10 February 2010

What knowledge brings us II

After the post about Jesse Ventura, I found myself watching an interview between Glenn Beck and that other guy on Fox. They were talking about Beck's conversion from silly morning radio to silly evening political commentary. Beck talked about how he had started 'reading' and 'learning' about stuff and decided he needed to become a political commentator. The way that Glenn portrayed his reading, it made it sound as though he had learned things that, first, the average person on the street didn't know, and that, second, his learning had somehow opened his eyes to the Truth (capital ‘T’ intended).

Now, I’m not sure what kind of reading that Glenn Beck did, but there’s no reason to doubt that he did a lot of reading, as he says. My issue with Beck and people like him is not the amount of reading they’ve done, but how they process knowledge. It is one thing to have a knowledge of a political system from a particular ideological orientation. It’s quite another to have a critical knowledge from a particular ideological orientation. That is, if Beck orients himself towards a Conservative understanding of the world, and takes this position simply because he's decided it's ‘right’ (and how he came to that position is not interrogated), and then processes knowledge in that paradigm, there’s very little possibility that the output will be anything but a Conservative understanding of whatever he read. It’s simply branding knowledge with a particular ideological seal.

A critical understanding of the world, although oriented towards an ideological position, looks at knowledge and truth claims in a reflexive way. One’s paradigm is not only used to interpret the claim or the knowledge, but the knowledge also challenges your paradigm. Both are at stake. When both stop being at stake, an ideologue is born. Or a fundamentalist, for that matter.

This reminded me of a truth claim that Dan and I were talking about when I was back in the States. The claim was made to both of us at different times that Japanese women were to be avoided because of the difficulties of making a relationship work across the cultural lines. The first time I heard this claim, I was quite angry, I recall, although I don’t think I knew why. As I think back on it, the person who made the claim had a very thin base of knowledge from a very clear ideological position which saw marriage, gender, sex, and culture from a very unhealthy fundamentalist perspective. What he meant to say was that, to the extent that a Japanese person cannot become what I expect a person should be, relationships between the two cultures cannot work. From the position that you must marry someone who conforms to your worldview then, yes, the relationship will likely fail.

Reflexivity, however, calls for something much different and more threatening. It calls for looking at your world, bit by bit, piece by piece, and asking, should I change this or should this change me.

I’d like to believe that as I read Bakhtin, my paradigm is at stake. It’s probably easier with Bakhtin. Harder with Marx. Still harder with Lakoff. Still harder with Chomsky. Still harder with my fundamentalist friends. Aware of this, I will myself to have an open mind, will myself to look at my circumstances as reflexively as possible.