by liberal japonicus
John Emerson's guest post raised a number of issues, but as it was talking about media and the left's relation to it, what it highlighted for me was the tendency of the Left (for certain values of Left) to always have to find a balancing point between the calling out different aspects, even if they are your allies, or waving the banner of solidarity. More sarcastically, one could say that I was wondering why the standard formation for a firing squad on the Left is a circle.
Two items came up that I think are related to it. The first is via LGM and it concerns the fact that the academic journal, Gender and Politics, refused to accept for peer review a paper about research related to questions of the LBGT community and said in the letter that it was not going to accept any research on those questions. An open letter written by an academic in the field is included.
I'll start off by saying that this is a pretty stupid thing, and I stand by that. However, in the LGM comments, one person notes that this is one aspect of a debate in a lot of areas and notes that, despite the stupidity of the above, the move from Women Studies to Gender Studies to Gender and Sexuality studies returns women to an invisible state. The commenter says "So I think there are legitimate political concerns at work here but they are going about addressing them completely incorrectly and in a way that is likely to do more long-term damage."
Another area where this manifests itself is in the question of how race is defined. The NYTimes had this Room for Debate section which discusses the question of the Education Department's new mixed race category. I don't care too much for the format, it is like a little sampler tray of opinions, but it is instructive to see who is talking about it and what they are saying. The participants are (in order they are listed, but the NY Times basically has the pieces linked in a circle, so you can start with any of them and move around) are
- Lani Guinier
- Eric Liu
- Shelby Steele
- Anthony Carnevale
- Susan Graham
- Gerald Torres
- Ranier Spencer
Of the contributors, Shelby Steele and Susan Graham (who I had never heard of) are the most enthusiastic advocates of the mixed race category. Other interesting points were raised but the simple fact of Shelby Steele advocating this deserves some attention.
Gayl Jones, an African American writer whose books I highly recommend (Corregidora and Mosquito are two must reads) once said something to the effect that diversity was simply whites way of trying to dilute blackness. It's not hard to see her point when you see Shelby Steele waving the flag of mixed race categories.
I think one reason that the Left always has these problems is that there is a constant tension between the question of having solidarity and demanding your own space. There is not a simple template to be placed on these questions to derive an answer. Each instance has to be examined for its own history and peculiarities.
Albert Camus wrote a short story entitled the Artist at Work, In the collection of Exile and the Kingdom. In it, an unknown painter finds success late in life and is unable to cope with it. He secludes himself from his family and friends and works, isolated, in his loft. He collapses, partially from exhaustion, but also because he hears the sounds of his family laughing, and life in the outside world. As he is being checked out by the doctor, Camus tells us that the painting he has locked himself away with is a canvas blank except for a small word in the center, too small to be read, except that it could either be solitaire or solidaire. So it remains.