White Boys and Their Smart Brains

July 7, 2009

I do not do well at traditional academics.

I did manage to get a pretty fancypants education, mostly on account of  freakish test-taking skills that do not translate to anything remotely useful.  However, for all that education, I don’t know much about those theorists generally accepted as brilliant, because I mostly think they’re useless to me.

Many people would argue that the fact that I know next to nothing about these theorists is evidence that I’m just a big ol’ dummy.

I say it’s evidence that I’m not interested in crushing my own soul, but, you know, you say tomato.

Dude. Freud came up with the concept of the “Oedipal complex” because he refused to believe that his patients were being sexually assaulted by their fathers. Nietzsche compared women to cows. Aristotle said that women were “naturally subordinate” to men.

This, to me, is enough to put me off their writing. I mean, there are billions of books in the world. I will never get to read all of them. Why would I spend my time reading the work of someone who compares me to livestock?

Some people would argue with me, saying that while these brilliant men had a flawed view of women, their other thoughts are so totally incredible that I should ignore the misogyny.

To such people, first I would say… Um, actually? Their thoughts aren’t so brilliant. If a bunch of powerful people hadn’t told you their thoughts were brilliant, would you really be so impressed by them? I kinda doubt it. In fact, if you were in a cultural vacuum where you had to decide for yourself what you thought of their work, without some “expert” telling you how to value it, I think you’d think that Aristotle and Nietzsche sound like narcissistic assholes and Freud sounds like he’s high on cocaine, and you’d be right.

The idea of a “canon” of the bestest works in all the world is A) totally out of touch with the incredible range of human experience and B) totally fuckin’ fascist. Art is subjective, yo. And theory? Theory is just another art form. On a basic human level we’re all individuals, which means that no one work of art can speak to or for all of us. This is especially so in a world that is utterly defined by hierarchy and oppression. My experience, as a woman, is not like the experience of a man. We’re all human, sure.  But gender oppression means that men and women live in entirely different kind of worlds—different cultures, basically. The same goes for any form of oppression.  White people live a totally different reality than people of color do. Poor people and rich people have very different lives.  To ask everyone to identify with and value the thoughts of rich, straight white men above those of other people is asking us to value the experience of someone else above our own lived experience.

I don’t know what Freud would say about that, but I’d say it’s not fuckin’ healthy.

Beyond that, I just can’t get behind the idea that someone can just compartmentalize a seething hatred of an entire group of people into a neat little spot in their theory, while retaining a useful and universal message when they are not specifically speaking about that hatred.

If you buy the paradigm of a world divided into distinct dualistic categories of “good” and “bad,” or a universal system of hierarchy for valuing human beings, you’ve got some basic issues with your worldview that go way beyond whether you specifically say you hate one group or another… Stuff that will permeate every aspect of your thoughts and interactions. What it comes down to is an essential worldview based on domination of some people by others. If you start from this point, who or what gets defined as “good” or “bad” may shift, but someone always has to be bad. Someone always has to lose. In this worldview, there is no such thing as difference without hierarchy. I do not find such a worldview useful to my spiritual and psychological growth. I do not find such a worldview useful, period.

Some people would argue that I have to read every word of these theorists before I can critique them, or that I simply must read all their work so I have the tools to respond in depth to each of their points. I don’t find these arguments to be particularly compelling. I don’t much care where fucked-up ideas originated from—I can say that the concept that women are defective/lacking men is widespread in our culture and, uh, NOT COOL, without knowing that Freud, specifically, was very clear on that point. And the idea that it’s somehow my duty to slog through the writing of anyone I disagree with because they represent the status quo and I do not? I just think that one’s kind of nonsensical. Lemme get this straight: I have to devote what little time I have to reading the work of dudes who hate me, because they happen to be seen as geniuses by the power structure in a culture so deeply flawed that it is on the verge of self-destruction? And I should do this when I could be spending my time trying to understand the many brilliant theorists who do speak to me, and whose work actually helps me live a happier, more well-adjusted life?

This does not resemble our Earth logic. Besides, I already have to spend plenty of time trying to understand dudes who hate me, regardless of whether I want to or not. Oppressed people always have to understand privileged people, and privileged people don’t have to understand oppressed people. It’s part of that whole “oppression” thing.

Truthfully, I will read theorists who have been deemed “important” when I need to. But what it comes down to is this: I haven’t got long here in this world, and there are a lot of great books to read. I’m just not going to spend a lot of time struggling through theory that doesn’t speak to me or my lived experience, especially if it compares me to a cow.


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