The “violence” of being misrecognized

Christopher Castiglia and Christopher Reed wrote an open letter in response to Grace Lavery’s “Grad School As Conversion Therapy” which in turn was a response to a thing Reed wrote. I wouldn’t bother you with that labyrinth except that the Reed-Castiglia one is a fine read.

The reciprocity and collectivity of language seems like a good place to start in a debate about speech and censorship. For, although trans-theorizing and trans-activism have the potential to open onto many interesting and important issues, far too often on today’s campuses they are reduced to exercises in language-policing in which attitudes of outraged victimhood are used to coerce certain forms of speech and to justify aggressive forms of censorship.

Emphasis mine, because I like it.

[W]hat we too often face today in the academy is something that looks less like activism or scholarship and more like adolescent acting-out. Now that scientists have decided that adolescence — itself a recently invented identity closely linked to advanced capitalism — persists into the third decade of human life, perhaps we should not be surprised to find behaviors associated with adolescents proliferating, tolerated and sometimes even encouraged within educational institutions. To be specific, we identify as adolescent the furious response to the discovery that others do not perceive you exactly the way you’d like to imagine to yourself. Those who justify aggression as a response to the “violence” of being misrecognized fail to notice that everyone shares this experience on various registers of gender, race, age, class, professional status, nationality, religion, disability, attractiveness — the list goes on.

This is one of the things I keep saying (and saying and saying). Nobody sees us the way we see ourselves, and by the same token, we ourselves share that universal failure to see all other humans the way they see themselves. Duh. That’s one of the things you learn as part of growing up…unless you’re a narcissist. Don’t be a narcissist; it’s a bad thing to be.

Look at Donnie Two-scoops for the most glaring example most of us have ever seen. Don’t be like Donnie Two-scoops. Accept the fact that the you in your head is not the person other people see; accept the fact that the interior is different from the exterior; grasp that that applies to everyone and is not some insult special to you. Move on.

[T]he broader point is that we are all constantly perceived as someone other than who we think we are. Like (or as) language, social roles are systems bigger than any of us, and what we experience as misrecognitions are registers of other people’s perspectives. To try to shut down, rather than understand, those perspectives; to refuse to engage others as people who also have opinions (not to mention feelings) that might not be all about you; to arrogantly dismiss the past and the perspectives of those who have lived through more of it than you; to summon authorities to impose your will rather than trying to work out conflicts in a mutually respectful way — these are adolescent behaviors.

And adults should not be engaging in adolescent behaviors.

Apparently it has come to this: furtive acts of solidarity and melancholy retreats from teaching by gay, lesbian, and feminist faculty in the face of a vocal constituency that, enthralled by the spectacle of its own outrage, has substituted a “call-out culture” of buzzwords around sex and gender for any semblance of dialogue. Announcing itself as coalitional, this cohort seems eager to alienate those of us informed by years of feminist and queer scholarship and activism. Claiming to speak for diversity, this cohort rushes to intimidate and silence anyone who does not toe its ideological line. Imagining itself as standing up to authority, this cohort falls eagerly into quasi-medical discourses of diagnosis and cure and rushes to invoke juridical structures of rules and punishment. Calling itself progressive, this cohort presents an uncanny mirror image of rightwing politics with its exaggerated outrage, divisive us-and-them rhetorics, and attacks staged as self-defense.

Doesn’t it though.

There’s a lot more. I may return to it later.

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