Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Quashing Dissent

One of my favorite teachers (who is a great scholar and who influenced me a lot) often said: "If your class participation and your final essay are reduced to repeating my ideas, you will never get a good grade. Tell me something new, disagree with me, argue against my ideas. That's the only thing I want from you." I always argued with him a lot, about almost everything, always very passionately. And my teacher always appreciated me all the more for that.

Now that I am a teacher myself, I know that nothing makes me happier than to hear one of my students say: "You know, I've been thinking, and what you said is completely wrong." My goal as an educator is not to create acquiescent little clones who bow their heads to my authority and repeat: "Whatever you say, Professor."
Dissent and discussion are crucial to promoting knowledge. They are also lots of fun. If everyone agrees about everything, then what is the point of talking? Somebody I love even prepares a list of controversial topics before she goes out to meet friends. She doesn't want to sit there, exchanging platitudes for hours. Instead, she hopes to promote engaging conversations where everyone expresses themselves freely and leaves thinking about important issues.

When I was 12, my father once heard me listen to something an important writer said on TV and saying "I agree with him completely." My father gave me a 4-hour speech on how wrong it is to agree with even the biggest authority before you've taken the time to reflect and form your own opinion. This is what it means to have your own worldview: you don't subscibe to the point of view of any authority figure, political party, or reference group. You reflect, form your point of view, exchange it with people, argue, debate, modify your opinion. I admire President Obama and I cried for joy when he was elected, but I disagree with about half of his decisions. I think Juan Goytisolo is the greatest writer of the XXth century, but I dislike his ideology in many ways. I admire Terry Eagleton as a critic but I keep talking about his profound theoretical and personal limitations.

When everybody agrees, intellectual life, thinking and generating new ideas simply die. When people start to self-censor for fear of appearing "intolerant," we find ourselves in a really sad situation where nobody dares to express themselves for fear of offending somebody's sensibilities. What is truly offensive, though, is not dissent, but rather faked agreement that's forced and, by its very nature, dishonest.

I'm very thankful to my readers who come here to express their opinions. Especially those who disagree and give me food for thought. V. who is a regular participant and also a friend - you always make me think, thank you for that. Three anonymous participants (you guys know who you are and I love you to bits). NancyP who is a very interesting person, I have never met you but I respect you deeply. My reader, the Brandeisian, thank you so much for giving me information I wouldn't otherwise get. Pretzelboy and Allison, you guys are interesting people, who are always informative and polite, I'm glad I got to talk to you. Thank you, my friends!

It is, however, deeply saddening to see how many people there are that dedicate a significant amount of time and effort to quashing any kind of dissent. I follow a number of progressive blogs that keep me informed on important issues so much better than TV news and print media (DailyKos, BitchPhD, and Femenisting are my favorite at this point).

However, engaging in a discussion on these sites is often difficult. There is always a group of well-meaning fanatics, who strive to promote what they see as the "party line." Anything they perceive as dissent is swiftly castigated. As I have recently discovered, they would even follow you to your own blog to scream insults at you. They wouldn't even attempt to read what you are actually saying before they start accusing you of every abomination under the sun. The saddest part is that they hide their censorship itch underneath the mantle of tolerance, acceptance, and political correctness.
In the discussion about Asexuality, I learned important things from smart, interesting, well-informed, and reasonable people. I have also learned that anger, censorhip, and the desire to quash dissent come in all shapes and sizes. Sadly, they often come from those who see themselves as liberal and feminist and who unfortunately fail to see how similar they are in their hatred of dissent and difference of opinion from the ostensibly (but in truth not really) dwindling McCain/Palin camp.
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T


Anonymous said...

Thank you, I was touched... :)

Hezaa said...

I believe you are arguing here that you want your students to understand your arguments before deciding whether to agree or to disgaree with you as their teacher. You seem to express a preference for the latter (that a student disagrees). While it is true that one should understand another's argument before agreeing or disagreeing with it, I would argue that agreement is not necessarily blind agreement, if the agreeing person can explain and defend the argument.

That said, so far I have not voiced agreement or disagreement with you on the subject of asexuality, and I have only asked you questions so that I can better understand your argument. So far, I can't make a judgement because your arguments are not condensed in one place (they are scattered throughout the comments on the original thread). Please condense your arguments about asexuality so that I may understand and respond to them.

Clarissa said...

Hezaa: my arguments are not about asexuality. They are about feminists who defend "the woman's right to fake an orgasm" and a woman's right not to have sex but do not dedicate nearly significant time and energy to destroying patriarchal stereotypes that force millions of women to live sexually unfulfilled. These women are not asexual, they are anorgasmic. But it's easier to just dismiss them by placing them into the asexual identity group.

Hezaa said...

In your original post, you referenced this post at Feministing. I would argue that the letter-writer in question is not anorgasmic (as she appears to experience orgasm when she masturbates) but simply uninterested in sex. She is upset not by her lack of interest in sex, but by her peers' reactions to her lack of interest in sex. (An example of an anorgasmic letter-writer would be here.)

Further, your argument about destroying patriarchal stereotypes has been used to define women who choose to be housewives as similarly "unfulfilled." I would argue that as the letter-writer in Feministing is not distressed by her conscious choice to not pursue sexual relations, she is, by definition, sexually fulfilled.

Clarissa said...

I don't understand why it should be ok for you to "diagnose"this person over the internet but not for me.

You argue this, and I argue something else. So where is the problem? Why should you be more entitled to make your argument than I to make mine?

I suggest that there might be a psychological or a societal reason for this. Do you believe that there is no such possibility whatsoever?

Hezaa said...

If you would read the page in full, the one who diagnosed this person over the internet as experiencing an inability to orgasm (definition of anorgasmia) was not me, but a medical professional that Professor Foxy had shown the letter.

For the purposes of our debate, what is causing this other person's lack of interest in sex is irrelevant to whether or not one should advocate for her choice to seek sexual fulfillment through consciously choosing to not pursue sexual relations.

Clarissa said...

My question is: why do you think it's wrong in this situation to suggest that one might want to see a psychologist? If you don't think it's wrong, then what are we arguing about? :-)

Hezaa said...

why do you think it's wrong in this situation to suggest that one might want to see a psychologist?
Our discussion was about sexual fulfillment, and arguments related to whether or not it is appropriate to suggest seeing a psychologist are irrelevant to our discussion. I will address this question anyway.

As it has been previously said that the individual in question is not distressed by her lack of sexual interest, and as it has been proven that some people can obtain sexual fulfillment through not pursuing sexual relations, I would argue that it would be illogical to suggest to the individual in question that because she is uninterested in sex, she see a psychologist.

Clarissa said...

Ok, now I understand your position. However, my view is different. For me, when someone is repulsed by human touch and wants to gag at the thought of sex, visiting a psychologist is the most logical thing to suggest. I believe it's a valid option to pursue before deciding you are necessarily asexual. But I see that you believe otherwise and respect your right to think so.

Hezaa said...

It depends how the letter-writer meant "gagging at the thought of sex." If she meant gagging at the thought of sex in itself (if mention of anything related to sex provokes such a biological reaction), perhaps seeing a psychiatrist may be a viable option, as involuntary gagging is a symptom of panic attacks, and it would be very difficult to pass through life without witnessing any references to sex.

However, if the letter-writer meant feeling repulsed by the thought of herself having sex (which I suspect is what she meant), it is questionable whether or not such a suggestion to visit a psychiatrist would be appropriate, particularly if she herself feels sexually fulfilled without seeking sexual relations. (Also, we must consider that a situation where she would have to think about herself having sex would not occur often, if she is not seeking sexual relations.) It would mostly depend on whether she actually experiences a biological reaction (panic attack symptom) or is simply using "this makes me gag" as an expression. In the case where she experiences actual gagging, a suggestion to visit to a psychiatrist may be appropriate, but in the case where she is simply using an expression and not actually experiencing panic attack symptoms, a suggestion to see a psychiatrist may not be as appropriate.

Clarissa said...

The only thing I disagree with here is your use of the word psychiatrist. Psychologist or psychoanalyst, yes. But a psychiatrist is a different thing and I NEVER would suggest this in a similar situation.

Hezaa said...

I used psychiatrist here because a psychiatrist is the only of the three practitioners (psychiatrist, psychologist, psychoanalyst) who would be able to prescribe psychiatric medication, in the cases that the person is experiencing panic attack symptoms. In the situation where the person is experiencing the panic attack symptoms, ideally she would see a psychologist or psychoanalyst for evaluation, a psychiatrist for medication, and a psychotherapist for therapy.

Clarissa said...

It's great to see how through reasonable and calm discussion everything is clarified and everybody manages to express their points of view. Thank you for stating your opinions in such a clear way and hearing what I have to say in return. This is exactly what I wanted to achieve with this last post. It's such a relief to discuss things with people like you.