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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

Good Links on Experience and Perspective

Another great link from Alex’s Facebook is this article on how relativism came to bite its proponents in their smug, dumb asses. This lesson would be funny if it weren’t costing us all so dearly. 

Also, I picked up New Yorker after a break and was very pleasantly surprised. There is, for instance, a very good article on Trump supporters in Colorado: “People have reasons for the things that they believe, and the intensity of their experiences can’t be taken for granted; it’s not simply a matter of having Fox News on in the background. But perhaps this is a way to distinguish between the President and his supporters. Almost everybody I met in Grand Junction seemed more complex, more interesting, and more decent than the man who inspires them.” Don’t pay attention to the dumb subtitle. It was changed from the print version.  

There is also a very interesting piece titled “American Inferno” which one can use to teach students how dangerous it is to trust a first-person narrative. 

As you can see, all 3 links point to the danger of deifying “experience and individual perspective.” 

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14 thoughts on “Good Links on Experience and Perspective

  1. I read that Inferno piece the other day and didn’t like it, found it sanctimonious/sentimental, and did not think “Bree” was the cause, but rather an effect of things. I don’t know, who am I to judge, but the narrator seems to think of herself as having been so perfect … ?

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    • That’s my perception, too. She’s obviously a brilliant person but her insight into this story is very poor.

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      • Jennifer S on said:

        What insights do you think she should have had?

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        • That she was trying to turn him into a mini version of herself and lost all interest when it didn’t work out. That the idea of taking a guy who’s spent the years between the ages of 15 and 26 in jail and getting him to live between college, job and a white-walled house with no rehabilitation, no support was a deranged plan. That a human being is not a machine where you can push the reset button. That she’s still using him to confirm a pre-arranged narrative and advance herself.

          This, at least.

          Gosh, I’m sure she’s one of those academics who has one too many meetings in a day and takes to the couch to talk about self-care and feel all martyred. We are all like that. And this kid spends 11 years in jail and is supposed to just wipe the slate clean and be good as new? She’s a brilliant person, how can she not see all this?

          Liked by 1 person

  2. DWeird on said:

    One of the weird things that’s happening to political postmodernism is that it has a moralistic tinge to it. Literally all human relationships, knowledge, institutions are all seen as inevitable manifestations of power – and all manifestations of power, no exceptions, are seen as inevitably corrupting.

    Whatever ‘power’ even means in this context. I’ve blasted through near all of Foucault and I’m still not particularly sure. 😀

    Talking to someone who genuinely subscribes to this worldview is a very strange experience – they will start talking, then state what their biases are, then nitpick whatever it was they were saying as an instance of what not to do, then grow increasingly afraid of their own voice and start looking at you to help them escape the confused conversation they have been having by themselves.

    I think the allure, aside from the genuine insights you can get by looking at things through a power dynamics lens, is the easy shortcut nature of it. You don’t ever really need to look into things very deeply because you can already have your anti-cookie cutter cookie cutter out.

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    • What’s especially cute is when scholars begin to denounce scholarly expertise and knowledge as instruments of power and privilege. I really want to see how they develop the idea that knowledge doesn’t matter because the only thing that has value is personal opinion in front of their students. Must be great fun.

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  3. After reading the first link RE relativism, Seaton’s quote from New Yorker article stood out:

    \ [a Conservative owner of a small town politically-neutral newspaper which was presented as slanted] Seaton formerly worked as a corporate lawyer, and he believed that he had a valid case of defamation against Ray Scott. But he had decided not to proceed with a lawsuit. He worried that Trump uses the term “fake news” so often that its interpretation might change by the time a case reached judgment. “Maybe those words have lost their objective meaning,” Seaton said.

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  4. Regarding “American Inferno” , I was stuck by how a large family of several university professors and other respected professionals could / would do nothing with helping Michael avoid jail in the first place. Since you’ve written so much about parental influence, I have noticed that Michael’s mother was involved with several abusive men, prior to and including Michael’s father, and then sent already thieving Michael to a school in which “nearly sixty per cent reported seeing someone at school with a weapon” and “almost one in five ninth graders reported belonging to one at some point.”

    Btw, why do you think the writer is “obviously a brilliant person”?

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    • She has an impressive academic career and she can write beautifully for a general audience in a leading magazine. That’s a very very rare thing. Of course, self-awareness is an even rarer gift.

      As for Michael, the fellow had never lived alone. He grew up in a highly regimented environment where he was never alone. Starting to live alone is fraught even for the most undamaged of us. But for a guy like him, it’s downright impossible. What his relatives thought, sticking him into a completely unfamiliar world and placing such high expectations on him is a mystery. Also, it’s incomprehensible how they could have let him take that ridiculous plea.

      Unfortunately, often a family enacts “the black sheep scenario” aimed at underscoring the goodness of some family members as compared with the badness of others. This is all entirely unconscious, of course.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Shakti on said:

        There is also a very interesting piece titled “American Inferno” which one can use to teach students how dangerous it is to trust a first-person narrative.

        See, I’m not sure the piece would work well for that purpose. I think too many undergraduates would not understand the blind spots the author has.

        The obvious solution would’ve have been to get him to live with relatives in the same town. She states that he had to do his parole in the same county in which he committed his offense. Otherwise, I’m sure at least one of them would’ve offered to have him stay with them. I’m not sure how able these relatives would’ve been able to move to that county; professors are geographically limited and I’m not sure how able his mother was to move.

        Her mania for education does seem like a blind spot. However, when you consider job market statistics he absolutely needed a degree if they wanted him to live on his own or even with another non-relative eventually. Most people cannot afford to carry rent for a non-working adult. His mother probably couldn’t.

        White men with a criminal record get more callbacks than black men without one. Without skills or credentials and no work history, it’s very difficult to get an employer who’ll take a chance on an ex felon. I’m on a local facebook group and I see so many requests from people who are ex-felons with only a high school education begging for help, for the names of employers who’ll hire ex-felons. Given how much you’ve emphasized how destructive being unemployed is to people’s psyches, it absolutely makes sense she pushed for him to go to college. If he went and learned a trade, that still requires school. On one hand managing school and work is difficult, but on the other hand school and work have structure.

        As for the plea, I just find it curious they don’t mention a lawyer at all, not even a public defender when it came to that plea decision. Between the mother and his uncle, some kind of lawyer should’ve been found.

        Liked by 1 person

        • She was a Dean at the time. She should be well aware that his chances of finishing out at least one semester of college was less than zero. And dropping out would make him feel even worse about himself. Sure, a degree is great but an MD is even better. What not put him into medical school and see how it works out?

          Liked by 1 person

        • Agree. However I have been working with a case that had similar features. Because of all of the problems, paperwork was filed and arguments successfully made to get the guy allowed to be paroled in a different county, where he could live with people he was comfortable with and where those people had connections that led to jobs. (It’s a county where he had 3 long-time friends and 2 siblings, all 5 very upstanding citizens with houses, etc. This has really helped — if forced to stay in original county there’d have been very little for him.)

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      • Right. Of course it takes real savvy not to be talked into a plea bargain like that, and the right kinds of resources. I might forgive them that error, although it was one — it is more the utter lack of perspective in the article that puts me off. If I had a situation remotely like that with a relative, the first thing I would do is seek out a support/information group for relatives of youth/people with these sorts of charges in my state (these do exist) and especially if I had money, I’d call the very best and most appropriate lawyer available and retain them instantly. This, for starters. Also, there are support groups for recently released people. In N.O., for instance, there’s a group who helps with housing and also helps orient the new person. Support from people who really understand the transition you’re in is utterly key and it takes a while to be ready to live alone.

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  5. I remember you talking about the desire to share “The Secret Garden” with Klara, and wanted to recommend a great book – “Mio, My Son” (“Мио, мой Мио” ) by Astrid Lindgren. It is not like books about Karlson or Penny Longstocking at all, so if you didn’t like the latter, it doesn’t mean you won’t like the former. I loved “The Brothers Lionheart” too, but it’s quite dark.

    I have heard about Dear America Series – teaching American history via childrens’ diaries seems like a great idea, but I am unsure about the literary quality. There are diaries of slaves, “A Time For Courage: The Suffragette Diary of Kathleen Bowen,” “A Coal Miner’s Bride: the Diary of Anetka Kaminska,” “Dreams in the Golden Country: The Diary of Zipporah Feldman, a Jewish Immigrant Girl, New York City, 1903,” and much much more.

    I checked wiki and it says “Each book is written in the form of a diary of a young woman’s life during important events or time periods in American history. ”

    I am disappointed there are no male heroes. Aren’t boys supposed to read and learn about history too?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dear_America

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