An Epitaph for the Butch

“Butch is a legacy identity, dating from a time before we understood gender as something that could change or fall between the poles of male and female. Individuals who identify as butch, or who have identified that way at some point in their lives, may now find themselves on different points along the gender spectrum. In the long run, there may be no way to save this dinosaur of an identity—or butch may eventually be nailed down to a single point rather than encompassing multitudes. For the present, however, what butch means depends on which butch you pose the question to, and it is rare to find two butches who will give you the exact same answer.”

I know we’re going to say that this isn’t the epitaph of butch. But if we’re honest, it’s just whistling past the graveyard. This article at Slate is the epitaph for butch.

There was a period, call it almost a decade, that I identified as butch. During the last half of that time, the assumption in the community was that I was going to transition from female to male. When we would go to butch-femme events the assumption was that I wanted to be called ‘he’ and Jaime’s ‘fella’ neither of which I wanted. I know we’re all supposed to say we’ve never heard or seen a butch woman being, well, badgered to transition but I have been on the receiving end of it. I’ve had people say “well, when you’re ready…”

We’ve managed to do in, perhaps a decade, what the prior five decades of serious anti-gay bigotry could not; kill off butch. Not individual butches, but I suspect that butch is going to dwindle away. The butches will get grayer, grayer, and there will be fewer and fewer younger ones to take their place.

I think we are letting one of the most beautiful expressions of womanhood slip away from our fingers, and we don’t even know that we’re doing it. I think we will not realize what we’ve lost until it is gone. And the lesbian world will be less colorful, less sensuous, less sultry, less seductive, less beautiful place. Twenty-some odd years ago this June, Del Martin made me weak in the knees when she just flashed me a wink, coming out of a 7-11 in the Castro when I was on my way to the Dyke March. She melted my knees. A woman clearly old enough to be at least my mother if not my grandmother, and she just put this tremor through me. I felt, in that moment, like the most beautiful creature to ever walk this earth. One look, one wink, from a butch woman a year older than my mother and I was just a puddle of lesbian goo waiting to buy a pack of smokes. I have been flattered by the attention of men at times—if the approach was genuinely respectful—but no man has ever made me weak in the knees, much less by doing nothing more than winking at me.

We are not likely to see the likes of the butch lesbian, in all of her stone and in all of her womanhood, again anytime soon.

Our Old Country is a Time Not a Place

I once heard someone describe the generational experience of immigration to be something like this: the generation that were adult immigrants bring the old country with them. Their children want to be Americans and try to put some distance between them and the old country. Their children then are just Americans. The old country is just this place where their great-grandparents came from. Their children, in turn, feel rootless and so wish to return, at least spiritually, to the old country. I am going to try to paint a heretical picture in pursuit of a truly heterodox position. I’m going to argue that black America is now finishing its immigrant experience. Our experience was interrupted by slavery, specifically, even more so than Jim Crow although that prolonged the amount of time we were held outside the society, the foreigner with their strange names, funny accents, different foods, and unfamiliar customs. Overcoming Jim Crow is something like crossing the ocean with its physical manifestation perhaps being the Great Migration.

This morning I noticed that a friend of mine commented on a Facebook post that people were arguing, still, that the Greeks and Europeans stole everything from blacks in Africa even though there is no evidence that anything of the sort happened outside of the self-referential world of Afrocentric studies. Here we see another manifestation of the syndrome—if Dixie in the first three-quarters of the twentieth century was the Old Country then pre-historic Africa is the place that the people in the Old Country would call their Really Old Country. Well, they might if they had believed any such nonsense although my parent’s generation, certainly, seemed to have very little truck with it. We focus on Africa but not Africa now. Just like it is always 1952 in Alabama (and thus in America) it is always 7000 years ago in ‘Kemet’. So Africa, the modern continent with all of its vibrant and rioutous diversity disappears being entirely beside the point. What is important about Africa is what it was and to the degree that modern Africa counts in the least bit what it remains, is yet another sign of the depravity of Europeans and Americans both past and present. Apparently not only did the Greeks steal the knowledge of Africans (how one steals information from a culture is left unexplained) but they prevented the Africans from continuing to use the knowledge they had. How that trick was pulled off is also left largely commented on.

The problem with trying to get back to the Old Country is that, unlike Ireland, the past exists but you can only get stuck there you cannot come and go. This is not to say that the study of the past is unimportant, far from it! But you cannot get stuck there. The problem of the Afrocentrists, who are less the concern of this essay, is that they are stuck in a past of their own imaginings. The Africa they imagine never actually existed. The problem with being stuck in the Old Country that is the last century, is that it has sapped one of our great cultural strengths as a people. A cultural strength which, was paying dividends as more and more black people found good paying jobs and implanted themselves in the middle class and it continues to pay to this day.

If you’re a middle-aged black person or older, you probably remember being told as a child that you were going to have to try twice as hard to be recognized as merely average. This kind of can-do and will-do attitude was a source of strength for us. It gave us an internal power that could not be taken away because it was not in the gift of anyone but ourselves. Whites could not touch it because it was inside of us; we carried it in our brains and breast, where it is beyond the reach of all forces save death. It was and remains a double-standard and that is certainly a moral violation but seeing it clearly and recognizing that, for all its evils, there was a way to overcome it was a moral triumph. If we were courageous enough to take the plunge, that is. Freedom is scary, much more terrifying than a past you can never actually visit whether it existed or not. But dreams of glory have all the defects of sleeping dreams, they are ephemeral and no matter how vivid, disappear at the slightest touch. The desire to live in either past, imaginary Kemet or very real Alabama, circa 1952, is an understandable one in the face of the terrors of taking the risk of striving. There are no guarantees in that path. One might fall flat on the face. But the glories of ancient Kemet, or the depredations of Old Dixie, are already paid for.

I believe we are seeing a transformation in the psyche of black America. I think that the old ways of being black no longer serve us and many younger black people do not know what it means to be black. Here is the parallel between black Americans and the experience of other immigrants. It is both a generational experience and a personal one and how can it be any other way for generations are made of people. Both my grandmother’s generation and my parent’s generation (born in the first 22 years of the 20th century) knew precisely what it meant to be black. There was no question about it. You could have all the PhD’s one can imagine earning and you still weren’t sitting at the lunch counter at Woolworth’s. My generation knew what it meant to be black. It was not the same meaning as my parent’s generation or their parent’s either. It meant something specific to our time in the story and for us, to be black meant to be strivers. We were the integration generation. We were the first generation of black Americans to have grown up in a world where if we remember Jim Crow at all, it is only the vaguest, most hazy memories of early childhood; the place where a ‘colored only’ sign hung above a water fountain, a nasty bathroom at a gas station sans the sign but still where black folks had to use the restroom. So the meaning of our blackness was that we were the ones who were going to take advantage of the opportunities the generations before us had fought for.

But what does it mean for modern black people just entering adulthood to be black? Hell even to some degree the tail end of my generation, that part of the cohort born in the 70s instead of the 60s, who probably remember nothing of the old remnants of Jim Crow don’t really have an anchor. So what does it mean to be black in a world where a black President is now a fact of history, and a black doctor, lawyer or engineer is unremarkable? What does it mean to be black in a world where you can earn your way into the physics programs at Cal Berkeley or MIT? There was a time you could have been the fulfillment of some long-forgotten prophecy of a Chosen One who would, once and for all, work out a unified field theory to make relativity and quantum mechanics play nice together and you still wouldn’t be admitted to MIT. That day is gone. Are there a lot of black students at MIT? No, but there are black students there proving you can get in if you’re black. You need to be able to hack the work, but you can get in to try to do so.

Yes, black men are stopped and shot by police more often than other people. Yes, more black men are incarcerated as a percentage of the population than any other people. Yes, more black children live in poverty as a percentage of the population than other people. But for all that, this is still not 1952. Black people are far more integrated and assimilated into America than at any point in our nation’s history. I started forming this heretical idea of black America evolving into just another ethnic group, instead of a race apart, a few years ago. Increasingly, I’m beginning to think that this might be the way we talk about ourselves going forward. It has the virtue of connecting us with a very American story of how this ancestor came here from this or that shore. This is a story that resonates deeply with who we are as a people. It also has the virtue of using the language of a journey and the journey motif is already deeply woven into black American culture—particularly our religious culture. So we need not invent a new language that we then have to teach people, we already have the language. We need to use it to tell ourselves an updated version of our ethnic group’s story.

It is a story of a people who first began their journey to America in the 17th century. For the whole of the 18th century and most of the 19th, we were held apart in an isolated island called Slavery. When we were then emancipated from this island and brought to the mainland, we were still quarantined in a place called Segregation, the capital of which was Separate but Equal. During that time, we migrated within the borders of our own land in a Great Migration, leaving Dixie, the site of most of the worst of our oppression and torments. We finally destroyed Segregation, although some of its structures still stand but its religion, Racism, has lost favor and adherents lately and so it has become an increasingly lonely place, peopled by groups that reject the moral progress of America. So now, we are here, we are Home in America.

I am an American. I am black. American defines my nationality, black defines my ethnic experience of American. It has become a shibboleth on the Left to say that race is a social construct so I see no reason for us to continue to speak of black people as a ‘race’ and high time we speak of ourselves as an ethnicity.

37 Years, 8 albums, and 75 minutes

 

Mark Knopfler had me from the first time I heard Dire Straits with the opening bars of 'Sultans of Swings' from their 1978 eponymously titled debut album. It has been thirty-seven years and eight albums I have been seduced by this man's virtoso song writing and his unmistakable guitar work. 'Tracker', his latest album, was released last evening. It formed the soundtrack to the last two hours of my work shift last night. With this play through I have listened to the album three complete times since it was released a little more than 15 hours. Seduced is the word for my experience of being invited to a feast for the ears and soul that a new Knopfler is and has been for nearly four decades.

The adage of never having another chance to make a first impression holds true for albums as well as people or, for that matter, books. The first track of 'Tracker' is 'Laughs and Jokes and Drinks and Smokes' starts out with a cool jazz intro that put me in mind of the first few bars of 'Take Five' by Dave Brubeck and then suddenly morphs into Irish roots music. One of the joys of Knopfler, at least for me as a middle aged listener, are the various trips down memory lane he takes the listener. The chorus of this song reminds me of a group of women I lived with back in the early 1990s. We all shared a Victorian house on the edge of the Fillmore and the lower Haight-Ashbury and we were all broke as a joke. We all shared, laughs, jokes, drinks, smokes (and pot when we had it) aplenty during that time.

About 80% of the way of the through the album Knopfler shows one of this gifts and what he does truly is a gift. On the eleventh track, a haunting and mournful duet with Ruth Moody titled 'Wherever I Go', Knopfler takes us into a bar about 1:35 in the morning when its just the barflies and the staff. From the first time he did this to me on 'Your Latest Trick' from the 1984 album Brothers in Arms to now I have been amazed at his ability to paint a musical tableau. If anyone could put that painting 'Boulevard of Broken Dreams' to music, Knopfler would be it. If you close your eyes, you can almost feel the cool early morning air as it rushes in each time someone opens the door and you can damn near taste the cigarette smoke in the air and smell the whiskey on the breath of the drunk two stools over. No one is able to do that with instrumentation like Knopfler.

This is not a rock album although officially Knopfler is considered a rock musician. It is not a country album although his North Umberland Celtic roots are surely on display. It is a wonderful, beautiful, moody album. the only songs that truly move are 'Laughs and Jokes and Drinks and Smoke' and Beryl and of those two only Beryl really swings and it is a subdued swinging. It is an album well worth listening to. Just don't expect a Dire Straits album. Knopfler doesn't go backward, even if he sometimes takes a look back.

 

Of Facts and Theories

This post is an experiment of sorts. This was what I was going to say about something on a discussion on my friend Steven’s Facebook wall. Instead, I’m going to post the response here and link to it on my friends wall. That way I don’t feel rushed to condense something that takes a 1000 words into 100


You actually can prove something in math. You cannot actually prove something in science. You can demonstrate a degree of fidelity between what a theory predicts should happen and what we actually see by experiment or by observing the real world. But you can’t prove anything. You’re familiar with the black swan example so I won;t belabor the point.

I would say that fact has a pretty good operational definition which is ‘that which can actually be observed in the real world’. By real world, here, I mean a first-order approximation that is decent enough for us to treat it as if it were actually true. So, it is true that the couch I’m sitting on and the keyboard I’m typing are not *actually* coming in contact with my skin. The electromagnetic forces repel one another but it is close enough that it certainly *feels* as if my skin is touching the actual keyboard and so I can treat it ‘as if’ that were happening. So for almost any day-to-day purpose we can take the solidity of non-liquid objects as real. True, most of the chair and most of us are actually empty space but we can treat ourselves as solid objects. A neutrino would see as lots and lots of empty space with the odd bit of matter scattered around. Both descriptions are valid but neither one of them is more True in an absolute sense.

Yes, there can be contradictory positions and sometimes those are very genuine controversies. I would put string/m-theory into this category. It may be right. It may be not even wrong. That is one kind of noise in the system. Ultimately, that will get sorted out as experiments are performed or, because experiments can’t be performed people abandon it since there is know way to determine if you’re wrong. In the example you’re using, you’re conflating facts with theories about those facts. So, here are what I see as the salient (if surface) facts:

  1. People with a particular condition take a drug that was designed to alleviate or control symptoms of that condition.
  2. The manufacturer claims to have done testing and claims to have found the drug safe.
  3. The regulatory agency accepted the drug company’s claims.
  4. People taking the drug died.
  5. The drug was found to be causitive in the deaths.
  6. The drug company is found to have cooked the lab books, burying studies that were less favorable or fudging data to paint a prettier picture than was warranted.
  7. The drug company did this knowingly. (There’s scientific error and then there’s scientific fraud.)

The fact that the drug manufacturer made a claim does not mean that the claim was factual. That’s why I said that you’re conflating the two. For the moment, let us grant the drug company good intent in wanting to develop the drug in the first place. The thinking would look something like this

“This disease, X, kills N number of people per year. Our drug can help 80% of them. With another ten percent possibly having a fatal reaction to the drug. Well, by pure random chance we would expect up to 20% to have a bad reaction and this is a disease that strikes a lot of people and therefore will be prescribed quite widely. The mere knowledge of the existence of this drug will make our stock rise by two or three points.”

Pause a minute and consider that so far every decision has been made from a corporate boardroom peerspective. I’m trying to be reasonably fair to the decision makers in organizations like Merck. I’m not imagining them as some kind of medical Mr Burns, cackling evilly as they decide to put out a drug that can kill people. I think they make what seem to be good, but terribly misguided and stupid, decisions at the time that are in the best interests of the company. The numbers of people are hypothetical at any rate. But let’s move on.

So in the actual labs, postdocs and ordinary worker bee researchers are toiling away at their benches. The senior researchers are doing their jobs. And there are directives coming down from on high that this drug needs to be ready to go to market. So numbers get cooked. If anyone decides to make a fuss then the small matter of that NDA you signed coming in the door will be very casually brought up and one will be given reason to ponder upon the consequences of having a gigantic multinational corporation deciding that you need to spend several years in court because your conscience told you to do the right thing. If you’re a postdoc just starting out, you can’t afford to get a reputation as a troublemaker. Troublemakers don’t get funding. Troublemakers might have to leave the steady paycheck of corporate science and try to make it in academia. If you’re a journeyman scientist, you’ve got your house and attendant mortgage, and a car and payment for that and the student loans and the kid’s college fund and equipment for soccer and a new saxophone for the child wonder. If you’re a senior scientist you’ve got 20 years in. You don’t want to start over at 50. That idea terrifies you. Everyone has a reason to keep their mouth shut, their head down and try to stay out of the way. If you can’t sleep, there’s always drink or pot or perhaps one of your company’s own wares.

None of that, however, was about facts. It’s about the things that got in the way of the actual facts coming out. The actual facts are that the company put out a drug that kills people at an unacceptable rate (nothing is foolproof) and that they covered up the actual facts which was that their drug caused a reaction that was fatal at a higher rate than would have passed regulatory muster. At no point was it ever a fact that the drug was safe. A lie isn’t a truth until it is exposed as a lie. A lie is always a lie, even when it isn’t known to be a lie by anyone but the one telling it. Even if it this were the result of an honest mistake it *still* would not change anything about there being a fact about the drug (that it is dangerous) and that fact was known (because it was) and covered up because it was inconvenient.

I would say that a fact is that which is true about the world whether you believe it or not, whether there is anyone around to do the believing. The Sun is the most massive object in our solar system. It was so long before there was a single living thing or even a single planet with the potential to have conditions suitable to life. The Earth is more massive than its moon and therefore the Earth has captured the Moon and it orbits the planet. This is a fact. Einstein gave us a what, at present, appears to be the correct answer for *why* the Earth orbits the Sun and the Moon orbits the Earth and not the other way around. The less massive object will orbit the more massive object. If all of the mass of the Sun were condensed into the physical size of, say, the Mercury, the Earth would *still* orbit the Sun even though the Earth would have a larger physical size. It would be true if the Sun were condensed to the size of an asteroid about six miles in diameter and 2 miles long. Now, it may turn out that in 1000 years it is shown that Einstein was actually quite wrong in his explanation for *why* the less massive Earth orbits the more massive Sun but it will not change the fact that it does so.

Theories are models to explain facts about the world within a specific domain. Facts are those things about the world that just *are* whether there is something around to know about it or not. They remain even if there are things to know those facts and those beings believe exactly the opposite. The facts themselves maintain their hold on reality even if all our thoughts about those facts are entirely out to lunch. Something is true if its fidelity to the real world is so tight that the Universe is actually obliged to be that way.

 

The Rise of the Post-New Left Political Vocabulary

AJ Kincaid:

Excellent analysis of the differences between the language used by the New Left and the post-New Left.

Originally posted on The Public Autonomy Project:

If a handful of time-travelling activists from our own era were somehow transported into a leftist political meeting in 1970, would they even be able to make themselves understood? They might begin to talk, as present-day activists do, about challenging privilege, the importance of allyship, or the need for intersectional analysis. Or they might insist that the meeting itself should be treated as a safe space. But how would the other people at the meeting react? I’m quite sure that our displaced contemporaries would be met with uncomprehending stares.

It’s not so much that the words they use would be unfamiliar. Certainly ‘privilege’ is not a new word, for instance. But these newcomers to the 1970 Left would have a way of talking about politics and political action that would seem strange and off-kilter to the others at the meeting. If one of the time travellers told others at…

View original 3,304 more words

The ‘buts’ come out again

I took the title from a line in an articlein the Turkish daily Hurriyet Daily News.

We are going through days when sentences containing “but” have peaked. 

“I condemn this, but…”
“Of course killing is horrendous, but…”
“One would not support a massacre, but…”
“I would never tolerate what has been done, but…”

Here’s how to understand these types of sentences: Disregard all of the words before the “but.” Concentrate on what comes after the “but,” because the actual ideas are hidden there.

I think that the above is spot on. The writer, a man named Ahmet Hakan, is shows us our own statements and it baffles me that people otherwise of the left can’t see this when we start talking about the Paris massacres. Take the following statements and see if you can see the point.

“I’m not racist but, …”
“I’m not sexist but, …”
“I’m not anti-gay but, …”
“I’m not anti-fat but, …”
“I’m not anti-immigrant but, …”

Is there any doubt that odds are that the very next phrase that exists the speakers mouth is going to be racist or sexist or anti-gay or anti-fat or anti-immigrant? ANY doubt? So why is it that one can say, “I’m against all violence but, Charlie Hebdo was a really racist magazine”. The fact that you are of the left doesn’t make what follows the ‘but’ any less an excuse for all the perfunctory denials.

I shouldn’t have to say this but I’m going to anyway, this is not about being anti-Islam. I realized that, from the point of view of what we in the Western left should be focusing on, the issue isn’t about religion or even about race. The issue, for the left, should be about fear. Nick Cohen, my favorite columnist currently writing, was spot on when he saidthat we are not just afraid but so invested in our cowardice that we are unwilling to admit that we are afraid! And we are afraid! A message was delivered by militants with guns and that message was this, “we cannot stop you from writing, drawing, sculpting, or publishing something that we find offensive. We certainly cannot stop you from doing it the first time. We can stop you from doing it the second time if we so choose. So draw your cartoons. Write your screeds. Deliver your speeches. Publish your novels. But know this, never forget this, you will put a byline and we will know your name. Your publication has a masthead, a website and an address and we will know this too. We will know how to find you. We will know where to find you. We will find you should we take it in our minds to do so and when we do, know that we will deliver justice to you.” Who is this ‘we’ that is speaking? It is militants with guns. It is right-wing militants with guns which, at the end of the day, is what most baffles me about the left’s reaction to these massacres.

“You blasphemed against our religion.” There are more right-wing and revanchist statements possible but the one in the sentence preceding this one arrives in the same car, sits in the same room as other more obviously revanchist sentiments. How can leftists get in bed with some of the most right-wing, reactionary forces operating in the West today? You see, looking beneath the skin color of the militants, hearing past the accented voice, what I hear and see are reactionary forces who would happily make common cause with Opus Dei, the American Family Association, the National Organization for Marriage, Pat Robertson and Phyllis Schafly if only they didn’t agree about the Almighty. Women’s sphere is really in the home? Yep, you can get that on either side of the sectarian divide. Gays and lesbians really are a threat to society? Once again, no real disagreement there from either side. On and on, down the line, I see groups whose ideological imperatives are far more similar than they are different.

This is not to lump all Muslims or all Christians together. Not at all. This is to say that a revanchist is a revanchist and a reactionary is a reactionary and all the brown skin or non-Christian religious belief does not change that a wit. In my mind, except in the most dire of extreme cases, no left winger worth her quinoa gets in bed with reactionaries. You don’t do it. In trying to write about this subject, I’ve had to walk a perilous path because I want to stand up fully and fiercely for values I treasure and I see under attack and being abandoned by those with the most to lose and yet, I want as much daylight between myself and the likes of Eric Erickson or your random FOX News contributor as is humanly possible. I want to say nothing that gives aid and comfort to reactionaries. It is not that I look at American Christian reactionaries as ‘good’ reactionaries and non-American Muslim reactionaries as ‘bad’ reactionaries. I see reactionaries and I want as little truck with them and as much bright daylight between us as is possible.

Which is why I’m trying to shift the focus of the discussion, at least in my own circles, away from the fact that brown skinned Muslims committed these massacres and focus more on the fact that reactionary militants committed these acts.

Je ne suis pas Charlie, Je suis Voltaire.

Why I love my boss #42

This was in my work email today:

T’was the day before the night before the day before, the night before Christmas

When all through the Big Pink many TSE was stirring, even some Rogues

The tickets were stacked in the queue, like used copies of Vogue

The teams were focused on tickets to solve,

While visions of the lobby doors did revolve;

Around and around in their minds

Swirled fixes and patches of many a kind.

When over in Milliways arose such a clatter

Every TSM sprang to see what was the matter

Away to Zendesk they flew like a flash

“All TSE queue” and cleared their cache,

To see the results of last week’s bash.

The sunlight on the shimmering waters of the Willamette

Gave the luster of summer to the 29th, and 28th too, I bet

When what to my wondering eyes should appear?

But an Infinity team and 8 tiny reindeer

(And by “reindeer” we mean the 8 arms of Cephalopod

Which I realize is a picture quite odd).

With many a ticket drivers, so slippery and quick,

I knew in a moment Enablement is slick

More rapid than Eagles, these tickets they came

And so the BSE’s whistled and did tame,

Sending tickets to the queues with excellent aim.

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,

The KAM team did also take to the sky

And up to the queue top they flew

Intuit, XOC, Bear Hug and some P1’s too.

And then in a twinkling, I heard in the queue

The echoes of tweets by Sweet Lew

As the day wore on and tickets wore down,

The fog cleared and there below was the town.

The tickets they are so many! How they appear!

Oh Java, oh Mobile these tickets I fear!

Team Mojave quickly joined in the game,

And I called to them, called them by name:

Now Toby, Now Jeanie,

Now Dara and Jesse

On Kaushik, on Jesse (rhymes with ‘Jesse’)

On Andy and PK Thunder,

On Luke and Adrienne,

On Donner and Blitzen.

Wait. Got carried away,

The last two are not working today.

The TSEs spoke not a word, but went straight to their work

They filed Jiras and Feature requests, then turned with a jerk.

And laying a finger on the elevator call,

Gave it a push, down to the lobby they did – ride. (what did you think I was going to say?)

The queue under control, tickets but a few

Away they did fly, upon wings of Mt. Dew

Code Red, anyway

I heard them exclaim, as they bolted away,

Happy Holidays to all, and to all a good day!

(By Brent Hara, Manager, Mojave team, New Relic Technical Support)

The purpose of a university education

I normally don’t post the complete writings of other people but in this case, I’m making an exception because this is so perfect and there is nothing more I can add to this:

Hello, Cross-Cultural students, I am writing to express my views on how some of you have conducted yourself in this university course you are taking with me. It is not uncommon for some-to-many American students, who typically, are first-generation college students, to not fully understand, and maybe not even appreciate the purpose of a university. Some students erroneously believe a university is just an extension of high school, where students are spoon-fed “soft” topics and dilemmas to confront, regurgitate the “right” answers on exams (right answers as deemed by the instructor or a textbook), and then move on to the next course.

Not only is this not the purpose of a university (although it may feel like it is in some of your other courses), it clearly is not the purpose of my upper-division course on Cross-Cultural Psychology. The purpose of a university, and my course in particular, is to struggle intellectually with some of life’s most difficult topics that may not have one right answer, and try to come to some conclusion about what may be “the better answer” (It typically is not the case that all views are equally valid; some views are more defensible than others). Another purpose of a university, and my course in particular, is to engage in open discussion in order to critically examine beliefs, behaviors, and customs. Finally, another purpose of a university education is to help students who typically are not accustomed to thinking independently or applying a critical analysis to views or beliefs, to start learning how to do so. We are not in class to learn “facts” and simply regurgitate the facts in a mindless way to items on a test. Critical thinking is a skill that develops over time. Independent thinking does not occur overnight. Critical thinkers are open to having their cherished beliefs challenged, and must learn how to “defend” their views based on evidence or logic, rather than simply “pounding their chest” and merely proclaiming that their views are “valid.” One characteristic of the critical, independent thinker is being able to recognize fantasy versus reality; to recognize the difference between personal beliefs which are nothing more than personal beliefs, versus views that are grounded in evidence, or which have no evidence.

Last class meeting and for 15 minutes today, we addressed “religious bigotry.” Several points are worth contemplating:

Religion and culture go “hand in hand.” For some cultures, they are so intertwined that it is difficult to know with certainty if a specific belief or custom is “cultural” or “religious” in origin. The student in class tonight who proclaimed that my class was supposed to be about different cultures (and not religion) lacks an understanding about what constitutes “culture.” (of course, I think her real agenda was to stop my comments about religion).

Students in my class who openly proclaimed that Christianity is the most valid religion, as some of you did last class, portrayed precisely what religious bigotry is. Bigots—racial bigot or religious bigots—never question their prejudices and bigotry. They are convinced their beliefs are correct. For the Christians in my class who argued the validity of Christianity last week, I suppose I should thank you for demonstrating to the rest of the class what religious arrogance and bigotry looks like. It seems to have not even occurred to you (I’m directing this comment to those students who manifested such bigotry), as I tried to point out in class tonight, how such bigotry is perceived and experienced by the Muslims, the Hindus, the Buddhists, the non-believers, and so on, in class, to have to sit and endure the tyranny of the masses (the dominant group, that is, which in this case, are Christians).

The male student who stood up in class and directed the rest of the class to “not participate” by not responding to my challenge, represented the worst of education. For starters, the idea that a person—student or instructor—would instruct other students on how to behave, is pretty arrogant and grossly disrespects the rights of other students who can and want to think for themselves and decide for themselves whether they want to engage in the exchange of ideas or not. Moreover, this “let’s just put our fingers in our ears so we will not hear what we disagree with” is appallingly childish and exemplifies “anti-intellectualism.” The purpose of a university is to engage in dialogue, debate, and exchange ideas in order to try and come to some meaningful conclusion about an issue at hand. Not to shut ourselves off from ideas we find threatening.

Universities hold a special place in society where scholarly-minded folks can come together and discuss controversial, polemic, and often uncomfortable topics. Universities, including UCF, have special policies in place to protect our (both professors’ and students’) freedom to express ourselves. Neither students nor professors have a right to censor speech that makes us uncomfortable. We’re adults. We’re at a university. There is no topic that is “off-limits” for us to address in class, if even only remotely related to the course topic. I hope you will digest this message, and just as important, will take it to heart as it may apply to you.

Charles Negy

(end quoted material)

I’ll have more to say about this topic later.