pro suo (was Re: racists, fascists,)

Danny Yee (danny@MORIA.CS.SU.OZ.AU)
Sat, 9 Apr 1994 00:08:35 +1000

> interesting turn of events here, which, since i had thrown some soap into
> the wash earlier, i am behooved to comment on...

Well my response is going to sound like an 'apologia pro vita sua', but

> yee admits, gleefully and proudly, that he dismisses unread or at least
> un-understood, an entire body of literature on the ever-so flexible
> grounds that it is too difficult/obscure...that smacks of either laziness
> or scholarly dishonesty

I have done work in - hmmm, let me see - perhaps five completely
different disciplines, ranging from anthropology to computer science to
pure mathematics to biochemistry. I maintain an active interest in
perhaps another half dozen areas, and am generally omnivorous in
my reading. I am teaching myself Indonesian; I regularly write and post
book reviews to USEnet; I even manage to scrape a living from part-time
work as a tutor and computer systems administrator and to find time
to go bushwalking ('hiking' is the US term, I believe) every so often.
There are only so many things one can find time for, but I mention that
I can't find time for Derrida, and - hey presto - I get jumped on and
accused of everything from dishonesty and laziness to being a
professional academic! :-) Now who is being defensive here, I wonder?

> others, too numerous to mention, blithely equate difficult writing with
> bad ideas, setting up the rather bizzarre formula that that idea is best
> which is simplest and accuse authors dealing in troublesome and
> difficult to express ideas of doing nothing more than kind of egregious
> self- aggrandizement dance

All other things being equal (which, I accept, they rarely are), yes,
the simpler and clearer something can be made the better. (I assume
we are talking about doing anthropology, or some other science, here;
this hardly holds for poetry.)

I haven't accused anyone (on this list or off it) of self-aggrandizement
or dishonesty. Other people may have, but since my name is the only one
mentioned in your message I don't appreciate the insinuation.

> and then stephanie nelson, of whom no calmer and more thoughtful voice
> has emerged in this tattered thread of a pseudo-discussion, reminds us of
> the dangers of 'academic fascism', the dismissal of ideas based on
> spurious criteria such as 'readability' and the very real and very nasty
> implication that new, controversial, troubling or troublesome,
> uncomfortable ideas can be ignored, set aside, so long as we use grammar
> and not content as our guide and bang bash biff boom as they used to say
> in the old batman tv series....

> she gets flamed, insulted....

> i flipped back over these messages this morning in a kind of stunned awe
> at the virulence and vitriol of the insults levelled against nelson,

I certainly haven't flamed Stephanie, or (unless my memory is going)
anyone else on this list prior to this message. In fact I generally try
to avoid flaming people, but I'll make an exception for you. (Sheesh,
I've managed to troll *myself*; this wasn't meant to happen :-)

> wondering just what nerve has been touched by the suggestion that before
> we can dismiss a persons ideas, we need first to at least understand them...

I suggest you try reading the USENET group alt.usenet.kooks sometime.
There are a lot of strange people on the net, and they have a lot of
strange ideas; am I supposed to try and give serious consideration to
*all* of them? Do I have to read every one of Serdar Argic's
anti-Armenian propaganda? Or Dan Gannon's holocaust revisionism? Or
Ludwig Plutionium's nonsense physics?

Am I supposed to pick books to read at random in order to avoid bias?
(An interesting possibility that, if there was actually some way of
doing that I'd probably be tempted to try selecting one or two books a
year that way.)

> i wondered just what button had been pushed which had brought out the
> rush limbaugh element that seems, at the end of the day, to run through
> anthropology as much as it runs through the rest of the great american
> [read north american] heartland

In case you hadn't realised, the logical implication of your sentence is
that anthropology is *part* of the "great american heartland". There are
some of us who don't live in North America, you know.

> this ain't no discussion... this is censorship of the worst kind, a
> censorship of ideas masquerading as the one, the only good and proper
> concern for truth...

Whatever else this discussion is, it is hardly censorship. It would be
censorship if someone took over the listserver and filtered
contributions. (Though even then one could obtain the list of
recipients and write one's own mail exploder.) Jumping up and yelling
CENSORSHIP at the top of your voice only sugggests that it's *you* who
don't like the way the conversation is going and that it's *you* want to
stop other people talking.

Danny Yee.

P.S. I'm obviously no good at generating insults; looking back over this
message I realise that I haven't really even managed to personally
insult you once. So much for my pitiful attempt at a flame.