In order to be fair, I took a deep dive in. I re-read the article twice. I read other articles by Eve Fairbanks. I wanted understand Eve as a human being—as well as her general emotional context—before I elaborated any further on the scholastic juxtapositions.
My critique of throwing Jonathan Haidt into the mix, in the context of the article—a critique I stand by—is not a a jab at Eve as an individual thinker or person. I feel like I need to spell it out because the general cultural tendency we all have to count with is to turn any public exchange of ideas into a gladiator fight where somebody has to die. It is a tendency I detest with passion. I come from a culture centered around relationships, and I think that respecting other people’s subjective experiences is far more useful when it comes to solving problems than all theoretical principles in the world, combined.
My grudge is multilayered. It is aimed at the broader cultural context in which the conversation is taking place.
First, the formalities.
The conclusion of my critique largely depends on whether the article is supposed to be a “personal essay” or “cultural analysis.” If it is a personal essay then frankly, anything goes. Any individual is allowed to have a unique and subjective associative row. Any perception, presented as such, is a fact of one’s emotional reality (see what I did there?). Others people may have similar perceptions or very different ones—and in this case I disagree with Eve—but it is legitimate for anyone to say, “Look, this is how I feel about this right now. It is what it is.”
If, on the other hand, the article is supposed to be an analytical piece, then I am observing a grand logical flaw.
To paraphrase the construct I object to, “Jonathan Haidt used this linguistic structure. Slave owners have also used this linguistic structure. Hmmmmm….”
See, every piece of language under the sun has been at one point hijacked, misused, and abused beyond recognition. In fact, because we live in a hyper commercial and hyper assertive culture where one’s income greatly depends on verbal victories, no language exists that has NOT been abused. The name of the game—a game that is slowly killing us all—is “stealing the language that has positive emotional associations and attaching it to some soulless piece of crap.” It usually takes a while for the people to break the neuronal association, and in the meanwhile, money and careers are made.
“Free speech” has been poisoned from every end, alongside “public good,” “social justice,” and “democracy.” None of these words or phrases mean anything anymore as far as I am observing, they have all been turned into weapons of political marketing and profit making. The plague of devalued language knows no partisan divide, everybody does it, in business and in politics. Therefore, I think that whenever the hijacking of a single soundbite is brought up, it is important to bring it up in context—something that the article hasn’t done.
And finally, the most important thing (subjectively, to me). We live in a physical world. We want this world not to fall apart. We are debating scholastically about principles while our future in the physical world depends on dealing with each other as human beings—as opposed to as walking hosts of principles or ideologies. The world is a royal mess on every end of the political spectrum, and bullying is not the prerogative of the right or of the left. It is everywhere.
If dealing with each other as human beings to solve our problems—starting from where we actually are, as opposed to where we wish other people were—is the aspiration, then using live human beings as props for one’s intellectual constructs, is not ideal. Yes it is the “norm.” Yes it is what everybody does. But it’s still dirty. No one likes to be a prop. It will take a huge amount of effort on the part of us all to resist the temptation of talking about others as if they were mere cardboard figures—but I think we have to, every step of the way. Words have power. Jonathan Haidt’s plight is not the same plight as of the slave owners, it couldn’t be more different, and the distinction is very important.