Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Quote of the day: how culture works

From a post by Timothy Burke about certain campus controversies:
What’s being called appropriation in some of the current activist discourses is how culture works. It’s the engine of cultural history, it’s the driver of human creativity. No culture is a natural, bounded, intrinsic and unchanging thing. A strong prohibition against appropriation is death to every ideal of human community except for a rigidly purified and exclusionary vision of identity and membership.

Even a weak prohibition against appropriation risks constant misapplication and misunderstanding by people who are trying to systematically apply the concept as polite dogma. To see one example of that, look to the New York Times article, which describes at one point a University of Washington advice video that counsels people to avoid wearing a karate costume unless you’re part of the real culture of karate. But karate as an institutional culture of art and sport is already thoroughly appropriated from its origins in Okinawa, and it was in turn an appropriation of sorts from Chinese martial arts–and no martial arts form in the world today is anything even remotely like its antecedents in practice, form or purpose....

What I think many activists mean to forbid is not appropriation but disrespect, not borrowing but hostile mockery. The use of costumes as weapons, as tools of discrimination. But it’s important to say precisely that and no more, and not let the word appropriation stand in for a much more specific situational critique of specific acts of harmful expression and representation.
As they say in the blogosphere, this times 1000.


ETA (11/13): If someone wants to comment about the attacks in Paris, feel free to do so in the thread here. (I'm not going to post separately on it, partly because I don't have much to say beyond the obvious and what can be found elsewhere.)  P.s. I agree with this.


T. Greer said...

This is a very, very good article.

LFC said...

Hi T. Greer,
Nice to hear from you. I plan to swing by your blog this weekend.

Peter T said...

"I plan to swing by your blog this weekend"

Just how far away from your place is this blog?

LFC said...

You made me laugh, and I really needed it right now. Thanks.

LFC said...

p.s. T. Greer and you might have some overlapping interests. He writes a lot about history at his blog The Scholar's Stage, particularly Chinese history about which he knows a lot. Also quite knowledgeable about some other things. He's not really on the same part of the political spectrum as I am, but that's fine. I haven't read/visited his blog in a long time, I regret to say. Which is why I said I'd "swing by" this wkend. Ok, I'm out of the blogosphere for the day!

Peter T said...


Glad to cheer you up, sorry you needed it. The Scholar's Stage is indeed worth a visit.

What part of the political spectrum are you on, minding that a distinct blue shift in US politics is apparent from here?

LFC said...

I'm to the left of center, on the U.S. spectrum, and certainly on domestic policy. (On foreign policy, the left/right distinction is perhaps more dicey and things get more complicated.)

I didn't mean to categorize or pigeonhole T. Greer, but I think, for one thing, his views are considerably more libertarian (in the small-central-government sense) than mine. I'm not a libertarian in that sense at all, though I recognize that bureaucracy and federal programs can have their problems as everything else does.

Broadly speaking, I see myself as being on the Left and in the democratic-socialist (or social-democratic) tradition. However, I'm not especially conversant with or sympathetic to the kind of leftism that speaks in sometimes incomprehensible poststructuralist accents and heavily emphasizes 'identity politics'. For present purposes, I'll leave it there.

T. Greer said...

PeterT I'm glad you found the visit worthwhile.

LFC is right, I'm quite a bit further down the libertarian scale than he is. Though not for the usual libertarian reasons--my sympathies lie with old classical republican political theory; I think democracy works best when it is smallest, and closest to the people. I am less concerned with the 'size' of government, than its 'scale,' so to speak. I would prefer things done by the federal government to be done by state governments, things done by state governments to be done by lower principalities. If the folk in Massachusetts want to build a Denmark style socialist utopia, I say let them--as long as they don't force the model on Colorado, or Georgia, or somewhere else less enamored with Scandinavia.

But nine times of ten this communitarian philosophy leads me to agreeing with the libertarians when it comes time to stop arguing about philosophies and start making actual policies.

LFC, several weeks ago I posted a short essay that did not get many hits and had no comments, but which I think of all the pieces I've published in the last few months you might find the more interesting: http://scholars-stage.blogspot.com/2015/10/why-was-there-never-indian-may-fourth.html

LFC said...

Thanks, T. Greer, I'll check out that post. I didn't scroll down far enough on my visit earlier today.