promotes binary thinking.
> Asks us not to reflect on our life experiences.
> Sets us up to be one issue voters.
> Makes the world a safe, uncomplex world of simple decisions.
> Creates enemies from difference.
> Makes peace into oppression.
> Prefers logic rather than ethics.
> Polarizes emotion as the opposite to logic.
> Prefers discourse that badgers rather than communicates.
> Disrespects different world views and philosophies.
> Divides us into winners and losers.
> Privileges dogma over openness.
> And so on.
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: Jay Lemke <email@example.com>
> Date: Monday, December 28, 2009 10:14 pm
> Subject: [xmca] critique of pure tolerance
> To: XMCA Forum <firstname.lastname@example.org>
>> 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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