So I had never seen a single episode (or even outtake) from the TV show “The Good Place”. I knew it was a show about a hypothetical heaven & that they explored morality, but… that was about it.
Today I finally popped on an episode and now I’m halfway through the third. Turns out, as both of you probably already know, that the conceit of the show is that there’s a mixup and someone who doesn’t belong in heaven gets there. Wanting to stay, she enlists the help of someone who was introduced to her as her soul mate, but who quite obviously isn’t.
That character’s name is Chidi Anagonye, a professor of ethics & moral philosophy born in Nigeria but who grew up and lived most of his life in Senegal. In this most superficial sense, we have barely anything in common. But as we get to know him, we find out that he spent 18 years on his life’s work, a book that he never managed to make ready for publication. It’s 3600 pages of moral philosophy in which he bends over backward to be fair to all possible moral perspectives.
While I’m no professor and have no PhD, through random quirks of opportunity and my specialization in study that simply wasn’t common 20 years ago, I’ve actually taught complete college courses, developing the curriculum myself. (Any standard course they would have had an adequate teacher available without tapping me.) I’ve also taken over someone else’s course for a week on some different occasions (again, control over the curriculum was mine). Leave aside the single guest lectures to concentrate on those periods where I had a class for a week or more and one important common thread in those cases is that I was terrified of not giving full credit to a legitimate alternate perspective. I also have over 480 pages of writing about transfeminism and transfeminist ethics, which really should be more than enough material to put together in a book, but I’ve never been able to bash it into shape.
The odd thing is that a lot of that is because when I first started working on this, literally no one was publishing on the topics of interest to me. I wanted to include others’ work, to credit the many people who were actively doing transfeminism on the ground (without necessarily calling it that), but the sources weren’t there, and every time I looked at my work it all seemed so suffused with my own perspective that it was hard to resist the conclusion that this was work with not merely an activist perspective, a point of view for which I advocate, but that the work was one that presented only a single perspective. I kept fearing it came across less as a work of advocacy and education, and more as a work of dogma in which there was a single perspective driving the work not because I was choosing to advocate for that one as best, but because there simply were no other legitimate perspectives.
As a result, I bent over backwards trying to create counter narratives out of fairness, and out of a desire to explore alternatives so that the contrast with those might make my preferred transfeminism an appealing choice, rather than a tyrannical rule.
So now, as Chidi struggles with the criticism from another character who tried to read his 3600 page life’s work, I keep thinking, “Wow. If I had a job where I was paid to produce writing, those 480 pages could easily have hit 3600 and I still wouldn’t have produced anything more complete than the fictional Chidi.”
I literally am a sitcom joke, an unbelievable character exaggerated from more common flaws beyond all bounds of rationality.
I am Chidi Anagonye.
The crazy thing is that rather than being criticized, I’m just loving Chidi and yelling, “My people! I have found you!”
Post script: In episode 4 Chidi is giving the main character, Eleanor, yet another lesson in classical moral philosophy. After quoting Lao Tzu saying that knowing others is wisdom but knowing yourself is enlightenment, Eleanor asks, Knowing yourself? Is he talking about what I think he’s talking about?”
To which Chidi responds, “Once again, none of these philosophers is ever talking about masturbation.”
From the “once again” to the correct use of “is” to the ultimate “masturbation”, that whole sentence was completely sublime.