There are lots of people who think the reaction to CFI and the statement and Ron’s activities is excessive. Some of those people even see flaws in Ron’s activities but still think the reaction is excessive. Maybe it is, but I think there are reasons for that, reasons we can figure out and look at and maybe learn something from.
Or to put it another way – I think I know what it was about the whole thing that got my irritation cranked up past a simmer, and I don’t think I’m particularly special, so maybe the same applies to other people.
It was the stonewalling.
If we’d been able to talk to him – we attendees and speakers at the conference – Friday afternoon and evening and Saturday during breaks in the talks, then maybe he could have explained what he was worried about and we could have explained that his worries were unfounded. Perhaps we would still have disagreed, but with a better sense of each other’s thinking.
His worries, we now all know (right?), were about a small and (I think) minor or academic branch of feminism called “standpoint theory” and how it might taint CFI because it’s postmodernist woo.
That’s good news, because you know what? Nobody cares. That conference had nothing to do with “standpoint theory.” Maybe that bit of arcana is the parent of the idea of “privilege,” but the child left home long ago and is living its own life. It’s possible the child was adopted in the first place. I don’t think the notion of privilege and how it works is so remote or bizarre or counter-intuitive that it has to have postmodernist antecedents. It seems to me it’s just ordinary seat of the pants reasoning about self and other, and other minds, and empathy; folk epistemology if you like. Folk things can be wrong; maybe folk epistemology is wrong; nevertheless I have a very hard time seeing how it can be controversial to say that if you have no experience of X you may have an impoverished understanding of it.
If we’d had that conversation from Friday afternoon on, even a heated one, I think things would have gone better. Ron stonewalled us. I don’t know why.
It wasn’t like that at the first one. His opening remarks for that one were very welcoming (and the welcome didn’t take up too much time, either, not as much time as it took him to say why he wasn’t welcoming us this time) and optimistic and cheerful. He seemed happy to be presiding over the conference. Then at the end, in his closing remarks, he said…
I thought this was going to be a good conference. I was wrong.
Pause for effect.
It was a great conference.
Laughter and applause.
I talked to him for a few minutes after that. Lauren came up and I asked her if enough people had told her what a great job she did of keeping us on schedule without being a pain in the ass. It was fun, it was friendly, it was even exuberant.
This year it was completely different. The only time I saw Ron on Saturday he was across the aisle from me during one of the talks, and he had his head in his phone the entire time. It was as if he had an invisible wall around him.
If he had made himself available, instead – I think things would have gone differently, and better.
And the point is, I think that kind of thing feeds frustration, and that’s why the reactions are strong. It’s the same with CFI’s statement yesterday. It said nothing, and that was just more stonewalling.
Stonewalling: not the answer.