This is a crosspost of a comment on the relation of feelings to analysis I just made at scatterplot, in a fallout post from the dead ape / racism cartoon discussion previously mentioned. People there seem to be getting sick of the conversation, whereas I think that after all the predictable posturing and bad reading that basically boiled down to the narcissism of small differences, we’re finally starting to get somewhere.
I’m posting here to get this archived for my own reference, to add some orienting links, and because it captures pithily some things I often think I think. I won’t be sure I think them until they’ve passed through conversation with intelligent others. As I said there, this is informed by a mid-longish lifetime of both trampling upon and elaborately cherishing the feelings of various others. Quote:
I heard an old (Black) guy talking about conditions of work once. He was bemused by the younger generation and put it this way: “Used to be, guys just worked. Now guys got feelings.”
I’m with just working. This position is properly called stoicism, a venerable and coherent philosophy of life. On this view, feelings are what they are but generally irrelevant to whatever the task at hand is. We are each responsible for managing our own feelings. Trying to make tasks-at-hand about feelings is inherently counterproductive and, at minimum, RUDE, because now for everyone else in the situation the task becomes whatever it was in the first place PLUS managing the feelings of others. This should be an embarrassment for competent adults.
Anyone who’s been around 2-year-olds knows how important feelings are, how tyrannical they can be, and how welcome it is to emerge from the chaos of feelings into the light of a more systematic and truly dialogic reasonableness. Yes, a whole wave of feminists pointed out in relation to the Enlightenment that “Reason” can also be tyrannical. And Horkheimer and Adorno showed that reason ultimately loops back and collapses itself. And Damasio showed neurologically that reason cannot generate motivation, only emotion can. But in an open, moderated form dispassionate reason is really all we’ve got to work with when there’s disagreement, short of escalation into shouting or generic uncritical empathy, which in principle all humans deserve.
There are two kinds of conversations I have: polite ones where there’s nothing at stake and feelings can be ventilated freely; and serious ones where there’s something at stake so the task at hand requires the full focus of calm mindfulness. I was reading recently about people who function well in crises. They’re not the ones going all frenzied, who tend to get themselves and others killed. They’re the ones who zero right in on the details of the situation and get down to business.
Unquote. On that thread, olderwoman made a really nice point about how often the people (generally men) who say they don’t want feelings in the workplace really mean that they don’t care about anyone’s feelings but their own. I’d say this is the difference between stoicism and privilege, which may otherwise look the same. This leads me to a further reflection on how feelings were, are and might be handled in academic settings. For the purposes of this discussion I’ll define an academic setting as one in which there’s critical analysis to be done where getting it right may conceivably be of some importance.
In the bad old days, elite white men ruled academe. They had all sorts of feelings and occasionally shouted them at each other, or sulked them at each other, or used them to stab each other in the back. But they also had all sorts of conventions of conduct that deflected or bracketed emotions in favor of getting work done; and because they were a nasty little inbred elite, those conventions were largely shared and effective. The work they succeeded in getting done was often appalling by current standards, of course, as our own will be to later judges.
The grip of elite white men on the academy began to weaken in the 50s when working class white men enabled by the G.I. Bill, the rise of consumer society, the expansion of higher education, and so on began to show up. Soon after, women and race/ethnic minorities also began to push / be pulled into the academy in large numbers. Along with all the morally and pragmatically good things about that process, they brought chippy rejection of everything those nasty old farts stood for, including their nasty old conventions of emotional bracketing, which were pretty clearly artifacts of white male privilege — as could be plainly seen from their products.
The thing is, those conventions got the decks cleared and allowed a lot of work to get efficiently done. The content of that work is a separate issue. So how might we get those clear decks back, without reprivileging the particular neuroses of nasty old white guys?