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DeconstructionInc blog entry: Has abolitionism become strident and wilfully simplistic?


I found myself really excited about this passage and felt compelled to post something on it when I read it:

"A bold total theory can startle you out of worn-out habits of mind, enable you to see newly and act creatively. But in my experience — yours too? — it’s horrifying to live that way too long: when reality presents you with experiences that don’t fit, the paranoia you feel can be intense; and as theory hardens into dogma, you attract the wrong sort of people to work with you. Suddenly you’re surrounded not by adventurous lively people but by comlainers and bullies…My desire is a posture, an attitude, a practice, of being in the problem, not being in the theory. (7)"

This is, for me, one of those electrifying passages that you find once in a while that manages to say what you yourself have always felt but never realized. It gets right at the heart of so many interrelated problems and frustrations of mine. For instance, my general disgust with online abolitionist AR discussions and discourse (however much I still more or less identify as an abolitionist and oppose reformism). Who hasn’t felt compelled to rebel against the intellectual strangulation that comprehensive, systematic ideologies subject us to and the acerbic, strident, belligerent and willfully simplistic discourses these ideologies produce?


Deconstruction Inc. blog entry on the character of comprehensive, s...


Seems like the author is saying that abolitionism as become strident and wilfully simplistic.  Has it?


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Simply asking the question illuminates the answer, doesn't it?

Hello Susan. Thanks for posting this. I find it to be relevant, interesting, and useful.

I agree with Tim, in that asking the question helps to illuminate the answer or answers.


Antispeciesist greetings

Note: I should have included a disclaimer saying that the post contained things that I don't agree with.  Not that I think anybody had made that mistake, but it would certainly be an easy one to make.


I'm not sure what "the ability and desirability of drawing on a plurality of mutually incompatible theories" is supposed to mean.  Clearly, you can't cobble together your own theory by simply taking pieces of mutually incompatible theories.  If you can use those theories to draw your attention to various issues, and to see them through various "lenses," and then synthesize them into a new, coherent theory, that's great.  I rather like "comprehensive, systematic ideologies."


Of course, I don't like "acerbic, strident, belligerent and willfully simplistic discourses," which the author claims such ideologies produce.  Clearly, I differ from the author in that I find online abolitionist AR discussion to be important (I'm assuming that he doesn't think so, since he finds it disgusting).  But I do find a lot of it to be strident and belligerent.  I used to apologize to others for that, saying that such posters were trying so hard to chip away at a monstrous edifice that they had sacrificed a certain gentleness of tone.  The first civil rights and women's rights activists probably sounded pretty harsh, as well.


I don't do this anymore; it doesn't seem as necessary and may even be disrespectful.  I just try to more aware, myself.  Still, I wish there were less of an aggressive tendency in many abolitionist voices.

Hi Kate! Antispeciesist greetings to you, too.  Glad you found the post to be useful.

I read this short article by Lord Bhikhu Parekh, Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of Westminster, on cultural pluralism last week:  A quote:


"Every cultural community represents a particular form of human excellence with all its characteristic strengths and limitations. No culture is perfect or exhaustively embodies goodness, and none is wholly devoid of at least some degree of goodness.

Every culture therefore requires others as its critical interlocutors. In the course of a dialogue with them, it becomes aware of its specificity and acquires access to their values and virtues that it marginalises or ignores. When truth and goodness is assumed to be singular, no such dialogue is necessary. Its purpose at best is to expose the errors of and refute others in a spirit of aggression or patronising condescendence. In the cultural pluralist view, the dialogue is central to intellectual and moral life, it being the only way to acquire a fuller understanding of its subject matter."


The wholly materialistic, deterministic, legalistic mindset of certain movement "leaders" notwithstanding, no-one owns the truth, and no one person can define what a social movement is, or who should be properly considered a part of it.

Tim, thanks so much for this follow-up.  The author of the post (aka "my partner") felt that we had kind of missed the point, which he tried to explain to me.  I could make out that my modus operandus is just what he is decrying--that overwhelming urge to find a "grand unifying theory" for my whole life.  A set of ethics that I apply across the board, regardless of the situation.

I didn't think I could represent his view, though.  Your quote sounds pretty close.  It's not a matter of being kept on one's toes, and not even adjusting one's own views in light of new ideas.  There's something about an unresolvable tension,...and here's where my grasp of deconstruction fuzzes out.  Maybe he'll come around and explain.  And I still won't understand!


Thank you for that. I am reading Karl Popper's The Poverty of Historicism (1957) at the moment, which makes the case that there is no way for us to explain and predict human behavior using laws in the same way we can and do explain and predict, for example, the movement of heavenly bodies.  It's not that human beings and their behaviors are too complex for us to accurately predict (as is the case with the weather), it's that there is something about consciousness and its manifestations that is not reducible to scientific explanation at all.  He writes:

It really looks as if historicists were trying to compensate themselves for the loss of an unchanging world by clinging to the belief  that change can be foreseen because it is ruled by an unchanging law.

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