The Chronicle Op-Ed in Support of Western Civilization kinda Sucked

This piece is argued poorly.

I’ve called it “unfair” and “terrible” and accused it of “misrepresentation.” I guess I have to support some of that. So, let’s start here:

Complicity & Responsibility

The words “responsible” and “complicit,” make more sense when used for “people.” Moving beyond what JK says, we can replace his abstractions with people and see if the questions may have real answers. How might professional teachers and scholars of classics be complicit in extremist uses? Well, obviously, by silently ignoring them for one. I recently read an article that showed how polluting power plants have been located in poor neighborhoods so that they pay the price of a more polluted environment while people like me reap the rewards of cheaper electricity. If I benefit from a system that harms another group, am I complicit? I really would like the answer to be “no,” to carry on with a clean conscience. I am afraid the answer may be “yes.” And if so, what is my responsibility?

A proper debate?

Is a debate always the best metaphor? I’ve noticed that those who talk about debate tend to frame their interventions as confrontational and antagonistic, even when it is inappropriate. JK does use the phrase “the other side,” but the reason I put the quotation marks around it was to call attention to the fact that there may not be two sides here. A debate really needs two sides, positions to argue against, opponents to defeat. But JK’s position does not really seem to be in opposition, but supplementary. At least on the apparent topic of Western Civilization. If you have read JK’s piece, however, this conclusion may come as a shock. It did to me. JK becomes frustratingly vague when describing his view, saying e.g., “Western Civilization is a thing.” What sort of thing, for fuck’s sake? But we need a different frame, since “debate” has proven so terrible. Let’s try framing it as a conversation, a discussion aimed at understanding, teasing out differences and noting agreements.

  1. “Western” becomes anachronistic when you move back in time, it is always oppositional, and has an unclear reference. It may have some occasional use as a short-hand, but it also has contemporary racist resonances because of its cold-war usage (among others). To avoid being misleading and racist, it is best to scrap it.
  2. “Civilization” is also a rather fuzzy concept, imprecise at best, just plain racist at worst.

Oh, I mentioned racism…

My best efforts did not turn up much substantive differences between JK, me and others. If I think his model of the twitter network is interesting, he seems to be otherwise unsophisticated in his approach to influence and traditions. I suggested that the desire to frame everything as a “debate” encouraged JK to take an antagonistic tone. There may be another reason. JK accuses Hanink of “overheated rhetoric.” I’ve read her piece many times and have not noted much overheated. If anything, JK seems overheated, especially given the apparently broad agreements. Why is this? He will not like my answer. I think he is made uncomfortable by talk of racism.

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Maximus Planudes

Maximus Planudes

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The online pseudonym of the other online pseudonym Leopold “Poldy” Bloom. Really, tho, who I am doesn’t matter.