At Easily Distracted Tim Burke is thinking about what happens when liberal academics and conservative evangelicals meet on the ground of public school curriculum design. On the one hand a scholarly ethic of “reasoned, fair-minded, methodologically transparent, standards-driven investigation,” what Weber called the ethic of science, seems to require understanding the Other in their own terms and rule out passionate side-taking. On the other hand we eggheads do stand for some stuff, starting with knowledge that’s been reliably generated out of reasonable, fair-minded, transparent and standards-driven practices. Shall we fight for these things, shifting to what Weber called the ethic of politics? Tim captures the dilemma with pith and vigor:
But I think there’s still a complicated perspectival choice between trying to study a group of people or an institution ethnographically and engaging them as fellow citizens with whom you intensely disagree. If I set out to understand a group in their own terms, to gain an emic understanding of their rhetoric and practices, if I see the world as they see it, I achieve insight at the potential cost of having a permanently asymmetrical, insulated relationship to that group and its goals. That is, unless they take a similar interest in understanding me and my world in a similarly curious, open-minded, investigatory fashion.
There are times where I think it’s more honest and in a roundabout way more respectful to just come out with your dukes up and straightforwardly fight against initiatives or ideas from socially or ideologically distant groups that threaten your own values, no matter how much their ideas are rooted in an authentic habitus of their own. There’s a kind of equality in that struggle, an acknowledgement that you’re engaged in a fight over institutions or policies with people who have an equal right as citizens to push their beliefs.
I very much like Tim’s suggestion that fighting issues out on the common ground of citizenship is a form of respect. It may well be that a better understanding of each other enables win/win solutions, compromises, or agreements to disagree. We may find grounds to move from the narrow us to the larger we. But when that doesn’t work, the larger we yet is the one in which we take our differences to the public forum and trust democracy to do its thing. Thoughts?