Maybe you've seen this article that's been going around the internet a bit lately — an op-ed in the University of California-Berkeley newspaper The Daily Californian, titled Occupy the Syllabus. It's a litany of various social justice grievances, and generally came across to me as a little obnoxious. But still, it's not as though it doesn't raise any valid points, and certainly someone would be reasonable enough to correct the inaccuracies in a thoughtful manner.
Or so I thought. Instead, the only people who really want to talk about this are right-wing media sources where the discourse tends to devolve to "durr durr here's the evidence the gay kenyan marxist is destroying western culture" — a claim which is even more ridiculous. So in the interests of fairness and sanity, I think it's prudent to examine this article more deeply and talk about why this is not social justice and is not okay.
The authors, Rodrigo Kazuo and Meg Perret, start off by claiming that this "call to action" — though I should note that almost no actual action is proposed — came from their experience in "an upper division course on classical social theory" (emphasis mine), with a reading list made up of dead men from Europe, not surprisingly. But they go on later to complain: "The standardized canon is obsolete: Any introduction to social theory that aims to be relevant to today's problems must, at the very least, address gender and racial oppression." Wait! Wait! Introduction? That's not what you said earlier. That looks like either an obfuscation technique or confirmation bias.
There's a good reason that the classical authors are all dead Europeans. Europe and European culture more or less took over the world, including California, where this course was presumably attended. One could look through Muslim and Chinese philosophy, but I doubt the desired views on gender and racial oppression are topics to be found to any greater degree. And one has to be obtuse to ignore the fact that philosophy was the domain of rich men for good reason: it took the toil of slaves, peasants and proletarians to give these men enough time to ponder questions about society. In the post-colonial era, of course, we have plenty of thinkers of every background who built on these classics. They're actually rather useful.
Somehow that just doesn't seem to be enough, though. What these dead men said or why they said it doesn't matter; the only thing that truly matters is who you are. No, not even who you are, but which identity labels you can collect. Or labels in general. Perret seems to be quite adept at this, listing her research interests as:
Gender, Feminist Theory, Bioethics, Environmental Ethics, Critical Animal Studies, Critical Theory, New Materialisms, Decolonial Thought, Science Studies, Donna Haraway, Actor Network Theory, Queer Theory, Judith Butler, Performativity, Feminist Studies of Science and Technology, Post-Marxism, Ecofeminism, Genomics, Anthrozoology, Disability Studies, Bruno Latour, Poststructuralism, Deconstruction, Multispecies Ethnography, History of Consciousness, Biopolitics, Critical Race Theory, Extinction Studies, Indigenous ecological knowledges and practices, Social Justice, Feminist Epistemology, Continental Philosophy, Philosophy of Science, New Materialism, Material Feminisms, Vicki Kirby, Poststructuralist Feminist Theory, Posthumanism, Gilles Deleuze, Cultural Theory, Standpoint feminist theory, Science and Technology Studies, Computer networks, database, software, and History of Science
Wow, that's a mouthful. I didn't even know "anthrozoology" and "multispecies ethnography" were real things. She must be some kind of expert! But I have no intention to resort to ad hominem arguments here; only sarcasm. In any case there's more for our dear authors to be outraged about.
Oh, you see, a professor acknowledged that transgender people exist when talking about gender roles. That's not good enough, though. Never mind the fact that people with female bodies — who are almost all women, with a few, well, exceptions — have typically been relegated to a lower status in society based on biology and misogyny. No, we have to pretend that previous society actually thought about transgender people when coming up with gender roles. But I honestly don't think they knew.
So what do they want? I said earlier that almost no action was proposed. But they do insist that the instructors take "inclusivity workshops" like the one offered by the very organisation where Perret works as an intern! Is someone being paid to stir up the shit here? And this is all despite the fact that such training can often have unintended consequences exactly opposite those desired. But the overall message seems to be nothing more than provoking anger by being sanctimonious; outrage is my business and business is good.
And that's irresponsible. Meanwhile in the real world, the struggles of marginalised people are swept away as social justice becomes seen as a toxic subject.
What do you think?