“Your assumptions about me and what I stand for,” “Why is it that being cool-headed and rational is exclusively male, straight and white? What’s not to say that male, straight and white people can’t be hysterical? What’s not to say women or minorities can’t be rational and cool-headed?” “Your message also implies if I’m a straight (are you sure I’m straight?), white, male my argument is at least less valid that somebody who is less privileged than I am (what qualifies people as privileged or unprivileged?).”
Thanks so much for responding, Steven! It appears, though, I’ve hit a nerve and hurt your feelings. I apologize if what I wrote opened a wound—none had anything to do with you personally. I’ve only just “met” you, so I don’t know you to attack you, but the defensiveness is clear above. No abstract bullshit there: it may be actual emotion that requires as much of your attention as any theory you’ve collected. I’ll leave that to you. Emotional labor is the most important work you can do as a white male human being.
Back to my responses to your ideas. First, we don’t have an argument about post-structuralism. I read your creds; did you read mine before responding? (If you’re respectfully interested, you can start here: https://cathybglenn.com/private-principal-investigator/ My core references and the ideas I embody every day in my professional and personal practices are listed at the bottom. Let me know which are the “anti-rational” theories—I’m genuinely interested to know what you mean by that.) Process philosophy, alongside pragmatism and personalism, provide a way around the interminable abstract intellectual arguments between modernists and postmodernists, and I’ve chosen that path. My academic and non-academic focus is always problem-solving on the ground, and never-ending abstract debates distract from the work.
Second, of course abstraction is necessary! I’m in the process of abstracting “up” from the almost 4 years of dense immersed ethnographic experience; I have an intimate, embodied understanding of the abstraction process, and I’ve found that it is also emotional. I don’t have to tell you or your readers, however, that abstraction and lack of emotion (read: conventional rationality) are valorized and function as standards in most academic research. That move, reflected in your article, is a mistake.
I also don’t have to tell you or your readers that—except for anger—the 45th and his followers have absolutely no facility with their emotions and it shows. My research demonstrates how that lack of emotional facility manifests in aggression toward those who can and do express emotion regularly (younger humans, for instance). The choice isn’t between rationality and emotion, as your article functionally framed it: the question is how to embody the tools offered by BOTH modes of being. The healthiest humans can exist in both modes at the same time without the need to denigrate one or the other when they get uncomfortable. (I’m writing generally—it’s not about you, Steven.)
Finally: “How can people have any meaningful discussion if their identity gives what they are saying more or less validity? How do we move forward?” This is the crux of your concern, that identity politics stands in the way of all of the rest of us (all the rest of us WHITE PEOPLE) talking and moving forward. What will serve “the cause of liberation” is listening and deferring to those who have had the boot or the knee on their neck and know that position and view from the bottom intimately. I have been there. Have you? Those who have possess something you will never have: an embodied view from the bottom that focuses purpose.
Stand by and offer tools and support, Steven. Do your best to share your power with those who have much less. Understand that the evidence is clear that mostly straight white men have fucked everything up. As a species, white humans are destroying the planet—that is indisputable. FEEL that. Reckon with it.
It is our job as white people to be better humans, and umair’s continuously ringing the alarm can be in that service.
Thanks for this great, thoughtful comment Cathy. I agree that emotion is fundamental and, like you say “always already empirical”, and I’m making no claim otherwise. But abstraction is as necessary for a shared (and level) platform of meaning.
Your assumptions about me and what I stand for rest on the kind of “intellectual bullshit” that you go on to deride. Like you, I’m well schooled in theory — I was immersed in Foucault, Judith Butler, Homi K. Bhabha, Edward Said, Michael Warner etc. etc. while I did a Phd on cultural activism. If you scroll down my profile you’ll see what I have to say about feminism, queer theory and postcolonialism (and make it understandable to the average reader). All those theories, from a pragmatic standpoint, are great; they serve the cause of liberation.
But…. I’m with Martha Nussbaum in saying that post-structuralism goes too far. In assaulting the basis of reason by suggesting that the rational subject is assumed to be privileged, these theories have helped to damage the foundations of meaningful, inclusive and — yes — emotionally empathetic dialogue.
Why is it that being cool-headed and rational is exclusively male, straight and white? What’s not to say that male, straight and white people can’t be hysterical? What’s not to say women or minorities can’t be rational and cool-headed?
These anti-rational theories have actually served the likes of Donald Trump to be able to use identity politics in his own favour. Trump appeals to the “white victim”. Trump is hysterical, his supporters are hysterical. Because they know hysteria can circumvent rational debate. Trump and his supporters use postmodernism and relativism to deny the truth about climate change, to argue that there’s no fundamental truths like human worth or dignity, that it’s all relative.
Your message also implies if I’m a straight (are you sure I’m straight?), white, male my argument is at least less valid that somebody who is less privileged than I am (what qualifies people as privileged or unprivileged?).
I’m with you. 100%. We need to save the planet, we need to save people from the trap of poverty and destitution, we need a better world, a better politics, a better economic system.
Now, how can people have any meaningful discussion if their identity gives what they are saying more or less validity? How do we move forward? How do we make the world better, fairer, more empathetic, more enlightened and beautiful?
"Now more than ever, the urgent matters that face us need a cool head."
Thanks for the thoughtful piece, Steven.
When I found umair's work a few months ago, I was ecstatic. I'm emerging from almost 4 years of anthropological ethnographic immersion in closed white conservative Rural American Cultures. (Those cultural norms created the conditions for the possibility of the 45th. Lots of "cool" heads there.) I'm just coming "back" to the world after being isolated for the research. umair's voice was the first I read that matched (still matches) my level of urgency backed up with solid documentation.
My boatloads of data support much of what Mr. haque describes in many of his pieces. For me, he's the gold standard on Medium for describing the stakes of the U.S. slide into authoritarianism in actual terms without the urge to be "cool" (read: rational straight white male) about it all. The claim that "The tone is so hysterical as to be meaningless," reflects at the least a misunderstanding of hysteria and at most an indictment of emotion. Hysteria is uncontrolled extreme emotion, and Mr. haque's work is far from extreme and the emotion you feel is inherent in the stakes. You should feel overwhelmed by what's happening on the ground (even though you're insulated from most of the damage.)
Abstract intellectual activism without authentic emotion and connection is bankrupt. It is a deeply unhealthy orientation, one most often embodied by straight white men and those who have internalized masculinist norms. Emotion is the fundamental mode of being in the universe, for humans and other beings on the planet. Feeling is always already empirical--it is how we embody our connection to the universe (Whitehead informs most of my analysis). The embodied imbalanced power relation when "cool" is valorized at the expense of emotion is always already the perspective of those for whom abstraction is the gold standard.
Still, I find myself asking, "Okay, what's the path forward?" Not that I'm looking to umair for that answer; rather, the idea THAT there is a path forward rarely makes the edit and it should, at least as a mention to cut through sludge in the tank readers like you find themselves trapped in. Forcing the 45th to resign was the closest to that kind of advocacy I've read in umair's work. Of course, no one else is offering much of anything else.
umair's experiences in an authoritarian country resonate with my personal background as a member of an authoritarian family culture, and his urgency is as embodied and emotional as mine. It is also as well documented. I know the consequences if we don't wake up. So does umair. Few authors are willing to take a stand and sit on it the way he has. His work is crucial to cut through the abstract intellectual bullshit and remind us how much we have to lose by not acting.
Emotion backed up with hard evidence is not hysterical: it is the new relational paradigm that might save us from our "cool" selves.