Political Theory – Is Smiling and Playing The Banjo The Only Option? – Why "Appropriation of Voice" Complaints Stifle Discussions That Need To Happen – But Why It Still May Not Be Worth It To Have Those Discussions – 12 September 2012

There are times when one wonders if silence is more effective than speech.

I am not a partisan of the “appropriation of voice” theory of political discussions. I speak on topics where I would have to place myself in the shoes of another person in order to experience the subject matter I am discussing. Personally, I think it is often more of a useful exercise, if understanding is truly what we’re aiming at, to _try_ to place myself in the shoes of another person. That is, for the most part, why I do not avoid speaking on those topics that “really affect others more than me”.

But there are some hot-button topics – where people are so wedded to their idea that only they can truly understand what they themselves are going through – where speaking only perpetuates that conclusion as a stereotype in their minds.

I am not well-known for sensing what those hot-button topics are and prudently staying away from them. But sometimes I wonder why I should have to be.

Those who _are_ partisans of the “appropriation of voice” theory seem to discount the value of placing oneself in another’s shoes that I prize. It is a silently-endorsed corollary of “you can’t possibly understand me” that “I don’t have to try and understand you”. If you ask me what is more dangerous, a person who is trying but failing to understand someone else, or a person who is not trying and therefore succeeding at not understanding someone else, I know what I’m going to choose, every time.

Today I spoke out about a topic that, in retrospect, I probably should not have – not because I feel there was anything wrong with the views I expressed, but because now I’m going to have to deal with a certain amount of social punishment for being the “wrong person” to have views on the topic. I’ve been this “wrong person” numerous times in my life, and probably I will be impolitic enough to be that “wrong person” again in the future.

I’ve written on here in the past about how this is something I think perhaps I should change about myself, for pragmatic reasons. I’ve noted that, for example, Pete Seeger has gone on into his nineties with a sterling reputation on the political Left; he has that reputation because, instead of getting into an argument, he just smiles, plays songs about the things everyone does agree about, and finds somewhere else to be when movement people are saying things with which he disagrees. Seeger associated with Communists, but when it became clear to him what the Communists supported, instead of calling them out, as I would have done, he just smiled, played songs everyone including the Communists agreed with, and found somewhere else to be than with them.

That’s an art I wish I could master, but I’m too stubborn. I’m too stubborn because I believe we _should_ be able to call out a view that isn’t well-supported, even if those who hold those views are friends, and even if those who hold those views are well-meaning members of a movement I support.

But should and can are, admittedly, two different things. In reality, when you see a view that has a potential to be destructive, but know that you will be hit with an “appropriation of voice” complaint if you take issue with it – well, sometimes you just have smile, sing songs about where you agree, and then find someplace else to be for the rest of it.

I’m going to try a little harder to do that. It’s depressing that I have to, though.

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