1st September, 2014
I really deplore this toxic and regressive culture that promotes the idea of knowledge being invalid if isn’t wrapped in academic jargon. The amount of brilliance I’ve encountered and enrichment I’ve gained from immigrants and those systematically deprived access to elite academic institutions who understand politically precarious situations firsthand, albeit not speaking perfect English, far outweighs whatever an overpriced university textbook can ever teach me.
But these people and their valuable narratives are put on the backburner or neglected altogether, because people fetishize politics as long as its distant, elitist and devoid of emotion. A book can’t cry while it discusses genocide or dictatorships or apartheid, but a person does. But people don’t want that. They want the hipster chic appeal of a revolution and resistance, but not the humans. A professor gets lower ratings and is talked down poorly if they exhibit anything other than a stoic and neutral persona.
The way academia is constructed in the west has such an emotionally impoverished approach to politics and I honestly don’t understand how one can prefer it that way.
It’s not just academia, either. It’s spilled over into places like tumblr.
We’re allowed to show emotions here, but mostly only rage. And we’re encouraged to build rage into an art form, in fact, to feel it all the time even when it’s damaging (to us, or to those around us) and unnecessary.
And yet many of the same academic expectations are there. I just recently had someone essentially tell me that discussing my own oppression was not worth listening to because I had not, in discussing one tiny aspect of my own oppression, also written a treatise on oppression that dealt with the oppression of other people, who apparently were more deserving of having their oppression described. The person seemed not to know, or care, that I was one person, writing about one thing, during a period of severe stress, and that I can’t be expected to write a treatise on all-forms-of-trans-oppression any time I want to discuss one-part-of-trans-oppression. And the person used this, among other academic-style tactics, to silence me and to convince other people that what I had to say was not worth reading.
Another academic-type tactic they used was a tactic that I have seen people learn in academia and then apply in these conversations. Which is, the ability to juggle words around to make an “argument” for any possible viewpoint ever. So I had said something that I still maintain is 100% true. And within about five seconds, this person had ripped it to shreds and rearranged all the pieces until they had “shown” it was actually false. People in these communities use such abilities both to win arguments, and to affect how other people see them or their opponents. (Such tactics are often used to inflate the privilege of their opponents or deflate their own privilege, in the eyes of bystanders.) I don’t know exactly what this tactic is, but it’s the same one required for writing certain kinds of academic papers and “making arguments” and such.
People have even maneuvered things such that you’re not even allowed to say that what they’re doing is too academic! If you say their jargon is academic and impenetrable to most people, they tell you you’re trying to shut down their ability to discuss oppression. (And they may accuse you of some kind of *ism in the process.) If you say that their entire way of interacting with information is straight out of academia (and, often, it is), same deal. They tell you that “academic” is actually a “coded word” (more jargon) for… something I forget. So basically anyone who finds these academic-like practices difficult or inaccessible (which includes many disabled people as well as many people who for lots of reasons have no exposure to academia) isn’t allowed to say so, without being accused of being oppressive ourselves.
I actually got a negative response the other day when I referenced “critical theory”. I was told that nobody here is actually doing critical theory, and that critical theory is just a word people use to put down people who are “just talking about their lives”. Except that I got the words ‘critical theory’ from a group of academically talented autistic people who said they loved critical theory and gushed on about it at length. I had tried to go read up on critical theory and found that I could not even understand descriptions of it, let alone understand it itself. But apparently even when people directly reference something like critical theory, then if you talk about it, you’re just making it up to put them down. So nobody is allowed to say that people are using critical theory even when they self-admittedly are. Nobody is allowed to talk about the jargon and buzzwords that everyone is required to know. Nobody is allowed to talk about the academic tone things take, even as other people are gushing about how they finally made it to college and realized that all this stuff people on tumblr are talking about are straight out of their women’s studies/African-American studies/disability studies academic coursework and they realized that this made tumblr activism so much more legit because it was clearly taken straight from academia.
Basically the people who use the academic stuff the best, are allowed to talk about how it’s academic, and are even allowed to say that it being academic makes it more legitimate than it would be if it weren’t academic. But the people who are shut out by it being academic, are not allowed to say a damn word about it, not even the word ‘academic’, without being accused of “calling something academic when it’s just people talking about our lives”. It’s a really bizarre and infuriating double standard that makes me wonder what the fuck people are actually up to here. You can say critical theory if you like critical theory and are good at it, but if you say “I can’t do critical theory” suddenly there’s an outcry?! WTF is going on!? It smells rotten, whatever it is.
Also, people who do the academic stuff are allowed to make long, long lists of words and terminology that are bad for other people to use, even if those words and terminology were once normal in the communities in question. I once made a list of words and terminology that actually do harm to my brain. I posted part of that list. I even told people, that I was not going to ask them to stop using these words, because I understand how hard it can be to change your vocabulary. I just wanted people to realize that their academic jargon (“heteronormativity”, etc) can make their writing inaccessible to a lot of people. I have gotten very bad reactions whenever I’ve posted lists like that — including bad reactions from the people who were the most enthusiastic about writing lists of very common words that nobody should be allowed to use. My lists were 100% truthful, too, I went by which words caused a mini-explosion to happen in my brain, I wasn’t looking for a specific set of words. It just happened that the words that caused the most mini-explosions were neologisms and abstract academic language. People who use a lot of that language don’t like to be told it could have a negative effect on anyone, even if the person is not telling them to stop using it.
The results of all these things are still the same: Many of us who have valuable things to contribute get treated badly and pushed out of the way, so that those who can handle the academic stuff (both creating it, and understanding it) can take center stage. Emotions are handled a little differently than they are in academia (in that rage is allowed, even over-encouraged to the point it gets scary, blatant mockery is also common and allowed) but there’s still restrictions on where and when you get to feel what. And for who.
(And “for who” — I have a friend who keeps writing about attacks on some oppressed people by other oppressed people, and the first assumption people keep making is that she’s encouraging people to feel bad for privileged people, which is such a huge no-no that she then has to field these long responses in which they respond to everything but what she said. Because you’re allowed to feel empathy, but only for oppressed people, and mostly only for the most oppressed people — the more privilege someone has, the less you’re supposed to feel empathy for them, even within oppressed groups.)