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In French, we say un dialogue de sourds. Its literal translation is “a deaf people’s dialogue,” but it means a dialogue in which every party is not hearing what others are saying and is convinced they detain the truth. We speak a lot about the polarization of American society, and I think we tend to flatter ourselves in comparison with our southern neighbour. However, we shouldn’t be blind to polarization much closer to home. Indeed, although Quebec’s society and its history are definitely unique, it would be incorrect to affirm there is no polarization of ideas here too, and the academic community is a reflection of that tendency. A great example of this dynamic is the fact I wrote this on January 31st, at which point it wasn’t published due to its perceived non-respect of the journal’s Statement of Principles; I just succeeded in having it published after multiple back and forth with different Faculty staff at McGill over the last months.
This is my last semester at McGill. Throughout my three years here, I have been shocked by the presence – and by its important influence over students and faculty – of a certain radical postmodernist analysis of reality which explains every societal dynamic as the interaction of oppressors versus oppressed, as a hierarchy of oppressions. I compare this ideological movement to the “conspirationists,” not with regards to the content of their discourse, but in the way it’s built and in its shameless use of sophisms. The main element I want to highlight here is the circularity of their argument; every questioning of the ideology will reinforce its statement. For example, for a white person to be questioning the concept of white fragility is considered as proof in itself of the person’s white fragility, and thus of their racist nature.
Now, I’m not saying that racism is not a greatly sensitive topic to discuss generally for white people. I’m just saying that it’s absolutely counterproductive in generating a constructive debate and a collective reflection to automatically refer to the concept of white fragility as soon as a white person questions a specific reasoning of social dynamics.
I love the saying “listening to hear instead of listening to respond.” It saddens me that it has been appropriated by certain ideological movements to strengthen their argument. It’s believed that the potential discomfort of an individual – often from an “oppressive” group – should not be taken into consideration if it compromises members of an oppressed group’s safety. I think most of us would agree on that. However, an issue, a double standard will arise if we apply this principle to every situation without reflection; discomfort could be understood as a type of unsafety, so where is the line? When can someone affirm they feel unsafe – a legitimate feeling – and when can someone affirm they feel uncomfortable – something that should be dismissed? Does it all depend on the person’s identity as part of a specific social group? And isn’t a person’s identity more than their social location?
It scares me that about every man is shut down when they are trying to reflect on a certain wave of feminism due to their identity as men*. It scares me that this dialogue de sourds is spreading throughout the Quebec population, but it scares me even more to see it’s so present in McGill’s academic community. Universities are supposed to be spaces of daring intellectual conversations, where the ideas are scrutinized, regardless of whom they are coming from. Rather than that, people react to diverging points of view by vilifying them. In social work, we critique the use of “virtue ethics” – good people do good things and bad people do bad things – as it has led to undeniably horrific actions such as our profession’s contribution to the Residential Schools system. However, by blindly adhering to the radical postmodernist ideology in question here, some members of the school are arguably reverting to virtue ethics, automatically classifying those not adhering to the ideology as not informed, lacking empathy and social consciousness.
I don’t believe in putting everything and everyone in categories. I’m an adept of grey areas, especially in conversations that are so important and so complex.
You’ll excuse me for my prose; English is not my first language and I’m not a literature major. Nevertheless, I’m sharing my thoughts with you in all humility; the ideas I’m putting forwards here aren’t new ones. I’m just reaffirming it is crucial a serious reflection gets started this very instant in the public and academic spaces about the issue of polarizing ideas and the moralizing stance taken by certain people, thus preventing the establishment of a truly open dialogue.
And to my fellow people who always feel like they are between two seats, who are actively involved in social justice actions while being witness to the emergence of a dangerous radical social justice discourse, please speak up!
*As a side anecdote, my uncle used to feminize his discourse – which is necessary due to the lack of gender-neutral pronouns in French – much more than I would. Who said that a man couldn’t be as good of a feminist as a woman and couldn’t have valid, interesting thoughts to bring to the discussion about gender equality?