Let me give you a heads up. Whatever you’re most sensitive about, I’m probably going to be insensitive to it. This is regrettable, by which is meant it’s able to be regretted, but apparently not by me. Here I offer just a representative sampling of my myriad insensitivities. From it, others of my aseninities you can probably fill out on your own.
ONE: Of the things I care least about, pretty much in a dead heat are the minutes of last night’s city council meeting, global warming, and your gender identity. In fact, if the most interesting thing about you is who or what you find a turn-on, then you’ve got bigger problems than some other people’s disapproval of who or what you find a turn-on. So hey, I’ve got an idea. Let’s talk about movies, or music, or ideas, or what’s happening in the world. If you want my advice as to how to deal with these people’s disapproval of your sexual proclivities, there, I’ve just given it.
TWO: Because they’ve stopped teaching the parts of speech in high school, you probably don’t know that a pronoun is a word we use in place of the noun to which it refers. So, for example, in “Jack and Jill went up the hill, and he said to her…”, the listener or reader knows that the he refers to Jack and the she to Jill. Contrast this with “Jack and Jill went up the hill and phlee said to blim…” To know who spoke to whom, I need to already know whose preferred pronoun is which, which is just to say I need to know by what alternative name each of Jack and Jill wants to be referred to. That’s asking a lot of me, especially if there’s a whole lot of you and we’ve just met.
So if we’ve just met, and you don’t want to be referred to by the pronouns given to people who look like what was formally known as women, you need to tell me you prefer to be referred to by one of your two names, Lois or blim, rather than by any pronoun.
That’s asking a lot of me, especially if there’s a whole lot of you. So I propose, as a matter of courtesy, you wear a sign around your neck, the very wearing of which will indicate you’ve declared yourself a pronoun-free zone. This will, unfortunately, mark you as an idiot, at least in the minds of people like me who are as yet unwoke. But better that than suffer the self-reported excruciating pain – how else can pain be reported? – of being mis-gendered.
THREE: Thousands of your people were sent to residential schools. Well, six million of mine were gassed there. So it’s probably best not to play your race card with me. We’ve all either been, or shortly will be, victims. And we’ve all been, or shortly will be, victimizers. We just have to wait our turn.
When one people displaces another, very often the second has little choice but to displace a third. Thus the wall around the Warsaw Ghetto got rebuilt as the fence around Gaza. The Creek Nation, which was dumped at the west end of the Trail of Tears, brought black slaves with them to work their cotton fields. White slave traders traded slaves. But what was the skin colour of the people who put them in irons in the first place?
Iowa Representative Steve King got pilloried for pointing out, quite rightly, that none of us would be here were it not for rape. People who can’t think interpret this as a defense of rape. No doubt the same stupid people will interpret me as defending slavery when I ask, how many African Americans would accept a one-way ticket back to Liberia? Or as defending colonialism when I wonder, when, at their request, we get on our boats back to where we came from, will the so-called ‘indigenous’ people of this continent want us take our flush toilets with us?
Look. Whenever two peoples meet, each appropriates from the other what that other does better. Hence the replacement, thank God, of haggis with curry. But also, unfortunately, some of what the other does worse, like residential schools. However that happens – and conquest and colonization is the only way it does – without it the Scots would still be eating rolled oats in sheep gut, and the Indians would still be squatting over a hole in the ground.
Is it a fair trade? The question makes as much sense as whether the platypus was a mistake. I’m not sure what moral points are to be made by rewinding history. But if you do want to play the counterfactuals game, just make sure you’re not cherry picking.
And who are these ‘indigenous’ people anyhow? After this many centuries there isn’t a single one of them that doesn’t have a whole lot of European blood coursing through her veins. So whatever the colonizer owes the colonized, it’s going to be pretty much a wash, is it not?
This doesn’t mean we can’t wish things had gone other than they did. Otherwise we’d be saying Jews have the Nazis to thank for the State of Israel. Jews do have the Nazis to thank for the State of Israel, but only in the sense you have a rapist to thank for your existence. And that’s not what we usually mean when we say thank you.
Nor does this mean that people who are disadvantaged – many African Americans and most indigenous Canadians – aren’t entitled to a leg up. Suppose a plague rendered all and only people who can’t roll their tongues in need of some kind of affirmative action. Since there needn’t be some past injustice warranting such action, and since whether there has or hasn’t been an injustice is so contentious, by demanding an apology we’re just stoking the resentment, the resentment of those crying historical foul, and the resentment of those being resented. My advice – which is never heeded, so why start now? – is for everyone to shut the fuck up about injustice and just get on with lending a hand where it’s needed.
FOUR: The view that some people have knowledge unavailable to others is a duh. I’ll never know whether childbirth is or is not worse than passing that breached football out of my ass last week, but a woman might. But the view that certain people – the shaman, indigenous people in general, women – have special ways of knowing, ways of knowing unavailable to those who are not those certain people, is one of the oldest frauds in the book, even before there were books. Our stone age ancestors had little to teach us about anything, including how to live in harmony with nature. What makes us think an erstwhile stone age people have anything more to offer?
It’s true that some people see the world one way, others another. Billions of people continue to see the world as, to use Charles Taylor’s term, ‘enchanted’, whereas others see it as sub-electronic particles all the way down. And so all the way up. Is there a fact-of-the-matter such that the scientistic world-view has it right and the enchanters have it wrong?
Actually, there is a right answer to this question. Form follows function. So what do we want when choosing what to believe? Answer: the only measure of getting it right or getting it wrong is what does and does not give us prediction and control. Flat-Earthers will probably not help us get to the moon. But the village priest is a helluva lot better grief counselor than the ‘professionally’ trained social worker.
FIVE: Many feminists complain that the canon in analytic philosophy is made up of nothing but dead white guys. That’s absolutely true. But the question is, was Plato right about the Theory of Forms? Was Hobbes right about there being no right and wrong in the state of nature or was Locke right that a state of nature has a law of nature to govern it? Was Hume right to be skeptical about causation, induction, and personal identity? Or were all these dead white guys just asking questions that don’t interest you?
If the latter, that’s fine. You go right ahead and ask the questions that do interest you. But leave us to stew over what keeps us up at night. The thing about having a Precious – be it global warming or the evils of patriarchy or Black Lives Matter or one’s gender identity – is that one often forgets it’s her Precious. I could say I’ll care about what you want me to care about if you’ll care about what I want you to care about. But I’m pretty sure that’s a deal you’re not going to want to make.
I know you think that if I’m not part of the solution I’m part of the problem. That silence is violence. And so on. I’m sure you’re right. But here’s what you’re not getting. I DON’T CARE! And, sadly, neither do most people. If they did there wouldn’t be a problem, because if they cared and it could be solved, they’d have solved it by now. So I wish you God’s speed, but it’s your Precious, not mine. As, apparently, is mine mine, not yours.
SIX: Most words refer to something. But some words don’t. But just because a word fails to refer to something in the world, that doesn’t mean it’s meaningless. We all know there are no unicorns, but we know what they’d be if there were.
And then there are words about which we have no idea what they fail to refer to. And yet they too can do important work. They can have what John Austin called perlocutionary value, by which he meant what they do to the listener. They stir the heart, or boil the blood.
Only an asshole – by which I mean someone like me – would press the speaker on what she means by the word, or failing that, what reaction she hopes to provoke by it. Calling her out on the meaninglessness of the term, or the manipulate-ness of its deployment, is just churlish. It’s churlish to point out that mattering – as in Black Lives Matter – is a two-place connective. Something has to matter to someone. That who’s encountered as indigenous is indexed to who’s doing the encountering. And to when. That whatever respect you think you’re entitled to – as in “Don’t you be dissin’ me!” – and whatever duty you think that imposes on me, doesn’t come with your just being. And so on.
Okay, that should be enough. As you can see, these are just a few of the things that make me so endearing. And I am endearing. I have the focus group data to prove it.