In re Davenport (5):Self-criticism. Sort-of.

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Thu, 14 Mar 1996 09:19:52 +0900

A bit of self-criticism:

Last night I wrote, in re some remarks by Clyde Davenport, that,

"Still I object to the mindless arrogance of assuming that TV,
which I hardly ever watch, prevents an "us" to which I refuse to
belong from pursuing what knowledge we can."

I would, if I may, withdraw the word "mindless." Here I let
myself slip over the top. It is clear that Clyde is very mindful
indeed of what he is doing. He is even kind enough to explicate
his strategy:

>>the "we" voice in writing is often a rhetorical ploy to draw the
reader into identifying with a pre-existing collectivity (which
may though be nothing more than the writer's assembled
opinions). However, in the context of what I wrote immediately
before and after the above sentence it is clear that I meant
"people in the late 20th century" or "we moderns (or

The "we" in question works in effect like the ritualized language
described by Maurice Bloch. The reader is invited to join a group
whose members share the author's assumptions. Accepting the
invitation limits the range of possible responses to those which
seem plausible within those limits. While this does not rule out
the possibility of "immanent critique" which works within the
system to expose its flaws, it more usually has the effect of
moving the reader's toward acceptance of the author's

This form of self-labeling is, like other types of labeling--
"communist," "facist," "feminist," "mysogynist," "pro-choice,"
"right-to-lifer," "chink," "kike," "nigger," "wop,"for example, a
political technique (a nicely insidious one, since the invitation to
be an "us" will usually feel nicer than being cast out as a nasty
"Other"). It is also a logical fallacy, an example of misplaced

Thus, in the case at hand, Clyde says "we." I know what he is
about. My response is to say that he is mistaken. If being that
"we" means having to accept ALL his assumptions, that is not an
"us" to which I belong.

I do reserve the right to accept some of them. It is, for example,
quite clear to me that

(1) TV and other electronic media have had a massive impact on
the way society is organized and our children are brought up. [As
parents, Ruth and I were able to limit daughter Kate's exposure
to the medium and offset its impact with lots of good books and
conversation. Her use of it now is like her use of alcohol, an
occasional pleasure but not an addiction. That other children do
not enjoy Kate's privileges is, to me, far and away the most
pressing political issue of our times.] [ I am, however, encouraged
these days by the current trend from mass to interactive media.
The medium through which we are now communicating
represents a wholly unprecedented opportunity for people who
might otherwise have known of each other's existence to to
contribute to each other's education.]

(2) Efforts to include the voices of women (half the human race
after all) and majorities (people of color do outnumber us white
guys) in standard histories are, to me, AN ENTIRELY GOOD
THING. [I do reserve the right to attend to them in the same way
as other voices. I do not ignore Plato because he's Greek. I do not
worship Malcolm because he was black, or Connie Reeves
because she happens to be a woman. I learn from them all. I
recognize the human impossibility of listening to everyone, but
don't mind a bit when someone says, "Hey, listen up. What X
says is really interesting."]

(3) The world is full of horrors. [So it has ever been. What is
remarkable is not that some many live lives of utter misery, but
the sheer existence of places like North America, Western
Europe, Japan, and, yes, Taiwan, where the general standard of
living has reached unprecedented heights. A world in which
90% of the population live in misery has made some progress
over one in which the comparable figure was 99%. (The numbers
are metaphorical) It is still a dangerous, largely awful and ugly
world. It is also one with a glimmer of hope that I, for one, will

This last is another reason why I feel so strongly about Taiwan,
besides my personal connections there. The ability to write on
the one hand that China is a mess and likely to get worse and on
the other to blandly say that we have to respect Chinese views
toward people who've made something visibly better...regardless
of what they might feel...strikes me as little better than "They're
only chinks. Fuck 'em." In short, simply despicable.

But there I go over the top again.

John McCreery